September

30

2011

How To Do Suzuki Violin With Your Child: 10 Tips

Filed under: Suzuki Violin | Tags:

 

Parents often ask me how to get their kids started in playing the violin, because my children play:

You can view a more recent video of Fiona (she was 8 in the above video, and she is now 11) playing at the Cogen Concerto Competition’s intermediate division (in which she won 1st place) here.

The Suzuki method is an excellent way to teach your child how to play the violin. It was created by Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, who noticed that every child becomes fluent in their mother tongue regardless of “talent,” geographic location, or economic status.

He observed how babies learn to talk and applied what he learned to helping young children learn violin. He called this “Talent Education.”

Dr. Suzuki

Contrary to popular belief, children are not necessarily born talented – it’s something that can be learned through daily practice and positive reinforcement – the same way your baby learned to say “Mama” (which as we all know, takes a very long time). Your baby does a lot of listening and spends many months making incoherent sounds. As she tries out different sounds, her mother continuously encourages her and patiently repeats the correct sound. It’s the same way with learning Suzuki.

It can take a long time for squeaks to sound like melodies, and this requires the same kind of patience you had when you were teaching your baby to say Mama. And just like a baby learning to talk, if they keep doing a little bit every day, they will eventually get to where they can actually play!

10 Tips

1. First, determine if the violin is right for your child and your family. Do you have time to shlepp them to weekly lessons and group practice? Do you have it in you to help them practice almost everyday? For beginners, practice might last 10 minutes. Our six-year-old does 15 – 30 minutes per day. Our nine-year-old does one hour a day, more when preparing for a competition. (Practice goes much better in the morning, so that’s when Fiona does it. Ella likes to sleep in, so she practices just before bedtime.)

This is Ella when she was two.

2. One parent attends lessons and actively helps the child with daily practice. I was the primary parent for Fiona for about two years & now I’m the primary parent for Ella, and my husband is the primary parent for Fiona.

2. Get a good teacher. Find a licensed one through the Suzuki Association of the Americas. Observe some lessons. Is your child interested? Are they ready? (Our kids started when they were almost four. This worked for Fiona, but we could have waited another year to start Ella.) Is the teacher kid-friendly? Do you like the teacher? If you don’t, find another one. I think the rapport between the child and the teacher is key. Ella LOVES her teacher:

4. Buy the Suzuki Violin Volume 1 music book & CD. Play the CD at home and in the car until you’re both sick of it, and then play it some more. (You’re going to despise Mozart for writing Twinkle after you’ve heard it 900 squillion times.)

5. Rent a violin. Starter violins are not the greatest quality sound, but they’re cheap. You will also need a shoulder rest, a music stand, and rosin. Bring your child with you to get the correct size violin. (The beginner sizes are so tiny!)

6. Set up a practice area in your home. You can get a small oval rug at IKEA and have your teacher help you draw feet on it for rest and play positions, to help your child know where to stand.

7. Start with 10 minutes of practice per day. Take a deep breath and remove all expectations. (Remember when your baby was learning to talk for over a year? You didn’t roll your eyes or nitpick her pronunciation once. You can do this.)

8. For beginners, it’s helpful to make your own board game. (We called ours Run Pony, Run! after one of the Twinkle variations.) Get a piece of poster board, draw a game on it and write something fun on each square. Let your child decorate it. Use dice or a spinner, and small toys for pieces.

Our homemade “Run Pony, Run!” game.

9. While your child plays, remain completely silent and give her your full attention, no matter how bad it sounds. (I have a very hard time staying quiet, so Ella gets to zip my mouth shut and throw away the key if she feels that I’m interrupting (this happens a lot.) Then say something positive, even if what they just played made you want to switch to something easier on the ears, like death-metal drums.

10. End the practice session on a high note, while things are going well. We have a prize basket that Ella gets to choose from after each practice.

There are also lots of opportunities to perform in front of audiences – at Suzuki juries, which are like recitals, at group concerts and charity events. Here’s a video of Fiona playing a lively duet with her friend at an old folk’s home. (This song is not part of the Suzuki repertoire, by the way.)

What’s Bad

  • It can be expensive. The better your kid gets, the pricier the instrument. To give you an example, when Fiona turned 8 we bought her a French violin that’s 100 years old, and it cost about $8,000. This is (I think) way over the top (it was my husband’s idea) and on the very high-end of pricing for children of this age. You can still rent quality violins or purchase one, and I’ve seen prices at around $1,500 and upwards. This year we will need to upgrade her violin in both size and quality, and the prices we are looking at are in the $11,000 range. I shudder to think how much a violin will cost when she’s 18. (Don’t let the cost of buying an expensive instrument put you off – you can always rent one, schools have violins you can borrow, etc. – so don’t let this put you off!)
  • It sounds pretty bad for a long time, and you have to listen to it.
  • The daily practice demands a lot of patience and discipline (from the parent!).
  • It can take up a lot of time (weekly lesson, weekly group lessons, recitals, rehearsals, competitions, and so on).
  • If, like me, you are generally crabby and impatient, the practice sessions can be very challenging.
  • If your child wins an award, you’re not allowed to jump up and down, yell “THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT!” like the parents at sporting events get to do.
  • It gets competitive at the higher levels, and this can involve a lot of pressure. Some children get anxious under pressure – you as their parent need to be able to recognize if the instrument is too difficult for them, or if they don’t enjoy playing in front of people and if so – consider something else.
  • Some parents push their children too hard and the kids become like automated robots: technically perfect, but missing something integral (joy) because they’re not doing it for themselves, they’re doing it to please their Tiger Parents. Don’t be a Tiger Parent.

What’s Good

  • The gift of music lasts a lifetime.
  • It makes your child feel proud and accomplished.
  • Vivaldi. Mozart. Brahms. Hilary Hahn. David Garrett!
  • In the summer, you can go to amazing Suzuki family camps (called institutes) all over the US and the world.

Update: Fiona had a master class with Hilary Hahn!

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Comments

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  1. I tried to learn the violin as an adult. It be hard — I couldn’t master it after only 5 hours :) Then I tried something easier: harmonica. I devoted only 30 minutes, and couldn’t master that either. Darn instruments! I learned Aikido after only 17 years, why can’t I learn music.

    Seriously speaking, we have a musical neighbour and it’s great to see them break out the guitars to play and sing together. I’m going to work on that for my family.
    Twitter: PerfectingParen

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    • If you’re brave enough to venture into the musical world, I’m gonna go figure out how to get my kids to be fluent in another language (yours I know are multi-lingual). If you have any suggestions let me know (other than an immersion school as they’re already in a school we like!). We have friends in a French immersion like your kids, and they are totally fluent. Mind-blowing.
      PS: Try the mouth-organ. All you gotta do is TWANG. Another good option for kids is the Melody Harp b/c they can pretty much instantly get a tune out of it just by following the musical dots.
      Twitter: Adothemomalog

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  2. I loved your post…what talent you must have in your family! My oldest is our musician, only it consists of drums and guitar (mostly electric) (only so much I can take of that! lol!).

    I love that you pointed out the time commitments to practicing, its important for kids (people) to know that to be great at something it takes hard work. We are a sports house pretty much – (ok much different but also a big commitment – 2.5 hrs of practice, 4 nights a week for most of the year for our football players. Everything great is worth working for :)

    I WISH I would have gotten my kids into music! I will admit I do love getting to yell THATS WHAT IM TALKING ABOUT!! and shake my bootie. ;)

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  3. Love the idea of “talent education.” I think we can use that in a lot of different areas – even patience. I was just telling a girlfriend this week who was complimenting my patience – I was NOT born this patient! It has taken a LOT of practice. (And to be honest, I have failed a lot lately. More practice for me!) Anyway – I am going to use the excuse that we live in the middle of nowhere as to why I haven’t started a musical instrument with my kids. Yes. That must be it. ;-) Great post!
    Twitter: S_Supermommy

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  4. I read somewhere that geniuses only become so when they do something ONE THOUSAND TIMES. Since Fiona and Ella started so early, I think they’re well on the way! I love your commitment.
    Twitter: MamaWantsThis

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    • Thanks Alison! This must mean that I am a genius at eating Haagen Daz, I’ve done it 1000+ times…
      Twitter: Adothemomalog

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  5. You had me until the ass-shaking. Guess I’ll stick to my kids’ lacrosse, soccer, boxing, and swimming.

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    • Ha! Maybe one day I’ll gather up enough courage to get up and do a little Victory Dance and shake my a** after a violin competition. She’d probably be DQ’d.
      Twitter: Adothemomalog

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  6. My 5 year old takes Suzuki Violin lessons too. She is in her first year.I LOVE your idea for the game. I find practice time very hard and somewhat discouraging at times. I am going to make a game like that this weekend. Thanks so much for the inspiration, it was exactly what I needed to read today!

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  7. Thank you so much for your post, my 4 yr old just started Susuki violin and practice time can be so hard. I’m going to try some of your pointers. Wish me luck! LOL

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    • Hi Celia – It can be so challenging! The main thing I recommend to offset the challenges is to do it at the same time every day, kind of like brushing your teeth. And to make it FUN.
      Twitter: Adothemomalog

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      • Could you write about Phiyscs so I can pass Science class?
        Twitter: LQkOwyXHOWSuhfl

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  8. Parents may find the book “Non-Musical Notation for Suzuki Violin Parents, Volumes One, Two and Three” helpful. This is a transcription of the first three volumes of the Suzuki Violin Method into a system of non-musical notation, so that parents who are not musicians can help their children during practice sessions at home by telling them to “put 2 fingers on the A string” instead of saying “play C-sharp.” For example, the first 2 measures of Twinkle look like this: A A E E E1 E1 E-. I used this book with my son 30 years ago, and now he is a professional violinist performing all over the world. It is available from http://www.young-musicians.com.

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  9. We started my daughter in Suzuki violin when she was 4 1/2. She asked to play violin because she saw mine in the house. Now she is 11, and can play concertos by heart, can read music by site, and is in two orchetras (school and regional). It has really helped her in her school work, and she has met great kids in the process of being in group and going to Suzuki Family camp. She also plays sports and has nice friends, so we make sure she has a balenced childhood. She has definately learned the idea that “little by little” you can accomplice big things. The most important thing is finding a teacher that matches your child’s temperment, and also its important to try new things like festivals, and having your child try non Suzuki music as well, like fiddling or more modern pieces.

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    • Yes once they get some of the basic Suzuki repertoire under their belt it’s great to supplement – we love fiddle, blues and jazz tunes.
      Twitter: Adothemomalog

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  10. My daughter started with the Suzuki Violin Method when she was 5 years old. I certainly think that this method is geared towards young children. She’s 7 now and playing beautifully. And that’s the primary goal of this method – to get the child to start playing beautiful music fast and making it an enjoyable experience. I think this works for kids – listening and playing right away is key, as opposed to diving straight into technique and music reading. The Suzuki Violin School are standard teaching material. Most teachers will be using those books from the start.

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    • I have to agree with you – being able to play a song before getting into theory and trying to translate a note from the page to their head to their hand – has a big payoff for the child because it’s satisfying, so they want to do it again. When I was a child I did not take the Suzuki method – I just remember being so interminably bored for…well, for years really. When I see my children respond to the Suzuki method – with joy and excitement, mostly – I wish I had been able to take Suzuki as a kid myself. It is a wonderful method. And the violin is a difficult instrument – the Suzuki method gives many more people access to that instrument.
      Twitter: Adothemomalog

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  11. Hi there! Just came across your blog after searching about Suzuki violin lessons for kids. My son, 5, just started this week! Thanks for all your tips :-)

    Stephanie
    Twitter: freshpickedvintage

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  12. [...] See my other tips here. The main thing to remember is to make it fun, like Dr. Suzuki did. [...]

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  13. @lisahassanscott PS: I sent you the wrong link, it’s this one: http://t.co/ZTpnEP5j

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  14. Like the article, as I’m preparing to start teaching my 4 year old violin.
    I have to say though your “What’s Bad” as far as the costs of violins are a bit unrealistic though. Private lessons though can get quite expensive over time. You can get a quality violin all the way up to adult size for $1000 or less that is of good enough quality to compare with $10,000+ violins. Children’s violins for less even. At some point, the “price” becomes more of a status symbol. The discernible difference in quality and sound is negligible. I would say to readers don’t be discouraged thinking you are going to need to purchase your child a $2,000-$10,000 violin to be able to compete or compare with their peers. Just my thoughts.

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    • Kevin, thanks for chiming in here. We are on the ridiculous end of price points for violins and you are right, I do not want to put people off with the prices (I did mention though that you can rent one cheaply!). I do see a difference in sound quality though – not with the under 10s but particularly the more advanced violinists, I do think it starts to matter in the teen years. However this should not put someone off. Good luck with your 4 YO and the violin!

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  15. Hi. I just wanted to say how much I appreciated your blog on Suzuki violin. I happened upon your blog because my daughter always fights with me when I try to give her constructive criticism. It is very frustrating to see her making the same mistake over and over again, when she could fix it if she would just listen. I sometimes feel like being the 6-day a week teacher is not working out so well since she really does not want my input. Do you have any thoughts on this?
    Thanks.

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    • Hi Bronwyn, I know how you feel – - we have cycled through some very challenging practices sessions. I am not a patient person and discipline/structure does not come easily to me – practicing violin requires all of these (patience, discipline, structure) – mostly on the part of the parent, at first. What I did was read and re-read that wonderful book by Edmund Sprunger, Helping Parents Practice. Also I would connect with other Suzuki parents and get their tips and tricks (this helped a LOT – to know that other parents are going through hard times with practicing too). Finally when things became too difficult my husband and I switched places. He became the primary parent and I started with the other child. This worked wonders. At first we thought it wouldn’t work but it’s worked GREAT, esp. because he is far more disciplined than I am. Another thing we did was realized that practicing after school when they are tired is a terrible idea. We changed our goal to be “first thing in the morning,” so mostly we “get practice out of the way” first thing in the morning. They wake up early – for ex., Fiona now wakes up aroun d6 or 6:15 and practices violin from 6:30 – 7:30, piano from 7:30 – 8, getting a good hour and a half in before school when she is in the mood for it (as are we). This was a huge help to the whole family.
      Another idea: try going to a summer institute, where you can befriend other musical parents, and learn all kinds of tips from them and their teachers, too. Also – are you able to talk to your teacher about what’s going on? Sometimes just having someone to talk to about this can get you through it. Keep me posted and sorry it took me so long to reply!

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  16. How To Do #Suzuki #Violin With Your Child: 10 Tips http://t.co/q7KBHRJOZ5 via @AdoTheMomalog #music #parenting

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  17. @galledelasuerte Here’s a post with some of my #Suzuki info: http://t.co/6uZuKQSrhb

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  18. How To Do #Suzuki #Violin With Your Child: 10 Tips http://t.co/wHZp2xvpcz #parenting #music

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  19. I posted this article to my “Suzuki Tips for Parents” Facebook page. I love the insights you have shared. As a Suzuki teacher, I find that the idea of playing violin is so ROMANTIC. But in all actuality, it’s a lot of work.

    Thanks for sharing.

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  20. Great tips!

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  21. Hello! I LOVE your blog and thank you so much for this post! I do have a question, can you please detail exactly how the Run Pony Run game is played and how the board works? I think I am at my wits end with my 5 year old’s practice sessions and this might just be the “silver bullet”… ;) We are just starting out with Violin (she wanted to take lessons but now speaks of quitting becuase it is “boring”, sigh). Thanks in advance!

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    • Hi Sue: Run Pony Run game is just making a simple board game (see the photo of mine) using simple, fun things she “knows how to do” such as take a bow, play the first line of Twinkle, or play the A string, play the G string, pluck a string, jump up and down etc. Main thing is to make it fun. You sit on the floor and roll the dice and she moves her piece. She does whatever “task” is on the square she lands on. Likewise, if YOU land on a square you have to do what it says. You can make some of them super silly, like “run around the house galloping like a horse while the other person plays a certain song.” Main thing here is to have fun and associate “practice” with “fun” in the early years.
      I know how HARD practice can be – I resorted to making this game before we both went CRAZY. It really helped. We still pull it out sometimes. When they are young – 5 like your child – just shoot for 10 mins. of practice/day, keep it light, just be patient. Sometimes if it gets really bad, consider switching with your husband (if he is more patient, for example). Other things that work are rewards, like making a sticker chart – she gets a sticker for each day of practice, if she collects a month’s worth of stickers she can go to the toy store etc. Yes, it’s bribery, but it works sometimes to get you through the “hard times.” (-: Good luck Sue and keep me posted!

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  22. Hi Ado, thanks so much for the reply to my post! I am here to report back! The game thing kinda worked, but bribery (aka sticker chart) worked wonders! HAHA. I bought one of those little cheapy calendars and let her draw pictures on it and viola, a sticker chart with dates on it (so you can’t cheat). She can get one sticker for simply practicing, and up to three stickers in each box if she’s extra good at practice that day. And now, a few months later, she’s now almost done with Suzuki 1 (she just completed Happy Farmer). Thanks again to your AWESOME blog and wonderful tips. “Remove all expectations in the beginning”— no better words of wisdom. THANKS a million!

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    • Sue I’m so glad to hear it! It takes so much dedication, creativity, and PATIENCE to be a Suzuki parent! Keep me posted on how it goes! Bye for now (-:

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    • Hi Sue! SO so glad to hear this! Good for you! Give yourself a huge pat on the back because it really takes some parenting to get through book 1 and with joy (and bribery! – I have many times resorted to bribery! Whatever works, right? Right??) (-:
      Keep us posted!

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  23. Thanks for sharing such a nice thought, post is nice, thats why i have read it
    fully

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  24. I hardly drop responses, but i did a few searching and wound up here How To Do Suzuki Violin With Your Child:
    10 Tips – Momalog. And I do have 2 questions for you if you do not mind.

    Could it be just me or does it look like some of these remarks look like written by brain dead people?

    :-P And, if you are posting on other social sites, I’d like to follow anything new you have to post.
    Would you make a list of the complete urls of your public sites like your linkedin profile, Facebook page or twitter
    feed?

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