John Berger

Violin Beginners – Week 9 and 10

Week 9 and 10 bring Violin Beginners and their parents to the final pieces in the Twinkle jigsaw. They’ve learned to play the whole piece smoothly and confidently from start to finish. Already they’re starting to glimpse the satisfying sense of freeing their focus from technical to musical matters.

Original photo by Tetiana Shyshkina

What’s left to learn in these last two lessons in the 10 Weeks to Twinkles Series? This long post shows how to take students and parents through the key points of learning to play each of the Twinkle variations and the Theme at the right tempo.

These two weeks of lessons and group classes are best taken at your own pace. The ability to play quickly requires a healthy amount of consistent work. Some parent-student duos may complete them in a week, while others need more unhurried time.

Playing with speed and accuracy, vital skills for all violinists, is achieved through habitual practice and refinement. Don’t we all know it? Suzuki provided us with a good way to practise towards this goal by learning to play with the recordings, but are beginners capable of doing it?

I’ll answer the question with a little story.

Before returning home after our studies in Japan with Suzuki we spent a lovely year in the UK, where I taught the students of a young teacher who was about to leave to study with Suzuki in Japan. They were a truly delightful group, making good progress, enthusiastic and well taught. A few students had reached into Volume 5 and were playing Vivaldi’s Concerto in G minor, albeit rather slowly. In fact, playing at the right tempo was a major challenge for all of them.

What was the reason, I wondered, for such slow playing? In an early lesson, I found out by asking a few of the advanced students to play one of the easier Twinkle variations with the recording as part of a bowing exercise, and was surprised to discover they couldn’t keep up. At the Suzuki Institute in Matsumoto, we’d seen very young beginners happily playing the variations at the recording tempo with relative ease.

Now we had a way forward.

We began teaching the students how to play with the recordings and started a campaign of building them into daily home practice. Although several parents expected the task to be impossibly difficult, after a couple of months of hard work, everyone, including most beginners, could play their pieces at the right tempo with the recordings and showed big improvement in other areas, such as memorisation and intonation.

Teaching how to play with the recordings goes beyond just putting them on and attempting to keep up. As you’ll see below in the first Twinkle variation, there are 7 clear steps to make sure it is positively successful.

Main Teaching Point for Week 9 and 10 – How to Play all the Twinkle Variations and Theme up to Tempo

What To Teach in Week 9 and 10

(For TSV Gold members)

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Violin Beginners – Week 8

By Week 8, Violin Beginners and their parents have seen the promised land. The final mysteries of Twinkle’s structure have been unveiled, and by learning to play the sections, the vision of the whole piece emerges from the weeks of carefully practised elements.

However, there’s a difference between knowing a piece and actually being able to perform it with grace and fluency. How do we cross the bridge from knowledge to skill and ability?

The Promised land

Photo courtesy of Dmitry Gladkikh

This question points to the challenge ahead, and for the the first time introduces the parent and student into the lifelong learning process for all dedicated musicians: how to practise and perfect a piece of music until it becomes spontaneous and natural, so that one’s attention is focused purely on expression and interpretation, giving life to the music beyond technique and the technical.

Main Teaching Point for Week 8 – Learning to Play Twinkles without Stops or Pauses

What To Teach in Week 8

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Violin Beginners – Week 7

For violin beginners and their parents, Week 7 approaches as an exciting milestone in their progress towards Twinkles. During this week the step by step array of skills from the past six weeks comes together into playing their first piece, which is of course, Twinkles!

Little beginners often don’t quite realise that from week 6 lesson they’ve been practising the 4 fingered notes which – together with open A and E strings – are all the notes they need to play Twinkle.

Twinkle is carefully practised and memorised in a particular way, but before we get this step, let’s look at how Week 7 is structured.

Main Teaching Point for Week 7 – Learning to Play the Twinkles Sections

What To Teach in Week 7

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Violin Beginners – Week 6

Week 6 for violin beginners opens up with the new skill they have all wanted to start for the past few weeks: Learning to place fingers on the fingerboard to form the notes that make the music!

violin left hand

Left hand studies start after the bowing basics are fluent and confident. Why not before? It’s all part of establishing skills cumulatively – building abilities a step at a time.

Main Teaching Point for Week 6 – Left Hand Shape and Correct Finger Placement

What To Teach in Week 6

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Violin Beginners – Week 5

At Week 5, some Violin Beginners are starting to show a little fluency in their rhythms. It shows up in group class as they try to match the playing style and tempo of the other students. This is a very healthy development. Emulating the advanced players is a great way to improve – and as we’ve said before, it’s a lot of fun to watch!

Photo by Toa Heftiba

Like all beginners, these eager new students want to start playing pieces and are spontaneously joining in at the group class playthrough with the more advanced students. And why shouldn’t they?

When we all first talked about this idea, as mentioned in a previous post, John was dubious about letting them do it. Wouldn’t they learn to play with mistakes? He was still a little doubtful when we started the experiment, mainly because for a moment or two the sound was somewhat cacophonous, but over the next few weeks what happened was dramatic and unexpected.

These beginners were making much faster progress than any previous group of new students. Not only were they were absorbing good playing skills at a faster rate, they were learning to play correctly.

So what’s happening at Week 5 in the 10 Weeks to Twinkles series?

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Violin Beginners – Week 4

By Week 4 our new violin beginners and parents are enjoying the two daily practices. At the group classes they’ve joined both the first session play-along and the beginner group in Session 2 where they are swept up into playing with more advanced Twinkle players. What comes next?

Photo by Dawid Zawiła

Why did Suzuki focus on learning to play rhythms in the beginning while some other music teachers were persisting with reading? It’s all about the growth of ability, which involves absorbing the sound of the music and developing physical skills.

Which are the most important skills?

Ask anyone who hasn’t learned a string instrument to name what looks like the most difficult skill to master on the violin and they’re likely to identify left hand gymnastics, the dazzlingly rapid and amazingly accurate display of fingering up and down the fingerboard.

While it’s certainly true that left hand skills require an immense amount of careful practice to precisely form correct pitches of notes all over the fingerboard at speed, the violinist’s right arm and hand have far more control of the sound – its tone, shape, colour, volume, attack, length, timbre and rhythm, music’s living soul.

How to Achieve Good Progress

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Violin Beginners – Week 3

Two weeks of daily practice and listening to recordings, two studio lessons and two group classes. That’s what’s already happened as Week 3 arrives for our new violin beginner.

Beginners week 3

Photo courtesy of Aaron Burden

The bowhold and violin hold, two essential foundations for learning to play the violin, are starting to feel natural and easier to do. These two skills need to be habitual for our new student to focus attention on the next major advance – learning to play the Twinkle rhythms!

In the first instance, learning to play the rhythms is a physical skill, and as you’ll see below, teaching a new student to play each Twinkle rhythm involves giving them the experience and feeling of the correct bow arm motion.

We’ll show how the teacher helps the student’s bow arm produce the rhythm and as it is refined and improved, listening and making a good sound takes over as the basis for bow control.

Our aim, even at this early stage, is to extend the beginner’s awareness from the up and down of the bow arm to encompass the quality of the sound they are creating. The search for beauty and good tone quality begins at the very outset of the new player’s violin journey.

Main Teaching Point for Week 3 – Learning to Play Two Rhythms on E String

What To Teach in Week 3

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Violin Beginners – Week 2

By the time Week 2 arrives for new violin beginners, the parent and child have become part of the community of violin musicians and are setting the daily activities in motion from Group Class and their individual lesson. Every day they listen to good recordings of the music they’ll soon be learning. At home they’re practising the bowhold together and having fun clapping the Twinkle rhythms. What’s next?


Photo by Madison Nickel

From taking part in the group class and watching other individual lessons, parents and beginners see how students work and conduct themselves. Parents have started reading Suzuki’s insights about how to create musical ability.

Beginners actually make the fastest progress in the group classes, mainly from watching, listening, joining in what others are doing and setting goals for the week with other parents and children.

They emulate the advanced players and respond quickly to the environment and energy of the class. We often see young beginners learn skills in an hour or so that would otherwise take a week or more of practice.

This is the time to take advantage of the flood of enthusiasm to start building the expectation and habit of quick progress.

Main Teaching Point for Week 2 – the Violin Hold

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Violin Beginners – Week 1

The day has finally arrived for the first violin lesson! Violin case in hand, the new student knocks at the studio door, excited and perhaps a little nervous.

new violin beginner

Have a Plan and Keep Notes

It is important for teachers to have a lesson plan and keep clear lesson notes on each child. Over the weeks there will be variations on what children can achieve at the lesson and at home. Lesson plans and notes help the teacher evaluate their students’ progress, identify what might be slowing a student down and allow them to make adjustments to the main goal or teaching point of each lesson. Evaluation is important at the end of each lesson, just a short note to make clear what to look for next time.

Arriving Early

Each week the parent and student arrive ten minutes before their individual lesson to watch other lessons. By watching others, children learn huge amounts of what is expected and form a picture of what they can achieve. Children and parents learn from observing students from all levels.

Main Teaching Point for Week 1 – the Bowhold


What happens in Week 1

  1. Learn how to get into rest position and take a bow;
  2. Learn how to hold the bow correctly;
  3. Assess the set homework for listening to Book 1 twice daily;
  4. Clap Rhythms

Now let’s look at how to do each one in detail…

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Violin Beginners – Preparing for Week 1

The first 10 weeks of learning violin create a culture and a pathway for the new student’s quick progress and enjoyment – a way of working, especially with other participants in the whole adventure, and establishing new permanent habits to propel them happily forward on the crest of the learning wave, free of the ups and downs of want to/don’t want to practise.


To begin with, let’s look at what happens before the first lesson.

Preparatory Session 1

At this stage, the new students have been accepted into the program.

1. Getting the Right Violin and Bow

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