Beginners

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?

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?

sunrise

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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Violin Beginners – A New Series

Violin Beginners, a new button on the TSV Gold Dashboard directs members to a collection of posts and resources relevant for everyone in the teaching triangle – teachers, students and parents. It’s about the most important stage of teaching and learning the violin: The Beginning.

violin beginner

Why the beginning is so important.

We’ve created so many posts and resources directly related to violin beginners and getting started because this exciting phase is so crucial to the growth and progress of new musicians. Laden with the hope and promise of realizing the dream of playing music, the early stages require more expertise and careful guidance than any other time.

Good musical beginnings lead to happy, fulfilled and cultured lives, and the ability to play music is a life skill like no other.

During these early months, beginner musicians and their families gain vital new knowledge and skills about learning, the real nature of talent, how to acquire ability, the power of good habits and the role of parents in educating children. This exhilarating period is the launching pad for their successful future in music and education.

We currently have a great variety of information relating to beginners on the website. To help you find it all, we have organised it onto the TSV Gold dashboard with a button for the Beginner topics. At the same time, as we reviewed these posts and resources, it became clear that something more is needed.

Coming Next: A New Series: Violin Beginners – 10 Weeks to Twinkles

Next up on Teach Suzuki Violin, we are creating a new series, Violin Beginners – 10 Weeks to Twinkles, setting out the sequence of lessons and learning steps for beginners in a clear and systematic way. The new series will lay out in detail the first 10 weeks in this pivotal stage of the violin journey.

Why are Suzuki teachers so good with beginners?

Shinichi Suzuki’s philosophy and insights about the development of ability, plus the practical approach he pioneered, led to a very successful way of working with beginners of all ages. And just like good science, the ideas he realized are able to be endlessly improved, expanded, refined and deepened. (It’s interesting to note that Dr S never personally described his work as a fixed method or a standardized system of learning to play music.)

Suzuki music programs particularly excel with beginners, producing healthy numbers of emerging musicians.

To work successfully with beginners, especially very young ones, Suzuki violin teachers undergo specialized training and experience not always offered by more traditional music teacher training institutions. In fact I’ve met well qualified, excellent violin teachers who rarely or never take on beginners. I believe a key reason is the note reading conundrum. An emphasis on notation at the start precludes most very young beginners.

Music – a language

As Suzuki and others have shown, treating music as a language has big benefits for beginning students, particularly very young ones. It means working directly and immediately with the sound of music rather than through the page, as we all do when learning our mother tongue.

Good teachers of beginners play a vital role in the future of music. Every musician was once a beginner, needing the careful direction of an expert teacher who is skilled and knowledgeable about the big picture, able to guide students through the shoals of practice and persistence, and keeping up their enthusiasm and love for music.

More than teaching skills

Suzuki teachers work in two essential areas in the early stages. The sequence of practical steps and skills needs to be mastered to build the foundation abilities correctly and accurately for unlimited musical growth and refinement. At the same time students and parents learn to become part of the enriched education environment of the group, the talent producing musical biosphere.

Up Next: Week 1 for Beginners

Cheers,

John

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How to Select Students for your Violin Studio

Starting out as a violin teacher is a very exciting time! After the years spent studying, the countless hours practising and playing the music you love and will teach, greeting the first nervously smiling students and their parents feels like a dream come true.

You’re all so eager to begin, it’s tempting to accept every potential student, just because they ask you. For a time, I did take everyone, and the interesting consequences taught me some important lessons. As we refined our new student induction process, the positive repercussions for our violin programme and students were dramatic.

As you’ll see later in the post, we realised that how you choose students and who you select is critical to the overall success of your violin studio. Why? (Hint: it’s not only the student you are choosing.)

How to Select Students for your Violin Studio

Building from your Vision

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Group Class Success – What do parents do?

What do parents do at lessons? Everything! And how does that work?

Group class

We’ve all heard it before: Parents are the key to their children’s success. And it’s true. If a child has lost motivation or is not moving through the pieces, the missing link is parent involvement. But parents need to know what to do. I’ve experienced Suzuki Violin first hand as a parent and as an educator. My role as a parent was far more challenging, every day at home with my children grappling with ways to ‘get’ them to play their pieces.

At the heart of the problem is the western tuition model’s narrow focus on the child and the student in the lesson. I too sat silently, a parent at the back of the room while the teacher expertly taught my children one-to-one. Occasionally during the lesson, the teacher nodded over at me to make sure I had made a note for home practice. Despite my diligence, I felt disconnected and superfluous. Being the parent at your child’s lesson can be an excruciating experience and it is no surprise some mothers and fathers wonder why they have to be there.

Problems of the Parent Disconnect

I’ve watched classes where parents bring magazines to read during the lesson, or slip outside for long conversations on their mobiles, and see they were going to be quite unable to work with their child during the week. I imagined they’d go home, tell their child to practice and wonder why there is so much resistance. In the very early stages of violin playing, young children need an enormous amount of home teaching. Violin is a very challenging instrument to learn. We’ve all heard a parent say, “I don’t think my child is suited to violin, they have lost interest, we are thinking of giving up.” In other words the parent is giving up.

My own experiences and observations of the parent disconnect in the lesson made me think about how it could be different. I began with the lesson structure, what the ideal outcomes should be, and how parents could communicate and work in depth with their children about the study points in question.

What I saw at the Summer School

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Group Class Success: Managing Behaviour

We are in a quandary about how to handle children. The words behaviour and discipline are charged with tension as arguments rage back and forth between traditional and alternative ideas – but as I explain later, I don’t like using the words. I believe we are looking for other, better ways in our dealings with children, and as a society, I think it is very important that we keep revisiting this topic.

The fact is that in many cases, especially in schools and for parents, behaviour and discipline are fraught simply because modern children see that they can refuse to comply with demands placed on them by adults – and really, at the end of the story, can’t be made to do something anymore. Quite often they don’t care about the punishments or embargoes devised to keep them in order. However, there is a way to bypass this deadlock. To have successful, productive and enjoyable group classes and violin lessons, we have to find it.

I’m not so keen on the word discipline for its old connotations – children to be seen and not heard, controlling children rather than inspiring them and so on, therefore I might just have to drop the word and look for other ways of explaining something that is, or should be, alive and inspiring. When it really boils down, what we want to do is to create and develop good relationships. but instead I think we have ended up in a muddle.

Disconnected incentives extinguish interest

For a long time now, focus on children’s behaviour has been driven by the psychological model of Behaviourism. From this doctrine, we alternate between reward and punishment as the way to cope with children – great for rats and pigeons perhaps, but not the best if we are to have healthy and successful teacher-student and parent-child relationships. Clearly, it is a toxic mix. To be honest, every society (and it doesn’t really matter which country) is floundering to cope with bringing up children. If we haven’t made a connected relationship with our children in the early years, we are headed for a bumpy ride and much difficulty managing them as teenagers.

Create genuine interest

I love watching John’s and Phianne’s classes as they are so adept at teaching. They rarely have a student who is not concentrating on what they are doing. Even the most disconnected children pay attention during their sessions, but it’s not so apparent how it’s being done.

At the end of one Group Class, I recall speaking with a group of parents who unwittingly made the comment, Oh, John and Phianne are so patient with the children. Shocked that they could miss seeing the point, I said in frustration, It has absolutely nothing to do with patience! It comes from creating interest and focusing the children on the teaching point.

When children become intensely engaged in doing, behaviour problems fade away. Parents and teachers alike are often so accustomed to disciplining children’s behaviour and becoming so stressed and frazzled in the process that they cannot see another totally different way when it is in front of them.

Even at university lectures for my education degree, we were instructed never to turn our backs on the class!

Don’t you just hate it when kids roll their eyes at you? When they start eye-rolling, communicating with others or mucking up in classes, lessons or home practice, it’s a sure sign that attention is on behaviour. (These days I think it is very funny when I see eye rolling.)

A lot of keeping students in the flow comes from being organised ourselves, especially in our head.

FOUR PRINCIPLES FOR GROUP CLASS BLISS

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Group Class Success – Playing with the Suzuki Recordings

Listening to and playing with the recordings is a cornerstone of the Suzuki Method. Once you really get it, everything changes and it’s so much easier for all students to progress rapidly. Some may think it is a bit stilted to play along with the recording, yet I always imagine what it is like for young children, or anyone for that matter, to go home and try to play violin without first hearing and knowing the sound of the music.

Listening to the recording builds the inner music landscape in all its auditory vistas, colours and details – I’m amazed how some parents of violin students don’t take advantage of its extraordinary power. Without it there is little in the child’s mind to make the connection between head, hands and instrument and the only time the student hears the real music is once a week, at the lesson. There’s virtually no hope they can carry home what they’ve heard and hold it usefully through the week without going back to the recordings.

These days, few parents are experienced piano accompanists or accomplished violinists, so without the sounds of the recording, like in Old Mother Hubbard, the music cupboard for the musical mind is relatively bare. The recorded music is the means by which parents can build a strong, healthy music learning environment at home and speed up their child’s learning success.

Learning the Language of Music

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