Fun and Games

Learning to play the violin well takes lots of hard work, but there are certain compensations. Due to the violin’s remarkable power to penetrate doors and walls of any material and thickness with its acoustic emanations, you can torment your family and neighbours with your practice for a few years, until the music starts to sound halfway acceptable – to yourself.

Zak having fun

Jokes aside, whether you are a player or a parent, surviving those early years requires a healthy mix of stamina, optimism and love. To keep at it, you need to experience progress and more crucially, maintain a resilient sense of humour about it all.

We all love a good laugh, even at our own expense. It’s a welcome antidote to the problems of the world and our struggles with musical perfectionism. We especially like humour that appears spontaneous, but as every comedian knows, the best wisecracks, well timed remarks and ad-lib jokes take lots of conscious practice to sound unrehearsed. For them, being funny is serious business.

For musicians, it is a necessary condition of our profession.

Fun and Games in the Classroom

Fun has an especially important place in teaching. In the most memorably enjoyable music lessons I’ve been privileged to watch, the teachers used humour to ingeniously transform work into play – literally.

What if you’re not the joker in the class? Is it possible to grow a good sense of humour, or is it one of those abilities some lucky people are just born with? Nature or nurture, gifted or learned? As a teacher who studied with Suzuki, you can probably guess my opinion.

Personally, I don’t consider myself naturally funny, (ridiculous, perhaps) and had to learn how to get a laugh. The best teachers are often children themselves, who are quick to catch a joke and eager to join in the fun and games.

Teaching with Games

Read More →

Read More →

Memory Games

I love to play memory games with students. A favourite of one of mine is based on a game Suzuki played with us, and like all good learning games, creates smiles, laughter and enjoyment all round, while getting an important point across. It masquerades as a test – to see how well a piece has been memorised, and goes like this:


Play for me the first Twinkle variation (or any piece, really – it depends on the student’s age and level), and while you are playing you have to answer my questions, without stopping or making a mistake.”

“Ok, that’s easy!”

We begin playing the piece together. (I’ve got to be able to ask the questions while softly playing, too.)

After half a phrase I call out, “How many eyes have you got?”


Big smiles. “How many ears have you got?”


“How many feet?”


“How many hands?”


(Can you see what’s coming?)

“How many noses have you got?”

Bigger smiles now, and the little violinist answers, Two!!! or just looks at me, laughing and trying to keep playing, while giggles and guffaws break out from the parents.

Once they’ve got used to how the game works, I venture more complicated questions such as, “How old are you at your next birthday? What’s 11 plus 3?”  and finally, “What is your telephone number at home – backwards?”

Types of Memory

Read More →

Read More →

5 Teaching Strategies That Work (Especially No. 3)

For a long time I believed that the most important expertise a violin teacher needed to possess was technical proficiency. The master classes I’d attended by touring world artists were dazzling, especially when they performed a passage or two themselves in the class, but I began to notice there were also outstanding virtuoso-like teachers around the world who were not equipped with virtuosic playing skills. In fact, their older students played better than they did themselves. They had mastered non-technical teaching skills that were just as essential as dexterity on their violin.

Don’t get me wrong, all teachers need to know the music and their instrument inside out, but in this post I describe 5 powerful strategies good teachers use to bring out the best in their pupils – that don’t involve playing their violins.


One or two excellent world-class teachers I’ve watched never even picked up a violin in the lesson, but that’s a bit unusual. Suzuki once taught me a memorable lesson without touching his priceless Landolphi violin. He gave private lessons to several of the foreign trainee teachers on Wednesday afternoons in his studio, where we revealed to him and to each other our progress (or lack of it) on the current study pieces. The class was delightfully unpredictable, ranging from laughter to occasional tears of frustration, from embarrassing blunders to stunning performances. And you never knew with certainty what Suzuki would choose to teach you.

I had finally mastered my piece that week – or so I thought – and even performed it with a small flicker of confidence. As soon as I began, Suzuki stood up and strode over to me as I played, clearly intent on fixing something. What was it? I tried to keep my attention on the music, listening to the flowing melody I knew so well. Read More →

Read More →

Games for the Violin Studio

Over the years I have used games extensively in my teaching, both in the studio and in group classes for all ages. They are great for making the learning of a skill more enjoyable and for creating a happy atmosphere in lessons. Almost anything can be turned into a game of some sort. The ones I use generally incorporate an interesting challenge. I teach parents how to make up little games for their children, especially for the early stages of their studies, to help set up good practice and learning habits.

Although I have used some games for ages, many have a shelf life of only a few weeks, so I constantly invent new ones and create variations on the classics. Children’s humour is delightfully uncomplicated, so it is fairly easy to turn a study point into a suitably challenging game. Here are a few of my studio evergreens.

Steps to Success

Read More →

Read More →


Powered by WishList Member - Membership Software