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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Suzuki Violin Teacher Feature – Sharron Beamer

In this week’s post I’m delighted bring to you my dear friend and colleague, Sharron Beamer, who we met in the 80’s at the Suzuki Institute in Matsumoto, Japan, our families instantly embracing an enduring friendship. Talking with Sharron brought up images of the winter streets of Matsumoto and the humble wooden houses where we lived, the cacophony of practice in the teachers’ rooms, the aromas of green tea and strange seafood, the faces of our teacher colleagues from all over the world, Suzuki smiling and smoking in his chair, and the happy chatter of violin-carrying children.

Sharron Beamer

Sharron is a vivacious, insightful teacher of unequivocal conviction, thoughtful, friendly, sociable and an intrepid adventurer who loves a challenge. A genuine possibility thinker, her achievements come from a fearless can-do attitude towards life. She teaches in London, England.

The Interview

We’d talked earlier in the year about an interview, and I finally got through to her on Skype at her home in Muswell Hill. Our discussion ranged over a wide variety of subjects, but if there was a central theme, it was how she worked with young students and parents, motivating them to study and make progress. Here’s a few highlights:

* Her remarkable story of how she became a Suzuki violin teacher;
* Studying with Suzuki in Japan;
* Starting new students and new parents;
* Taking on students who have begun with others;
* How she builds a positive relationship with students.

To hear the interview, just click on the play button.

You can download and read Sharron’s article on the Parent Child Relationship in Resources.

Thanks for coming to Teach Suzuki Violin and I hope you enjoy the interview!



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Takako Nishizaki, A Queen of the Violin

Returning to teach violin after my years studying with Shinichi Suzuki, I needed to update my studio library of violin recordings. The classical CD store had recently added an extensive new collection of recordings under the Naxos label – all at a very reasonable price. Japanese violinist Takako Nishizaki featured as soloist in many of the violin recordings. I loved her exquisite phrasing and consummate virtuosity, and added a number of her CD’s to my collection.

The First Violinist to Complete the Suzuki Course

Later I was surprised to read in Takako’s biography that her early teachers had been her father and Suzuki himself. In fact she had been the first violinist to complete the Suzuki Course and was awarded the Teacher’s Degree at the incredibly young age of 9!

In America at Yale she studied with Broadus Erle and at Julliard with Joseph Fuchs, winning a number of major awards on her way to the world concert stage.

Takako’s repertoire and range of works is astounding. It’s hard to find violin music that she hasn’t performed or recorded. For several years I had used her recordings of the Suzuki pieces in my teaching studio. The Suzuki Evergreens are an awesome achievement of musical mastery and interpretation, and to my mind the best models available for violin students.

My Interview With Takako Nishizaki

I was keen to share her story with you all, and when I wrote to Takako in March this year about an interview for Teach Suzuki Violin, I was delighted to discover that she and husband Klaus, founder and chairman of Naxos, would be visiting Sydney in a couple of weeks. Read More →

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Concerto in A Minor, 3rd Movement, Vivaldi – Part 1

Antonio Vivaldi’s music is instantly recognizable and easily differentiated from his composer contemporaries, coloured with his unique Venetian flamboyance and flair. The 3rd movement of the Concerto in A Minor is written in his trademark lively style, more of a challenge to learn and play than the 1st movement, for two reasons: firstly it’s a little quicker – Presto; and secondly, there’s a tricky arpeggio section on page 2 (bars 75-90). What’s new here, technically speaking? This piece makes good use of 2nd position and features harmonics – neither exactly new to Book IV players, but common hereafter. And there’s an interesting twist to the story of that arpeggio section.

Students like the fact that the 3rd movement is just one of three parts of a whole piece of music, to be performed at one time. Knowing a seven page piece is an impressive achievement. When I joke, “Volumes IX and X are easy books: only one piece each,” they always ask, “How many pages do they have?

The energetic character of the music is clear from the beginning: vigorous bow strokes – staccato and martellato (hammered).

Main Study Points

  • A descending shift through 3rd and 2nd positions – bars 16-18 (intonation);
  • The run up to the harmonic E (harmonics);
  • High 3rd position – bars 58-60 (intonation);
  • An arpeggio section – bars 75-90 (memorizing, shifting, string crossing)

I’ll take these points one at a time: Read More →

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Tasmin Little and Parent Support

In my recent post, The Making of Charisma, I talked about the powerful buzz we sometimes experience during a concert performance.

Tasmin Little

Tasmin Little

At these times the music doesn’t merely move us, it imparts energy and inspiration for the musical life. After I hear fabulous playing, I can’t wait to get to my violin. With the sounds and images still clear in my mind, I just want to play and play, trying to achieve the glorious tone of the great artist I’ve just heard.

As a teacher, I get a similar effect from watching great players working with young musicians.

The best masterclasses are about purely musical matters, delving deeper into the heart and soul of the music, rather than dealing with matters of technique. Today’s post features a conversation I had with Tasmin Little after her masterclass to young violinists at the University of WA. She was in town to play the Bruch concerto with the WA Symphony Orchestra.

Tasmin is an international violin soloist, a great artist who radiates her love of music like the morning sunshine in springtime. She tours the world to play the great concertos for us, yet still finds time for her children within her formidable range of musical activities. Her performances inspire audiences with the  joy and enthusiasm that emanates from the depths of her being. She lives the delight of playing the violin – and you can’t help being enlivened by her extraordinary vibrancy on or off the stage.

When I talked to Tasmin after the masterclass, I wanted to hear about the early years of her life with music. By virtue of the years of self-directed study and hard work, great musicians are ultimately self-made, but the environment and influence of their early years is pivotal. The active support of parents in a young musician’s life creates a powerful impetus. From these years come the vision and love of music; the origins of the quest for beauty and artistic meaning. As we talked, Tasmin spoke about her deep appreciation of her own parents’ part in her life with music…

the support of parents in the right way is crucial, she says.

Many years ago I realized that my most important “students” are parent -teachers. Nature bestows parenthood on us minus instructions on how to bring up our offspring to be well-educated musicians. We all know how to love and care for our children, but we must somehow learn how to educate them for life enrichment – in music, art and literature, for example.


◊ Avoid pressure or conflict!

Children smell an agenda a mile away and may refuse to co-operate. Wouldn’t you? Inspiration is better than motivation! I teach parents of young beginners how to make up simple games to get things going,  generally involving a little challenge to make repetition more interesting.

Sometimes I incorporate the large squares on my studio carpet in a game. When an important point comes up, such as playing a tricky section correctly or learning a new skill, we turn the squares into stepping stones. The student steps into the next square after a correct repetition, but stays put if there’s a mistake! The goal is the tenth square. The game is played in a humorous spirit. I’ll say, very goood – step forward! Uh-oh, can’t move on that one! Or, what do you think? Children are very fair judges. I might vary the game for fun: e.g. three or more correct repeats before stepping forward; stepping backwards for mistakes; etc., but by the end of the game, the point is learned and memorized.

This way of learning is more effective at developing good study habits for very young students than indirect systems such as incentives (rewards), verbal persuasion or nagging.

◊ Take part in lessons!

As a teacher, my aim is to include the parent in the lesson. It’s really my fault if a parent dozes off and doesn’t know what to do at home. I ask parents questions, go over points together and even get them to demonstrate basic skills.

◊ Learn and practise the basics yourself!

I love it when parents catch the violin bug for themselves. Home becomes a place of music and real musicians. Daily practice and studying new music are normal activities for the people who live there.

◊ Learn to read music!

At first a musical score looks like a secret code, with strange symbols and esoteric meanings, but it’s easier  than you think. Start simply with finger numbers* (1 to 4), note names and lengths (easy to follow and check as you listen to the recording) and bowing (just ups ν or downs Π) – during the course of lessons. The teacher will help out.

◊ Take responsibility for morning practice!

For many parents, this is the hardest part, but it doesn’t have to be. The key is patiently establishing a daily habit that has its own momentum. I’m going to return to this important topic again and again. How to successfully set up and monitor daily practice needs its own series of posts. Irregular practice requires much more effort than maintaining daily practice. Every intermittent session requires motivation, whereas daily habits grow their own momentum, so you can direct your energy and attention to where it is really needed – fluency.

◊ Teach the new piece!

In our music school, we teach parents to set aside a time each afternoon for learning new music. This system works very well – a single clear goal to work together on, without the pressure of other things to practise. The morning practice creates fluency, which makes new learning easier.

I appreciate your interest and hope you find this post useful, whether you’re a teacher, parent or student. I look forward to hearing your comments and questions. Next up is more music, so stay with me until the next post!

Cheers, John

*A little word about finger numbers: I teach the correct names of notes on the fingerboard from the very beginning, i.e. C# rather than A2, F# not E1, etc. Even 3 year old students easily learn to use correct terms. After all, they are able to learn new languages with ease at this age.

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The Making of Charisma

A couple of years ago, I saw Vadim Repin play Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D twice – in rehearsal and the next day in concert.

Vadim Repin

Vadim Repin

It’s a concerto I love and know well, one I studied in Japan with Suzuki – with mixed success I might add, but that’s another story. Repin, born in Siberia, knew it so infallibly well he was able to chat away, in Russian of course, with conductor Vladimir Verbitsky whilst playing at the rehearsal.

During both performances I experienced spine-tingling sensations from his charismatic tone and interpretation. I found it hard to sleep that night as the sound of his playing rolled around in my head like the swell of great ocean waves. It set me thinking again about the nature of charisma. I’d previously heard Tchaikovsky’s concerto played in this same hall by other world class violinists on several occasions, without this electrifying effect.

What is Charisma?

What is this magical mysterious quality that attracts us with such a powerful magnetic force? Is it possible to teach and learn charisma? Musical pundits describe it as a pure, mystifying gift – unobtainable unless you’ve somehow always had it. However they are perhaps better at talking about what it is not, agreeing that it cannot be created by mere virtuosity and flawless technique. However, the question remains: as performers, is our charismatic appeal automatically created – or constrained – by some intangible force of nature arising at the time of our birth?

I don’t think anyone has completely unravelled the mystery, but my teaching experiences have shown me that many of the contributing factors can be taught and learned, giving rise to real charismatic performances. Some of the factors are surprisingly simple. Before I talk about each one, let me tell you about a very special solo I saw in Japan.

A Memorable Solo

At the Suzuki summer schools in Matsumoto, one evening is set aside for a Gala Concert. It features some of the best young players from around Japan, from the very young – like the four year old boy we saw play Vivaldi’s concerto in A minor – to mature teenagers’ renditions of Sarasate showpieces. One performance by a young teenage girl stands out in my mind more than any other. It became the inspiration for how I teach stage presence – or charisma, if you like – for soloists.

From the moment she stepped on to stage, everyone in the hall recognised that the performance would be something special. It began with her striking appearance: a tasteful red dress, long black boots, her long black hair and quick friendly smile. Striding onto stage with unselfconscious confidence, the sound of her boots echoes around the hall from the wooden stage. At centre stage, she smiles to the audience, pausing for a moment before an unhurried bow. When she bows, her hair cascades down in front, almost touching the floor. Rising, she tosses it back and lifts her violin into a dramatic stance. A little unhurried glance over to the accompanist and she is ready. We are all holding our breaths. Before a note is played, the whole audience is in her hands. We all know it will be good – and it is! Black boots

In my mind’s eye I can still see this solo when I teach stage presence. Beyond the music, she had learned and practised the art of performance until it became spontaneous and natural. It led me to ask: can we teach young players to perform with charisma? Now I truly believe so. For genuine charisma to emerge, important skills must be learned and practised in addition to the music. In other words, the right ingredients must be there first.

Prepare the way

Interviewed in her film, Portrait, Anne-Sophie Mutter recalls von Karajan’s response to her audition to play (at 13) with the Berlin Philharmonic as, “come back in a year” or words to that effect.  For professional musicians, the first obvious step is to make sure the piece is relatively perfect – confidently accurate at the right tempo and securely memorized. For this reason we choose solo pieces that the student has been playing well for some time; at least 6 months. A year is better. Then I ask the student to play the piece for me and some of the other teachers, in the presence of the parent. If we all agree the student is ready, we conduct a series of mini masterclasses with them, working mainly on musicality and expression.

Moving and Shaking

Times have changed. Almost any body movement when playing was once considered excessive and showy, but music is not just sound, it is also visual. It comes from living musicians who move and breathe with the music. But there is also a cultural factor – take a look at the contrast between the way Yehudi Menuhin and Janine Jansen move in the Mendelssohn Concerto in E Minor. We teach students to move with the music from the beginning. Even 3 year olds love to move. Over time it becomes a natural part of expression, amplifying emotions such as drama, energy, calm, pathos and humour in the music.

Janine Jansen

Janine Jansen, credits photo: Decca/Kasskara

Dressed to thrill

Because charisma has such a strong visual component, wearing the right clothes helps to spark it off. I ask parents to take time selecting clothes to suit the performance. It’s no accident that the most charismatic performers dress well. On the other hand, many professional musicians turn up on stage poorly dressed – too conservative or with wrong shapes and colours, exaggerating the body in an odd way. The remedy? Ask a French person – or at least someone who dresses well. Don’t choose your own clothes.

Staging the Walk

I tell my students that their solo begins whilst they are still off stage. Walking on to stage you are already communicating with the audience. If you step confidently with a welcoming demeanor, the audience will be with you – even before your bow touches the string. Practising the walk on to stage also minimizes and eliminates nerves. A senior student recently said to me after his solo, ‘I played well, but felt a touch of nerves, because I didn’t practise coming on to stage enough.’

Taking a Bow

The friendly unrushed bow on centre stage is the musician’s opportunity to greet the audience with genuine appreciation for their presence. It is more natural to look towards the feet when bowing. We teach our students to hold for a count of three, before arising quickly with a smile.  Try it.


Too many performances are tainted by poor and unusual posture. Drooping violins, strained necks, open mouths are ingrained habits practised unknowingly and can be an unwelcome distraction to an otherwise good performance. There’s little point in trying to fix them up on stage. Attractive playing posture is an integral part of studies. Play in front of a mirror sometimes.


The ability to project well into a large space takes practice. Musicians know that making a larger sound is not achieved simply pressing harder or moving the bow more quickly, it means practising for more tone resonance. Professional soloists work  hard to produce a big and beautiful tone, one that has the power to reach the far corners of any auditorium. They can then adjust their projection to suit the space.

 This leads me to related point. Rehearsing in the actual performance space is good professional practice, because the hall or room space forms part of your violin’s voice, with a large influence on your sound and confidence.


A good finish is as important as a good beginning. Is the ending dramatic, graceful, or fading into silence? The ending of Schumann’s Two Grenadiers is enhanced by lifting the final bow off the string in a dramatic gesture of triumph. By contrast the last note of Dvorak’s Humoresque finishes before the music ends – after several seconds of silent stillness.

These ‘charisma skills’ are not learned overnight. As with every consciously acquired ability, they are achieved by mindful and guided practice, one skill at a time. Stars are made, not born. (Just ask their parents.) We are born with our personality, our view on life, our take on the world, to colour our star in our own unique way, illuminating our music with our own distinctive light.

 Thanks for your interest. Me a comment below, I’d love to hear your thoughts on charisma.

Stay tuned! Coming up in a couple of weeks is an interview with British violinist, Tasmin Little.

Cheers, John

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How Children Learn

I am a violinist, but like many string players I started out on the piano. From the age of four I took lessons on an old upright, practising on cold winter mornings with a feather eiderdown around my legs and on early summer mornings before the heat arrived . The piano stood in a dark room of our house at the rear of my parents’ shoe shop, a crepuscular light struggling through its one dusty window. Oblivious to my still-sleeping siblings a room away, I played away with cheerful forte. The sound of the piano resonated deeply within my soul – I loved it.


Allie talks on the Learning Process

Reflecting on how I learned new pieces, I wish I’d known as that young child what experience and training has taught me since. When learning a new piece, I would read haltingly from beginning to end, only forming a sense of what the music should sound like from the gradually coalescing fragments. I never heard it performed by an accomplished musician – even my teacher.

Unsurprisingly, the initial results were rather stilted. Playing the piece at the next lesson, I could feel my teacher picking up errors – notes too short or too long, rhythms unclear, phrases muddled, accents too loud or soft.

Next morning, I tried to remember the teacher’s instructions, noting ruefully the exclamation marks and underlinings pencilled on the score. Yet in spite of my conscientious labours, more faults would inevitably surface at the next class. And so the piece evolved painstakingly into something musical. It was frustratingly slow. Mistakes are annoyingly difficult to repair. They must be deliberately usurped and supplanted.

Two disconnected worlds exist in music education – children’s hobby music lessons and the real thing. Hobby music is well meaning stuff, but it contains a falsehood. Parents are encouraged to believe that poor results are acceptable, even laudable – because ‘she is enjoying it and doing her best’. As the famous intellectual Tony Judt said, “effort is a poor substitute for achievement.”

Inferior performances are applauded with an unspoken acknowledgement that ‘doing your best’ precludes real achievement – which is available only to the seriously talented. And the serious label is the dark thread in the fabric of this lie, insinuating that building real expertise requires boring work; practice; pain; dedication; willpower; tedium and toil. It implies that the pursuit of perfection precludes enjoyment, when in fact the opposite is true: we all enjoy doing the things we do well.

How do we become good at something? Read More →

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