Teaching Strategies

Group Class Success – Session 3 The Talk

From the activities and enjoyment of the Play Through and Teaching Session 2, the group class is now buzzing with energy and enthusiasm. Parents and students are chatting with each other, exchanging ideas and discussing points from the sessions. It’s a good time for the teachers to take advantage of the heightened concentration to share their knowledge and experience about important areas of learning to play the violin. It’s Session 3: Welcome to The Talk!

Allie presents the Talk

A relatively short session of about 5 to 15 minutes, The Talk is an opportunity to engage and educate parents and students about topics such as how to implement morning and afternoon practice in order to learn new pieces quickly, infallible techniques to securely memorise the music and how to create fluent musical ability.

In the video below in this post I present my talk on the keys to daily practice. It’s particularly interesting to see how the students themselves contribute to the discussion.

Within our violin school The Talk also grew into a kind of interactive forum about how to work together successfully.

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Overcoming Performance Anxiety – A Personal Odyssey

In this post, the second about overcoming performance anxiety, I relate how we handled it in our violin institute and my personal experiences. In the lead up to my final concert in Japan, I stumbled upon a solution to this mystifying nervous reaction. Later on I realised it is an old technique, used by many before me.


(This photo from should get a few laughs from old friends and colleagues.)

It’s clear for teaching violin, or any of the performing arts, that there are two starting points when dealing with the problem of performance anxiety.

  1. Bypassing it from the very beginning;
  2. Overcoming it when you’ve already got it.

This rather simple and obvious division helps us determine which teaching and learning strategies we need to use for playing on stage with serenity and confidence.

1. Bypassing Performance Anxiety

As a result of some of my own experiences and those of my musician and music teacher friends, focus was initially centred on the second point: how to help students overcome performance anxiety. I wondered if predisposition (or luck) played a significant role in whether or not a performer suffered from nerves on stage.

The picture changed when we saw the concerts and classes of young violinists from the Suzuki Institute in Matsumoto. Performers of all ages appeared remarkably composed on stage. They were very well prepared and rehearsed, played securely from memory and with rare exceptions, seemed quite happy and relaxed to perform in front of large audiences.


Watching them confirmed to me the answer was training, learning and teaching – and not luck or natural propensity.

So on returning to teaching at our violin institute, we made a policy of giving all players lots of regular opportunities to perform publicly, as soloists and in groups, making sure no one was left out, regardless of age or level. Soloists played for our enthusiastic audience of parents in the last session of group class and we held extra solo preparation classes leading up to concert performances.

This was very successful, especially when we changed to regular weekly group classes. Students became accustomed to playing with confidence and flair in public, in both group pieces and solos, to the point where it became normal.

2. Overcoming Performance Anxiety

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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

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How to Teach Beautiful Violin Bowing

We admire and compliment string players on the dazzling speed, dexterity and accuracy of their left hand on the fingerboard, yet it is the right arm, the bowing arm, that is the living instrument for expression of the music’s soul – the shape, colour, tone, volume, connections, rhythm, accents and the like – how sound is transformed into music.

And the way you move the bow – the unique motion of your arm –  is the visible trademark of your musicianship. As much as the sound you produce, it defines your character and personality as a violinist.


Takako Nishizaki

What are the key characteristics of Beautiful Violin Bowing and how do you teach or learn them?

In this post I’ve included a few of the methods and games I use to teach good bowing. Like all teachers, I’ve borrowed, copied, modified and invented lots of ways to teach good bowing. As soon as I write one down for this post, another comes to mind that would be just as effective, or more suitable for particular students. The point, I suppose, is to begin with a clear idea of the desired outcome: the skill that the student needs to learn to have the greatest effect on their bowing, and to work out an accessible and hopefully enjoyable way of teaching it.

I recommend that you do the same: take and modify these exercises and games to suit your own situation and needs. Here’s my take on the ABCDE of Beautiful Bowing:

A. Straight Bows

One of the first bowing skills beginners learn is to play with straight bow strokes – parallel to the bridge. This helps to produce a pure tone and keeps the bow hair at the optimum place of contact with the string. The five basic rhythms are all played between bow tapes in the middle to lower half – where straight bows are easier.

Initially the hair is flat against the string and later students learn how to tilt the bow slightly away, to control the amount of hair contacting the string, create tone shape and play at the best sound point near the bridge.

How I Teach Straight Bows

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Technique and Musique – Teaching Violin Technique within the Suzuki Repertoire

If I asked students and parents to vote for the least interesting piece in Suzuki Volume 1, I’m fairly confident that Etude would win – or should that be lose? When first I began teaching, I was surprised to see it occasionally omitted from teaching programmes. Personally I rather like Etude, but I’m sure teacher votes wouldn’t count in this poll. The name gives it away – at least to French students. Etude ⇒ study ⇒ monotony ⇒ boring.

Itzhak Perlman - Photo by Edyta Blaszczyk

Itzhak Perlman – Photo by Edyta Blaszczyk

To quote the Wikipedia oracle:

étude – (a French word meaning study) an instrumental musical composition, usually short, of considerable difficulty, and designed to provide practice material for perfecting a particular musical skill.

Etudes have an illustrious musical history. Where would we be without Chopin’s empyrean Op.10 and Op.25 Etudes and the Transcendental Études by Liszt, for example?

Is Suzuki’s Etude just an exercise masquerading as a piece? It certainly serves as an ideal agent for teaching students to play in the key of G major, preparing the way for the Bach Minuets and beyond.

In the best études, musical and technical considerations are inseparable, which, if we apply this idea to pieces themselves, brings me to my point. Almost every piece in the Suzuki violin repertoire takes on a dual role as a vehicle for both technique and musique. As it pertains to teaching young children, this is one of Suzuki’s master strokes.

It is clearly wiser and easier to teach violin technique for students in the early years with ‘real’ music that is attractive and singable, leaving the great books of studies such as Kreutzer and Sevcik for later.

The good thing is you don’t need years of teaching experience to understand what each piece is good for. We all know, for example, how perfect the Twinkle variations are for teaching basic rhythms and other fundamentals. Below are some of the pieces I’ve found suited to teaching particular techniques. Although the lists aren’t comprehensive, I hope they are a useful guide. I have included links to some of the posts.

Bowing Techniques

Right Arm Focus

Left Hand Focus



Most pieces above Volume 4 use higher positions, therefore ongoing practice of shifting exercises is (unavoidably) essential. Individual pieces may be used to help solve particular problems.


I should add an important disclaimer for parents and students: the music will inspire and enthuse, but of itself won’t instruct you in violin technique. Please ask your teacher to show you the techniques and study points associated with the pieces. (And of course, studying technique via the pieces isn’t intended to preclude the use of exercises.)

Thanks for coming to Teach Suzuki Violin! We appreciate your emails.



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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 →

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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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