Monday, May 25, 2015

Suzuki Method vs.Traditional Violin Methods: Which is Best?

by Lora on February 28, 2010

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A Little Background

If you want to spice up a party with a lot of violinists in attendance, take a stand on this question: What is the best teaching method for beginning students—traditional or Suzuki?

Before you know it, the baked Camembert and apricot Brie will be flying and people who have been long-time friends, even stand partners!, will turn their backs on each other.

The debate is an old one, but I don’t know why it still rages. It’s like different religions, each claiming to be the true religion and the only way to get to heaven. Like a religious debate, people on each side are passionately devoted to their belief and almost antagonistic toward the opposition.

The only question that should matter is, “Does the violin method help students play violin better?” The answer is yes: both methods can lead a student to musical success. But there is a good reason to put some thought into choosing which method you will use. I’ll start out by giving you my bottom line first, and then I will justify my answer with the rest of this article.

My bottom line: There is no better way to start a beginning violin student than the Suzuki Method. However, the absolutely PURE Suzuki approach, in my humble opinion, comes with some problems, and I have modified the method in my own studio to combat these problems. I will represent the facts to you as I know them first hand, having grown up on Traditional Violin lessons, and learning the Suzuki Method much later in life.

Traditional methods have been around practically since Plain Chant! and they obviously aren’t going away any time soon, either.

The reason I want the debate to stop is that it creates unnecessary fears and suspicions in the minds of parents whose children are starting to learn to play the violin. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard some form of this question: “Do you teach Suzuki? Because I’ve heard that kids who learn it can’t read music.”

Suzuki Method Myth vs. Facts

To assuage your fears regarding some of the hullabaloo surrounding the Suzuki Method, read on. I will show you the pros and cons of each method and how to compensate for the cons.

MYTH NUMBER 1: Kids who start with the Suzuki method can’t learn to read music.
The Suzuki Method delays the reading of music until much later in the student’s musical development. This is referred to as the “Mother-Tongue” approach, and basically treats music as a language. The theory is that no one taught you to speak your native language…you absorbed it by hearing it spoken all around you.

So it is with music (the theory goes). Even though you can’t read, you can understand and speak just fine thanks to your immersion in the language of your birth.

Advantages of this fact

  • This approach allows beginning students to focus their entire attention on the zillions of mental tasks involved in good bow technique, tone, posture, and intonation. This advantage is huge.
  • Suzuki kids are able to learn pieces at an incredibly fast rate, if they hear it played. This is because the method of learning songs by ear has taught them to quickly recognize pitches and to pay attention to details, including even being able to tell what the bowings should be just by listening.
  • Suzuki kids can begin learning the violin at an earlier age. Basically, if a child is too young to read a book, they are too young to read music. (It’s the same brain activity.)

Problems and Solutions with this fact

  • Problem 1: Many kids become reliant on FINGER NUMBERS instead of true EAR TRAINING.
  • Solution: White out ALL fingerings. Make certain students are learning songs BY EAR.
  • Problem 2: Note reading is delayed so long, and the pieces become so technical and difficult that students really only imitate the sounds they hear….and inevitably they miss some notes, resulting in a sloppy “generalization” of the pieces. I call this “Suzuki Slop” and have spent many painful lessons undoing this damage which was done by previous teachers not paying attention to this tendency and allowing the slop to happen.
  • Solution: Introduce note reading earlier than the “Pure” Suzuki Method. My teacher trainer, Ed Kreitman, begins teaching his students to read music in Book 4. I took it a step further and I start teaching it in Book 2, for many many reasons. Click here to read my article,…-suzuki-book-3  if you want to know my reasons in more depth.
  • Second solution: Don’t allow Suzuki Slop! Demand that all notes be there!
  • Problem 3: Suzuki Kids have a hard time participating in orchestra because they don’t read music. This is true. Orchestra usually doesn’t involve enough repetition for Suzuki kids to learn all the pieces by ear. They can fake it pretty well, but I think that adds to the problem of general imitation, including missed notes.
  • Solution: Start students reading earlier. This is the other reason I introduce note-reading in Book 2. Doing so enables students to participate in this incredible social learning environment as soon as possible. My fondest memories are from orchestra and the friends I made there. There are numerous summer programs involving orchestra. You don’t wanna miss out on this!

MYTH NUMBER 2: The Suzuki Method is just for those few kids who are or will become prodigies.
Suzuki’s priority is not, should not be about creating child geniuses. The mission has always been to create better human beings by enrichment, teaching them discipline and patience, deepening their relationships with parents, and giving them a way to express themselves. Often the result of the Suzuki Method is some pretty darned amazing young violinists, which sort of invites the expectation that the Suzuki Method will create child geniuses. This is not the mission, it is a fringe benefit.

Advantages of this Fact: There are so many and they should be obvious, so I won’t list them here. OK, I’ll summarize: happier, better-adjusted kids don’t grow up to be serial killers.

Problem with this Fact: When some kids outperform others, there is a tendency for the focus to shift from enjoyment and learning to comparisons and competitiveness. But this is not a flaw of the Suzuki Method. It’s a human flaw.

The Suzuki Method is elitist and designed for overachievers and their helicopter parents.
The Suzuki Method teaches that EVERY child can learn violin. This goes back to the Suzuki Mission of creating better human beings, not musical geniuses.


Suzuki Students are helpless without their parents.


The Suzuki Method does encourage a great deal of parental involvement. Parental involvement is required by most Suzuki teachers.

Advantages of this Fact: From a practical standpoint, when parents attend the lessons with their children, they learn right alongside the student. This makes them the perfect coach for practice sessions at home. They see and understand what things need fixing, and they learn how to fix it. They understand what passages of the music need the most work, so they can help their child focus on that at home.

This is a huge advantage to the student, because an external pair of eyes and ears can catch what the violinist misses, due to the concentration required.

From a more personal standpoint, the time spent at Suzuki lessons and practicing at home with your child is some of the highest quality time you can spend. Shinichi Suzuki understood this.

Remember, the Suzuki Method is all about creating better human beings through enrichment, and parental involvement intensifies the enrichment process. The child/parent team is a beautiful thing to watch. When they learn to work together as a team musically, they learn to work as a team in all aspects of life. The child gets plenty of one-on-one time and attention with their parents, and much more time than the average American parent spends with their children.

Problem with this Fact: Problems can arise with parents who don’t know how to work together with their child, and vice versa, but Suzuki teachers are good at spotting this and can offer suggestions on how the parent and child can work better together. It’s almost a little dose of family therapy!

Another problem with this fact is when parents don’t know when to let go, and continue to micro-manage their child’s progress. The solution is simple: at some point, we must prepare the student to be independent from their parent, just like at some point, the student must learn independence from the teacher.

Sometime in Book 3, I have my parents start encouraging independent practice skills, and sometime in Book 4, I instruct parents to only attend every other lesson, and when that goes smoothly, they only attend every so often, as needed. It all happens very naturally, and really isn’t much of a problem.

Answering the Suzuki Opponents

The following are the  chief complaints I have heard made about the Suzuki Method by proponents of the Traditional methods:

COMPLAINT NUMBER 1: Suzuki Method does not create MUSICIANS. It just creates a bunch of robots who don’t know how to do anything except imitate and regurgitate other people’s work.

Answer: Yes, if students never learn to break away from pure “imitation” and into their own interpretation. It is the job of a good teacher to make the distinction, and begin teaching music rather than song-learning. This is not solely a Suzuki problem. Students of Traditional methods can become good at reading music and learning pieces, but they too need to be taught how to make music.

COMPLAINT NUMBER 2: Suzuki Method creates a bunch of illiterate violinists who can’t integrate into the normal musical circles (like orchestras).

Answer: This has been known to happen, but there is a way to avoid it. Please refer to the pros and cons and antidotes of Fact Number 1 at the top of this article. Besides, I’d rather sit next to an illiterate violinist who plays in tune, listens to what is going on around them, and has good technique than a violinist who has their head buried in their music while playing out of tune or with poor tone!

COMPLAINT NUMBER 3: Suzuki students don’t learn “real” music. They just learn what’s in their Suzuki books.

Answer: This is false. The Suzuki repertoire draws from great masterworks by Bach, Mozart, Handel, and others. Only the first few songs in Book I are folk tunes. Not only that, once you get to Book 4, Suzuki students are learning standard violin repertoire. Furthermore, once they do learn to read music, they have the whole universe of Traditional methods and music at their disposal, and a killer technique to boot!

COMPLAINT NUMBER 4: Suzuki students don’t do etudes or scales, which is detrimental to their progress.

Answer: This is false. Good Suzuki teachers incorporate scales into their lessons. Suzuki teachers also frequently utilize an etude book called Quint Etudes, which is easy to use play by ear, but effectively addresses common technical problems. There are other etude books availble to Suzuki students, however, I will concede this: The etudes utilized by the Suzuki Method are sparse and pale in comparison to the rich repertoire of etudes available to the Traditional Student—yet another reason I have modified my approach to Suzuki.

COMPLAINT NUMBER 5 and my own personal pet peeve: The purest of Suzuki Teachers teach the bow arm that Shinichi Suzuki taught, which, in my opinion is a debilitating technique. (dropping the elbow at the frog)

Traditional Violin Method

First of all, this name, “Traditional Violin Method” was meaningless before Suzuki came along. It wasn’t until Suzuki came along that pedagogues had to distinguish their methods from Suzuki’s. It came to be known as “Traditional”, meaning that they teach note-reading along with beginning violin technique (as had been the “tradition”), as opposed to Suzuki’s new “mother-tongue” approach.

The fact that note-reading is taught to beginners is what unifies an otherwise diverse and wildly contrasting variety of violin methods. So “Traditional Violin Method” includes dozens of pedagogical methods, but they share the common link in that they predominantly introduce note-reading to beginning students. Make sense?

  • FACT NUMBER  1: Traditional Methods teach note-reading to beginners.
  • Advantage 1: This gets students comfortable with note reading very early, and after years of exposure to it, they become incredible sight-readers.
  • Advantage 2: Reading music enables them to participate from the get-go in youth orchestras and other social musical groups.
  • Problem: More often than not, the note-reading comes between the student and their technique. It is just too many mental tasks all at once, so posture, tone, and intonation suffer because the brain is busy reading the music.
  • Solution: Have the student memorize pieces as soon as possible, and use those pieces as tools for the student to focus on their posture, tone, and intonation.
  • Problem: Students aren’t ready to learn to read music until they are ready to read books. This delays the starting age of traditional students, although exceptions do exist.
  • Solution: Either wait until reading age, or begin lessons, but without note-reading. (hmmm…sounds like Suzuki Method!) I think most traditional methods feel it is unnecessary to start younger than reading age, and I can see their point. What’s the hurry?
  • Problem: If you aren’t lucky enough to have a teacher who takes time to teach a lot of ear training, your ear will not be as well developed as with the Suzuki method.
  • Solution: Find a teacher who will work on ear training with you. You can also do this yourself by trying to play songs by ear. (Any song will do! Try to get it EXACT…have your teacher check you.)
  • FACT NUMBER 2: The Traditional Methods do not stress or require parental involvement.
  • Advantage: This is very low maintenence for parents.
  • Disadvantage: The student is not accountable at home
  • Disadvantage: The student does not have the assistance of a qualified coach for practicing.
  • Disadvantage: The parent and child miss out on the enrichment and deepening of their relationship through teamwork and problem-solving.
  • FACT NUMBER 3: The Traditional Methods of Violin have a huge body of pedagogical tools available. There exists many treatises written by great masters of the instrument from which the Traditional Methods draw their material.
  • Advantage: You have a dozen choices as far as which method you want to learn. You will have RICH resources to choose from as far as repertoire, tutorials, scales, and etudes.
  • Problem: The problem is that most traditional teachers do not teach a clearly definable violin method. Most teach a potpourri of techniques they have picked up through the years. So, you really don’t know what you are getting into without doing some serious sleuth work. Please sign up to receive  my free article on “How to Choose a Good Violin Teacher, or How to Know the One You Have is Legit”. It applies across the board to Suzuki AND Traditional teachers. To sign up, just enter your name and email address in the box at the top of this page.

That is really all I can say about the traditional method without delving into the various approaches and specific methods out there. There are many, many GREAT methods. I should also mention that since Suzuki, many other methods have been developed for youngsters to learn violin WITHOUT introducing note-reading, and many of them are very good.

{ 28 comments... read them below or add one}

  1. MusicPapa

    My daughter is almost 13. She studied piano from a traditional instructor for 5 years and reads music well. She wants to switch to violin… we’very interviewed both traditional and suzuki teachers. She is drawn to suzuki style. I’m concerned this could stunt her growth With reading music… thoughts?

    1. Lora Post author

      Hi MusicPapa!
      Actually, you can give her the best of both worlds. If she already reads music on piano, then she will have that skill and it will not go anywhere.
      By starting her on violin using Suzuki method, she will now develop her EARS. I would have her finish up Suzuki Book 1 BY EAR, (no peeking!) and then when she starts Suzuki Book 2, you could buy the book “I Can Read Music” by Joanne MArtin. Get volume 1 and 2……she will probably zip right through it in 3 months or less, and then she will have excellent ear training, plus she will be a good sight-reader and that will help her in school orchestra, and other settings as well.

      So, I would encourage you to use Suzuki method, and do it full immersion, BY EAR all the way through book 1. Not only does that develop the ears, but it allows students to focus entirely on the complexities of violin playing.

      PREPARE HER before she starts. Many pianists are freaked out when they start violin…..because it takes 6 months before they start to sound good at all. It’s much harder to make a good sound on violin than it is on piano… we sound bad longer. Prepare her for that, and make sure you are committed for a ONE YEAR minimum!

      Good luck!

  2. Megan

    My 8 year old daughter has been playing violin, suzuki method for 3 years. She loves to play! Our struggle has become the constant focus on playing review songs. Once she passes off a song she tunes out and it is really difficult to get her to focus. She loves learning new songs and has no trouble focusing on that, as well as in school. Violin is becoming a frustrating battle purely because of the focus on review. Could a different approach more suited to my daughter. Having to play 10 review songs a day plus scales, excercises, etc and learn a new song is a lot!
    Any thoughts appreciated!

  3. mahtab

    hi lovely Lora.
    i want to ask u pleas teach suzuki book 4. because i relay learn from some of it tutorial tracks that exist in internet like your grate leanings. but there isn’t book 4 learning tracks. in the next month i will finish book 3.

    1. Lora Post author

      Hi Mahtab!
      I cannot WAIT to get to Book 4 either! Unfortunately, I really MUST do Book 3 first…..if I skip Book 3, there will be gaps and problems with students who are going through all the books with me.
      IT will be a good year before I even start thinking about book 4. Perhaps you can review 1-3, and start book 4 on your own. Congrats on finishing Book 3! That is really exciting!

  4. Linda Lim

    Dear Lora,

    Thank you for providing so much info on your site.
    I read above that you advise some independent practice by Book 3.
    The topic of when and how to slowly let a child take over in the Suzuki method is not much discussed when I researched the Web.

    Would you have any tips for me? When I asked my daughter after she practiced on her own one day “did you hear the resonance in tonalizations” She answers “Er, i think so?” and “did you shift your thumb when you do shifting exercises?” She answers “sometimes”.
    This is in spite of a list of things to practise and aim for.
    What would be best to start with if we want to introduce independent practice? Review songs? I guess my daughter is just so impatient to get over her practice that she throws all cares to the wind once she starts bowing…She is 8. i really fancy the idea of she taking charge as I would rather have a child who independently aims for good playing in one bit of tune than plays perfectly in many tunes as she is told to.

    1. Lora Post author

      Hi Linda!
      I apologize for my extremely delayed response. (super busy)
      It sounds to me like you are caught “between a rock and a hard place”…..because, your daughter is getting to more advanced levels, but she is still just a young child. So, you are blessed to have a child who is capable to become so advanced so young….but that also means you have to remember she is still a kid, and needs that parental support until she matures more emotionally and intellectually.

      But YES, of course, we want to encourage them to work toward independence! Just be patient, because she is still pretty young.
      I agree with you…..assign her SMALL practice sessions to do alone…, maybe have her review 3 tunes, focusing on only ONE task, such as bow hold, or ringy notes, or whatever. If it is visual, put her in front of a mirror and have her watch herself. If the technique requires listening, like ringy notes, that is a little harder, and you might want to listen from the other room, and give positive reinforcement if she sounds like she is engaged.
      Also, if there is anything she enjoys doing on her own….like learning a new tune, or memorizing, or reviewing, tell her how smart and “mature” she is to be able to do that on her own.

      I don’t know….if she does really good one week, you might even extend her bed time by 15 minutes….and tell her….when kids start taking more responsibility, they get more privileges too.”

      This is hard to describe over text.
      I guess my main point is….don’t worry yet! She is still young enough that she needs you.
      But it would be find to start just planting seeds…..and give really positive enforcement when she does something independently.
      I hope this gets your thought process flowing….you sound like a great partner for your daughter. Keep up the good work!

  5. Bessie

    Lora…thanks for you input and insight.

    Both twins LOVE violin. They pick it up on their own to practice, have named their violins Barbie and Pink Flower and beg us to come listen to them play. They seem to compete with eachother over who gets to play first. They are 5, have been playing for about a year now. The twin who is not progressing I feel gets frustrated by the success of the progressing sister. She’s is like that about most things related to her sister. She has a more narrow attention span and gets frustrated more easily than her twin. I feel like Suzuki would prove to her benefit. My concern of course is the other twin who is progressing and learning to read music by sight seeing and whether Suzuki would prove a step backwards for her. Of course having two different teachers for two violin loving twins seems like lunacy.
    I guess I’m looking for some combination of both Russian and Suzuki that would be suitable for both girls. Am I asking for the impossible?

    1. Lora Post author

      Honestly, I think you may be asking the impossible…..but you might experience a miracle!
      Just make sure you cheer on each twin equally, and put the emphasis on the quality of EFFORT, not the total OUTPUT! Good luck! Parents need a degree in psychology to raise twins! :-)

  6. Bessie

    I have twins that started violin at age 4 with traditional Russian instrucion. One girl has shown progress/enthusiasm but the other seems less confident, plays more timidly without great form/ posture , bow technique. Was wondering if anyone has ever tried a combination of two teachers…Suzuki and traditional twice a week? It’s just that it would be hard to stop lessons for the progressing twin while I feel like the other one would benefit from a different approach/perhaps a Suzuki method? Help!!

    1. Lora Post author

      Hi Bessie
      My initial reaction is that this would not be a good idea, especially if the traditional teacher has a Russian approach. My Russian teacher did not respect or approve of the Suzuki method at all.
      I do think your twin who is not progressing would benefit greatly from the Suzuki method, though.

      My suggestion: a couple different things you can do…talk to the twin who isn’t progressing well, figure out if she loves it or not. If she loves it, then just let her continue to progress at her own rate, knowing that it is developing her as a person as well as a musician.

      You could consider changing instruments for her….piano and flute both have Suzuki methods available, or, you could just switch her to a Suzuki Violin teacher.

      I know that is easier said than done, for many many reasons.
      You could also switch BOTH of them to Suzuki method. It would not hinder the progress of the advanced twin….she will probably continue to excel regardless of WHAT program you put her in.

      But I am pretty sure splitting the methods 2 weeks Suzuki/2 weeks traditional is a bad idea.

      You will get tons of great input on this question at While I”m thrilled to have you on my forum, my community is not very big. You have to create an account at, but it is worth it…’s a huge treasure trove of expertise and interaction.

      Good luck to you.

      Oh, one thing you can put in your back pocket, is the possibility of signing up for my online Suzuki Book 1 class, with YOU as the student. This would give you TONS of great ideas and a broad understanding on how to coach your daughters on violin. Some parents do that, but honestly, their children were working through SUZUKI books, not traditional.

      Talk to you later!

  7. Dmitry Myzdrikov

    Which is best method..?I’ll ask a question for everybody:Do you know some recognized world level violinist who was educated by Suzuki violin method?..I don’t..

    1. Lora Post author

      Oh, there are lots, especially in the younger generations:
      Bill Preucil, Rachel Barton Pine, Jennifer Koh, Nickolas Kendall, James Stern, Frank Almond, Brian Lewis, David Perry, Hilary Hahn, Sarah Chang, Joshua Bell (briefly), Leila Josefewicz, plus a whole bunch of players who are not “famous”, but are successful chamber musicians or orchestral musicians.

      Some of these people only STARTED in the Suzuki method, and then moved on to other teachers, but others continued through the entire series of 10 Suzuki books and beyond.

      Personally, (and it is just my humble opinion) I the Suzuki method’s BEST value is in the first 4 books, and in book 1 for sure. It’s all about getting started right.

      Then again, so much boils down to the teacher….and the student!

  8. Rebecca

    I am a self-proclaimed violin teacher, always looking for new tricks and methods. I learned traditionally, but also have the ability to play by ear.

    I have a student who came to me this summer. She started when she was four with a Suzuki teacher. She is about half-way through book 2. Her mom wants her to learn to read music, and I am at a loss of where to start. So we started with flashcards and note games and she is picking it up very quickly. But she is frustrated when it comes to actually reading the music and putting notes with correct fingers.

    I am wondering if you have any comments on ways to transition her from solely ear-training to being able to sight read. What books do you use for note training? Her mom and I have briefly talked about starting her on piano (which I am much better at teaching), but are unsure if that is the correct approach. She is a very talented little girl, and I do not want to discourage her with going back to the easy basics.

    Any suggestions would be extremely helpful! Thankyou!

    1. Lora Post author

      Hi Rebecca
      People think the most talented kids are the easiest to teach….but really, in a way, they are harder, and I”m sure you know why!

      I HIGHLY recommend the book, “I Can Read Music” by Joanne Martin. Start with volume 1, and you will know if you want to go on to Volume 2. Volume 1 is GREAT. On the left side of the book, it is JUST PITCH. No rhythm. On the right side, it is ALL RHYTHM, no pitch. I have my students clap and count the right side, but I also have them BOW IT just on open A….that REALLY helps to make the connection.

      Students find it easy peasy, and so they forever think reading music is easy.

      Volume 2 is full of fun little teacher/student duets.

      THere is also a great book with CD called, “Essential Elements 2000″, and the student reads from the book, with accompanimental CD….and the accompaniments are awesome. (I can’t find my copy now, and I”m hoping it is as cool as I remember it…)

      As for learning piano, I think that is also a really great idea. For a child that talented, she would probably thrive on doing 2 instruments. You could also ask the student….sometimes if they feel they have a choice, they are more “vested”.

      Hope that helps! Good luck!

  9. Tulpan

    Hi, I’m interested to read the article How to know if you have a good violin teacher. Could you please send it to me? My daughter started learning traditionally and we are about to switch to Suzuki teacher. Thank you for your helpful website

    1. Lora Post author

      Hi Tulpan
      I asked my site manager to send it to you. (He knows where all the goodies are!)
      Good luck! –Lora

  10. Nina

    I have never seen an article about learning violin that matches my observations so closely. I have been a traditionally taught cello player whose daughter started to learn the ‘traditional’ way, then switched to Suzuki. I have some reservations about the lack of studies (etudes) but on the whole, I think a ‘modified’ suzuki approach works very well.

    1. Linda

      Hi Nina
      I think musical training should be highly tailored to each student’s strengths and preferences. My kid hates etudes, so forcing her to do those has been painful and unproductive. Suzuki books are good in that they introduce new techniques in a very logical order: for violin, slurs by end of book 1, shifting by beginning of book 3, double stops beginning book 4, spicato book 5, etc. Also, with Suzuki books, it’s very nice to get a whole load of sheet music for only $6.95…can’t beat the price. I agree with you that a modified Suzuki approach is the best way to go. My kid is using the Suzuki books but the teaching itself is a mix of Suzuki and traditional. And for sure, it is important for kids using Suzuki books to learn to read notes independently of the usual Suzuki program. I recommend forcing your kid to mark up sheet music with alphabet letters until they can read the notes without alphabet help, as stated above.

    2. Lora Post author

      Great suggestions, and I agree about the logical, SLOW addition of techniques. (cleverly disguised in fun-to-play repertoire!)

  11. Linda

    My 8 year old is on Suzuki violin book 6, and I’m her piano-playing mom who learned traditional style. She reads notes just fine, which is why I’m aghast everyone thinks Suzuki kids can’t read music. She learned to read notes the same way I learned it: the first 2 levels, as a child, I marked my sheet music (as did she) with the corresponding alphabet letters on top of every note, before I started practising the song. By the end of second level, we had both learned to recognize all the notes and did not need to put any more alphabets on our sheet music thereafter. No need for extra worksheets: just be sure that the child must mark up the sheet music by himself, so that he learns. Of course, we both started music lessons after we learned to read (around 6-7), so our experience may not apply to kids starting younger. I don’t really think kids are able to read sheet music until 6 regardless of their musical ability.

    1. Lora Post author

      Hi Linda!
      Yes, if people will put in the extra effort to eliminate the tendency to rely on finger numbers…..for instance, the Suzuki books are terrible about putting fingerings over every note….those should be whited out, and replaced with note names, as you did!

      GREAT idea about having the child mark the music by themselves…..
      I also agree that children shouldn’t be tasked with reading music before they know how to read books. It’s like putting the cart before the horse.

      I love Suzuki for allowing students (of ALL ages) to learn technique and form FIRST before adding the additional task of reading from a printed page.

      Nice to meet you! –Lora

  12. mariam

    I wish I read this article earlier . My 5 yrs old son started violin lesson with Suzuki trainee student whom finished Suzuki booked 12. Firstly He did learn from box violin around 14 lessons since May till now early September 6 that He was on real violin. I had a hard time on the way as he got bored with box in lesson no. 9 as I assumed he had been on box for long and it made me question on Suzuki method. I am thinking of changing him to traditional method as I prefer him to be able to read music . I am still debating with myself whether it will be better for him or not but I do admire Suzuki Student as they seems so smart but on the otherhand I felt like I bought the book but so far we only listen to its Cd of book 1 but learning only finger numbers and sting GDAE. Should I change him to try on traditional method for next year ? My son is also learning piano and his teacher said he did well even just started with good hearing although struggle in left hand reading notes as he plays better in the songs that he heard before. That’s why I do concern about his reading skills. thanks

    1. Lora Post author

      Hi Mariam
      I think 14 lessons on the box violin is way too long! Of course your son got bored! Don’t blame the Suzuki method, though…..some teachers have a hard time letting go of perfection for the sake of maintaining enthusiasm for students. It’s a fine line between discipline and perfection, versus impulsivity and slop. So, I’m not faulting the teacher…’s just a hard judgement call to make.

      Personally, I feel that the Suzuki method for VIOLIN is the BEST method for young children to learn by. I just love it, and there are lots of opportunities for them to play music with other Suzuki kids. But I also feel that kids need to learn to read music sooner than the hard core Suzuki method starts.

      So, my advice to you would be: Keep him in Suzuki violin, but encourage him to learn to read music in Book 2. He will already know how to read music from piano, so all he has to do is learn to associate the printed notes with what finger and string they go to. It’s really good that he is doing piano….that will prevent him from relying too much on his ear, but at the same time, the Suzuki approach will totally develop his ear training, and that is GREAT!

      Another observation: In my studio, any time I had a young student who studied both piano and violin…..the student was extremely frustrated with violin, and it was hard for them, because on piano, you don’t spend your first 2 years sounding bad more often than you sound good. On violin, it is just easier to sound bad, and much harder to sound good!

      Explain to your son that violin is harder to start with….but after the first couple years, the worst will be over, and he will totally ROCK on both instruments! Also, playing violin opens opportunites to participate in orchestra, go on school trips, and to belong to selective, social youth groups.

      Just give him the tools he needs to survive the first couple years….and communicate with your teacher! If you feel the pace is too slow and too perfectionistic, explain to the teacher that you would rather sacrifice a little perfection in order to maintain interest and enthusiasm in your son. Young teachers often make pacing mistakes, and sometimes, they need permission from someone older or parents… allow a little imperfection and move forward anyway.

      Suzuki training often emphasizes perfection. It’s a hard balance, and a dangerous one. Just communicate. I think you can work this out.

      HOpe this helped!
      Thanks for writing!

    1. Lora Post author

      I have an excellent article on that EXACT topic (if I do say so myself), complete with a questionnaire which will help you evaluate prospective teachers and compare them with a scoring system.

      To download this article, visit and on the RIGHT side of the home page, you will see a spot for your name and email address. Fill in those boxes and you will be able to print the article. (I PROMISE I WILL NOT SPAM YOU) if you have trouble getting the article, let me know and I’ll send it to you the old fashioned way. (email)

      A few thoughts for your 2 year old: That is on the extreme side of young. The youngest I have ever started was a 3 year old, and she had an older sister who played violin, so she was extremely ready. Given how young your daughter is, I would expect a Suzuki teacher to have somewhat of a specialty in Pre-Twinkle teaching methods, teaching small children to use percussion instruments, or to move their bodies with music, just as an intro to music. (I’m sorry, I forgot what this approach is called….but if you ask them “What sort of Pre-Twinkle work do you do?”, they should be able to tell you quite a bit.

      Besides reading my article on the subject, I would ask them the following questions:
      What sort of special techniques to you have for a 2 year old? (needs to have a plan in mind for a young child)
      How soon will she start actually playing the violin? (I’d like to see at LEAST a month of prep work)
      How soon do you teach your students to read music?
      Do you consider yourself pure Suzuki? (My opinion here is that “pure Suzuki” doesn’t make or break the teacher, it’s just interesting to hear what a teacher has to say)
      It shows professionalism if they have a “Studio Policy” you can take and read.
      Ask if they have group classes. (BIG PLUS if they do…if fact, I’d require it)
      Ask how frequently they hold studio recitals. (they absolutely must do at least one per year)
      I think it’s a big plus if they belong to professional associations like the Suzuki Association of the Americas (SAA)or the American String Teachers Association. (ASTA)

      I hope these ideas help. I could go ON AND ON, but I’d like you to read my article first, and then post any other questions that the article didn’t cover. I’ll be REALLY interested to hear back from you once you pick a teacher.

      Thanks for posting your question! –Lora

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