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In a word: Yes!
I get this question quite a bit on the blog, in email, and in person:
Can adults learn to play violin with the Suzuki violin method?
I know why adults ask me this. It’s because they see videos all over the internet of apparent child violin prodigies playing a memorized Mendelssohn concerto at the age of 10, or they hear their friends’ children play. And adults think that there is some magical ingredient in kids that makes the Suzuki violin method work well for them.
Let me tell you a little secret. These kids can play like that not because they’re kids, and not because they have some unusual genius. (Well, okay, sometimes they do.) It’s because the Suzuki violin method can help anyone learn to play the violin. Even adults. Even busy adults with stubborn fingers. Even older adults!
Why and How Suzuki Violin Works
You see, you don’t have to be a prodigy. All you need is a desire and an instrument, and you can learn to play the violin with the Suzuki method. Here are its special, secret ingredients:
- Ear training: The Suzuki method trains the ears in what is called “the mother-tongue” approach. Students learn new pieces of music just like a child learns to speak her native language. Suzuki students are encouraged to listen to their repertoire multiple times daily, so that when the time comes to learn a new tune, they already know it.
- The luxury to focus solely on technique without the added task of reading music. This simplifies the incredibly complex task of learning to play the violin, allowing students to truly focus on the numerous skills needed to play a simple beautiful tone.
- Genius arrangement of repertoire to introduce new skills. In the Suzuki repertoire, new skills rely upon and in fact require the use of old skills. This is part of the genius of Shinichi Suzuki. He has carefully laid out his repertoire so that each new tune uses skills learned in previous tunes, whilst also preparing skills needed for upcoming tunes. This means that old skills are constantly being re-learned and reinforced, while new skills are blazing a trail for more advanced and complicated pieces.
- Strict adherence to repetition and review. There is an adage familiar to most Suzuki students: “Don’t practice until you can get it right, practice until you cannot get it wrong.” This philosophy requires more repetition than others, but it instills great discipline and a higher standard in students. Once again, this gives the student a chance to revisit and reinforce skills learned.
Four special things about adult violin beginners
It’s true: kids’ fingers are less arthritic than ours. They have fewer demands on their time. They can get their tiny hands around the fingerboard. But adults have some very important things going for them when it comes to learning to play the violin.
- Longer attention spans. Adults can simply stay on task longer than children can, which pays off big time in complicated endeavors such as learning to play violin.
- Greater attention to detail. I am constantly amazed at the details my adult students notice compared to my younger students. Adults follow instructions extremely well, whereas children more or less learn to “mimic” what is shown to them. This attention to detail means that an adult can tackle a complicated task by following instructions and noticing small details while problem solving.
- Discipline. Often, children do not choose to learn violin. They may cooperate, but the majority are doing it because their parents want them to. Adult violin beginners have often had to set aside their passion and desire for the violin until such a time as they could afford it, or until circumstance would allow such a pursuit. Adult violin students mean business.
- A mature concept of beautiful sound. This is more important than many people realize. The adult violin student is passionate about violin, and has spent many hours listening to the masters play, longing to learn to make the same beautiful sound. If a student is only exposed to other students, that student will forever sound like a student. We must internalize and model after professional masters of violin if we are ever to ascend to those heights.
How do I know?
Because I’ve been teaching adults now for 15 years. I know about their lives and the struggles they have. I know how to work around stiff joints and small practice windows. I’ve made it easy to learn at your own pace with my online lessons. When you sign up, you can consume the lessons in your own home, as your time permits, without pressure, taking as long as you need. Dr. Suzuki is quoted as saying, “Every Child Can.” Thanks to his kind heart and penetrating genius, the Suzuki violin method makes it possible not only for every child, but for every adult as well.