Starting Lessons Successfully

This page is intended to prepare you for starting Suzuki violin lessons.

How do I start taking Suzuki lessons?

First, read my website thoroughly and decide whether my teaching style would be a good fit for you and your family. Potential Suzuki parents need to feel comfortable with the idea of making at least a year commitment to the violin, coming to group class, budgeting for an instrument and lessons, listening to the Suzuki Book CD and other recordings daily, and practicing consistently with your child every day. Then, you and your child will need to observe one or two lessons. If you decide that you'd like to start, the first lesson will be a parent orientation so I can get to know you better and hear about your child's personality and learning style. Please know that the process of starting the violin can be slow and detailed. While lessons are rewarding and fun, it will often take young students several weeks to months to gain the basic skills necessary to start playing a song. Students age 6 and under start out playing on a foam violin for the first few weeks of study.

What's a good age to start violin?

It depends. I prefer to start students at age 4 or 5, ideally the year before they begin kindergarten. I try to start several new students at the same time so they have a cohort with whom they can grow. It's also possible to start at an older age, and students do learn faster. However, they may be less open to parental help. Evaluate your family's unique situation and your motives for starting music. If your young child really loves music, but you're not ready for the structure of Suzuki, there are many wonderful programs such as Music Together that help develop pitch, rhythm, and a love of music.

I'm not musical at all. Can I still be a successful Suzuki parent?

Absolutely! Often, my best Suzuki parents are those who don't play the violin, since they trust me and follow my instructions. Their children end up playing beautifully. If you do play the violin, please know that there are MANY ways to teach violin technique and our ideas may differ slightly. To be successful, you need to trust in my approach (although you are more than welcome to ask questions and discuss things with me!). Really, all you need is a willingness to learn and pay attention during lessons, and the love and patience necessary to help your child practice consistently.

Where do I get a violin?

Please don't get a violin before starting lessons. I like to introduce the new skills specifically. Also, students age 6 and under start on a foam violin.

1. Renting. When you rent an instrument, the shop will often give you discounts and credit toward a future purchase. Thus, you're likely to stay with the same shop. **Please rent the nicest instrument possible from a violin-specific shop such as Sten Olsen Violins, Bischofberger Violins, or Kenmore Violins. Generic music stores are not any cheaper and tend to stock lower-quality instruments meant for public school music classes. The better the instrument sounds, the more rewarding it will be for your student to play!

2. Buying and selling. Buying can be more economical, but then when your child outgrows the instrument, have to trade in or sell it. Local shops sell quality instruments and sometimes do trade-ins. Big catalog companies like Shar and Robertson also have good trade-in and financing programs.

Summer Lessons and Institutes

My lesson "school year" runs from early September to late June. Students are required to take 2-3 hours of lessons over the summer - you can spread these out over a few months, or fit them all into several weeks, but you must continue to study in some form during vacation. You are also strongly encouraged to attend a Suzuki institute or workshop once per year. Institutes take place all over the country in the summer. We are lucky to have the Japan-Seattle Suzuki Institute, a world-class weeklong festival that takes place the 2nd week of August at the Seattle Pacific University campus. If you can't take a full week off of work (parents are required to attend all Institute classes with their child), there is a good 1-day festival in Ellensburg on the second Saturday in October. Seattle has many drop-off summer orchestra camps for older students (book 2 and up who can read music).

DURING LESSONS

Arrive on time!

You have a busy life, and it's hard to make it to places on time with children in tow and rush hour traffic clogging up the streets. Plan ahead! Do your best to arrive at your lesson a few minutes early so you can relax, wash your hands, watch the end of the previous lesson, unpack, and be ready to go when it's your turn to start. Your child will need to learn to be responsible for carrying his or her instrument and getting it out promptly.

What do I do during my child's lesson?

Your job is, essentially, to sit quietly, take notes, and watch the lesson carefully so you can replicate it during your home practice. Bring an iPad, iPhone, camera, or video camera so you can take photos or short videos of new skills - this will save you lots of time later when you're at home wondering "how do we do that, again?" I will include you in the lesson when necessary, and debrief with you at the end to make sure you feel clear about how to practice.

My #1 pet peeve

Please don't interrupt the lesson, call out instructions to your student, or try to explain something to them while I'm in the middle of teaching them. I've taught hundreds of students and did a research study that involved reading subtle behavioral cues from the student. I can tell when they're one or two tries away from getting something; unfortunately, this is often the point where a well-meaning parent will butt in with some instructions or comments for their child! Having two adults teaching at the same time is too confusing for your child and is distracting for me. Sit back, relax, and just be the parent! Let me do my job, and feel free to ask questions at the end. If I've just gone through a new or more complex topic, I'll often take a few seconds to turn to you and explain what we've done or offer you the chance to photograph or film the new skill. Also, avoid coming in and starting out with a list of questions or complaints about how tired your child is; you're subtly dictating how I should teach the lesson and setting the tone for the day's work. Even if children had a bad day, skinned their knee, went to bed late, etc., they can almost always get focused and have a great lesson. Let them have this chance!

My #2 pet peeve

Don't use your phone during lessons! I know you are busy and likely tired from a full day of work, school, and activities. However, please make it a habit of sitting quietly for the lesson with your notes. This also sets a good example for your child.

Behavior expectations

I expect respectful behavior and an honest effort from all my students. I will deal with discipline issues during the lesson - please don't intervene unless I ask you to. Children come in all shapes, sizes, and temperaments. Some students can concentrate unwaveringly for a full 30 minutes of intense instruction; others need a few changes of pace and breaks to keep their energy and interest high. I will teach the lesson in a way that maximizes your student's attention span and interest. Students often need short breaks in order to process information and recharge for a moment. This is a process, not a product!

Challenges

Everyone will have issues with their violin studies at some point. It's OK and normal to have occasional struggles with the violin! You are welcome to send me a quick email letting me know if your student is struggling with practicing, or has another stress in life that affects their study. I'd rather take care of issues directly before they become a big deal. Do not feel like a failure if you have a horrible practice week or month. Talk with me and we will turn it into a learning experience.

PRACTICING

How much will I have to practice with my student?

All families are expected to practice daily for 20 minutes to start, and more as they advance. While practicing can be fun and rewarding, it's also work. Sometimes it's difficult. Here is the truth about practicing:

Practicing isn't always fun. :(

but, to quote the Amy Chua, the "Tiger Mother":

"Nothing is fun until you're good at it!"

All Suzuki families struggle with practicing at some point. It's comparable to exercising regularly: often, it's enjoyable and satisfying, sometimes you just don't feel like starting, but usually you're glad you did it. And, the rewards are tremendous if you're faithful. With regular practice and careful attention to my instructions, students enjoy the violin, improve every week, and play with beautiful sound and musicality. Conversely, students who do not practice make little progress, struggle to play, and wonder why the violin isn't fun. I ask you to report your practicing to me every week. If you practice 3 or fewer times in a given week, your lesson will be a review lesson and we will repeat the same assignment for the following week. If you consistently miss practice, we will discuss whether Suzuki violin lessons are a good fit for your family.

...Wait, parents have to practice too?

Yes. As a Suzuki parent, you are the home teacher, and violin is a special, focused activity you do with your child. Young children are simply not ready to practice effectively on their own, especially with the detailed skills involved in learning the violin. Parents of 3-9 year old students will attend lessons and practice directly with their student every day. This means sitting down with your child, getting out their foot chart and lesson notes, and devoting yourself entirely to the practice session. Turn off your cell phone, reduce distractions, and do your best to replicate what happened at the prior lesson. Please don't try to listen from the kitchen while your child practices, check your email, or work while your child plays the violin nearby--this is not effective practicing and results in slow progress and lower-quality playing. Plus, think about the message this sends your child!

From about age 10-11, parents will still be involved and will usually watch the lesson, but we begin to give the student more independence. By age 12, most students come to the lesson on their own.

How long to practice?

While I focus on what you accomplish during your practice rather than how much time it takes, plan on about 15-20 minutes to start and more as you progress. For each student, I write detailed lesson notes and practice instructions for each week. Follow these and you will improve!

I work full time, we have a nanny, and my student is in several activities. How will I fit it in?

I recommend that you don't overload your child with activities; it's better to do a few and be good at them! I have seen students from busy homes struggle due to the family's demanding schedule, but then again some of my best students come from families that are busy. The difference: priorities and hard work. Everyone can eke out 20 minutes of their day to practice the violin, but it takes prioritizing. A common struggle for working parents with young children is that by the time everyone is home and has eaten dinner, the child is too tired to practice. Try to find the time of day when your child is most awake and alert, and fit practicing in then. This might mean that you have to practice in the morning, or as soon as you get home. Be flexible and put practicing on your daily schedule. If you are incredibly busy and want to start your five-year-old on the violin, you have some thinking to do. Can you really afford the time and energy? Or would it be better to wait a few years, when they will be able to focus later in the day and learn more independently?

I didn't realize there would be so much technique and exercises involved with violin lessons. What's with that?

Violin is a complex instrument in which the two hands are engaged in separate tasks. Further, there are no frets on the violin, meaning that intonation must be carefully practiced. The learning curve on violin is steep, and must be broken into small steps for young beginners. Early learners must learn correctly from the beginning, or face the painful task of un-learning and re-learning. I have made it my personal mission to teach the most quality technique possible from the start. I make technique and exercises fun for young students so that they feel rewarded, but please know that the first year will be the most challenging for you as a parent. You'll wonder when your child will play a "real song," or when they'll be able to remember all the posture by themselves. Thankfully, young children usually enjoy the way I teach posture and the simple Pre-Twinkle pieces. It's we the adults who need to learn patience :)