Friday, January 12, 2007

Me-zuki, Su-zuki

We’re doing Suzuki violin lessons!

I’ve been looking for a musical avenue for Annika since she has an aptitude for music and singing. When she was three, she was humming a song to herself. Then she tried singing the same song in different octaves – going higher and lower. She can listen to a song once and repeat the melody. Both of our families have an ability for music -- my husband and his family sing and my mother’s side sings, while I took after my father’s side for music appreciation. Therefore, the grandmothers and relatives have been pushing me, “You have to get her into music.”

My response was, “Can she turn 5 at least?”

I looked into piano lessons, which are expensive (average $30/half hour). Plus you eventually have to invest in a piano. At this age, who knows what the commitment level will be. When I read her public school offered Suzuki Violin with only violin rental fee, I jumped. I played viola in high school, so I should be in a better position to coach her than in piano, which I don’t play.

The key for success in Suzuki violin is for the parents to be the “home teachers.” Therefore, parents must attend all lessons for the first 2-3 years. The classes will be 12-12:30 on Mon and Thurs – perfect, I can go during lunch, I thought. I do not like to schedule any activities on weeknights.

After I signed up, I learned that the music teacher goes to two schools, so Monday’s it’s at Annika’s home school. On Thursdays, I have to cut out of weekly meeting early to pick up Annika from her school, drive to the other school, have the lesson, drop her to afternoon kindergarten school and return to work. Maybe one of us will eat lunch.

For the first month, only parents attend so I do not need to do the extra chauffeuring. I reason with myself that I only have to do this until June because next year it will all be in one school. We’ll get through it.

The Suzuki Method
"I want to make good citizens.
If a child hears fine music from the day of is birth
and learns to play it himself, he develops sensitivity, discipline and endurance. He gets a beautiful heart.”
—Shin'ichi Suzuki

Currently, we’ve been learning the philosophy of the program. Dr. Suzuki taught in post-World War II Japan, and his intent was for children to be sensitive and caring individuals. He felt this could be done through music. His intent was not for a fleet of musicians.

The Suzuki method of learning music is much different than traditional music lessons. To give an analogy, children learn a language by listening, babbling, and then speaking. They begin with a few words and then can say sentences. They don’t learn to read until a few years after they’ve been speaking.

Suzuki method of musical instruction is the same way. Children will learn to listen and play music right now, and then learn to read music in 2nd grade. This way, their ears and memories are sharper and they learn discipline of practicing. We have a CD that is to be listened all the time so the music is drilled into their head.
The school offers suggestions and games on getting them to practice. You cannot force them to a rigid 30 minutes of practice. It should be an enjoyable experience for you and your child, so practice lasts while your child is happy to do it. If they get distracted or irritable, stop. One of the key things about practicing is that it should be your time with your child – let it be a time the child looks forward with you.
The philosophy is that it should be a nurturing environment. The teacher said, "Remember how you taught your child their first word. You repeated it slowly and often. And, when they said it, you made a big fuss and encouraged them to say more words. Same thing with music." The teacher assures us it works.

Me and my Viola
I started playing the viola in 8th grade when we moved to NJ. I joined the district orchestra by 10th grade, but I had to play with younger students. I think I was good for where I was, but it was hard since other orchestra students had more experience. I think there was only 2-3 orchestra members from my high school (Band was huge!) so I missed having that comradery.

Anyway, once I turned in my viola as a high school senior, I have not touched an instrument. I often missed not having a musical creative outlet. I’ve exposed Annika to western classical music since she was young since she sleeps with music. Not because I believed in Mozart Effect or anything. It was really to adhere to a routine. She would hear certain songs and know it was time to sleep. Hopefully, she'll stay awake during violin!

Anyway, I flipped through Annika’s music book and I panicked a little. I could not remember how to read music! Couldn't remember the strings on the viola, which are slightly different from the violin. In class this week, Ms. Anderson reviewed the music and the strings. All of sudden, I felt as if a switch was turned on and it all started coming back to me, 20 years later! I could slowly recognize notes again.
Regardless of my own viola experience, I'm starting clean with the Suzuki lessons. Just go with the flow and do whatever Ms. Anderson says.
By the way, Ms Anderson has a tendency to talk to parents like children too. We had to do a bow and stand correctly. First time, she went around and adjusted our poses. She asked us to get into our poses again and we all did it correctly. She clapped and raved! My goodness! But, I'll tell ya, all of us 30-something and 40-something people felt really proud of ourselves.. can't imagine how our 5 year olds will feel.

I would love to hear from any other Suzuki parents that are out there.


Anonymous said...

I'm looking forward to my first Suzuki violin concert.

Anonymous said...

Yes, for the first concert there will be variations of the great classic, "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star."


Anonymous said...


My 3.5 yo son has been taking Suzuki violin since the summer. I used to play in high school, but hadn't picked it up in 20 years either! He's almost learned all the notes to Twinkle (the little kids are on Twinkle for a looong time.)

Anonymous said...

Nancy -
He's 3.5 and doing this? I see the biggest challenge so far being the ability to stand still, focus, keep track of left and right.

She's excellent at picking up rhythm - we're clapping out the songs and working with a "box" violin (made with a ruler/cookie box).

I hope seeing her peers focus and perform will encourage her to stand up straight.

Nancy said...


Yes, he's doing really well so far. Of course, he didn't even pick up the violin the first week (just all of the clapping, rhythms, and singing 'A' and 'E').

Early on, he would get really antsy, and not want to do the lesson. So, I would bring my violin and tell him he didn't have to do the lesson, but that I wanted to learn if he wasn't. That was all it took! He didn't want to sit there and watch me. Now, his private lesson is more productive than the group lesson he participates in (he just got to C#...only one more note to go. Fingers crossed!).

He started in June, just after turning 3. So, he's been at it for almost 9 months now. Twinkle in under a year!

Anonymous said...

It sounds like his program is more intense than ours through the public school.

From Dec-Feb, it's been the parents learning violin (half-hour lessons, 2x a week). So, I know it's not much instruction time, so there is a heavy reliance on home instruction. So, from the end of Feb to mid March, the kids have been working on the box violin and haven't touched a real violin yet.

There's supposed to be a concert in May! Let's see.