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Mastering Violin - Music literacy, imitation, improvisation and a good relaxed posture from the beginning.

Using Solfege to Progress Quickly in Music

Solfege helps students play in tune and know which fingers to use based on the music, not on finger numbers or letter names.  Imitation of simple patterns without solfege is used later so that students can play by ear and do not become overly reliant on solfege.  Once students can learn simple tunes both by using solfege and by imitation, reading is slowly introduced.   Now reading makes sense, since students (and parents) can sing the music from the sheet music before they play it.  Throughout the years we continually develop both playing by ear and reading music fluently.  We use solfege to understand harmony and as a basis for richer improvisations.

Students are still encouraged to listen as much as possible to good recordings of their repertory, but now we are sure that the student really knows the tune, since they can sing it with solfege syllables.  This allows them to correct themselves while practicing, which of course is much better than the parent constantly correcting the student.  Students prefer to become as independent as possible, which we encourage, while understanding that parent involvement of some kind is generally needed until the student can read music and is 8 years or older.

Suzuki Core Principles

The basic principles of the Suzuki Method are that every child can learn anything, just as they learn their native language, if they are surrounded by the new topic (music) and practice daily (starting at just 5 minutes a day); if they are taught one step at a time in an encouraging and non-judgmental manner; and if they review what they learn in both private and group environments.

I taught solely traditional Suzuki using Suzuki repertory for over ten years.  It became apparent that even with the best parent teachers not all children could succeed.  It seemed to me that the demands of the repertory increased too quickly for students to master skills and to maintain motivation.   Most students would much prefer to learn a new tune every week or so rather than be stuck on one piece for months.  If music reading is delayed too long, students will think that reading is too hard since they can play relatively accurately by ear.  This makes learning more advanced repertory and playing chamber and orchestral music very difficult.

Student-Friendly Repertory 

I have developed a repertory of simple folk tunes followed by the Royal Conservatory Preparatory Level Violin Repertory Book, with students generally learning at least one song a week and memorizing most solos.  By the time students finish this book they can successfully decode music, pretty much on their own.  Since they can read music, learning to follow bow directions (up bow, down bow) makes much more sense to them than in traditional Suzuki pedagogy.  Then the corresponding Suzuki repertory is a snap.

We continue with the Royal Conservatory series, which opens students’ ear to music of four centuries, rather than limiting students to primarily Baroque and Classical repertory.  Again the repertory moves more gradually in technical demands, which ensures that students do not hit a wall somewhere between book 4 and 6, which is quite common when the repertory is primarily Suzuki.

Repertory is also supplemented by Irish tunes, fiddle tunes and holiday tunes.  It is possible to prepare students for participation in Suzuki summer institutes, as well as summer fiddle camps in Chicago and Urbana, such as the Bowdacious String Camp.

Motivation through Accomplishment and Group Music-Making

All students have a weekly private and weekly group class.  The private class makes sure that the student masters each step and accomplishes new tasks easily; the group class covers theory, repertory and the fun of music-making with friends, which is the primary motivation for young students.

  Foundation of Musical Success 

Everyone can learn violin if we proceed one step at a time.  Everyone will want to continue playing violin if each step is small enough to accomplish quickly.  Andersonville Suzuki Academy offers quality private and group violin and viola lessons on the north side of Chicago by combining the best of many approaches to make sure children and adults enjoy mastering the violin from the beginning in the most musical way possible.  We also make sure students can play by ear, read music and improvise from the beginning.

To make sure everyone can succeed over the years, we start with singing and moving rhythmically to simple songs, rhythm syllables, basic solfege (Do, Re, Mi), and basic piano.  This ensures that students can hear music correctly in their head and imitate music easily as well as improvise; that is, use music as a language.   A correct and fluid posture is taught from the beginning so that playing becomes easy at all levels.  Improvisation and composition is used to develop creativity.