The Triangle – the most important lesson I teach

Suzuki coined the term Triangle which represents the relationship between Child, Teacher, and Parent .

In January, 2013, before I taught violin in Cusco, Peru, for 6 months, I taught and attended workshops at the XXVIII International Festival in Lima, Peru. I studied Book One and Book Two with the Suzuki Teacher Trainer from Minnesota, Nancy Lokken. The first thing she did was to draw this on the board:

photo 3

The letters represent Child, Teacher, and Parent. She kept coming back to this sketch during the week-long course, smiling and redrawing the Triangle.

The 1st Stage of the Triangle as explained by Ms. Lokken:

ages 3-6

Ages 3-6

The heavy black line of  initial stages of the Triangle, when the Child is very young, represents more communication, understanding, feedback, and dialogue between the Parent and the Teacher. The Child is really like a tail being wagged. He is along for the ride.

Even at home, when the Teacher isn’t there, the Parent is working with information and skills taught by the Teacher. Yes, there is communication between the Child and the Parent, but there is not a lot of independent thinking on the part of the Child.

The 2nd Stage of the Triangle

photo 1

Ages 7-10

Notice that there is a more even distribution of communication as the Child ages and the Triangle matures in a healthy way. Even though these ages are approximate, it’s been my experience that children begin to take  initiative and make decisions about their playing very early. However, the Parent is still completely involved. He or she writes notes in class, asks questions at the end of a lesson, confides in practice issues, shares in successes, and, of course, leads the home practice.

The 3rd Stage of the Triangle

age 11 and up

Ages 11 and up

As the Child becomes more and more independent, the relationships begin to shift. The Child and Teacher eventually become the exclusive participants in lessons.

The Triangle Must Change

Some parents have a tough time at this stage, and I can understand. Unfortunately, if this shift doesnt happen, the “young Adult” doesn’t feel he or she is part of the process.  This age is tricky, yet so important. C.S. Lewis wondered if adults merely rethink what they thought during the age of 11-14 (Surprised By Joy).

The Child must begin to take responsibility for what they like and don’t like about their playing. If they are to continue progressing meaningfully on the instrument, they must take more and more initiative and have more and more of an opinion about what they hear coming out of their instrument.

This means that the Parent must not only refrain from interacting with Teacher or Child during lessons, but Parents should also “let a lot of things go” at the home practice. Things that they used to be charged with attending to like playing in tune or using the correct bowings might need to be ignored. Interfering with the child’s blossoming responsibility to listen to himself will slow his development as a musician, and frustration will ensue. Edmund Sprunger, in his book Helping Parents Practice, addresses this stage at length and gives parents excellent ways to handle home practice.

The Child becomes the Adult in the Triangle

photo 5

What we seek is the creation of an Adult of discipline. A person who has grit to work at something until he gets it, but also knows how to solve the problems along the way, so he doesn’t keep banging his head on the wall.

When Nancy described how the Triangle changed, I rethought the way I had perceived it. Now, my sense is that this Triangle is like a living organism. It is born with the first lesson, or perhaps even the first phone call or email I get. It grows and changes, it can be hurt, it can be nurtured, it can thrive, and it can die or be killed.

People go from infancy to childhood to adolescence to adulthood and what do they need? They need basic nutrition. Sure, an infant might need her carrots mashed up while an older child can just chomp into a raw carrot, no problem, but they really need the same basic nutrients. The Triangle does not take carrots or juice but begs to be fed this:

  • Patience, Respect, Dignity, Mercy, Love, Kindness, Gentleness, Humility, Trust and Flexibility. (Can you name more?)

These are the nutrients of the Triangle. They might appear in different forms at different times to different people, but just like some people are vegetarians, they still need protein. That ain’t changing!

The stages of development MUST happen. Just as a plant must geminate and cannot do so faster than nature allows, neither can the Triangle be hurried. Also, just like a plant must get bigger and produce leaves and fruit, we cannot wish it to remain a tiny precious plant, or it will die. There’s a lot at stake. But the good news is that if we only do some basic maintenance, the Triangle kinda does what it’s meant to. Like a seed grows to a plant if only some ordinary care is given, so, too, the Triangle will grow!

We Begin With the Parent

For the first several months, lessons will mostly be for the parent. The child may have a short lesson, based on his or her focus. But the bulk of the time will be preparing you, the parent, for being the home teacher.

Our textbook for the year is Edmund Sprunger’s Building Violin Skills. Buy this book before the first  lesson and begin reading Parent Phase I. 

The book is large, but when you think of this as a year-long venture, the length is appropriate. Don’t worry if you don’t understand all of it. As I’ve said, there is a lot of material. You will continually refer to the textbook throughout the year.

It is fun and helpful to review the Student Phases of Building Violin Skills to see how your child’s skills will be  progressing in the upcoming year.



Interview Lesson for Transfer Students

Students who have already started violin from school or other  teachers are called “transfer students.”

My favorite aspect of working with students that already play is finding out what they need technically and what type of learning works with them. Everyone is different, and I don’t teach a one-size-fits-all method.

For instance, some students need more flexibility and others need lots of structure. I find it interesting to discover this with the help of the parent. It can sometimes take several months to get into a groove that works for a particular student.

We will schedule one interview lesson and, based on that, we may schedule more. During the interview lessons, I may suggest the purchase of additional materials such as other books or a higher quality instrument.

Interview lessons are based on age and level. Tuition for interview lessons is:

  • 30 minutes – $45.00
  • 45 minutes – $67.50
  • 60 minutes – $90.00



Thoughtful Heartfelt Tuning-In

From Edmund Sprunger’s Building Violin Skills (page 32). Emphases are mine:

This thoughtful, heartfelt tuning in is the second resource we have for managing the ups and downs of learning the violin. If this tuning in is to be something other than superficial and shallow, it will take time. But it’s time worth spent.

So when you find yourself puzzled because your child who once so enthusiastically said, “I want to play the violin!” is discourage and says “I want to quit!” you need to tune in and pay attention. Tuning in doesn’t mean saying “Ok, you have to tell your teacher, here’s the phone.” Instead, tuning in means saying “Tell me more about it.” It means offering a little gentle encouragement for the child to talk about his or her feelings, and it means an enormous amount of quiet and waiting. Parents who respond this way usually discover that the child is upset about only one aspect of lessons or practices and that this one aspect has clouded everything. But it may take a while-days or weeks, even – for this information to emerge. You help by doing three things:

  • Waiting for it to emerge
  • Continuing to ask (but not nag)
  • and continuing to practice

Sometimes this process of finding out what’s on your child’s mind can take a while because children don’t have the kind of sophisticated language skill that we adults have. One of the main reasons young children have temper tantrums is that their use of language hasn’t developed to the point where they can put their feelings into words. Their only option is to act them out. Tuning in involves asking your child questions that help your child put his or her feelings into words.

For example, if you notice that your child is frustrated, it’s not your cue to try to fix things right away or change your course of action. Again, it’s your cue to tune in, to listen, and to wait to find out more. You might want to ask something such as”Can you tell me what’s upsetting you?” But be forewarned – many children experience questions as intrusive- they find it more useful just to have you silently there. As with adults, most of the time when  children say things such as “I hate this” they don’t want us to fi it for them, they just want us to understand their struggle. “I hate this” often code for something children are incapable of saying:

“I need to complain and get it out of my system so I can keep join. That’s my solution-I neither need nor want input form you right now, I just want you to acknowledge my struggle.”

Adults who rush in  to fix the problem run a serious risk of mis-attunment with he child because they thwart that unspoken need of simply being there to acknowledge the child’s efforts. The irony is that children typically experience mis-attunment as criticism. An adult’s attempt to “fix” things endues up making them works because the child feels hurt that this parent didn’t’ “get” him.

Suzuki Method described by Sprunger and Kreitman

The Suzuki Method:

The  Suzuki Method is summarized by Edmund Sprunger in his book Building Violin Skills as containing three pillars:

  • Begin As Early As Possible
  • Move In Small Steps
  • Provide A Positive, Fortifying Environment


Edward Kreitman provides more detail in his book, Teaching From The Balance Point:

Suzuki philosophy:

  • Every child has the potential to become musical.
  • Environment rather than genetics will determine achievement.
  • Positive reinforcement promotes success.


Suzuki curriculum:

  • The Suzuki Method curriculum is a well-considered series of musical pieces designed to introduce and review musical technique in a progressively challenging format.


Suzuki technical concept:

  • Begin lessons early, enlisting the aid of the parent as home teacher.
  • Adapt the “mother tongue” approach to learning through listening, imitation, review, and positive reinforcement.
  • Break each skill into the smallest possible steps.
  • Teach individual lessons to let each child progress at his or her own pace.
  • Use group classes to review the materials presented in the private lessons and to introduce the skill of playing together. A great resource for us fiddlers! editor Laurie Niles and other readers address frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the violin, with answers about practicing, performing, teaching, and selecting repertoire. Scroll down the page for some illustrated facts about the violin itself, to learn more about the parts of this stringed instrument…

Click here to  learn more…


Park on Autumn Ridge Circle!!!!


For group and individual lessons, please park on Autumn Ridge Circle (before you actually get to the “circle”) and cut through the path to my studio at my townhouse, 1574 Woodcrest Drive.

Directions to my studio can be found here.

Back to Contact Page.


Tuition includes a weekly individual lesson and three group classes which take place on the 1st three Thursdays of every month. All lessons and group classes are held at my home. Group class placement is based on ability and age.

1/2 hour lesson – $240 per month

45 minute lesson – $320 per month

1 hour lesson – $400 per month

Tuition includes group class fees and recital fees. Tuition is non refundable and is due on the 1st of every month. A $25 late fee may be charged if payment is not received by the 1st of the month.

Scholarships available here



Practice Very, Very Slowly!!!!

“One must practice slowly, then more slowly, and finally slowly.”

 -Camille Saint-Saens


Veteran Suzuki violin teacher David Strom, in a discussion of practice techniques, was very emphatic:

 “There’s no getting around slow practice.”


This is confirmed by all the great teachers. From Simon Fischer’s book,  Practice:

“The legendary teacher Ivan Galamian was once asked which practice method, out of all the different ways of practicing, would he consider the very best if he could choose only one. He replied: ‘Playing through at half speed, because it gives you time to think.’”


Mr. Strom shares a story about Galamian’s famous student Itzack Perlman who, when asked for autographs by young students would write:

Practice Slowly!!!!!

Itzhak Perlman

Cellist and pedagogue Cornelia Watkins writes:

“Slow practice allows excellent playing to happen right from the start. When a slow tempo insures that a mistake isn’t likely to happen, ease and trust are built into playing. There is also time to notice important details that might have been overlooked.”


David Wells, cello teacher from the Hartt School, is more pithy:

 “Slow practice is fast practice.”


The only thing I would add to these great teacher’s thoughts on slow practice is to say that I don’t like to practice slowly!

 AND, I love to practice slowly!


I don’t want to admit that I need to slow something down. So practicing slowly is an act of humility for me. But when I settle into it, I love it! It feels good to hear every note perfectly in tune. I love the tone I can get that I can’t get when a fast passage is not easy yet.

And, I love the results: more secure playing and the feeling of mastery.


Simon Fischer tells us how to practice slowly in his book, Practice:

Practice each note very slowly on the string using long strokes


Practice very slowly using staccato*

*Staccato is a stroke that is very short and fast. The notes are not smoothly connected but separated. There is a silence between the notes. If you cannot hear the silence, you are not using staccato. John Kendall, the man credited for bringing the Suzuki Method to the USA, likes using staccato to practice slowly because it builds a sense of speed in the bow hand, while allowing the violin hand to take its time. Since the passage will be played fast eventually, building “fast” into the bow hand is like preparing your brain for playing the passage fast.

200% Practice from Rosindust by Cornelia Watkins

From Rosindust, by Cornelia Watkins


200% Practice

Learning beyond what is required contributes greatly to the ability to trust: “I’ve practiced this piece backwards at double tempo with rhythms on one up bow. You mean all I have to do at the performance is just play it?”

Backwards and Forwards– Practice short passages and runs going backwards and forwards. Dont forget that the eyes register images upside-down, and the brain flips them over, so it can handle this kind of information quite well, too.

Exaggerating the Problem- If there are too many notes to play on one bow, then learn to play all of them with half of the bow. If a tempo is really fast then learn to play even faster. Exaggerate the problem so that when you go back to what really needs to be done, there’s nothing to it.

Mistakes with a Purpose –  Everyone needs to know what they’d do in a performance if the fingers tripped over a few notes, the bow got turned around, or the hand shifted in the wrong place. So rather than habitually stopping to fix problems during practice, consider mistakes as an opportunity to practice ways to develop a repertoire of good recoveries– just in case.

Rhythms* – Practice a passage of even notes with rhythmic variations to build clarity and coordination. After mastering several permutations, it’s hard to remember that the notes ever seemed challenging. Besides, it feels so good when you stop.


The Practice Process, from Rosindust by Cornelia Watkins

From Rosindust, by Cornelia Watkins

A Process for Practice

No matter what practice technique you choose, use this procedure for your best practicing.

Focus on one aspect at a time. Try to remove the distraction of other issues whenever possible – or choose to ignore another problem for a while.

Make the practice goal specific and stated in the positive. The brain registers messages in positive terms, so say what you will do, not what you hope you won’t do. (For instance, a statement like, “Don’t change to an up-bow on the G this time” registers in the brain as “…change to an up-bow on the G….”  Saying “Keep the down-bow through the G, up-bow on the A” is more likely to produce desired results.)

Choose a practice section that is no longer than necessary, with a clear starting and stopping place. Don’t wander on down the page – stay focused on one section until the practice goal is accomplished.

Start slowly enough that the practice goal is immediately attainable. Remember that you’re teaching your brain what you really want it to know, so every successful repetition counts, no matter how slow.

Keep the practice goal conscious during repetitions. State the goal aloud before each repetition if necessary – and be able to observe if the goal was met after each attempt. It’s easy to get distracted, especially after several tries, so be diligent about keeping your focus.

Reintegrate the newly mastered section by gradually expanding the practice section to include measures before and after the original practice section.


Books on String Pedagogy, compiled by VCU’s Susanna Klein

Books on String Pedagogy

Auer, Leopold (1921). Violin Playing As I Teach It. Frederick A. Stokes Co., New York, NY.

Bakhsheayesh, Gloria. Dancing Bows.

Brun, Paul (2000). A New History of the Double Bass. Villeneuve d’Ascq, France: Paul Brun Productions.

Costantakos, Chris A. (1997) Rev. ed. Demetrios Constantine Dounis : His method in teaching violin. New York : Peter Lang.

Dalton, David. (1988). Playing the viola : conversations with William Primrose. Oxford University Press.

Donnington, Robert (1977). String Playing in Baroque Music. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Dounis, D.C. (1921). The Artist’s Technique of Violin Playing. Charles Dumont & Sons, Inc.

Erdlee, Emery (1988). The Mastery of the Bow. Tamarac, Fl: Distinctive Publishing Corporation.

Fischer, Simon (1997). Basics: 300 Exercises and Practice Routines for the Violin. New York: Edition Peters.

Flesch, Carl. 1924 (revised 1939). The Art of Violin Playing. Book I, Technique in General, Applied Technique. Chicago: Carl Fischer Inc.

Flesch, Carl. (1930). The Art of Violin Playing. Book II, Artistic Realization and Instruction. Chicago: Carl Fischer Inc.

Galamian, Ivan. (1985). Principals of Violin Playing and Teaching. London: Prentice Hall.

Geminiani, Francesco, David Dodge Boyden (1751, 1951) The Art of Playing the Violin, 1751. London: Oxford University Press.

Gerle, Robert.(1983). The Art of Practising the Violin. London: Stainer and Bell.

Gerle, Robert (1991). The Art of Bowing Practice. London: Stainer and Bell.

Gigante, Charles (1986). Manual of Orchestral Bowing. Bloomington, IN : American String Teachers Association ; Frangipani Press.

Green, Barry. The Fundamentals of Double Bass Playing. Cincinnatti, OH: Piper Co.

Green, Elizabeth (1993). Miraculous Teacher: Ivan Galamian and the Meadowmount experience. Bryn Mawr, PA: Theodore Presser.

Haman, Donald L., and Robert Gillespie (2004). Strategies for Teaching Strings: Building a Successful String and Orchestra Program. New York: Oxford University Press.

Havas, Kato (1961). A New Approach To Violin Playing. London:Bosworth & Co.

Havas, Kato (1968). The Violin and I. London: Bosworth & Co.

Havas, Kato (1964). The twelve lesson course in A New Approach to Violin Playing, with exercises relating to the fundamental balances. London: Bosworth & Co.

Havas, Kato (1973). Stage Fright: Its Causes And Cures, With Special Reference To String Playing. London: Bosworth & Co.

Hodgson, Percival (1958). Motion Study and Violin Bowing. Urbana: American String Teachers Association.

Jamiesons, Nannie (1991). Technique in a Nutshell for Violin and Viola. European String Teachers Association.

Kendall, John D (1973). The Suzuki violin method in American music education; what the American music educator should know about Shinichi Suzuki. Reston, VA: MENC.

Kjelland, James (2003). Orchestral Bowing: Style and Function. Van Nuys, CA: Alfred Publishing. Contains text and workbook.

Menuhin, Yehudi (1986). The compleat violinist: thoughts, exercises, reflections of an itinerant violinist. New York: Summit Books.

Menuhin, Yehudi, and William Primrose (1976). Violin and viola. New York: Schirmer Books.

Mischakoff, Anne (1985). Sfozando! Music Medecine for String Players. Reston, VA: American String Teachers Association.

Mozart, Leopold (1951). 2nd ed. A treatise on the fundamental principles of violin playing. London: Oxford University Press.

Perkins, Marianne Murray (1995). A comparison of violin playing techniques :Kato Havas, Paul Rolland, and Shinichi Suzuki. Reston, VA: American String Teachers Association.

Polnauer, Frederick F (1964). Senso-motor study and its application to violin playing. Urbana, IL: American String Teachers Association.

Rolland Paul,  Marla Mutschler and Frances A. Hellebrandt (2000).  2nd rev. ed. The Teaching of Action in String Playing. Urbana, Illinois : Illinois String Research Associates (available through ASTA).

Rolland, Paul (1990). Basic principles of violin playing : a report prepared for the MENC Committee on String Instruction in the Schools. New York: Boosey and Hawkes.

Sazer, Victor. New Directions in Cello Playing: How To Make Cello Playing Easier and Play Without Pain. Ofnote, PO Box 66760, Los Angeles, CA 90066. Phone:310 391-9787 Fax:310 391-1251

Starr, William J (1976). The Suzuki violinist :a guide for teachers and parents. Knoxville, Tenn. : Kingston Ellis Press.

Suzuki, Shinichi (1969). Nurtured by Love. New York: Exposition Press.

Suzuki, Shinichi and Elizabeth Mills (1973). The Suzuki Concept: an introduction to a successful method for early music education. Berkely: Diablo Press.

Suzuki, Shinichi (1983). Ability Development from Age Zero. Athens, OH: Ability Development.

Szende, Otto, and Mihaly Nemessuri (1971). The physiology of violin playing. London: Collet’s. ISBN: 0569061962.

Szigeti, Joseph (1970). Szigeti on the violin. New York, F.A. Praeger.

Winberg, Salus (1990). Stretching for Strings. Reston VA: American String Teachers Association.

Young, Phyllis (1978). Playing the String Game: Strategies for Teaching Cello and Strings. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Young, Phyllis (1986). The String Play: the drama of teaching and playing strings. Austin: University of Texas Press.


Stoeving, Paul. The Mastery of the bow and it’s subleties

Ricci, Ruggiero. Ricci on Glissandi: The Shortcut to Violin Playing.

Yampolsky. Principles of Violin Fingering

Kenneson. A Cellists Guide to the New Approach

Smart Fun: 101 Music Games for Children

Stanfield. The Intermediate Cellist

Sand, Barbara. Teaching Genius: Dorothy Delay and the Making of a Musician

Klinghoffer Mr. Karr, would you teach me to drive the double bass?

Zimmerman. A contemporary Concept of Bowing Technique for the Double Bass

Hammel, Alice:  Teaching Music to Students with Autism



The Truth about Piano (or violin, haha) Lessons

Dear Piano Parents:

You’re probably getting mailings right now about fall activities for your kids. The soccer coach wants to know if you’re doing traveling team, the Little League coach is scheduling practices, the dance teacher is putting her classes together. And you’re wondering about piano lessons for little Johnny or Suzie.

You want to know how much Johnny will be expected to practice. You want to know if Suzie can just “try it out” and see if it’s “fun.” You need to know what kind of instrument I expect you to have. You want to know if you can come whenever it’s convenient, and whether I’ll be flexible regarding hockey games, ski Fridays, school dances, ice-skating parties, holidays, and play dates. You want to know if I’m “reasonable” by which I think you mean: Can I change my schedule to suit yours, and am I a stickler for daily practice because Suzie has so much else on her plate and “things are crazy around here.”

It doesn’t usually occur to you to ask what you can do as a parent to help your child with music lessons, but that’s something you’re going to have to know, too.

Read more.