Kids say it best


Mainly Mozart Youth Orchestra, San Diego

I found this promo video of young students interviewed about playing a musical instrument.  Their answers are priceless.

What do you get out of playing an instrument?

One of my favorite answers:

“You feel that you can actually do something that’s worthwhile… that’s interesting.”

That’s a young boy who pushes through the practices and sees the benefit of something beyond himself.

Let’s ask our children:  “What do you get out of learning to play the violin?”

Our Suzuki violin students get individual lessons.  But wait– there’s more!  Experiences together at group rehearsals,  service performances, Music Mind Games, Recitals, and play downs. And then there is self-esteem, cooperative teamwork, memorization, problem solving.  Click here to see my blog which features 10 life skills children get from music lessons.

Let’s value the benefits of learning to play the violin and remind our children too as we go through the humdrum of each day.

Your child IS doing something very special.  


Suzuki Violin: May Help Child with ADHD

What a treat it is to read about Sharlene Habermeyer’s son.  Mom filled his life with music and saw to it that he took music lessons.

In an article in ADDitude, Sharlene Habermeyer explains that when her child was born the experts told her that her new baby probably would not graduate from high school and certainly not from college.

Mom didn’t take no for an answer.

This is a story of a boy who had several learning issues including ADHD, auditory discrimination, visual-motor, visual perception, and sensory motor challenges due to problems during birth.  Early in her research on what to do to help her baby, Habermeyer discovered that all learning disabilities start with auditory processing.

Children with auditory processing issues

Children with auditory processing problems have normal hearing but have difficulty making sense and meaning from sounds especially when there is background noise. What I find fascinating is that in school, teachers see a child who looks like every other child—alert, smart, bright eyed—but when they explain something to the child, he doesn’t understand in the way the teacher expects. Some teachers may become annoyed, thinking the child is purposefully not trying to understand. Perhaps the teacher thinks the child wants to draw attention to himself.

Auditory processing issues are tricky to diagnose because the psychologist who does the academic testing doesn’t necessarily test for auditory processing.  That is usually left up to an audiologist.

What does auditory processing disorder look like?

With auditory processing disorder, there is a glitch that scrambles how the brain processes sounds. People with problems in this area may find it difficult to block out background noise. Also, they may process thoughts and ideas slowly. They may have difficulty understanding metaphors, similes, even puns and jokes.

Furthermore, students with auditory processing issues may have difficulty paying attention in class. They may look like they are daydreaming or disinterested.

What this mother did.

Habermeyer discovered that music might be the key to unlocking her son’s ability to learn. She reports that she found out that music strengthens areas of the brain that are weak such as the auditory, visual-spatial, and motor areas. These areas are tied to vital systems for learning: speech, language, reading, math, focus, and concentration.

She reports that “when learning-disabled children and children with ADHD learn a musical instrument, attention, concentration, impulse control, social functioning, self-esteem, self-expression, motivation, and memory improve.”  Some studies show that children who are disturbed by background noise find music lessons particularly helpful.

A Suzuki Mom in disguise

This mom was really a Suzuki mom in disguise. She played classical music for her son since birth, and by 18 months he was in a group music program. She started him with private lessons and suggests parents start private lessons by age 5 and certainly before age 7. She also suggests a very Suzuki idea –that the parent should take lessons also.  Because children with ADHD need to move around, she suggests ADHD friendly instruments such as strings which allow the child to stand and move while playing.

Today the son who was told he might not even graduate from high school is a college graduate and works in the film industry.

Great testimony for music lessons for one boy and a determined mom.


Simone Porter & Suzuki

A wonderful video of Simone’s experiences from practically Age Zero to 15 — “Simone Porter through the Ages.”  But first, a little background.

Started with Listening to good music

Simone Porter began to take Suzuki violin lessons at the age of 3 1/2 after she begged to play the violin shortly after she turned 2!   Her mother tells the story that Simone loved the opera Tosca from when she was a baby!  (Suzuki says play good music from Age Zero.)

Her mom was the proud owner of 2 classical CD’s at the time. Because her “toddler” showed an earnest interest in opera, her mother took her often to hear the Utah Symphony when she was just older than 2. Simone’s attraction to Tosca might not be so unusual if you recall what Suzuki says about playing good music for your infant.

The listening method in Suzuki was perfect for Simone.  Her mother said that when Simone hears it, she plays it, and it becomes part of her.

Back to Basics at age 11

Simone’s family moved to Seattle when she was 5 so that Simone could pursue advanced instruction. At around age 11, Simone switched teachers to Robert Lipsett who wanted to go back to basics to correct some habits of technique that Simone had developed.  She made weekly trips to Los Angeles for lessons with Lipsett.

The young girl did not give up just because someone told her she needed to work on basic technique which included a lot of repetition..  So often, students can get discouraged because they don’t want to review. But that’s what it takes to play well on the violin.  Basics!

A regular kid

With that kind of work ethic, we might think Simone is not your normal child.  But we would be wrong.  Simone, although a serious violin student,  has always had a personality that fits in with “regular” kids. In a post written by Janet Pelz about Simone in 2010, Pelz says:

“Last year I was hanging out on the playground with a P.E. teacher at Simone’s school while she supervised a game of touch football.  I pointed to Simone and asked the teacher, ‘Did you know that girl is a violin virtuoso?  She has played Carnegie Hall.’  The teacher’s eyes grew wide.  ‘And she’s playing football…! ‘  The two of us watched as Simone ran around and played like all the other 6th graders and, thankfully, finished the class with her fingers still working, a smile on her face, and a glow of sweat on her forehead.”

You will see her bubbly personality and her exquisite playing in this video, Simone Porter through the Ages.


3 basic priorities: balanced posture, tone, and intonation. Ed Kreitman

Happy Suzuki Kids

Who wouldn’t want their child to be happy?  Yet, happiness is so elusive –happy one minute, crying the next!  What makes happy children?  Are some children simply born with happy dispositions?

Happiness is a choice.

For example, although our children may be happy when they reach a goal, the problem is that happiness is short-lived.  And then what?   What else?

Take children at a birthday party.  After the gifts are opened, then there is a let-down. What else is there?  Young children can be really disappointed and even cry.  Children can start to run around, getting what we think is hyperactive from the birthday cake.


Could it be as simple as “goal setting?”

Children have to be taught about personal goals (and birthday party presents are not a goal we should work toward!). Children don’t automatically understand how goals and goal setting can enhance their lives.

If we can teach our children to enjoy the journey, the “work” that it takes to reach a goal, then we are beginning to change the mindset of our children.  What fun it can be to learn something new, to try something again until we reach that one specific goal.

The happy child could be the one who says, “What’s next?” –meaning what is our next goal?

How do we do this for Suzuki violin lessons?

  • We can set up milestones along the way to the final goal.
  • That means we help our child see the multiple steps that will get him or her to the goal.
  • Each time we reach a milestone, we teach our child to celebrate.
  • Show your child that his success will impact the group: i.e., a play-in is coming up and other children depend on her or him.
  • Use the Suzuki experience to build up your relationship with your child.  The closeness you both can feel if mom or dad does Suzuki right can seldom be replicated through dance or sports, for example.

Teaching your child many skills, not just how to play the violin.

How will their practice impact the bigger picture in their Suzuki school?  Just like how their effort will help a company when they are adults.

How will their day-to-day positive efforts influence people in their community some day?

To answer that question for himself, Scott Crabtree founded the Happy Brain Science to foster productivity through cutting-edge brain science.  On the First Round Review website, he reports that he had climbed the corporate ladder for 24 years before deciding to share his ideas on day-to-day positive efforts.

Crabtree says, “Solid science tells us, yes, happiness comes from our genes, but also from the choices and thoughts going on between our ears…The place you have the most effective chance of changing your own happiness level is in your own mind.  You can choose happiness.”

Suzuki goals coincide with the advice from Crabtree who says:

  • Break goals into steps.
  • Celebrate each step as you achieve it.
  • Know that you are part of a larger entity. Your efforts count toward the group’s success.
  • Personal relationships matter on the job. The more you have in common with another employee, the more likely you are to work diligently toward the common goal.

Dr. Suzuki was onto something. We can influence our children to learn how to be happy throughout their lives.


We can develop happy Suzuki kids.

Backstage Violinists!

Three young violinists warm up in this behind-the-scenes backstage performance. They are part of  the PBS From the Top presentation.

The video below is a backstage look at how much fun violinists have.  This is what we all would love for our students–to revel in the joy of playing violin together.   The young trio play “Romance” by Hellmesberger as they enjoy the informal venue!  Backstage!

This performance was held at the University of Cincinnati in April 2014. Charles Yang is a From the Top alumnus. Tessa Lark and Jonathan Miron were members of the Starling Orchestra, the university’s premier preparatory string ensemble.

Charles Yang is an accomplished violinist who studied with his mother in Austin, Texas.  One of his renowned teachers was Brian Lewis, the son of Suzuki teacher and trainer, Alice Joy Lewis, in Ottawa, Kansas.  Charles is also featured in Nick Romeo’s book, Driven.

  • Brian Lewis will be a featured violin clinician at SAGWA String Festival Workshop.
  • You can register here.  
  • SAGWA is very luck to have Mr. Lewis as a clinician this spring.

Tessa Lark, an accomplished violinist, has won the Silver Medal at the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis in September 2014. Thirty-seven of the finest violinists in the world competed in what has been dubbed, the “Olympics of the Violin”  in the Western Hemisphere. Tessa performed challenging recitals of required repertoire and solo concerti with the orchestra. Hailing from Kentucky, her silver medal  placed her higher in this competition than any American since 1982.

Jonathan Miron attended school at the Professional Children’s School and studied violin through the Juilliard School’s Pre-College Division where he was a member of the Juilliard Pre-College Orchestra. He  performed at Lincoln Center in May 2014.

The Emperor’s New Clothes & Suzuki Violin Lessons!

In Hans Christian Andersen’s story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” an emperor is tricked by two weavers who create a wonderful outfit for him. The weavers claim his outfit is invisible to those “not fit for their positions or for those who are stupid.” So, naturally, all the adults agree that the emperor looks great.  Who wants to be stupid or not fit for their job?   It takes a mere child to say out loud in front of everyone: “The emperor isn’t wearing anything at all!”

Do we need a childlike voice to get the ARTS back in schools? In the current rush for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) in school, we are afraid to speak up for fear of looking stupid even though the STEM initiative has not been successful. Something is missing: creative and real world problem solving.

“What type of activities would increase student engagement, raise motivation, focus on relevant issues, and, most importantly, develop creativity? Oh, wait a minute.  That’s what the arts do,”  says Sousa and Pilecki in their book From STEM to STEAM. There is a move now to change the current emphasis from STEM to STEAM!  A for arts!  Integrate arts back into the curriculum.

Musicians know very well the advantages to children of learning to play a musical instrument.   Although studying a musical instrument as part of the arts is enjoyable for its own value, there are most certainly skills gained from playing an instrument that are useful in academics and in life as well–and in shoring up the study of science, technology, engineering, and math.

In her Master’s thesis, “A Beginning Teacher’s Guide to Beginner Violinists,” Anjuli Coe lists a number of life skills that a student will acquire from taking violin lessons.

Here are 10 of the 15 life skills that children get from taking violin lessons.

  • Self-discipline
  • Self-respect
  • Self-efficacy
  • Responsibility
  • Time-management
  • Problem solving
  • Memorization
  • Following directions
  • Cooperative teamwork
  • Performing

Ms. Coe’s observation is like that of the child in Andersen’s story.  She states what she observes–these are the takeaways from studying the violin.  But Coe is not the only one who lists advantages from studying the violin.  Valerie Strauss, a writer for The Washington Post posted an article on the “Top 10 Skills Children Learn from the Arts” from ARTSBlog to draw attention to the importance of the arts for children.

Follow the National Association for #Music Education: @NAfME on Twitter  and on Facebook  to keep up with the very latest in proposed Federal Legislation about music being recognized as a core subject.  NAfME has also created Broader Mind TM campaign to explain the extrinsic and intrinsic benefits of music education.

We who work with students to attain Suzuki violin expertise have always known the significance of studying the violin. Don’t be afraid to be childlike in your determination of what is the truth.

Learning Theories & the Suzuki Method~

Suzuki didn’t just randomly create a method for teaching violin.  His method is based on sound learning principles.

Learning theorists study how they think learning happens.  Shawn Riley created a slide show, Contemporary Learning Theories and the Suzuki Method (below), to demonstrate how Suzuki incorporated learning theories in the creation of his Suzuki Method for teaching the violin to all children.

Several Key points in Riley’s slides

  • A child’s brain from ages 0 to 3 is 2.5 times more active than an adult brain.
  • Proper stimulation at the beginning of life forms ability that can never happen again after the first few years of life.

The Parallels of Learning Theories and the Suzuki Method.

  • Play beautiful music for the very young child.
  • Violin instruction is deeply rooted in language development
  • Get an early start with the violin –before the age of 5.
  • Parent as home teacher
  • Nurturing, encouraging environment
  • Reinforcement
  • Spiral curriculum
  • Proceed at individual rates
  • Group Class
  • Recitals

Riley compares Suzuki’s method to the works of: Bloom, Piaget, Gordan, Bruner, BF Skinner, Thorndike, Vygotsky, and Bandura.

Must know: These Violin Terms.

It’s April 1!

Of course ! It’s a Violin Glossary from A to Z!

But first, here’s your quiz!

Which bow strokes are these?  Jeté, Legato, Martelé, Portato, Ricochet, and Sautillé

Match the bow strokes to these definitions? (see answers at bottom of page)

  1.  A very fast spiccato, done usually with the hand.
  2. A detached and strongly accented bow stroke.
  3. a bouncing bow stroke in which the bow is dropped or thrown on the string and allowed to rebound and bounce again, several times.
  4. Each note in this type of bowing is re-articulated very gently, with the bow continuing to move between notes. Think “wah-wah-wah-wah.”
  5.  A bouncing bow stroke that involves two to six ricochets in a row.
  6. A smooth, connected bow stroke

I love to say this term from the listDemisemiquaver

I don’t like to see this in the studio…VSO: “Violin-Shaped Object.” Don’t buy one.

One of my favorite violin terms is…Practice!  Suzuki suggested that it takes 10,000 repetitions to truly learn a piece. That’s a lot of practicing!

With a wry sense of humor, Laura Niles writes this glossary of serious, amusing, and enlightening terms for, defining some key terms (and not so key)  for violinists. Click here to read Niles’ article,”The Glossary of Violin-Related Terms.”

Which term is your favorite?

Happy April First!

[Answers: These ARE the correct answers. How did you do?]

  1. Sautillé
  2. Martelé
  3. Ricochet
  4. Sautillé
  5. Jeté
  6. Legato