What is the Suzuki environment?

What did Dr. Suzuki mean by environment?

When Dr. Suzuki first began to develop a system for teaching children to play the violin, he came to the conclusion that every child had the ability to play the violin.  That was really a shock to most people who had felt only certain children were born with the talent to play. His attitude is very positive and inclusive.

Every child can learn to play the violin.  All they need are 3 things:
a proper environment
a lot of positive support
good teaching.

When he explained his ideas about teaching children how to play the violin,  Suzuki spoke about 9 important elements essential to a child learning to play such a complicated musical instrument.  One of the 9 elements is “a nurturing and positive learning environment.”  That environment would help ensure a positive experience with the violin, an opportunity for the youngster to grow in musicianship.

What exactly does he mean by “environment”?

If we think about what environment means, we would include the space we live in, our neighborhood, and probably the school our children attend.  For adults, we include the environment at work; is it friendly, competitive, hostile?

We can visualize how we would react in each of those work environments with either stress or enjoyment. Even for adults, an environment that nurtures growth of skills is important. It is even more important for children.

The environment for the child to learn to play a musical instrument includes the physical space and the attitudes of those around.  It would be nice to have an area of a room where the violin could be kept safely in its case.

A place where there won’t be a lot of distractions which might pull the child away from the goal to practice. Ideally, it wouldn’t be a noisy space.   It would be a space the child could think of as being his or her practice  space just like you provide a space for children to associate with doing homework.

However, above all else, the environment for your child to be successful for mastering the violin (or anything else in life) is you.  You are the key to a positive nurturing environment. You are it!

Parents are the best model.

As Christine Goodner explains in her book, Beyond the Music Lesson, you, mom and/or dad, are the practice environment.  Your support and involvement in your child’s life is the most important piece of the child’s environment.  Your belief that your child will absolutely learn to play the violin through whatever it takes is the environment in which this “miracle” will happen.

Your belief that your child will learn to play the violin will influence how you approach daily practice.  And daily practice is where it is at.  The violin lesson happens one day a week.  Group class is one day.  But the other days belong to you!

Providing lots of praise during practice so that it is always a positive experience is the environment that makes learning happen. Parents always talk about the violin with positive terms.  Parents won’t allow siblings to criticize the attempts during the early learning stages.

Parents always boost the child’s confidence reassuring them that while this might be a difficult challenge, they will be able to do it.  Suzuki knew that each child develops at his or her own pace.  But they will develop. Children learn that the hard work will result in a skill that not many other children possess.  And that is where the payoff is.  They have achieved something great!

We give our daughter violin lessons because we don’t want to deprive her from working hard to reach a goal.

Suzuki wanted to develop character first, then ability.  Parents are the key figures in creating that environment for character first.

By playing a musical instrument, the child would gain the satisfaction that comes from the ability to do something well.   Suzuki’s aim was not “to produce professional musicians but to expand children’s sensitivities, self-esteem, discipline, determination, and cooperation “ thereby making noble human beings” of all children.”

And that’s the simple Suzuki explanation of  environment.

The fate of a child is in the hands of his parents. Dr. Suzuki


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“I love to watch you play.”

A Process for Practice

Musicians and teachers are keenly aware of the importance of practice without which the best intentioned student or parent will see little progress.  In her book,  Rosindust, Cornelia Watkins begins by reporting a conversation with a frustrated student about her practice.

When Watkins asked the student what she thinks about while she practices, the student responded, “Nothing, I guess.”

Suzuki violin practiceWatkins admits that “there is almost no need for students to pay attention to their own playing when we tell them everything.” Teachers may jump in too quickly at lessons with their professional observations about what they see and hear during the lesson.

Teachers don’t want their students simply to go through the motions, to put in the time, to check off boxes.  So, among the many other ideas in her book, here are a few to do as a thinking student during practice. For younger students, parents can use these ideas to teach their child how to become more aware of their playing using age appropriate words.

The Basic Components for Practice

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

Focus on one technical 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.

Cornelia Watkins is a Lecturer at The Shepherd School of Music, Rice University.

A form of this post was published in February 2014.

“All technique exists to serve the music.” Cornelia Watkins

You may enjoy reading my related posts:

What does Midori say about practice?

200% Practice from Rosindust by Cornelia Watkins

Practice the violin to see progress.



Suzuki Love!

Our studio supports and uses the Suzuki Method for teaching violin! For so many reasons, it works. Because of this method, very young children learn to play one of the most capricious and difficult instruments.  How can this be?  It is because Dr. Shinichi Suzuki analyzed how to play the violin and how young children learn their native language, and then synthesized the results to create his Method. We benefit from his dedication.

Basic Elements of the Suzuki Method

The International Suzuki Association lists the basic elements:

  • An early start (aged 3-4 is normal in most countries)
  • The importance of listening to music
  • Learning to play before learning to read
  • The involvement of the parent
  • A nurturing and positive learning environment
  • A high standard of teaching by trained teachers
  • The importance of producing a good sound in a balanced and natural way
  • Core repertoire, used by Suzuki students across the world
  • Social interaction with other children: Suzuki students from all over the world can communicate through the language of music

Now for the Suzuki Love!

Violinist Ray Chen signed autographs including children’s Suzuki Violin Books while in Japan.  The children were elated. On a recent Facebook post, he writes that he

“loved doing Suzuki Method as a kid…I think for beginners it brings out the confidence especially in kids and the socializing aspect of the group is so much fun. I owe my enjoyment of music to my former Suzuki years! Thank you Japan! ありがとうございました!”

The Facebook comments reacting to this post revealed how popular and meaningful the Suzuki Method is to families.  Below are 6 comments from the many Facebook exchanges.

“I’m a violinist who learned traditionally, but my children are enrolled with a Suzuki studio. We all love it! It’s amazing how much motivation my children get from playing in group lessons! Everything is so well-organized with so many resources. I’m so glad we took the Suzuki route!”

“I totally agree with you [Ray Chen]!  When I was small, playing in a violin group lesson gave me confidence and made me feel like I had power! Also, learning with Suzuki Method gave me perfect pitch. That helps me a lot when I work now as a piano accompanist….”

“As a Suzuki parent, I must say: ‘how many Twinkle variations are there and how long do I have to listen to them?!!'”

Response from Dr. Paula Bird:  “They [Twinkle Variations] are different every time you listen. Perhaps Dr. Suzuki would say that how you listen and with what part of you (heart, ears, mind, soul) will yield a different sound each time.”

“I did individual lessons on Suzuki …never had a chance on being in a group. Sounds fun! :’)”[Group class in key to the Suzuki Method. That’s why the Davenport studio holds Group Class almost every week.]

“Suzuki love!”

Suzuki love closer to home

Suzuki love & busking

On one summer day we were busking for the Knights of Columbus fund raiser for people with Intellectual Disabilities outside a Food Lion in Reston. Afterwards, a mother wrote that her son was at home playing with a friend when mom reminded him of the event.

“Although he said he wanted to stay with his friend, once he saw you playing violin, he jumped out the car, grabbed the violin and rushed to you. After playing, he said, ‘I love violin.’ That was great to hear for me.  Thank you sooooo much for this opportunity and all the effort for [my son].”

Other parents see how valuable the Suzuki elements are:

“It has been wonderful experiences for myself as well learning music basics and meeting great families of other pupils. I truly feel my son and I am a part of Suzuki community.

“Eric also does fun things like Halloween performance which students play violin with their favorite costume. We also had picnic party at the park which was fun too.”

“When my then 4 and half years old boy said he wanted to learn how to play violin, I was quite skeptical. Although he was a bright boy, he was also a very rambunctious boy…His positive feedback works always with my boy because it is genuine and the energy is almost visible. “

Suzuki Love Hyatt

Suzuki Love Violin

In our studio, we embrace all of the basics of the Suzuki Method. Children learn at their own pace. The program individualizes the teaching for each child. They are not isolated as they learn this difficult instrument, the violin.  The group classes reinforce skills and the social aspects of music making. Frequent opportunities to play in public, to play for each other, gives each child confidence.


Suzuki love

As one early 4 year-old said in response to her preschool teacher’s question: What makes you special?   “I play the violin.” 

“I am mentally preparing myself for the five-year-old mind. I want to come down to their physical limitations and up to their sense of wonder and awe.”  Shinichi Suzuki

You may enjoy my other posts on a similar topic.

Suzuki Violin: The Dog Days of Summer~

Suzuki Alumni Project: Suzuki Kids as Pros

Happy Birthday, Dr. Suzuki!

Let’s Celebrate 51 Years of Suzuki in N. America

The show must go on!

We’ve got some performances coming…and

It’s all about the audience!

The audience expects the show to go on no matter what.  Whether we play at a recital, entertain residents at a retirement home, play at the Herndon Depot, or at the Gelato Store, we are playing for our audience.  I want the children to begin to understand that it is not about them, but it is a chance to learn to do for others.

They are playing to give the audience enjoyment of their music, of their playing…and which audience have you ever heard of that doesn’t like to see and hear youth perform?  It is such a treat.  Such a blessing to see young people doing important work–taking their instrument seriously enough “to take it public.” They love to watch them play.

So let’s tell students “What Not to Do!”

 Samantha at Preach What You Practice, writes about 7 deadly sins.  I have taken the liberty to add my own twist to them.

 * Don’t draw attention to your mistakes.  Don’t stop and try to play it again. Just keep playing.  Chances are the audience is enjoying watching you and listening to you that they aren’t checking out your notes or your tuning.  They really are there to hear some good music.

* Don’t correct your wrong notes.  As Samantha says, “An audience will usually not recognise an incorrect pitch, but they will always notice a disruption in rhythm.”

* Don’t show that you aren’t happy with your performance.   You must smile!  You must look happy!  That’s why your audience is there. To enjoy a few moments of pleasure in their day.  And they love to watch you play!  And after the performance when you get complimented, simply say,”thank you.”  Don’t say I played terrible.

Suzuki performance


* Don’t look at the audience while you play. They are looking at you play, but not really at you.  Don’t try to see what your mom or dad are doing.  Don’t glance at the crying baby.  Or the laughing child.  If you remember you are there to entertain them, you will smile and play. Or at least look pleasant.

* Don’t start too fast.  The adrenalin can take over.  There’s that brain controlling you instead of you controlling it. Practice the beginning of your piece that you are going to play so that you start at a good pace.

* Don’t change anything on the day of the performance. Play what you have prepared.  If you watch the Olympics, those who do routines have done them a thousand, maybe ten thousand times before. They do not change them at the last minute. They even practice in their costumes.  So, don’t wear anything crazy for the public performance.

* Don’t forget to acknowledge your audience.  Greet the audience with a bow and a smile.  They are there for you!  Bowing is part of the performance, both before and after.  Bowing is polite. It’s a way for you to say thank you for listening to me and clapping!  (I love to hear you clap!)  And walk on the performance stage with confidence.  People want to watch and listen to you when you look confident.

“The Violin is simply an extraordinary instrument with just four strings: G, D, A and E.”  Liz


Enjoy my other blog posts:

I love to watch you play

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Play violin with a parrot on your head?


Play violin with a parrot on your head?

Focus! Even with a parrot on my head?

Violin students need to focus. But this much? I may ask a lot from my violin students, but I doubt they will ever have to do that!

Eloise Hellyer’s post, “Good Habits,” (click here for her post.)  included this amusing video found below about concentrating while playing the violin.

Jordanna Greenberg from the group, Harpeth Rising, was practicing at her parents’ home when their pet cherry-headed Conure named Pepper landed on her head.  As she says, “Rule #1 of being a performer: You must continue to play, even with a parrot on your head!”

It is not likely that a student will have a parrot on his or her head, but we can think about the children in the audience during a recital making noises like Pepper is doing.  Jordanna is the perfect model for “the play must go on!”

Enjoy the look on her face when she starts to refocus. She plays one of the most difficult violin concertos, the Sibelius.  The video is hilarious and a great lesson for our students on focus!

Hmmm, maybe we should get a studio mascot…

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”  Theodore Roosevelt


Click here for image credit.

Can music help treat children with ADHD?

Research at the UC-San Diego look at a non-pharmacological  method for treating those with ADHD.

The type of child who is described as being overly active and not listening to others has been around for a very long time.  The condition was first described as far back as 1902.  Nowadays, the professionals call this type of behavior ADHD.  Opinions abound as to why there appears to be an increase in ADHD.  But for the children, and adults, who have it, what matters most is finding something to help.

Brain Research

The increase in brain research in recent years is a boon to all kinds of questions including ADHD:

  • How does learning take place?
  • How can we improve it?
  •  What affects the ability to focus?
  •  And how can we improve that?

Furthermore, the development of powerful computer technology allows researchers to track what goes on in the brain in real time.

Developing a Sense of Time & Rhythm Is Key

Researchers in San Diego believe that learning to play musical instruments can help people focus attention and improve ability to interact with the world around.

They believe our sense of time and rhythm is the foundation for every human interaction. Therefore, they wondered whether learning to play a musical instrument, increasing skill with time and rhythm, would help youngsters focus attention.

Research at UC – San Diego

Alexander Khalil began the research after several years of noticing that children who lacked the ability to “keep time” in a group also struggled to pay attention during other activities. Then he noticed, as their musical ability improved, so did their attention.

Khalil lead a project with children where they play ensemble music with a type of percussion instrument. The music is Gamelan, traditional ensemble music of Indonesia.  The children learn to play together,  keeping the beat.

Khalil’s team planned the experiment to see if children could then apply the focus they gained to other activities.  His team wanted to know if learning to synchronize musically in a group setting could improve ability to focus attention.

Synchronizing isn’t doing something exactly at the same time.  Khalil says it “actually means processing time together – perceiving time together in such a way that we have this common understanding of how time is passing.”

The team has found that the ability to focus has a direct correlation on results of cognitive tests.  It makes sense.  If you are focused on the test questions, you will most likely do better.

Research Question

Khalil wonders: Is it possible that music practice could become a non-pharmacological intervention for problems such as ADHD? His team hasn’t tested this hypothesis yet, but he feels it is an exciting possibility.

Why Wait?

I believe that we shouldn’t wait for the research results to come out years down the road, but to give the ADHD child the opportunity for music lessons.  What if it would help?  What if learning to play in a group helps focus attention and change the brain? What if learning to focus during lessons transfers to other tasks?

The beauty of the Suzuki Violin Method is that in addition to individual lessons, students play in groups.  In our studio, children have a group class each week where they  have opportunity to play together. In addition, our studio has public performances almost monthly where the students play together.  Doesn’t this give them an opportunity “to perceive time together“?

Yet, the intrinsic benefit of knowing how to play the violin is worth it even if focus never entered the conversation.

Featured Image: video

“Children who have musical training do better at school.” Paula Tallal

The best way to get your child ready for kindergarten

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the article, “Getting Your Child Ready for Kindergarten,” in the Summer 2015  issue of Virginia, The UVA Magazine, which validates everything I know about the value of Suzuki violin lessons for preschool children, even those as young as 2 1/2.

In the article, Amanda Williford, Ph.D., describes the skills that have been found to be the most important for success in kindergarten.  Dr. Williford says that parents often focus on skills such as:

  • learning the alphabet
  • writing their name
  • being able to count to 20.

But it turns out that those aren’t the most important skills your child needs to start kindergarten.” (my emphasis)

The skills children need most for success in kindergarten are:

  • to be able to relate to others
  • to be independent
  • to persist in challenging tasks
  • to inhibit impulsive behavior

Skills learned in Suzuki Violin Lessons

As I read this article, I immediately thought, Boom!  Those are the same skills a preschool child learns from taking Suzuki violin lessons.

  1. They learn how to relate to others through the dynamic of the Suzuki Triangle which includes the teacher, the parent, and the child AND through the relationships in Suzuki group classes, play-ins, and recitals.
  2. Suzuki preschoolers learn how to be independent through many Suzuki activities:  a). coming to lessons prepared to learn, b). performing in front of the Suzuki students & parents,  and c). performing at informal play-ins and more formal recitals. Yes, even the little ones have an opportunity in a supportive environment to show others what they have learned.
  3. Suzuki violin preschoolers certainly learn persistence in learning to play probably the most challenging musical instrument for a beginner, the violin.
  4. Finally, these youngest students learn to inhibit impulsive behavior at individual lessons and group activities.  Focus is one of the key skills I develop with the preschoolers.

Video Examples

Below is a video of a 5 year-old in a lesson. See the focus develop in the very young child.

Watch his eyes when he is working on his left hand. When will you see such focused attention from a very young child—not mesmerized by a video game?


Watch the video below of a 5 year-old girl.

Look for her focus as we count to 7 before we bow to begin the lesson.

Watch the intensity of her eyes while she learns to play with her left hand.

Suzuki Steps to Playing

Each step in the Suzuki violin lesson is planned strategically to give the child the skills to focus. Intuitively, Shinichi Suzuki knew the importance of focus and self-discipline for a child.

In several posts I wrote about the benefit of Suzuki violin lessons for children with ADHD and Executive Function challenges; always, focus is key.  Read the posts herehere, and here.

But wait, there’s more!

As if all of this proven data about skills for success in kindergarten isn’t enough, Williford adds:

“It is actually these foundational social-emotional and self-control skills that predict children’s success in future grades and in lifelong outcomes, including higher educational attainment and better health outcomes.” (my emphasis)

Some parents might think that Suzuki lessons aren’t exciting enough for their preschool child.  However, this article validates the Suzuki method.  The key to success in kindergarten and in higher education is in developing skills in persistence, focus, and independence.

Williford was the study’s lead investigator at the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning at the University of Virginia Curry School of Education, CASTL.

Photo credit: Kevin Jarrett, CC BY 2.0

“The fate of a child is in the hands of his parents.” Shinichi Suzuki