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Suzuki Teacher Training Journal, 2014

alexandra web

Alexandra Ostroff, one our Customer Service Leads, talks about her experience this past week at the Phoenix Phest Suzuki Teacher Training seminar. Alexandra is clearly developing into a talented teacher; what I love most about her blog post is how open she is to learning from those around her. 

This past week I took some time away from my desk and returned to Phoenix Phest in Ypsilanti, MI to continue my education in teaching the Suzuki Method. This blog entry will share some of the highlights for me from this week’s institute.

The institute setting gives students, their parents and teacher, and the teacher trainers a week away from their regular lives to focus on music and learning. Being able to see the Suzuki student-teacher-parent triangle work in fast-motion was amazing. All parties on the triangle were so on board to improve their skills and become better players and people. One night after classes, a little girl and her father spent 2 hours together working on perfecting a skill from the assignment for that day. She came back the next day with that skill set in her tool-belt and a smile on her face, knowing that she had worked hard to own it. This was a great example of one of Dr. Suzuki’s statements that we discussed this week: “Knowledge plus 10,000 times equals ability.” Although the child had not made her 10,000 repetitions, she had accomplished a good chunk of them.

A Brief Email Interview with Kathryn Schutmaat

My Very First Cello Method

When My Very First Cello Method first arrived at SHAR we thought: Another method book . . . is there anything special about this one? What follows is a brief email interview with the author, Kathryn Schutmaat. We hear a little about her professional background, her multicultural identity, and what's special about this particular cello method book. 

A Suzuki Teacher Training Journal: Days Seven and Eight


Most SHAR employees are players in addition to being luthiers, salespeople, purchasers, or web developers. So when one of our senior customer care specialists asked to attend the Phoenix Phest Grande Suzuki Teacher Training Workshop, we said, "Sure! But can you also blog about it?" Not only has Alexandra Ostroff sent us dispatches from her training workshops, she's generously shared her reflections on the Suzuki Method, allowing us to witness the discoveries and challenges of this week-long session at Phoenix Phest Grande.

August 8, 2013

Today we did it, we got to the last piece in Book 1, "Gavotte" by Gossec. Tonight our assignment is to make a list of all of the skills that our students will have learned by the time that they’ve mastered the material that we have covered in this book.  ’m not sure exactly how many that I’ll come up with, but I know that the list is going to be VERY long.

We also completed our final observations required to help us understand how this method works and to assist our students and their parents to achieve excellence. An institute setting is a bit different than a weekly private lesson for many reasons. Despite the differences in the setting, the teacher they are learning from, and the frequency of the lessons that they are attending, the students that I’ve observed over the course of this week have made so many positive strides coming closer to mastering the skills and techniques that we are focusing on in lectures. I’m so proud of them all and I’m sure that their teachers and parents are as well.

August 9, 2013 

Today I completed the coursework required to become a Registered Violin Unit 1 Teacher with the Suzuki Association of the Americas. As a final lesson, we learned how to say “no” to the things in our studios or our lives that are counterproductive to our goals -- and the importance of setting standards for oneself, freeing up time to focus on the things we want to do.

I have learned so much this week, and its been such a great experience. The people I was in contact with exuded so much love for their craft, I remain awestruck. I’m going forward into the music community as a better teacher, player and person.

I’d like to send a special thanks to the following people for helping make this week possible. First,  Nancy Jackson, my Teacher Trainer, who has been such an inspiration to me this week. Thank you Nancy for sharing your expertise, experience, and a piece of your heart with us. To Rolando Freitag, Nancy’s Teacher Trainer Candidate, and fellow teacher trainees, it was a pleasure to learn with and from you all -- please keep in touch! Thanks to Gabe Bolkosky and the Phoenix Phest Organization for offering this training, and thank you to SHAR Products Company for assisting me in being able to be a part of the event. And lastly, thanks to Jay for supporting me throughout this week.

I go forward from this training excited to teach with love in my heart for music, children and the world.

A Suzuki Teacher Training Journal: Days Five and Six


Most SHAR employees are players in addition to being luthiers, salespeople, purchasers, or web developers. So when one of our senior customer care specialists asked to attend the Phoenix Phest Grande Suzuki Teacher Training Workshop, we said, "Sure! But can you also blog about it?" Not only has Alexandra Ostroff sent us dispatches from her training workshops, she's generously shared her reflections on the Suzuki Method, allowing us to witness the discoveries and challenges of this week-long session at Phoenix Phest Grande.

August 7, 2013

Today started with going over the teaching points for more of the pieces in Book 1. We continue to be hands on with our approach to learning the things we need to focus on for each piece. Our teacher is doing a great job of demonstrating what the typical troubles that the little ones will have with each technique.

I really appreciate that after we went over teacher training points the next topic that we addressed was running a studio. It was not a topic that I thought would be addressed at teacher training, but is most definitely something that any new teacher needs assistance with. We had a lecture/group discussion going over the necessities of creating a business for yourself and producing a high level of excellent from your students. What good would all of this training be if we trainees went back to our homes and studios and did not enforce what we’ve learned? Our assignment for tonight is to create a studio policy to give the parents of our students.  This is a simple upfront contract of what you expect from the parent and student when they join your studio. Having a policy in place makes it easier for you to focus on learning in your lessons. Payment, attendance and cancellations have already been addressed and you seem more like a business than just some girl that is going to teach their child violin.

This point leads me to the other invaluable bit advice that we were given. Look the part when you are teaching your lessons. If you put the effort into looking professional (business casual) then you are establishing being a professional to your student and their parent. They will know that you take yourself seriously and this will work in your favor when teaching and enforcing polices. It’s hard to remember that your studio is a business and it’s your business. Once this has been established in your mind and the actions are taken to exude that to your clientele, it will help your enhance the learning that occurs within your studio. 

August 8, 2013

Wow, day six. I would have never guessed how much I could learn in these days! Today’s focus was continuing the in-depth analysis of the teaching points in Book 1. All of these skills are fresh in my mind because they are the focus of our lecture and lesson observation.

After our day of lecture and observation today, I headed over to the practice room to run through Book 1 and then focus on some orchestral excerpts and the concerto I am currently learning. As I started my personal practice I noticed something different in my approach. I was applying the concepts that we had been discussing this week to myself. Before starting to play I made sure that my head was supporting my instrument and my left hand was free of tension, I listened for the ringing tones on my instrument in my warm up scale, I focused on opening and closing my arm at the elbow to obtain a clear tone. I’m not saying that these are not things that I have been striving for in my playing until this point, but that after having been out of school for five years something clicked. I hope that I will continue to bring these core skills to my attention in my warm up for future practice sessions and to continue to improve my skills with dedicated practice.

A Suzuki Teacher Training Journal: Day Three

Alexandra Ostroff

Most SHAR employees are players in addition to being luthiers, salespeople, purchasers, or web developers. So when one of our senior customer care specialists asked to attend the Phoenix Phest Grande Suzuki Teacher Training Workshop, we said, "Sure! But can you also blog about it?" Not only has Alexandra Ostroff sent us dispatches from her training workshops, she's generously shared her reflections on the Suzuki Method, allowing us to witness the discoveries and challenges of this week-long session at Phoenix Phest Grande.

August 5, 2013

When I came home from my training today, I had the energy to eat dinner and almost immediately fell asleep - and stayed asleep – for rest of the night. Learning is a lot of work, and there is a bounty of information passed on every step of the way. To get the education I want to from this training, I need to be focused 100% of my time in lectures and observations. Being Suzuki trained is the equivalent of a full-time job.

In class, our instructor continued our education on “Pre-Twinklers”. I’m glad that we are spending so much time focusing on this level player because it was the most foreign to me coming into training, and we are learning that it is the most crucial time period in a violinist’s development. I can only imagine how my playing would be different today if this had been the path I had started on in my violin playing. Old habits die hard, especially improper ones ingrained at a young age - the time and energy spent by the teacher, parent and student from the start is justified. For instance, as the child progresses he or she will be able to focus on learning new techniques and playing-styles without having to try to relearn how to hold or play the instrument.

A large portion of the day was spent in observing lessons, master classes and group classes. These observations have been very helpful for me in learning how to interact with a young child in a teacher-student relationship. Without seeing this method in action, there is no way for a teacher trainee to come home and teach within this style. Teaching in the Suzuki style is very hands-on with the child so you can guide them in learning how to balance and play their violin without tension. I’ve also spent time observing the parents in lessons, because they are considered the “home teacher” for the student. Every parent I’ve observed has been completely onboard – ready to learn anything required to help their child succeed. Parents follow the lesson with bright eyes, taking notes and asking questions when they don’t quite understand how or why the teacher is assisting the student. The Suzuki Method creates a special bond between these three people even in the first meeting – and that bond is critical to the learning process.

A Suzuki Teacher Training Journal: Day Two


Most SHAR employees are players in addition to being luthiers, salespeople, purchasers, or web developers. So when one of our senior customer care specialists asked to attend the Phoenix Phest Grande Suzuki Teacher Training Workshop, we said, "Sure! But can you also blog about it?" Not only has Alexandra Ostroff sent us dispatches from her training workshops, she's generously shared her reflections on the Suzuki Method, allowing us to witness the discoveries and challenges of this week-long session at Phoenix Phest Grande.

August 4, 2013: Suzuki Violin Unit 1 Teacher Training

Yesterday, I’d resolved to memorize Suzuki Book 1 as quickly as possible. With that goal in mind, I spent the morning car ride listening through Suzuki CD Volume 1 as an attempt to refresh the material – it was a rather lucky coincidence that the car ride was just the right length to make it through the disc! My extra listening seemed to make a difference when we played the pieces in our group sessions today. Although I still can’t make it all the way through every piece, I did not need to pull out my music for reference. When our Teacher Trainer had us answering questions while we were playing, I realized how much more work there was to be done with memorization and internalization of the music. The reality of leading a group class is that you need to be able to play while giving instruction – something that is not possible without having the repertoire internalized entirely.

Last night, one of the reading assignments was Teaching From the Balance Point by Edward Kreitman. It is a wonderful guide for parents, teachers and students that highlights some of the skills that a Suzuki teacher will be teaching their student and explains them in a fashion that anyone can understand. The highlight of this book for me was the chapter entitled Rote Versus Note. This was eye-opening to me in that with the appropriate skills in place a child can work out how to play a piece on his own. When the teacher instills in their student the knowledge of their instrument’s geography and the skill of being able to verbalize and understand if a note is the same, higher, lower or a skip away from the one preceding it, the child can organically work out how to play a piece. This also requires a great deal of listening by the student (which I’ve already mentioned is leading me to success in my memorization goal for the week).  

With the addition of a great deal of lecture on the appropriate posture and bow-hold set-up and the outlines to the first lessons that a “Pre-Twinkler” will experience, the puzzle pieces of the Suzuki Method are coming together for me. This process, when done correctly, and with excellence in mind, organically produces a mastery of a truly perplexing instrument. 

A Suzuki Teacher Training Journal: Day One

Alexandra Ostroff

Most SHAR employees are players in addition to being luthiers, salespeople, purchasers, or web developers. So when one of our senior customer care specialists asked to attend the Phoenix Phest Grande Suzuki Teacher Training Workshop, we said, "Sure! But can you also blog about it?" Not only has Alexandra Ostroff sent us dispatches from her training workshops, she's generously shared her reflections on the Suzuki Method, allowing us to witness the discoveries and challenges of this week-long session at Phoenix Phest Grande.   

August 3, 2013

Today I started my one-week course to be a registered Suzuki Violin Unit 1 teacher. Each day I will be blogging updates with some of the ideas and concepts I am learning and detail the experience of becoming trained in the Suzuki Method. I must admit - although I’ve completed the prerequisite steps of reading Nurtured By Love (by Dr. Suzuki) and attending the Every Child Can seminar, the internal mechanisms of the Suzuki method remain a mystery to me.  In my learning of the violin, the written music part has played so strong a role that I can honestly say at this point it is a crutch; the idea of learning a piece completely by listening to it is somewhat foreign.

Our teacher began the week with an overview of the weeklong course. Afterward, we unpacked our instruments and began to play through the pieces in Book 1 together. I was not a “Suzuki kid” growing up, so this was the first time that I had ever experienced playing in a group setting outside of an orchestra section.  It’s difficult to find the right words for how it feels to play in this group, but I might describe it as a “musical hug”!

Memorization is not something that I excel at, and I was proud of myself to successfully make it through Perpetual Motion before I had to pull out my music and follow along in spots -  I’ll have to do a lot of listening and practicing this week to obtain my goal: to be able to play the whole book from memory.

In our lecture portion of the course, we started at the end; that is, we began by viewing the end results of the Suzuki process. We watched my Teacher Trainer’s student’s first recital, then fast forwarded to their Senior Recital - and saw the incredible results of a team comprised of teacher, student and parent. There was a wide range of high-level repertoire selected by the students and each piece was played with a high degree of musicality and technical ability that made the reticent 18-year-old in me jealous. The grace and ease of the playing on this recital is something that I did not have as I entered the collegiate world. How did they obtain this high level of playing?

Their teacher had this level of excellence in sight when they first taught them how to stand on their Twinkle Mat with a bow and hold their violin on day one of their education. As she lectured, we went over the fundamental concepts that need to be in place to create the foundation for success of a beginning student; among other things, the daily listening by the parent and child, daily practicing by child with a parent’s guidance, and the importance of giving the parent and child clear goals for their practice time at home.

I’m anxious and excited to learn and to push some of my own personal boundaries this week.  I’m looking forward to doing more observation throughout the week, especially of the group classes and of young players. I plan on becoming a stronger teacher as the week progresses.  Please follow with me on this journey!

Inching Through Twinkle Variations with Nonpareils


Our latest blog is from Nerissa Nields, a Suzuki mom of two and folk singer in the band The Nields. Nerissa confronts an important question in this post: How do family dynamics show up in her son's Suzuki lessons? Her response is refreshingly honest: while she expresses a lot of frustration with her son Johnny, she ultimately recognizes and respects his current limits.

Johnny has had four violin lessons and one group class. It’s so strange to see how different two children can be. After years of telling friends that my kids were more alike than not, as violinists at least they show their proclivities. Lila’s bow-hold was right-on from the start; Johnny grabs his fat marker in his fist and doesn’t comprehend that one does not wield it like a sword. We are supposed to be clapping out each of the six Twinkle variations to our new teacher’s words, but Johnny wilts after one-half of one, where Lila dashed ahead, graduating from her Twinkles in less than nine months. I take his fists in my two hands and tap them together for claps, but he says, “Dis gives me a stomach ache.” And more painfully, “Dis is my body and I get to do what I want!” Who can argue with that?

In Paul Tough’s new bestseller How Children Succeed (which I am supposed to be reading but haven’t started yet, but I did listen to half the This American Life piece about it) he argues that the skills most necessary to teach kids are self-control, to learn to focus attention, and to delay gratification. The exercises our teacher gives us are all about these skills. We start with a bow in which Johnny says, “Good morning” or “Good afternoon” or “Good evening,” depending on what time it is. We listen to the Suzuki Slow Twinkle CD and clap along, as I said above, and we listen to the Twinkles up to speed while he sways back and forth, his feet in playing position and his box violin on his shoulder. Then we do “Up Like a Rocket” with his pen-cum-bow and his bunny bow-hold. He wants to make up his own lyrics, but his teacher insists on hers. Delay gratification. He wants to make his pen go horizontally for “back and forth like a choo choo train,” but his teacher makes him keep it vertical. Self control. He ends each practice with “Thank you for the wonderful lesson,” and a bow. Nothing to complain about that. It’s teaching him good manners.

So why is this all so hard for me? Because he doesn’t always want to do any of it, and I feel foolish, frustrated, helpless, and most of all like a Tiger mom. A failed Tiger mom at that. We set up his foot chart (a 20″ cardboard with construction paper cut outs of his feet positions) and it can take 20 minutes for him to get in rest position and bow. Before he can do this, he has to fall on the floor a few times, balance on one foot and go, “Whoa! whoa!” and wave his arms around, ask for a drink, decide he has to pee, take off his shirt, roll up his pants legs, look out the window to see if Gulliver the Cat has come over, look out the window to see if his dad has biked home yet, set up his favorite cars to watch the practice, go get his ducky to watch the practice, count the marbles in his marble jar and then fall on the floor crying and insisting he hates violin and never wants to play again.

And we haven’t even picked up the actual violin.

Lila’s teacher Emily Greene says that whatever you are dealing with in terms of family dynamics will come out in the violin practice. As an author, and a teacher of writing, I notice that whatever is hard for me in life is hard for me on the page, and so it goes with my students. If a student doesn’t know herself, it is hard for her main character to be known. If a student is impatient and in a hurry, her scenes will skim by. If a student is fluent in the language of emotion but slow to take action, her scenes will be rich studies of humanity but lacking plot. And if a person cares more about being liked and well-thought of by teachers and other authority figures (but not little boys) and is the tiniest bit afraid of confrontation, violin practice sessions can turn into the Clash of the Titans.

Today I wised up. I looked at what we were being asked to do. Johnny can’t make it through even one Twinkle, either in the swaying exercise or the clapping one. Our teacher doesn’t know this because I haven’t told her. Instead I have brought her practice sheets covered with stickers (and let’s be truthful: the stickers are for me, not Johnny. I am the one who puts them on and gets a big hit from seeing them taking over the yellow lines of the paper.) But I will go in on Thursday and tell her we need to slow down, even though progress seems snail’s-paced to me as it is. And this morning, I got down a shaker of nonpareils which I used to bribe him to do each item on our practice sheet. I had Johnny bow, do one Twinkle variation for swaying, one for clapping and his up like a rocket. It all took five minutes. I hugged him and praised him and he bowed deeply. “Sank you for a wonderful lesson,” he murmured.

Suzuki from a Pop Musician’s Perspective

Beginner Violin

Our latest blog is from Nerissa Nields, a Suzuki mom of two and folk singer in the band The Nields. Nerissa discusses the importance of process in the Suzuki method: her kids' teacher, Emily Greene, considers the violin almost a "by-product" of the method.  

My niece, with her band, has recorded her first single, which she wrote, sings lead on and plays bass on. It’s a rocking song called “Speak Up!” and my kids just got their mitts on a CD of it.

"Speak up, stand up/Don’t let anyone tell you what to do… " sings my 6-year-old daughter, along to her beloved cousin’s vocal. Her little brother mimes playing the descending bass line on air guitar. We’ve listened to the song four times in a row. I am blown away by the confidence, the mastery, the reedy sweetness of the eleven-year-old voice. And, to make matters even more delightful, the song is about music itself, and the deliciousness of coming into one’s identity as a young musician:

"In music there are no lines to cross/In your own song you are always the boss."

Ah, the freedom of the pop musician. Tom and I just came from a Suzuki parent class, a two-hour affair held for all parents of Suzuki kids of all instruments. I felt tearful – in a good way – by the end of it. Other parents shared their reasons for taking on what is the equivalent of a college class (and we’re talking about just the parents’ role here!):

- "It gives my son confidence and something he can be proud of."
- "It teaches my daughter that if you practice something, you will get better."
- "If I am there to guide them, it keeps them from laying down the wrong neural pathways."
- "This is an opportunity to give my child the ability to master something."
- "She whistles the themes of the music all day long!"

Interestingly, none of the parents said, "Because I want my child to be the next Joshua Bell." Everyone present was more interested in process than product. In fact, the teacher (Emily Greene) even referred to playing the violin as a by-product of the method. The real fruits are compassion, frustration tolerance, self-control, appreciation of beauty, self-esteem and a closer parent-child relationship.

Even though I, like my niece, have relished the freedom I have had as a folk/pop/rock musician to be the "boss" of my own songs and my own music practice, I am all for Suzuki, especially the fruits listed above. And the above are the reasons I show up day after day to the practice sheet our teacher makes, and insist Lila pick up her fiddle and play her repetitions of "Allegro" and "Witches’ Dance," even when she responds by becoming boneless and falling onto the floor.

We parents also went around and shared what is hardest for us about Suzuki. Most said the conflicts arising around practice. I added that for me the biggest fear is the thought that plays in my head when Lila doesn’t want to practice and I am making her: I am destroying her love for music! And: how will she become the boss of her own musicality? (Most specifically, will she have the courage to compose?)

Why do I have these thoughts? Because sometimes I hear from other rock musicians that they were forced to take music lessons when they were kids and they hated "that classical sh*t."(Of course, they went on to become professional drummers… ) Or because my father said he hated having to practice his cello growing up (of course he plays guitar now, all the time, whenever he can get his hands on it, and no one makes him… ). Or that my daughter herself says, "I’m sick of practicing!" (But if I tell her she can quit, she immediately goes running for her instrument.)

Music is hard. There’s no getting around the fact that in order to play half decently one has to put in some hours. And most musicians have some kind of internal struggle with practicing. (Some don’t. My friend Pete Kennedy told me he still practices 3-5 hours a day, and I can’t imagine he "makes" himself do this. His guitar seems like an appendage of himself.) But anything worth having a lifelong relationship with takes time and perseverance and has hard spots. Somehow we (I) get the idea that music should be all pleasure. Nothing is all pleasure. Everything that matters in life takes work: getting to see a great view from the top of a mountain. Having an incredible relationship with another person. Writing a beautiful poem. Painting a picture. Creating a garden from a patch of weeds. 

At the outset of lessons, neither parent nor child counted on the struggles that can often come between them during practices. First lessons often start after children have seen other children performing – or perhaps playing games in group class. The parent-child duo takes up an instrument with beautiful images of working together happily to produce delightful sounds. There’s usually a honeymoon period, but before long, parents begin to realize that the work of practicing resembles gardening with your bare hands more than arranging fresh flowers in a vase. (And don’t be fooled: even the parents who appear that have practices as graceful as an ikebana also run into a thorn now and then.)

An important truth from gardeners can help parents who practice with theirchildren: you can’t tug on a play to make it grow. You have to trust the process. But there’s nothing wrong with fertilizing, watering, and generally caring for a plant. That’s what gardeners do. Parents need to do it as well. In the process of tending beautiful flowers and nutritious vegetables, gardeners also encounter weeds. And pests. They also get some dirt under their fingers. In their own way, so will parents. (from “Building Violin Skills,” Ed Sprunger)

This beautiful quotation from the Suzuki teacher, violinist and psychotherapist Ed Sprunger hit me where I lived yesterday when Emily read this to us. As a writer and a teacher of writing, I realized the universality of this thought. You can’t tug on your writing, either. You can’t tug on your relationship. You are not the creator, and as a certain president recently said, no one is really self-made. We all need each other.

You have to leave space for the serendipitous, like your 11-year-old-budding-rock-star niece lighting a fire under your 4-year-old pre-Twinkler. For as soon as he’d finished listening to his cousin’s single (5 times in a row), Johnny, who just had his first lesson last Thursday, grabbed his tiny 1/16th size violin and started playing her pop song’s rhythm on the E string. We waited until the next day to inform him that, as a pre-Twinkler, he can’t actually touch the violin yet (this produces tears, but it also builds a powerful desire). So now, the violin’s hanging on the wall, next to his sister’s; under my guitar.

Suzuki Teacher Training at Stevens Point: Part 3

Teaching violin

We're grateful to have Lucy Lewis, a trained Suzuki teacher and doctoral student in musical arts at the University of Iowa, share a series of blogs about her experiences at American Suzuki Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Every summer, the Suzuki Institute hosts a teacher training session at Stevens Point, and this summer Ms. Lewis was one of the teachers-in-training. This entry is Ms. Lewis's third and last about her training at Stevens Point, and we'll certainly miss having such a thoughtful and wise voice as Ms. Lewis's on our blog. Ms. Lewis shares quite a few insights from her teacher training, but we were particularly drawn to this gem: if we have a sincere love for our students and our goal as teachers is to develop their character and musicianship, we also need to tend to ourselves by "recharging and reconnecting with colleagues." Simply put, we can give more to our students when we persist in our lifelong development as teachers. please leave a comment below thanking Lucy for her blogs or send her an email at

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