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A Violin Teaching Method Alone Is Not Enough

Posted by Staff Writer on Feb 1, 2017 2:09:04 PM

The ability to explain complex and difficult concepts in a way that can be clearly understood and successfully acted on is the hallmark of great teaching. Combined with motivation, student success is assured!

Every teaching method has its merits, whether it’s Suzuki, O’Connor, Sassmannshaus, Essential Elements, Maia Bang, ABC’s, All for Strings, Whistler, or others. As a teacher, you know that regardless of what teaching method you employ, without a teacher guiding the student, the student is not likely to succeed. And because each student is unique, only the teacher is able to determine if supplemental materials may be required, to focus on specific areas of need.

 

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Topics: Suzuki, Violin Method, Teaching, Method Books, Advice

Musical Heritage and the Internet

Posted by Melissa Lusk on Jun 10, 2015 10:11:47 AM

Melissa Lusk is co-author of The Violin Recital Album, a companion publication to the Sassmannshaus Early Start on the Violin series. She is a violinist and a violist. Her hobbies include gardening, composting, vermiculture, sewing and now weaving. She is married to Kurt Sassmannshaus. 

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Topics: Violin Method, Sassmannshaus

A Suzuki Teacher Training Journal: Days Seven and Eight

Posted by Guest Blogger on Aug 20, 2013 10:39:00 AM

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.

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Topics: Suzuki, Violin, Violin Method, Teaching

A Suzuki Teacher Training Journal: Days Five and Six

Posted by Guest Blogger on Aug 19, 2013 11:57:00 AM

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.

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Topics: Suzuki, Violin, Violin Method, Teaching

A Suzuki Teacher Training Journal: Day Three

Posted by Guest Blogger on Aug 9, 2013 12:29:00 PM

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.

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Topics: Suzuki, Violin, Violin Method, Teaching

A Suzuki Teacher Training Journal: Day Two

Posted by Guest Blogger on Aug 7, 2013 3:10:00 PM

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. 

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Topics: Suzuki, Violin, Violin Method, Teaching

A Suzuki Teacher Training Journal: Day One

Posted by Guest Blogger on Aug 6, 2013 10:26:00 AM

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!

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Topics: Suzuki, Violin, Violin Method, Teaching

An Invitation to O'Connor Method Alumni From the Ann Arbor Workshop

Posted by Guest Blogger on Sep 4, 2012 2:47:00 PM

Today's guest blog is from Val Jaskiewicz, the Vice President of Merchandising at SHAR Music. Val has been a tireless champion of alternative styles here at SHAR and was instrumental in bringing Mark O'Connor and Pam Wiley to Ann Arbor for a teacher training workshop in August. Below, Val expresses his heartfelt thanks to everyone who participated and invites the workshop participants to share questions, reactions, and ideas about the teacher training session in the comments section. 

Just one week has gone by since we all met at the Mark O'Connor workshop, and I have heard from so many of you about how much you learned and your eagerness to apply it. Thank you, Pam Wiley, for your masterful and enthusiastic presentation of Mark O'Connor's rapidly growing method, and for showing us how to teach concepts that are not familiar to most of us. Thanks, also, to the Ann Arbor School for the Performing Arts, who partnered with SHAR to bring this worthwhile event to Ann Arbor. And of course, we'll never forget Mark O'Connor and Melissa Tong's brilliant performance at the Ark Saturday, alongside the great Saline Fiddlers! It was indeed a memorable weekend. I highly recommend you read  James Engman's blog about the event. James was one of the teacher attendees, and is SHAR's newest apprentice. I believe he has brilliantly captured the essence of what Mark O'Connor is doing through his method.

The intent of this blog is to create an opportunity to connect with each other and share ideas about using the O'Connor Method in your studios and classrooms. Fifteen hours of classroom training in the method is a lot of training, but there are always things that come up that you wish you may have asked, usually right after leaving for home! There was definitely a lot of enthusiasm at the workshop and I want to be sure that we can keep the momentum going.

Please jump in with your comments and experiences! This blog is open for all to see, but we'd like to invite the attendees of the August 24-26 workshop at the Ann Arbor School for the Performing Arts O'Connor to participate in this particular conversation. If you did not attend the teacher training session but still want to contribute, SHAR welcomes you to propose a guest blog, which you can send to our blog editor Joe Chapman at this address: joec@sharmusic.com.

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Topics: Violin, Education, Violin Method, Mark O'Connor

Are You a Creative String Player?

Posted by Guest Blogger on Aug 6, 2012 4:55:00 PM

We're very pleased at SHAR to share our first guest blog from the talented violinist and educator Christian Howes. Although a classically-trained musician, Mr. Howes made a name for himself in the New York jazz scene in the '90s, playing with renowned musicians such as trumpeter Randy Brecker, pianist D.D. Jackson, Bill Evans’ Soulgrass, crossover pioneers Spyro Gyra and the legendary guitarist-inventor Les Paul. In addition, Mr. Howes is a former associate professor at the Berklee College of Music and was the founder of the Creative Strings Workshop in 2003. It's fair to say that all these passions – classical music, jazz and rock, and teaching – show up in Mr. Howes's fascinating blog article. The article asks an essential and important question for music today: Is it possible to bridge the cultures of rock and jazz with the culture of classical music education? And if so, how can classical musicians harness the creative energies of rock and jazz?   

We tend to ascribe values to ourselves which don't necessarily coincide with how we spend our time. For example, even if I really wanted to, I couldn't call myself "athletic" if I only exercised once every other week. It wouldn't matter how much I think, deep down inside, that I'm athletic.

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Topics: Violin, Beginner Violin, Education, Violin Method, String Community, Christian Howes

Learning to Jam: The O'Connor and Suzuki Methods

Posted by Joseph Chapman on Jun 29, 2012 4:48:00 PM

I've been thinking a lot lately about Mark O'Connor's blog articles, especially his most recent ones "The American Violin" and "Suzuki Has Gone Fiddlin'." The comments section of Mr. O'Connor's blog, especially the "Suzuki Has Gone Fiddlin'" article, show just how much disagreement there is in the American classical community on our preferred teaching methods.

Plenty of folks swear by The Suzuki Method, which was revolutionary when it took hold in the United States through John D. Kendall in the 1950s and '60s. At its core, The Suzuki Method believes that music education functions a lot like early language acquisition: if you create a vibrant musical community through teachers, recordings, concerts, and peers, then there's no reason your child can't learn to play the violin. Or, that learning the violin is as easy as learning to speak and read. (Which is still pretty hard sometimes. More picture books, Dad!)

So why do we need to change anything? Why does O'Connor want to rethink the way we teach our kids to play the violin?

While appreciative of The Suzuki Method's faith in each child's musical ability, Mr. O'Connor wants more. His O'Connor Method focuses on traditional American music like blues, folk, jazz, and spirituals; by making these genres the focus of his method, O'Connor opens the door to imrovisation and thus to individual creativity. (You simply can't learn to play jazz without learning to jam.)

That said, the more articles I read by O'Connor, and the more I examine his method books, the more I'm convinced that he wants just one thing to happen for his students: for them to find their voice. One of my favorite poets, Seamus Heaney, has written on the difference between "craft" and "technique," and I think it's relevant here if only to freshen to conversation about the Suzuki and O'Connor methods. For Heaney, discovering your "technique" is pretty much what most of us would call "finding your voice":

I think technique is different from craft. Craft is what you can learn from other verse. Craft is the skill of making … It can be deployed without reference to the feelings or the self. It knows how to keep up a capable verbal athletic display; it can be content to be vox et praeterra nihil—all voice and nothing else—but not voice as in ‘finding a voice.’ Learning the craft is learning to turn the windlass at the well of poetry. Usually you begin by dropping the bucket halfway down the shaft and winding up a taking of air. You are miming the real thing until one day the chain draws unexpectedly tight and you have dipped into waters that will continue to entice you back. You’ll have broken the skin on the pool of yourself. ("Feeling Into Words," pgs. 20-21)

Craft looks a lot like technique, but we certainly know technique when we see it. You get goosebumps when you witness technique; you feel like you're hearing something no one has ever heard before. Or, as Emily Dickinson said, you feel like the top of your head has been blown off. And when you learn technqiue, you're finding your voice, which can be as distinct as the way you walk, speak, or dance.

O'Connor's deep fear is that we're teaching children craft but not technique. We're teaching capable musical displays but not equipping our students with the true creative potential of technique. (It's a heavy moment in your artistic life, when you've broken the skin of yourself and you're no longer pulling up air, but it's one that is worth the wait.)

There have been plenty of counter stories, though, from Suzuki graduates about how their violin teacher included American genres and encouraged creativity. They narrate a more complex Suzuki Method, a hybrid method. On his blog, O'Connor recognizes the potential of a more hybrid Suzuki Method but worries about the lack of real commitment to creativity in this approach and the dangers of a hodgepode approach to musical education. He's put serious thought into the progression of his method and it's distressing, I think, to contemplate a buffet approach. Fair enough.

In the end, I'm not sure anyone can tell you which method is right for your child. But I do believe techique is necessary to any serious creative endeavor. If you want your child to write American music, then your child needs to find his or her American voice. That begs the question, however, if creativity and finding a voice are always what we want from art. Those things can be frightening in a way that performance isn't.   

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Topics: Suzuki, Violin, Beginner Violin, Violin Method, Mark O'Connor, String Community

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