First Lessons – Pre-Twinklers
Before you begin the lengthy study of the violin you should understand that the Suzuki Method is not a short, nor an easy method. Nevertheless, your child will, without exception learn to play.
Most beginners begin learning on a ‘box violin’, sometimes called a chocolate box violin. This is a violin, usually constructed of cardboard, that the parent/carer can make from basic materials. An appropriately sized cardboard box is used for the body of the violin, a wooden ruler for the neck, and a piece of wooden dowel for the bow. Parents can go to great lengths to create their box violins, some even carving them out of wood and adding wire for the strings! (This is not necessary, of course, and you can also purchase pre-made box violins and ‘foam-olins’ online). This initial box violin is used for various reasons – primarily to get the child accustomed to holding a violin without it being to heavy or breakable.
The very first step is for the child’s carer (Mum, Dad, Grandma, or Nanny) to learn the basics of holding the violin and playing the Twinkle Variations. This often encourages your child to want to pick up the box violin and begin learning.
The first lessons are all about encouraging the development of concentration and focus, through the use of rhymes, songs and other activities. When they first begin, a child of three or four years of age may only be able to focus for 5 or 10 minutes.
Pre-Twinklers learn to:
- Be courteous to the teacher and parents
- Learn self-discipline
- Bow beautifully, with grace
- Focus and concentrate
- Use a foot chart for playing and rest positions, and balancing
- Hold the box violin well on the shoulder
- Hold the bow with a bent thumb
- Sing songs & recite poems
- Clap all the rhythms
- Place the box violin on their own shoulder, then return it to rest position
- Relate to the teacher and other children
- Perform different bow exercises, where the thumb and fingers are constantly checked and
corrected. Child learns to correct his/her own hand and fingers
- Clap, sing and perform the action of all the Twinkle rhythms on the shoulder or pumping the bow
in front of the body
Suzuki Philosophy & Method
All Children Can Learn
More than fifty years ago, Japanese violinist Shinichi Suzuki realised the implications of the fact that children the world over learn to speak their native language with ease. He began to apply the basic principles of language acquisition to the learning of music, and called his method the mother-tongue approach. The ideas of parent responsibility, loving encouragement, constant repetition, etc., are some of the special features of the Suzuki approach.
As when a child learns to talk, parents are involved in the musical learning of their child. They attend lessons with the child and serve as “home teachers” during the week. One parent often learns to play before the child, so that s/he understands what the child is expected to do. Parents work with the teacher to create an enjoyable learning environment.
The early years are crucial for developing mental processes and muscle coordination. Listening to music should begin at birth; formal training may begin at age three or four, but it is never too early or late to begin.
Children learn words after hearing them spoken hundreds of times by others. Listening to music every day is important, especially listening to pieces in the Suzuki repertoire so the child knows them immediately.
Constant repetition is essential in learning to play an instrument. Children do not learn a word or piece of music and then discard it. They add it to their vocabulary or repertoire, gradually using it in new and more sophisticated ways.
As with language, the child’s effort to learn an instrument should be met with sincere praise and encouragement. Each child learns at his/her own rate, building on small steps so that each one can be mastered. Children are also encouraged to support each other’s efforts, fostering an attitude of generosity and cooperation.
Learning with Other Children
In addition to private lessons, children participate in regular group lessons and performance at which they learn from and are motivated by each other.
Children do not practice exercises to learn to talk, but use language for its natural purpose of communication and self-expression. Pieces in the Suzuki repertoire are designed to present technical problems to be learned in the context of the music rather than through dry technical exercises.
Children learn to read after their ability to talk has been well established. In the same way, children should develop basic technical competence on their instruments before being taught to read music.