V.com weekend vote: Did you start with Suzuki, or another method?

October 31, 2020, 11:14 AM · This week we featured a wonderful interview with violin superstar Hilary Hahn, who talked extensively about her own beginnings with the Suzuki method and her thoughts about it, having recently recorded the first three books for use by current students and teachers.


A lot of famous and accomplished violinists had their start in the Suzuki method - besides Hilary, there are Ray Chen, Sarah Chang, Benjamin Beilman, Rachel Podger, Jennifer Koh, Anne Akiko Meyers, Leila Josefowicz, Nick Kendall, Brian Lewis, Tai Murray, William Hagen, Melissa White, Timothy Chooi, Danielle Belen, Stephen Waarts....this is a very long list.

I did not start violin with the Suzuki method - I started at my public school and studied with a traditional teacher before finding my way to James Maurer, whose wife Jackie actually a very active Suzuki teacher at the time. Both later became involved in Suzuki, visiting Japan and meeting Shinichi Suzuki. I wound up coming returning years later and studying Suzuki pedagogy training with Mr. Maurer!

So while I had a very traditional training, I was exposed to the method from an early age, while not being a part of it as a child.

Did you start your instrument with the Suzuki method, or with another method? How did you get your start, and what kinds of methods were you exposed to along the way? Please participate in the vote, and then tell us your story!

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October 31, 2020 at 04:33 PM · I started with Suzuki at age 7yrs. old. I saw my first classical concert at 7yrs old, and I fell in love with the sound of the violin, so I told my parents I wanted to play. Not long after, my Mom brought me to my first Suzuki violin teacher. I played using the Suzuki method until High School. But I was a more accomplished math and science student in high school than I was a violinist so I chose a different major in college. After college though, my love for the violin was rekindled, but this time I had a teacher who taught me in the "traditional" method.

When my children told us they wanted to learn the violin, without any hesitation or doubt, I looked for a Suzuki teacher for them.

October 31, 2020 at 05:55 PM · Proud member of Alice Joy Lewis’s very first Suzuki class ever. My family moved away nearly 3 years later and my next teacher was traditional, but I was definitely started with Suzuki!

October 31, 2020 at 07:08 PM · My teacher used Whistler books. I wish I had done Suzuki with a group class, I'm sure I would have turned out a better violinist.

October 31, 2020 at 07:19 PM · I was six when I started violin lessons with Barbara Barstow in New Jersey. At the beginning, it was "full Suzuki", with group classes, parents involved etc. It eventually morphed into traditional lessons, but we still used the books.

October 31, 2020 at 08:42 PM · Not a fan at all, but I'm pleased for those who have found success with it.

October 31, 2020 at 08:45 PM · As a very late starting violinist and now a certified Geezer, my lessons began over 40 years ago when I finally found a teacher willing to start an adult with zero musical training. He used Doflein and I still use it myself and with my small number of students.

I only knew the name Suzuki as associated with motorcycles back then. I had been to Japan courtesy of the US Navy prior to starting the violin. The Suzuki motor-bikes were all over as were the motorcycles. It was also a pretty common family name.

I heard about "The Suzuki Violin Method" much later but by then I was steeped in Doflein and had already played "Twinkle" in all 12 variations so I wasn't impressed with the initial Suzuki rendition. (Oh Mother I can tell you!)

I don't dislike the Suzuki system (I'm often accused of that) it just doesn't resonate with me and my approach to the world. Maybe it's those German Genes I got from my mother along with being stubborn.

October 31, 2020 at 10:44 PM · I learned via traditional methods. Piano was my first instrument. I started at 7 y/o but didn't get far with it, because the violin muse got hold of me when a professional orchestra visited my elementary school and played some repertoire I'd already heard at home on recordings and radio broadcasts.

I had originally planned to enroll in the public school program but went with a private teacher instead. She was a godsend. To this day, it’s largely her concepts of bow control, tone production, and practice strategies that still guide me.

The Whistler method books, Wohlfahrt's 60 Etudes, Op. 45, and Sevcik's Op. 8 for shifting positions were part of my early training. My first teacher felt that I was ready to start position-playing after about 3 months of lessons. I remember reading the position study books as bedtime stories, curious to know what challenges lay ahead.

No firsthand experience with Suzuki, although I have a high regard for the method, based on what I've heard and read so far. You can’t argue with success -- just consider the world-famous soloists mentioned above. While I can't speak for anyone else, I believe Suzuki would not have worked as well for me, personally, as the methods I did study. I liked being alone with my teacher during lessons and totally on my own during practice. My parents were involved, to be sure, but only to the extent that they paid for lessons, knew where I was in my studies, and made sure I practiced. They need not have worried -- I was a practice geek.

November 1, 2020 at 11:50 AM · Started out self-teaching in high school, using Essential Elements at first. (Not self-taught by choice, but because I had been rejected by multiple teachers as "too old" to learn a string instrument.) I had copies of the first six Suzuki violin books that I got from a high school classmate, but realized rather quickly that they had very little by way of explanation in them, and I ended up just using them for supplemental repertoire until I switched to viola.

After I started playing in orchestras, I learned mostly through orchestra pieces, with pointers from other musicians. Solo rep and etude recommendations came from the same people. I already had a DipABRSM in piano performance when I started on strings, so I at least knew how to organize my practice time.

November 1, 2020 at 12:01 PM · Suzuki did not exist in England when I started, at least where I lived. Heck the industrial revolution had just started!

My first steps were in school with a very kindly old Scottish gent usingn gut strings, coarse-wire wound gut G and a piece of cheese wire for the E string.

Edit: I learned with the 'A Tune A Day' books. I found these recently and had a wonderful time reliving those classic pieces. Funny how Suzuki is credited with starting children 'on real music' - but that was standard in our junior school.

November 1, 2020 at 01:46 PM · It actually occurred to me that this would be a more interesting poll if you added an age breakdown. Suzuki was only just beginning to be introduced in the United States when I started, and I’m 59. I suspect that if you divide the poll by age, say over 50 and under 50, or maybe 55, the current one in three result is going to look very different in the two age groups.

November 1, 2020 at 02:53 PM · I actually started violin lessons at my elementary school in 5th grade. I had a general music teacher at my school begin my lessons. She was a good teacher, but I suppose I lost interest because after a month I was only working on pizzicato. I was frustrated to not move forward at a better pace and eventually lost interest in practicing.

Then at age 34, after my mother passed, my wife suggested I take lessons since I was still crazy about the instrument. I took lessons at a local music shop, Memphis-Ridge Music, where my teacher started me in Suzuki instruction. She was not an official Suzuki Method teacher. She used it for repertoire. She was educated at the Conservatory in Rome then moved to the United States. I progressed pretty fast, although encountered the usual hurdles that adult learners experience.

I liked Suzuki Method. The idea of actually playing a song I could recognize was ideal. I’m no threat to any professional musician. I appreciate being able to enjoy my instrument, the violin. I eventually picked up a viola and have been able to apply what I learned from my violin lessons to the viola as well. And now I’m in my 16th year of playing.

That said, Suzuki Method gave me a healthy output for my grief, both when my mother & father passed, and recently while the pandemic has raged. I have God’s Grace, my wife and daughter’s support, the Suzuki and O’Connor Method’s to thank, and of course the dedication and patience of my teachers, Michelle Mancini and Michele George to thank for this incredible gift. I am blessed.

November 1, 2020 at 04:58 PM · I started violin in a public school program in 4th grade. We used Mueller-Rusch as a method book. My exposure to the Suzuki method as a child was as an outsider. Most of the other students I met in Youth Orchestra and at county festivals, etc were or had been Suzuki students, and they had a language that I didn't completely understand and didn't share. When we were younger, they were mostly more skilled, too, having started earlier than 4th grade.

I was recommended for private lessons after the first year in school and then I started to catch up as I got a private teacher. But that divide persisted throughout my time in the school music program, with the kids who had lessons outside of school, usually but not exclusively Suzuki, being the "haves"--the section leaders and featured soloists at concerts--and the others being the "have-nots," sitting in the back of the sections and playing the ripieno.

Other than paying for lessons and coming to concerts in the audience, my parents were not involved in my learning to play the violin. That part of Suzuki would not have worked for us, as I found out later when I tried to have my own daughter start Suzuki lessons. Even though I had managed to join the "haves" in my school music program, I didn't make the orchestra for two years in college and ended up quitting playing altogether. I always felt behind and that I had missed something important, so I wanted to try Suzuki with my own children.

And, in that case, the parental involvement piece was pretty much a complete failure, resulting in power struggles, tears, and resentment. It was not a failure in one aspect though. I started to play the violin again myself in order to help my daughter after she quit Suzuki lessons. She is in college now and is not playing, but I still am, fourteen years later.

November 1, 2020 at 06:17 PM · Like Karen, our public school system began strings in 4th grade. I skipped 3rd and had just turned 8. That was over 5 decades ago. Small in size, the only instrument that fit me was a 1/2 size violin which my parents rented.

Due to low enrollment in the program, I essentially was given private lessons my first 2 years using the Belwin books: I still have the green one. My teacher sent me to perform 'Hobgoblin Dance' for younger students, to get them interested, I suppose!

After being awarded a summer music camp scholarship, I began one-on-one instruction and studied Kayser|Kreutzer|Rode plus a number of solo works.

Similar to Ben who started our comment section here, my science aptitude led me to a more "practical" college major but I kept playing throughout as well as afterwards, sometimes alongside performance majors with advanced degrees. A strong supporter of community orchestras, I hope we can make a successful comeback after all these months of inactivity...

November 1, 2020 at 07:11 PM · I agree that this question has an age divide. I am nearly 70 years old, so I was starting in elementary school at the time John Kendall was just becoming aware of the Suzuki Method through his Japanese colleague I began with "A Tune a Day" in public school with a non-string playing teacher. However, he was wise enough to send me to a private teacher during the summers, which then continued with the usual etude books and solos.

I was introduced to a modified Suzuki method in college as a string major. I didn't really start private teaching until after the birth of my first child when I came in contact with a Suzuki teacher who had more students than she could handle. Teacher training was not organized at that point in time (early 1980's), so I worked with this mentor teacher and attended workshops. My own children played violin, and moved on to cello and viola and my grand-daughters did Suzuki piano

I am still teaching the Suzuki method, but due to the pandemic, many of the activities that Hilary enjoyed, have been suspended, which pains me greatly. We have had group lessons outside, but no concerts, since we normally play at retirement communities. I really believe the community feel and the giving to others is the heart of the Suzuki method and not a strict set of rules and pieces to teach.

November 1, 2020 at 07:16 PM · Hybrid, I guess. When I decided to learn the violin, I bought the first Suzuki book, not knowing how it was actually taught. I had studied piano for years and already knew how to read music. When I found a teacher, she used the book with me and then switched me to Doflein.

November 1, 2020 at 09:09 PM · ?I don't use the Suzuki method to learn violin, but I eventually got to use the books. My teacher uses the "traditional", local method - the books have been around for almost 100 years with little to no changes from the original print, and it's staple material for violin students in my country. I'm an adult learner, so I always thought Suzuki was not "for me".

After a few months of lessons though, my teacher suggested that I tried some pieces from Suzuki book 1. So the Suzuki books are a great resource for repertoire. This is my 8th month of lessons and I get a new Suzuki piece to play every other week. They're fun to play, although I noticed they're quite challenging in terms of string crossings, at least for my current level. They also encourage me to work on sound quality a bit.

What I like more about the other books, instead, is the duets at the end of every chapter: they're quite difficult but help me a whole lot with rhythm and intonation. And it's good to play with someone else; you learn many things from listening without even realizing it. I think my teacher, like many others, uses a combination of different teaching methods and their related books. I was already told I'll need to start using Sevcik soon. I guess one can find things to pick from each method in order to adapt to different types of students.

November 1, 2020 at 09:14 PM · As from ~ beginning pupil of Ralph Matesky 'String Method' - graduating to Jascha Heifetz & Nathan Milstein (#17)

Upon being Birthday given a violin at age 3, my father, Ralph Matesky, started teaching me with his own 'Method's' {later to be published by Alfred & Prentice Hall} based on Traditional Scales, Arpeggios, Schradieck & bowing technique traditions from his NY Juilliard Teacher, Eduoard Dethier, an 'Apostle' of Eugen Ysaye, whilst coupled w/his Russian violinist friend and mentor, Mischel Piastro's St Petersburg 'School' violin playing approaches.

Knowing his daughter wished to be with other's, my father also taught me in his public elementary school orchestra's learning how to play in an orchestra for future reference! Our 'At Home' lessons were gradually expanded to Violin Etudes of Kreutzer, which Dad firmly insisted upon & as I grew more acquainted with easier navigational techniques on the violin fingerboard added on Paganini's 'Perpetual Mobile', gentler Caprices & Violin Duo's of Bartok coupled with El Playel Duets w/himself and again, becoming more familiar with both major orchestral repertoire & chamber duo partnering, introduced me to the Bach Six Unaccompanied Sonatas & Partitas for Violin but in the initial stages, the Adagio mov't from the g minor 1st Sonata +slower movements then onto large portions at a time Fugue's to begin & mature into familiarizing myself w/the more musical, technical bowing & spiritual aspects as an orchestral/chamber player & violin soloist in Music ~ A precious gift from my father musician teacher was in his teaching me to Teach - allowed to observe his 'At Home' teachings of private pupil's & mentoring by my father teaching me 'How' to teach 5 pupil's what I was learning from him in either orchestra & later, violin solo pieces with a sort of built in during tender years DNA Matesky Family Teaching Approach ~

Not wishing to take much more space, suffice to say, by age 13, I'd learned/played violin concerti of Bach + Mozart No. 4 in D Major & others, then learnt Mov't #1 of Lalo's Symphonie Espagnol which I performed in public with a fine surburban LA Orchestra and my father on the podium which led to RM gentle persuasion Concert Career Prep at USC, with Heifetz, then a bit later in London when soloist maturing, w/Nathan Milstein ...

I fully realise my early violin training was blessed from Day 1, with both parents highly respected professional musicians and my mother, a superb pianist, knowing Theory backwards then passing it on to my sibling & myself in 'stages' = my violinistic familiarity as mentioned above and 'when ready' ...

Being an Author of what is now known as 'El Sistema' from its Infancy, & kindly shared with the Music Education Minister of Venezuela, flying to Mexico City to meet/hear Dad's last Youth Orchestra On Tour Final Concert to ask his help in starting a Music Programme for the poor children of Caracus, I do know there are quite a few 'routes' to violin-hood w/one's beginning teacher truly charged with the instinctive based-on-knowledge decision/s of which beginning violin training is better for each & every unique individual beginner pupil from aged 3 & spanning any ages all the way to over retirement plus!!

All said, I've enjoyed reading Replies set forth above thus far & wish to compliment Mary Ellen Goree for her wise suggestion of an Age Divide vis a vie those under 50 & of many 50/55 & over as Suzuki came into prominence in the United States in the latter 1960s or even in the 1970's, which one recalls as Josef Gingold, renowned Violin 'Poppa' - Mentor of so many Pro Violinists met w/Shinichi Suzuki, here in Chicago when I went to collect Professor Gingold for a reception our ACM String Faculty was giving to honour him, in town from Indiana University/Bloomington, here to observe! Prof Josef Gingold, a traditionally trained remarkable violinist/former Concertmaster of George Szell's Cleveland Orchestra, was most interested in what Mr. Suzuki had to say sharing some of his views with us!

A Word: My father, honoured in Tokyo by JASTA at the Toho School of Music in 1975, would surely have attended Shinichi Suzuki's Forum here in Chicago, had he *lived until the 1980s, when our original ACM String Faculty hosted the Reception for Professor Gingold minutes away. Of this, I'm most confident ~

All said, I look forward to reading more comments following from Violinist.com String Playing/Teaching Violin aficionado Members!

~ Yours musically from Chicago ~

Elisabeth Matesky*

*Carrier of R. Matesky-Heifetz-Milstein Violin Legacies

('Homage a Poppa' ~ Morte, 1979)

^Thanks to Laurie Niles for her lovely Hilary Hahn Interview!


November 1, 2020 at 09:39 PM · Mary Ellen,

You hit the age divide as to when Suzuki caught on and generally taken over the process.

The divide goes deeper though. Andrew's experience of being rejected because he was, according to Suzuki, "Too Old" based in the dictum that you have to start at the time of language acquisition. Then there was the "Halo Effect" of coming through the Suzuki method speaking the Suzuki Shorthand that did (and still does to some extent) that Karen alluded to.

Today Suzuki is a fraternity in the musical world.

Yet a lot of the ideas that pedagogues ages before Suzuki was born developed are being "Re-Discovered!" A friend came back from a (pre-covid-19) string conference telling me about the buzz that somebody presented a "new system" based on learning fingering patterns base on where the half-steps are, and how the four of them work together. So bold, so new, but... Eric and Emma Doflein figured that out in the late 1800's.

Yes, Suzuki-san and his method, changed the musical world. But, in the end it is just another approach among many.

As to language acquisition: I learned to speak, read and write Japanese as an adult so language acquisition can happen at any time in a human life, not just when they are toddlers. And, music is a language that can be learned as an adult.

November 1, 2020 at 10:47 PM · I started when 35 years old and my teacher (himself a student of Max Rostal and a Suzuki teacher) combined some of the Suzuki and other traditional approaches. I'm now a trainee at British Suzuki Institute, studying in Scotland and I can't praise the training and the method including Suzuki's philosophy enough. Best wishes everyone P

November 2, 2020 at 12:22 AM · I quickly googled Erich Doflein. He lived from 1900 to 1977; he did not do any work whatever in the late 1800s.

This is in accord with his comments and suggestions of ornaments in his edition of the Handel sonatas (Schott). They sound definitely 20th century--second half, I would say.

November 2, 2020 at 03:23 AM · George, you're reading things into my comment that I didn't say, so I feel I have to clarify. I was not suggesting that Suzuki was responsible for my inability to find a teacher when I started out.

Shinichi Suzuki could not have believed that the violin could only be learned in early childhood -- not when he started learning the violin as an adult himself.

However, there are probably many teachers out there with limited exposure to non-Suzuki beginner methods, especially seeing as many of them have not studied music education. And a fair number of them have probably gotten the wrong impression from their experience with the Suzuki method, as they may not have ever seen a late starter get beyond beginner level. Even with non-Suzuki teaching there is a certain conventional wisdom that says music is hard to learn at older ages.

November 2, 2020 at 03:25 AM · I started on a music store book. I think it was called Learning Unlimited. I had to pizzicato in guitar position for at least three months, followed by three months of plucking in "play position".

After completing two volumes of that it was Whistler/Hummel First Etude Album, and then (iirc) Wohlfahrt op.45.

I think my solos were all from an easy "Solos for Violin" series, maybe by Whistler or Applebaum.

November 2, 2020 at 12:21 PM · We didn't even hear of Kató Havas until I'd been learning for some years (My first teacher used Sevcik and my second used Dounis), let alone Suzuki!

November 2, 2020 at 07:55 PM · I am also from the pre-Suzuki era. I started in 5th grade in a once-a-week public school violin class. The next year I got a private teacher, the principal violist of the local pro orchestra. He put me on the Etude sequence; Wohlfahrt-Mazas-Kreutzer-Rode.

As a teacher,I have not done the Suzuki training and don't pretend to use it. The books are OK, but I don't like seeing finger numbers on everything. It clutters the page and I am afraid that they would play by the numbers, instead of the notes. For teaching I give them a choice: Doflein series and/or Etudes, O'Conner's books for those that want to do Fiddle styles.

November 3, 2020 at 03:19 PM · In 1966, the New England Conservatory of Music opened a pilot program at Dana Hall School in Wellesley MA. They hired a young teacher from Japan to start the Suzuki program. I called her Miss Yazuki. She was a student of Mr. Suzuki's. The NECM program ended in 1975, and the teachers transferred from Wellesley to a private school in Weston called Rivers where they rented a restored building. My teacher, Judy Cannon, was one of 3 violin teachers at the time. Fast forward to the present, I now teach violin in Granby, MA! www.SweetMusicStudio.net

November 3, 2020 at 05:03 PM · Joel wrote:

"The books are OK, but I don't like seeing finger numbers on everything. It clutters the page and I am afraid that they would play by the numbers, instead of the notes"

Hmmm... I've never seen that in my old Suzuki books. I don't see that on my children's newer versions of their Suzuki books either....

So your Suzuki book edition had fingerings on every note? If so, I'm curious to know what edition that is/was....

The Suzuki books we have may show suggested fingerings here and there, but definitely not on the entire piece.

Also, when I was doing Suzuki (as well as my children now), the books were supplemented with other sight-reading books. My kids who are in books 3 and 4 respectively, are already proficient in sight-reading. My children's Suzuki trained teacher is also big on scales, to help them with their pieces.

November 3, 2020 at 10:21 PM · You couldn't really say I had a method at all. My first instrument, at the age of 8, was the cornet, which I played up through high school. Then life intervened and I didn't touch an instrument for 25 years. At that point I took up guitar, mostly folk-style fingerpicking. From there I drifted into mandolin, and since a friend was taking up banjo at the same time, we got into the local bluegrass scene. This friend later gave me a cheap fiddle in exchange for a stove; thanks to the mandolin I knew where the notes were on the violin neck so I started noodling with it at jams.

At this point another friend I was hanging out with was getting back into violin, and we started playing pieces by Corelli, Brahms, etc. I finally decided - at the age of 59 - that it was time to actually take some violin lessons. I started out at a local music store where I mostly got repertoire - my teacher's approach to positions was "go up there and find it", which worked better than I expected. Eventually I felt the need for something more structured, so I changed to someone who got me working on the Wohlfahrt etudes and Josephine Trott's Melodious Double-Stops, plus a couple of Suzuki books. (So I did briefly go there, sort of.)

Since then I've been playing viola in a community orchestra, along with some viola lessons - but I still play fiddle at bluegrass jams.

So no, not really a method, just a long and winding road that nevertheless has been quite musical.

November 4, 2020 at 05:32 AM · @ Ben D. After checking an old copy of a Suzuki book, I was mistaken, exagerating. It had surplus finger numbers, not total finger numbers. In my opinion, after the first beginner's year, finger numbers are only needed when there is a real choice or to indicate change of position.

November 4, 2020 at 01:27 PM · One reason for the quantity of numberings in Suzuki books, especially the older editions, is that those fingerings were intended for the parents helping the child practice at home, not the student. In the true Suzuki method, a child in book one would be learning by ear and by rote, not by reading the notes. I heard of some teachers who did not introduce note reading until the child was in book four.

November 5, 2020 at 04:43 PM · I started at 14yo on viola, with Phyllis Ebsworth, who used her own selection of material.

For violin teaching, she recommended the Doflein method, which I also transcribed for viola as required.

Moving from Britain to France, I was nudged towards the Suzuki Method (and later, its training progaramme) by a clairvoyant british expat (whose delightful daughter now plays viola for the Royal Opera :)

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