Your child wants to learn to play the violin, and in my studio, it means that we are going to embark on a musical journey together, as a team. If you want your child to embrace the challenges of learning the violin, you need to be prepared to be more than just the chauffeur. Depending on the age of your child, you will be their practice partner, their “cheerleader”, and their emotional support. It is your role to create and nurture a musical environment at home, so that your child will want to learn to play the music she hears. In the lesson, you are the “secretary”, taking notes for home practice. One advantage of using the Suzuki method is that you are part of a tremendous community which provides a vast network of support options for parents, teachers and students.
Please take some time to read some of the articles in the links below to get an idea of the resources available to help you and your child as we work together. Being a Suzuki parent isn’t easy, but it can be a very rewarding means of strengthening your relationship with your child.
At a certain point in their violin career, a student may decide that they wish to have their musical and technical skills evaluated by the national standard, the Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM). I recommend RCM exams as a long term project for intermediate level students, who have acquired enough knowledge and skill on the instrument to make the exam experience a challenging but attainable goal. I prefer that students use the Suzuki method up to the Grade 3 – 4 level so that we can use the repertoire to work on technical skills, rather than treating them as separate entities.
1. Students who wish to prepare for RCM examinations need to make a commitment to preparing both technique and repertoire. Examinations require an investment of both time and money, and students should not register for examinations unless the teacher feels they are well prepared. A disappointing examination experience can be devastating to the student’s confidence in their ability to perform. It is my recommendation that students wait to register for an examination until they have covered all scales and technical tests and can play them from memory, and can play their List A and C (and D) pieces from memory. Tempo and musicianship should be the only challenges in the 3 to 4 months leading up to the exam. Once you have registered for an examination, your fee will not be refunded unless you have a signed doctor’s note or your RCM conflicts with a school exam.
2. RCM exam repertoire, and most competition pieces must be performed with a piano accompanist (unless the piece is specifically written for unaccompanied violin). A professional pianist should be hired for such situations so that the student can deliver a confident performance with a solid harmonic foundation. Several rehearsals are necessary in order for the student and accompanist to play the pieces well together. The number of rehearsals depends on the level of difficulty of the repertoire and how well the student knows the pieces, particularly those which require memorization. It is the responsibility of the student (and the parent) to arrange such rehearsals at their convenience, and to negotiate the accompanist’s fee and payment. The teacher does not need to be present, although if this can be arranged into a lesson, the additional cost of the teacher’s time can be avoided. Accompanist fees need to include the rehearsal time as well as the time on the day of the exam, and in some cases, an allowance of travel time and mileage to and from the location.
3. Theory examinations are co-requisite components of RCM exams beginning at grade 5 level. I am happy to work through the required material for the beginner and intermediate level theory examinations; however, I cannot be expected to do so in a half hour lesson, and even in a 45 minute lesson, the time required to cover concepts thoroughly detracts from the time we can spend on technique and repertoire, so progress will be considerably slower. It is my preference that students doing intermediate level examinations (i.e. gr. 7+) seek out a separate class with a teacher (usually a piano teacher) who can devote exclusive time to theory requirements.
1. Competitions can be an excellent venue for students to demonstrate and celebrate their abilities. However, they can also be emotionally upsetting for some students. Developing the confidence to perform in front of an audience is an important life skill and performance anxiety is quite normal for most people. The biggest single factor in reducing performance anxiety is knowing the piece so well that you can’t play it incorrectly. My recommendations for entering competitions are similar to those for RCM exams: selecting music that is well prepared (first without and then with the accompanist) is going to yield a more confident performance than a new piece. The piece should be completely memorized at least 4 weeks prior to the competition date.
2. For younger students (i.e. Suzuki Books 1 & 2), choosing a non-competitive class is often preferable to a class where a mark is assigned and performers are “ranked” first, second and third.
3. Some students are capable of learning new repertoire in the few months before a competition; others need more time. It is important to discuss these options with your teacher first. If the piece is a duet or a sonata, it need not be memorized; however, more ensemble time is needed to rehearse the piece so that the students have a thorough understanding of how the parts fit together.
4. It is the responsibility of the student (and parent) to submit competition registration forms on time.
5. It is also the student’s (parent’s) job to arrange for rehearsal time and payment of the accompanist. As is the case with RCM exams, accompanists usually include in their fees an allowance for travel time to and from the location.