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Saturday, August 6, 2011

NEW! Fingerboard Workbook Series! (Interview)

Diane Allen
In this post, I would like to introduce you to my friend and Suzuki colleague Diane Allen from Central Oregon. Diane has recently published a series of fingerboard workbooks, which she has developed and successfully used in her studio for over 20 years. I am excited about the possibilities of this new series. I was fortunate to get an advance copy of all the workbooks, and I know exactly which students I want to begin working on this series. I wanted to give Diane a chance to discuss her new workbook series in more depth. First, let me introduce Diane to you.

PBird: Diane, welcome to "Teaching Suzuki." You are a regular reader of the blog, I know, from the frequent comments that you make. Tell us a little about your experience as a Suzuki teacher. How long have you been teaching?

Diane: Yes Paula! I love your blog. You are such a prolific writer. You make blogging look easy! (I know it’s not.)

workbook 1 for violin
I’ve been teaching for 25 years. Life as a Suzuki Violin teacher has been an amazingly rich and rewarding experience. When a student gets through the beginning steps of just learning how to hold the violin and bow as well as play some songs, it’s just short of miraculous. Around the time Minuet 1 comes along I start looking for the magic -- the moment when a student connects with their violin music and their musicality shines through. It always brings a tear to my eye! And that’s just the beginning.

PBird: You mentioned to me that you had been using your workbook series in your studio for over 20 years. Something that I really relate to is that the workbooks approach the fingerboard mapping issue by using all the learning styles: visual, aural, and kinesthetic. Please tell us how you came to develop your workbook system.

Diane: Two profound experiences that occurred during my college years were the impetus of writing the Fingerboard Workbook for the First Position. The first stemmed from my studies with Burton Kaplan. He introduced me to fingerboard visualization through his book The Complete Music Sight-Reader Series. Until that time I was a “blind” violinist. I could imagine how the notes sounded and had great muscle memory. Learning to visualize the notes on the fingerboard completed what I had been missing. It truly enhanced my violin playing in a BIG way. The charts that you’ll find in The Fingerboard Workbook Series are not that much different than his.

The second experience came from attending a weekend workshop about neurolinguistic programming. In the middle of the workshop I had an epiphonal moment. We had been working with different learning channels: visual, aural, and kinesthetic (eyes, ears, touch). I suddenly had a complete flashback of my entire school career and everything fell into place. Why I played the violin. Why in grade school I felt dumb. Why in high school I would always chew on the crunchiest foods possible when reading. Why Burton Kaplan’s fingerboard visualizations filled the gap. I’m predominantly an aural and kinesthetic learner. My visuals were quite weak.

PBird: How are your visual skills now?

Diane: My visuals now? Fantastic! I’ve since done some specific therapies. But let’s save that for another blog post. I co-mingled my neurolinguistic programming information with Burton Kaplan’s charts. While Burton Kaplan introduced me to using fingerboard charts, he only used them as a visual reference. In the fingerboard workbooks you will use the charts to aid you visually, aurally, and kinesthetically.

PBird: Would you describe what the fingerboard workbook series is? How are the workbooks organized?

DianeThe Fingerboard Workbook Series: Map the Violin for Good Map the Viola for Good is exactly what the title implies. It’s a workbook series that teaches where the notes are on the fingerboard in a way that really sticks. First position all the way through eleventh position is covered. Think of the workbooks as a catalog of all the possible combinations within an octave hand frame. Students will first identify notes, plot them on a fingerboard map, and then experience them by singing and playing.

The most common reaction students have with filling out a workbook is that of making many connections. Instead of having the light bulbs go off over your head, plan for fireworks!

PBird: How would you incorporate the workbook in your teaching situation? Do you have a system for when you introduce the workbook series or a particular position workbook? How long does it take a student to typically finish a particular workbook?

Diane: Most beginning violin books begin with teaching a specific finger pattern: 0 1 23 4. That would translate to mean:

  • a whole step from the open string to the first finger
  • a whole step from the 1st to 2nd fingers
  • a half step from the 2nd to 3rd fingers
  • a whole step from the  3rd to 4th fingers
Workbook 1 for viola
As soon as students lower the 2nd finger to C natural on the A string, I start them with The Fingerboard Workbook for the First Position Map the Violin for Good. In the Suzuki literature that would be Etude [song #12 in violin book 1]. My experience is that students typically finish the workbook by the time they get to Gavotte by Lully in Suzuki Volume 2 [#10]. Just in time to learn 3rd position! Learning all the new notes introduced in Suzuki Violin Volume 2 is pretty smooth sailing with the background my workbooks provide.

Although I’ve used The Fingerboard Workbook for the First Position: Map the Violin for Good for 20 years, all the other workbooks in all the other positions are brand new. Therefore I haven’t incorporated the new books into my teaching style yet. I do have some ideas though.

PBird:   I hope you will share your ideas with us in future posts. Who can use the workbooks now?


  • violin students
  • viola students
  • violin students learning viola
  • viola students learning violin
  • parents
  • music education majors
I have had students age 5 – 65 effectively use the workbooks. Parents love the workbooks because it gives them an enormous amount of background. It keeps them out of the dark and in touch with their child’s violin playing. When they hear a note that sounds “off,” they will now have the tools to help troubleshoot.

PBird: What kind of student or parent reaction do you typically have about the workbooks?

Diane: I’ve had a mixed reaction with students and always a positive reaction with parents. Some students sail through and thoroughly enjoy the workbooks. Some drag their feet but I stick to my guns because I know the results are well worth the effort.

PBird: I notice that your website for the fingerboard workbook series is quite resourceful. Tell us more about the site.

Diane: The website has a few functions:

  • to introduce folks to the books and act as a storefront to make purchases
  • to provide free information in the form of videos and charts
  • to offer a subscription to 10 mini fingerboard lessons and a monthly newsletter
I very much want to meet your readers! I will be doing a live streaming video event where they can either watch and/or participate. All they have to do is watch and type in their questions. I’ll then answer the questions, offer a demonstration, or find some fun way to help the learning. Part of the session will include a drawing to win a workbook! Your readers will want to become email subscribers to stay informed about the events and become eligible for the drawing.

PBird: Thanks, Diane, for visiting with us. I really look forward to using these workbooks in my studio and at the university. Thanks so much for taking the time to put all this material together. These workbooks look terrific!

Diane: Thank you Paula! For hundreds of years people have been trying to find where the notes exist on the fingerboard. It’s time to put an end to this problem!

PBird: Thanks for taking the time to visit my blog today and talk to my readers and me about your new workbook series. I'm excited about the teaching possibilities. I am sure that my readers will want to find out more about this.

Visit the Teach Suzuki Resource Store to purchase the workbooks. Click here.

I am also looking forward to seeing you next week in Bend, Oregon, at my masterclass on Wednesday, August 10 at 1:00 p.m. at the Cascade School of Music, 200 NW Pacific Park Lane. See you then!


  1. Thanks Paula. I was struggling to find a method to teach Andrea reading notes. Her teacher prefers her to sing the notes instead of fingering. There's no material/workbook for violin (not in my loca store). I've ordered the book from amazon. Thanks so much for this post

  2. Highland-Etling publishes "Workbook for Strings" vols. 1 & 2, which teaches note reading and fingerboard mapping.

    1. Yes, it does, and I have used those workbooks for many years now. Diane's program here is much more intensive and comprehensive. There is always room for new things to try with students