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Friday, December 30, 2011

The Suzuki Pathway: Books 1-10 General Overview

This next year I want to spend several blog posts discussing in detail the various books contained in the Suzuki violin method. I think it would be helpful to preface individual book discussion in favor of a general look at the Suzuki violin method books 1-10.

I think of the books as grouped in beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels:
  • Beginning: books 1-3
  • Intermediate: books 4-6
  • Advanced: books 7-10
Within each of these groups, I think the books represent a beginning, intermediate, and advanced level as well. For example:
  • Beginning: books 1-3:
    • Beginning: book 1
    • Intermediate: book 2
    • Advanced: book 3
  • Intermediate: books 4-6:
    • Beginning: book 4
    • Intermediate: book 5
    • Advanced: book 6
  • Advanced: books 7-10:
    • Beginning: book 7
    • Intermediate: book 8
    • Advanced: books 9 and 10
So within each basic category, there are subcategories. Within each of these subcategories are additional "sub"-subcategories. For now, for general discussion purposes, let us consider the basic ingredients of each book. I will leave for a later discussion the actual information about how to mix the various ingredients in the proper way to create a satisfactory finished product.

For the purpose of this general and brief discussion about the various books, I will consider the general left hand and right hand skills. What will not be included is a discussion about how to specifically teach the concepts contained in each book.

Book 1:
  • Left hand skills include the introduction of 3 basic finger patterns, which encourage the left hand fingers to stretch between each finger within the basic hand framework of a perfect fourth.
  • The right hand skills include staccato, legato string crossings, good contact point, pizzicato, slurs, hooked bowing.
Book 2:
  • Left hand skills include the introduction of some more finger patterns which encourage the left hand to "unfurl" and lengthen, and the Bb scale pattern, the extended fourth finger, and the wider stretch between the first and second fingers.
  • The right hand skills include more complex use of the up bow staccato (2- to 4-note staccato groupings), string crossings at a quicker tempo, and hooked bowing (dotted eighth and 16th note rhythms).
Book 3:
  • Left hand skills continue to widen the stretch between the first and second fingers, the Bb finger pattern, the cross-the-string pattern (Minuet) when the fingers consider playing combinations as double stops, third position, and the cementing of the "yellow" finger pattern, where the third finger is sharpened and placed next to the pinkie.
  • Right hand skills include more complex slurs, including string crossings on a slur, and more complex use of the up bow staccato and string crossings; the introduction of double stop execution
Book 4:
  • Left hand skills mix and match all the finger patterns learned in the previous books, plus double stops (Seitz 3) and 6/8 meter. In addition, the student uses second and third positions (Vivaldi concertos) and 4th position harmonics, along with "cross" fingerings, which are those fingerings that accommodate augmented or diminished fifths across the string. In addition, the student extends the "unfurling" of the hand to reach the interval of an augmented fourth. The final repertoire piece, Bach's double violin concerto, combines everything learned to date, by combining every possible finger pattern, upper positions (1st, 2nd, 3rd), and bowing complexities.
  • Right hand skills include more complex string crossings and slurs and playing of harmonics and double stops. The student learns how to apply equal pressure between up and down bows to accomplish a good articulation.
Note: The Suzuki community has embarked on a campaign to revise the Suzuki books to memorialize several teaching techniques that have been in play for many years now. The Suzuki books are designed to be a growing, breathing animal, so it should not surprise us that the books will continue to meet this growth demand. I have not addressed the particular changes of each book in my discussion here. I am still learning how to incorporate the new changes within the framework of how I have been teaching the Suzuki material to date.

Book 5:
  • Left hand skills include 4th and fifth position skills and more familiarity with second and third positions. The book builds the knowledge of the fingerboard "across" the strings rather than up and down a string, as in earlier books. The book allows the discussion of fingering choices and also introduces the time signature of 3/8. The student learns how to play successfully in the key of G minor.
  • Right hand skills include more complex string crossings in lower positions as well as higher positions. The student learns how to perform "off the string" bowing techniques, such as spiccato and flying staccato, and perfects the collĂ© stroke.
Somewhere along the way, students learn the vibrato skill and how to read music. I have discussed both of these topics in earlier posts as well a teacher's need to develop a system for incorporating such new skills as these:

http://teachsuzuki.blogspot.com/2011/06/johnny-cant-read.html (post about reading)
    From this point on, I would like to be more general in my discussion about the books. At this point, the student is probably exposed to a lot of repertoire that is not contained in the Suzuki books. The student may be a member of a youth or school orchestra program or responsible for preparing special repertoire or ensembles for school assignments or regional contests. The student may be a member of a church or other ensemble outside of school or be asked to perform as a soloist at community events. The student is therefore learning a lot of music that is not contained in the Suzuki books.

    Book 6 is one of my favorite books because I use it to teach a full development of tone as a right hand skill, and it is a chance for the student to develop ease in playing in various positions within a phrase as part of the left hand skills. The pieces present many varied bowings within each piece, and the repertoire becomes complex in its demands for memory and advanced musical forms.

    Book 7 really advances students to another level by the middle of the book and the big Bach A minor concerto. Dr. Suzuki set up the concerto learning by inserting the Handel Sonata No. 1 in A major, which is similar in many respects on a simpler scale to the Bach concerto. The Bach concerto provides an in-depth study in articulation clarity (movement 1), tonal colors in phrasing and bowing (movement 2), and bariolage and 9/8 bowing phrase complexities (movement 3). In addition, the concerto draws increased focus and concentration from the student in terms of memory and structure. The rest of the book provides the student with additional opportunities to learn alternatives to the Bach bowing of movement 1. The last Corelli piece is an excellent pinkie development tool.

    Book 8 develops the students' facility to trill and ornament. There are even more complex musical forms for the student to exercise memory and concentration skills, and there are ever increasing string crossings and double stop opportunities. I enjoy using book 8 repertoire pieces in an advanced discussion of musicality and phrasing. By advanced discussion, I mean the kind of discussion I would have with a performance major at the university or conservatory level. This is very advanced repertoire, and by this point in a student's musical education, they are well versed in advanced musical concepts of phrasing and execution, so I go to that place in our discussions, no matter the student's age.

    I lump books 9 and 10 together in my mind because they are the end of the Suzuki line and I sometimes think that we can teach these books interchangeably, although I do them in order. Mozart is as important to me as a teacher and performer as Bach is. The music in these two books is quite advanced in terms of right and left hand skills, phrasing, musicality, and musical forms. We can study these pieces over and over and still come up with new ideas, new fingerings, and new expressions. I use these books to enthuse my students with the excitement that comes from true music making on a professional level. These books represent creativity at its highest level. Every student is unique. Every student presents with unique learning issues and individual ideas. Every time I teach these pieces, I learn something new about the student and about myself and my approach to music. If I were to keep a record of the comments I write in my students' music in books 9 and 10, I would enjoy re-living my own growth as a musician and a teacher.

    Although many people may think that the Suzuki Method is the only way to create true artists, I will have to point out that the research I have read seems to indicate that the number of "professional" or "concert artists" that come from the Suzuki Method seems to equal that which comes from the more traditional approach. In other words, the same number of students go on to become professional musicians on some level, no matter what their origin or learning. But that does not matter to me. That is not my purpose. I have always known my purpose as a teacher since the moment I first read Dr. Suzuki's book "Nurtured by Love." I want to teach students to raise them to be productive citizens in the world and not only to create concert artists, although teaching students to love their culture and musical heritage and to be able to express emotions and creativity on an advanced level is extremely important to me as well. To this end, I whole-heartedly agree with Dr. Suzuki's philosophy.

    I do not always retain a student who makes it through all 10 of the Suzuki books, although I have had several. It is always a joy to journey with such a student who has made it his or her goal to complete all the Suzuki books by high school graduation. Students do develop other life interests and focus on other life goals outside of music. My having exposed my students to learning and life lessons gained through the disciplined study of music as a creative art gives me satisfaction that I have touched their innermost souls and hearts. I know that each child I have taught will retain in their spirit and hearts the love that their parents and I have shown them through our teaching, our sharing, and our learning together.

    That is the Suzuki Pathway.


    1. The last paragraph was beautifully written. Reminds me why I started Suzuki violin in the first place, Thank you. Wishing you a prosperous year ahead.

    2. Thank you! Blessings to you and everyone in the coming year.

    3. I need some help here... Book 2 nr. 6 Bourr'ee by Handel What piece is that from Handel's catalogue?

      1. Is this what you meant?


      2. Thanks so much!

    4. Nice article, thanks for sharing.

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    7. Hmmm.... I am a principal cello player at my high school, and this is some of the exact same things my private lesson teacher would teach me. Very well written. I have one question. I am currently on book 10 right now, and I just wanted know if it is normal for me to be at book 10 when I played cello for 4 years... Thank you! And once again, these explanations are exceptionally well written and described!