Monthly Archives: November 2005

Study Sheets

Every day when I teach my students, part of my “getting ready to teach ritual” includes the creation of a study sheet for each student.

These study sheets are created in Word and are taylored to each individual student. They are made with tables and have seven check boxes so that they can mark off their practice with a pencil.

I do this because I am forgetful and can’t remember what I have assigned unless it is printed out for me. It isn’t fair for the students practice something hard all week only to have me forget to ask them to show me their work.

I update the study sheets after the lessons with the new things I have assigned and the things we have worked on in the lesson. I keep all of their old study sheets so I can track their progress. This helps me make better diagnostic decisions because I have a history of what they were doing last year or six months ago. The study sheets are numbered so I know how many lessons they have had.

Study sheets begin with a listening assignment. Even though they buy the Suzuki CD’s, I burn specific listening CD’s with each song three times in a row and sometimes extra listening such as Waltz from Tchaikovsky’s Serenade. I decorate their CD’s and they are the colorful. They need to listen to their CD for more than twice as long as they practice so that their model will be strong.

Then the progression on the study sheet is tone study, reading, review, current piece and main point. We follow that order in the lesson. What you teach in the lesson is how they will practice at home, so we must follow that order in order to set them up for success.

Tone study is detailed. The basic things to focus on are a roundness of sound and a relaxed arm and hand with a strong Panda thumb. Each student is studying a different point with their tone, so I know where they are studying and we work for about 5 to 10 minutes on tone first.

I used to put reading at the end of the lesson, but then it would get ignored so I put it after tone study now. I teach reading from “I Can Read Music” and “Adventures in Music Reading“. Also some students play in orchestras at school, so I help them with their orchestra music at this time.

Unfortunately I have lowered my standards for review. I used to insist that students play every single song that they knew every day until they were in Book 4. Now as early as Book 2 I am dividing up their review so they play half of the songs one day and the other half the next. This makes a complicated table chart for their songs (I type each song and the main point for them to focus on while playing it). I guess I have just found it to be much more successful to have them playing each song well rather than mindlessly playing them all. But maybe we will have a review revival, who knows. Review develops ability. You raise your level of playing with a piece you already know. They play along with the CD’s for tempo, tone and musical sensitivity.

We spend the least amount of time on the current piece.

The main point is the one thing that would most help their overall progress. It is the thing they should focus on all week and usually we have the same main point for several weeks in a row until it is mastered.

I put a picture at the top of almost every study sheet. I don’t remember how this tradition got started. The students love to come in the studio and look at their study sheet on the music stand and see their new picture. I usually find a photo on flickr. One of my students really likes guinea pigs, so I find cute photos of guinea pigs to put at the top of her study sheet. Another one likes llamas. Sometimes I find excellent photos of violins. Around this time of year I just do a generic search for “Happy Thanksgiving” or “Turkey” in google images and find something appropriate there. I traded violin lessons for a good color printer so the images look nice. I also have a scanner for scanning music and I can print out things for my students very quickly. My computer is in the studio.

I also make lucky dip cards with images. They pick a card out of a bowl and play that song and when they pick the “big hit” they can choose whatever song they would like to play. I was shocked yesterday when one of my boy students (the one who liked the popcorn) said that for the big hit he would like to play Gossec Gavotte! (He’s on Musette in Book 2)

I have a music program and I have the preview spots all typed out (like the famous 16th notes of Gossec Gavotte – I call that the “hot spot”). While in my music program, with the music I want to copy showing on the screen, I push the “print screen” button (to the upper right on the keyboard) and then open a image editor like photoshop or fireworks, create new, then paste the music into a document. Then I insert the picture of the music right into their study sheet. It sounds complicated, but I only need to do it once for each preview spot since the previews are the same for everyone. This is very handy for everyone to have the previews right there on their Study Sheet.

The students have notebooks for their study sheets. I don’t know if they keep them all. But I do look at them to see if they practiced. Kurt Sassmannshaus said that if the students don’t mark their study sheet, they are definitely not practicing so I use that as a general rule for understanding how much time they actually spend on their instrument at home. I continue to make study sheets even for those who don’t practice. Maybe they will begin to practice one day…

If you would like to see a sample study sheet, please write email to me at suzanne{@}

Also, here is a 100 days of practice chart.


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Filed under practice charts, Suzuki Method, Teaching, violin

Holding the Horsehair for Beautiful Tone

Notes from my studies with Dr. Shinichi Suzuki

In a desperate attempt to get us to understand tone, Suzuki Sensei would say, “Only horsehair play you!? This means we should make sound using only the horsehair of the bow.

One day in group lesson, he handed out tissue paper– one piece for everyone. I wondered if he planned to make us all cry. He was very excited and patiently waited until we all held our tissue. He then carefully showed us how to wrap the tissue paper around the horsehair at the frog, and then to make a regular bow hold holding the horsehair rather than the wood. The middle finger pops up to keep the stick from wobbling. We played Chorus and the sound was very big.

He had us do it one at a time and explained that when holding the horsehair it was impossible for us to push the wood into the sound. It also made us move down to get sound. Everything was underneath the bow– arm, fingers, body — nothing on top. He called the tissue the “one million yen paper? because it made everyone sound like a million yen. He, himself never bothered with the paper and just held the horsehair with his fingers. And if he held the bow stick he said,?It seems I am holding the bow, but actually I am holding the horsehair. Only service for the bow.?

The first thing you notice when you hold the horsehair is how changeable it is. Really, it is so malleable! It feels like stepping into a rowboat. When holding the horsehair, you have to get your “sea legs?. Once you find your balance, it all works out beautifully, but it is difficult to keep that balance. Once you are in the boat, you must go with the flow.

Actually, I once heard an idea that the bow is very similar to a boat. This was an idea from another one of Dr. Suzuki’s students, and Suzuki Sensei really liked this idea. If the weight on a boat is unequally distributed, or if there are any barnacles underneath, it cannot sail quickly. When the weight is equally distributed front to back, (tip to frog) with no barnacles (tensions in the hand or arm or fear), it will sail very easily and quickly, even with a heavy load.


In order to get any sound at all while holding the horsehair you must move down towards the string. I equated this with keeping my mind on the important things in life–enjoying the moment, service, friendships, thoughts for others, beauty in life, etc… The wood was like the unnecessary things or rather, the unimportant things like money and status.

Suzuki Sensei said that one should never worry about money. If I live my life and do my best, it will not need to be a concern. Only service. I try my best to live this way. Dr. Suzuki never asks for money for his lessons. People simply pay him. And then, he spreads his money around like crazy! My friend who worked in the office at his school said that one year he decided that he wanted to send the entire office to Hawaii for a vacation! He is always buying expensive treats for the students. Once, a woman asked him why he spent his money so frivolously on treats for everyone, and he ignored her until she asked four times. Upon the fourth time he answered, “Madam, you cannot eat money!?

When I do worry about money, I become poor. I want therefore I lack. That is a spiritual law like a law of physics. Just the other day, (maybe ten years ago) I was destitute. I decided not to worry and to go along as normal even though my balance was at $14.00 and I owed several debts. There was a knock on the door and a friend brought me some rent that she owed to me. I had COMPLETELY forgotten about it, yet here she was to save my life. If I had not forgotten, I’m sure she would not have arrived. I then immediately set about repairing my own debts –“Forgive us our debts as we forgive…“ At first, I didn’t know whether or not this spiritual law worked in American society, but now I believe that it does.

In my private lessons, Suzuki Sensei always asked me to hold the horsehair. Everyday, only horsehair, Oh boy~ here we go again. I believed him this time and always held the horsehair, at home, at school, each and every time I held any bow for any reason; I was holding the horsehair only. Then, one day in orchestra sectionals, I suddenly felt that holding the horsehair was being obnoxious and that it was bothering people. I wasn’t doing a good job of keeping my “sea legs? and it kept ruining the effect for everyone. I was embarrassed. I felt that everyone was staring at me and it made me uncomfortable. Really, I felt that it was in the way. Against my better judgment, I switched to regular bow hold and I heard a sound…

Just then the door to the room was opening. It was the Sensei Shuffle! Suzuki Sensei yelled at me in Japanese and this time and I felt honored– at least he wasn’t speaking in English! “If you want to understand this, you must really do as I say.? Manaka ni — I can’t really translate this, but it means something like “the very center?. I immediately switched to holding the horsehair and was not embarrassed anymore. In fact, I felt pretty bad that the rehearsal had to be interrupted because of my disloyalty. Manaka ni; this is holding the horsehair. This is being right in the center of the bow and the sound. This is bold service without shame.

At this time I was studying with Miss Yuko Mori as well as Dr. Suzuki. Miss Mori is a great teacher and was so helpful because she knew so much about training children. However, I was getting confused about their different ways of teaching. For instance– when holding the bow with the thumb outside of the frog one of them wanted the thumb half-way on the horse hair the other wanted it all the way on the silver. There are advantages to both ways, but I kept getting confused. To this day I cannot remember who liked it which way, but I suspect Suzuki Sensei liked it half on the horsehair because he was so excited about the idea of feeling the horsehair as it played.

Chizu Kataoka took lessons from both of them as well, so I asked her what she did. She explained that when she played for Dr. Suzuki, she did it his way, and when she played for Miss Mori she did it her way. Then, I said, what do you do on Monday Concert? She said, “I do what I want to do.? These were words of wisdom from a 16-year-old girl. Isn’t it great that her training has been so thorough that she has the freedom to play the way she wants to play?

Dr. Suzuki was having tea with Miss Mori and explaining his new idea to her. He used me as an example of a student who “become tone” through holding the horsehair. Later, Miss Mori came to me and explained this. I was very grateful for this because it cleared up my confusion about what to do during the different lessons! I could politely hold the horsehair in front of Miss Mori now. I said, “I understand.?


“I don’t think you really do understand– Suzuki Sensei has noticed you.” she said. “This is an important honor! He does not single out every student!? This had not occurred to me. And now that she had said it, I had to forget it because it would make me grab on to my bow and be greedy and vain. Of course, I was his slowest student. I was a fool, and I still am. He was my mentor, my Sensei, and of course the pathway he was showing me was becoming more and more difficult.


Dr. Suzuki had a beautiful new violin and he was calling in various students to try it out. I have a friend named Libby who has a bow which he gave to her and so I greedily noticed what was happening. I thought he might be planning to give this violin to a student. Miss Mon’s idea flashed through my head and I tried to shake it off. Suzuki Sensei called Shin-kun and me both in to his studio. Shin-kun was so cute and funny, but he did not play that well. He was a very serious and diligent student, but not one of the best students there in terms of brilliant playing. However, Shin-kun eventually became one of the best violinists at the school, but this came much later.

I played the violin first It was a beautiful violin, but it did not “go well with? me. Despite this, I wanted the honor of receiving it. How silly to be so greedy as to want something which doesn’t fit! Now it seems ludicrous, but then I played my heart out in order to earn it. I wanted, therefore I lacked, and my tone was hollow. Shin-kun then played. His tone was clean and flawless. He did not know what I knew. He had no wants– he was only playing in “this moment?.

Later, Suzuki Sensei presented the violin to Shin-kun at group lesson. He was honestly surprised and honored. It was a great gift I don’t know about exactly how it happened, in terms of Shin-kun and Suzuki Sensei and their relationship, but for me it was a very humbling experience. I learned not to judge and again, I tried to learn to keep from judging. Why did I believe that Shin-kun was not a brilliant player– he was! With all of my students, I must always remember not to be so quick to judge! Sometimes the worst can be the best and vise versa. Also with myself. It isn’t bad, or good, it just is. And then we study to make it better. We study, we learn, we grow all at our own rates. And we get to know each other along the way. Unconditional love means love without judgment. “Love… Love is important’ Shin-kun had said and my roommate Susanna later printed this on her graduation program.


I was washing dishes again one day and suddenly I felt that Suzuki Sensei needed an ashtray. I was embarrassed. How silly to go running down the hall with an ashtray. What if he didn’t need it? I had read somewhere that Suzuki Sensei knows when a student is ready to graduate from his school because they will bring him an ashtray before he needs it… service without shame… I quickly hustled down the hall with a big ashtray and burst into his office as he was sitting there at his desk. A cigarette in mouth, lighter poised and then I heard a click. I set it down and bowed. He looked at me and said, “Not only for ashtray, but always, you must have such thought?.


Somehow, I became obsessed by the Tchaikovsky violin concerto. I think Yuriko Watanabe was playing it and I loved it. I had been playing Schubert Duo in lessons and in Monday Concert and I loved this piece but I adored Tchaikovsky. I wanted to get a recording. My mother had come to Japan tovisit and Miss Mon had taken us to Kamikochi, a beautiful mountain resort. On the train, on the way back, I asked her which recording of Tchaikovsky was the best. Of course, I didn’t dream that I might be able to play it … (okay maybe in my dreams). I simply wanted to listen. She deliberated for a long time and said, “David Oistrach?. I somehow found a recording of David Oistrach playing the Tchaikovsky.


At that time, another girl named Kaori was learning Tchaikovsky. She never quite finished it and would emerge from each lesson crying. We all supported her and wanted her to do well. Finally, Suzuki Sensei asked her to play it on Monday Concert. He placed Megumi on her left and Yuriko on her right, two Tchaik. veterans and then they played with the recording of David Oistrach, cadenza and all. It’s an amazing thing, the synergy that occurs with more than one violinist playing together. She did quite well and Suzuki Sensei was excited. “Maybe, this is first time in the world that three violinists play the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto together.? I was excited too… it was the cutting edge, like Vivaldi A minor was in the 60’s.


The next morning at private lessons, Suzuki Sensei started assigning Tchaikovsky to everyone. Everyone! He had tapes of David Oistrach mass-produced and the music xeroxed for all the students. Everyone, I should say, except me. I played Schubert Duo and he worked with me, but he never said, “Learn Tchaikovsky’. Of course, my egotistic desires were in the way again. I wanted to play it… I dreamt of playing it, I was drooling to play it, so of course I did not get asked to play it. I even tried to pirate the music from Yuriko and she said, “Have you been assigned to play it?” I could not lie. No music for me.


The next week it was the same story, more and more students were being asked to play Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. Everywhere people were playing Tchaikovsky. It was in the halls, in lessons, everywhere. Those who already knew it were reviewing it, and I just played Schubert Duo. I kept thinking that Dr. Suzuki was smiling behind my back. Now, I really wanted to play it.


The next week even more students were assigned Tchaikovsky and it was very apparent that this was a big investiture. Even Miss Mon’s youngest students were learning it, and he was talking about having it performed at the National Concert. People were playing Tchaikovsky all day long now. And I simply played Schubert Duo. People started playing Tchaikovsky together in group class and I wanted to cry.


After four weeks he stopped assigning it and I knew I had missed my chance. I would be playing Schubert Duo for the rest of my life. I would be content to listen, and I knew it was too hard for me anyway. As I had my back turned to him in lessons and was rewinding my old, Schubert Duo tape (nothing against Schubert, mind you) he said quite softly, “You should play Tchaikovsky.? I was in shock. I had resigned myself to the fact that it was too hard. I looked at him with a startled glance and he said, “Or Brahms or any Concerto you want…? What a joke. Of course I wanted to play Tchaikovsky. He giggled and looked at the other students. I was given the music.


I practiced Tchaikovsky day and night. This is true and no exaggeration. I was so excited. I remember running to practice it as soon as possible. I was visiting Julie at Ishi-san’s place when I had first been allowed to begin Tchaikovsky. I asked her if she would mind if I practiced and she gave me her entire bedroom for two hours. I learned the first two pages there. Then, there was a big room at Susanna and Stuart’s place, and they said I could “go for it? and practice there. I learned the runs on the third and forth pages. I remember practicing Tchaikovsky upstairs at Keiko’s place, in the little room behind the stage at school, at Smith Hall, at the Tokyu Inn hotel room where Diane was staying, upstairs at the school, in the hallways at school, at home in my own bedroom, in the kitchen, in the living room….

I played with the tape and rarely looked at the music except to clear up a fingering. I remember working in the kenkyusei room with a metronome to get some runs fast enough. Mi-chyan came into the other kenkyusei room one day to show me how to play the harmonic in the cadenza. Then I was handed a xeroxed sheet with an additional run for the cadenza. I remember when I finally did that one with the tape on stage for Susanna and Joy. They were cheering me on!


I held the horsehair and pulled to get tone. I got used to the feeling of playing Tchaikovsky while holding the horsehair. At least 20 students were playing Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto together every day in group. Maybe even thirty students played it. Eventually it was over 100. It was so intense. We would stand there during the introduction and nervously look at our feet while listening and finally, raise our violins to begin. We would play it cold, first thing in the morning. My hand used to ache, but eventually I got used to it and it no longer hurt to play Tchaikovsky. Sometimes we played it three or four times a day. Every time someone important showed up at the school, Dr. Suzuki would ask us to perform it again.

It took a long time for me to finally learn the entire first movement. I think it took 4 weeks. By playing it so often I learned how to relax and save energy while I played. I always tried to stand near Yuriko because I learned so much by watching and listening to her. Once Matsumoto-kun was standing next to me and he stamped his foot at just the right moment during a performance which helped me to wake up and get the runs near the end. I had almost fallen asleep! I was just fatigued from all the excitement and work. I was tired from playing the whole thing–it is about 16 pages long and takes 20 minutes to perform.


I held the horsehair everyday. We always played the development section either holding the horsehair or upside down bow. Suzuki Sensei kept saying, Tchaikovsky is an easy piece.? It wasn’t easy –but it was easier because I was so motivated! This was because of Dr. Suzuki’s wisdom in not allowing me or anyone to play a piece too soon! The preparation of observation and waiting builds up enough energy like steam for a steam engine. The latent power of unfulfilled desire is like a sling shot being pulled back. Some of my friends thought I was so obsessed by Tchaikovsky that they would only say the word Tchaikovsky to me, oven and over again. I didn’t really mind. I was caught by the power of motivation and desire.


I watched Baryshinikov dancing the Nutcracker Ballet by Tchaikovsky on a video my parents had sent to me in Japan for Christmas. The longing and desire he portrayed was so great — now I could begin to understand Tchaikovsky’s heart! Somehow, this seemed like a huge revelation to me– desire as meaning both lacking and power. POTENTIAL power is so great. Like the unlimited potential of early childhood education. Also like the potential of the elastic power of the horsehair.


After holding the horsehair for so long, holding the regular bow seemed to lack the intimacy of the horsehair. I wanted to feel the horsehair despite the fact that I was touching the wood. By using the sensitivity of the pads of your fingers, you can sense the horsehair as you are touching the wood. Although you are touching the wood, you desire the horsehair. Then, there is potential power in the sound. It is three-dimensional sound. There is eagerness, longing, yearning, wishing, and dreaming. This is music!


“Tone is not music. Music is music. Music in tone.? ~Shinichi Suzuki Sensei




Filed under Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, how to use the bow, Stories about Dr. Suzuki, Suzuki Method, Suzuki Sensei, Talent Education Research Institute, violin

Circle bows from Suzuki Sensei

This is a handout explaining circle bows from Suzuki Sensei given at the International Teachers Convention in Hawaii. I'm sorry it is difficult to read; it is from 1977.

You can click on the image and see the larger image which is easier to read


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Filed under Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, how to use the bow, Suzuki Method, Suzuki Sensei, Talent Education Research Institute, Teaching, violin

Upside Down Bow – Balanced Bow


Notes from my studies with Dr. Shinichi Suzuki


Every Monday afternoon each week there was a concert for Suzuki Sensei in the Concert Hall. It was called Getsu Con or Monday Concert and it was several hours long. This was such a great way to begin a week of tone study! Suzuki Sensei could hear everyone play and understand their tone. We would help accompany our friends by playing together in a small orchestra for the Vivaldi A minor, Vivaldi G minor or Bach A minor Concertos.

I was surprised when I attended my first Monday Concert in Japan. Mistakes were very few and far between, and yet I rarely heard these people practicing their pieces! I wondered if they snuck home to practice at night. It seemed amazing– a student was assigned a new piece and then, next Monday Concert the student would perform it from memory, in tempo, and musically with beautiful tone! Yet, as far as I could tell, everyone only practiced Panda, one finger, open strings and Chorus. It was fushigi (mysterious)!

As I went to take my first private lesson with Suzuki Sensei, I had decided to play the Bach Adagio from the Unaccompanied Sonata No. 1. I had practiced it for years and felt prepared to perform. As I took a breath and raised my bow to play the first chord, Suzuki Sensei was out of his chair in an instant. “Later you will play this much better? he said. I don’t believe my horsehair ever made it to the strings. “Oh, great?, I was thinking– “stopped before I’ve even played a note!? I cleared my mind to concentrate on what he was asking me to do. Open D string. Start of tone. Start of tone means that the very beginning of the sound must be clear.

Suzuki Sensei asked me to hold my bow upside down. This means that my little finger was right on the tip of the bow, and the frog was way out where the tip usually is. Suzuki Sensei said, “Upside down bow, always upside down bow.? I felt that it was very cumbersome and difficult to play while holding the skinny little tip rather than the heavy, big frog. And with the frog out at the end of the bow, it was so heavy that it made my bow crash into my string. It was frustrating. I could not do this ‘tone with living soul? thing, and besides, why did my elbow need to be so low?


Suzuki Sensei worked with me on the start of tone. The very first note. This instant, the moment the sound begins, it must go to ones heart. I tried and I tried. Suzuki Sensei told me to only practice open strings. “Upside down bow makes wonderful tone!?, he said. It didn’t seem so wonderful to me!



The bow weighs the same upside down or right side up


Still, it felt much heavier upside down. “You must study D string tone. Tone, tone tone– upside down bow.? said Suzuki Sensei. And then the lesson was over.


I went home frustrated and practiced open strings with upside down bow for as long as I could. I really, truly wanted to be a “majime seito” or a serious student. I had come to Japan for this reason, to study and learn from Suzuki Sensei. “I must study what he has told me to study!? I decided. However, I was worried that if I only practiced his assignments, then eventually I would forget all of the Concertos and Bach and scales that I had worked very hard to learn. I became anxious and thought I would lose my “chops?, and besides, I was sure that everyone else played their “real pieces” at home. Surely he didn’t mean for me to never practice left hand skills too! I played my “real pieces? and went to sleep much happier.


The next day Suzuki Sensei said



Didn’t you understand what I said? I said only study open strings every day– just open D, upside down bow, tone, tone, tone, this moment, elbow play you. No need anxious– take off anxious.



I was in awe and agreed readily. I made a new vow to only study open strings. I wondered if the little house I stayed in had been bugged. Maybe there were spies? Maybe it was some kind of Japanese video technology? It was 20 minutes by motorcycle from the school, so how could he know? I went home and tried to play only open strings and study the sound and research his ideas. Upside down bow was getting to me. My pinkie hurt and it sounded bad. The next thing I knew, I was in the middle of Sibelius Violin Concerto with my bow right side up. Oops. I didn’t mean to break my vow, it just happened.


The next day, Suzuki Sensei came to me again.



Am I speaking English? Do you understand English? Then, why do you not study only open strings?



I felt horrible.


And I was sure my place was wired. I tried finding clever places to practice where no one would hear me. Yet Suzuki Sensei always knew!


Finally after a few weeks of this frustrating process, I became depressed. I decided to give up the violin. I would never be capable of playing the violin, especially not the way Suzuki Sensei wanted me to play. I resolved that I would never really play the violin again. Who ever heard of a violinist who could only play open strings? I believed that having fast and accurate fingers was the secret to good violin playing. But now, I would forget my Music Degree and fifteen years of study. Eventually, I would have to find another profession, because I could not stand his admonishments every day. Suzuki Sensei won and I quit. I only played in group class, and then I observed lessons. I only played upside down bow. “Upside down bow is balanced bow? he would explain. I played only D string. I listened and listened to lesson after lesson. And I began to hear what he was after.


I can’t explain it in words, I can just feel it. The closest thing to a description was brilliance in the sound. There was a glowing in the tone. I wrote something to explain what I noticed~ ‘The widest grin, the brightest eyes, the biggest tone, Suzuki Sensei’.



I took home a tape of a lesson and played it on my stereo. On the tape, when I played my open D string the LED reading went to a number 2, gradually almost 3. When Suzuki Sensei played his D, instantly the LED reading went above a 10. And he was standing farther away from the microphone!! This was technological proof that his tone was biggest. I kept listening.


“Everyone can play with tone. Such tone is clear, ringing in ear, can you hear? Tone is here– break away the blackness, the milky film in front. Kite (means “cut? in Japanese) Please try. So relax. Nail (right corner of thumbnail) and balance, also elbow comes down, the condition of beginning elbow, this moment determines tone. Like piano fingers (pianists go toward the keys, not to the side) then Panda. Tone emerges clear and strong. Suzuki Sensei helps people become tone. Despite all designs~ with him one can only fly.? (60.10.24–dated in my journal as Japanese date October 24, 1985)

And people were doing it, “Balanced bow–only put on and carry.? Suzuki Suzuki would say. Then one day at Group Class in Smith Hall, Suzuki Sensei asked us to each come up one at a time to play Chorus from Judas Maccabeus on his violin. It was a great honor. I waited and gathered strength– the “tsuyoi? kind of strength. I concentrated on letting go of all my ideas about playing the violin. So relax. I walked calmly to the front. His violin felt like a foreign object– I wasn’t even sure which shoulder to put it on! I don’t remember, but I think I played Chorus. I remember thinking how big his violin sounded. At least I didn’t get stopped before I began! Suzuki Sensei only smoked and nodded. Later the Senior Foreign Kenkyusei, said in front of many people, “Speaking of tone that was some pretty amazing tone you were getting there in Group Class, Suzy.? I didn’t believe it was true and tried not to grab on to this idea that I could play. I remembered that I could not play and kept only listening and doing upside down bow.

Upside down bow is like having a coach spot you each time you play. With very little effort, you are helped to have balanced tone. Pushing and sideways motion does not work with upside down bow. You can’t control it– eventually, in order to make any decent sound, you must give up and let go of pushing and sideways motion. This effort to work against the weight was what made my violin’s bow crash into the string! I learned to only carry the bow down and up. The frog is so heavy that gravity naturally pulls the horsehair into the string.

Suzuki Sensei would lift his bow upside down over someone’s head and ask if they would like it to fall on them. This would probably hurt. He never actually let it fall on a student’s head, but once he lifted it above a student who had on a wide plastic hair band. He got a kick out of this because she was protected from the weight of the falling frog and so she was not worried. Suzuki Sensei would flip his bow into the air from upside down to right side up….and catch it at the frog without looking. While flipping the bow into the air, he explained that this potential power of the weight of the frog is heavy enough for big tone.


Upside down bow is naturally balanced. In order to keep it from crashing and bobbling out of control, one eventually relaxes everything in the right arm and body. Then, we simply carry the bow down and up. For me, it took a long time, but it did become easier, especially on only D string. I did at least 100,000 circle tones with upside down bow on D string. Then, Suzuki Sensei finally said I could begin to play A string circles. I started to work on 100,000 circle tones with upside down bow on A string. Gradually, within a month I was given special instruction about E string. While playing E string, the bow is almost vertical which makes it a special case. Upside down bow is not enough because gravity does not pull the frog toward the string as much. It requires an even more relaxed arm sinking into the string. Also, you can create more gravity with your body position. By using the upper arm to move towards the string you can make more tone volume. Then later, I studied G string which is also a very special case. G string is the biggest string and takes the most “tsuyoi? thumb. One should always have the bow parallel to the floor on G string. Suzuki Sensei always explained carefully that parallel bow was the proper position for big tone on the G string. The bow must be parallel to the floor. When I played with a crooked bow on G string, Suzuki Sensei laughed and asked me if the floor in my house was crooked. As a matter of fact, it was! He told me to study G string while standing on a perfectly horizontal surface. Then, I began to study 100,000 up bow circles with upside down bow on D string….then A string E string, and finally G string. Although I knew it was useless, I studied each string thoroughly. I could never really play.


Spring was arriving very slowly. The bitter cold was waning and my Shugi (calligraphy) teacher gave me poems about verdant plum trees. She laughed and nodded as she corrected my work. I carefully copied the work my shugi Sensei had given me several times, and then I waited in line for her to correct my work with orange ink. Her wrist never touched the table, but she had perfect control of the tip if her brush. The way she held the wood looked just like the way Suzuki Sensei held the bow. Was this part of the reason we were studying calligraphy?

The shugi Sensei would always correct something different from what I would expect. Also, she always knew if I started a stroke from a wrong place. Japanese have a correct order for making the characters. For instance, it would be like writing the letter “T? by making the vertical line from top to bottom first and then crossing left to right. Also, you should pause at certain intervals without lifting your brush and allow the ink to enter the paper. The shugi Sensei never watched me work, but she knew everything about how I had done my work and how I was feeling in my life from the way my calligraphy looked. She spoke to me quickly in Japanese. I tried to understand. I watched the plum blossoms emerge each time I walked outside. Every day the blossoms on these strong trees slowly became pinker.


Suzuki Sensei often spoke of service. Service first. He lived what he preached and always gave first without reservation. He was never selfish in life, and in playing the violin. He often said “Only service forthe bow. Upside down bow gives naturally, service to the string. It is balanced bow.? I went to the graduations of my seniors and helped serve at their tea parties. Service was so important. I bought bouquets of flowers and presents for the students who graduated. Suzuki Sensei had said, “Only service?. I cut fruit and washed endless cups and ash trays.

I tried to do service first– never greedy, but it didn’t always work. I superstitiously never took for myself first. “No need anxious? said Suzuki Sensei. I was not naturally good at this because I wanted too much for myself and was naturally nervous. I began to try harder, instantly reaching down to pick up keys for someone if they dropped them while at the bank or the post office. I went to visit my friend I Lucille in the hospital. She had broken her leg and needed company. I began to arrive early to school each morning to do osoji (cleaning up). My goal was to he the first one there and to have the tea water boiling and both the kenkyusei rooms clean before Suzuki Sensei arrived. I concentrated on doing this for the simple joy of serving and not for how this might improve my playing.


One day in Calligraphy Class the shugi Sensei said I was becoming a little deeper in my efforts. Suzuki Sensei stopped me in the hall one day to say that I had “caught something.? (“What did I catch?? I wondered as I smiled and bowed and smiled and nodded)


Then, my roommates were all going skiing. I was supposed to teach English, but they had invited me to go along. They argued with me when I complained of missing school. We could go and be back in time for the next group lesson because Suzuki Sensei was leaving town for a few days. We had free lift tickets and a place to stay. It would only cost the price of a train ticket. I went to teach English and was paid just exactly enough for the train ticket.


It seemed so decadent, but all of this Zen living was getting to me. I had lived for so many months being focused and intense all of the time, every day. At the last possible minute I hopped on the train late that night. All my friends met me at the station– how did they know that I would come and especially, on that particular train? My friend Joy was there! We danced all night. The next day we all went skiing and enjoyed the wonderful day. We laughed and played. I actually saw a bald Buddhist monk in robes skiing- he was like an eagle, he was so good and so fast! One moment he was there, the next moment he had practically flown down the steepest hill…. the widest smile, the brightest eyes….


We ate ice cream in a pink chalet and stayed up late dancing again. I gave Joy’s daughter Chelsea a ride down the hill on my back as I skied. We stayed up all night laughing and talking. It was cold, but it felt warm. Then as late as possible on the next day, we ran to catch the train for group class.


And then, there we were, sitting in front of Suzuki Sensei, out-of- breath and obviously sunburned from spring skiing. My row was called on first to play Chorus one person at a time. I had no time to center, no time to gather panda or zen or anything– just play. I went up. Like a penitent child, I was sure I was going to be in trouble (komatta na)!


Instead, for the first time, Suzuki Sensei said “Joozu? meaning proficient or “good’! He giggled and looked around. “She become tone? he said. I had to stare at his lips to make sure he wasn’t really saying “dame” or bad. He actually said “joozu? again! I sat down in shock. He looked around at the other students and said “She become tone!? again. I could not believe it!


In my next lesson, Suzuki Sensei asked me to play some Fritz Kreisler piece, any Kreisler piece. He looked bored and uninterested, sort of like “Why didn’t you do this sooner?” I honestly couldn’t believe he actually wanted me to play a piece– as in a real piece with my left hand too! I didn’t know if my left fingers could remember how to do anything! I was so excited that I forgot my resolve to never really play again. And what had prompted this change- was the secret to this tone in going skiing every weekend? It couldn’t be! At this point I was quite confused!! I had worked so hard, and then when I “sluffed? and went off skiing, suddenly I became tone! What was the deal?


I asked many Japanese students and they said Ai no Kanashimi was Suzuki Sensei’s favorite Kriesler piece. Maybe this would be a good piece for me to try. My friends helped me find a tape of Kreisler performing Ai no Kanashimi or Liebesleid. His tone was so beautiful and perfectly balanced. I loved to listen to it. I made a repeating tape and listened to it over and over 100 times. The name of the piece means “Love’s sadness? and my former boyfriend in America had just started dating my best friend. In fact, they were going to be married soon. It was very cathartic. I cried and listened. Suzuki Sensei started giving me hugs. I always wore my Sony Walkman.


Ai no Kanashimi is in 3/4 time. Takahashi Sensei explained 3/4 time in “Tone and Interpretation Class” or Opera Class as we called it. He said it was “Study, Study, Rest; Study, Study Rest; Study, Study, Rest…? The words for vacation and rest are the same in Japanese. Count to three and on the third beat, there is a feeling of being suspended in air. This is like being on a swing at the very pinnacle of the arch. He waved his arms like a bird on the third beat. We all laughed and enjoyed his unabashed musicality. I began to wonder if the secret to Balanced Bow and 3/4 Time were similar; study, study, ski…

And then, I began to play Ai no Kanashimi (Love’s Sadness) with the recording the day before my next lesson. I focused only on relax and carry upside down bow.


Study, Study, Rest; Study, Study, Rest… I never thought about my left hand– it just happened. I don’t remember having the printed music or worrying about the fingering, only the expression of the feelings of Kreisler.


Suzuki Sensei asked me to play on Monday Concert and I performed Leibesleid three weeks in a row. The first two times, I performed it with upside down bow. Suzuki Sensei would listen from the back of the auditorium and if he couldn’t hear it, he would stomp up the stairs to the stage (definitely not his usual, amicable shuffle) and stand right there with me, urging me on. I can still hear him singing with me– more power and more tone. I had no choice. The last time I performed this piece, he requested right side up bow. Suzuki Sensei did not stomp up the stairs and after I was finished, as I bowed to the audience, he raised his fingers in an “okay? sign from his chair. He could hear my tone! I was in heaven. At least for the moment, I had become upside-down-bow tone.



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Listen to your CD…er … iPod!

I always remind my students at every lesson to listen to their Suzuki Violin music (right??) Mother Tongue Method means lots of listening.

It started when I was a little girl studying Suzuki Method violin and I listened to the records. The first Suzuki record that I heard was the floppy red kind! Then, as I started to teach students, we listened to tapes. So I would say to my students, “Please listen to your tape!” at the end of every lesson. I made tapes for them. Then the world evolved and everyone changed to CD’s so I had to switch to saying, “Please listen to your CD!” at every lesson. Sometimes I would forget and say “tape”, but now I remember to say “CD” every single time. And I make them personalized CD’s.

At her last lesson, when I asked Freckles if she was listening she told me, “Oh yes. My Mozart is loaded into my iPod.” …and Ale and Vale were talking about getting iPods today in their lesson too (age 7 and 10)…so here we go!

Change is the constant, the signal for rebirth, the egg of the phoenix.
Christina Baldwin

So what do I make for them now, playlists? Well, as long as they are all listening to their Suzuki Music, I’m happy. :mrgreen:

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Give it a try! 

(found out about it on Southern Gal Goes North)  

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I’m watching a video of my students performing the 2003 Christmas Concert. The sound is pretty good. I’m amazed to see how much the younger ones have progressed! This year they will all be playing many more songs! When they were listening to the more advanced students playing the more difficult pieces back in 2003, it was preparing them for this year. And my littlest students will just attend the concert this year and listen from the audience.

violin1.jpg To explain, my students do a tour at Christmas time, going to elderly housing places and libraries. The students all wear red vests and play their Suzuki Pieces as well as about 15 Christmas songs and Tzena, a Hanukkah song (or an Israeli Folk Song). This year the tour is on December 17th. We start practicing all of the songs sometime in October to get them all ready.

My student Abri’s solo Graduation Concert on Sunday was awesome. Simply awesome. It was in the basement of a Tibetan Buddhist Temple. Everyone wore costumes. Her playing was clear and beautiful. Several of the parents of other students cried and one of them said that if he closed his eyes, he would think he was listening to a CD. Now, I wouldn’t go that far, but her playing had good tone, good intonation and musical expression. She still has several points to work on, but it was a great concert. I gave her a standing ovation. Oh, and the duet was beautiful too. I’m enjoying teaching these children as they grow up into teenagers and adults. It’s an honor.

After the concert, I was upstairs showing Issy the Temple and we heard very fast fiddling going on downstairs. Issy and I looked at each other and went rushing back downstairs to see that they were playing musical chairs with live music from Abri! But by then the adults had gotten too involved and the spontaneity was gone. We missed it. But that’s OK – the fact that it was happening at all is a wonderful thing. Then Issy wandered over to the chess table and began to play chess with one of the other mothers. It was beautiful.

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