Happy to be able to write another article on how to choose a violin and it has been featured in an independent blog site 


Suzuki has come to Singapore! What really is the Suzuki Method? And how I use the Suzuki Method in my Teaching Programme

Martin Rüttimann (Chairman, European Suzuki Association, Vivienne Eio and Una Lauw (President of STEAS)

The Suzuki Talent Education Association (STEAS) arrived in 2014 actually…! Sponsored by my friends at Synwin Music, today I participated at a Teacher’s workshop on the Suzuki Values & Teaching Method and to bring awareness to STEAS.  Guest Speaker Mr Martin Rüttimann flew in to give us the insights of Dr Suzuki’s violin Methodology and why it works particularly well for young learners.  There were also some young performers who gave us a demonstration of the Suzuki Method in action. 

Students demonstrating Suzuki Volume 1’s first piece “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and Variations”

There will be two different training workshops for piano and violin coming up this year for teachers.  If you would like to join do contact the Suzuki Talent Education Association Association Singapore.  The dates of the piano teachers’ training is on an earlier date while the violin course is planned at the end of May. Do contact them directly at the STEAS website for more information.  To join this workshop you need to be a member of the Association and also need to send in an audition demo of yourself at the highest proficient level: choose and play a level you are at from book 4 to 10, hence book 4 is at its lowest entry level in order to be qualified to be trained for Book 1 at the workshop in May 2017. (If you send in a level at book 10 Mozart’s Violin Concerto in D major this would just mean you will not need to send in any more auditions for the training for book 1 through to 10. ) note that it is required to be trained from Book 1 and the workshop training sessions are approximately 35 to 42 hours to cover each volume. 

For those who are not familiar with the Suzuki Method.  Here are some features of the Method that I have summarized below:

  • A concept of nurturing an individual through music to learn discipline and a community spirit, which would lead to ultimately having a “beautiful heart”
  • Believes that learning music is like learning a mother tongue language where a young child would be able to learn music and an instrument just like learning their own native language. The Suzuki Method strives to teach a musical instrument (piano, violin, guitar, viola, cello, flute etc.) this way.
  • Usage of familiar songs in first books to keep the students and child interested in learning as this would be easy to train the ear as well as play from memory which is a compulsory component.
  • No particular written technical method reduced into writing (except Dr Suzuki’s concept of Tonalization) as compared to the French or Russian schools of learning but the musical abilities and techniques are passed down from teacher to teacher, thus the need for the Associations for training teachers to be “Suzuki ready”.
  • Method encourages a Child, Teacher and Parent triangle where the Parent plays a vital role as much as the Teacher and Child in the Learning Process. 
  • Lots of group playing in unison are encouraged as one of the key visions of Suzuki is that the child is nurtured into a not being competitive but to having a communal spirit. 
  • A large range of repertoire focusing on early classical and baroque pieces (my observation of the Violin Method) and an absence of the traditional Etudes like Wolfhart, Kayser, Dancla, Dont, Gavinies, Kreutzer etc. no Romantic period concertos but ends at Mozart Violin Concerto. The idea is that afterwhich, teachers would progress to teaching the Bruch and Mendelssohn Concertos.
  • Usage of Solfege instead of note reading initially for ear training as well as easy pick up for even toddlers which is why more students can pick up the violin with scaled down instruments at an early age. 

For more of the Suzuki Method and how it is taught, it is best to join one of the teachers training courses available in your region worldwide to have the know how to teach and understand this concept better. 

 How I would teach and use the Suzuki Method for my Students 

The Suzuki repertoire is a popular choice for teachers and students and almost a staple for Beginner’s repertoire as they are really catchy tunes and the songs have been reduced in a way that initial bowing methods for the violin and certain technique can be taught easily.  I personally do use the first Volume for a typical beginner for the same reasons but I perhaps teach it in a very different way from a typical Suzuki teacher would (unfortunately out of group lessons or the occasional special concert arrangement, I do not have students playing in unison) and I would graduate much sooner (at about song no.10 this also depends on the aptitude of the student) to a wider range of classical genre and Etudes to explore more aspects of violin and bowing technique appropriate for a beginner.  

The focus would be more on grasping the correct posture, basic music theory concepts and learning completely the permutations of the first position of the violin as an initial hurdle.  For e.g. Oskar Rieding’s violin concerto in B minor which pretty much covers the first position (though it can be played in higher positions) would be taught and is a catchy and exciting tune as well!  I like to start with the Rieding  piece as it offers a glimpse of the many solo violin repertoires to come with great concertos written in D major/Bminor.

After which grasping the entirety of the first position, more keys and the intensive grasp of the second position will be introduced before the third, vibrato and shifting.   This would be a contrast to the Suzuki repertoire where they go straight to the Vivaldi pieces at the intermediate level and into the third position seemingly straightaway.

Dissecting what is taught in my lessons: 

Apart from daily left and right hand exercises, I would also add in Etudes by Kayser, Wolfhart and and others and a series scales and arpeggios to learn the different keys in the first then second position, then third and onto higher positions.

No student is the same, so one would expect the repertoires and also concepts to be taught at different paces. But I would like the student to follow up the classes efficiently as the classes were as mini lessons on their own till our next class in the same format. Hence, instead of achieving one lesson per week they would have done at least 4 to 6 on their own. So their hard work and commitment to what was taught proves their own success. This would help them to gain independence much sooner as that is my fundamental goal for them to do without me and become their own teacher as soon as they can.

I do agree that parents have to be in the class for any child under the age of 8 years old and are as important in the learning process as the child or teacher is to encourage development. Which is the same triangle concept that Suzuki has for their courses.

I do follow through with some of the selected songs in Suzuki in the later books and find them useful in exploring technique and compartmentalizing the different concepts of Violin Technique. But there is a vast range of repertoire out there to be covered such as the 6 Bach Partitas and Sonatas which are a staple for my more advanced students.

Violin Varnish, a very Splendid thing 

I wanted to write about learning the violin from the standpoint of someone who has already mastered the piano and the differences in thought and action of both the instruments this week.  But this article from the strings magazine for the week was just too interesting to hold off from sharing. 

I send my violin in every other year for a good French polish and revarnishing in certain areas like on the top right areas of the ribs close to the fingerboard where playing on the higher registers make the violin need the added TLC more frequently.  This maketh sure that every part of the violin is being well protected and so protecting the original varnish that came with the violin. 

The original process of varnishing a violin could have been as simple as boiling a pot of rosin and oil.  The experts like Amati and Stradivarius probably tried many times or even maybe just a handful of times (in those days things weren’t so complicated) to get the balance right to accomplish that brilliant shine or chatoyance which is a sparkling and multifacetaed light reflection effect needed, not affecting the sound quality. These days to recreate the same mixture according to the author of the article might actually be explosive with the different chemicals during the process of experimentation. 

The pursuit to get the right varnish that is protective enough and gives off the correct amount of aesthetic appeal can cost up to thousands of dollars (USD not rupiahs) just for the ingredients to yield a gallon of varnish. I never knew that! No wonder even modern instruments are demanding high costs, this is not factoring that they also need to have been doing this over a period of years (some take as long as 5 years), one layer at a time as they need to wait for it to dry before setting the next layers. 

It takes great skill as well to be able to check that the violin is being protected but not being over varnished such that the wood doesn’t breathe and so this affects the acoustic quality of the violin. So it is not a piece of furniture but a piece of art! Again this article reminds us violinists to treat our instruments with more care as they are unique, created with much tender care  and absolutely the one and only in the world. 

Manaka’s first Violin performance

Manaka started the violin on her 7th birthday. Our first class together was a birthday present from her parents. We have now had 6 months of violin study together and she presented the piece “恭喜发财” for a public Chinese New Year event. She quickly learnt the piece in over two weeks fairly on her own and managed to play it by heart. In spite of the excitable crowd around you, you did a job well done Manaka! Congratulations on your first public debut! Here is the video taken by her mother of her performance for all of us to enjoy! Happy Chinese New Year!


7 Violin Camp Programs for Adults 

There are lots of programs and string camps for kids but this article from string magazine gathers 7 different programs which can help to improve your playing as an adult. 

I like number 3, Kneisel Hall’s Adult Chamber Music Institute best as it is so hard to find a group of musicians to better your chamber experience and playing.  And this provides the excellent opportunity to learn and expand your repertoire at the same time, a chance to meet likeminded musicians all in the love of music.  Do read on here! 

What makes a good Violin Teacher? Can I Learn the violin all by myself without formal lessons?

 I sometimes get this question from friends and people I meet with existing violin teachers or if they are looking for one- How would they know if the teacher is teaching the right content in the lessons? Are they good or are they bad?  Infamously, I do not take up students of friends or relatives and would rather to have them learn from someone else. (though it has become somewhat challenging to have this policy as most of my friends with kids now have their kids at the age of learning the violin.)  The familiarity sometimes is to a disadvantage rather than an advantage but of course there are lots of exceptions.

To answer this question, is the must read blog article by Nathan Cole, it covers how you would know if your violin teacher is teaching the right lesson content or proves to have the adequate knowledge about the violin and how this works to establish a suitable playing posture advantageous to the student. (Having said this, about 90% of students that I teach having returned to Singapore has an incorrect playing posture which would be disadvantageous to fulfilling a better violin technique.  I certainly must start with my violin videos tutorials to cover these initial hiccups to benefit more!)   I agree fully and put into practice, that the end goal of any teaching process, is for the student to be independent and free of the teacher.  Essentially, every lesson I take with my student would be a step closer in their gaining independence to be self taught!

This would also answer partly another very frequently asked question if one can learn violin by themselves. With YouTube and the internet with countless books written on beginner violin and information shared about playing and learning the violin, why not?  But everyone has a different physiology make up – different shoulder shapes, differing finger lengths (longer thumbs or pinkies and so on) etc, so there will be generally some guidelines on how to hold a bow or violin or how to execute a staccato bow, but a better confirmation will be with a good teacher who has himself mastered the art of the violin.  Playing the violin is really likened to being an Artist, I can teach you how to do the (bowings) brush strokes and recommend the colours (tones), but at the end of the day music is made entirely from the heart, and it would be so subjective from one student to another the corrections to be done and praise to be given.  So to answer the question, yes, a good teacher is not someone that you cannot do without if you are aspiring to learn the violin properly or well efficiently.

One of the most important things that a teacher ought to teach his students is, therefore, the technique of good practice.  He has to impress on his students that practice has to be a continuation of the lesson, that it is nothing but a process of self-instruction in which, in the absence of the teacher, the student has to act as the teacher’s deputy, assigning himself definite tasks and supervising his own work. A teacher who limits himself to pointing out the mistakes and does not show the proper way to overcome them fails in the important mission of teaching the student how to work for himself.

Ivan Galamian – Principles of Violin Playing and Teaching

How to tell if my Violin is of real antique value or a useless copy

Happy 2017 to all my readers! May this year be a fruitful one. I have been so caught up with enjoying the festivities and spending time with family over the holidays that it has been ages since my last entry. Also I would really like to start with those violin tutorial videos- I’m thinking of recording the Suzuki violin school volume 1 songs as a start to the series or 30-50 videos I’m intending to put up.  So keep a look out!

Well first though I want to write about this article that recently caught my eye! I have always thought that it would be obvious when something is a copy or not to an expert till I read this interview, the examples are interesting too and we can clearly see how some of these violins could be mistakenly believed to be authentic by someone who does not have enough experience. These are REAL experts! And even so they must carry with them years of experience and a large load of violins that have been reviewed in order to build up knowledge to deem what is what and the real deal.

Certainly completely different to a professional musician who would probably be only interested in the outcome of the sound and the playability of the instrument. Having said this, I have tried real Guarneri Del Gesu and Stradivarius violins (and a cello) even an Amati! And they have indeed this vintage timbre that is just lacking in a modern instrument like mine. (I play a 1966 Italian maker modeled after a Guarneri del gesu) These days with technology for reproduction is of course debatable if time really does cause a violin to have that aged sound that new instruments do not.

I had an interesting chat recently with a local luthier, Sin Teck who had the opinion that the rich sonorous tones could perhaps be due to cracks like for example to the bass bars and new instruments being completely intact would not have those imperfections that actually in irony perfect the tones and timbre produced to give that rich quality tone only felt in old antique instruments. 

Well not wanting to veer too off course from the topic of authenticity of old instruments, the article here is certainly a good read. I have so many more articles I have read of late I want to blog about *sweats* and am really eager to share it here when I find time to! 

In my opinion about this topic, if your violin bears no name to it and you still love how it is played and the sounds it produces, music is a very subjective thing and I would strongly encourage you to keep it as a gem as much so as if it were a $10 million dollar strad! For all violins are unique just like people and no two are alike. 

A Quiet afternoon with Mieko Kanno

I brought my daughter for her first ever violin recital (that wasn’t mine) at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music sometime last month. 

The recital was based on violin pieces without accompaniment starting with Bach’s Chaconne. It was played with such sensitivity with the pianos and pianissimos delicately done, yet not altering the constant heartbeat of the Chaconne, bringing new dimension to what I imagine the Chaconne to sound like, this leaves me forever changed in the way I would approach the Chaconne. Thank you Mieko for your wonderful performance! 

One of the pieces really stood out as it was totally played in what seemed like two movements of complete harmonics. This is the composition by Italian Composer Salvatore Sciarinno.  I must take my hat off to Mieko who played the song with so much musical precision though the practise would be challenging I can imagine with such a piece. 

Common Bow Repairs & How to Prevent some of These

PrintAs I am doing some research for my upcoming book, this is thus far one of the most useful articles from string magazine about some common bow problems.  In the years of playing the violin, I have encountered at least half of these problems with my bows and had no idea what the prognosis would be.  This is a must read article for all string players as prevention is always better than cure!


Should Etudes be practised for solely technical precision or also with musicality in mind?

Three experts give their opinion in this article from The Strad magazine and all are in agreement that it is means to an end. Etudes must be practised with technical precision and brilliance as that is what the objective is – a study piece which improves one’s technique. Through these pieces, one develops the skills and confidence to emote necessarily especially during performance pieces with large technical showcase sections i.e. Concertos. 

A fourth opinion from my very own beloved mentor and violin teacher Professor Zhao Weijian of the Beijing Central Conservatory (whose view orginates from his mentor in Romania) is that even when practising scales, do so from your heart. The more practise there is to bring in your emotions, understanding phrasing the more creative colorful a musical artist(e) you can be. I cannot agree with him more! So a tip to practise seemingly monotonous pieces is not to do so robotically but whole heartedly!