When I started Suzuki teacher training, most of the training was focused on very young beginners. My incredible teacher trainers gave me so much information that was applicable to any age, but it took me some trial and error to tailor it to an older beginner. I really believe that the Suzuki teaching philosophy applies to any student, and I love teaching every age.
Here are some things I keep in mind for an older beginner:
Every Child Can I think this is the most important thing I have learned from the teachings of Dr. Suzuki. The child or adult in front of you can accomplish anything. You just have to find a way to unlock their potential.
Step by Step It’s tempting to skip some of the steps I use to set up a young child, but this never goes well. An older student may (or may not) advance more quickly through some of the steps, but they need things broken down just as much as a young child.
No Delayed Reading Though I wait until a really young student is playing at least Twinkle with good tone and reading at school pretty well before starting note reading, I start note reading from the very beginning with older beginners. They’ve often had some exposure to music notation anyway. I will leave the Suzuki book open on the stand and occasionally refer to it, but I still teach new music by ear.
More Hands Off I spend a lot of the lesson with a young child guiding their fingers and arms to the right motion, but I do not do that nearly as much with an older student. I will show them what to look for as they practice in front of a mirror and give much more verbal information about what it should look and feel like. When I need to touch them, I always ask permission first. Older beginners will be more comfortable when their physical boundaries are respected.
More Listening I still haven’t figured out how to get my teen beginners to listen to the Suzuki recordings as much as my littles. However, I can usually encourage them to listen to more of a variety of music, and ask them about their favorite violinists. All listening helps create beautiful musicianship.
More Mature Language I may ask a young student to make a “bunny bow hold” or play “Monkey Song,” but I’ll probably ask an older student to create a circle with their middle fingers and thumb and play a one string scale. Most of the teens I’ve interacted with are much more motivated when they are spoken to in adult language. They shut down with any cutesy explanations.
Write Down More Specific Instructions Teen beginners are less likely to have a parent attending to take notes, so I make sure that I write down much more specific practice instructions than I would for a younger child. I also don’t think teens look at lesson notes all that often, so anything really important goes on a post-it in their music.
More “Extra-Curricular” Music Because of the misunderstanding that many kids have that Suzuki is for babies, I offer a lot more extra-curricular music. Fiddling, pop music, duets, religious music. Anything they really love, we’ll learn.
Really, teen beginners need the same things a younger student does; step by step instructions, patience, learning how to practice effectively, a teacher that gets to know them personally. There really are very few things that need to change.
What about you? Do you teach older beginners in a different way than younger beginners?
McKenzie Clawson is a Suzuki violin teacher in Kaysville, Utah. She is a Suzuki parent of one 5 year old violinist, a 3 year old, and an Australian shepherd.
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