photo of mother's hands helping daughter's hands play violin

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Grandma's Kite
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Teaching Calendar ~ Karen Zethmayr

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link to "Let's Have Another Round," music book
Let's Have Another
Round
,
a book of rounds to sing
and play, edited for Suzuki
strings students by
Karen Zethmayr

Suzuki Resources

Frequently Asked Questions for prospective parents
Common First-Year Parent Questions
Suzuki Resources on this site

Topics for Parents (those nagging questions that always come up):

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Grandma's Suzuki Resources

Your Bow is Your Breath

Pencil exercises, set one for bow hold
Pencil exercises, set two for bow hold
Grandma's YouTube bow demos

Position in Motion:
"Home built" violins (also known in Suzuki circles as "box violins.") Yes, you can purchase them now, but we also love the ones kids make themselves.

Left hand strength and flexibility
One Little Elephant (left finger strength and flexibility)
Left hand number card "pick up" game
"Home built" violins and ways to use them in group sessions

Reading readiness

"Who Ran Away?" R
eading readiness game
Twinkle Rhythm Flash Cards
Go Fish Pitch
"Reading Readiness in Music" Parent letter

Supplementary Sheet Music
Twinkle Rag
Daisy sheet music

Just for Fun:

April Wayland
Check out "It's Not My Turn to Look for Grandma," a picture book about a music family and a zany grandma.

 

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Other Helpful Sites

"Grandma" (Karen Zethmayr) is a member of pan american and Wisconsin Suzuki associations:

The Association of the Suzuki Association of the Americas (suzukiassociation.org), an indespensable resource for teachers and parents, and I strongly encourage all my Suzuki families to consider a parent membership for access to discussion forums, parent videos, and other resources.

The Suzuki Association of Wisconsin (suzukiassociationofwisconsin.com) offers information on Wisconsin Suzuki events incuding Every Child Can, and our family weekend Winter Retreat.

FAQ for Prospective Parents

What's the best age for Suzuki lessons?
How do parents figure in?
How long are lessons?
Is Suzuki a group method?
Is Suzuki a rote method?
What are lessons like?
Who wrote this?
Recommended Reading
Where can I get more information?

Timing is Everything, but don't panic

What's the "best" time to start Suzuki Talent Education lessons?
... Short answer: some time between 2 1/2 and 8. (2 1/2 is rare, but it happens.)
... Long answer: Given that there are "sensitive" ages for learning certain things, parents can get a feeling of panic about missing a crucial window of time. The good news is that kids are flexible. You're allowed to consider your own needs.

What's going on in your family this year? Is this the year you're going back to grad school, holding down two jobs, and awaiting a second or third bundle of joy? If so, this might not be the best year to start Suzuki lessons, no matter how "optimum" the age of your little candidate. The Suzuki approach works best as part of a happy family routine.

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Suzuki Talent Education is for Parents and Kids 

Suzuki referred to "Talent Education" as a "mother tongue" approach. People learn amazingy complicated languages, mostly at home. Bach and Mozart learned music the same way. Mom or Dad (or a grandparent) needs to accompany the child to all lessons, take notes, and be the home teacher. The child watches the adult learn to play at least the Twinkle Variations and walk the walk. Some parents learn more pieces, but that's not required.

Lessons are short

I teach at Monroe Street Fine Arts Center, which schedules half hour lessons. Since a three year old is unlikely to be on task that long, we balance the time between "hands on the instrument" instruction, reinforcing games away from the instrument for adult and child, and note taking time to make sure your notes will still make sense tomorrow at home. Along with parents, the other ingredients are Suzuki recordings and group sessions. It's a three part recipe.

"I'm not very musical; should my spouse be the home teacher?" It often turns out that the one who seems less musical, or at least less experienced, is a very good home teacher. If your child watches you struggle to learn something, she's more likely to believe she can do it too. If you're a pro, you have to work harder to remember what your beginning struggles were like.

A favorite memory from the Eastman School of Music Suzuki program was a six year old kid who had to wait six weeks for his "tone deaf" (not) Dad to learn to tune the violin, let alone play it. He did learn, and unlike most parents, learned to play the whole first book.

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Structure of Lessons

The first lessons (usually about a month) belong to the parent. They are 30 minutes long, and the child should be there, sometimes helping the parent remember, and sometimes doing favorite quiet activity. This stage is the eavesdropping stage. Children learn many things by eavesdropping.

During this time, the reinforcement games begin, and parent and child also learn skills they can practice on the "box violin." We encourage families to come five to ten minutes early or stay late, in order to hear part of another child's lesson. After the parent learns the Twinkle Variations, we ceremoniously hand the violin over to the care of the child.

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Is Suzuki a Group Method?

Only partly. We have group sessions at least once a month, either "play in" (just us) or a "play out" (at retirement centers or similar settings.) I have added songs familiar to Americans to our repertory, and we love to hear seniors sing along as we play.

In group settings, we play with the music as well as playing it. We play games related to the songs, try things in imaginative new ways, play concentration games, and encourage each other. We find that children learn more from each other than we think we're teaching them.

Play-ins and play-outs are part of the natural way to maintain repertory. Music is for playing, singing, and hearing, and any excuse to play, sing, and hear at the drop of a hat, or a phone call from a grandparent is food for musical growth. Why else did music come to be?

Suzuki's practice was to build skill on skill using enjoyable pieces, and to take the music on the road frequently. That means keeping the "old" tunes alive instead of forgetting them as soon as the sticker is pasted in the book.

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Is Suzuki a Rote Method?

As much as language is learned by rote, so is music in the Suzuki approach, but there's more to it than that. The first learning is aural and kinesthetic, and we introduce note reading gradually. During Book One I use reading readiness activities away from the violin. Parent and child use the book as a reference, for taking notes, and for confirming what they are hearing. I delay reading-while-playing as long as possible.

It takes a long time to become one with the instrument. When reading steps in and complicates things, it takes conscious attention to keep up the flow of motion, and we must establish flow in the beginning. The CD is a daily must, before and after the child learns to read. Listen during meals, in the car, or at play, but don't expect progress without it.

What they learn from the CD is not only the sequence of the notes, but the intonation [read "in tune"], style, and expression that make it music. Children who listen to stories from people or books become better readers. If this fact is not self evident, there is research to back it up, and the same is true of music.

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  Recommended Reading

After World War II someone made the absurd suggestion to Shinichi Suzuki that he teach a four-year-old orphan to play the violin. He recorded the journey that followed that suggestion in a book called Nurtured by Love, now a classic for Suzuki parents and teachers. The Suzuki Association online store also offers a DVD based on that book, in addition to books subsequently written by Suzuki teachers and parents.

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Teacher Bio 

I'm Karen Zethmayr, the Grandma of Grandma's Kite. I graduated from Lawrence University with a bachelor's in music and was working on a master's in violin at American Conservatory of Music in Chicago with Scott Willits, when my husband was drafted and we were sent to Germany in the 60s. What an opportunity! I studied violin with Giorgio Silzer in Berlin and singing with Elsa Varena.

When we returned to the US in 1971, I took a summer course in Suzuki Talent Education with Anastasia Jempelis at Eastman School of Music. At that point the demands of a very young family had me feeling doubts about the level of my violin technique. Studying Suzuki's building blocks one at a time was an amazing restorative for my own playing. The method is solid, and based on the best of traditional music education.

That fall I was hired that fall to teach in Eastman's Preparatory Department, and did so for three years until we moved to Madison. I taught in Madison first at the American Academy of Music until it closed, and for a few years privately before becoming certified to teach in the public schools. I now teach at Monroe Street Arts Center.

I'm also a commercial artist. I write and illustrate, primarily for children.

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Email Karen Zethmayr grandma@grandmaskite.com