Saturday, July 28, 2007

Steps to Suzuki Training for Bassists

Note: Although I am a member of the Suzuki Association, and a registered Suzuki Bass teacher, I am not an official representative of the Suzuki Association or any of its affiliates. The following article is posted only to share my experiences, and to help any other bass players who may be interested in the program or its methodology.

A couple of years ago, I became interested in Suzuki methodology, and wanted to learn about it and apply it in my career as a music educator. When I went looking for information, I found that much of it was hard to find if you didn’t know where to look. Luckily, a friendly member of TalkBass referred me to Virginia Dixon, one of the few Suzuki Bass teacher trainers in the U.S., who helped me get started along the path.

At the time when I started, I would have benefited greatly if someone told me exactly what I would have to do, step by step. So, on the chance that there are other bass players who stumble onto this post who are interested in becoming involved in the Suzuki program, here’s what you’ll have to do to get started on the path to being a Suzuki teacher. This information is specific to double bassists, but much of it also applies for other instrumentalists. It only applies to teachers who want to receive training in North or South America. Europe and Asia have their own, different rules.

Step one Do some reading on Suzuki methodology. A good book to start with is Nurtured by Love by S. Suzuki: It is basically an autobiographical memoir and gives some insight into Dr. Suzuki’s reasoning and experiences that influenced his philosophy. If you spend any time with children, or are at all interested in pedagogy, I believe you can benefit from his thoughts on how young people learn and socialize. Before you consider any teacher training, you should have an idea of what “Suzuki” teaching means. Be prepared to find out that everybody thinks they have the correct interpretation, and few will agree with yours.

Step two Find out when an “Every Child Can” (ECC) class is occurring in your area. You will pay between $50-$150 to attend a six hour class. The price varies pretty widely between locations and scheduled times, so plan in advance to save money and aggravation. This course is considered a prerequisite for any further coursework registered with the Suzuki Association of the Americas (SAA), the certificating body which maintains standards for teacher preparation. They also list the locations and dates of upcoming classes on their website. Click here to find upcoming ECC classes.

In this class, students participate in a lot of interactive examples and games designed to give you an idea of how teaching and learning take place in a “Suzuki” setting. I think the content varies widely depending on who is leading the class. I had lots of fun in mine, and went home pretty excited, with new ideas about teaching and practicing. I honestly think I became a more “aware” player for having participated, and got new teaching ideas immediately. I still use many of these ideas in the classroom, in private and group lessons, and in my own practice. I’ve heard of other classes where the students were pretty bored, or don’t remember the class at all. That’s unfortunate, but this class is a hoop you must jump through if your plan is to attend Suzuki teacher training. You will meet many pianists and violinists here, from undergraduate students to middle-aged music teachers or freelance musicians. At the end of the class, the teacher will sign a ticket which you should keep until you attend your first Book 1 teacher training course. Your book 1 teacher trainer will want to see it, and is required to check for proof of ECC attendance.

Step three If you are going to register your training course with the SAA, which basically “certifies” you, or if you’re doing the coursework for credit either through a college program or a school district, you’re going to have to become a member of the Suzuki Association, and apply to the SAA to be accepted for teacher training, books 1-4. They will need an audition video tape of you playing book 4 level material. For bassists right now, this is a touchy situation as book 4 is not yet published. When I applied in 2005, I was instructed to play “the Elephant” by Saint-Saens. This is actually a book 3 piece, so I wouldn’t be surprised if this tune becomes unacceptable at some point. Another good piece which will be in book 4 is “Tempo di Polacca”, from Simandl’s 30 etudes. Check with the SAA for specific requirements. There is also a form that must be submitted, and an application fee (I believe it was something like $30, and the annual membership in the association is something like $60. Check the site.)

At this point, you may want to start preparing to apply for scholarships. The SAA offers scholarships annually, and individual teaching institutes also have scholarships offered. They will want videos of your playing. There will be paperwork, small application fees, and deadlines, so make sure you find out all of the specifics well in advance. Deadlines seem to happen around the end of February, but don’t trust me – I had to overnight my applications during a blizzard last year to get them there on time.

Step four You are now ready to find and register for a book I teacher training class. The only ones I have any experience with are at Suzuki Summer Institutes, where families come to bring their kids to “Suzuki camp”. There are large numbers of students of varying age and musical development, from the five-year-old “prodigies” to elderly adult beginners. There are also lots of teachers of various instruments (mainly pianists, violinists, and cellists). As one colleague said to me, piano, violin, and cello are Suzuki’s “bread and butter”; Dr. Suzuki was a violinist, and his methods were adapted very early on for piano and cello instruction. Many other instrumental programs are basically “in the works”, including bass.

Unfortunately, this course (book 1) is the most expensive, time consuming, and labor intensive of all the coursework. The specific requirements are all stated clearly on the SAA’s website, but I can share with you the approximate amount of time I worked in my book I class: there is a segregated class of teacher “trainees” and the teacher “trainer” (they will all be bassists if you're doing bass teacher training), and an experienced Suzuki teacher who is certified by the SAA to train other teachers. Daily class time lasted something like 4-5 hours per day for six days, where you might be playing your instrument in a group lesson format, having discussions, being given assignments or feedback on previous assignments, and the like. It felt very similar to some of the graduate coursework I did as an education major. You will also do something like 3-4 hours per day of observation (with note taking) of group lessons, master classes, or ensemble rehearsals. You should be familiar with the repertoire in Suzuki Bass Book 1 (revised edition) to be prepared for the course. Ideally, to be prepared for this experience, you should have the tunes in the book memorized – this first book basically emphasizes the skill of shifting between first and fourth positions (I use Simandl positioning, and so do the Suzuki books – I believe that’s first and second position if you use the Vance/Nanny positioning, but I could easily be wrong about that) and the application of simple bow strokes applied to simple D Major melodies. You should also listen to the examples as played by Gary Karr with Harmon Lewis (conveniently sold through a link to the right of this page), so you have an idea of the nature of the tunes beyond what’s written on the page. Suzuki students, after all, learn primarily by ear and example in the early stages. I also suggest you get familiar with some of the violin, cello, viola, or piano repertoire - there are lots of good teachers working with those instruments who you can observe.

Step five (last step) After the class is over, there will be another little form your teacher signs for you. You can send that form in with another small fee ($10, I think) to “register” your coursework with the SAA. They send you a certificate which is eerily similar to a state-issued teaching certificate, and you are officially a Suzuki teacher.

After teachers complete book one and two, they can study at any level, non-consecutively.

In a later post, I will outline some of the standard repertoire which is expected to be included in upcoming bass books.

For more about the Suzuki Bass Program and Virginia Dixon, follow these links:

About Virginia Dixon
Interview with Virginia Dixon

How I became involved with the Suzuki Bass Program
Resources for Suzuki Bass Teachers and Students
Materials for Beginning Suzuki Bass Students and Teachers

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