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Dulwich Festival Youth Concert – Interview with Clare Raybould – Suzuki Violins

Clare Raybould is a freelance musician. When she isn’t performing with the likes of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the former student of the Royal Academy of Music teaches violin using the Suzuki method and runs a Suzuki group of over 30  children ranging from 4-11 years old at St John’s and St Clement’s School. Together with pupils from Ivydale School in Nunhead and Dulwich Suzuki Group, they will  perform at the Dulwich Festival Youth Concert on Thursday, 17th May at Kingsdale School. There will be an impressive 50 violinists on stage.

We asked Clare what the Suzuki method is compared with the traditional method of learning and instrument and local mums, Emily Elias and Lynn Sear provided an insight of what it’s like to be a Suzuki parent.

Tell me a little about the Suzuki philosophy.

 Suzuki believed that every child is born with the ability to learn since they all acquire the complexities of their mother tongue. He based his pedagogy on the observations he made of how a child acquires language skills – speech is part of their environment, they are encouraged to communicate and get positive feedback for their attempts, they repeat their new-found skills (for example their first sounds) and add on new ones as they go along.

How do you use this philosophy with your own teaching?

The emphasis of our teaching is on daily listening to the repertoire and ‘Review’. In the early stages the book itself is for the parent’s reference and the recording is where the child’s learns the pieces. Daily listening to the recording means the child will internalise the music before they learn to play it; they pick up pitch, rhythm, articulation and many more subtle nuances from having a professional musician as their model. Many children in ‘traditional’ teaching methods will learn a piece, move on to the next one and never again play the ‘old’ piece. A large proportion of Suzuki practice and lesson time is spent on review of previous pieces, giving the children a chance to refine their skills with material that they already know and constantly bringing these pieces to a higher level of performance.

 How and why did you become involved in the Suzuki style of teaching?

 I was introduced to the method though the children of a close friend. I was impressed by how much they had achieved in a short time but even more inspired by the joy and excitement they expressed and how much fun they were having as a family. I also saw that as a teacher, working without music would make it easier for me to connect with the child and to adapt my approach in small ways to support individual learning styles.

What  inspires you about the Suzuki philosophy?

 When I first read ‘Nurtured by Love’ I was struck by Suzuki’s emphasis on the importance of encouragement. We are trained to tell a child what they are doing well before approaching the points that need fixing. This isn’t just to help their motivation and self-esteem, when we are learning it is necessary to know what to ‘keep’ as well as what needs to change. This emphasis on nurturing a child is also carried further by teaching parents to practice in this way at home and encouraging families to support each other’s learning rather than be competitive and assess progress through exam results

As well as individual lessons, Suzuki violinists have regular group lessons, what is the importance of these group lessons?

Group lessons are a great opportunity to learn some out-of repertoire pieces, play ensemble music which require learning different parts, the children learn from each other and seeing children at a higher level in your group can be inspiring. They also add an important social aspect to learning an instrument both for children and parents. Friendships develop that can last through their school years and beyond and, as pupils reach their teens, having a peer-group with shared interests encourages them to continue playing through secondary school. The support network can also be valuable to parents.

 What do you think children gain from studying the violin by the Suzuki method?

So many things. The ability to present yourself and perform in front of anyone; confidence and self-esteem; sensitivity, discipline and endurance; highly developed fine motor-skills, listening skills & memory; working and supporting others; a lifelong love of music and more!

 Tell me a little about the other opportunities on offer with the Suzuki programme in the local area, asides from weekly lessons. What do you have planned for your students this year?

 We have private lessons and school lessons so there are a variety of events. Our school pupils will be playing at the Suzuki in Schools concert at St Giles’ Cripplegate in June. We have annual concerts at Cadogan Hall and some local performances too. We also have workshops during the school holidays, both residential and non-residential which many children attend.

Many of the Suzuki students who will be playing at the Festival’s Youth Concert are as young as 4 or 5, is it easier as a beginner violinist to start with the Suzuki method?

Yes, 3-5 years old is the ideal age to start as they absorb so much and love to imitate. Some children of this age may manage to read music but it would be difficult for many. Just as children learn to speak before they learn to read it makes sense to me to do the same with an instrument for a young child.

When do Suzuki pupils start to learn to read music?

 We teach music-reading alongside their other skill development so, with the youngest children we will introduce concepts such as the stave, line notes, space notes, rhythm recognition etc. away from the instrument. As they get older and we can see they have established good posture, intonation and sound we start working on sight-reading in lessons and, with the theory they have already learned, they match the level of their playing quite quickly.

What do you have lined up for the Festival Youth Concert programme at Kingsdale School?

Our more advanced players have learned a beautiful two-part piece by Shostakovich and we will also be playing a couple of Suzuki pieces from Book 1 which are based on folk songs.

 As a Suzuki violinist parent, what has impressed you with this way of learning?

 Lynn Sear

We like the children learning songs that they can join in with with children all over the country. Some of the national concerts are enormous and the children produce the most amazing volume. You see children of all ages taking part but we’ve enjoyed taking our time learning the songs and this helps them play really confidently in groups or for concerts – which are a regular fixture.

Emily Elias

I’ve enjoyed seeing the creative ways in which really young children are taught – the use of games and rhymes makes it very fun. And the emphasis on the positive and breaking things down in to small, manageable chunks is useful in all aspects of life.

With Suzuki when you begin learning, you learn by ear – listening to the music and copying it, rather than from music. I think that really helps the children to develop their listening skills and means that practice is quite pleasant to listen to, even at the very beginning. It is also amazing to see the way that children can pick out any tune from a very early stage. Of course, notation is vital too, but with Suzuki that comes later.

The Suzuki Violinists will perform at the Festival Youth Concert on Thursday, 17th May 7.00pm in the Pod at Kingsdale Foundation School.

Please see website  for further details.

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