“In Suzuki education, we don’t fix

because we get it right the first time.”

No fixing! Just get it right the first time. It sounds so

easy. In reality, getting it right the first

time is a tremendous challenge for student, parent, and teacher alike.




Enjoy this very helpful article from a Suzuki journal published many years ago.

I had an assignment in

a teacher training course to

write a short paper on fixing

problems in violin students’ playing. At

that point I was relatively new to Reno

and had in the recent past “adopted”

students in Fairbanks, AK, Tallahassee,

FL, and then Reno, NV. I was becoming

quite adept at fixing problems and wrote

eloquently on the subject. In response I

received a succinct comment on my pa

per: “In Suzuki education, we don’t fix

because we get it right the first time.”

Pow! That jolted me. No fixing! Just

get it right the first time. It sounds so

easy. In reality, getting it right the first

time is a tremendous challenge for stu-

dent, parent, and teacher alike.

So what is the “it” of getting “it” right

the first time? “It” starts with concentra-

tion, cooperation, focus, listening, posi

tion, and posture to name a few basic

elements. “It” is as detailed as the angle

of the thumb on the bow to the tilt of

the head on the violin and the weight of

the bow on the string. Other “its” might

include the articulation of a down-bow,

the swing of the left elbow to the G-

string, getting the bow to the tip or frog,

or not freezing the bow elbow. Yes, “it”

can seem overwhelming if every little

detail is scrutinized with care.

As exhausting as these details may be,

just imagine if you don’t get “it” right the

first time. What if the bow position is not

correct or the left hand intonation is not

good or the notes are memorized with

mistakes? Not only has the student made

the effort to learn “it” (wrong) the first

time, but he has to put similar effort in

to unlearn the mistake and then to learn

“it” the second time (correctly).

When I’m 95 years old and retire from

private teaching, I plan to research tru-

isms in Suzuki education. One research

question will be, “How many repetitions

does it take to erase a mistake, and then

how many additional repetitions must a
student execute to learn the relevant

skill correctly?” Most Suzuki teachers will

have an opinion. My personal opinion

is that it takes as many repetitions to

unlearn a mistake as to learn it, and then

the same number of repetitions or more

to learn the new and correct version. For

example, suppose a student learns Song

of the Wind without bow circles (other-

wise known as retakes) and plays the

song 21 times in a week—equivalent to

three times a day. Then, in order to un-

learn the mistake she must play the song

21 times correctly. And for the bow

circles to begin to become part of her

knowledge base, she must do an addi-

tional 21 correct repetitions. Effectively,

the student is setting herself three weeks

behind by not getting “it” right the first


Now, many teacher will tell you that

actually getting it right the second time

doesn’t always work. Many times it takes

three or four attempts to get it right. I

can often tell how many times it is tak-

ing to get “it” right by how many circles,

stars, or highlights are on a particular

note. Argh!

As usual, I am full of advice!

To the parent:

This task that we have taken on can

sometimes seem overwhelming. We ask

so much of our children in music. We

must understand their frustration

thresholds, motivate them, challenge

them, and teach them on a daily basis.

It is our job to make sure we understand

the teacher’s instructions, and then find

10,000 ways to help our children during

the week. We are the keepers of the

flame, and we are on the front lines. It

is our responsibility to ensure that the

students get “it” right the first time.

To the student:

Believe your teacher! If your teacher

wants you to do something a certain way
it is because he or she has years of expe-

rience, remarkable powers of observa-

tion, and amazing ability to hear music.

Your teacher only sees you 30 to 60 min-

utes a week. The rest of the week it is

the parent and student’s responsibility

to practice the way the teacher asks.

Believe your parent! Your parent may

not be able to play your instrument

nearly as well as you, but she or he has

remarkable powers of observation and

an amazing ability to hear music. Olym-

pic athletes don’t try to coach them-

selves. They know that their coach can

observe things about their performance

that the athletes themselves can’t see.

Why should music be any different? Your

parent is your own personal coach: take

advantage of it. Tiger Woods and Venus

Williams certainly have!

To the teacher:

Help the parent and the student to see

the value of getting things right the first

time. But, if your student hasn’t gotten

“it” the first time, your.best defense is to

practice with him or her in the lesson.

Do as many repetitions with students in

the lesson as you expect them to do at

home. If you rely only on verbal com-

munication to fix problems, the prob-

ability that those problems will persist is

big. It is important to remember

Gardner’s seven intelligences and to find

the most effective way to communicate

the information to the student. Is the

best route kinetic, aural, visual, verbal

or other? Remember that the Suzuki

teacher always has a “bag of tricks”—al-

ternative ways of teaching any one con-


Getting “it” right the first time is an-

other way of saying one of my favorite

Suzuki slogans: “the slower you go, the

faster you go.” Although getting things

right the first time may take longer, the

student’s progress will be faster because

learning time will not be consumed by

fixing problems. 4

Share This