Tag Archives: music history

Suzuki vs. Traditional Method

“Music is the language of the heart without words.” -Dr Suzuki

There is so much confusion surrounding what the difference is between traditional and Suzuki method violin lessons. What’s the difference? Is one better? How do you choose?

I, personally, started on the Suzuki method at the age of three, went through two years of Suzuki pedagogy training,  and currently have a studio of thirty students that I teach the Suzuki method to. I believe in the Suzuki method and really enjoy using it with my students.

Dr. Suzuki was born in Japan and was a firm believer that every child can learn to play music. He was a strong advocate for creating an “environment” where music was fostered and encouraged in every child. The basis of his method was on linguistics and how a child learns spoken language. Just as we do not expect a child to read before they can talk, we should not expect a child to read music before they can play music.

With that idea, a Suzuki teacher will teach at least the first year of violin without having the child read music. The focus is on posture, tone and developing a love of music. This means the child will attend concerts, play with other violinists, perform as often as possible and be immersed in the violin world.  It is for these reasons that the Suzuki method is often the preferred method for teaching younger children ages 2-5. Children at these ages are not trying to keep up with any kind of school orchestra, are often not reading yet and their ear is still developing making them prime candidates for learning music by ear.

Dr. Suzuki leading a group of children playing violins

Traditional violin lesson teachers will often be leery to start a child before 1st grade and often would prefer to wait until 4th or 5th grade. This is sad because many years have been lost in which the child could have been exposed to music and learning to appreciate it. The other major benefit to starting young is learning to perform at a young age which makes it less intimidating as you get older.

The positive side of waiting and doing traditional method is that the child can be self-propelled and often needs very little help from the parent other then encouragement. The Suzuki method is very parent involved. Especially when you start from a young age. Dr. Suzuki always encouraged the parent to learn along side the child. He felt like this was a positive role modal for the child and then the parent could assist in practice. Ask any teacher; too often a parent ruins a week of practice by giving a student wrong advice.

You can start the Suzuki method at a later age. I have started many students age ten to twelve on the Suzuki method. They do really well. The benefit of only focusing on posture, tone and love of music really brings out the artistry in playing the instrument. Making it way less about the technical side of reading music and more about the artistic side of making music.

To be honest, I do start my students with reading music by Book 2 of the Suzuki method. My reason for this is that my own musical growth was stunted by leaving out the reading of music for so long. By the time most of my students reach Book 2 though, they have been playing for three years. This is plenty of time to focus on posture and tone development without the stress of trying to read music at the same time. I do not however, use the Suzuki book to read music. I supplement with fiddle tunes, duets, scales, etudes and rhythm training.  If a teacher claims to be a Suzuki teacher and just teaches from the books they are missing the whole point of Dr. Suzuki’s method. His method was not about the songs he wrote or pieces in the books. His method is about believing in the ability of every child to play music, to foster the love of music in every child and to start them off in music the best way possible.

 To get a visual idea of what Dr. Suzuki was like and what his method brought about, watch this YouTube channel by clicking here. Crazy what love, devotion and belief in a child’s ability can bring about.

A Brief History of the Serenade

Photo by Elin B
Photo by Elin B

With Valentine’s Day less than 48 hours away, you might be sweating bullets trying to come up with some way–any way–to impress that special someone.

Well, I’m going let you in on a little secret. There is nothing that wins someone over like MUSIC. Sure, you could always gift your sweetheart a violin. But it’s also prime time for serenading and the singing telegram. And this strange tradition of awkwardly showing up at someone’s door to sing songs (think Christmas carolers) is nothing new. It all began with the serenade.


Going back to prehistoric times, there is evidence that music existed. Like verbal language itself, music is similarly a natural and essential form of communication. The oldest known musical instruments include a collection from China even dating between 6,600 and 7,000 BC. Now those are some serious oldies.

If you think about it, almost any piece of music could be considered a serenade in the sense that all music is intended to be performed for an audience, whether it be a hall of concertgoers or simple an individual.

But when it comes to the traditional serenade, this form developed in Medieval times as a way for an eager gentleman to serenade his lady love of choice. This was typically done in the evening through a window (Romeo-and-Juliet style) with self-accompaniment on a lute or guitar.

These medieval serenades developed into an art form of its own kind. During the Baroque era the serenade evolved into a lyrical piece still sung and played outdoors, but for an an audience rather than a courted lady. By the Classical and Romantic eras the serenade further evolved into a form in concert literature for string ensembles and orchestras, like a light symphonic work with multiple movements and varying tempos, but free of heavy, dramatic orchestration. The serenade kept it’s lyrical, evening-song character.


Going back to the original serenade with that young man singing at the window, this form of the serenade is still performed today. There is no shortage of young men wooing girls on the guitar. One of my old roommates was even proposed to via song. Singing telegrams, caroling, Italian men singing from gondolas, mariachi band specials, and even Elvis impersonators serenading couples down the aisles of Vegas wedding chapels are today’s popular way to send messages of love.

Now, you can even serenade your loved ones online. For example, my friend Fresh Big Mouf will send his original song, “Secret Crush” to your very own secret crush as a digital message of love. There’s modern serenading at its finest.

Serenade your secret sweetheart with a virtual valentine.
Serenade your secret sweetheart with a virtual valentine. (Photo by Marcello Ambriz)


So if you really want to win over the one you love, you may find that harmony is the key (signature) to the heart. Ditch the chocolates and warm up your vocal chords because now is the time to confess how you really feel. And while you’re ditching your chocolates, send them to me. I can help you out with that.

Music Theory Basics Part 3: Key Signatures

In the first two parts of Music Theory Basics, we covered a lot of topics.  Today we will only be focusing on one topic: key signatures.  There are, however, several layers to this concept.  I will try an lay it out in a way that makes it a tasty parfait and not an onion.

Let’s start with a little background.

Western music (music originating from western Europe) evolved from ancient Greece.  Back then, music was learned, performed, and passed down by ear.  The Greeks used a system of modes.  Each mode had different “rules” of what the musician would play.  These rules determined, among other things, whether or not a note was sharp or flat.  From the modes developed, what we call, scales.  When music began to be written down, scribes noticed these “rules” for each scale and began to use key signatures to indicate the notes that would be consistently sharp or flat.

With and Without key signature

Key Signature: Generally written immediately after the clef, it is a series of sharp or flat symbols (AKA: accidentals) placed on the staff denoting which notes are consistently played sharp or flat.

key signature

  • Accidentals: Includes, sharp, flat, and natural signs.  Accidentals are used to alter the pitch of a note higher or lower.
  • Sharp: Means higher in pitch.  Notes with the sharp symbol in front of them, or that are indicated as sharp within a key signature, are to be played a half step higher that their natural counterpart.  For instance, an A-sharp is a 1/2 step higher that an a-natural.


  • Flat: Means lower in pitch.  Notes with the flat symbol in front of them, or that are indicated as flat within a key signature, are to be played a half step lower that their natural counterpart.  For instance, an A-flat is a 1/2 step lower that an A-natural.



  • Natural: the natural sign cancels any previous accidentals and returns the notes to its unaltered or natural state.


Now, I wish that I could say that once the key signature is set, you don’t have to worrying about it changing.  Key signatures can change often in a piece of music.  Plus, composers often use accidentals in places that they want harmony get interesting.  You will see the symbol directly in front of the note and that accidental applies for the entire measure.


So, now that you understand all the symbols, how do you know what key you are in.  You could just learn by rote.  I like to use the following chart, though.  It is known as the Circle of Fifths.  I’m going to try by best to explain this briefly, but I could get a little long.  If you want to skip the explanation and just take the chart at face value, great.  There’s no quiz on it.  Just trust me it works.

circle of fifths

Want more information? It is called the Circle of Fifths because the key signatures are listed a fifth apart (meaning they are five notes apart including the starting note).  At the top of the circle, we have the key of C, the key of C has no sharp or flats.  It’s all natural.  If you were go up the scale by a fifth from C (C, D, E, F, G-that’s five!) you land on G.  The key of G has 1 sharp.  A fifth above G is D.  The key of D has two sharps and so on and so forth.  The more you advance by fifths, the more sharps you get.  You can see this pattern by going clockwise around the circle of fifths.  To determine a key signature that is full of flats, you must go counter-clockwise and you descend by fifths.  A fifth below C (C, B, A, G, F) is F.  The key of F has one flat.  Likewise, a fifth below F is B-flat.  The key of B-flat has two flats, and so on.

One thing that is tricky, is when you reach the bottom of the circle of fifths.  The flat key signatures and the sharp key signatures run together.  What’s happening there, we call enharmonic tones.

  • Enharmonic tones: They are two notes that are equivalent to each other.  For instance, F-sharp is an enharmonic tone to G-flat. Basically, an individual tone can have multiple names.  Still a little confusing?  Think about playing a piano.  If you start on G-natural, the black key below it is G-flat, but that is also the black key above F which we know as F-sharp.


What that translates to in the circle of fifths is that the key of C-flat major contains the enharmonic tones of a B major scale.

If the Circle of Fifths is not your cup of tea, check out Ricci Adams’ mathematic method.

We’ll stop there for today.  Our basics are quickly are becoming more advanced.  The last installment of Music Theory Basics, will cover intervals, scales, and the function of each note within the scale.


Stradivarius in the Attic?

So you’re at Grandpa’s house helping him clean out his attic.  While cleaning, you stumble across a dusty trunk and inside you find some old books, a quilt, and a violin.  At first, it doesn’t look like much, the bridge is missing and who knows the last time the strings were changes.  But wait!  Something catches your eye inside the f-hole.  You take a closer look and see, “Antonius Stradivarius, Cremonenfis, Faciebat Anno 17XX” along with a symbol of an A and an S enclosed in a circle.  That name, “Stradivarius,” isn’t that the one you hear on the news or read about online when a violin is worth millions of dollars.  Your heart starts beating faster and you immediately begin planning out how many yachts that you will be buying….STOP!  Take a breath and read on.

Label from a Stradivarius Violin Copy

Yes, it is true that a genuine Stradivarius violin, or Strad, can be worth millions of dollars, but that is only if it’s genuine.  The reality is that there are only about 500 genuine Strads in existence today (depending on who you ask) and they are all pretty much accounted for.  There are millions copies out there and some date back to the time when Antonio Stradivari was alive.  So how do you know if what you have found is the real deal?

Copy of a Stradivarius Violin from the late 19th Century

The best thing for you to do in this situation is to take it to a reputable violin maker/dealer for an appraisal.  Most places will do this for free.  It’s important to go in with realistic expectations.  There were thousands and thousands of Strad copies manufactured during the late 19th century and on into the mid 20th century which means that you have a 99.997% chance that your “Strad” is a copy.


1903 Sears Catalog Listing for a "Genuine Stradivarius"

Strad copies from this time are not worthless though.  Monetarily speaking, if there aren’t any major repairs needed, most are worth $100-$300 (or more if they were well taken care of).  If there are repairs needed, however, the cost to repair the violin could easily override the potential value.  Whether or not you repaired the violin would be up to you.  If money isn’t important to you, why not use this serendipitous find as your chance to start learning how to play the violin?  Or, it could be a gift for another friend or relative wanting to play.  Besides, there is always the sentimental value that is  attached with heirlooms and that is priceless.

Mozart vs. Beethoven

Today we will answer a very important question; a question that has plagued classical music scholars for centuries, I’m sure. The first person to actually ask me this question was not a learned professor or a talented colleague, it was my twin brother. Which was surprising at the time since his favorite musician was Weird Al Yankovic and his favorite instrument was his hand in his armpit. The question is this: in a no holds barred battle to the death, who would win-Beethoven or Mozart?

Initially, I was shocked that he knew the names of more than one classical composer and secondly, I was shocked that I had never considered this myself. The question, while slightly inane, does bring a certain humanity to historic figures that are often set upon pedestals as gods of composition. These high and lofty figures were mere mortals in their day with strengths and weaknesses. Besides, why shouldn’t we pit them against each other for our own amusement?


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Born: January 27, 1756

Lived In: Vienna, Austria

Composed: Nearly 1,000 works in just over 30 years including everything from simple piano songs to epic operas.  His most famous works include The Magic Flute, A minor Piano Sonata, and his Requiem.

Fun Fact:  He was a very fashionable guy who always had the best clothes and wigs money could buy.

Ludwig van Beethoven

Born: December 16, 1770

Lived: Bonn, Germany

Composed: Just over 200 published pieces exist from his lifetime as well as dozen of unpublished sketches.  His most famous works include Piano Concerto No.5 (Emperor), Symphony No.5, and the massive Symphony N0. 9.

Fun Fact:  He started to loose his hearing at the age of 26.

Now when setting up this match, important things must be considered.  Location for one.  I would hold the fight in Vienna.  Mozart did travel all over Europe as a child prodigy but his favorite place was Vienna.  Likewise, Beethoven might have considered Bonn his home, but he did spend time in Vienna in his 20’s studying under the top composers and music theorists of the day.  Vienna would be the most neutral territory for the two.

Another consideration must be the referee.  We would need to have an individual that while respecting each composer’s talent did not have a definite bias one way or the other.  I would suggest bringing Hayden out of retirement to judge the match.  Hayden was a teacher to both and saw great potential in both composers.

Now, for the Battle Royale.

‘The bell rings and the composers approach each other.  Mozart, being the excitable little scrapper he is, throws the first punch using his impeccable counterpoint he mastered while still in puberty.  Beethoven is stumbles back, but this is nothing he hasn’t seen before.  He counters with a one-two punch using his ability to develop a theme and genius use of codas.  Mozart is shaken by this since it in no way follows the musical forms he himself had mastered.  He quickly retaliates with his innovative comic operas but it’s deflected by the strength of Beethoven’s symphonies. 1, 2, 3, 4…9! 9 punches right to the throat (He wrote 9 symphonies).  Beethoven thinks he’s won but while his back is turned, Mozart takes he out with the sheer prolific volume of his compositions.  Beethoven is down for the count.  As Hayden is counting, Beethoven struggles to get up.  I don’t believe this!  He’s standing again!  Mozart looks nervous.  He’s got nothing left to throw at his opponent.  Beethoven throws down Mozart using his pent up Daddy issues.  That’s right folks, he had to put his career on pause in his late 20’s to take care of his family because his father was a belligerent alcoholic.  There’s a lot of pain there folks.

I guess it doesn’t matter how much music you write, when it comes to a fight, he with the most issues wins and Beethoven had issues.  I won’t even get into his “Immortal Beloved.”

The Legacy of a Genius

Johann Sebastien Bach was one of the most notably gifted and talented musicians and composers of all time. His music had a significant influence on many composers who would come after him. Being very pleasant and delightful, his music is enjoyed by many today.

Bach was born March 21, 1685 in Eisenach, Saxe-Eisenach, which is modern-day Germany. His father taught him to play the violin and harpsichord, and his uncle taught him to play the organ. Sadly, Bach’s mother died in 1694, and the young musician went to live with his oldest brother, Johann Christoph Bach. During this time, Bach received teaching on playing the clavichord from his brother, and was also exposed to the great works of many of the prominent composers of the day. Continue reading The Legacy of a Genius