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I am an adult student learning the violin. I have have been playing for slightly more than a year. I can play most of the pieces in Suzuki book 1 now and have progressed up to book 2. I do not know if this is the norm; I feel like my teacher does not place too many expectations on me. Once she covers approximately 80% of a piece, we would move on. But I don't find that I’m playing the best that I can yet (e.g. when I listen to YouTube covers of the pieces, and then compare to my own recordings). One of my major weakness in playing is intonation because I have zero background in music and therefore still struggle to play in tune.

What would be better in this case? Continue with my teacher’s teaching pedagogy, or request for her to fine tune and be critical on every piece. I understand the latter may make me lose my interest and joy in playing the violin more quickly. But I really want to be able to play pieces so perfect, to a level where they can be performed to an audience.

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    You should definitely bring this up with your teacher. I had exactly this kind of conversation with my clarinet teacher recently. In my case, my teacher doesn’t want to take my money for telling me things I already know. Your teacher might be working on developing your ear and technique and leaving it to you to know where you need to focus on “finishing” pieces. That’s one difference between children and adults, generally adults have more ability to objectively evaluate their own progress Jan 24 at 16:38
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    By "covers approximately 80% of a piece", do you mean that you only get to play approx. 80% of the notes? Or do you end up skipping dynamics or notated articulation? Skipping anything on the score at the point you have to move on is a giant red flag.
    – Dekkadeci
    Jan 25 at 12:13
  • A suggestion based on my teenage years of taking piano: get each piece to 80% competency and move on to a new piece. But put a star on every piece that you really like and are naturally good at. Once or twice a year have your teacher help you prepare one of the starred pieces as if you were doing it for a competition or recital or examination; that will help you get a sense of what it is like to take an 80% piece to performance-ready. It's a lot of work! Bonus points if you then actually do the recital. :) Jan 27 at 23:29
  • I often think of the story of the two pottery classes. Class 1 is graded on quality of their pots, class 2 is graded on how many pots they produce to a minimal standard. At the end of the term, class 2 is creating pots both faster and better quality than class 1. An apocryphal story probably, but relevant to music practice as well. Jan 27 at 23:33
  • I have to point one thing out, for posterity: "I don't find that I'm playing the best that I can yet (e.g. when I listen to YouTube covers... and then compare to my own recordings)." That means actually not comparing your current playing to "the best you can," but to the best that the Youtuber can. It's not always a useful exercise. Aug 26 at 21:26
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As a beginner, you can't expect to get a piece sounding 'perfect' in any reasonable length of time, because you haven't yet built up all the skills - intonation, bow control, phrasing, your own style - that will make a piece sound like a well-played violin piece.

The best way to build up those general skills isn't to play the same piece over and over again, but to work through different pieces, building up your experience. This is because each piece challenges and develops your skills in different ways.

You can keep revisiting your old pieces as your skills improve, and you should find they sound better and better. How good is good enough is up to you - as mentioned in musicamante's answer, you may find 'perfection' an unattainable goal.

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    Its usually general advice for any skill to not bother grinding a single thing until its perfect over getting pretty good at a range of exercises and raising the quality level of everything gradually.
    – Qwertie
    Jan 25 at 9:20
  • @Qwertie yes - a couple of related ideas are that of Overfitting, and What should they know of X, who only X know?...
    – topo morto
    Jan 25 at 9:26
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    Additionally, while OP may want to grind and that's okay too, this is not something a teacher's time is best spent on. So I'd argue that the teacher is actually ensuring their presence (given their finite hours) is as optimal as possible.
    – Flater
    Jan 26 at 13:02
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As a teacher, and, most importantly, "former" pupil, I'd say this: you will probably never get to the 100%. Not even close.
Many professional and acclaimed musicians wouldn't say that they got their "one hundred percent" on anything. Ever.

A known quote by Pablo Casals, considered one of the greatest cellists of all time, was the answer to a question about why he was still doing 6-hours practice everyday, even at 80 (that was his age for the last verified quote, but some report the same even when he was 95).
His answer was, more or less: "Because I think I'm [still] making progress".

The fact is, your expectations are constantly increased by both your progress in specific skills and your experience in life.

I don't know your teacher and her/his method, but as a guess I'd say that your age might be an important aspect to be considered.

The learning curve of an adult is radically different than that of a child, teenager or young adult. The more you're younger, the faster you learn radically new skills (you're a blank slate, new things are much more evident and usually written in large characters), but this doesn't mean that your learning is slower at later age, as the experience acquired in adulthood can potentially make you learn new skills even faster.
Unfortunately, experience is also a big drawback: it tells you to avoid trying things because you "think" they're not worth it, or to believe that they won't do any good, and that's not always fine - especially for art related subjects.

Consider yourself lucky: you can still realize that you're not getting good as you wish (most adult people is not able to do that, for any new skill or knowledge: consider the current problem of disinformation and spreading of fake news on scientific facts).

I had experience with adult beginner students, and I have to say that's not easy: you have to continuously fight between giving satisfaction while keeping interest and providing useful knowledge, and, most importantly, you have to face that you're not teaching on a "blank slate". On the contrary: you got an already filled slate, with very few space left to write, and lots of (possibly incoherent) data, in which you have to find space to write things that consistently correlate to what is already there and that is probably impossible to clear out.

As others already told you, you should probably openly speak to your teacher, let her/him understand your doubts and ask about her/his method.
But, in any case, don't expect final results, even from "simple" books normally aimed for children. If you had the opportunity to actually listen to children having lessons with your books, you'd probably hear lots of awful noises. But those children would be normally "fine" with it, as their teachers would say. That's what learning violin (and many instruments, not only stringed ones) means.

Be patient, tuning is one of the most important and hard aspects in violin. Professionals struggle with it even after decades of studying. For instance, you could see the latest posts from Hilary Hahn, a world's leading violinist, who is publicly struggling with tuning (amongst other things) while studying forced at home in these very days.

You can only get it "right" from experience: both from practice and listening; and that's the fact: you only get practice experience by playing, while you can have listening experience even if you never played in your life, and that's probably your case; beginning to play with an instrument at young age means creating a "parallel learning curve", so your expectations are not as "big" or "defined" as the limitations to those expectations and beliefs as an adult (professional or amateur whatsoever).

A child can truly believe to become an astronaut.
An adult usually thinks it's impossible, and hardly dreams about it - but maybe still can.

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Let a professional play "Michael, row the boat ashore" in a beginners' arrangement (or even just the melody side) on something as simple to play as a piano. You'll take years of practice before everything is just-right in articulation, phrasing, dynamics, development, tension like that.

And you'll not get there just playing "Michael, row the boat ashore". In the long run, your teacher is there for teaching you, breaking new ground, opening new possibilities and insights for you and takes the material and supervision best suited for that.

But of course that should not keep you from revisiting previous material with those lessons in mind. You'll not get anywhere by only letting your fingers touch teaching material under supervision of a teacher, and you'll not get anywhere by not actually giving the teacher's lessons and material a chance to seep into your play.

So try keeping working on what your teacher suggests, but don't close yourself off to other experiments, particularly older material. And when you find that you enceounter problems you did not previously realise or have, don't be shy to consult the teacher about them, too: a good teacher should adapt to the student's needs, and those don't confine themselves to going through the assigned material.

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Once she covers approximately 80% of a piece, we would move on. But I don't find that I’m playing the best that I can yet (eg when I listen to youtube covers of the pieces, and then compare to my own recordings)

I'm a year ahead of you (been learning for almost 2 years now) and my teacher is the same. Here's the thing. I love going back (particularly in lockdown when lessons are off) and playing pieces from a year or so ago. Not surprisingly I play them a lot better than I did at the time but, you know what?, still not perfect!

Continue with my teacher’s teaching pedagogy or request for her to fine tune and be critical on every piece. I understand the latter may make me lose my interest and joy in playing the violin more quickly. But I really want to be able to play pieces so perfect, like it can be performed to an audience or something

I'm sure that if you stop and think critically about what you've just written then you'll realise the big flaw. If your teacher were to make you go on practising the same piece over and over and over again until everything was perfect you might end up playing only that piece for a year or two. Your improvement would get slower and slower as you had less and less incentive to practice.

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    This is exactly it. This is what my clarinet (which I’ve been playing about 4 months) teacher told me. Also my guitar (which I’ve been playing 27 years) teacher has recognized that I don’t need to be told how to work on pieces. Instead he shows me how to refine techniques and help me get unstuck on pieces I’ve chosen to work on. Jan 24 at 16:39
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One thing that you might find if you asked your teacher this same question is that they tell you what our teacher tells my son. (I'm learning along with, at his pace, with occasional lessons for me.)

She tells us that we learn the piece the first time for the purpose of learning the technique which the piece exists to teach. Particularly in book 1, Suzuki pieces each exist primarily to teach a particular thing, often introducing a new skill or practicing a particular technique that will be needed heavily in future pieces.

Once we've learned that technique, it's okay to go on and learn the next song. But, we still play the older pieces, always. We play them both to remember them, and also to polish them - by the time we get to graduation, we should have polished most of the songs in the book (I gather it's less common to play Gavotte or Happy Farmer for graduation, as those are the last songs you usually learn, and so are less polished). Hopefully by the time we get there, we've worked out the issues we had in earlier pieces.

Our instruction - somewhat earlier than you to be sure - is to play each piece at least once a week if possible, and usually we spend a little time working on one older piece in particular that week.

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Every student is different so you can't really compare. The violin is a very hard instrument to learn. With any instrument you need to master the physical aspect of correct body movement and posture, proper technique, etc. This takes years. For kids that start young and move on to music conservatories in college, they've had a decade or more of practice before being at that level. I have played violin (my first real instrument with an instructor) and classical bass (a violin like instrument) and I can tell you that intonation is tough. Also, proper bow technique takes years to develop.

As for only getting through 80% of a piece? If you spent 10 years on one song you would go mad. You need to appreciate that the songs are supposed to be a fun and musical way to practice or apply technique. A you get better you should go back to those pieces and see how they feel. I would hope that you could get better at them than you thought you were at the time, and with less practice. Variety is also important to make progress. I don't think you instructor is cheating you by moving on to a new piece. That real question is have you made progress in anything. Are you better now than when you started. I have the same issue with some of my guitar students, especially adult learners. It is very hard to assess yourself, both positively and negatively. Try recording yourself once a week and after 6 months try to objectively listen and see if your technique is better, intonation better. I was on track to enter a music program or conservatory before changing my life path and after years of bass lessons, scoring very high in all state competitions, and even getting steady gigs, intonation was a constant effort to refine and perfect. My teacher had me sight singing bass concertos before playing. You are not at a level where that makes sense but my point is that for a fret-less instrument you need to be patient with yourself.

I think you should express your concerns about development to your teacher. I'm sure she'd appreciate the feedback and your interest in your own development. Communication is important. But be prepared to hear that your expectations may be too high. Maybe if you isolate one aspect of your playing (like intonation) she could give you more work in that area.

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I studied Suzuki violin as a child, and my oldest child is studying it now. Violin is one of the most difficult of all instruments on which to reach a basic level of proficiency. A beginner on piano or guitar can be very listenable. It takes most people multiple years of study to be even bearable on a violin, because minor mistakes with either the bow or the fingering can produce horrible sounds. Given that, you should expect to study for multiple years before you achieve a sound that even approaches the ones you are trying to emulate.

As other people have mentioned, each piece in the early Suzuki books is designed to impart a specific foundational skill. As you add each new skill, you go back and apply it to the old songs, and they get incrementally better. Child learners typically have to be forced to go back and review their old pieces --they are attracted to novelty. As an adult learner, it's probably expected that you will be conscientious about polishing your old pieces on your own accord.

Your teacher is entirely correct to instruct you to keep moving forward in your repertoire. In general, you won't have all the techniques you need to sound really good with a given Suzuki piece until you're a book or so beyond it. But you can still play Twinkle better each time you return to it.

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I echo the other answers that discuss how each new piece introduces a new skill or technique to be mastered. New notes, bowings, fingerings...

You mention one of your weakness is intonation:

One of my major weakness in playing is intonation because I have zero background in music and therefore still struggle to play in tune.

For this, I recommend

  1. memorizing your music, and

  2. using the Intonia app http://intonia.com/index.shtml

Screenshot of the Intonia app while I play two octave C major Arpeggio

The app visualizes your intonation. This screenshot shows the Intonia app while I play two octave C major arpeggio. Blue tinted lines indicate the note is flat, red means sharp, and white is in tune.

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    You can actually fake quite a lot of this (up to a certain level, at least) through good muscle memory. Said as someone who has a really rubbish sense of pitch but really excellent muscle memory. It probably falls apart once you need to make more conscious adjustments to pitch, but as long as all you need is to get your finger down in the same spot every time... Jan 25 at 16:18

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