Dr. Suzuki listed ten Vital Points for violin playing. He used these points to develop a weekly progress report that allowed students and parents to chart improvement over time.* Suzuki’s emphasis on Vital Points suggests that the important question to ask is not “How quickly can I move from one piece to another?” but instead, “How beautifully can I play?” Suzuki acknowledged that each student develops at their own pace. He patiently enjoyed this process with the conviction that, given the correct environment, all students can learn.
Take a look at the list of Vital Points (with my added commentary) and keep them in mind during each practice session. Focus on one or two points at a time. Some points will change over time as the student becomes more advanced. Remember that whatever you repeat becomes a habit, so practice thoughtfully and always try to get it right the first time!
Tone– Strive to produce the biggest, most ringing tone possible on each note. Practice Suzuki’s Tonalization exercises and scales each day.
Posture– Always take time to make sure you have good posture before you draw the bow. See how long you can maintain perfect posture. Stop and shake out arms and hands if you feel tension creeping in. Then place the bow on the string and focus on four points of relaxation (the right shoulder, right elbow, right hand and the knuckles of the left hand). Keep your eyes down on the bow or left hand while playing.
Holding the Bow– Check for “thumb power” and “pinky power.”
Changing Strings– Listen carefully to make sure your string crossings are clean and well prepared. Is your tone on the new string as deep as it was on the preceding string? Is the bow still in the “track” and do you still feel relaxed arm weight? Reach over and back with your right hand to cross strings. The hand is the leader, not the elbow. It’s a good idea to stop the bow in between notes and focus on quick, efficient string crossings, especially when learning a new piece.
Musical Sensitivity– Musicians all approach the same piece with a slightly different interpretation. In fact, each performance of a piece is unique and will never again occur exactly the same way. All music flows through time. Consider how you move from note to note and where the end of the “sentence” (or phrase) occurs. Play with “attitude,” style and a sense of inner spark. Pay attention to dynamics and make sure they are coming across to the audience. For more advanced students, develop a beautiful and expressive vibrato and consider the appropriate timbre (or tone color). Make sure you know who wrote the music you are playing and when it was written. It’s a good idea to listen to other music written by the composer of the piece you are studying.
Intonation– Practice slowly and listen carefully to make sure fingered notes have the same resonance as open strings. If a note is out of tune, stop and practice getting from the preceding note to the note in question. Use more than one of your senses: “Sing” the note in your mind, watch finger placement on the fingerboard and memorize the feeling of your hand and the distances between fingers.
Demonstrate Eagerness to Study– You can’t be a good musician without this.
Ability to Trill– This type of musical ornament first appears in Book 2.
Correct Motion of the Right Arm– The entire right arm plays the violin. Focus on elbow motion as you use more bow. Let the elbow and upper arm push you to the Frog.
Quick Motion of the Right Hand– The “springy” feeling of the relaxed, heavy right arm begins to transfer into the little muscles of the right hand.
(*The Suzuki Violinist, William Starr, pg. 15)