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Suzuki String School Newsletter

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C:\Users\Rebekah Hood\Desktop\NVSMS LOGO.jpgNVSMS Newsletter

What is Suzuki? 

Suzuki is a philosophy of creating and developing ones’ heart with a love of classical music.   This means adding music to a family’s life by incorporating music as a weekly routine. We at NVSMS aim to create music lovers and creators of the great works, not necessarily prodigies. Although many talented students will emerge through our instruction, our aim is to allow a lover of music to develop.  Dr. Suzuki wanted to help people by engaging them in music.  His dream was that if everyone would be exposed to music, no person would be without peace and love. 

About the teachers: Helen Graham and Rebekah Hood
Raised in Yuba City, California, in the heart of the state’s central valley, Helen Graham grew up with a love for music and a desire to learn. By age nine she had begun playing the violin, and after many years of exciting and rewarding musical experiences, Ms. Graham’s desire to pursue music led her to the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. Under the instruction of Linda Wang and Igor Veligan at Pacific, she earned her Bachelor’s of Music in Violin Performance in 2007. Ms. Graham relocated to Denver, Colorado in 2007, and at the University of Denver she studied with Colorado Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Yumi-Hwang Williams and earned her Masters of Music in Suzuki Pedagogy in June of 2009. By teaching both private and group lessons, Ms. Graham hopes to help motivate and inspire other students to pursue their love of music. Most notably, Ms. Graham’s involvement in the non-profit organization City Strings in Aurora, CO has allowed her to share her passion with underprivileged youth in the community. In June of 2009, Ms. Graham returned to her hometown of Yuba City to continue to teach and perform both violin and viola. In conjunction with cellist Rebekah Hood, Ms. Graham co-founded the North Valley Suzuki Music School in 2009, and in addition teaches for the Sacramento-based Young Talents Music School. Ms. Graham's future dreams for the Yuba-Sutter area include establishing a non-profit organization modeled after Denver's City Strings that will allow families of any financial means to become a part of the Suzuki family, and for their children to enjoy all of the benefits, opportunities, and joy that music provides.

Born in Texas, but moving throughout the nation, Rebekah played violin, cello, flute, and piano for several years before settling into serious study at the college level on cello. Completing her Bachelors and Masters at the Hartt School of Music (Hartford, CT) with Dr. Terry King in 2005, Rebekah continued study at The Longy School of Music (Cambridge, MA) with Terry King and Laura Bossert, receiving a Graduate Performance Certificate in 2007. Rebekah studied Suzuki Pedagogy with Pam Devenport while working towards her Bachelors, and completed her training in 2001.  Rebekah began her teaching career by assisting her father in a school (Metroplex Suzuki Players) he ran in Dallas, Texas. During her teenage years, she assisted him administratively and taught a handful of students.  After receiving her training, Rebekah taught for The Music and Arts Center, The University of Connecticut Community School of the Arts, The Powers Music School, The Suzuki School of Newton, and The Music Stream Center.  Rebekah was excited for the opportunity start The North Valley Suzuki Music School with Helen Graham in 2009. Together they aim to create a Suzuki community in the Northern Valley and Foothills and hope to make music accessible to any and all people. 

Why is NVSMS different than just private lessons? 

We are a Suzuki School.  This means that we are connected to a huge network of schools all around the nation and even the world.  As a Suzuki student, you may attend Institutes, Conventions, and workshops throughout the world with our same purpose, please check out: As we continue to build our school, we can connect with the other schools in this area through regional Institutes and other events!  We offer group lessons, orchestra, and musicianship games (on the computer) which together help to teach all of our students about music and how to play violin/cello.  We encourage you to attend any and all groups lead by Helen or Rebekah, we will work together for you. 

New policies for 2010:

In an effort to simplify our bookkeeping/lesson tracking and unify our aims and intentions, we are changing the rates and ways of payment slightly.  Some months we have 5 weeks, other months 3 or 4, so we have compiled a calendar for the entire year in which we will have the same payment every month.  We are also establishing a new website, which will allow you to pay through the website or our bank, if you prefer.  The rates are slightly higher because we are now including the new computer program.  You will be paying the same rate per month with an additional $2.50 per week for the computer. To simplify things, the rates will stay the same regardless if you miss the group or your computer that week.  These rates include an average of 4 lessons, 4 groups, and 4 computer sessions per month.  If you are a 30 minute student, that is 27.50 each week for an hour and half of our time.  If you are having difficulty with these rates or anything please contact us immediately.  We have a new scholarship program which will help anyone who needs it.  Please contact Rebekah with any concerns.  We aim to make very high quality music education available to any and everyone interested, yet we must also survive for all our efforts.  The new rates will be on a per month basis, but every 4 months you will re-start a semester.  This means between you and the teacher you will get 16 each semester. Under the new system, please make checks to Rebekah Hood.

NEW RATES: Lessons, groups, and Musicianship games:30 minutes-$110, 45 minutes-$150, 60 minutes-$190 per month

What is the Scholarship fund?

The Scholarship fund is set up for those very dedicated and willing students who need financial help to afford lessons.  This fund will supplement payment of the lessons and allow eligible families to pay a percentage of the lesson rather than the entire amount, but allow us to still pay the teacher. NVSMS has an aim to make fantastic Suzuki instruction available to any and everyone interested without discrimination financially or otherwise.  We do need to pay our teachers, our rent, the software, and all other expenses, so if you can afford it, please know it is worth every penny and much more.  We will have fund-raising concerts several times each year to build this fund.  Anyone in need of help, please submit a copy of your tax return and estimated family contribution for each month to Rebekah, and the board of directors  will approve or counter-offer this amount.  The board has decided that we should not offer lessons free of charge to anyone.  This teaching is worth much more that we ask for, and we need each family to understand and be willing to contribute some amount.  Please talk to us or send us an email if you ever have questions or comments about your instruction.  We want to know any concerns, so please do not hesitate.

Why group lessons?

String instruments are designed to be played in groups.  We must be able to listen to our instructor, play with our peers and have our own individuality all together.  We learn to work hard at each new task, or it will not become mastered, yet we must practice and flow with the group.  Sometimes we play in small groups of 2-4, other times in orchestras of 80-90 people, but because we can only play one note at a time, this means we need other instruments to create harmony (more than one note at a time).  We also must learn to play exactly in tune and in rhythm with the other players of violin/cello for an orchestral experience.  The group lesson is an exciting experience where we can learn to play with our friends on all the pieces we have been working on as well as learn ensembles and music theory.  We find most children crave the social experience from the group and “friendly inspiration” to show their new violin/cello friends how they play.  It is an essential part of the Suzuki Experience. 

How will computer music software/games help my child study music?

We have now added the computer programs/games to enhance you/your child’s instruction in ear training, pitch, rhythm, and musicianship.  In each lesson, we are teaching sound/tone production, articulation, bowing, fingering, and new technical concepts for each piece.  We would also like to explain the “nuts and bolts,” the frame-work, and form of every musical piece we are approaching, but there so much to process and we lack the time to go through each note and rhythm with as much slow repetition as needed.  The new computer software will give each student a chance to drill new terms, notes, and rhythms and become confident on them as we progress through our repertoire.  When we bring up a term or articulation marking in lesson or group, we can then explain its importance and practical application and continue to build on the drills from the software.  There is nothing to replace the practical application in a lesson, but these games/drills will give a fun opportunity to refine rhythm, ear training, and musicianship within each student. 


Learning how to practice is the biggest challenge and success of every student.  We will discuss this with you and your children many times to understand this art. Practicing should be fun and inventive, yet concentrated and effective.  One should feel better about their playing after a practice session and inspired.  Practice is conscious repetition of a concept in order to make it a part of one’s awareness.  This means that one will become more aware of the sounds and music created in each session.  A child must continue to review old material to refine the concepts from the past, but always be excited towards a new project as well, this fuels the learning.  We should have a review, polish, preview, and new section for each practice. 

How often?  Practicing is like going to the gym, you must do it for strengthening, but it is difficult and therefore must be built up.  Begin by practicing small amounts (5-10 minutes) 2 or 3 times per week and build up to 5-7 days.  Ideally, we would be practicing the amount of time of our lesson (30-60 minutes) 5-7 days per week.  For young children, try many games or even try timing it with a timer. (5 minutes is very short when you actually time it). Practice should be fun and inventive, try to stay in this space when practicing. Helen and Rebekah are patient and understanding during weeks in which you can’t practice.  We don’t mind when this happens, yet, when you are paying for instruction and an instrument it is important to value what you are receiving and to make an effort to practice outside of the lesson in order to gain all you can from the instruction.

Environment: Make sure to set up an environment that is contusive for concentrated work at home.  Encourage a space that is clean and quite, away from siblings, family life or TV.  This should be a calm place that feels welcoming. 

What is a graduation recital?

A graduation recital is when each student finishes a book; they present the entire book (start to finish) from memory in a home concert for friends and family.  This fantastic opportunity to share with friends and family all of the students’ hard work, gives a sense of ownership and individualism to the player.  This becomes a special day and moment for the family to acknowledge the student and their personal efforts.  No matter if the student plays for the next 15 years, or stops playing next week, they will have these very special memories when they shared their playing.  Typically I will allow one and a half to two hours of time for these social events, but when polished, playing time for books one through four is typically only 15-20 minutes so don’t worry about getting too tired. Please plan to pay your private teacher $30 for the recital and adjust if you live farther away from her.  This is simply to account for her time and efforts, but will be for her exclusively, not the school. 

General care and maintenance:

Keep your instrument in a cool and dry place, away from extreme heat or cold.  Humidity is the cause of movement in the wood.  Dryness forces the wood to stick which can cause slipping pegs.  Humidity forces the wood to swell, causing the pegs to stick. With all this movement, seams and cracks can open or occur.  Seams can be re-glued, but cracks (depending on where they are) can be much more damaging.  Keep your instrument in a comfortable climate to keep it healthy and happy.

The bridge is the most fragile part of your instrument.  Be careful how you transport the instrument (especially soft cases) and how you store it at home.  Check your bridge regularly. A healthy bridge should be straight and upright at all times.  The bridge also moves quite often with weather, so ask your teacher to straighten it if you see any movement.

Bow/Rosin: Your bow hair needs to rest when not in use.  Make sure to loosen the hairs when you are finished practicing.  This will keep the hair tense enough when you tighten the hairs.  As the hairs get too stretched out, you will need to re-hair the bow.  Rosin helps your bow to stick to the strings are draw the sound out of your instrument.  You should rosin your bow a bit before each time you play.

When selecting an instrument it is important to note a few things: In general, there are 3 kinds of instruments:

1: Factory instruments:  Made of composite/compressed woods, cut with machines, thicker pieces of wood, lacker rather than varnish, and often wire strings.  Bright, boom-like sound, less likely to crack-if hit hard enough will break in large pieces.  Cost: $50.00-$200.00 for violin, $200.00-$1500.00 for cello

2: Shop instruments:  Made in an instrument shop by any number of makers, usually mostly if not entirely hand carved, hand compiled, often carved in another country and put together in the US, Real woods, real wood varnish, usually good quality strings.  Warm, wide tone, more fragile than factory instruments, but much higher quality. Cost: $200.00-$3500.00 for violin, $700.00-10,000.00 for cello

3. Professional Level Instruments:  Made by one individual.  Hand selected woods and complilation with the entire instrument in mind.  Carved completely by hand and put together by this one individual maker.  Very high quality, fantastic variety of sound, very strong woods carved very thin-much more fragile than factory or shop but much better and stronger quality.  An old instrument that has been played well for many years will increase in value.  The instruments that are worth millions were usually owned or played by famous person.  Your own instrument will sound better and better the more you play and the better you play.  The more in tune you play the more the woods work together to resonate.  Cost:  $5000.00-millions for violin, 10,000.00-millions for cello

Local Youth Orchestra:  Yuba Sutter Youth Symphony!  Please support this local organization.  Join if you can, or go to their concerts.  We need to support other groups with fine music education as the aim! 

Support Local Businesses!

In this highly technological age, we can easily forget about our local retailers.  Please remember Pete’s Music center as our local music store or any others you frequent, we are very lucky to have such wonderful support.  As fun as the internet is, nothing beats being able to go down to the local store right away!  If we don’t keep our support up, these local stores can go out of business, so please keep them in mind.

Suggested Reading

 “Nurtured by Love” and “Ability Development from Age Zero” by Shinichi Suzuki

 “To Learn with Love is a book” by Robert Starr (a Suzuki parent and teacher). 

We will start a Library to borrow these books soon.  In the meantime, feel free to look them up online and read parent blogs about their experiences. 


Thank you parents, students, and supporters of North Valley Suzuki Music School!  We are here to make a difference, but we couldn’t do it without you. Thank you being a part of our efforts!  Contact us:


February 2010

Addendum from the desk of Pete Van Alstyne:

Due to changes in the world economy and an entity called "the Internet," in my estimation the context under the above box entitled "Selecting an instrument" above is obsolete. The following are my thoughts based on almost 30 years in the music industry:

Just after World War II due to the educationa/philosophical influence of Dr. Suzuki and America/ NATO’s financing of Japan and Europe’s rebuilding , the Japanese began building a fine brand of student violins under the name of "Nagoya Suzuki", Germany began exporting a similar grade, many of which had the "Ton Klar" (Clear Tone) sticker inside, and Hungary/Czech Republic continued manufacturing some instruments. By the middle of the 1960's, most of the European countries had sufficiently recovered so that the string instrument factories could no longer afford the higher labor wages demanded to craft and assemble quality student instruments at competitive rates. ENTER China, a post-revolutionary country under the opportunity-minded Mao Tse Tung regime with hundreds of millions of folks willing to work cheap, millions of acres of virgin spruce and maple forests, and marketing attitudes open to the Western World.

Currently the Chinese string-instrument factories feature computer-driven CNC woodworking machines that can turn a rectangular block of maple into a finished violin scroll and neck in 45 seconds! China now makes at least 90% of all new student and college-grade string instruments in the world with subsidiaries in developing countries like Indonesia where the unskilled labor is cheapest. Even the Germans import the best grades of violins from China "in the white", pop the lids off and re-graduate them to the proper "tap tone", glue the tops back on, and then seal and oil-varnish them. By international law, these instruments can be marketed under the "Made in Germany" label because more than 51% of the manufacturing time is completed in Germany.

Of course there are just a few truly handmade violins crafted by one-man shops throughout the world—these instruments cost many thousands of dollars and take months to craft.

For the advanced student and hobby-player, a vintage instrument purchase is certainly an option, but before purchasing , check with your teacher AND trusted luthier for an evaluation. One gets what you pay for and you pay for what you receive! Again, Ebay, Craigslist or the Internet is the HIGHEST risk!

Many world-class string instrumentalists now play Chinese-made violins, violas, cellos and basses that are refined and finished in European or North American small luthier shops. Truly these instruments are of the highest quality, BUT these instruments are NEVER offered to the general public on Ebay or Shar Music, despite what the web pages or catalogs state. These instruments are NEVER SET UP PROPERLY!

Over the past three decades, I have seen many instruments pass over my bench that have been purchased via the Internet or from a mass merchant. In EVERY circumstance, the end-user is initially disappointed at the "Instrument Shaped Object" that exists the FEDEX or UPS box. There is no substitute for the human luthier’s touch–the final setup techniques that determine whether an instrument will maximize the musician’s learning curve or expression. Always, the final setup is the most personal and most critical.