My Experience at the Idaho Suzuki Summer Institute

My experience at the Idaho Suzuki Summer Institute

~ Gail Olmstead, Piano Instructor


After watching Dr. Suzuki’s first American student recital tour in the mid 1960’s, June Itami was so taken by the performances that she went to Matsumoto, Japan in 1972 to train as a teacher. She then returned to establish the first Idaho Suzuki Institute in the summer of 1974 in Boise State University. Forty four years later, it is still a vibrant Institute although it has moved to the Caldwell College campus in Caldwell, a town just outside of Boise.

The College is a small but beautiful campus that has numerous brick buildings surrounded by large oak, maple and gingko trees. Boise and Caldwell are located in a large, hot and dry valley where most everything has to be irrigated by the Boise River. Vineyards and orchards are everywhere!

Every summer, the Institute offers Book training for Piano, Violin and occasionally Cello with many Master Classes and Enrichment Classes for all of the many students. There are student concerts every day as well as some professional performances during the evenings. Corin Lee, a Juilliard and Yale graduate, gave an outstanding violin performance this summer that included a lightening fast Paganini piece on a 1/10 sized violin!

I attended my 3rd Idaho Suzuki Summer Institute this past June to do my Book 3 Piano training, studying with my teacher trainer, Rae Kate Shen, from Los Angeles. Some of the new skills introduced in Book 3 are:

  1. Preparing the student to practice independently (if appropriate at this stage)
  2. Chromatic scales and broken octaves
  3. Increased refinement of clean, even passage work with greater velocity and facility
  4. Ornaments (especially trills and turns) and new articulation
  5. Voicing of chords
  6. New meters
  7. Pedaling
  8. Musical forms / dances (such as a Sonatina, Minuet, Ecossaise, etc)
  9. Increased musical vocabulary (dynamics, etc)
  10. An elementary knowledge of Book 3 composers and periods of music history


One of the main techniques in Book 3 was the “Down-Ups” skill in which the student raises her arm high up then drops it down with a relaxed arm onto a note and rests on that note before playing the note again on the way up. This technique helps with:

  • Body balance
  • Achieving a good tone
  • Finger movement
  • Creating a pulse in time signature

Both the “down” and “up” notes are played with the same volume and have good tone.

Scale practice can include:

  • Slow and loud practice
  • Staccato
  • Using various rhythms

Musical Form was discussed especially the “Small Sonata Form” which includes the Exposition (statement of 1 or 2 themes), Development section (elaboration of themes) and the Recapitulation (resolution of the original themes).

Rae Kate suggested a progression in learning Ornaments in Book 3 pieces:

  • Play the trill slowly with the RH and then faster (with a metronome)
  • Play hands together slowly, then faster
  • Go back a few measures and play through & past the measure with the trill
  • Play the trill softly but have a louder end note(s)

Supplement pieces can be introduced in Book 3 that could include Pop, World Music, Blues and Jazz. We discussed various repertoire books that we enjoyed using.

Rae Kate suggested the outline of a Book 3 Lesson:

  • Warm ups – 10 minutes (Scales, etc)
  • Reading – 5 to 10 minutes (includes theory)
  • New piece – 5 to 10 minutes (check notes and rhythms)
  • Review (working) piece – for the rest of the lesson (work on technique, phrasing, musicality, etc)


I always enjoy going down to Idaho and seeing Rae Kate, the other women taking the training and the new and returning students. I come back inspired and ready to start a new year with the wonderful Suzuki method! I would highly recommend taking your family down to the Idaho Institute as a summer holiday destination!




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