FAQ – Suzuki Method & Philosophy
What is the Suzuki Method?
Suzuki Talent Education or the Suzuki Method utilizes what Dr Suzuki called the ‘mother tongue’ approach. ‘Musical ability is not an inborn talent but an ability which can be developed. Any child who is properly trained can develop musical ability just as all children develop the ability to speak their mother tongue. The potential of every child is unlimited’ (Suzuki).
What is the Suzuki Philosophy?
Dr. Shinichi Suzuki’s philosophy stems from the principle of ‘character first, ability second’. His aim was to gently shape children into beautiful human beings through teaching them to produce beautiful music. Dr. Suzuki said, ‘teaching music is not my main purpose. I want to make good citizens, noble human beings. If a child hears fine music from the day of his birth, and learns to play it himself, he develops sensitivity, discipline and endurance. He gets a beautiful heart.’ ‘Man is the son of his environment’ (Suzuki), therefore through the love and encouragement of their family environment, the majority of children will respond and develop intelligible speech. There are many factors at work during the development of speech:
- Parental Involvement
- Step-by-step mastery
The Suzuki Method incorporates all of these factors in the teaching of musical instruments.
Do Suzuki students learn to read music?
The short answer is yes. However, it is only introduced after the student has mastered good posture, basic playing skills and good tone. This does mean that for a time, the student’s playing ability is ahead of their reading ability, but they will eventually develop to the same level. This is in line with language skill development in children – their language fluency is usually well in advance of their reading and writing ability.
Is the Suzuki Method all about churning out concert violinists?
Dr. Suzuki’s own words answer this – ‘Teaching music is not my main purpose. I want to make good citizens, noble human beings. If a child hears fine music from the day of his birth, and learns to play it himself, he develops sensitivity, discipline and endurance. He gets a beautiful heart.’ A teacher who not only teaches the Suzuki Method, but also believes in his philosophy, will always be aiming to nurture the whole human being – you must have a beautiful heart to create beautiful tone.
I’ve seen Suzuki students playing in large groups. Isn’t it just producing little musical robots that can play in unison?
Common repertoire makes playing in large groups possible. Playing as part of a group is also a highly enjoyable part of learning an instrument, with advanced students often learning 2nd and 3rd parts to the early repertoire, learned by listening to their peers. Group playing is beneficial and good preparation for orchestral/ensemble playing, and develops and demonstrates good listening skills. Students will usually exhibit individual tone and expression when playing solo.
I already bring my child to a weekly violin lesson, why is it important to attend a group lesson?
There are many benefits to attending group lessons. Most group classes will comprise of students of varied skills, encouraging multi-level learning. They make learning easier, enhance individual learning, and encourage the students to evaluate themselves as well as each other.
My child seems to be progressing very slowly, possibly more slowly than his/her peers. Should I be concerned?
Learning an instrument, or achieving Dr. Suzuki’s ultimate aim of developing a beautiful human being, is not a race or a competition. It doesn’t matter how quickly or slowly each student progresses, what is important is mastery of the basics and the step-by-step development of skills. Listening to the CDs daily and practicing daily are contributing factors to how the student will progress. If you aren’t listening to the CD at home, you aren’t learning the Suzuki Method.
Why does my child have to learn the pieces in the order that they are in the books? Can’t we skip one or two to get the next graduation level done?
One of the amazing things about the Suzuki repertoire is the way that each new piece of music learned adds a layer of skill to the student’s playing. If the student moves on from a piece without mastering it, or skips it altogether, they may have difficulties mastering more advanced pieces. The aim of attaining a graduation level is to achieve a standard of playing and skill, not about judgment, status or length of time spent on each level. If the appropriate standard of playing and skill has not been achieved, neither parent, student or teacher should be in a rush to graduate. Graduation is not an examination – every child will succeed, as their teacher will only present the student when their performance of the piece is secure and displaying musicality and skill appropriate to their level.
My child is in Book 3, why does he/she have to keep practicing the pieces from Books 1 and 2?
Each piece that the student learns is adding to their musical ‘vocabulary’ or repertoire. When you add a new word to your vocabulary, do you use it as often as you can? or do you say ‘right I’ve learned that word now, I never have to use it again!’?
What am I required to do as a Suzuki Parent?
Providing a loving and nurturing learning environment is key to your child’s success. As part of the Suzuki approach teacher, parent and child form the three corners of the learning triangle, and although each role is important, the parent plays a crucial role in the learning process. Your role involves the following:
Attending each lesson with the student, taking notes, and practising what you’ve learnt together at home – another alternative to writing notes is recording the lesson with a smart phone. Most teachers will allow this, however it is important to ask permission. I encourage videoing of your own child’s lesson on the conditions that it is just for personal use and that your phone is in silent or even airplane mode (if you know you are particularly distractible!).
Playing the recordings for your child daily at home – I recommend listening to at least the first 3 or 4 volumes of repertoire. Why? Daily listening is a major part of the ‘mother tongue’ approach. Without repetition of words, it would be difficult for children to learn their native language. It is the same with learning the Suzuki repertoire – without repeated listening to the recordings, it makes it more difficult for your child to learn the pieces. Some other benefits of daily listening are that we won’t have to correct intonation (being able to play in tune) as often, and we don’t have to spend so much time learning notes and rhythms and we can focus on learning the skills to play musically with beautiful tone. If you aren’t listening to the CD at home, you aren’t learning the Suzuki Method.
Understanding the instrument and how to take care of it.
Meaningful Daily Practice is essential if you want your child’s ability to progress rather than regress. Make sure your child brings their instrument on holidays with them so that they can practice – it doesn’t have to be hours a day, just enough to maintain their ability. Play at family events – visiting Grandma? Take the violin along. I can assure you that grandparents will enjoy it, and it’s good performance practice for your child.
Facilitating a home learning environment of love, support, nurturing, inspiration and understanding. Make sure your child has a fixed location for their practice as this will help them focus and feel that their practice is important. Is your child a morning or a night person? Find the best time for them to practice and stick to it. Again this helps with focus as well as giving them a clear and predictable routine, offering a sense of security and support.
Attending as many workshops, concerts, group lessons, graduation concerts, and summer/spring schools as you can with your child. These events are both fun and incredibly beneficial to both you and your child. Many of my fondest childhood memories are of attending Suzuki events, meeting new people and being inspired by teachers and fellow students alike. It’s also a fantastic way for parents to meet other like-minded people as well bond with their own children. In order to take part in all of these events it is essential that your family are Suzuki Association members.
Choose your words carefully – be careful not to say things like ‘when can we move on to the next piece? I’m bored with hearing the same pieces over and over.’ Children will rarely say that they’re bored in their lesson unless they’ve heard someone else say it.
If you are not willing to commit to these requirements, the Suzuki approach may not be ideal for you and your child.