About the Suzuki Method
Every Child Can Learn
More than forty years ago, Dr. Shin'ichi Suzuki realized the implications of the fact that children the world over learn to speak their native language with ease. He began to apply the basic principles of language acquisition to the learning of music, and called his method the Mother-Tongue Approach. The ideas of parent responsibility, loving encouragement, constant repetition, etc., are some of the special features of the Suzuki approach.
"We should never underestimate the influence our attitudes have on our child's development. The child senses that we truly believe that she has great potential and that we are fascinated and overjoyed with her development. From this she gets the confidence to grow. Daily we must remind ourselves that each child has high ability."
- William Star
The Suzuki Triangle
The Suzuki triangle consists of the teacher, the parent and the child. They are of equal importance and must all contribute so that the child can learn in the most positive environment possible. In every direction of the triangle there must be trust and respect. The teacher is there to give both the child and the parent the tools to learn the instrument, and the support needed for educating the child. The parent is considered the practise teacher and is expected to take notes during the lesson and to work to understand every technique being taught. The child is expected to listen to the teacher and to treat the parent as they would their teacher during practice times at home. One parent often learns to play before the child, so that s/he understands what the child is expected to do. Parents work with the teacher to create an enjoyable learning environment.
The early years are crucial for developing mental processes and muscle coordination. Listening to music should begin at birth; formal training may begin at age three or four, but it is never too late to begin.
Children learn words after hearing them spoken hundreds of times by others. Listening to music every day is important, especially listening to pieces in the Suzuki repertoire so the child knows them immediately. Listening goes hand in hand with memorization. Music is about sound, and students are often told they must hear the notes before they play them. They should conceptualize what they are trying to reproduce on the instrument ("hear it before you play it") and will have a guide to the beautiful tone they hear as well as having a basis for good intonation. They learn that the score is not the only way to learn a melody, and that the recording is yet another tool that can and should be used when learning any piece of music.
Memorization is important in all aspects of Suzuki learning. From the beginning, children are taught by rote and learn all pieces by memory. Parents aid in this process as they have the music and take notes during lessons so that the child can learn the pieces without the score. Without relying on the score, the child is able to focus on the technical aspects of their playing and concentrate on tone production, always striving for the most beautiful sound possible. Musicality can also be expressed when the child is not preoccupied with reading what notes he or she is playing. The reading of music is yet another skill which should be mastered once the student is proficient on the instrument. Learning the instrument and note reading simultaneously detracts from the child's ability to play the instrument. They are freed from reading the music and become more confident players and people as a result.
Common Set of Repertoire
Suzuki teachers all teach from a common set of repertoire. Pieces are assembled in books in a sequential, progressive and thoughtful order. Each piece contains practice points that focus on particular skills in a step-by-step manner that allows the student to progress very methodically. With a common set of repertoire, teachers can be more effectively trained in the methodology and are able to focus on specific teaching techniques for each piece of music. Teachers attending training workshops learn not only all of these pieces but also why they are in that particular order and the progression of skills being taught.
The common repertoire also gives students an incentive to advance. As they improve, they progress through the pieces and the books. They know the pieces from group class and concerts, and feel a sense of accomplishment, as they are able to play more of the pieces in the Suzuki repertoire. At the conclusion of many Suzuki concerts the entire class will play much of the early Suzuki repertoire and students are encouraged to play all of the pieces they are familiar with. A student feels great pride as they progress and are able to participate in more of the group pieces with every concert. It is with great exhilaration that the students are able to perform in what essentially is an instrumental choir, possible in large part to the systematic approach of the repertoire that the Suzuki method provides.
Constant repetition is essential in learning to play an instrument, as it is in language acquisition. Children do not learn a word or piece of music and then discard it. They add it to their vocabulary or repertoire, gradually using it in new and more sophisticated ways.
As with language, the child’s effort to learn an instrument should be met with sincere praise and encouragement. Each child learns at his/her own rate, building on small steps so that each one can be mastered. Children are also encouraged to support each other’s efforts, fostering an attitude of generosity and cooperation.
Learning with Other Children
In addition to private lessons, children participate in regular group lessons and performance at which they learn from and are motivated by each other.
William J. Starr, “A Visionary with a Violin (Shinichi Suzuki’s Mother-Tongue Approach to Violin Teaching).” The Strad 109, (December 1998): 1337
Barbara Barber, “Traditional and Suzuki Teaching.” American String Teacher 41, no. 4 (Autumn, 1991): 77