The Suzuki Method

An Explanation of the Suzuki Method

Shinichi Suzuki developed his method after World War II in an effort to enrich children’s lives through music. He was amazed that children worldwide could all speak their mother tongue freely and effortlessly. He based his approach to musical education on the manner in which we learn language, and on the belief that musical ability is not an inborn talent, but an ability which can be developed. He believed that the potential of every child can grow immensely with skilled teaching and a nurturing environment.

The Suzuki method usually starts with very young children; generally ages three and four. This is because Suzuki believed that we were losing too much of the child’s potential by starting later. A child does not wait until he is eight to speak. Just as a baby does not speak in whole sentences, neither does the young Suzuki student play masterpieces. Starting early teaches children that regular, consistent work can produce amazing results. The Suzuki method is also a joyful style of teaching. It is filled with games and laughter, and many children have not wanted to leave their group class when it finished.

Although, it is better to start younger, you are never too old for the Suzuki method, and transfer students are always accepted. As the child gets older, the parent involvement becomes less and less, until the only responsibility of the parent is to cheer on their child. Suzuki teachers want to create independent musicians.

Because children usually start so young, parent involvement is a key element in the method. Dr. Suzuki spoke often of the “Suzuki triangle.” This is an equilateral triangle with Parent, Teacher, and Student in each of the corners. This helps to illustrate that each role is equally important. The parent learns the rudimentary skills of the instrument, and learns how to work in a positive and nurturing way in order to be more conducive to their child’s learning.

The Suzuki method is not for the parent who wants to drop their child off somewhere and pick them up after the lesson. It is more work than the traditional method, but the benefits far outweigh the extra work. When the Suzuki method is done well, an incredible bond is forged between the parent and the child. After all, this child will have grown up with regular time alone with a parent who showers them with praise, all the while edging them closer still to excellence. This parent will have given their child, not only the gift of music, but also, the gift of their time, love, and attention. Remember, we are only talking about 15-30 minutes of your time a day.

Because the Suzuki method is also called the “mother tongue approach,” listening is imperative for the method to be successful. There are, however, several types of listening. Just as a mother will repeat “Mama” over and over to a baby, the Suzuki parent will play certain pieces over and over for the student to absorb. A baby also gets to hear other conversation around him. They may not understand this, but they do hear it. A Suzuki student should also be listening to all kinds of great music. This can include listening to CD’s, going to live concerts, and hearing other children perform. This enriches the student’s musical vocabulary.

Another important aspect of the Suzuki method is the concept of review. Most traditional styles of teaching are constantly giving a student a new piece. As soon as the child “learns the notes” they are given yet another new and challenging piece to conquer. Suzuki teachers believe that it is important for a student to be constantly refining old songs and skills. This allows the child to play with ease, and he/she can focus on tone and musicality. This is also helpful in creating a positive atmosphere for performing. Students are always less nervous to perform when they know the piece backwards and forwards.

Suzuki students also always memorize their pieces, and they always perform from memory. This may sound difficult to you, but when a child has been listening to the pieces for a long time, they usually memorize the piece without even thinking about it. Building memory skills is an obvious added bonus to studying the Suzuki method. Many Suzuki programs will even have Book Celebrations, or recitals, where the student will perform an entire book of music from memory.

Another important element of the Suzuki method is the group class. No Suzuki program is complete without some kind of group class. The group class serves many purposes. It teaches children how to make music in a group setting, thereby preparing them for future playing in an orchestra, or chamber music setting. It provides the teacher with a medium in which to introduce broader teaching points, such as music theory. It also serves as a community for both the parents and the children. Group class can provide positive peer pressure for students to continue studying their instrument. Lastly, the group class should be fun! It is where we show children how joyful music making can be. We “play” music; we don’t “work” music.

A common misconception about the Suzuki method is that Suzuki kids don’t read music. They don’t read music right at first. They learn the basic skills of the instrument, and then, usually, wait until the child can read words. This allows the student to get a firm grasp of his/her technique before we throw note reading into the mix. Also, very young children tend to learn better aurally and kinesthetically, while the eyes develop later. Many Suzuki students have gone on to the top music schools in the country (not to mention symphonies and solo careers), and they can certainly read music just fine.

Lastly, one of the biggest differences between the Suzuki method and traditional methods are in the desired results. Suzuki was not trying to create superior musicians. He was trying to create “more noble human beings.” He believed it was possible to promote world peace and understanding through the medium of music. The traditional teacher wants to have students that are amazing musicians. The Suzuki teacher wants students who are amazing people; the music takes care of itself if the person has been well cared for.

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