The Suzuki Method has taken hold of the musical world. It is arguably the most popular musical teaching method for children in the world. But how does it really work? What makes it different from other teaching methods? In the next paragraphs I’ll answer some of these questions.
Let’s start out with a frequently asked question: Who was Suzuki?
Shinichi Suzuki’s life was so full that it would be impossible to write it all down but here is a brief (or not so brief) overview.
As a child, Suzuki’s father, Masakichi Suzuki, ran a workshop that made traditional Japanese stringed instruments. Fascinated with the violin, Mr. Suzuki made his first one in 1888, and by the early 1900’s he owned the first violin factory in Japan, which was also the largest in the world. He intended for his son Shinichi to help run the family business.
Shinichi Suzuki instead taught himself to play the violin, inspired by a recording of Mischa Elman playing Schubert’s Ave Maria. A wealthy Japanese nobleman from the Tokugawa family became Suzuki’s patron, first inviting him to Tokyo for lessons with Ko Ando, a former student of Joachim, and then bringing him to Berlin in 1921 for further study. Suzuki there became a student of Karl Klingler, another Joachim pupil.
While in Berlin, Suzuki was befriended by Albert Einstein. On one of many musical evenings he met his future wife, Waltraud Prange, a soprano. They married in 1928. Suzuki returned to Japan the next year and formed a string quartet with three of his brothers, touring the country to give concerts. In 1930 he became president of the Teikoku Music School and was conductor of the Tokyo String Orchestra.
At a quartet rehearsal one day in 1933 he surprised his brothers by suddenly stating what they considered obvious: that ALL Japanese children speak Japanese. With this simple observation, Shinichi Suzuki had discovered a way to develop musical ability in young children. Children can learn to play a musical instrument (or anything else) in the same way that they first learn a language.
In 1946 Suzuki went to Matsumoto where he helped start a music school, eventually named the Talent Education Research Institute. In this remote city in the center of Japan, beneath an ancient castle and in the shadow of the massive and beautiful “Japan Alps” he continued to develop his method. By the 1960’s, Western teachers had begun to travel there in order to see Suzuki’s students and to learn from him. In 1964 the first Japanese Suzuki tour group performed in the USA for music educators, and in 1973 the tour group traveled in Europe.
Suzuki’s success was immediate and far-reaching. His first pupils, Toshiya Eto and Koji Toyoda, have achieved international renown. Many of today’s soloists and members of the finest orchestras started their musical education as Suzuki students, as have a high proportion of students presently studying in music conservatories.
Suzuki often spoke of nurturing the “life force.” His was exemplary. He continued to be active as a teacher throughout the world until well into his nineties and died in his sleep at his home in Japan on the 26th of January in his 100th year. During his lifetime he received many honorary degrees, was also named a Living National Treasure by the Emperor of Japan, and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. So there is a overview of Suzuki.
What is the Suzuki Method?
In a few sentences the SM basically follows the same learning steps that a child would use while learning to talk and read but in musical format.
Here are some more in-depth points about the Suzuki Method:
1st: Parent Involvement– As when a child begins to talk, parents are involved in the musical learning of their child. They are encouraged to attend lessons with their child and serve as “home teachers” between lessons. Parent work with the teacher to create an enjoyable learning environment.
2nd: Early Beginning– 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 3 or 4, but it is never too late to start.
3rd: Listening– Children learn words after hearing them spoken hundreds of times by others. Listening to music every day is important, especially to pieces in the Suzuki repertoire so the child knows them immediately. If the pupil listens to professional musicians he/she will automatically try to mimic that high level of playing.
4th: Repetition– Constant repetition is essential in learning to play an instrument. Children do not learn a word or a piece of music and then disregard it. They add it to their vocabulary or repertoire, gradually using it in new and more sophisticated ways.
5th: Graded Repertoire– Children do not practice exercises to learn to talk, but rather use language for its natural purpose of communication and self-expression. Pieces in the Suzuki repertoire are designed to present technical problems to be learned in the context of the music rather than through dry technical exercises.
Finally, Delayed Reading– Children learn to read after their ability to talk has been well established. In the same way, children should develop basic technical competence on their instrument before being taught to read music.
How does the Suzuki Method differ from other teaching methods?
1st: Every Child Can Learn! – While many parents and musical teachers believe that children must have a “knack” for musical study Suzuki teachers believe that musical ability can be developed in all children.
2nd: Young Age – Many teachers not using the SM believe that children should begin studying music when they are in 1st-2nd grade. The Suzuki Method claims that young age is crucial for development. But, Suzuki teachers also believe that it is never too late to start learning.
3rd: Parent Support – One of the most crucial points in the Suzuki Method is that a parent(s) play an active role in the learning process. While not completely despised by other teachers it is a idea that not many follow.
4th: Delayed Reading – While many music teachers start teaching their students to read sheet music at the first lesson the Suzuki Method does not. Using the SM, children become comfortable with the instrument before moving on to read music.
5th: Technique in Pieces – Other methods require students to play scales and repetitive exercises to learn a new technique, but the Suzuki Method does its best to make all learning interesting by substituting real classical music for dry workbook lessons.
6th: Performing – Students in the SM perform frequently, individually and in groups. Older students help the younger ones, everyone works together to perform a enjoyable program for the audience. Playing with other musicians develops awareness of other musicians, it’s helpful with rhythm and most students think it’s fun! While, the idea of performing with other musicians is not completely foreign to teachers of other methods it is usually not encouraged as much as it would be in the SM.
7th: Listening – Some teachers do not like their students listening to music because they want the children to develop a sense of rhythm and melody on their own. However, the Suzuki Method believes in learning through listening, and encourages students to listen to classical music played by professional musicians.
~ Today there are over 8,000 trained Suzuki teachers and nearly a quarter of a million Suzuki pupils, worldwide.
~Suzuki materials are available for all these instruments-Violin, Viola, Cello, Bass, Piano, Flute, Harp, Guitar, Recorder, Organ and Voice. Wow!
~ Hundreds of Suzuki associations have now been formed all cross the world; from Indonesia to South Africa!
~ Select colleges offer Suzuki teacher training programs. And, hundreds of Suzuki qualified teachers offer summer workshops for teacher trainees.
The Suzuki Method has taken hold of the musical world and I doubt it will ever loosen its grip.
Thanks for reading!
Visit this link for more information on the Suzuki Method and Dr. Shinichi Suzuki: https://suzukiassociation.org/
*Courtesy of the Suzuki Association of the Americas for select text.