The Suzuki method
The Suzuki Method is based on the principle that all children possess ability and that this ability can be developed and enhanced through a nurturing environment. All children learn to speak their own language with relative ease and if the same natural learning process is applied in teaching other skills, these can be acquired as successfully. Dr. Shinichi Suzuki referred to the process as the Mother Tongue Method and to the whole system of pedagogy as Talent Education.
Shinichi Suzuki (1898-1998) was born in Japan and studied western music in Germany in the 1920s. He first began teaching young children in Japan in the 1930s and further developed his ideas and philosophy of teaching during the post-war period. His approach to teaching has now spread to many parts of the world and is proving increasingly successful everywhere. Since Suzuki was a violinist, he first applied his ideas to the teaching of violin, but it has since been used with many other instrument.
Shinichi Suzuki was born in 1898 in Nagoya, Japan, son to the founder of one of the largest violin factory in the world. Growing up in a musical environment, Suzuki often took the latter for granted - to the point of using violins as baseball bats just for fun. It was not until later in life that he began pondering deep questions about music, education and the development of human beings which eventually lead to discoveries that signaled a revolution in music education.
At the age of 22, Suzuki moved to Berlin to study violin with Karl Klingler. While Suzuki himself struggled to learn the complicated German language, he noticed that all German children spoke with great ease from a very young age and it occurred to him that all Japanese children spoke Japanese with similar effortlessness. Pondering over the reasons for this he realised that learning a language comes naturally to children as their daily environment is saturated with it: there is constant speaking, support, and reinforcement.
After his return to Japan, Suzuki followed his strong interest in infant education which eventually led to the foundation of the Matsumoto Talent Education Institute in 1946. Suzuki’s work was based on the premise that all children can learn – ability is within the child. He did not believe that some children were born with natural talent and others were not; instead he believed that all children are able to do something wonderful. To him, education was about willingness, not “natural” ability and as such, entrance into the Talent Education School was based not on entrance examinations but on willingness to learn and take part in the process of education.
With the help of a devoted parent, Suzuki sought to develop the talent of children beginning right from a very young age. He called it “planting the seeds of ability.” At the same time, Suzuki’s primary goal was to develop better human beings. He taught character first, then ability.
The biggest difference between the Suzuki method and traditional teaching methods is seen in how they respectively view talent. Whereas the Suzuki philosophy places the emphasis on the inherent ability within every child that can and will be developed if given the proper environment, support, and teaching, the traditional methods point to those talented few for whom learning comes easily and knowledge seems to be innate. The Suzuki method places the priority on developing talented learners; traditional methods focus on finding the few who are already talented and only develops those.
The Suzuki method is primarily intended for young children. The language process begins from the earliest stages of life and to fully benefit from the Suzuki method, it must also begin at the earliest of ages. Linguistic studies have consistently found that the older a student, the harder it becomes to learn a language and studies on brain development have shown that the brain fleshes out unused areas at ages 7, 13, and in the early 20’s. Therefore the aim should be to provide stimulation as early as possible.
Another aspect of the Suzuki approach is the learning in small steps that are challenging but not daunting. This way of learning is rewarding for the child because it is something that, with concentration and hard work, can be accomplished and done well and is therefore giving the child a sense of satisfaction and well-being. Creative repetition – an active review of previously learned material – enables the child to bring his music to an even higher level, while maintaining a body of repertoire that the student can go back to in order to learn new technique.
One of the most crucial parts of the Suzuki method is parental involvement. Parents should provide an environment that is saturated with music as well as encouragement and support for the growing talent of their child. A parent is to attend every lesson as at first, they are responsible for everything. They practice daily with the child and recreate the lesson at home in a happy way. Not only does this further the musical training of the child, but it plays a large part in building a strong relationship between parent and child. As the child grows older, more and more responsibility is taken over and the parent will begin to gradually withdraw their involvement, leaving a mature and responsible teenager.
Suzuki lessons should be a happy experience for the child, teacher, and parent. The child is learning a brand-new skill and their soul is unfolding through the process. Each student is a miracle, and they are embraced as a whole person. Teachers are to teach in a way that not only produces skill, but also tenderizes human hearts. Process is emphasized first, then skill. Suzuki places the emphasis not on mechanical instruction, playing notes, rhythms or bowings, but rather on the joy of the process of becoming a violinist and a better person. If the process is beautifully done, the result will be beautiful. Music has an amazing power in the human soul, to soften and sensitize and produce compassion and caring. Music destroys barriers between people. One heart at a time, Suzuki teachers seek to change the world not by producing merely professional musicians, but more caring and more compassionate and more alive adults.
At a glance
As when a child learns to talk, parents are involved in the musical learning of their child. They attend lessons with the child and serve as “home teachers” during the week. One parent often learns to play before the child, so that he or she 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.
Constant repetition is essential in learning to play an instrument. 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.
Children do not practice exercises to learn to talk, but 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.
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 instruments before being taught to read music.
“Teaching music is not my main purpose. I want to make good citizens. If children hear fine music from the day of their birth and learn to play it, they develop sensitivity, discipline and endurance. They get a beautiful heart.”
Shinichi Suzuki, Nurtured by Love: The Classic Approach to Talent Education