About the Suzuki Method
"Where love is deep, much will be accomplished"
There are moments in history when a place, a time, a man, and an idea converge to produce results of great significance. Such a moment occurred when Shinichi Suzuki began his experiments in violin teaching in Japan. The results have attracted widespread attention, and have generated much speculation about the nature of musical learning and the way in which every human being develops in the early formative years. It is not that any particular segment of Suzuki’s ideas is new, but rather that the totality of his concepts, together with the results he has shown, throw a clear light on a question we wish to explore—how do human beings become musical?
The Suzuki Violin Method in
American Music Education
History of The Suzuki® Method
One Man’s Vision
Shinichi Suzuki—violinist, educator, philosopher, and humanitarian—was born in 1898, the son of Japan’s first violin manufacturer. Suzuki worked in the violin factory as a child, but was not interested in playing the violin until he was seventeen. Suzuki then studied violin in Japan for some years before going to Germany in the 1920s for further study. When he returned to Japan, Suzuki and his brothers formed a string quartet that toured extensively. He also taught violin at universities in Tokyo and elsewhere. During this period, Suzuki became interested in the education of young children.
After World War II, Suzuki carried his interest and sympathy for children into his work as a musician and teacher. He based his approach on the belief that musical ability is not an inborn talent, but an ability that can be developed—that the potential of every child can grow if the child is given the proper training and learning environment. Noting that children learn to speak their native language with ease, Suzuki applied the basic principles of language acquisition to the learning of music. He called his method the mother-tongue approach, or Talent Education. In 1945, Suzuki was invited to teach at a school in Matsumoto. He accepted with the condition that he could try this new method he had developed to teach violin to very young children. (Today the method includes piano, violin, viola, cello, bass, flute, harp, guitar, recorder, and organ.) Within a year after beginning his program, Suzuki presented some of his young students at a concert in Tokyo. Listeners were amazed at the performance of the children, and the Talent Education movement began to grow.
Development of the Method
Over the next 30 years, Suzuki did extensive research to develop his series of violin repertoire books. He chose his pieces carefully, so they would present musical and technical points in a logical, sequential manner. Other violin teachers studied with Suzuki and began to teach throughout Japan. The Talent Education program expanded to include other instruments, and materials were designed and published for piano, cello, and flute. Thousands of children received Suzuki training at the Talent Education Institute in Matsumoto or one of the branch schools in other Japanese cities.
Introduction to the Americas
Suzuki’s Talent Education was introduced in the U.S. when a film of the first National Graduation Concert in Japan was shown at Oberlin College in 1958. Since then, teachers from many countries have visited Japan to learn more about Suzuki and his work. Suzuki’s tour group of ten Japanese children came to the United States for the first time in 1964. Since then, tour groups of Japanese children have performed annually for audiences all over the world.
Suzuki Method Today
Suzuki’s idea of teaching peace and understanding through music gradually gained acceptance. His active leadership for more than fifty years until his death in January of 1998 brought thousands of parents and teachers in at least forty countries in Asia, Europe, Australia, Africa, and the Americas to join his effort to nurture loving human beings through the mother-tongue approach to music education. Thousands of children throughout the world are now able to gather and play together, overcoming linguistic and cultural barriers through the language of music. The dream of Dr. Shinichi Suzuki is coming true.
Special Features of The Suzuki® Method
An Early Beginning...
Talent Education usually begins at an early age. Suzuki suggested that parents repeatedly play recordings of classical music for their infants and toddlers. Formal training often begins at age three or four, but it is never too late to begin The Suzuki Method.
As when a child learns to talk, Suzuki parents are involved in the musical learning of their child. Parents work with the teacher to create an enjoyable learning environment, especially at home, so that much of the child’s motivation comes from enthusiasm for learning and the desire to please. Parents attend lessons with their child and serve as “home teachers” during the week. They supervise practicing, making sure the student does exactly as the teacher instructed. Sometimes, one parent learns to play before the child, so the parent understands what the child is expected to do.
Younger students, whose attention spans are short, may have several brief practices each day, instead of one long practice. The parent encourages the child, giving praise for each effort, so practice time is a positive experience. The length of practice time gradually increases as the student advances through the repertoire. Parents need not be musicians. They are taught step by step how to help the child at home. Each child learns at his or her own rate, building on small steps so each one can be mastered. Teachers and parents meet the child’s efforts with sincere praise and encouragement. Children are also encouraged to support each other’s efforts, fostering an attitude of generosity and cooperation.
The Suzuki teacher actually serves as mentor to both the parent and child in their study of the instrument—teaching the child at the lesson and guiding the parent in developing effective techniques for teaching the child at home.
Parents have a great responsibility as home teachers beyond attending lessons and assisting with practice at home. Their role involves committing themselves to their own on-going education about the Suzuki approach, creating a musical environment, learning the fundamentals of playing the instrument and taking care of it, and creating a total environment of affection, encouragement, and understanding. The most important ingredient for success is the parents’ willingness to devote regular time to work closely with the child and the teacher.
The Suzuki Method requires a three-way partnership between the student, the teacher, and the parent—all working together combining a philosophy, a technique, and a program of education.
Listening and Observing...
Children learn to speak by listening and imitating the language spoken around them. By listening to recordings of the literature they will learn, as well as listening to other music, children absorb the language of music just as they absorb the sounds of their mother-tongue.
Children can learn a great deal from each other, so Suzuki students are encouraged to observe the private lessons of other students. They enjoy observing other children at all levels—aspiring to the level of more advanced students, sharing challenges with their peers, and appreciating the efforts of those following in their footsteps.
All Suzuki students follow the same sequence of musical materials for their particular instrument, with each piece becoming a building block in the careful development of technique. Each discipline—piano, violin, viola, cello, bass, flute, recorder, harp, guitar, and organ—has its own repertoire. This standardized repertoire also provides strong motivation as younger students want to play music they hear older students play.
Review is an important aspect of The Suzuki Method. Through constant repetition of pieces, children strengthen old skills and gain new ones. Students can hear for themselves the progress they have made.
Individual and Group Activities...
In addition to their own individual lessons, students participate in group lessons, performances, and observation of other children’s lessons—all activities that are valuable aids to motivation. Children learn from more advanced students and from their peers. Children love to do what they see other children do. Group lessons also provide frequent opportunities for children to play solos in a relaxed, informal setting. Here each child may show what he or she has accomplished and has the opportunity to learn from the performances of other students. Parents are encouraged to schedule home recitals so both parents, not just the one working daily with the child, can share in the child’s progress and provide motivation to practice more. Frequent opportunities to play before an audience increase the student’s self-confidence, and that student enjoys, rather than fears, playing before others.
Music reading is postponed until the child’s aural and instrumental skills are well established, just as we teach children to read language only after they can speak. In this way, the focus of the teacher’s and student’s attention can be on the development of good posture, beautiful tone, accurate intonation, and musical phrasing.
Enriching Children’s Lives Through Music...
The purpose of Suzuki training is to help every child find the joy that comes through music making. Through the mother-tongue approach, children develop confidence, self-esteem, self-discipline, concentration, and the determination to try difficult things. In the environment of loving support fostered by The Suzuki Method, children develop a lasting enjoyment of music. Dr. Suzuki’s primary goal was never just to teach young people how to play musical instruments. Rather, he championed the unique contribution music can make in the total learning process. He believed that with the proper environment and educational process and through the medium of music, sensitivity and understanding may be raised in children, creating for each child a better life—and for us all, a better world. Talent Education not only provides the child with an enriching musical experience, but also creates an atmosphere of sharing and mutual learning in which parent and child can bond in a unique and rewarding manner.
Although Dr. Suzuki has finished his earthly presence among us, his spirit remains and is manifested daily in the myriad of teachers and students who live his principles and his dream.