I believe in the teachings of Shinichi Suzuki, a violinist and teacher who carried his lifelong interest and sympathy for children into post-World War II Japan. Encouraged by their ability to assimilate their native tongue, he saw a great opportunity to enrich children’s lives through music. His primary goal was not to teach young people only how to play musical instruments. Rather, he champions the unique contribution music can make in the total learning process. Fundamentally, it is an approach that allows everyone to succeed.
Every Child Can Learn.
More than fifty years ago Dr. Suzuki realized the implications of the fact that children around the world 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 this method the “mother-tongue” approach. The ideas of parent responsibility, loving encouragement and constant repetition etc. are some of the special features of the Suzuki approach.
There are no limitations to the capabilities of young people. The philosophy discourages competitive attitudes between players and advocates collaboration and mutual encouragement between players of all levels.
Suzuki believed that talent is not an accident of birth, but the potential of every child can be highly developed if he is given the proper training and learning environment. Because Suzuki was himself a violinist, he applied his theories first in teaching very young children to play the violin. The Suzuki method now includes:
• Bass • Cello • Flute
•Guitar • Harp •Oboe
•Organ •Piano • Recorder
•Viola • Violin •Voice
Each instrument has its own repertoire, but the basic teaching technique and the philosophy that “every child can learn” are the same. Dr. Suzuki’s pedagogical approach is also being used now with early childhood education (0-3 yrs) and in both private and public school systems. Several Universities now offer a masters degree in Suzuki Pedagogy.
Dr. Suzuki’s tour group of ten Japanese children came to the United States for the first time in 1964. Since that time tour groups from Japan have returned for several years following, performing in Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Puerto Rico. Now there are an estimated 350,000 children learning musical instruments by the Suzuki method in the United States and thousands more all over the world – all learning the same repertoire and able to gather to play together at any time.
The Method Behind the Philosophy
The Suzuki Method, aka “Talent Education”, begins at an early age. Lessons ideally begin around age 3, but it is never too late to begin the Suzuki Method. The Method combines listening, private lessons, group classes and recitals. The learning process happens under the careful supervision of parent and teacher, who together create a nurturing atmosphere for the child to learn music.
The student is required to listen every day to a recording of the repertoire they are learning. Listening repeatedly to the Suzuki repertoire models language-learning. One must first be immersed in any language before speaking it. Each child begins with simple melodies learned by ear. The ability to read music is taught separate from learning how to master the instrument. The 2 abilities are developed side by side with more emphasis put on developing the ear to recognize proper pitch and tone while the eye is developed later to identify what pitch the ear is hearing. Once the student masters the technique and confidence in playing their instrument then they may be asked to take on note reading simultaneously while playing. This also happens language-learning. We all speak our native tongue before we are taught to read it. Children taught music through ear-training/listening do not have to be taught the notes to their pieces. This allows the teacher to focus on proper technique and tone quality, which in turn develops a high level of musicality in very young children.
Private and semi-private lessons are held weekly at my studio in SE Portland. I require parents to commit to attend all lessons and practice with their child every day, making sure the child does exactly as the teacher instructed. The parent need not be a musician – they are taught step by step how to help the child at home. During practice the parent creates a positive learning environment by giving praise for each effort. The length of practice time can vary depending on the child’s attention span, but will gradually increase as the student advances through the repertoire. Just as language learning happens slowly at first so does the ability to learn an instrument. Each piece has a skill set that is mastered before moving on to the next. Once mastered it is not forgotten but added to a “vocabulary” of pieces that are revisited to develop new techniques. Remember it is not the quantity of practice each day, but the quality.
Group Lessons – Workshop Week!
While I completely agree with the importance of group lessons, I differ from most Suzuki studios in how I implement group learning. Along with my co-teacher, Amanda Lawrence, I have a unique approach called “Workshop Week”. We meet in small groups, play music outside of the Suzuki repertoire and perform in our groups at the end of the year. Attendance at Workshop Week is required.
Group playing is key to musical development. Small class sizes, similar ages and ability levels, as well as consistent classmates will help create the best possible environment for a successful group experience. Playing in groups encourages our children to continue playing music –quite possibly the most important thing of all. I value this experience and opportunity for learning as much as private lessons.
In groups, people learn to follow a leader and be a leader. We learn to listen to others while playing. Chances to share music, play games and socialize keeps music from being something your child always does alone! During group class students enjoy playing together and learn from one another. Beginning students are motivated when hearing the advanced students and in turn the advanced students are reminded of how far they have progressed. There is always a spirit of cooperation amongst the students and parents.
Students learn to perform both as soloists and as a group with their Workshop Class. Having frequent recitals develops a child’s self-confidence, which can be carried into other non-music activities in their lives.
While I encourage each child to strive for the most beautiful tone and technical facility possible, creating a first chair soloist is not the goal of my studio. I aspire to encourage noble hearts in children and ultimately create a better world through the medium of music. I hope each student learns to love music for the rest of their lives. The bond formed between parent and child who share the daily study of music is unique and rewarding.
In the end, I wish to teach artistry.