The Suzuki Method is based on the principle that all children learn to speak their own language and that other skills can be taught to them in the same natural way. It is also known as the ‘mother tongue method’.
Shinichi Suzuki believed that all children can be taught and that the earlier they start the better. Other important aspects of the method are: the emphasis on listening to music, the involvement of the parent, a nurturing environment, and the social interaction with other children. As Suzuki was a violinist, he started teaching the Suzuki Method on the violin. This is, therefore, the instrument which is most associated with the method. However, the Suzuki Method is by no means restricted to the violin and lessons are also offered on piano, cello, viola, flute and recorder.
The early start
In the UK, children start Suzuki lessons at the age of 3 or 4. At this age they are very receptive, their eagerness to learn is great and their aural abilities are at their peak. They start by listening to recordings of the music they will play, and by observing the lessons of other children. The parent is taught the basic principles of playing the instrument, and the child becomes motivated to emulate not just the teacher, but also the parent and the other children. The parent attends all lessons and learns from the teacher how to help their child at home.
Teachers try to make the lessons as enjoyable as possible for the child and encourage parent and child to enjoy their home practices. Fun is important and at the beginning various games are often used to reinforce musical and technical skills. By always praising the efforts of the children, parents and teachers encourage them on to the next step.
The carefully graded repertoire makes each level easy to achieve, and teachers are taught how to let each child progress at their own pace. Just as the first words are retained in a child’s vocabulary, all the old pieces are still kept as part of the child’s repertoire while they learn new pieces. In this way they learn to achieve an ever higher standard of playing. By means of repetition, skills and repertoire are learnt thoroughly, and children feel secure in their own achievements.
Confidence and social skills
The students get together in concerts and group lessons and are encouraged to watch the individual lessons of other children. They become accustomed to playing in front of others and with each other. This adds to motivation and gives them confidence, as well as enjoyment. Later on in their development it is especially important to belong to a peer group consisting of children who all enjoy playing an instrument.
Just as children learn to speak before they are taught to read, so Suzuki students of 3 or 4 first learn to listen to and produce a good sound on their instruments with guidance from their teacher. At the same time, a number of important pre-reading skills are developed in individual and group lessons. When their aural and digital skills are well established, usually at the age of 5 or 6, they are taught to read music. At this point their fluency in playing is ahead of their reading, but reading skills soon catch up with playing skills.
The aims of the Suzuki Approach
Each year an increasing number Suzuki trained students are taking up places at music colleges and university music departments, and a number have successfully entered the music profession. But while musical excellence is important, the training of professionals is not the main aim. The emphasis is on the education of the whole child. In the words of Dr Suzuki: “our purpose does not lie in a movement to create professional musicians but to create people of beautiful minds and fine ability. We engage in human education through music so that children will grow beautiful with high sensitivity through an unparalleled musical approach”