What is the Suzuki Method?
An approach to teaching children to be whole, fine human beings through the deep and long-term study of a musical instrument. Suzuki’s central hypothesis stems from the observation that all children learn to speak their mother tongue through immersive environment, repetition, and especially, nurturing. Suzuki has adapted this process to learning to play an instrument as a primary language. Rather than reserving music only for those perceived as “gifted,” his conviction that every child can learn is both deeply optimistic and fundamentally egalitarian. But far beyond simply learning to play an instrument, Suzuki’s approach teaches us that each child can strive, find success and joy, and know true depth and beauty.
Why choose the Suzuki method?
Help your child grow in beauty and strength
More than just learning how to play the violin, the Suzuki approach teaches deep knowledge, love, and understanding, not only in music, but also in many parts of life. Just as learning anything with depth and love is inherently valuable, learning how to play the violin in Suzuki’s approach teaches essential life skills in specific areas of individual and family life. Most of all, it develops the capacity to learn deeply and to love deeply, both inside and outside music. The primary motivation for pursuing violin study should be to help the child grow in beauty and strength, to enjoy wonderful moments and persevere through difficult times, and to reap the benefits of all of the talent and ability that is within them.
Daily music listening is key
The violin is a vehicle through which essential life skills are taught. The most basic skill used, and the first ability to be developed, is listening. Because Suzuki’s approach is based on environment, daily music listening is key. By the time the bow touches the string for the first time, the music is learned by heart. Meanwhile, seeing the teacher and parent interacting with the violin, and watching others learn to play, the child naturally wants to participate. The cycle of listening, observation, and imitation is the starting point for violin learning, and helps to build a mental model of all of the movements, skills, and expression of the violin.
Discipline is the product of violin study
Once you and your child are in the routine of daily practice, you will begin to enjoy it much more, and both of you will notice steady improvement. Since a child defines success as having fun while doing something, over time you will both come to value practice time as both challenging and satisfying. It is this value that makes it possible to return to it each day, and over a period of years will result in your child taking on the responsibility of practicing. Thus, discipline is not a prerequisite for violin study, but the product of violin study.
Rhythm for your family
The Suzuki Method works by creating a loving environment for the violin in your family. As the music parent, you will learn how to carefully integrate violin practice into your family’s daily routine, so that the violin has a place to live and grow in your family and in your child’s heart. Playing the violin is not just another activity, but a practice that resides in the inner circle of your family life. Violin practice is something that everyone can participate in, even little siblings. It can help to provide a rhythm for your family that is so helpful in the life of a young child.
Learn the love of music and the depth it brings to your family
While there are many different ways to approach learning to play the violin, what sets Suzuki’s approach apart is its fundamental principle – that any child can learn to play the violin to a high level of ability – and its emphasis on environment and nurturing. Of all the life skills taught using the violin, perhaps the most important of all is nurturing. Through the example of nurturing that you give to your child, with all the individual attention and patience, she will learn to nurture and be patient with herself as she takes on ever more challenging and rewarding endeavors in her own life. Suzuki parents know they are after far more than learning to play an instrument or a piece of music. The most valuable lesson learned over time playing the violin is the love and beauty of music, and the depth that this love brings to your family relationships and inner life.
Essential components of the Suzuki Method
- Every child can: The fundamental principle of Suzuki education is that every child can learn to play a musical instrument to a high degree of ability. No child is born with the ability to play an instrument, but every child is born with the ability to learn. Given the appropriate environment, every child can learn to play the violin.
- Mother tongue approach: Suzuki’s central hypothesis stems from the observation that all children learn to speak their native language from birth because of their environment. Using this approach, we can teach children to play the violin in a natural way.
- Positive, nurturing environment: When the child attempts to speak a word, his effort is rewarded with love and encouragement. He already has a natural desire to speak, express, and communicate; encouragement and nurturing from the parent adds desire and fulfillment to each attempt. While we have no immediate expectation of any words from our children, we are certain they will learn to speak expertly.
- Listening: Children learn what is in their immediate environment. The words and tone of voice that surround the child from birth, or even before, form the basis for her own first words. In the study of the violin, the child listens to the music that she will play on the violin long before the bow touches the string for the first time.
- Repetition: Repeating something you enjoy is natural for anyone, but especially for a young child. Long after an adult might tire of trying a new word or skill, the child delights in trying over and over again, sometimes with a different tone of voice or a hilarious character. This delight is the mechanism by which skills are learned and mastery achieved.
- Early beginning: Children are surrounded in our language environment from birth. A child is usually ready to begin learning the violin by the age of four, and in some cases even earlier. This is an ideal developmental stage, combining language and developing fine motor aptitude with a loving parent-child relationship.
- Parental involvement: Children love spending time with their parents, and enjoy one-on-one time. Children are good at having fun; parents are good at remembering things, emulating the lesson, and keeping things fun.
- Learning by ear: The product of a listening environment is that by the time the bow touches the string for the first time, the child will already know by heart the music she will play. All that is left to do is to make the music come out of the violin.
- Mastery learning: Children define success as having fun while doing something. Each new skill is broken down into the smallest possible steps to make it easy for the child. It is essential to insist upon mastery before moving onto the next skill to build-in success to the long-term process.
- Reading music: Just as we learn to speak and then learn to read, music reading while playing is introduced after the technique has a solid foundation.
- Active repertoire and review: Just as in spoken language, you never learn so many words that you forget all the old ones. Keeping a piece polished develops a musical vocabulary upon which more advanced skills and techniques can be added.
- Learning from other children: Group class is the best motivation for home practice and provides a foundation for long-lasting friendships.
For Further Reading
Suzuki, Shinichi. Nurtured by Love (revised edition) Alfred Publishing, 2012.
Starr, William and Constance Starr. To learn with love: a companion for Suzuki parents. Alfred Publishing, 1983.