The Suzuki Method

More than fifty years ago, Japanese violinist Shinichi Suzuki recognized the implications of the reality that children the world over learn to speak their native language with ease. With this realization, he began to apply the basic principles of language acquisition to the learning of music, and called his method the mother-tongue approach. The ideas of parent responsibility, loving encouragement, constant repetition, etc., are some of the special features of the Suzuki approach.

It is well recognized that the early years are crucial for developing mental processes and muscle coordination. Listening to music therefore, should begin at birth and formal training may begin as early as age three or four (but it is never too late to begin).

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.

As a child learns to talk parents are intimately involved in the process. Similarly, parents should be involved in the musical learning of their child. In the Suzuki Method, parents are encouraged to attend lessons with the child and serve as “home teachers” during the week to help and reinforce the information taught in the lessons. One parent may even learn to play before the child, so that he/she understands what the child is expected to do. Parents are encouraged to work with the teacher to create an enjoyable learning environment for the child’s musical growth.

A child learns words after hearing them spoken hundreds of times by others. Listening to music every day is similarly important to a child’s musical development. As a child begins participation in the Suzuki method, it is especially important that they listen to the pieces in the Suzuki repertoire so the child knows and recognizes the musical pieces immediately.

Regardless of the method, 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. Pieces in the Suzuki repertoire are purposefully designed to present technical problems to be learned in the context of the music rather than through dry technical exercises.

As with the reinforcement a child receives in learning a language, the child’s effort to learn an instrument should be met with sincere praise and encouragement. Remember that 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.

During the Suzuki Method, in addition to private lessons children participate in regular group lessons and performance at which they learn from and are motivated by each other.

(NOTE: This article includes excerpts and information obtained from printed material of the Suzuki Association of the Americas and the International Suzuki Association.)