The Suzuki Method- the only teaching method which has a philosophy
"Young children's talent education must always be accompanied by character education which fosters their heart. The power of music to develop a human heart is indeed great; yet unless this is reinforced by action in daily life, it does not come alive." Dr. Suzuki
Learning with the Suzuki method requests to become a member of either the BSI (British Suzuki Institute) or the LSG (London Suzuki Group). This membership is obligatory and has to be in place before the first lesson (after the observation period). It offers the child a wide range of holiday classes, workshops, and events. (To sign up go to http://londonsuzukigroup.co.uk/membership/ or call 020 3176 4170.) You can pay by direct debit or PayPal.
What differs the Suzuki method from other teaching methods?
- Every child can
- Aural training (mother tongue approach- listening to the CD daily)
- Individual lesson combined with group
- Triangle (teacher - child - parent)
- Start at the age of three
- Starting to read music when they are ready
The only method which has a philosophy ( 1) Every child has the potential to become musical, 2) Environment rather than genetics will determine achievement, 3) Positive reinforcement promotes success)
- Repertoire: same standard everywhere
The process of the first year learning the cello:
- Observation of one term, depending on the child: group lessons, then one-to-one lessons
- The cello lessons start with the parent taking cello lessons for at least 6 weeks before the child can start (the parent does not need to continue with the lessons after the 6 week period.)
- At least first 2 lessons without cello: working on set-up, rhythm, and pitch. Teacher assesses whether the child is ready to start cello lessons.
- Books to be read before the first lesson: 'Nurtured by Love', 'Ability Development from Age Zero'
- Film: Nurtured by Love
- The parent needs to think about their own work schedule: how to fit in daily practice with child plus 2 lessons per week (one-to-one and group lesson)
- It has to be the same parent who attends the one-to-one lesson
- 4 concerts per year (participation expected)
- After the first term of lessons: regrouping with the parent to discuss routine of practice (it takes about one term for parent and child to settle into the new routine)
- After 6 months: practice routine should be settled
- After one year: reassessment[i] of progress and development A certain standard should have been developed
[i] Reassessment means a decision to be taken by the teacher on the continuation of lessons based on progress to date.
"I coach my parents and students to avoid comparison (reference made to what piece in the book the student has progressed to) altogether. Our reply to the classic question “What are you working on?” is “Good posture, good tone, and perfect intonation. What are you working on?” (Edward Kreitman)
Suzuki is a teaching method invented by a Japanese violinist (who also has a degree in mathematics), called Dr. Shinichi Suzuki. In the Suzuki method children start at the age of around three years (and mentally, i.e listening and getting prepared for the practical start of playing the instrument, at an even earlier age when the mind is most receptive). Suzuki’s philosophy is that all children can learn, not just the talented or the genetically advantaged. With perseverance, even the handicapped can learn, which Dr. Suzuki has proven on numerous occasions.
By daily listening to the Suzuki repertoire, which has been very carefully put together (the technical build-up with all its exercises have been cleverly built into the repertoire as small children would not want to practise dry, academic technic exercises), the children internalize the music and find it therefore very easy to learn to play. Following the idea that a child learns to speak by listening and copying the mother or father the Suzuki method uses the same principle by using the mother tongue approach in order to make the child understand the music and to be able to play it.
In order to fully absorb the advantages of the early childhood learning capacity children are very young when they (ideally) start to play an instrument. The ideal age for starting an observation period would be a three-year-old child.
The tuition starts with the observation: parent and child are expected to attend and observe group and individual lessons by other children for one term.
I give the parent the opportunity to see what the method is about, what is expected from parent and child and how the lessons are conducted.
The child gets the chance to observe other children having lessons which will help him or her to learn and understand what we are doing in the lesson or at home.
It also helps the teacher to see when the child is "ready" for the lessons and whether the parent needs more information before they commit.
This method is asking at least one parent for committing himself or herself to learning together with the child (in the best case scenario the parent learns the instrument along with the child). The parent is supposed to attend every lesson and practice with the child, in other words: the parent is the "home teacher".
The relationship between teacher, parent, and child is important and need "looking after". Difficulties in practicing sessions or other challenging factors need to be discussed and solved. Only if the parent understands the role he or she plays and only if the child understands the necessity of the parent's help, with this "Triangle relationship" fully functioning, the method will work.
There is an individual lesson once a week as well as a group lesson. Suzuki courses/ workshops, which are held in most major cities, invite Suzuki learners to come together from all over the world and play together. The experience of hundreds of children playing in unison is very moving and leaves a big impression on everyone.
Group lessons are an important part of the Suzuki method. It's a social event, which is fun for children as well as parents. A group of people grows together and supports each other. By observing their peers the children learn very quickly. Playing together with others furthers the child's listening ability and capability in ensemble playing. The child learns to perform in front of others, which prepares him or her for playing on stage.
Suzuki's aim was NOT to produce professional musicians but to use music as a means to develop and shape children's character and personality. “Nurtured by Love” is his motto and in his opinion music is a way to develop noble people with noble feelings. “First character, then ability…this principle has been a light to my path all my life and is written on my heart.” (Dr. Suzuki, from his book ‘Nurtured by Love’)
“Suzuki didn’t formally study psychology but had an intuitive understanding of children’s psyche, He had respect for who they are and did not try to change them into someone else.” (Howard Gardner, Professor & Co-Director, Project Zero, Harvard University)
When Dr. Shinichi Suzuki was offered a place to start a music school just after the war, he answered: “I am not interested in doing repair work on people who can play already. What I want to try is infant education. I want to teach small children not to turn out geniuses but through violin playing extend the child’s ability.”
So when Suzuki was invited to bring a group of violin pupils to the United States in 1964 in order to perform and demonstrate what his method was about, he did not take along the best students but the ones who were available to go. The method caught on in the States and in 1971 the Suzuki Association of the Americas was founded, followed by the first international conference in Hawaii in 1975.
When one of his little students performed to an amazed audience in 1934 and the media referred to him as a genius, Suzuki was furious about the newspaper completely missing the point. He retorted: “All children can learn. On our school, they are accepted on their willingness to participate. We have no entrance exams!”
The prejudice a lot of people have that Suzuki children can't read
music is unfounded. Naturally, at the very beginning, the children cannot read music as at the age of three a child can not read at all, whether it is written books or music.
The children start to read when they are "ready". Some earlier some later but usually when a child is halfway through the book 1 (at 'Go Tell Aunt Rhody' or 'Allegro') children will start to read music.
A popular way of starting to read is by means of 'Mind Games'.
It is an advantage to be in the habit of memorizing music. The aural ability and the muscle/ physical memory are being trained by memorizing the songs. Other components like optical memory come into play when a piece of music and its structure is being analyzed with the help of colors.
Suzuki had the idea: if children can learn a complicated language as Japanese, they must be able to learn music and music making the same way. He tried it and it worked. The children listen from an early age to the same music again and again and then play exactly that music again and again, which they have completely internalized during the listening process. Repetition is the secret. “Ability develops through practice. An idle person will not develop.” (Dr. Suzuki, from the book ‘Nurtured by Love’)
When I did a little opinion poll around musicians and artists and I questioned people with regards to the best way of teaching I frequently got the answer: “I am against copying.” But how would children learn anything if not copy? Children don’t need to be taught, they just need to watch, observe and that way they train themselves. “The human life force, by seeing and feeling its surroundings, trains itself and develops the ability. This ability by further constant training overcomes difficulties and becomes a very high ability….The development of ability cannot be accomplished by mere thinking or theorizing, but must be accompanied by action and practice…” (Dr. Suzuki, ‘Nurtured by Love’).
Traditional teachers often criticize “a lack of individuality” in the Suzuki method. They accuse the children of playing “like a machine without feeling the music”. They compare “mass concerts” with mass production. Although Suzuki does initiate lots of concerts with lots of children and teachers in groups, so the children can learn from each other, all the children also have individual lessons with the teacher and at home with their parent. The fact that he enables even handicapped children to learn is proof that he tailors his teaching method to every single child.
The standardized repertoire is ideal for bringing lots of children together from all over the world and playing together repertoire which has been practiced, internalized and polished to a high standard.
“Dr. Suzuki believes very much in the individual child’s ability, in not measuring that child against any other child. Your best yardstick measurement is that child himself or herself.” (Alice Joy Lewis, Ottawa University, Kansas)
There is a real "belong together" feeling amongst BSI Suzuki members and a huge network of supporting each other. The group lessons contribute to the social aspect, which the children, as well as the parents, enjoy. The triangle between teacher, child, and parent is a relationship, which is to be taken very seriously. The method requires working on a smooth relationship and understanding between the teacher and the parent. For many parents, the activity of practicing with their child is a special quality time, a bonding time between mother/ father and child. If the practicing time is a struggle, it often reflects a friction “outside the music room” and reveals difficulties in their relationship. Practicing with your child forces the parent to reflect and it will teach the parent a lot about himself/herself.
Last summer, at one of the Suzuki workshops, I loved to see the parents, who came along to the course during the "parent afternoon" playing on their children's instruments all the pieces they and their children had learned. They had so much fun! (The parent often plays on the child’s instrument to stimulate the child’s desire to imitate. And the child will rather want to do that on exactly the same instrument as the parent plays on. However, in order for the parent to get a good idea what it must feel like for the child to play a particular instrument, it is recommended that the parent also tries playing on a full-size instrument. The parent of a young cello student should experience playing on a full-size cello as without this experience he or she won’t know how big and heavy the child’s cello must feel on the child’s chest.)
By learning along with the child the parent can appreciate what the child is going through and understand why certain demands are difficult to put into action. Understanding the difficulties again helps the parent to truly acknowledge any kind of achievement the child conquers and thus reward it with plenty of praise.
And last but not least I would like to refer to my son, who actually did not start to play the piano with the Suzuki method but has "converted" to it. Ever since he started with the Suzuki method his playing has rapidly improved, especially his touch and phrasing. In short: his musicianship went up a few levels.
I would like to end my report with Pablo Casals’ words after having listened to one of Suzuki’s student concerts. “ Music must serve a purpose. It must be part of something larger than itself. A part of humanity.”