The Suzuki Philosophy
by Alice Joy Lewis
The Suzuki Method was started shortly after World War II by Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, violinist, educator and humanitarian. Dr. Suzuki referred to his system of training Talent Education, or Mother Tongue Method. He believed that every young child who is capable of learning his/her native language is capable of developing a high level of ability-talent-in other areas as well. The conditions that he saw as necessary for the development of talent are as follows:
1. Begin as early as possible.
2. Create the best possible environment.
3. Use the finest teaching method.
4. Provide a great deal of training.
5. Use the finest teachers.
Beginning as early as possible may actually mean starting as soon as ‘ age zero’ by establishing an environment in the home which is conducive to the child’s learning. In the case of music training, this simply means exposure to good music in the home by means of C.D.’s, tapes, T.V., radio and attendance at concerts. Just as a child speaks his/her first word after hearing thousands of repetitions, so the Suzuki musician learns to play after hearing much music at home.
The children’s lessons – in the studio and at home – should be handled with positive encouragement and should be kept short. Formal training at an early age is desirable because children’s brains are developing at an explosive yet continually descending rate. They are eager to learn, receptive to new information, and their young muscles are still most flexible.
The method itself is a carefully constructed sequence of skills based on LISTENING and REPETITION, the steps by which a child learns a native language. Gauged to the speed of the individual child this sequence adds a new skill only as previous skills are completely mastered, thus assuring a child’s success at every step in a process as natural as learning to speak. Training is provided by private and group instruction and by daily listening and practise at home.
One of the especially exciting features of the Suzuki Method is the use of the finest teachers. If we look again at the analogy of language learning, we note that it is the parent who is usually the first and best teacher. With Dr. Suzuki’s Talent Education, parents serve as teachers even if they have no musical background. The Suzuki teacher actually serves as mentor to both parent and child, teaching the child at the lesson and guiding the parent in developing techniques of teaching the child in home practise. The parent and the child are then in a position to work together toward a common goal.
How to make the most of Suzuki Education for your Child
Successful Suzuki education depends heavily on the teamwork of teacher and parent working in the best interest of the child. The co-operative relationship has often been described as a triangle.
Listed below are some specific ways in which you contribute to make Suzuki Talent Education a successful experience for your child:
1. Listen daily to the assigned music.
Not just once or twice but many times. The listening can occur in many settings–while your child is playing quietly, at mealtime, during travel time in the car at bedtime, etc. The value of repetition is certainly obvious as it is seen as part of language learning. Think about how many times your child heard “momma” or “daddy” before saying them. Dr. Suzuki told us that there is a direct relationship between the number of times a child hears a piece and the speed and ease with which he/she learns to play it.
2. Continue to provide rich listening experiences as your child advances through the repertoire.
It is important for the advanced student to listen faithfully just as it is for the younger ones. Comparative listening should be encouraged. For example, several different recordings of a particular sonata or concerto give the student a perspective about tone and interpretive possibilities that are extremely helpful.
3. Practice Daily
There are three aspects of practice that affect your child’s progress:
• The Child’s knowledge of his/her own results
Regularity is actually a more important aspect of practice than the amount of time put in. A few minutes of practice daily produces better results than several days without any practice followed by several hours crammed in just before the lesson! Dr. Suzuki’s own recipe for beginning students’ practice is “Two minutes of joy, five times a day.” Note the emphasis on joy and the repeated activity rather than the amount of time. Again, there is a direct relationship between how often your child practices and how he/she progresses.
The amount of time spent in practicing gradually increases as the child’s ability to concentrate grows. As students advance in the repertoire, their musical material makes increased practice time necessary. It becomes easier, though, to practice more as the complexity of the material and the amount to do increases.
The child’s knowledge of his/her own results
A student’s knowledge of his/her own results in practice is important to progress. Bill Starr writes in To learn with Love that psychologists recognize three phases in skill acquisition:
1. In the first phase the learner understands what he is supposed to do.
(Ex. For a practicing Suzuki student it might be to play with “straight” bows, i.e. with the bow parallel to the bridge or to play with a relaxed, curvy bow hold, etc.)
2. The second phase consists of meaningful practice with appropriate feedback.
Knowledge of results, or feedback, is considered by psychologists studying skill learning to be one of the most significant factors in practice. Most children do need help in learning to focus their own awareness on what they are doing as they play. It is possible, and so easy for them, to be a sort of “middle man” between teacher and parent. Teacher tells parent what must be done; parent sees that child does it. Bill Starr describes the child in such a situation as a passive, non-observer, totally uninvolved. Passive, uninvolved practice impedes progress! (Eg. It is much more helpful to the student’s progress if he/she is asked to watch to see if a bow is straight, to stop to see if he/she sees it crooked, and to see how few stops he/she needs to make during the song to be played, etc.
3. The third and final phase of skill acquisition is automatic execution.
When the notes, bows, and movement patterns are largely automatic, the musician can concentrate on interpretation.)
4. Show That You Value Your Child’s Practice Time
Try to set aside a time (or times) each day that you and your child know is (are) just for practice. You might consider turning off the TV, turning on the phone answering machine (or taking the receive of the hook), having alternative activities for potential distracting siblings, and doing anything else possible to give your child’s practice your undivided, calm, attention. Enjoy your child’s practice. It can be precious time shared!
Allow time enough to arrive promptly (maybe even early) to your child’s private and group lessons. Siblings are welcome and may listen while they engage in quiet activities. Refrain from doing knitting or needlepoint, reading a book, or any other activity however worthy – that demonstrates some inattention to your child’s lesson.
5. Take notes at your child’s lessons
As we listen to a lesson, we may think that we can remember exactly what the teacher is asking for in daily practice; reality teaches us that in the complexity of daily living, we have so much to remember in so many areas that having written notes to jog our memory is helpful. Refer to the lesson notes during the week. Sometimes the use of the teacher’s terminology in practice situations at home can help the student remember “how it felt” at the lesson.
6. Tape record your child’s lessons
Recording the lesson does not replace note taking; however, it can be extremely helpful. In some situations, the lesson tape should be heard by the student once or twice during the week between lessons. This is particularly helpful for more advanced students who are moving toward increased independence in their lessons.
7. Follow the teacher’s instructions carefully
Not because the teacher is an infallible expert, but because the teacher can only gauge how well his/her ideas work for your child if the instructions are followed exactly. Let the teacher know if there are things that you do not understand or that you have trouble implementing. Keep your teacher informed of what works well for your child.
8. Remember Suzuki’s rule–One teacher at a time, please..
You are the teacher at home; the teacher is the teacher at lessons. There is sometimes a fine line between being attentive and responsive to your child and distracting from what the teacher is doing. During lessons, try not to indicate displeasure by frowning, gasping, groaning or commenting on your child’s performance. Remain calm. Let the teacher establish a working relationship with your child. Enjoy.
9. Include review as part of daily practice.
After your first child learned to say “Mama” you didn’t say, O. K., now that you can say that, we’ll put it aside and learn something else. You built on continued repetitions of their first words to develop new vocabulary. So it is with Suzuki violin. New skills are built on the foundation of skills learned in the first few pieces.
10. Appreciate each small success.
Dr. Suzuki preferred not to use the word patience in referring to our working with the children, because he felt that it implied controlled frustration. Learn to genuinely enjoy the accomplishment of each step rather than to just be patient with your child. Each skill in the method is purposely broken down into its smallest components; what seems like a minute step to an observer may be a MAJOR ACCOMPLISHMENT for a small child. You can expect some steps to take what seems like an agonizing amount of time. The more success your child feels at the first small steps, the more courage he/she will have to take on big ones later.
11. Do Not Compare Your Child with Others
This goes for comparisons among siblings, classmates and friends. DO NOT COMPARE, PERIOD! Because each child is a unique individual, you do your child a grave injustice by comparing his/her progress to Patty’s quickness or Peter’s slowness. Not only will each child learn at a different rate, but that rate will change from time to time with each child. Some children start slowly and speed up; some start like meteors and slow down. Some start at a snail’s pace and stay that way; some move like lightning the whole way. Some children move like bumper cars – now slow, now fast, now slow. Your two criteria for your child’s progress should be:
1. Is my child working to capacity without feeling undue pressure?
2. Does he/she feel good about his/her progress?
If you see a problem in your child in one or both areas mentioned above, make arrangements to talk with your teacher when the child is not present.