What is Suzuki?
The Suzuki Method, also known as Talent Education, and the "mother tongue method," was developed by Dr. Shinichi Suzuki in Japan. After his study of the violin in Germany as a young man, Suzuki returned to post WWII Japan with a new idea and new life mission. He had an epiphany, and that was that all children have talent. He realized that all children speak their native language, and that learning and using language, requires complex brain functions. If all children learn to speak, he realized, then their brains must be functioning at a very high level.
Suzuki also realized that it is the environment that nurtures children to speak, being that children only speak the language, and sometimes languages, that are spoken to them. Nobody is born with the "talent" to speak a language they have never before heard. All children learn to speak by imitating the language they hear in their daily environment. Parents repeat simple words for their baby, and are encouraging as the child successfully imitates their sounds.
Therefore, Suzuki reasoned, if a stimulating, nurturing environment, filled with language immersion enables very small children the ability to use language(s), why could he not apply the same philosophy to teaching children to play the violin? Suzuki took his idea and began teaching his "mother tongue method." He found that when a child's environment was immersed in hearing an instrument played beautifully, and if the child was encouraged by his/her parents and teacher, the child learned to play at a very high level. Suzuki was the first ever to attain such excellent results across the board with such small children.
Talent Education is more than learning to play an instrument, however. Dr. Suzuki's goal is for all children to develop their skills to enable them to be sensitive, loving, well-rounded human beings with "beautiful hearts."
"It is in our power to educate all children of the world to become a little better as people, a little happier."
"Let us begin to educate all children from the very day they are born. The fate of a child is in the hands of their parents. Every child has been born with high potentialities. The greatest duty, and the greatest joy given to us adults is the privilege of developing these potentialities and educating desirable human beings with beauty, harmonious minds, and high sensitivity."
Some of the basic principles and ingredients of the Suzuki method are:
1. Begin as early as possible. Dr. Suzuki recommends that ability development begin at birth. The human brain is most active between the ages of 3 and 4 years. And young children become less "pliable" the older they get.
2. Move in small steps so the child can master the material with a total sense of success, thereby building his confidence and enthusiasm for learning. Each child progresses at his own pace.
3. Either the mother or the father attends all lessons so that the parent understands the learning process, and can feel secure when working with the child as home-teacher. To this end, the parent receives initial instruction in correct playing posture of a simple piece. The most important single ingredient for success is the parent's willingness to devote regular time to work closely with the child and the teacher.
4. Daily listening to recordings of the Suzuki repertoire, as well as good music in general, is the nucleus of the Suzuki approach. The more the student listens to the recording, the quicker he learns. The repetition of sounds, heard thousands of times by the parents without the aid of a book, enabled the child to talk; likewise, the repetitions of the musical sounds will become engrained in the child's ear, and enable him to play his instrument without the need for developing the skill of reading musical notation. Dr. Suzuki used to say, "Practice and listen only on the days you eat!" Listening to the Suzuki recording is as integral a part of your child's musical education in the Suzuki repertoire as practicing. Since the "mother-tongue" method is based on imitation what the child sees and hears, listening to the music that is to be learned is essential. No one can learn to speak a language without hearing it, and similarly, hearing the Suzuki recording is an essential ingredient of the child's learning environment. Just as language is a daily activity, so is listening an important part of the child's music experience. Don't underestimate the ear. It can teach a child English, Japanese, Finnish, Bach, Mozart, or Tchaikovsky.
5. Postpone music reading until the child's instrumental skills are well established. This enables the main focus of the teacher's and student's attention to be on the sound; good posture, beautiful tone, & accurate intonation, are the 3 most important issues in the beginning. Reading music is a separate skill, that takes attention away from these vitally important basic building blocks. Once these 3 points have become well established, reading music may be introduced, the way reading a language is introduced to a child after he has already learned to speak.
6. Follow the Suzuki repertory sequence for the most part, so that each piece becomes a building block for the careful development of technique. Equally important is the strong motivation this standardized repertoire provides; students want to play what they hear other students play. Constant repetition of the old pieces in a student's repertoire is the secret of the performing ability of Suzuki students.
7. Create in lessons and home practice an enjoyable learning environment, so that much of the child's motivation comes from enthusiasm for learning and desire to please. When working with children, we should remember Dr. Suzuki's exhortation that we must come "down to their physical limitations and up to their sense of wonder and awe."
8. Group lessons, in addition to private lessons, and observation of other students are valuable aids to motivation. Children learn from advanced students and from their peers possibly more than they do from their adult teacher directly-children love to do what they see other children do. They learn important ensemble skills, and they also learn to reinforce important technical skills introduced at the private lessons.
9. Foster an attitude of cooperation not competition among students, of supportiveness for each other's accomplishments. We learn in group class to see that we are all learning, we all have strengths and weaknesses, and to notice our mistakes with a desire to improve, but without berating ourselves or others.