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What is the Suzuki Method?

What is the Suzuki Method?

by Erica Garcia

You’ve heard of it, you’ve seen the books, you’ve seen small children playing various instruments to a high level, but who was Suzuki and what is the Suzuki Method?

Dr. Shinichi Suzuki was born in 1898 in Nagoya, Japan and worked in his father’s violin factory when he was 12 years old.  His father did not approve of young Shinichi playing and performing on violin, but Shinichi began to study western culture and was inspired by western music.  He especially enjoyed the violin music that was played by Mischa Elman.  Shinichi started to teach himself violin by ear and later left Japan for a few years to spend time studying in Germany.  While in Germany, Shinichi met and married his wife, who he brought back to Japan.  His musical education and credentials from the time he spent in Germany are somewhat sketchy, but nonetheless, he stated that he studied violin while in Europe.  During World War II, his father’s factory was converted to produce goods for the war.  Sadly, the factory was bombed and one of his brothers were killed.  Shortly thereafter, Shinichi became more interested in teaching music and began to develop the Suzuki Method.

The Suzuki Method is more than being able to play your way through all the books.  It’s based on the philosophy that all children have great potential, any child can learn, and that children learn through their observation of their own environment.  Children are a product of their environment and the earlier they are exposed to learning, the better. He felt that repetition is the key to learning.  Suzuki directly involves the parents of the students as he felt that teachers and parents provide the best learning environment for the child.  Additionally, the teacher should provide illustrations to help the child learn.   He believed that children can learn music the same way that they learn a language.  

The combination of these beliefs along with a musical education are the foundation of what has evolved, and continues to evolve, into the Suzuki Method.  Suzuki encouraged his students, who later became teachers, to continue to develop this methodology.  Today, there are teachers that are trained to teach music following Suzuki’s philosophy. 

The textbook Suzuki student is one who lives and grows in the correct environment.  The environment is one where the child is surrounded by music, they attend concerts, listen to pieces they work on, work with their fellow students.  They usually start lessons between three and five years of age and work with a well-trained teacher.  The philosophy is that they learn through repetition and do not move on to a new concept until one is done satisfactorily.  For example, students will demonstrate a proper bow hold five hundred times before ever placing it onto the string.  They will only need to be shown to adjust as they learn to pull the bow across the string.  Young students learn music by ear, then learn to read, similar to how they learn to speak before they learn to read.  They memorize their pieces, repeat them and continuously add to their repertoire. Students do take private lessons but they also participate in group lessons with other young musicians and participate in frequent recitals.   Parents attend lessons and help guide their student through their practice sessions.  Students also practice improving their tone through ‘tonalization’ exercises. 

Shinichi Suzuki passed away at the age of 99 in 1998 but his philosophy and his methods live on.  He has written several books, including “Nurtured by Love” and “Ability from Age Zero” and has received Honorary Doctorate degrees from several name music conservatories, including New England Conservatory, The Cleveland Institute of Music, The Eastman School of Music, and Oberlin College Conservatory of Music.  He trained other teachers from all over the world, who returned to their own countries and spread his methods.  The Suzuki Method is over 80 years old and still very popular.  Each year, children from all over the world embark on a musical journey and become successful musicians.

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