The Suzuki Method of Violin Study
Researchers are finding more and more that music lessons, especially from an early age, have enormous benefits for a developing child. The Suzuki method is a method of teaching violin which is especially well-suited to children ages 4-6. The student has two 30 min. lessons per week- once private, and once with a group of 2-4 children. I will only accept a Suzuki student if I can arrange a group of same-age beginners who could form a group. I encourage the parent to start lessons only if they are able to commit to lessons twice a week, practice with their child daily (10-20 min. is enough in the beginning), and play the recordings daily.
Since the 1940’s the Suzuki Method has been a popular method of music study in the United States, Europe, South America, and Asia, and has produced many professional musicians such as soloist Leila Josefowitz, former 1st violinist of the Cleveland Quartet Bill Preucil, and concertmaster of the Berlin Radio Symphony Koji Toyoda, as well as over 300,000 non-professional musicians! Since the Suzuki Method is not yet well known in Israel, and no literature is available in Hebrew, here is a brief introduction.
Dr. Suzuki (1898-1998) was born in Nagoya, Japan. He studied violin as an adult in Germany with the respected teacher Karl Klingler, and even met Albert Einstein before moving back to Japan in 1928. During WWII, Dr. Suzuki’s father’s musical instrument factory was bombed, and he lost one of his brothers. His reaction to this destruction was to develop his philosophy and method of teaching music to children.
“Teaching music is not my main purpose. I want to make good citizens. If children hear fine music from the day of their birth and learn to play it, they develop sensitivity, discipline and endurance. They get a beautiful heart.” -Dr. Suzuki. Another aspect of the Suzuki Philosophy is that EVERY child can learn to play violin if placed in a musical and nurturing environment.
Dr. Suzuki often said, “Look at these small (Japanese) children. They all speak Japanese!” He had confidence that every child could learn to play the violin if placed in a musical environment. By listening daily to the recordings of an accomplished violinist, the child absorbs the music just like s/he would absorb the speech of the adults before pronouncing his/her first words. Reading music comes later, just like a child who can already talk learns to read the words in 1st grade.
Dr. Suzuki often spoke of the child-teacher-parent triangle, meaning that the parent plays an active role in the child’s learning process. The parent is present in lessons to observe and take notes and serves as the ‘home teacher’. Preschool-age children are not yet capable of practicing on their own. Additionally, during home practice parent and child spend time together in a meaningful activity, forming a closer bond.
Group class is a source of motivation: the children look forward to seeing their violin friends every week and the group can play games which reinforce what they learn in private lessons. In group class children play together as an ensemble, learning to listen to each other, to follow the teacher, and occasionally even to lead the ensemble. Stage fright is rare in ‘Suzuki kids’ because they have many opportunities to perform for their peers and parents. A group class becomes a community, and children learn a lot from watching and listening to each other, especially when they hear children who have been playing longer than they have. As an extension of this idea, Dr. Suzuki encouraged children and parents to observe other students’ lessons. In fact, beginning students came to observe before they themselves started lessons, and students were encouraged to come before their lesson times or to stay after.
Hints for parents:
Listen to the recordings daily.
The music can play in the background—in the car, during dinnertime, right before going to sleep. The child doesn’t have to be listening actively to learn.
Establish a routine for daily practice.
You know best what works for you and your child- before school, after school, or after dinner. It is more important to practice well and regularly than to practice a long time. The child could make some decisions, such as which piece to review, but in most cases the parent has to initiate the practice and remind the child of what needs to be done. The atmosphere should be pleasant, with a lot of encouragement and positive reinforcement when the child does something well. “Concerts” for family members and toys can be a nice way to end practice.
Make the most of private lessons.
Allow the teacher to take the lead in lessons and participate only when the teacher invites you. If your child asks you a question, answer as briefly as possible and direct his/her attention back to the teacher. At home you are in charge, but in lessons your child will be confused and distracted if s/he hears directions from both you and the teacher. Instead, take notes so you know what to practice at home. Ask questions if something is not clear.
Have reasonable expectations.
Every child moves at his/her own pace and must master a concept or a song before moving on to the next one. Do not be in a hurry and do not compare your child to other children. Enjoy your child’s every accomplishment, even if it seems small to you at the time. Repetition is necessary to internalize information. A solid house needs a solid foundation.
Go to concerts.
Your child will see YOU enjoy music and at the same time hear a model of beautiful playing. Encourage your child to examine how the musician holds the bow, or to listen to the smoothness of the sound. If you have a 4-year-old who cannot yet sit through a whole concert, plan to come to just the 1st half, for example.
Suggested reading (in English):
Suzuki, Shinichi. Nurtured By Love: A New Approach to Talent Education
Hermann, Evelyn. Shinichi Suzuki: The Man and his Philosophy.