Understanding the Suzuki Method
By Lorraine Fink
The Suzuki movement in the United States is coming of age. In March, 1964, about 21 years ago, string teachers in the Western World heard a concert a national music conference which demonstrated the results of the teaching philosophy of Shinichi Suzuki. The years that followed were filled with attempts to emulate those results, but unfortunately the efforts were premature on the part of most teachers due to insufficient understanding of the factors that make the method work.
Now, two decades later, the early doubts that a system which developed in Japan could work in America are being dispelled. With continually improving education for teachers and parents, thousands of families find their children
achieving musically high standards and enjoying the process as well.
Regrettably, there are still many teachers whose knowledge of the method consists of little more than the printed material in the first Suzuki book. Yet, unlike other teaching approaches, it is the philosophy of the Suzuki
method which is to emphasized, and it is through an understanding of the philosophy that the techniques of teaching are developed.
As one studies and gains in understanding of the Suzuki method, its depth and significance continue to be revealed. At first, however, one becomes acquainted with some of the basic ideas of the approach, each worthy of further study:
1. Rote Learning
It seems that it is now common knowledge that the Suzuki approach is based on the "mother-tongue" method of imitation and rote learning which parallels that of acquiring language skills at an early age. More and more, this concept is meeting with approval on the part of teachers as they deal with it logically. As an example, the prodigies of the past as well as many of today's artists learned their musical skills in a Suzuki-like manner because they had intense exposure to family, friends, or teachers who were performing models. The idea that great talent is inherited must have originated
thought observation of those families where music was a consuming passion and the progeny reflected this while very young.
We now know that all children have talent which can be developed. It is hoped that teachers and parents will make use of today's technology and psychology to establish an environment which will contain the positive elements that helped develop musicians of more than a generation ago. For example, the cassette player can bring music into every home at a reasonable cost. Television can show how violinists look and move, and before long video cassettes and video disks will be a common supplement to the weekly lesson. Active involvement of the parent daily at home as well as at the lessons is absolutely essential, particularly when the child is young.
Listening daily to recording of the music studied is important. It helps accomplish several things; 1) It acquaints the student with the elements of the total composition; 2) It serves as a model for tone, tempo, style, and phrasing; 3) It enters the melody into the subconscious for ease of learning to play it, and 4) It motivates the child in that he will want to play familiar pieces.
Teachers should demonstrate abundantly for their students, because the style of Bach cannot be gleaned from the printed page. Those who resist playing a piece for a student for fear it will make it "too easy to learn" have much more to understand about how children learn as well as how to structure a lesson.
4. Use of the Music
At first glance the Suzuki books seem woefully lacking in the material traditionally used to develop an instrumentalist. With the exception of a few concise technical examples, the books are indeed albums of pieces. The conventional teacher, accustomed to having a step by step procedure to follow, has reason to ask "where are the etudes, the introductions to new skills, the scales, arpeggios, and drills?"
The answer is that those elements are present within the material used, but more expressly they are a part of the teacher's creative approach to each child's needs and, based on predetermined goals, his analysis of what is appropriate, and when and how to present it.
5. Motivation and Repetition
The Suzuki method is no different than other approaches in its critical need to motivate the student to repeat the material constructively many times. However, motivation is easier in the Suzuki method because assignments are custom made and woven in with the other tenets of the total philosophy. Suzuki believes that repetition results in technical security, an expanding repertoire and -above all- the child's feeling of satisfaction through achievement.
Of great importance is how the student is paced through the material. Emphasis is placed on the degree of mastery the student can be encouraged to develop with a specific piece. Less importance is placed on moving rapidly through page after page of material. Students not only continue to polish a piece to a higher standard while they move into new challenges, but they are asked to maintain every piece learned and improve on them as their level of ability increases.
7. Small Steps
When a traditional teacher becomes involved in the Suzuki method he learns that what he once considered a single step is really several smaller steps, each one important to understand and execute before the next is undertaken. The beginning stage seems much longer, but it leads to more rapid advancement later since less remedial work is required.
Fortunately the myth that Suzuki students typically are inadequate music readers is disappearing. Of course, much depends on the individual teacher and his ability to integrate the study of notation with the other elements of the method. However, it seems that much of this "non-reading" reputation is the result of comparing a Suzuki student's reading ability to his performance level-certainly not a very objective method for evaluation.
Our present generation of Suzuki students tends to read at a level comparable to traditional students in its age group. They learn to read notation, once introduced, in a comparatively short time, and the skills they already possess are likely to result in their reading with better rhythmic accuracy, intonation, tone quality, and retention than their traditionally-schooled counterparts.
9. A Charge to Teachers
Shinichi Suzuki, born in 1898, possesses a profound love of music and children. As a humanitarian and educator he has sought
to bring beauty and a means of expression into the lives that he touches. It is ironic to hear him, or perhaps more accurately his method, blamed for producing non-readers, unbalanced orchestras with excessive numbers of violins, and teenagers who suffer "burn-out" from too many years in music. These are conditions that we teachers and parents have allowed to happen, and we are the ones to remedy them. Through the creative and intelligent use of Suzuki's philosophy and method, we can help our children develop both technique and musicianship to an astoundingly high level. There is little doubt that the factors at work in the Suzuki system produce a motivation that results in solid technical development and a genuine feeling of personal satisfaction with the musical outcome.