Method Review: The Suzuki Method

  
Category: Methods

love at first sightI firmly believe that there is no one right way to learn a new instrument. Just as there is no one right way to lose weight, study for your midterms, or eat a block of cheese (where every way is the right way), the experience of learning a new instrument varies from person to person. The Suzuki method offers a methodology for children to develop their musical ability and creativity by using a number of techniques including musical recordings, parental involvement, musical integration, and focus on memorization. The following is a discussion of the background of the method, as well as pinpointing  a few of the key techniques that this method uses.

The Suzuki method was developed by a  Japanese violinist who had an interesting idea. The idea was that music is a language, and all children have an innate talent for acquiring languages.  And much like a child learning a language learns to speak before they learn to read, the Suzuki method does not focus on note recognition at first. Rather, it focuses on playing and mastering the instrument. First, become comfortable with the instrument and music. Then, learn to read.

So, how does one become comfortable with an instrument without knowing how to read music? Well, the Suzuki method first focuses on learning music by ear, that is, listening to a piece of music and then imitating it.  Along with ear-instrument training, the Suzuki method also prioritizes memorization of music. You can imagine that these techniques have led to some controversy over the effectiveness of the method. Some may (and do) argue that a child taught using the Suzuki method may not acquire the skills necessary to become a well-rounded musician.

Despite these types of arguments, supporters of the method argue that the method is most effective when used with very young children.  It facilitates the process of learning the instrument, and focuses on musical notation when the child is mature enough to remember and apply musical theory. It does not eliminate musical theory completely, only shifts the initial focus.

The Suzuki method requires a lot of parental involvement. In fact, it encourages parents to be active participants in their child’s musical education to the point of supervising every practice and every lesson.  Some may even be encouraged to learn the instrument themselves in order to more effectively coach their child.

The last key philosophy of the Suzuki method is musical immersion. The method encourages children to attend concerts, listen to music at home, talk about music, and perform in public often. This is intended to ensure that the child develops musicality and musical creativity, as well as becoming comfortable with public performance.

Like any other method, the Suzuki method has pros and cons. Ultimately, it is up to the parent to decide if the method is right for them and their child.

Creative Commons License photo credit: camil tulcan

Posted on February 15th, 2010 by sharlene

7 Comments

  1. Pathan Krakauer Says:

    “I firmly believe that there is no one right way to learn a new instrument.”

    I understand your good intentions, “sharlene,” but that’s exactly what Suzuki teaching has been about: teaching one way only.
    I have seen Suzuki teaching and other, different teachings in action, and have looked into the differences between them, and could notice that Suzuki falls in line with the type of teaching that focuses predominantly on the intellectual side (you yourself listed learning music by ear, listening, memorization and reading) while seriously neglecting the sound motoric foundation. Persistent repetition helps only to fix the unaddressed motoric issues for good.
    Those who’d believe that this is not true would need to ask themselves why so many hopefuls and musicians have been suffering with playing-related neuromuscular disorders and excessive anxiety. Can their problems be seen as totally separated from the teaching approach?
    (Another issue is the outcome of playing affected by these problems: repetition helps to make the ear accept the questionable-quality playing; many learn to accept it as ‘right,’ even desired – one needs to look no further than all those laudatory comments under multiple youtube examples of poor playing).

    There is no way around it: the motoric side either *is* or *isn’t* founded properly, and in the latter case, no amount of goodwill, willpower, musicality, etc. can miraculously cover for it.
    We need to see the flaws in the approach and start looking for the ways to address them, not to perpetuate them any further.

  2. sharlene Says:

    Thankyou, Pathan, for your comments. Perhaps you can suggest a method for children that does put more focus on developing motor skills?

    The Suzuki method is definitely not the most well-balanced method out there, but it is an option, and parents should be aware of it’s strengths, as well as it’s weaknesses.

  3. Pathan Krakauer Says:

    “…a method for children that does put more focus on developing motor skills”
    My studies made me aware that such approaches, for both piano and violin, have existed – for several decades, in Central and Eastern Europe. I also learned that teachers in North America don’t know about these approaches, and that’s because we haven’t been looking for anything better than what we got (and learned to see as the best there is).

    “… parents should be aware of it’s strengths, as well as it’s weaknesses.”
    Well, how can anyone expect parents to be aware when teachers aren’t? And, can we treat teaching (mostly children) as a “buyer be aware” market?

  4. sharlene Says:

    Teachers of the Suzuki method may not be aware of other methods of teaching, but well-trained piano teachers ARE aware. In fact, a core part of their education revolves around piano pedagogy.

    While the intention of this post was to introduce one particular method, I didn’t want to give the impression it was the ONLY method or the BEST method available. I am an advocate of a well-balanced teaching/learning experience which includes ear training, note recognition and sight reading, musicality and creativity, as well as developing motor skills. I don’t believe the Suzuki method meets these requirements.

    That being said, it is better for parents to have too much information than to little.. and such is the intention of this entry.

    My next method review will come with a disclaimer.

  5. Lynne Says:

    I am a Suzuki Piano Teacher. It is more a philosophy we follow rather than a method (ie. with certain steps to follow). I teach sight reading, theory, music appreciation and ear training. The students are well rounded, with a wonderful ear for music, fantastic memorization and performance skills. The main aim is for students to realize their potential and be happy while achieving it. My students enjoy reading pop, jazz, classical and easily do exams when they wish.

  6. jotham Says:

    Pathan, what you posted is very interesting to me. I’ve often noticed that Eastern European (Polish, Czech, Russian, etc.) pianists play Chopin and the early composers in a very well-executed style, which I’m trying to imitate and teach my students as well. I’m very exasperated with the Suzuki method, which produces rather robotic performers in my experience. The best method I know is the books of Czerny (originally from East Europe), but his songs aren’t always very interesting to modern ears. I also know that learning correct harpsichord technique helps develop a very tight, graceful, disciplined, precise piano technique, as it was precursor to the piano.

  7. Japayuki Says:

    There’s a recent talk show, #38 of The Japanofiles Podcast, that has an interview with an American Suzuki teacher who lives in Japan. She explains about some of this, including the Suzuki philosophy.



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