“Music ability is not an inborn talent but an ability which can be developed. Any child who is properly trained can develop musical ability just as all children develop the ability to speak their mother tongue. The potential of every child is unlimited.” – Shinichi Suzuki
Dr Suzuki called his teaching method the Mother-Tongue Approach, inspired by the fact that children so effectively learn to speak their native tongue. Prompted and encouraged by the mother’s love and the family environment, the child responds and develops this most difficult of skills, that of intelligible speech.
When a child learns to speak, the following factors are at work:
In the Suzuki approach each of these principles is used in the learning of an instrument (piano, violin, viola, cello, flute and guitar). The mother-tongue method also has successfully been applied to other fields such as art, mathematics, poetry and ballet.
Suzuki closely follows the parallel with language learning and recommends that musical training should also start from birth and that music should become an important part of the baby’s environment. When the infant’s environment includes fine music as well as the sounds of the mother-tongue, it is understandable that the child will develop the ability to speak and to play an instrument (with technical guidance) before being required to read in either language. Formal lessons frequently begin as early as 3 years of age.
Children learn to speak by listening and imitating the language spoken around them. By listening to recordings of the literature, as well as listening to other music, children absorb the language of music just as they absorb the sounds of their mother tongue.
In Suzuki teaching, much emphasis is placed on listening to recordings of the Suzuki repertoire, as well as music in general. Therefore, good quality sound equipment is essential.
It has been proven that the more frequently the students listen to the recordings, the more easily they learn to play.
Constant listening to music performed with beautiful tone provides children with a role model for their playing. In the lessons the production of fine tone and sensitive playing is stressed from the beginning.
Review is an important aspect of the Suzuki Method. Through constant repetition of pieces, children strengthen old skills and gain new ones. Technique, musicianship and style are developed through the study and repetition of these pieces. Students can hear for themselves the progress they have made.
Daily practice of the pieces is encouraged to build the child’s confidence and abilities. As the child prefects a piece the motivation and sense of achievement will move them on to the next piece in a desire to learn more.
Each child learns at their own rate, building on small steps so each one can be mastered.
All Suzuki students follow the same sequence of musical materials for their particular instrument. Each new piece becomes a building block in a careful development of technique. Each instrument discipline has its own repertoire.
This standardised repertoire also provides strong motivation as younger students want to play music they hear older students play.
Through repetition and listening to the recordings, the child will play from memory which is a skill they can use with other aspects in their education such as reading and maths.
Reading music is postponed until the child’s aural and instrumental skills are well established, just as we only teach children to read after they can speak fluently. In this way, the teacher can concentrate of the student’s development of good posture, beautiful tone, accurate intonation and musical phrasing.
The Suzuki Method requires a three-way partnership between the student, the teacher, and the parent – all working together combining a philosophy, a technique, and a program of education.
Parents play an important role in the child’s musical learning, just as they do in their language and social development. Parents work together with the teacher to create an enjoyable learning environment.
Parents need to attend the lessons with their child, observe and take notes, to serve as “home teachers” during the week. Parents need to supervise practice sessions, play the recordings daily, and give encouragement, support, affection and understanding. This will motivate your child and give them a sense of achievement and makes playing an enjoyable experience.
The most important ingredient for success is the parents’ willingness to devote regular time to work closely with the child and the teacher. Parents need not be musicians, however sometimes they may learn to play before the child, so they can understand what the child is expected to do.
The Suzuki teacher serves as mentor to both the parents and the child, teaching the child at the lesson and guiding the parent in developing effective techniques for teaching the child at home.
As well as practise and lessons, the child needs to have exposure to other children playing. The parent also needs to attend workshops, concerts, group lessons, graduations and summer schools with their child.
The book Nurtured By Love by Shinichi Suzuki is essential reading for anyone interested in the Suzuki Method. This should be available in the public library, but can also be easily purchased from a music store.
Contact your local Suzuki Association.