A Brief Introduction to the Suzuki Method of Music Instruction

I am a “Suzuki teacher.” In a nutshell, this means that beginners are taught to play by rote and/or by ear. Later – only when they are ready and when it is needed – music notation (reading music) is introduced. This is the way children learn their native language. First they imitate what they hear; later they are taught to read and write.

Listening: As in learning language, music students must be exposed continually to the sounds (music) they will be learning. This is MORE important than practicing! You should play the recording of your child’s music EVERY DAY! The child doesn’t need to sit and pay attention to it. It can just be a part of the background. But they need to know the music very well before they attempt to play it. It’s a good idea to get in the habit of playing the music at the same time every day so it won’t be forgotten. Students (or “pre-students”) also need to listen to other good music at home and attend live concerts often.

Your Part: Children learning to play by the Suzuki method do not practice on their own. You, the parent, work with your child each day to help guide him as he learns and perfects the skills given to him by the teacher. The regular teacher will help you understand what the goals are each week and how to go about accomplishing them. You may learn to play along with your child, but this is not necessary.

The Goal: The focus should be on the production of good tone and musicality, rather than just being able to play a lot of things. Children should be encouraged right from the start to listen to the sounds they are making and develop musical discernment. It is very important for the child to use a good position. Children who hold the instrument poorly cannot play well.

Practice does NOT make perfect! If you practice something over and over the wrong way – you only become very good at playing it wrong! Learning and practicing are two different things. Learning is working at something until you get it right, while practicing is doing it over and over – the right way!

Young children – especially right at first – cannot be expected to practice for a long time. (A half hour is an eternity to a preschooler!) I suggest that young beginners practice two or three times a day – for only five to ten minutes each time. After a few weeks, they may gradually progress to one daily 25 – 30 minute practice. The goal is to accomplish something at each practice – not to use up a certain amount of time. Children will continue to practice all the music they have learned, applying greater skill as they progress. Just as a child learning his native tongue continues using all the vocabulary he learns, young music students should continue playing all their repertoire often. This helps to form the basis for playing by ear, as every time a certain note is played by a certain finger, that knowledge (the sound-finger-string connection) becomes more firmly established in the brain.

Note Reading: Most Suzuki trained teachers do not start children on note reading until they can read (books) fluently and can play (by memory) all the pieces well up into Book two. Learning to read music is complicated enough without the added difficulty of remembering to move the eyes from left to right and track along a straight line.

Care of Instrument: The instrument needs to be kept in a special (safe) place at home. It should never be shared with friends. It is not a toy. It should also be protected from heat or cold (such as in the trunk of a car).

Recitals: I do not do recitals. Instead, we have “concerts.” In a concert, the children play on stage together. It is an opportunity to “give our music – like a gift – to make people happy.” (It’s also quite often associated with cookies!) This takes most of the stress out of performing while allowing students the opportunity to gain confidence appearing before an audience. Students who wish to perform solo on violin or fiddle will have opportunities to do so, but this is always the student’s choice.

Fiddling? Yes, fiddling. I introduce fiddle tunes alongside the Suzuki repertoire when the student is ready. This allows the student to broaden his repertoire and strengthen technique before moving on to more technically challenging pieces. It also introduces a whole new style of playing and a whole new kind of thinking – kind of like a young American child being given the opportunity to learn French. Students are expected to continue advancing in their Suzuki literature as they progress in fiddling.

Some students in a Suzuki concert at the end of their first year of lessons

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Suzuki students in a group lesson

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