“Musical 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.” – Dr. Shi’nichi Suzuki
So, how does Suzuki work?
Dr Suzuki named his unique teaching method the “Mother Tongue Approach”, after having an “a-ha!” moment in Germany when he saw tiny German children chattering away in German, noticing the difference between their ease with their native language, and his struggle to learn it as a Japanese man in his 20s. He realized that if a young child can so easily learn to speak his/her native tongue, then surely they could learn music the same way – as long as their they had encouraging parents who were willing to create a musical environment play in the home.
Just as when a child learns to speak, the following factors are at work in the Suzuki Method of learning music: Listening • Motivation • Repetition • Step-by-step mastery • Memory • Vocabulary • Parental Involvement • Love
Because the Suzuki Method so closely follows language learning, Dr. Suzuki always recommended that music should become an important part of the baby’s environment from birth (or even before). When a baby’s environment includes beautiful music as well as the sounds of its native language, it makes complete sense that the child will develop the ability to speak and to play a musical instrument (with technical guidance) before being required to read in either language. Suzuki lessons often can begin as early as 3 years of age, which is the age of learners that Little Music accepts students into the piano program.
Listening To Your Recording (and other beautiful music)
Children learn to speak by listening and imitating the spoken language they hear around them. In Suzuki teaching, much emphasis is placed on daily listening to recordings of the Suzuki repertoire, as well as music in general. The more frequently the students listen to the recordings, the more easily they learn to play. As a students’ only frame of reference to their pieces in the early years of Suzuki learning, it is essential that the recording is played on a daily basis.
Not only does constant listening to music performed with beautiful tone provide children with a role model for their playing, but it boosts their own artistic sensitivity and interpretation. In the lessons, the production of fine tone and sensitive playing is prioritized from day one.
Parental Involvement Is Essential
Parents play a crucial role in Suzuki. Learning takes place in an environment of co-operation between teacher, parent and child. The parent’s role includes attending each lesson with the student, taking notes, and then being the “home teacher” at practice times. It is also the parents’ responsibility to play the recordings daily, help to create an environment of affection, support, encouragement and understanding – even when they feel too busy or distracted, we ask that this is set aside in order to focus on time spent with the child in home practice – whether for 5 minutes with a beginning student or 1 hour with an advanced.
Encouragement Is Key
A positive, nurturing environment is created in the lesson, and is also expected at home – especially around practice time. Parents need to ensure that all members of the family understand this. Children learn with great zeal when they are sincerely praised for their efforts, and encouraged to keep going.
The Pieces in the Repertoire
Perhaps Dr. Suzuki’s most important contribution to music education is the unique order of the repertoire. Each carefully chosen piece becomes a building block for future learning. Technique, musical challenges and style are developed through the pieces, as opposed to trying to accomplish these through dry technical exercises.
Because each instrument in Suzuki has its own repertoire, it creates a familiarity and kinship between students, who can all play the same pieces on their respective instruments.
At the same time, the spirit of Suzuki teaching may encompass all styles and periods of music. Teachers may give supplementary material which may help to widen the students’ musical experience.
Reading music is not taught first in Suzuki – rather, it follows the acquisition of good aural, technical and musical skills, just as reading language begins after a child can speak fluently. The stage at which the child begins to learn reading music depends on the age and development of the child – and always after basic playing skills have been mastered. This way, the child maintains their focus on beautiful tone, expression and phrasing.
Integrating the music reading program with the Suzuki repertoire is vital to the child’s musical development.
Individual Lessons and Group Lessons, or Observations
As well as their individual lessons, students may participate in group lessons and/or observe the lessons of other children in the Little Music studio. The common repertoire enables them to play together, giving them valuable community-building and positive reinforcement of concepts learned in their individual lessons. As well as wonderful motivational tools (children love to do what they have seen other children doing), observing the lessons of other children provides supplementary learning to their own time at the piano with their teacher.