Listening

Listening to good recordings of the music to be learned forms the core of the Suzuki Method.   When we learn language as children, we do so naturally and without any lessons.  From before they are born, children are surrounded by their native language or mother tongue.  We are never surprised when a child learns to speak their mother tongue fluently and well and if a child doesn't learn as fast as his or her peers we don't worry about it, we just accept that they will start speaking later than other children and then often find that when they do start to speak it is in complete sentences.

 

When we learn music by the Suzuki Method we are  aiming to recreate this kind of a situation in our own homes with music.  Music and language are both communication by sound, they both have their rules of grammar and inflection and both have a written representation that can be learned.  We use the same parts of our brain to acquire music  as we do to acquire language and this is why children learn music so much easier than adults do - their brains are set up to acquire language and will absorb the language of music just as easily as they do their mother tongue.

 

In the past the most exceptional musicians tended to come from musical homes - Mozart was the son of a violinist, Bach was one in a long line of musicians and composers.  There could of course be two reasons: the first, and most popular one is "it's in the blood" and that the children somehow had their musical ability passed on genetically.  Science has yet to isolate a musical gene however and the other explanation, and by far the more appropriate one is that they were in the right environment for learning music even from before they were born.  Without wanting to start a big nature vs nurture debate, I would submit that the majority of a person's musical ability is learned and learned from their environment and put quite simply If you create a positive environment for learning music, music will be learned.  Even if the family is not actively playing musical instruments on a daily basis around the children, modern technology in the twenty first century means that we can provide a musical environment at the touch of a button.

 

Making music a part of your every day life is the first step to creating a positive musical environment for a child.  Put simply: Play them music.  That's it.  If there is music in your home, your child will absorb it. They will instinctively come to understand the subtle nuances which make up the musical vocabulary and grammar and start to replicate them naturally.  Listening to the radio, music on television, youtube, iTunes cd recordings and live concerts will all contribute to this environment and it doesn't matter what kind of music you are listening to.  Contemporary Popular Music has as much a place in a child's education as Western Classical Music and music of the Gamelan.  When you start to consider the Suzuki Method your teacher will advise you to purchase the first volume your chosen instrument, both the book and the CD, and the primary use of it, at least to begin with, will be listening to the CD.  The longer you listen to the CD before you commence lessons the easier it will be for children to pick up the sounds. 

 

Listening to a set repertoire is very important at this stage because the children must know the songs that they are going to learn "by heart".  If they have an internal understanding of the songs, can sing along to them and replicate them easily, they will be able to find the notes on the piano easily as well. 

If they know "how the songs go" they will know when they are playing the correct notes and will instantly self-correct when they play wrong notes.  Suzuki children who have done enough listening do not normally make mistakes in their notes as they know exactly what the sounds they are looking for are and will fix them if they hear the wrong ones.

Children who listen can learn to play tunes without effort and without "teaching" which means that lessons are freed up for the things that they can't teach themselves - hand position, technique, harmonic language understanding, teaching the parents and (eventually) music reading to name just a few.  Children who listen learn easily and naturally and don't find practising or learning difficult, they are simply learning to express what is already inside them at the piano.

 

On a more philosophical level, children who listen to music tend to be kind, generous, empathic and understanding.  Suzuki wanted to create a world of people with beautiful hearts, the learning of a musical instrument was the tool through which he hoped to achieve this but the actual playing of the instrument was a pleasant side-effect.