Developed in Japan by Dr Schnichi Suzuki following the Second World War, the Suzuki method has inspired millions of teachers, parents and children across the world. It is a method which has several significant differences from the more, for want of a better word, “traditional” methods that people may be familiar with.
Maybe music will save the world"
- Pablo Casals
The Mother Tongue Method
Children learn to speak the language of their parents fluently and without effort. They are surrounded by the language even before birth and they pick it up as naturally as they breathe. No child is ever lauded for having a special “talent” for language, some speak earlier than others but never do parents claim that their child has no talent for language and therefore will not learn to speak.
The same is true for music. Language could be defined, at its most simplistic, as a means of using sound for communication. What the mother tongue method aims to do is, in the same way we create environments positive to learning language, create an environment which is positive to learning music. We do this by filling the environment with music. In the past the only children who would be exposed to a positive musical environment would be those whose parents actively played or sang on a daily basis. Fortunately, with the aid of modern technology we can now produce the same environment at the touch of a button.
Listening = Learning
Children have no filters. While are able to shut out sounds or ignore stimuli in their environments children do not. This means if we play a quality recording of the music to be learned, the children will pick it up, even if they are not actually “listening” to the music.
Children learning by the Suzuki method will listen to the music to be learned, ideally well in advance of the actual learning. This is so that they can absorb the pitche, tone and rhythm of the music and when it comes time to learn it they find that the sounds are already in their brains. It then becomes a relatively simple matter of teaching them how to move their fingers in order to reproduce the sounds. By listening to good quality recordings they have a “perfect model” to emulate and will be less inclined to develop habits that need to be later unlearned.
Learning with Love
It is not just a positive musical environment that is required for successful learning. A positive home environment is just as crucial. A child who feels loved and encouraged will make much better progress than a child who feels criticised. Give constructive, specific, positive feedback as much as possible. “I really liked the way you played the first note, can you play the second one the same way” is far more useful than “That was dreadful, do it again” – although if you are reading this, I would hope that you are more the kind of person inclined towards the first example rather than the second anyway. It is nearly always possible to find something to praise in a performance.
Technique from the beginning
The Suzuki method takes children as young as two years old and gives them a positive musical environment. Once this is established, children can enrol for lessons where they and their parents are given very specific physical exercises associated with the instrument they are learning. On the piano this may be learning to hold the hand in the correct shape. Each physical skill is mastered before progressing to the next one and a pool of technique is built which then grows with the child. They will be drawing on their initial technical lessons for the rest of their lives
When we learn words in language we repeat them. Eventually they fall into our vocabulary and we use them without thinking. The same applies for the techniques and pieces taught in the Suzuki method. Pieces are repeated daily for a long time so that nothing is forgotten. Each piece is carefully selected so that it builds on the technique already learned. A child that has reached the end of book one should be able to play all of book one – that way when they learn a new piece, only about twenty percent of the piece is actually new. The rest is old techniques re-packaged.
It is important that your teacher be the right teacher for you. Not all teachers are created equal, not even all Suzuki teachers are created equal and one that is right for your friend’s children may not be the teacher for your family. Choose carefully as a music teacher, unlike a school teacher, could remain a part of your child’s life for many years.
All teachers who use the Suzuki name are licensed by the International Suzuki Association to do so. They pay an annual fee for teacher membership and have studied the method and philosophy with master teachers for the right to call themselves a Suzuki teacher. Ask your teacher for their credentials - make sure you are getting the real deal.