Suzuki Method and Philosophy
The Suzuki Philosophy
Dr Shinichi Suzuki, a Japanese violinist and teacher, throughout his life studied how children learn. Encouraged by their ability to assimilate the Mother Tongue, he saw a great opportunity to enrich children’s lives through music. His primary goal was always to teach young people more than how to play musical instruments. He championed the unique contributions music can make in the total learning process.
The Suzuki approach deals with much more than teaching a child how to play an instrument. It seeks to develop the whole child, to help unfold the child’s nature, learning potential and become a good and happy person. The purpose of Suzuki training is not to create professional musicians, but to help every child to find the joy that comes through music making. Through the Suzuki growing process, children thrive in a total environment of support. Suzuki students develop confidence and self-esteem, determination to try difficult things, self-discipline and concentration. As well they acquire a lasting enjoyment of music, and the sensitivity and skill for making music.
Dr. Suzuki believed that every child is born with a talent for learning languages and music. Both deal with patterns of sound and intonation. The inborn musical talent of every child can be educated to a very high level, by using the same principles as those used in language acquisition.
Every child is born with musical talent, and it is up to the parents and teacher to develop that talent. Just as a seed needs sunshine, water, and good soil to sprout and grow, musical talent needs encouraging parents, quality lessons, and a music-filled home environment. Every human has that musical seed waiting to sprout and grow.
Suzuki Philosophy emphasises that:
- All children can learn – “Talent is not inborn, it has to be created.”
- Environment is crucial to development – “Good environmental conditions and a fine education cannot help but bring children genuine welfare and happiness.”
- Ability development is vital – “The human life force, by seeing and feeling its surroundings, trains itself and develops ability.”
- Talent education helps character development – “Character first, ability second.”
These aims are achieved through:
- “Mother Tongue” learning – “Parents who understand children make fine teachers.”
- Beginning education early – “What he is at three he will be at a hundred.” Japanese proverb
- Learning through repetition – “Any skill can be acquired by constant repetition.”
Teacher and parent education to make learning fun
“Starting the children off with the fun of playing a game, letting their spirit of fun lead them in the right direction, is the way all education of children should be started.”
It is important to realise that Suzuki is a philosophy, rather than a series of books and pieces. Even though we teach other pieces in addition to the Suzuki Piano repertoire (including modern composers, duets, and masterworks from many genres) and employ teaching techniques from Montessori and Kodaly, at heart, I am a Suzuki teacher.
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Some of the Basic Principles Underlying the Suzuki Method:
“Never hurry; never rest.” This was one of Suzuki’s favorite sayings, and reminds teachers, parents and students of the importance of patient and persistent effort in training excellent skill and developing great ability in any area of life. The Suzuki approach to music education develops character and self-discipline while keeping alive the joy of learning.
A daily musical routine of practice and listening is the basis for ability development. Regular review of repertoire and the refining of the basics in the child’s playing leads to more expressive playing. Dr. Suzuki explained, “As they advance, their musicality, sense of tempo, and expressiveness will develop, and they will progress faster and faster.” Dr. Suzuki also said, “Practice only on the days you eat!”
Environment is the motivating force behind natural learning. The stronger the musical environment, the easier and more successful the natural learning. The Suzuki learning environment includes: weekly lessons and group ensemble classes; a home practice and listening program; participation in concerts and workshops; and absorption of the musical mastery of professional artists by listening at home to CDs and by attending live concerts.
Dr. Suzuki’s approach is concerned with the education of the whole person through music:
“Our purpose does not lie in a movement to create professional musicians, but to create people of beautiful minds and fine ability through an unparalleled, uniquely musical approach. We engage in human education through music so that children will grow beautifully with high sensitivity.” Dr Suzuki
“Our life is worth living only if we love one another and comfort one another. I searched for the meaning of art in music, and it was through music that I found my work and my purpose in life. Once art to me was something far off, unfathomable and unattainable…but I discovered that the real essence of art was not something high up and far off. It was right inside my ordinary daily self. The very way one greets people and expresses oneself is art. If a musician wants to become a fine artist, he must first become a fine person. If he does this, his worth will appear. It will appear in everything he does, even in what he writes. Art is not in some far off place. A work of art is the expression of a person’s whole personality, sensibility and ability.” Dr Shinichi Suzuki, “Nurtured by Love”
Dr Shinichi Suzuki (1898-1998)
Violinist, educator, philosopher and humanitarian. Founder of the Suzuki Method.
Extract from International Suzuki Association website:
A Short Biography
Shinichi Suzuki spent his life proving that ability is not inborn and that talent can be created. Born in Nagoya, Japan on the 17th of October in 1898, he is remembered for his method of teaching young children so that all develop exceptional talent.
His father, Masakichi Suzuki, ran a workshop that made traditional Japanese stringed instruments. Fascinated with the violin, he made his first one in 1888, and by the early 1900’s he owned the first violin factory in Japan, which was also the largest in the world. He intended for his son Shinichi to help run the family business. Shinichi Suzuki instead taught himself to play the violin, inspired by a recording of Mischa Elman playing Schubert’s Ave Maria. A wealthy Japanese nobleman from the Tokugawa family became Suzuki’s patron, first inviting him to Tokyo for lessons with Ko Ando, a former student of Joachim, and then bringing him to Berlin in 1921 for further study. Suzuki there became a student of Karl Klingler, another Joachim pupil.
While in Berlin, Suzuki was befriended by Albert Einstein. On one of many musical evenings he met his future wife, Waltraud Prange, a soprano. They married in 1928. Suzuki returned to Japan the next year and formed a string quartet with three of his brothers, touring the country to give concerts. In 1930 he became president of the Teikoku Music School and was conductor of the Tokyo String Orchestra.
At a quartet rehearsal one day in 1933 he surprised his brothers by suddenly stating what they considered obvious: that ALL Japanese children speak Japanese. With this simple observation, Shinichi Suzuki had discovered a way to develop musical ability in young children. Children can learn to play a musical instrument (or anything else) in the same way that they first learn language.
In 1946 Suzuki went to Matsumoto where he helped start a music school, eventually named the Talent Education Research Institute. In this remote city in the center of Japan, beneath an ancient castle and in the shadow of the massive and beautiful “Japan Alps” he continued to develop his method. By the 1960’s, Western teachers had begun to travel there in order to see Suzuki’s students and to learn from him. In 1964 the first Japanese Suzuki tour group performed in the USA for music educators, and in 1973 the tour group traveled in Europe.
Suzuki achieved much of what he did because of the support of his remarkable wife, Waltraud. She painstakingly prepared an English translation (from the Japanese) of his autobiography, Nurtured by Love,first published in 1969.
Suzuki’s success was immediate and far-reaching. His first pupils, Toshiya Eto and Koji Toyoda, have achieved international renown. Many of today’s soloists and members of the finest orchestras started their musical education as Suzuki students, as have a high proportion of students presently studying in music conservatories. Today there are over 8,000 trained Suzuki teachers and nearly a quarter of a million Suzuki pupils, worldwide.
Suzuki often spoke of nurturing the “life force,” His was exemplary. He continued to be active as a teacher throughout the world until well into his nineties and died in his sleep at his home in Japan on the 26th of January in his 100th year. During his lifetime he received many honorary degrees, was also named a Living National Treasure by the Emperor of Japan, and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
By Enid Wood
TERI (Japan): The Basic Principles of the Suzuki Method Using the Mother Tongue Approach
European Suzuki Association: The Suzuki Method
Suzuki Association of the Americas: Every Child Can Learn
Suzuki Music (Australia): Why use the Suzuki Method?