Nature Or Nurture? A Look At The Suzuki Method

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Classical Violin By: Please log in to see tutor details
Subject: Violin » Classical Violin
Last updated: 04/01/2018
Tags: beginner violin, child development, holistic approach, learning by listening, parental support

‘Talent is no accident of birth.'

Shinichi Suzuki's outlook on childhood education and development seems such an obvious and successful one to adopt. However, in many aspects of our contemporary society, we don't. Suzuki, a Japanese violinist, pedagogue and humanitarian, founded a method of learning to play music which he began developing from 1945 called the 'mother-tongue' method. The method has been hugely successful and has been taken up in Europe, North and South America, Asia, Australasia and India. Its success is based on the enthusiasm of those who have observed it in action and seen its results.

Suzuki talks in the introduction to his book, 'Nurtured by Love' (1969), about the conception of this method which developed from his observations of young children's ability to speak their complex native languages with ease. He states 'it made me realise that any child is able to display highly superior abilities if only the correct methods are used in training' and went on to apply the method by which children learn to speak, the 'mother-tongue' method, to other faculties. His application of this method to the acquisition of musical skills involves a number of defining precepts:

1. Starting to learn from an early age. It is at a very early age that children are adapting to their environments and learning new skills. Dr. Suzuki believed that it was never too late to learn but the optimum age to start learning was before age 5.

2. Listening. Suzuki believed that, just as young children can speak their language before they learn to read, children should hear a piece of music and learn to play it before they learn to read notated music. Helen Brunner, a Suzuki teacher-trainer who was one of the pioneers of the Suzuki method in the UK, comments: 'it's an extraordinarily dotty Western idea that one learns to play music through reading. The rest of the world doesn't do it. Learning to play the violin is basically a right-brain activity. Reading is a left-brain activity.' Not only is the 'mother-tongue' method a natural way for young children to learn, it allows them to develop a good ear for pitch and tone which leads to the child having musicality and being able to play sensitively. The child will listen to the repertoire regularly at home and outside of their lessons. This mirrors the way in which children acquire their own language and allows for the music to become a part of their environment.

3. Memory. As children are accustomed to learning pieces of music without seeing them notated, it naturally follows that they will be able to play a piece by memory. This allows the teacher to help the child focus on technical and musical aspects of the piece that can be developed. The Suzuki student learns to perfect a piece as opposed to accomplishing the feat of reading it through using the printed notes.

4. Parental Involvement. As children learn from a very young age, parents are encouraged to attend all lessons so that they can practise and encourage their child at home with the knowledge of what happened in the lesson. Many parents continue attending lessons until the student is much older. This allows the young child to get into a routine of practice with the support of a parent which ensures progress and motivation to continue learning, enjoying and achieving. The teacher/parent/child relationship is fundamental to the Suzuki Method's success.

5. Social aspects. The Suzuki method is an extremely social method in which group learning is encouraged. The children take part in group lessons in which they play the common Suzuki repertoire that they have been learning. Also, Suzuki children go on courses and workshops where they learn with different teachers and meet and play with other children. These group activities and workshops open up opportunities for children to perform in public which allows them to gain confidence and work towards a polished performance of a piece that they present to their peers.

These precepts not only produce outstanding musical results, they feed into the rest of the student's life and development. The child acquires the qualities of creativity, perseverance, discipline, confidence and is socially enriched. Suzuki believed that one could be educated by music; he once said that he believed that 'studying music is education for life'. 

Perhaps the defining concept behind the Suzuki philosophy is the notion that 'every child can be educated very highly'. The method is an inclusive one which accepts any child willing to learn. As Suzuki said 'talent is not inborn, it has to be created'.

References taken from:
Tim Homfray: Method Man, The Strad September 2008
Shinichi Suzuki: Nurtured By Love: The Classic Approach to Talent Education, Second Ed. Summy Birchard Inc. 1983

Charlotte Clemson Classical Violin Teacher (South West London)

About The Author

I provide fun and engaging, individual and group violin lessons for children aged 3 + using the Suzuki Method.

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