Friday, May 2, 2014

About the Suzuki Method

Every Child Can Learn
More than fifty years ago, Japanese violinist Shinichi Suzuki realized the implications of the fact that children the world over learn to speak their native language with ease. He began to apply the basic principles of language acquisition to the learning of music, and called his method the mother-tongue approach. The ideas of parent responsibility, loving encouragement, constant repetition, etc., are some of the special features of the Suzuki approach.

Parent Involvement
As when a child learns to talk, parents are involved in the musical learning of their child. They attend lessons with the child and serve as “home teachers” during the week. One parent often learns to play before the child, so that s/he understands what the child is expected to do. Parents work with the teacher to create an enjoyable learning environment.

Early Beginning
The early years are crucial for developing mental processes and muscle coordination. Listening to music should begin at birth; formal training may begin at age three or four, but it is never too late to begin.

Children learn words after hearing them spoken hundreds of times by others. Listening to music every day is important, especially listening to pieces in the Suzuki repertoire so the child knows them immediately.
Constant repetition is essential in learning to play an instrument. Children do not learn a word or piece of music and then discard it. They add it to their vocabulary or repertoire, gradually using it in new and more sophisticated ways.

As with language, the child’s effort to learn an instrument should be met with sincere praise and encouragement. Each child learns at his/her own rate, building on small steps so that each one can be mastered. Children are also encouraged to support each other’s efforts, fostering an attitude of generosity and cooperation.

Learning with Other Children
In addition to private lessons, children participate in regular group lessons and performance at which they learn from and are motivated by each other.

Graded Repertoire
Children do not practice exercises to learn to talk, but use language for its natural purpose of communication and self-expression. Pieces in the Suzuki repertoire are designed to present technical problems to be learned in the context of the music rather than through dry technical exercises.

Delayed Reading
Children learn to read after their ability to talk has been well established. In the same way, children should develop basic technical competence on their instruments before being taught to read music.

Are Suzuki Kids Prodigies?
Are Suzuki students musical geniuses? Are they ‘gifted’ children who have a special talent for music? Are their parents professional musicians?
Fortunately, Suzuki students are normal children whose parents may have little or no musical experience. Their parents have simply chosen to introduce them to music through the Suzuki approach, a unique philosophy of music education developed by Shinichi Suzuki.

The Suzuki Legacy
Shinichi Suzuki was a violinist, educator, philosopher and humanitarian. Born in 1898, he studied violin in Japan for some years before going to Germany in the 1920s for further study. After the end of World War II, Dr. Suzuki devoted his life to the development of the method he calls Talent Education.
Suzuki based his approach on the belief that “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. Suzuki’s goal was not simply to develop professional musicians, but to nurture loving human beings and help develop each child’s character through the study of music.

The above article can be found at

Parent Perspective
Early on as a home educated family, we integrated the Suzuki method of learning music into our lifestyle. Our exposer to this method of musical training began when our oldest was 4 and started taking violin lessons at the Wausau Conservatory of Music.  One of my earliest impressions of the Suzuki Method was the flow of communication and relationship between the child, parent and teacher.  I love the level of parental involvement!  WARNING:  These are not the traditional lessons where the child is deposited in a teacher’s home or studio and then retrieved 30 min later.
Music lessons for us are attended armed with notebook, writing utensil, music books, and quiet games or books for the other children to enjoy while they wait for their lesson time.  As the involved parent, I sit in the lesson recording notes that are directed towards me by my child’s teacher concerning the various pieces they are working on. 
These notes are what we use for reference during that child’s daily practice sessions at home during the week; practice sessions that are executed with 100% parental involvement.  This means that if Elsa is practicing ½ hour per day, then I am directing that practice session according to the notes jotted down during that week’s lesson.  I will say that as my kids have gotten older, because of time conflicts, I no longer attend the music lessons of the 2 oldest.  They attend lessons on their own, but the teachers are great at weekly communication, keeping me updated with feedback pertaining to progress.
 I have all 7 lessons scheduled on the same day, because the violin students are also involved in a weekly violin group class.  One child plays with the Wausau Area Youth Symphony and also the Conservatory Chamber Group and the 2 younger violin students are participating in Jr. WAYS this year, so this means we are at the Conservatory 3 days a week.  

Why so much detail? Is all this information really necessary?  Maybe not, but as a parent who is watching our family’s lives being shaped by music, I’m passionate about communicating the benefits and “how-to” of this lifestyle.  Watching your child grow from mastering “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”, to playing Vivaldi in a concert is indescribable joy that I would love for more parents to experience.  I have four violinists and three pianist at varying abilities right now, but listening to them play together is so rewarding.  Yes, my kids fuss and argue just like all kids; but music has given them a common ground to gather on and an opportunity for the older to instruct and mentor the younger. 

The key word here, as with home schooling, is Lifestyle.  Keep First Things First.  For our family order is; Jesus, music, school.  Read the Bible, then hit the music. Why music before school? Speaking from experience, I can guarantee that a music lesson is more easily brushed aside than the math or grammar, and it’s easier to fit in an extra math lesson at the end of the week than to make up for missed practice days.

Tips for practice:
Allowing the children to pick a small treat from a designated stash is a great way to wrap up daily practice.
 If you are cheerful about practice, it’s more likely they will be too.
Use non-verbal corrections; a gentle touch on the arm, an adjustment of the bow, a tap on the elbow. 
Keep the talking to a minimum. Children get bored with talking.
Take the lead regardless of what the child appears to want …young children are not very good at making intelligent choices about matters that set their future lives.
A 10 min. happy practice is better than a 30 min grumpy, tearful practice.
The Suzuki method is great at preparing children to perform.  My children love and look forward to the concerts that occur during various times of the year.  Finding a teacher that provides and participates in opportunities for performances is crucial.  If children are not instructed in the beauty of gifting others with their music, playing to create an atmosphere of worship, or for the sole reason of bringing God glory, they are being deprived of a truly complete musical education. 

We are 11 years into this Suzuki experience, and I would not trade one minute of it.  The heavy “ear training” involved in this program has enabled my kid to easily pick up church songs and worship choruses.  Not a day goes by that He is not exalted in our home through music. 


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Music Matters....the benefit of music lessons

Music and math are very much connected.  Musical beat, rhythm, and scales introduced at an early age easily translate into fractions, division and patterns. "More and more studies show a correlation between higher academic achievements with children who are exposed to music," says children's music specialist Meredith LeVande of "Music simply stimulates parts of the brain that are related to reading, math, and emotional development."  Many studies have shown a direct correlation between musical training and improved language development, IQ, Academic performance, creativity, and problem solving skills.

"Further research has shown that participation in music at an early age can help improve a child's learning ability and memory by stimulating different patterns of brain development," says Maestro Eduardo Marturet, a conductor, composer and musical director for the Miami Symphony Orchestra.  Children with music training have significantly better verbal memory that those without such training.  The longer the training, the better the verbal memory.  (Ho,Y.C., Cheung, M.C., & Chan, A. 2003. Neuropsychology, 12)

"Socially, children who become involved in a musical group or ensemble learn important life skills, such as how to relate to others, how to work as a team and appreciate the rewards that come from working together, and the development of leadership skills and discipline," says Marturet, who also oversees the MISO Young Artist program in South Florida, which allows young musicians to hone their musical skills as part of a professional orchestra.  Kids, spanning a wide age range, involved in an orchestra will see value in each participating musician based on dedication, teamwork, discipline, character, and perseverance; not value based on similar age.

"They find that they can develop a skill by themselves, that they can get better and better," says Elizabeth Dotson-Westphalen, a music teacher and performer.  Children who study a musical instrument are more likely to excel in all of their studies, work better in teams, have enhanced critical thinking skills, stay in school, and pursue further education.

Music practice refines discipline and patience.  There are no instant results; learning to play well means persevering through hours, weeks and months of practice.  Children learn the concept of delayed gratification, improved patience, and respect for a method they may not fully understand at the present moment.    

Who doesn't sometimes feel a little disconnected from their lives? Music can be a much-needed connection between children and parents.   "It can satisfy the need to unwind from the worries of life …it makes people more alive and connected with one another," says Michael Jolkovski, a psychologist who specializes in musicians.

In some pursuits, you can never truly learn everything there is to know. Music is like that. "It is inexhaustible -- there is always more to learn," says Jolkovski.  A good music teacher will share with their students how they are still furthering their musical education; how they are still pushing themselves. 

How can kids really express themselves? One great way is through the arts -- like music. "It gives pleasure and expresses nuances of emotional life for which there are no words," says Jolkovski.  Most  importantly, music gives an expressive dimension to our worship and individual communication with our Creator.   Col3:23 “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men”, when music is practiced with this verse in mind, it becomes a sacrifice praise, not just another academic.

To improve in music, you have to not only do well and pay close attention in class, but devote regular time to daily practice.  And not just playing the instrument, but smart practice. That requires discipline.  "Exposing kids to musical instruments is the key. They are naturally curious and excited about them -- and the discipline that parents AND kids learn by sticking with it is a lesson in itself," says Mira Stulberg-Halpert of 3D Learner Inc., who works with children who have ADHD.


Above all, playing music -- particularly as kids get to more advanced levels in it -- is a creative pursuit. Creatively is good for the mind, body and soul.

Cookies... a year later

Here it is a year later and I'm getting around to wrapping up the "cookie" post.  Shame.

Well, it was successful....the kids sold 78 dozen and I decided to try it again this year for the Easter season.

The kids received an enthusiastic response when they started knocking doors and asking friends and family;  we ended up selling 120 dozen without hardly trying!!! It was crazy...people who ordered last year doubled and tripled their order this year.  Seeing that all the money went to missions and youth camps, this has been a worthy cause and the kids and I are up for it again next year!

We are very thankful to see the Lord blessing our efforts.