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.
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.
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.
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.
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 https://suzukiassociation.org/
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.
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.