Suzuki Philosophy and Method.
Shinichi Suzuki was a violinist and educator of children for over 60 years. Throughout that time he developed and maintained the belief that all children have ability, and that talent is not inborn. He believed environment and teaching method were crucial to the development of that ability – whether it be music, mathematics, or any other discipline.
Suzuki believed music was uplifting for the soul and that music, sound and tone are an expression of life force. Everybody has life force and therefore the ability of artistic expression. Suzuki believed that fine artistic expression comes from fine character. Suzuki’s primary aim in developing talent was to create people who were caring, loving people with fine character, and this was something he saw in a wider context as good for mankind.
“First character then ability” - the Nagoya commercial school motto. Suzuki attended this school and he essentially lived his life by this motto. Suzuki’s own study in Berlin, “to understand art” brought him into contact with people of, “high intellect, sensitivity and goodwill.” This contact with people of fine character is something Suzuki believed was important to the development of fine character. Suzuki was also greatly influenced by the music of Mozart. To him Mozart’s spirit was in his music, teaching him, “perfect love, truth, goodness and beauty.” Suzuki advocates listening to good music from an early age, not only to develop aural ability, but as a way to develop a fine heart.
The development of good self esteem is important to create a happy person who can live in love and joy. To feel that one has no talent or ability can lead to despair, distress, self worthlessness and unhappiness. Suzuki believed people need to know that with training and repetition comes ability. “Achievement is the product of energy and patience.” A process of mastering one step at a time to progress steadily and achieve goals is something that can be applied to manyof life's Learning challenges.
Suzuki maintained that, “the only superior quality a child can have at birth is the ability to adapt itself with more speed and sensitivity to its environment than others,” meaning that one child may learn something with 50 repetitions and another child may take 500 repetitions, but the same end result can be achieved. It depends only on an environment of love, support and the right number of repetitions, and the belief that with, “patience and love many things can be accomplished.” Suzuki’s teaching is based around the child’s needs, and not the teacher’s or parent’s. The teacher and parent are there to support the child in his her development. With this aim comes the Method.
Mother Tongue Method For Music
After completing his own study of the violin in Tokyo and then Berlin, Shinichi Suzuki returned to Japan and was teaching at the Imperial Conservatory. He was asked by a man to teach the violin to his four year old son. After giving considerable thought to how you would teach a child of this age, it occurred to Suzuki that all children could speak their mother tongue, and, “if a child speaks his language fluently, he has developmental possibilities. Other abilities should therefore develop according to the way he is raised.” Suzuki concluded that the mother tongue method contained all that was necessary to teach children. With what seemed like an amazing discovery, the Talent Education Movement began.
Environment: To develop ability children need the right environment – one with love, patience, and encouragement.
Early Age: To develop musical ability the earlier the child starts the better. Listening to music can start from birth.
Listening: Listening is crucial. Children are constantly hearing their parents and others talk – and slowly with encouragement and repetition they also learn to talk. They learn to speak before they learn to read – and so with music listening helps them to feel and absorb the music. It provides an aural model. Learning aurally develops aural ability and memory, and allows them to focus on playing and posture, before learning to read.
Modeling: Children learn by observing and imitating. The Suzuki Method encourages a parent to learn at least one piece first, providing a model for the child. Children like to do what their mother or father do, and their example can provide the initial motivation to learn.
Repetition: When learning to speak, children are constantly encouraged with many repetitions of their first word, “Mum” or “Mama”. They hear it constantly then say it. With repetition they say it clearly and remember it. With Suzuki the same technique is applied to learning an instrument. With many repetitions the brain and muscles develop, remembering patterns and positions.
Review: When learning to speak we add words to our vocabulary. We don’t stop using the words we know because we have a new one. The same principle is applied by the Suzuki Method. When a piece is learnt it is not put aside and forgotten – but is kept as part of a repertoire that is played frequently - developing memory, developing expression and musicality. As these pieces are continually reviewed over time the children improve their skills and new technical abilities are developed. It is also useful to develop new techniques on familiar pieces.
Memory Training: Shinichi Suzuki quotes Daisetsu Suzuki from, “What is Zen?” “With memory as the basis, he has experience and because of experience he can reason.” Shinichi Suzuki believes that, “children of high scholastic standing at school are simply ones whose memory skill is unusually well developed,” and that, “inferior students are merely ones who have not acquired memory skills.” Shinichi Suzuki believes memory is essential and with training the ability to memorise gets better and the time to do it gets shorter.
Small Steps Mastered: Shinichi Suzuki believes the development of ability comes with the mastering of small steps, which can then be built on. Learning needs to be broken down into achievable steps, which provides, ‘structure for success’. Success is always a motivating factor. If something is too difficult it can be very discouraging. To set up success is to keep the incentive alive. To master each step lays a solid foundation for future growth.
Group Lessons: An important part of the Suzuki method is the group lessons, workshops and concerts. The group playing provides an opportunity to make music with other students, which is in itself fun and exciting. It is also an incentive to hear other students and more advanced students play. The group lessons are structured in such a way that everyone can be involved, no matter what level. The workshops expose students to other teachers, students and new ideas, and are very motivating. The concerts, group activities and individual lessons (which are open to observation by other families) all help to accustom the child to an audience and develop self confidence.
Parent’s Role: The parent has a significant role. Initially they provide a role model by learning themselves. The parent needs to continue to attend lessons, and take notes so both the parent and child know what to practice throughout the week. The parent needs to supervise the practice, finding ways to make practice and repetition as fun and enjoyable as possible with the use of games and other challenges. Suzuki parents and teachers need to build on the positive. There is always something to praise. There is no place for criticism, anger and judgment. It is difficult to make progress and learn in an environment of fear. The Suzuki teacher and parent need to make learning a fun, positive experience.
It’s crucial to remember that the child’s development is the important part of the child-teacher-parent relationship, or Suzuki ‘triangle’, which has the child at the top. Teacher’s and parents’ egos need to remain out the equation.
The Suzuki method has trained thousands of children to a high level of musical ability. Suzuki’s approach is not just applicable to music but to all disciplines and an approach to life. Suzuki was an educator of children not just of violin. Suzuki insisted, “I just want to make good citizens. If a child hears good music from the day of his birth, and learns to play it himself, he develops sensitivity, discipline, and endurance. He gets a beautiful heart. If nations co-operate in raising good children, perhaps there won’t be any war.”
'Nurtured by Love' - Shinichi Suzuki
'Ability Development from Age Zero' - Shinichi Suzuki
Both recommended reading for those interested in learning about the Suzuki Method.