“Any child who is properly trained can develop musical ability just as all children develop the ability to speak their mother tongue” - Dr Suzuki
Dr Suzuki called his teaching method the Mother-Tongue Approach, inspired by his observations on how children learn to speak their native language at an early age. Just as all children learn to speak, Dr Suzuki firmly believed and taught that ‘ability is not inborn’. He affirmed that instead, all children, without exception, have great potential for talent given the right experiences and environment.
He identified a number of important factors that are at work when a child learns to speak:
Listening - the child is constantly surrounded by language and listens passively from the time they are in the womb
Motivation - children have a natural desire to speak and to please the parents
Memory - children reproduce words based on the memory of what they have heard. Also each new word learnt is easily ‘committed to memory’
Repetition - children repeat sounds and then words over and over
Parental involvement - parents are the primary teachers and role models
Loving encouragement - a child’s experiments with sound are greeted with enthusiastic response and encouragement, without scolding or impatience
Step by step mastery - children learn at their own pace, step by step, with the support of their parents
Continual review - when each word is learnt, it is not forgotten but continuously reviewed and polished, building the vocabulary like a musical repertoire
High expectations - parents expect each child to succeed
In Suzuki music education, each of these principals is applied to the learning of an instrument.
The Suzuki Triangle
Parental involvement is one of the most unique and powerful aspects of the Suzuki method. Success in developing musical ability relies on equal cooperation between the child, the parent and the teacher. This has become known as the ‘Suzuki Triangle’ and each role is of equal importance.
The parent is always a child’s first teacher in life, and teaches the child naturally through the environment. Similarly, in Suzuki education particularly at the beginning, the parents are the main teachers of the child through their dedication to providing a nurturing and conducive environment for their child’s learning. With the guidance of the teacher, parents learn how to work with the child (during practice) in an encouraging and enthusiastic way so that the children learn with love and in turn, love to learn!
Suzuki teaching is based on the premise that every child can learn, and parents and teachers believe that each child will fulfil his potential at his own pace.
Musical ability is acquired through listening, review, repetition and enjoyment. Dr Suzuki coined the term ‘law of ability’ whereby learning the foundation takes the longest and as greater ability is acquired the capacity to learn new things improves.
The learning process begins with the child listening to the recordings of the Suzuki repertoire on a daily basis. Great emphasis is placed on this. Children naturally imitate beautiful tone and easily reproduce the melodies of pieces they have heard many times. The unique order of the Suzuki repertoire allows each piece to become a building block for future learning. Each piece leads to the next, building basic technique for good quality sound early on. Production of fine tone and sensitive playing is stressed from the beginning.
There is never a ‘rush’ to learn a piece and move quickly to the next. Each piece is worked on constantly after it is initially ‘learnt’ and is steadily refined. Suzuki students return again and again to study every piece they have learned, and with their expanding repertoire, the child’s musical ability continues to grow.
As they progress through the repertoire, students gain mastery over the techniques inherent in each piece. And, with mastery comes the development of the child’s self esteem. The sense of success becomes motivation for attainment of even higher goals.
Repertoire & Mastery
Another important characteristic of Suzuki music education is the importance placed on the repertoire itself. For each instrument the Suzuki repertoire is very carefully designed so that it leads students through the development of skills, one step at a time, each skill building upon the last. Therefore a linear progression through the repertoire is essential. ‘By training the student on the pieces in the correct order, it is possible to let him master the techniques’ (Suzuki, 1982). This, combined with continuous revision of pieces that are learned by heart, is the basis for development of mastery. As they progress through the repertoire, students gain mastery over the techniques inherent in each piece. And, with mastery comes the development of the child’s self esteem. The sense of success becomes motivation for attainment of even higher goals.
Repetition is another key component to successful ability development according to the Suzuki philosophy. There is never a ‘rush’ to learn a piece and move quickly to the next. In their early exploration of language, after hearing words many times over, children repeat the sounds they hear until they become words and are met by enthusiastic adult responses. The words in turn are repeated over and over and gradually new words are added to the vocabulary. Similarly, Suzuki students return again and again to study every piece they have learned, and with their expanding repertoire, the child’s musical ability continues to grow. With each repetition tone, intonation and tempo improve. Dr Suzuki assures that it is with such repetition, after a student can play a piece without mistake, that fine musical skills and expression develop, and hence musical ability is accumulated. ‘If a child practises the pieces he knows over and over again so as to play them better and better, ability grows, and remarkable progress is made. This is the Suzuki method’ (Suzuki, 1982).
Listening & Memory
A child’s path to speaking his native language begins by listening passively to the constant conversation of those around him, from the time he is in the womb. It is vital to the Suzuki method that young students listen to superior recordings or the repertoire on a daily basis throughout their musical journey. This responsibility, again, lies initially with the parents as part of creating a conducive environment for development of musical ability. Children naturally imitate beautiful tone and easily reproduce the melodies of pieces they have heard many times. Suzuki assures that if a child listens regularly, ‘an inner ability grows inside of him, it becomes easy for him to play, and his progress becomes much faster’ (Suzuki, 1982). Through regular listening (before, during and after they begin work on a piece) technique, sound production, and musical expression are developed. Memory is also developed and, just as new words learned in speech are added to the vocabulary, pieces learned are easily committed to memory.
Suzuki observed that, from the time of birth, very young children are immersed in the parental environment surrounded by language. They naturally imitate everything they see and hear and easily acquire the ability to speak. Dr Suzuki recognised that the parents are the natural teachers of language through the environment. In a similar fashion, for developing musical ability, Suzuki implored that parents should be the primary teachers of young children through their dedication to providing a nurturing and conducive learning environment, and encouraged parents to begin early.
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