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.
Suzuki Association of the Americas mission statement: The Suzuki Association of the Americas aspires to improve the quality of life in the Americas through Suzuki education. We seek to create a learning community, which embraces excellence and nurtures the human spirit.
Every Child Can
We believe that every child can learn to play music given the right environment. Part of creating the right environment is making sure lessons are accessible and equitable. We don’t believe there’s a gene that makes one person superior to another. The Suzuki philosophy doesn’t hold the idea that “musical talent” is inborn or natural. “Talent” must be nurtured and comes through education and a supportive 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. Programs are offered for a variety of ages including 0-3.
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. Families prepare for lessons through observation of group classes, recommended reading and following with a YouTube playlist between classes.
Repetition & Review
Constant repetition is essential in learning to play an instrument. Repetition is what turns knowledge into skill and skill into habit. 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.
Group Class & Group Performance
In addition to private lessons, children participate in regular group lessons and group performances at which they learn from and are motivated by each other. Group class holds more value than that of the private or semi-private lesson. To use a sports analogy, private lessons are like practice, group classes are like games and concerts are like the super bowl. If music becomes a part of a child’s life, they will spend more time playing in ensembles than as a soloist. Group class educates the skill of playing together and emerges children in an environment/community that values music.
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. Parents are the note takers, making a list of things to practice daily. Parents collaborate with the teacher to create an enjoyable learning environment.
*Expanded meaning of ‘parent’ to include any caregiver, guardian, grandparent, etc who is supporting the child in the learning process.
Delayed Music 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. Children’s ears, posture and tone are developed along with pre-reading exercises before note reading is taught. Reading is also delayed until age 7-8 when it becomes developmentally appropriate.
As with language, the child’s effort to learn an instrument should be met with sincere, specific praise and encouragement. Each child learns at their 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.
Standard Repertoire & Games
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.
Parents are encouraged to read Dr. Suzuki’s Books and other books on the philosophy. Copies available for borrowing in the studio library.
Please note that many of these books were published at a time when it was “typical” for fathers to work outside of the home and mothers to stay home and act as primary caregiver. Reading these books is meant to help parents understand the Suzuki philosophy-it is NOT an endorsement of traditional gender roles and family dynamics.