The Suzuki Method

Suzuki based his method on how children learn to talk. They are immersed in listening to their native language daily, they repeat it and develop their vocabulary until they are fluent. In order to give our children the gift of playing the violin in a natural and fluent way, as parents and teachers we need concentrate on providing the right environment for them to learn the “language” of music.

From the beginning, well before starting violin lessons themselves, the child will be IMMERSED in music. They will be LISTENING to the Suzuki CD at home daily (and other classical music too) and will be learning the pieces, not just so that they know how “the tune goes” but so they have absorbed the “language” of music – the harmonies, the sound they want to produce, the way the music is shaped (the phrases) and the musical intention of the piece. This listening is a daily commitment throughout the whole process of learning the violin.

They will go to watch other children having their lessons and will start to absorb the expectations I (as their teacher) have of them such as how to bow, how to hold their violin, listening for a good sound from the violin, looking after their instrument etc and when they have observed several lessons the teacher will start to work with them. By now they know that learning the violin is a very special and privileged thing to be able to do and are raring to go!
When they are observing it is fine for them to colour or play quietly rather than being instructed to “listen”. They will absorb it and take in more than you think. For the child being observed it is yet another welcome performance opportunity. We want playing in front of others to feel very natural.

When they are ready to start individual lessons they will be learning to play by ear so that the child can concentrate on playing the violin with the posture and technique required to make a beautiful sound. Reading music is a skill that is added separately so that the child can learn to play beautifully first. Suzuki likens this to learning to speak before learning to read. If the child is older I may introduce reading music fairly soon, but still separately from their playing in the early stages. As the student advances we concentrate on them learning to sight read well as this is a vital skill for orchestral playing and quick learning of pieces later on.

When new pieces are learnt we ADD them to our repertoire rather than discarding those which we have learnt. Again, Suzuki likens this to increasing vocabulary as when new words are learnt we don’t stop repeating old words! Learning to playing the violin well is dependent upon mastering detailed skills and these skills can only be practised on familiar pieces as if they are learning notes they can’t concentrate on technical points. It is very rewarding for children to play through their earlier pieces as they become easier to play as they get better and so they are able to play them more beautifully each time.

The complicated and detailed business of playing the violin is broken down in to the smallest of steps, each one of which is manageable. These step are building blocks, all of which need to be in place to ensure a strong foundation. It may take a young child a very long time to learn to play the twinkle variations (our first pieces) well and fluently. I never find that children mind this repetition but parents often worry that their child is not moving fast enough or will get bored. If a child can play the twinkle variations with a good tone, good posture and good left hand and bow arm technique they are really very well on the way to beautiful violin playing. Getting in to good habits from the beginning with their technique makes all the difference. Unpicking bad habits can waste valuable time later on.

They will have their weekly individual lesson (20mins or 1/2 hr depending on age) and will also have regular group lessons. At the group lesson they play music with other children which develops their listening right from the start and it also provides social support and motivation.

Suzuki students learn their technical skills through carefully chosen repertoire instead of through studies or graded exams. They will also play in regular concerts, each term so that performing a solo is a regular and natural part of playing the violin for them. In time, when the student is ready and I decide they will benefit from doing a graded exam (ABRSM or Trinity) we discuss this. I usually wait until Grade 5 and then also do Grades 7 and 8.

Parents are absolutely crucial in the Suzuki method. The teacher and parent work as a team with that child. You are your child’s help and support.

AT HOME parents will be:
• listening – daily listening to the Suzuki CD and other classical music
• practising daily with their child, following up on all the points that I have set for that week

IN LESSONS parents will be:
• taking notes, videos, pictures – I provide a practise sheet which you write notes on and I follow up on it in the next lesson.
• checking they have understood what tasks are being set for that week – Do ask questions if you need to check you have understood something. I may occasionally say that I will address it at the end of the lesson if I feel it might lose the child’s focus but do ask! I may also get you involved in something during the lesson (e.g. helping to put the violin in place) so we can check you have understood how to do it at home. I may even ask you to hold the violin yourself so you understand how it feels!

Learning the violin in these precious early years should feel like a wonderful journey for the children. As parents we need to be the support team: putting that CD on, finding the daily practise time that works where your child is not hungry or tired and providing all the necessary encouragement to make that practise time an enriching time.

Please note that I have been deliberately referring to daily practise and daily listening not regular listening. I am doing this because of personal experience. For years I helped my oldest children practise regularly. They did well. Then more recently we moved to daily practise. They did so much better and not only that but they enjoyed it far more, as did I. There were far fewer discussions around practise (not if, but just when) and their increased enjoyment of it was so uplifting. Seeing a very young child engrossed in the all consuming, challenging task of playing an instrument is one of the most rewarding sights possible for any parent. And it just gets better: their memory, concentration, ability and musicianship all improves and as it does, so does their enjoyment and then you know you are feeding their soul too.

Teaching music is not my main purpose. I want to make good citizens. If children hear fine music from the day of their birth and learn to play it, they develop sensitivity, discipline and endurance. They get a beautiful heart.

Shinichi Suzuki

Nurtured by Love