Shinichi Suzuki was born in 1898 in Nagoya, Japan, son to the founder of the largest violin factory in the world. Growing up in a musical environment, Suzuki often took it for granted – often to the point of using violins as baseball bats. It wasn’t until later in life that he began pondering the deep questions about music, education, and the development of human beings that would lead to discoveries that signaled a revolution in music education.
Having moved to Berlin to study violin, Suzuki struggled with trying to learn the German language. It amazed him that all German children spoke German with such ease at such young ages, and it occurred to him that all Japanese children speak Japanese. He realized that learning language comes naturally to children – their environment in naturally satiated with language. There is constant speaking, support, and reinforcement. Suzuki wondered why these traits of language education are so little utilized in other areas of education.
When Suzuki was later asked to teach at a new music school beginning in Matsumoto, Japan, Suzuki stated that he had no interest in repairing learned mistakes – but that he was interested in infant education geared at extending ability and creating talent. His proposal was accepted and he began teaching full-time.
Suzuki’s work was based on the premise that all children can learn – ability is within the child. Suzuki did not believe that some children were born with natural talent and others were not; rather, he believed and taught that all children can do something wonderful. Education is about willingness, not “natural” ability; as such, entrance into his “Talent Education” school was based not on entrance examinations but on willingness to learn and take part in the process of education.
With the help of a devoted parent, Suzuki sought to develop the talent of children beginning at young ages. He called it “planting the seeds of ability.” At the same time, Suzuki’s primary goal was to develop better human beings. He taught character first, then ability. In this way, Suzuki sought to pass on hope, joy, love, and truth – resulting in deeper feeling adults, leading the way to a better world.
Violinist and teacher John Kendall traveled to Japan in 1959, anxious to see for himself what Suzuki was all about. While impressed, he wasn’t sure it would work in America. He wasn’t sure American mothers were willing to do what was necessary to develop the talent of their children. Suzuki’s wife Waltraud convinced him otherwise by telling him that “all mothers want the best for their children.” Kendall returned to America with the Suzuki method and the purpose of giving all children the possibility of developing their potential. In 1964 Suzuki traveled with ten of his students and gave a concert in America; in `66 there was “Project Super” in New York state, pushing Suzuki education in several ways; and by 1971, the Suzuki Association of the Americas had formed.