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Philosophy and Practice of the Suzuki Method -

The Mother Tongue Method

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The Suzuki Method of music education was begun in the middle of the twentieth century by Japanese violinist Shinichi Suzuki.


The Suzuki Method works on the principal that every child has the capacity to develop musical ability during the early years. A child learns music in much the same way the "mother tongue" language is learned. The parents role is vital in the development of early learning ability; parents attend lessons with the child and help with practice at home. The parents knowledge of the instrument and of music develops along with the child's.  No prior knowledge is necessary.


The basic principles of the Suzuki Method consist of listening, repetition, motivation and encouragement. The primary goal is to nurture not only the child's musical abilities but also the total human being.


The famous cellist Pablo Casals said that music must be part of something larger than itself. It goes beyond words and letters and speaks to our souls, awakening the highest joy, love, and truth. This is perhaps the most important thing about the Suzuki method. It is not primarily a method of teaching technical ability. It is primarily a philosophy of education...the education of a soul. In this method, every child is wonderful, every child can learn. Every child is appreciated for who he or she is, and is encouraged to develop that to the fullest.


The Suzuki philosophy is embodied practically in what Suzuki articulated as the mother-tongue method – the method by which we all learn to speak. A young child is in a constant environment of language, which he sees is the principle way to communicate with those around him. This is part of his motivation as he learns speech patterns, with the rest of his motivation coming from the obvious pleasure it gives his parents as they encourage him to speak. One word at a time, the child grows in his ability to communicate through the medium of language. Previously learned words are reinforced and used in a daily environment. Suzuki takes the natural sequence of language learning and translates it into a musical education scheme. In learning to speak and communicate, the first step is constant listening. The child’s environment is saturated with language. With listening comes understanding, and soon, speaking. Only after speaking and communication are mastered come reading and writing. So it is with music. First, a young child is placed in an environment saturated with music. As the child learns to play a musical instrument, he does so in small, incremental steps, with continual reinforcement of previously learned music and skill. The skill of the instrument comes first, then comes reading the notes.


A talented person, according to Suzuki, is a good learner. Given a proper musical environment, parental support, and eagerness to learn, any child can be a talented musician. Teaching the Suzuki method is much more than imparting information about playing notes, correct rhythms, or correct bowings. Rather, it is about reading each particular child – reaching into their soul and developing the artistry within.


The biggest difference between the Suzuki method and traditional methods is seen in how they respectively view talent. Whereas the Suzuki philosophy places the emphasis on the inherent ability within every child that can and will be developed given the proper environment, support, and teaching, the traditional methods point to those talented few for whom learning comes easily and knowledge seems to be innate. The Suzuki method places the priority on developing talented learners; traditional methods focus on finding the few who are already talented and developing them.


Practically speaking, the philosophy of the Suzuki method coupled with the mother-tongue approach results in several characteristics distinctive to the Suzuki method. It is primarily intended for young children. The language process begins from the earliest stages of life, and to tap the full reservoirs of power of the Suzuki method, it must also begin at the earliest of ages. Linguistic study has consistently shown that the older the student, the harder it is to learn another language. Additionally, it is known from studying brain development that the brain fleshes out unused areas at ages 7, 13, and in the early 20’s – cleaning out what is not being used so that full energy can be concentrated on those areas that are already being used. Thus it is ideal to begin at early ages.


Another characteristic of the Suzuki approach is learning in small steps that are challenging but not daunting. The goal is to give the child a knowledge that “I am someone who can do hard work.” Indeed, that “The work is play.” This way of learning is rewarding to the child because it is something that, given concentration and hard work, can be accomplished and done well, giving the child a sense of satisfaction and well-being. Children are taught to be able to look at small sections repeatedly in order to make clear what the section is about and how they can master it. The purpose of practice is to make clear, and so-called “nugget” sections help the mind to be ahead of the technique in knowing what needs to be mastered and accomplished in that small section. Creative repetition – an active review of previously learned material – enables the child to bring his music to an even higher level, while maintaining a body of repertoire that the student can go back to in order to learn new technique.


Parental involvement is crucial. They provide the environment that is to be saturated with music, as well as encouragement and support for the budding talent of the child. A parent is to attend every lesson. At first, they are responsible for everything. They practice daily with the child, recreating the lesson at home in a happy way. Not only does this further the musical training of the child, but it plays a large part in building a strong relationship between parent and child.


Another fundamental concept of the Suzuki method is creating the process in such a way that the child learns to “own” the activity, rather than doing it because it is something “mom makes me do.” As the child develops, they go from doing the violin to being a violinist. Teaching ownership takes place gradually as more responsibility is transferred to the student to make decisions about their music, to hear things in their music, to learn what they want. Ownership gives the student stature, dignity, and self-expression.


Suzuki lessons should be a happy experience for the child, teacher, and parent. The child is learning a brand-new thing and their soul is unfolding through the process. Each student is a miracle, and they are embraced as a whole person. They are marvelous, even though along their musical journey many things will come out of their instrument that are not marvelous.


Suzuki philosophy has eyes for more than music. Teachers are to teach in such a way that not only produces the skill, but also tenderizes human hearts. Process is emphasized first, then skill. Suzuki places the emphasis not on mechanical instruction, playing notes, rhythms, or bowings, but rather on the joy of the process of becoming a violinist, a better person.


If the process is beautifully done, the result will be beautiful. Music has an amazing power in the human soul, to soften and sensitize and produce compassion and caring. Music destroys barriers between people. One heart at a time, Suzuki teachers seek to change the world not by producing merely professional musicians, but more caring and more compassionate and more alive adults.


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