A Critical Look at the Suzuki Violin Method | Online Violin Lessons

A Critical Look at the Suzuki Violin Method | Online Violin Lessons

What is the Suzuki method?

The Suzuki method was developed by Shinichi Suzuki, a Japanese violinist born in 1898. He developed his popular method in the 1930s and it became popular in the United States in the 1950s. Suzuki’s main idea was that all children could learn to play violin using the “mother-tongue” approach (essentially, learning the violin like you would learn a language). He believed that early exposure to quality classical music had a profound influence on musical development.

Suzuki’s method emphasizes exposure to music in early childhood, listening, repetition, encouragement, and learning with others in group classes. Parents of students in the Suzuki method are highly involved in their child’s learning and are required to attend violin lessons with the child and practice with him/her at home.

Main ideas of the Suzuki method

Suzuki created a very distinct culture and community with the development of his method. He didn’t just create a set of books; he created a vision for budding young violinists.

The Mother Tongue Approach

Suzuki believed that students could learn violin best through imitating the acquisition of their native language. Just like you learn to speak by first listening to the language, repeating the sounds you hear, and eventually having conversations with others, you can do the same with the violin (listening to music, playing notes through call-and-response, and playing with groups of other violinists).

High Parental Involvement

Parents of Suzuki students are expected to attend lessons with their child and act as “home teachers” as they practice with them during the week. Parents are often expected to learn the violin along with their child so they can properly support them in their practicing. This creates the teacher-parent-child triangle that is foundational to the method.

Listening

Suzuki students are expected to listen to recordings of the pieces they learn daily. Listening to the Suzuki pieces hundreds of times helps students know what the music sounds like before they even start playing a piece.

Repetition

Students play their pieces many times, often reviewing them for years. This high amount of repetition encourages the development of muscle memory, and reviewing old pieces helps students prepare to learn new, harder pieces.

Group Classes

In addition to private lessons, students are required to attend group master classes where they play their pieces for their peers who are part of the violin studio. This encourages students to support each other, learn from each other, and practice performing in a low-risk environment.

“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

Pros and cons of the Suzuki method

Lesson Structure – Mix of Private and Group Lessons

Pros – Students benefit from individual attention and also learning by watching others play. The exposure to mixed types of learning can provide a well-rounded approach to learning the violin.

Cons – Lessons are a demanding part of a student’s schedule, which can be hard for modern families to navigate. It is much more of a commitment than traditional private lessons.

Emphasis on Listening

Pros – Students are exposed to excellent music early and often through listening to recordings daily. This can help them develop pitch, rhythm, sensitivity to music, and more. They usually learn pieces more quickly because they know what the pieces should sound like.

Cons – Music reading skills are usually weak because students tend to rely on learning by ear rather than learning to read notes on a music staff. Parents are largely responsible to make sure the daily listening happens, which can be a burden.

Performances

Pros – Suzuki violin students are great performers because they get many opportunities to perform in group classes, individual recitals, and group recitals.

Cons – Students who are particularly shy may have a hard time with the amount of performing that is expected of them.

Learning by Rote

Pros – The emphasis on learning by copying helps students imitate a professional sound early. Suzuki students develop a great ear for music and may be able to play in tune more quickly because of their exposure to listening.

Cons – Learning to read music comes much later than learning to play music in the Suzuki program. This can cause a great delay in developing the whole musician and cause students to be able to play much more advanced music than they can read. This can be frustrating and cause weak sightreading skills.

Practice Commitment and Strong Parental Involvement

Pros – Daily practice causes students to progress quickly and develop the habit of working on something every day. Students can make significant progress in the Suzuki method because of the support they receive at home. Parents who are highly involved can help reinforce the concepts the student was taught at her weekly lesson.

Cons – Parents bear the brunt of making daily practice happen, which can cause its own set of frustrations. Suzuki violin lessons are a big time commitment for parents, not only in helping the student learn violin but also learning violin themselves (if they don’t already know how to play). The method is also intended to be a decade+ long commitment, meaning its not something you can go through in a couple of years.

Conclusion

The Suzuki method emphasizes teaching young children how to play the violin (and other instruments) through private and group lessons, with the support of a parent at home. Many famous violinists got their start by being Suzuki students. The method can potentially help violinists become great musicians by emphasizing listening, repetition, and performing. However, the demand on time and energy can be too much for modern families, and the method notably lacks emphasis on teaching note reading. It also suggests a one-fits-all approach to learning and is not designed for older learners.

I hope this was helpful to you in your violin journey!

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