Experiencing the Suzuki Method: A Guide to Help Answer your Questions about this Extremely Popular Method—And Why I Don’t Teach It
This blog entry contains the material of a bulletin I made to have available in my studio. Because of this, the material is short and concise. I would be happy to write more on the subject should I get enough interest!
First of all I would like to clarify 2 things:
- Many of my colleagues and friends are Suzuki teachers and educators. This information is not meant to discredit their teaching or their students. Each teacher and student should be evaluated on an individual basis, not by a label or association.
- I have sought to represent the Suzuki method accurately.
Q: What is the Suzuki method?
A: The Suzuki method was created in Japan by Shinichi Suzuki. His idea was that children should learn music just as they learn to speak. If properly taught using this school of thought children would become just as proficient on the violin as they were at speaking their native language, and learn it just as easily.
Q: Did it work?
A: Yes, students of Suzuki were able to learn the violin quickly and proficiently. They could learn new pieces rapidly and autonomously at an early age.
Q: Do students of the Suzuki method in the US show this same aptitude?
A: No. Unfortunately the majority of students learning under the Suzuki method today have poor technique, note reading ability, rhythm, and understanding of music.
Q: What accounts for this difference?
A: I believe there are several factors that are contributing to the low level of proficiency demonstrated by Suzuki students in America today.
- Shinichi Suzuki vs. The Suzuki method: Suzuki was an extremely intelligent man and a gifted teacher. I believe the success of his students in Japan did not primarily have to do with his method, but with the man himself. If you read about Suzuki you will find he did not teach all students the same. His philosophy of learning was consistent, but one cannot codify what made Suzuki such a brilliant and successful instructor. One can take his ideas, but one must be sensitive to each student to know how to utilize and adapt these ideas. This is why I use his books, but do not use the procedure taught by the Suzuki Association. In addition, Suzuki taught out of a love for his students and their learning. Unfortunately many teachers today teach because they need to make a living, and the highlight of their day is going home, not the time they spend with your child.
- A difference in cultures: Japanese and Asian cultures are structured very differently than American society. In general they are more disciplined, more driven to academic success, more family oriented, and more involved in their children’s education. If you read more about Suzuki and how he taught, you will see that the “Suzuki method” America so proudly asserts is very different from the teaching Suzuki imparted to his students.
- American Suzuki teachers are often uncertified, or have low skill levels: There are certified Suzuki teachers and uncertified Suzuki teachers. Teachers certified in the Suzuki method have to demonstrate a level of proficiency for each Suzuki book they complete. This means that if your child is learning Suzuki book 1, that teacher must have completed the hardest song in that book. While many Suzuki teachers are certified above this level you don’t want to assume all teachers are skilled at their instrument. Uncertified Suzuki teachers have not taken the certification test that the Suzuki Association of the Americas offers and may or may not have taken any Suzuki method courses, they simply use the Suzuki books and call themselves a “Suzuki Teacher.”
- A difference in education: The Japanese educational system during Suzuki’s time placed a high emphasis on teaching children the rudiments of music. All students learned how to read music and sight sing. They understood rhythms and musical notation. Since they had this foundation, Suzuki was mainly concerned with teaching students the violin. Since students in America do not learn music as such under the American educational system, private teachers have a lot more to teach. This must be taken into consideration when trying to apply Suzuki’s method to American students
Q: What evidence do you have that the Suzuki method doesn’t work?
A: 1. Experience as a Suzuki student. 2. Experience as a teacher of Suzuki students.
1. As a child, starting violin at the age of 4, I gained the benefits of developing a very good ear under the Suzuki method, as many students do. However, I also became a very poor note reader. I soared ahead of my classmates in ability as I had natural talent, but my inability to read music, quickly decipher rhythm and poor technique lead me to a dead end. In middle school I decided I wanted to overcome my deficiencies, and found a teacher who worked patiently and diligently with me to give me the instruction I needed to fill in the gaps in my learning. It was a hard and arduous road I wouldn’t wish on any student. This kindled in me a desire to be a teacher, and teach students the violin correctly from the beginning.
2. As a teacher, I have seen that the negative effects that I experienced as a Suzuki student are still plaguing the majority of Suzuki students today. Most of the students I have had the pleasure of teaching that have come out of the Suzuki method have demonstrated a high level of playing ability, with extremely low levels of technique, musicianship, note reading and rhythmic understanding. I have had to walk through the difficulties with them of re-learning the violin to fill in the gaps, just as I had to do many years ago with my teacher. It is a delight for them to finally be able to pick up music for themselves and play the correct notes and rhythm without having to hear the music first. They experience the satisfaction of feeling competent on their instrument, and not weighed down by the burden of being tied to their teacher for all the answers. I give them the tools to be able to figure things out for themselves. Just as a parent seeks to teach their children how to become self sufficient and successful adults, so I desire for my students to become self-sufficient and successful musicians at whatever level they choose to work to achieve. My experiences as a student and teacher defy the claims that the Suzuki method is the best way to learn an instrument, and I believe it does more harm than good.
Q: I’ve read a lot of positive things about the Suzuki method and other parents have said their children really enjoy it. Why should I believe what you have to say?
A: Don’t take my word for it. Research it for yourself! Most successful Suzuki students had teachers who did more than just teach the Suzuki method, and just because a child has fun does not mean they are learning. Inform yourself on what to look for in a good teacher and a good method, then compare!