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Suzuki or Not Suzuki …That Is the Question: A Discussion of Violin Study Methods
Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” “Which is nobler to bear the spears and arrows of sadness in the mind, or to arm to the seashore?” Blinkand resist and end them?” Hamlet spoke of trouble, not Twinkles, but parents in the Suzuki program understand why those words might be confused.
Shinichi Suzuki was a little controversial when he presented his method of teaching students the art of violin. It was a more natural way of learning, Suzuki claimed. The so-called “mother tongue approach” to music education is the idea that a person learns to play an instrument just as one learns to speak one’s native language.
Suzuki also explored the area of so-called “gifted education.” The word “good“Can be translated into Japanese ability or talent. But it can also mean the development of abilities and personality traits, such as personality. Therefore, “Gifted Education” has come to mean the development of skills, knowledge and character. This is a very subtle method.
Suzuki introduced his repertoire and curriculum. Teachers from all over the world visited his institute in Matsumoto, Japan to learn his methods. This technique spread from the violin to other instruments such as the piano, violin, guitar, and harp. There are more than 8,000 teachers around the world who support his methods and follow his curriculum. More than 250,000 students study music with the Suzuki method.
The question is “Is the Suzuki Method right for you and your students?“
A quick comparison of Suzuki and traditional violin studies.
The Suzuki method
* The Suzuki teaching method encourages parent involvement and parent-student interaction. Parents attend several sessions before their students start school and are encouraged to attend their students’ lessons once they start. Parents are a key tool in motivating students to practice and ensuring that they follow instructions when the lesson is over and they return home. This means that parents will be actively involved in each practice session, at least initially.
* The Suzuki method emphasizes active and passive learning. Before the student touches the violin, he is exposed to performance music in the form of recordings. These recordings are repeated over and over again until the student is completely “in” it. By doing this, the student finds it a great advantage to learn to play the music he has heard… in some cases hundreds of times. For a while, the only thing the student would play with was “Shiny, Sparkly Little Star.”
* The Suzuki method encourages students to learn by following the example of other students and interacting with them on a regular basis. One-on-one training takes place either one-on-one with a teacher or in a “small group”. Here, the student receives practical instruction from the teacher. But Suzuki’s student will occasionally attend “group lessons.” In these group lessons, the student interacts with other students in the teacher’s studio. They play together. They study together. And hopefully they will grow together. In any case, students who are not actively instructed are encouraged to sit and observe what is going on in the presence of other students.
* One-on-one lessons often focus on one ‘teaching point’. Progress is made one step at a time in one area. At least early in the learning process, more emphasis is placed on establishing student position, technique, and intonation than on playing recognizable melodies. In fact, many Suzuki students do not begin their violin careers with a real instrument; They first use a box that they can bend over to learn the correct position.
* Music reading is not emphasized until the student has mastered basic performance skills on that instrument.
* Parental involvement is very limited in traditional education. Parents may be invited to attend, but most of the instruction is done outside of the parent’s presence. Parents are asked to supervise the student’s practice (or at least practice time), but are often not part of the practice.
* Instruction is usually one-on-one with the instructor. A student does not interact with other students at his or her skill level unless the teacher is part of a school district program or initiates an ensemble group. If there are ensembles, they are usually focused on preparing for a performance, which focuses on developing specific techniques together, unlike Suzuki’s group lessons.
* Listening to playback music may be encouraged, but it is usually not an integral (or even integrated) part of the program.
* Pays attention to reading music very early. See note. Learn the notes. Play notes. Even after the first lessons of the traditional method, it is quite common. After a few weeks of practice, the student can already recognize the notes he plays.
My Rating: Their house has pox!
Both the traditional and Suzuki methods have their advantages and disadvantages.
Suzuki’s philosophy of skill development emphasizes teaching. A successful Suzuki learner will become a good player early on if he doesn’t burn himself out by listening to and playing Twinkle over and over again. If there is a good student-parent dynamic, this can be a really successful approach and create a stronger bond. But sometimes parent and student involvement can be a little too much.
The traditional approach emphasizes the development of skill and recognizes that practice and effort often lead to success. There is not as much parental involvement in the actual instruction and practice, and because the student is taught notation much earlier, they are more likely to play recognizable pieces early.
Combine the best of both ways and then throw in a little fiddling! An integrated system of listening, observing, performing and having fun seems to me to be the best way.
There’s no denying the benefits of listening to your work. There is no doubt that repetition is of great importance in skill acquisition. There is no doubt that music theory introduced early on provides a strong foundation for an amateur (or even professional) student to build a musical career. There is no doubt that students learn by watching and interacting with other students.
We need one system to bring the entire violin world together into a happy amalgam.
Why not start with the Suzuki method, where parents are introduced to the instrument and understand the teacher and his expectations at the outset? Allow parents to observe the lessons and encourage them to practice at home! Show parents the games Suzuki students play with their bows and let them play like they do at Suzuki Studio!
But at the same time, why not allow students to begin note recognition while learning technique? Show them the note on the staff when we show them the A string of the violin! When we show them the D line, show them the notation as well. Why not use the flash card or “big book” method we use in our schools and hold up pictures of the holiday sign while you want them to be quiet? Listen while watching what the student is doing. It seems to me that this is really carrying out the message of Shenichi Suzuki. Just as we don’t expect our children to just communicate verbally, we show them how to use written language early on, so students should not only listen to what they are playing, but also show them. My four-year-old daughter used to “compose” songs by drawing on a cane just as she “writes” a story by scribbling lines on a page. Think how powerful it would have been if he had learned to play and read individual notes and “discovered” that he could read and write tunes on his own!
When it comes to the violin, it doesn’t really matter if the child holding the violin is holding the violin correctly. He doesn’t care if he can read staff notes. All he wants to do is play something that sounds good and is fun. He is very enthusiastic and takes great joy in knowing that he can do something to make him laugh, even when other people want to cover his ears. We need to get our young students excited about picking up the instrument! Our young students should not be reluctant to put down their tools. Our students need to experience the success of their tools as soon as they touch them for the first time!
And let’s get the hearing together for real! Why not introduce students to local symphony orchestras and bluegrass bands so that they can hear the music they play and not think that violin is only available on CD? Speaking of CDs, develop a library of recordings that include violin music in various settings. If that’s all you’re playing, Suzuki CDs are fine, but what about a recording of Sarah Chang’s Concert Fantasy on Carmen when she was nine, and Stephane Grappelli’s Jazz in Paris album for jazz violin in the house? , and maybe even an all-female string quartet Bond album.
Recently, there has been a lot of discussion about the pedagogy and methodology of teaching violin. The work of people such as violinist Mark O’Connor and rock violinist Mark Wood supported the new approach, but other music teachers rejected some of the claims (particularly Mr O’Connor’s).
Find ways to make students want to learn more about the violin. Maybe a daily visit to an inspirational website will help! Maybe a t-shirt they can wear or some other visual in their room will do the trick!
We’re seeing theme parks, children’s television networks, toy companies, and fast-food restaurants understand that multisensory approaches are key to influencing children’s decision-making. We should be as wise as they are with their children.
The bottom line
The Suzuki or Traditional method can produce skilled violinists. If parent and student frustrations are good, consider Suzuki. But if intense parent-child interactions lead to tears for one or both parties, a more traditional approach is likely to be better. In either case, make sure there is a good relationship between the child, parent and teacher. Three people pulling in different directions never makes good progress. Finally, have fun with the violin. After all, we don’t say ‘work’ on the violin… the verb we use is ‘play’.
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