Shin’ichi Suzuki developed the Suzuki method, otherwise known as the “Mother-Tongue approach” to music learning, in Japan after WWII. It was after he had been approached by the parent of a 4 yr old about studying violin, that his ideas about teaching a musical instrument began to take shape. As he grappled with the problem, it hit him that “ALL JAPANESE CHILDREN SPEAK JAPANESE”. Well, you are probably thinking, SO WHAT? My kid is American and he speaks English. As blatantly obvious as such a revelation may seem, the brilliance in its simplicity is astonishing. In fact, all children raised in typical households in any country speak their native language quite fluently and are just starting to read at the age of 6. Yet, the complexities of dialect and syntax as well as accent are very well formed at this young age. This is because language is in the child’s environment from the day he is born. The child really has no choice but to learn to speak as those in his environment speak. It stands to reason then that if all children possess the innate sensitivity to absorb and learn the complexities of language by the age of 6, then they must possess the potential to learn to play music at a high level, that is if it is present and valued in the home culture.
The Suzuki method is predicated on the idea that man is the son of his environment and that “where love is deep, much can be accomplished”. Parents of children in a Suzuki program are expected to act as partners with the child’s instructor in the development of high ability in the child. In what is known as the Suzuki Triangle, the roles of the teacher and parent are classified as responsibilities and the role of the child is need based.
Parents are expected to attend regular private and group lessons with their child. Prior to the child starting, the parent takes lessons that involve learning the basics of the instrument and becoming acquainted with the Suzuki philosophy through assigned reading and discussion. Parents can elect to take private sessions or study with a group of parents.
In the Suzuki approach, parents are expected to create an environment in the home that values and is conducive to the study of music. This is done by administering regular listening to recordings of music and helping the child with his/her practice at home. Parents of Suzuki students are required to be present and attentive during all lessons and taking notes as to what needs to be practiced. Music reading is delayed on the instrument until the child has mastered the basic intricacies of technique and has a solid listening foundation. This is not to say that music reading is not taught. In fact, I start pre-reading exercises immediately but without the instrument in hand. If this sounds objectionable to you, consider that when humans developed language, it was the sound, not the symbol that came first. When the sound dies, the symbol has no meaning. Consider what a task it must have been to decipher the Egyptian hieroglyphs. One must make approximations based on the sounds of the regional languages, which have evolved sharply since that time.
The children in a Suzuki program are bound together by a common repertoire comprised of European folk songs, renaissance, baroque, classical, romantic and Spanish guitar music. This facilitates community within the program and makes for a more complete and meaningful experience when students participate at Suzuki institutes that are available during the summer months. Commonality of repertoire also creates continuity and expectation within the method, which facilitates a more organic and linear technical development. The music has been carefully chosen so as to directly address the technical needs of the individual in a way that introduces and refines without the use of dry technical exercises.