Dr Shinichi Suzuki was born in Nagoya, Japan in 1898. His father was the founder of the world’s largest violin factory then. However, he never received any formal music education during his childhood. It is only after hearing a recording of Mischa Elman on the violin, he became fond of the violin tone and was self-taught to play the violin by repeatedly listening to a recording. It was only at the age of 21 that he took up formal violin lessons but due to his age, he had difficulties in mastering the instrument in the way he would have preferred. He then realised, one day, that learning their mother tongue came naturally to all children and perhaps learning an instrument can be as natural if the child’s environment encourages it. After the devastation that he seen in his country after World War 2, he hoped to use music education as a way to foster good moral character in the future generation. Thus began his journey of conceptualising and implementing Suzuki method with the establishment of Matsumoto Music School in 1946. Today, the Suzuki method is taught in 38 countries to more than 400000 children. The instruments they study range from violin, cello, piano, flute to guitar.
1 EVERY CHILD CAN LEARN
In Japan, the method is more appropriately known as Talent Education. However, it should not be misunderstood as a method catered to gifted children. Dr Suzuki believes that all children are born with equal capabilities. They should not be categorised as ‘talented’ or ‘less talented’. It all depends on the environment they live in, the people that influence them, and how their capabilities are being fostered, or not fostered. Dr Suzuki based this philosophy on the fact that every child grows up with the ability to speak his mother-tongue. It seems to be a natural process of growing up and nobody complains about it. If this is the case, there should be no hindrance for any child in acquiring a skill, provided if the mother-tongue approach is used. The mother-tongue approach involves listening, creating a good environment for learning, and training and developing a child from a young age.
2 ENVIRONMENT NURTURES GROWTH
From birth, a child listens spontaneously to the voices of people talking around him. The ability to speak does not come instantaneously, but naturally as part of his growth. It does not take much effort, as the words, phrases and sentences of his mother-tongue are spoken and heard repetitively in his daily life. The same approach can be used in learning a musical instrument, by observing these points:
- Create a good environment by letting the child listen to music;
- Start early, or at least when the child is going to learn Suzuki method; and
- Parental support is essential.
3 ABILITY DEVELOPS EARLY
Every child is born with potential ability which should be developed early. In mother-tongue, a child listens, then learns to speak first before he can read. Similarly, in Suzuki method, a child listens to the music to be learnt once to thrice a day. He then learns to play it with the teacher’s guidance. No printed music is given to beginners. The child learns each piece step by step from memory. When he can play a piece well, he moves on to learn the next piece. However, this does not mean that he can forget all about the earlier pieces. He continues to practise them, the aim being to play with better tone, more emotion and freedom from fear (of forgetting during performance). Therefore, repetition is an important element in the Suzuki method. The parents’ roles are to listen carefully to the teacher’s instructions during lesson, and to repeat them to their children during practice at home.
4 PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT IS CRUCIAL
Young children between 3 to 5 years old cannot make decisions on their own and forget easily. They need their parents’ support in the Suzuki method. Before lesson, a parent must ensure that a child listens to the music to be learnt before it is taught by the teacher. During lesson, a parent observes and is also coached by the teacher, so that he/she can be the home teacher to his/her child. After lesson, a parent ensures that a child practises regularly, and provides guidance according to the teacher’s instructions. Thus, a Suzuki parent must be willing to be actively involved in his/her child’s learning.
5 SUCCESS BREEDS SUCCESS
Dr Suzuki emphasized the importance of perseverance and repetition in the acquisition of any ability. In his view, there is no such thing as ‘born talent’. Rather, it is something that one must create. A music student must be diligent and continues his effort in an effective manner to achieve his goal. There may come a point in time when a student finds it difficult to manage the task in hand, and begins to lament on his lack of ability. Dr Suzuki himself experienced this stage as a youth while studying music in Germany. However, he soon overcame it with his determination and diligence. To him, lamenting on one’s lack of ability is an excuse to give up or to escape hard work. The perseverance to constantly work on and repeat a particular task is the key to success. This success builds confidence in the individual and motivates him to achieve greater success.
6 ENCOURAGEMENT IS ESSENTIAL
Of course, every child needs encouragement from his parents as well as his teacher. A Suzuki teacher can help by setting achievable goals for a child, and instructing the parent and child on the main point to focus on during practice for each week. With coherent coordination between teacher, child and parent, the child can easily achieve the goals set by the teacher, finds confidence and motivation in his playing, and is definitely set for higher goals. Motivation can also come from other children. By encouraging students to stay back and watch the next student’s lesson, children can observe and listen to the music they are going to study, make friends and share their music with each other. There should be no element of competition.
After all, Suzuki method is a system for learning with ease, enjoying wonderful music, and producing beautiful tone with a beautiful heart.