What is it that makes the Suzuki Method different from other forms of education? Most basically, it is the fundamental belief that all children have talent.
This belief is supported by some core ideas:
- Environment, rather than genes, determines success or failure.
- Every child learns his or her native tongue in the first few years of life by imitating their parent’s voice. The same process can be used to teach music.
- We are most successful when we break each new skill into small steps and support each step with positive reinforcement.
The Suzuki philosophy is simply that music brings joy and new dimensions to experiences of a child and for that reason alone it is a valuable endeavour. The tuition is based on a group/private lesson structure once a week so that each student receives individual attention and guidance and at the same time learns to play in a group with others.
‘Talent is no accident of birth’ (Shinichi Suzuki 1986: ix)
Suzuki felt it was man’s greatest tragedy that a child can be taught that they have no talent, and subsequently go through life resigned to their ‘fate’.
‘What does not exist in the cultural environment will not develop in the child’ (Suzuki 1986:14).
The only difference between newborn babies, Suzuki believed, was that some babies were more sensitive and adaptable than others. However, a sensitive baby will just learn to sing out of tune quicker, if that is all it is taught. Suzuki contended that if Einstein, Goethe or Beethoven had been born during the Stone Age, they would have had the cultural abilities and education of men of the Stone Age, and as such would have been unable to achieve what they did.
When babies are learning to talk, every attempt at a sound is praised – and corrected. Most children want to speak, and they are encouraged and rewarded for it with positive attention.
Suzuki believed that if we put the same attention and effort into musical development, it would be possible to get the same impressive results.
A fundamental element of the Suzuki Method is the importance of listening to music: the CD of pieces the child will learn, the works of great masters of music and demonstrations by a child’s teacher are highly valued. It is through this listening, just as when the baby listens to the parent speaking, that a student develops the ability improve their playing and gains a deeper understanding of music.
After some years of teaching young children, Dr Suzuki had compiled a set of ten books of pieces for violin; mostly by a mixture of different composers, but with some original tunes he wrote himself (books for the cello, piano and other instruments would later follow).
These books were to form the foundation of the Suzuki Method, providing a structure for every teacher and child to follow. Each piece was designed to help teach or reinforce a particular style or technique, and there was a logical order to their placing, each building upon what had come before. Each new point was a step on the staircase to true skill and musicianship, and each needed be strong in order for subsequent steps to be steady.
Although the ability to play an instrument was the most obvious result, Dr Suzuki saw character development as the primary goal of his method of teaching. The purpose of the Suzuki Method was to nurture kokoro (heart), which was accomplished through the cultivation of sainō (ability). He hoped to help children grow into happy and rounded individuals, and wished to see them flourish in and beyond a musical setting.