Suzuki Method Philosophy

The central belief of Dr. Suzuki, based on the evidence of universal language acquisition, is that all people can (and will) learn from their environment. Thus, the essential components of the method spring from the desire to create the "right environment" for learning music (he believed that this positive environment would also help to foster excellent character in every student).

These components include:

Saturation in the musical community, including attendance at local concerts, exposure to and friendship with other music students, and listening to music performed by "artists" (professional musicians of high caliber) in the home every day (starting before birth if possible).

Deliberate avoidance of musical aptitude tests or "auditions" to study music (Dr. Suzuki firmly believed that teachers who test for musical aptitude, or teachers who look only for "talented" students, are limiting themselves to people who have already started their music education. Just as every child is expected to learn their native language, Dr. Suzuki expected every child to be able to learn to play music well when they were surrounded with a musical environment from infancy).

Emphasis on playing from a very young age, sometimes beginning formal instruction between the ages of 3 and 5 years old.

Using well-trained teachers. Suzuki Associations all over the world offer ongoing teacher-training programs to prospective and continuing Suzuki teachers.

In the beginning, learning music by ear is emphasized over reading musical notation. This parallels language acquisition, where a child learns to speak before learning to read. Related to this, memorization of all solo repertoire is expected, even after a student begins to use sheet music as a tool to learn new pieces.

The method also encourages, in addition to individual playing, regular playing in groups (including playing in unison).

Retaining and reviewing every piece of music ever learned on a regular basis, in order to raise technical and musical ability. Review pieces, along with "preview" parts of music a student is yet to learn, are often used in creative ways to take the place of the more traditional etude books.

Frequent public performance, so that performing is natural and enjoyable.

The method discourages competitive attitudes between players, and advocates collaboration and mutual encouragement for those of every ability and level.

Another important feature of the method is that the parent of the young student is expected to supervise instrument practice every day (instead of leaving the child to practice alone between lessons) and to attend every lesson so as to be able to supervise the practice effectively. It is not necessary for the parent to be able to play as well as the child (or at all); only that the parent knows from the lessons what the child should be doing and how the child should be doing it. This element of the method is so prominent that a newspaper article once dubbed it "The Mom-Centric Method".

Criticism & Response

The most common criticisms of the Suzuki method from more traditional music teachers are that group playing, extensive listening to and copying of recordings, and early focus on memorization lead to:

Compromised sight reading skills

A tendency towards rote learning and 'robotic' group performance at the expense of individual musicianship (although a high degree of early technical ability is thereby produced)

Many Suzuki teachers have addressed these concerns by introducing sight reading exercises earlier and more often than was practiced when the method was first introduced in the West. Some also defend their emphasis on unity of musical expression in group performance by pointing out that this is a necessary skill "just like ... in the string section of any professional symphony", and add that although group performance plays an important motivating and ensemble role, and is a highly visible part of the Suzuki method, solo expression can also be encouraged, and individually tailored lessons are at the heart of the method.

Criticism has also sprung up from within the Suzuki movement:

Students may progress too rapidly and find themselves studying repertoire for which they are not yet emotionally prepared.

Baroque music is emphasized in the Suzuki violin literature to the detriment of other styles and periods.

"Older students can become overly dependent" on the support structure of recordings, parental note-taking and tutoring at home, and teaching styles appropriate for younger students.

Very young students, such as those aged 3-5, are often not ready for formal instruction, and too much emphasis on practicing hard at this age may be counterproductive.