About Dr. Suzuki & The Suzuki Method

As a Suzuki cello teacher, I follow the Suzuki Method and philosophy of education and aim to educate others in the Suzuki philosophy. However, I’ve realized that not many parents know much about Suzuki himself. Below is a brief biography about Dr. Suzuki taken from a number of different sources, namely Dr. Suzuki’s book Nurtured by Love. I hope it sheds some more light on the origins of the Suzuki Method as well as the aims of the Suzuki philosophy!

About Suzuki

Shinichi Suzuki was born on October 17, 1898 in Nagoya, Japan. He was one of twelve children and his father owned a violin factory. Growing up around the violin factory, Suzuki and his siblings always believed the instruments were toys and never realized what beautiful sounds could come from a violin. When he was seventeen, Suzuki heard a recording of Schubert’s Ave Maria played by the violinist Mischa Elman. This listening experience changed Suzuki’s life thereafter; he brought a violin home from the factory and taught himself to play by listening recordings and imitating what he heard. He began taking violin lessons from a teacher in Tokyo and at age 22, Suzuki moved to Germany to study with Karl Klingler. While in Germany, Suzuki also met his future wife, Waltraud, a German pianist. They married and relocated to Japan in 1929, where Suzuki began to teach violin and play string quartet concerts with his brothers. At the Imperial Conservatory, Suzuki began developing his teaching ideas and philosophy for working with children, young children in particular.

World War II, a catastrophe and devastating for countries all over the world, served as an impetus for Suzuki’s method and philosophy of education. Following the war and recovery from a long period of serious illness, Suzuki was determined to contribute to the renewal of hope in the world by reaching out to the children of Japan. Suzuki believed educating children could help prevent future disasters as well as give them hope for their future. After World War II, Suzuki, Waltraud and his sister’s family moved to Matsumoto, Japan where he devoted more time to his research in teaching children. He developed his method based on how he saw children learn their native language. He spent many years developing an appropriate sequence to teaching the violin to young children and in 1945, decided to name his method “Talent Education” based on his method of teaching children to develop ability. Other teachers travelled to Matsumoto to observe his teaching and study his method. Those teachers then established other branches of Talent Education programs in cities across Japan and Suzuki’s work in education spread across Japan. A film of a 1958 concert featuring 1500 Suzuki-trained students garnered the attention of American teachers. From there, Suzuki’s philosophy and method spread across the world; methods and sequences for other instruments were developed as well as the integration and implementation of the Suzuki philosophy into early childhood music and preschool general education.

As a Suzuki cello teacher, I follow the Suzuki Method and philosophy of education and aim to educate others in the Suzuki philosophy. However, I’ve realized that not many parents know much about Suzuki himself. Below is a brief biography about Dr. Suzuki taken from a number of different sources, namely Dr. Suzuki’s book Nurtured by Love. I hope it sheds some more light on the origins of the Suzuki Method as well as the aims of the Suzuki philosophy!

About Suzuki

Shinichi Suzuki was born on October 17, 1898 in Nagoya, Japan. He was one of twelve children and his father owned a violin factory. Growing up around the violin factory, Suzuki and his siblings always believed the instruments were toys and never realized what beautiful sounds could come from a violin. When he was seventeen, Suzuki heard a recording of Schubert’s Ave Maria played by the violinist Mischa Elman. This listening experience changed Suzuki’s life thereafter; he brought a violin home from the factory and taught himself to play by listening recordings and imitating what he heard. He began taking violin lessons from a teacher in Tokyo and at age 22, Suzuki moved to Germany to study with Karl Klingler. While in Germany, Suzuki also met his future wife, Waltraud, a German pianist. They married and relocated to Japan in 1929, where Suzuki began to teach violin and play string quartet concerts with his brothers. At the Imperial Conservatory, Suzuki began developing his teaching ideas and philosophy for working with children, young children in particular.

World War II, a catastrophe and devastating for countries all over the world, served as an impetus for Suzuki’s method and philosophy of education. Following the war and recovery from a long period of serious illness, Suzuki was determined to contribute to the renewal of hope in the world by reaching out to the children of Japan. Suzuki believed educating children could help prevent future disasters as well as give them hope for their future. After World War II, Suzuki, Waltraud and his sister’s family moved to Matsumoto, Japan where he devoted more time to his research in teaching children. He developed his method based on how he saw children learn their native language. He spent many years developing an appropriate sequence to teaching the violin to young children and in 1945, decided to name his method “Talent Education” based on his method of teaching children to develop ability. Other teachers travelled to Matsumoto to observe his teaching and study his method. Those teachers then established other branches of Talent Education programs in cities across Japan and Suzuki’s work in education spread across Japan. A film of a 1958 concert featuring 1500 Suzuki-trained students garnered the attention of American teachers. From there, Suzuki’s philosophy and method spread across the world; methods and sequences for other instruments were developed as well as the integration and implementation of the Suzuki philosophy into early childhood music and preschool general education.

Philosophical Points Detailed in Nurtured by Love

  • Ability Training: all children can be well-educated, not just the “talented”, with patience, repetition and love.
    • Talent is not inherited, it is developed. “[I]t does not exist at birth but has to be created”.
    • Ability grows as it is trained…” and “[p]oor training produces poor ability”.
    • “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not act, but a habit” -Aristotle
  • Environment of the children is very important to their education; learn even simply from the environment: “All Japanese children speak Japanese”
    • All children can learn when they are in a good environment for learning
    • Suzuki saw the enormous capacity for children to learn
  • Developing ability “depends on action and the directing of our attention to doing things”
    • Dr. Suzuki had a deep connection to the Zen Buddhist philosophy of actively participating in philosophy and religion
    • Practice: if one practices consistently and correctly, superior ability and skill will develop.
  • Talent is not inherent and students are taught based on their willingness to learn not their talent.
    • Principle of Talent Education: ‘ No one will be left behind; and based on love; it will foster truth, joy and beauty as part of a child’s character. If nothing else, it will at least teach children….to be warm hearted and to enjoy doing kindnesses to others.”
  • Imitation first will lead to creative development as a process to learning. If children are learning by imitation and they are imitating a great violinist, their own playing will be at a higher level because of who they are imitating.
    • Encouraged his students to be surrounded by great music by going to concerts and listening to recordings.
  • Character first, ability second: he believed that people raised in his method would grow up to be great people, not necessarily great violinists.
    • “First character, then ability” was the motto of Suzuki’s alma mater, Nagoya Commercial School.
    • Suzuki wanted to inspire human beings, not just musicians but human beings to be good people to have a good heart.
  • Repetition: once a skill has been learned, it should be “thoroughly mastered by repeating it again and again”.
    • “Do the thing over and over again until if feels natural, simple, and easy”. “[R]epeat and repeat an action until it becomes a part of ourselves.”
    • Develop excellence through repetition – it is not good enough to simply be able to play all of the pieces. One must be able to play with a fine interpretation and musical sense.
    • Constant repetition: “If we cannot be patient but stop a project halfway through-then later state again, drop it, start again, and so on- this kind of repetition will not bring good results”.

Coming up next week: an extensive description of the Suzuki philosophy.