Suzuki Philosophy

Below you will find an extensive discussion of the Suzuki philosophy. It’s an edited excerpt from a document I wrote in graduate school so my apologies if it seems very research-y, stiff and dry!

Language Learning

Shinichi Suzuki observed that very young children could learn the complicated language of Japanese with relative ease (Carey, 1979). He recalled back to his own childhood that learning his native Japanese was fairly easy but learning German later as a adult proved very difficult (Suzuki, 1983). Suzuki realized that children the world over learn to speak their native language with ease and he applied the basic principles of language acquisition to the learning of music, and called his method the Mother Tongue Method (“Suzuki Twinkler” 1998). He observed that children designated as “slow learners” had already proven the ability to speak their language and Suzuki asked why they could not develop other abilities (Carey, 1979). Suzuki determined five different factors that contribute to language learning based on his observations and research:

(1) the environment and its influence on the infant;

(2) using constant repetition to teach and encourage the infant to create sounds;

(3) the attitude of the parents after the baby begins gaining language skills;

(4) progress through daily practice and repetition;

(5) “[t]he skillfulness with which the parents build up enthusiasm in the child, and the happiness the child finds in acquiring its newfound ability” (Carey, 1978).

From the moment of birth, babies are surrounded by spoken words. The constant immersion in language gives babies and young children the natural environment to hear words, sentences and the nuances of language to learn to imitate and speak language functionally in society (“Every Child Can!”, 2003).

With instrument learning, the child begins listening to the recordings of the Suzuki pieces weeks prior to the first lesson. This way, the child has been surrounded by and internalized the songs to be learned (“Every Child Can!”, 2003). Though children typically begin learning the instrument at age 3, Suzuki stresses that listening to great music can begin much earlier, as early as infancy. This principle has it’s foundation in the Mother Tongue Method and Suzuki’s extensive research and observation of language learning.
An often controversial principle of the Suzuki method is the delay of note-reading. However, when compared to language learning, the delay of reading is logical. Children learn and become quite skillful at speaking a language but this often takes several years to develop to fluency. Quite similarly with music, Suzuki teachers delay reading until after the acquisition of solid aural, technical and musical skills (“Every Child Can!”, 2003). No music is used until technique is firmly established. And though note reading is introduced later, the age and development of the child are also a factor in the decision to beginning to develop the skill of reading music (Kendall, 1966).
Every Child Can

The name of Suzuki’s school and method, “Saino-Kyoiku” or Talent Education, directly reflects an essential tenet of the philosophy – every child can develop ability (Kendall, 1966). Suzuki based his approach on the belief that “musical ability is not an inborn talent but an ability which can be developed” (Kendall, 1966). “Any child who is properly trained can develop musical ability, just as all children develop the ability to speak their mother tongue. The potential of every child is unlimited” (“Suzuki Twinkler”, 1998).

“Every child can” learn is a central tenet of the Suzuki philosophy and is even the name of the Suzuki Association of the Americas’ introductory course for parents and teachers new to Suzuki education (“Every Child Can!”, 2003). Suzuki believed that every child could develop the ability to play the violin and has talent. He wished to give the gift of music to every child no matter the perceived ability of the child. Suzuki’s discovery that every child learns their mother tongue led to his belief that all children innately possess an ability to learn. To Suzuki, the words “talent” and “ability” are synonymous and he believed in cultivating ability to the highest possible standard (Landers, 1980). Suzuki also believed that all children have the potential to develop musical ability in the same way all children learn their mother tongue. Music is not a gift bestowed upon a select talented few but is accessible to all children regardless of ability or a inclination for music. However, it is important to note that the philosophy of Talent Education is not solely concerned with the development of musical ability in children. It’s main goal is the development of full human potential (Landers, 1980).

Character first, then ability

Suzuki’s arguably most well-known quote most effectively summarizes his philosophy on his students: “character first, then ability”. Suzuki emphasized that his focus is not on making great music but rather great people. The development of the human being is ultimately more important than the development of the musician. However, excellent teaching achieves both. “Teaching music is not my main purpose, I want to make good citizens”, stated Suzuki (Suzuki, 1983). He sought total development of the whole child, not just the development of musical abilities but the means of development of each child’s character is through the study of music. For Suzuki, “[t]he purpose of music education is to develop noble human beings in order to make the world more peaceful and loving” (Hendricks, 2011).

Suzuki also stressed that in order for character development and talent education to be successful, this education needs to begin at the day of birth. The environment, rather than genetics, determine the success, or failure, of the student in all areas, not just music learning (Kreitman, 1998). Another major tenet of the philosophy and well-known Suzuki aphorism is that “the human being is a product of his environment” (Kendall, 1966). Possibly due to Suzuki’s personal experiences of living through two detrimental world wars, much of Suzuki philosophy concerns the environmental impact on the child and many factors within fall under the category of environment.

Other Philosophical Tenets

In addition to the main philosophical ideas of the Mother Tongue method and character development, there are other philosophical principles upheld by Suzuki and Suzuki-trained teachers.

Repetition

Related to the Mother Tongue method is repetition as a means for skill development and accumulation (“Every Child Can!”, 2003). When children learn to speak, the same words are repeated over and over again. “Only through frequent repetition can [children] master the meaning and function of language” (“Every Child Can!”, 2003). In language, once a sound or word is learned, it is not thrown away and never used again. It is used in a variety of different contexts, and is refined and incorporated into more intricate uses of language. The “[r]epetition of experiences is important for learning” and learning music is no different from learning a language or a new skill (Suzuki, 1981). On the instrument, students continue to practice their previously learned pieces daily to continue to refine and incorporate more sophisticated skills. “Students are expected to revisit the repertoire again and again, bringing their ever-increasing skills and insights to the music as they reach toward higher and higher artistic standards” (“Every Child Can!”, 2003). The repetition of skills and review of previous learned repertoire are essential components of the Suzuki philosophy and method.

Parent Involvement

Another large aspect of the Suzuki philosophy is parent involvement. Suzuki believed that successful learning is fostered by the relationship between the parent, the child and the teacher – the Suzuki Triangle. He believed that the family’s commitment and understanding of the philosophy were crucial to the child’s success. Parents play a large role in a child’s language learning in addition to a multitude of other skills, both mental and physical (“Every Child Can!”, 2003). In Suzuki lessons, the parent attends every lesson and learns along with the student, takes notes, learns to tune the instrument and develops an understanding of the correct postures. The parent also guides the daily practice at home and is, essentially, the home teacher. Often, the parents learn to play the instrument too in order to help their children and to motivate their children to learn (Kendall, 1966). Parental involvement also shapes the home environment of the child which, in turn, influences the development of values and ideas of the child as the child grows into an independent human being (“Every Child Can!”, 2003).

Social Interaction

Another parallel to language learning is student participation in both private lessons and group classes. The contact with peers in a musical setting is no different than children learning language or other skills from other children. Children observe other children, learn new skills and are motivated by others and this is no different in music learning. Akin to language learning, children participate together in the shared experience of speaking another language, music (“Every Child Can!”, 2003).

As a result of the careful and continual consideration as well as development of his philosophy and method, Suzuki is well-known across the globe. Today, thousands upon thousands of children participate in Suzuki private lessons and group lessons. The legacy Shinichi Suzuki left for the world is the experience of music given to hundreds of thousands of children across the world. His philosophies have contributed to creating a better, more caring and thoughtful community and generations of people through music study.

References

Carey, T. (1979). A study of Suzuki cello practices as used by selected American cello teachers (Doctoral dissertation, University of Iowa). Retrieved from http://celloplayingiseasy.com/ portal/Library/tabid/56/Default.aspx

“Every Child Can! An Introduction to Suzuki Education”. (2003). Boulder, Colorado: Suzuki Association of the Americas, Inc.

Hendricks, K. (2011). “The Philosophy of Shinichi Suzuki ‘Music EDUCATION AS LOVE EDUCATION’”. Philosophy of Music Education Review, 19 (2), 136-154.

Honda, M. (1970). Talent Education – A Program for Early Development. Tokyo, Japan: Early Development Association

Kendall, J. (1966). The Suzuki Violin Method in American Music Education. Princeton, New Jersey: Suzuki Method International.

Landers, R. (1980). The Talent Education School of Shinichi Suzuki – An Analysis. Smithtown, New York: Exposition Press.

“Shinichi Suzuki”. (n.d.). In The Suzuki Association of the Americas. Retrieved from

http://suzukiassociation.org/teachers/suzuki/

Suzuki, S. (1981). Ability Development from Age Zero. Miami, Florida: Warner Bros. Publications.

Suzuki, S. (1983). Nurtured by Love. Van Nuys, California: Alfred Publishing.

“Suzuki Twinkler”. (1998). In The Suzuki Association of the Americas. Retrieved from http://suzukiassociation.org/teachers/twinkler/