Why the Suzuki Method works
In my opinion, one way is because the method is based on the simple language learning premise. All children, Dr. Suzuki observed, learn to speak their native language with ease. This happens through constant repetition combined with constant immersion in the language, encouragement and reinforcement. This makes so much sense to me – music is a language so why not teach it similarly to the way we learn our native language? I believe it’s a brilliant premise and has been proven successful for decades since the founding of the method.
Also, the Suzuki Method is a highly organized, methodical and thoughtful approach to learning an instrument. The repertoire is sequentially presented and begins with developing, solidifying and refining the foundation skills needed for students to be successful long-term. Then the method builds on those skills as the repertoire progresses. The Twinkles take so long to get through because there are so many skills that need to be learned and automatized before moving on. Twinkle IS the foundation of the student’s cello playing. From there, skills are layered on top of those that are already solid. Much like building a house, you don’t want to start on weak foundation or everything will come crashing down sooner or later.
Also, the Suzuki Method de-emphasizes the notion that children need to be “talented” or show promise in musical ability or aptitude. Not only is every child is capable of learning a musical instrument but every child also has the capacity to truly excel at learning a musical instrument. Ability is learned, not innate.
There has been much research on the topic of developing ability and is most commonly known as the 10,000 Hours of Practice or the 10,000 Hour Rule. Granted, my goal isn’t to make master cellists and there are many other facets needed to achieve excellence in any field but the point is: practice and repetition of skills, not natural talent, yields progress, improvement and ability.
Parent involvement has been shown in a number of studies in general education to be extraordinarily beneficial for students. The same goes for music. Parent involvement is a big component in the Suzuki Method because it works. Parents are the home teacher and act as a second set of eyes to help guide the student through the practice. The parent knows what to fix, how to fix it and deeply understands the music learning process at any given level. Also, the time spent in lessons and in home practice is arguably some of the highest quality time spent between parent and child. Though there may be many tense moments, the teamwork between parent and child is beautiful and creates a stronger bond and relationship. I am in awe whenever I see that teamwork unfold in the lessons and get to witness first hand what parent and child can do together.
Students taking Suzuki lessons learn to sing and play beautiful music from the beginning. Additionally, surrounding the student in beautiful music, immersing them in the qualities that move us and constantly honing the ability to recreate those qualities reinforces creating beautiful music. The lessons aren’t focused solely on building technique and skills with scales and etudes. That isn’t to say students do not do scales, etudes and all the wonderful technique builders, but the focus is never solely on those aspects. The focus is always on playing beautiful music with a beautiful sound all developed from within the child and nurtured from an early age.
Why I love it
I love it because it’s an organized, sequential method that still leaves a lot of room to do supplemental pieces or technique. It’s a structured yet flexible approach. But the emphasis is never taken away from learning to play beautifully.
The Suzuki Method offers students a unique experience from the very start: social interaction with their peers in a musical setting. Some of my favorite moments throughout my years of playing the cello are being with friends in an rehearsal or getting together and playing music before dinner. Additionally, students learn from this social interaction; they learn by observing other children learn, just like they learn language from their parents as babies.
Also, the principle of repetition falls perfectly in-line with behavioral psychology. Learning and repetition of a skill until it is automatic changes the brain physiology so I am literally changing your child’s brain, which I think is so cool!
Lastly, Suzuki isn’t all about teaching your child how to play the cello. It’s about teaching your child. Suzuki has given me the amazing and wonderful opportunity to work with your children, struggle with them and watch them grow into amazing little human beings. Margaret Rowell, a well-known cello pedagogue, was known for saying “I don’t teach the cello because the cello can’t learn! I teach the human being.” She taught not just cello technique but also encouraged her students to be vibrant, interesting and engaged people. I love being able to teach the instrument and the required skills needed to play it, but more importantly, I relish in being able to teach skills necessary for lifetime of learning. The benefits of the Suzuki Method are extraordinary. Which leads me to…
Hard work, Character and Grit.
Arguably, students can gain this from many other domains, such as sports or other arts. But it is amazing to struggle with a student and work together with the parent on ‘getting’ something – a skill, a musical phrase, a concept – and then see it just click. The epiphany, the relief and the joy is such a rewarding experience not only for the student, but also the parent and myself. The lessons learned from pushing through and working hard even when discouraged are priceless. Developed from that is an aspect of character called grit, or the ability to sustain interest in and effort toward goals, especially those that are long-term. Additionally, there is a fair amount of research on grit and how it is a better predictor academic performance than IQ scores, which again further strengthens Suzuki’s character development philosophy.
Self-Discipline & Self- Motivation
Related to grit is the self-discipline and self-motivation students develop as a result of this long-term process. It’s a beautiful moment when I get to see a child motivated to fix a problem and the self-discipline and perseverance to keep at it and see it through. This discipline and motivation doesn’t come naturally immediately. Just like we are developing ability through regular lessons, we are also developing these aspects of character throughout the whole process.
Learning to play a musical instrument is no easy feat. I’m asking your child to do an incredibly difficult thing. The attention span and focus needed for learning an instrument is enormous. In addition, there are a number of different ways I’m asking your child to focus. Performing for an audience requires a different kind of focus than getting that darn first finger in place 7 times in a row. Not only does your child learn how to intensely attend to one task for varying amounts of time, your child also learns how to focus in a variety of different capacities.
Most importantly, learning an instrument requires both quality focus and full, deliberate attention. Daniel Goleman, an influential psychologist, writes that “paying full attention seems to boost the mind’s processing speed, strengthen synaptic connections, and expand or create neural networks for what we are practicing. At least at first. But as you master how to execute the new routine, repeated practice transfers control of that skill from the top-down system for intentional focus to bottom-up circuits that eventually make its execution effortless. At that point you don’t need to think about it – you can do the routine well enough on automatic.”
Focus is needed at first. Intense, deliberate and quality focus. But then it becomes easier, easier and eventually automatic. Just like learning how to hold the bow. No part of holding the bow is natural, but after a period of very deliberate and focused practice, it becomes easier. Down the road, picking up a bow is very easy, natural and automatic.
Expertise & Accomplishment
When most musicians graduate high school, they are experts in their field already. Think about that. How many 18-year-olds go to college already an expert in their field? How many have logged thousands upon thousands of hours of practice, have experienced the professional world first hand and have a lengthy C.V. and list of accomplishments? Not many. But musicians do.
Even children experience this level of expertise from a very young age in Suzuki lessons. By the end of Book 1, your child is an expert at Twinkle. At the end of Book 3, your child sounds no different from the Suzuki recordings of Twinkle – the differences are imperceptible. Every skill at every stage is mastered.
Related to expertise is the level of accomplishment a student experiences from the completion of a task, whether it’s from a successful recital performance, from overcoming a challenge or practicing Go Tell Aunt Rhody 100 times. Students get to witness firsthand the direct relationship between their hard work and their resulting accomplishments.
One very valuable aspect of learning is muddling through problems on your own. Students learn deeper and learning is strengthened by working through problems independently. I structure and facilitate moments in the lessons often for students to work through a problem and try to find a solution while I help guide them in the right direction, mediate frustration and, sometimes, soothe tears. Those often uncomfortable moments are priceless in the grand scheme of learning and life experiences for students. Those moments stick with them for a lifetime.
I could write much more about all of these above topics. In addition, there is so much great literature about there topics in other domains and multiple domains. I hope to return to many of these topics more in depth at a later time, so stay tuned!