WHAT IS SUZUKI? The main differences of the Suzuki (or Talent Education, or Mother Tongue) approach to music education are that the student begins learning to play the instrument by ear, with one of the parents assisting at home, and usually at a young age. The most important factor in the child’s success is the musical environment in the home. The parent need not have a musical background, but can learn along with the child. The environment is created by playing recordings and the parent playing the instrument. A positive atmosphere is continually strived for. The parent attends lessons and observes all that is done at the lesson. Then, at home, she helps the child master each lesson point. When the student is older, his need for parental help will gradually decrease. However, the parent should continue playing the recordings daily, giving gentle reminders to practice, and bringing the student to all musical activities.
LISTENING - The parent obtains the recording, “Suzuki Piano School Vol. 1, New International Edition”, which may be downloaded from iTunes, or the CD may be purchased online. The music should be played daily. Just as a child learns to speak her native language by hearing it spoken, she can learn the musical “language” by listening to beautiful performances. Children learn by repetition; therefore the recording should be played every day. The student should hear the music to be learned for several weeks before beginning lessons, and the younger the child, generally, the longer the pre-lesson listening period should be. The child need not sit down and consciously listen to the music; it can be absorbed even when she is not paying attention to it. The music should be turned on casually and quietly, as background music, on a routine basis such as riding in the car, reading, playing, and especially at bedtime (it is very relaxing). The music can be downloaded onto a music player, or CDs can be burned for the car, child’s room, etc. Listening continues throughout the student’s musical study, even after note reading has begun. Playing the music is the parent’s #1 responsibility. Listening also to the upcoming volumes will create the desire to progress.
OBSERVATION - When a parent is interested in enrolling her child in the piano program, they come together to the studio to begin observing lessons. This is a very important step in his preparation and it helps stimulate his interest. The child may play quietly while sitting in on lessons. He will be absorbing the music and beginning to understand what will be expected of him. Ideally, observation and home listening should continue at least a month before beginning lessons. The teacher and parent will watch the child for signs of readiness, such as being able to sit quietly and take directions. Lessons will begin when the child demonstrates a desire to learn and the ability to pay attention. This desire cannot be forced or hurried but must come naturally from within.
LESSONS – An ideal arrangement is for students to arrive earlier than their lesson time, or stay later, and observe the lesson before or after theirs (or part of it). They may play quietly, read, or do homework during this time. The parent’s quiet observation sets a good example for them. They will pick up a great deal of musical learning from other lessons, and this is very motivational. Also, with back-to-back lessons, students can use some of their lesson time to play duets together. Students who observe regularly make faster progress and are more motivated. Other children are welcome at lessons if they can remain quiet so as not to distract the student. 30 minutes are usually allotted for the lesson, depending on the child’s attention span. When the student’s attention is exhausted, we do not try to drag a few more minutes out of him. It’s better to leave him wanting more. When the child’s attention span is up, their lesson is over, and the remaining time is used for the parent’s mini-lesson and/or discussion of practical concerns. The parent usually learns to play at least the first Suzuki book. Another arrangement that works well for very young children is for the parent to begin lessons first, with the child sitting in. The child then begins lessons when she asks for them and is ready to follow directions for about 10 - 15 minutes. The parent uses the remaining time, and the child’s lesson gradually increases until it reaches 30 minutes. When the student reaches intermediate level, lessons may increase to 45 minutes, and eventually the parent does not need to sit in on lessons or help with practice. This varies but is usually in the later elementary years.
PRACTICE – Daily practice is optimal for progress. At least 5 days a week is expected. For beginners, 15 – 20 minutes may be adequate, but it’s not the amount of time that matters as much as the effectiveness of what is done. Two shorter practice sessions per day may be more effective than one long one, especially for younger students.
POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT – In the Suzuki approach, students are not scolded or told that something is “wrong”; instead, a correct example is set. Rather than lengthy verbal explanations, we use aural and visual demonstration. We allow students to make mistakes, then encourage them to find the answer for themselves. The results are much more confidence-building and memorable to the child. We usually do not interrupt their playing to correct it. Because we teach them listening skills, students can hear the quality of their playing. The parent, like most teachers, may need to learn new, more positive, and more listening-based techniques to get their points across. The practice session is modeled after the lesson, using similar ideas, techniques, and games with much repetition so that skills become ingrained. It is vital to strive to keep practice time a fun, happy time, so it really helps to seek new activities and practice games often.
NOTE READING – is introduced early through the use of activities, games, and seeing the notes of pieces already memorized. When the student can play with both hands fluently and with proper technique, a music reading book is begun. In this way, the child’s aural skills are developed and she learns good habits before learning how musical concepts are represented visually. The decision of when to begin note reading varies among individuals, based on their readiness. The Suzuki repertoire continues to be learned by ear, and note reading is done separately (since it is a separate skill from playing). The program may be supplemented with music of diverse styles, according to the student’s interest, such as jazz, pop, hymns, duets, holiday music, etc.
IMPROVISATION – or spontaneous musical creation, is encouraged during lessons and at home. This skill helps produce creativity, listening skills, and freedom of expression.
REQUIREMENTS – for Suzuki piano study are:
1. An acoustic piano, kept in good condition and tuned, or a full-sized digital piano. A good acoustic piano is preferable, for technique and tone development, but if not available, a good digital will be acceptable.
2. A CD and/or music player. It is ideal to have a music player in the child’s room as well as one near the piano, and one in the car.
3. Something firm to elevate the child’s height (firm cushions, carpet squares) and a footstool (or wood blocks/boxes) for the feet to rest upon. Adjustable-height benches and stools are also available.
4. At the piano, the child’s hands should be clean and fingernails trimmed short.
RECITALS – are presented twice a year, usually in December and June. Suzuki students become accustomed to performing for audiences early. A “graduation” recital may be given when a student completes a volume of the repertoire. Students also have the opportunity to participate in Philadelphia-area concerts and workshops, along with violinists, cellists, and other musicians.