Written by Thomas Gregory
Published: April 5, 2013 at 7:47 PM [UTC]
It seems to me that few could argue with Suzuki’s essential philosophy that instrumental study can, and should ideally begin as early as possible, with considerable parental involvement. To learn to play with the same ease that a child learns to speak, with love and appreciation seems an attractive model. But what happens when you teach older beginners, who perhaps have no parental involvement? Is Suzuki’s approach still an attractive option?
On a weekly basis, I visit two schools and teach classes of 30 children at a time, mostly 8 years old when they begin who have little or no parental involvement. This popular model is increasingly common as an affordable way of introducing children to instrumental music who might not otherwise have access.
The immediate objective is to find material that appeals to that age group enough that they practice at home with or without parental cajoling. The material would need to be simple enough for them to grasp immediately, very memorable and motivating. A varied and musical backing track would provide a context such that they would automatically recall and apply some of the technical instructions they hear during the lesson. In some cases they would direct their own learning by moving through the material at their own pace, with as little input from the teacher as necessary. They would be able to perform with a sense of pride, knowing that they achieved their level without their parents’ help. Their musical discoveries would be their own, feeding a sense of wonder and desire to explore.
I would happily use Suzuki books when teaching these large classes, but am acutely aware that the material simply doesn’t appeal enough to this age group. Is it perhaps fair to suggest that the Suzuki method is most useful for the young beginner with parental involvement, but less so for the older beginner without?
I was introducing a 7-year-old child to "Oh Susannah," and guess what? He had never, ever heard that song. Didn't know it at all. I taught him to sing the song, then he liked it pretty well. But I didn't get the sense that he liked it more than, say, playing "Allegro" by Suzuki, which is quite peppy, simple to play but with a few challenges for the beginner, etc.
So I would say, don't assume that the kids won't like music. Use your own sense: what do YOU as a teacher like and believe in? What do you think will help kids develop their musical sense and their abilities on the instrument? It's a musical diet that probably has to include veggies, meat, potatoes, dessert... Not even kids like to eat nothing but dessert. :)
My daughter is 16, started 8 years ago and is obsessed with her violin/music. From day 1, she was so enthusiastic she practised routinely twice a day on her own happily early in the morning before and immediately after school: she neither needed nor desired any supervision so we let her be in spite of her teacher's nagging us for parental supervision. He told us that she was a very fast learner and could go even faster if we supervise. Of course, we respect her teacher but at the time, my initial thought was: What's the big rush? So I just followed my instincts and she also seems very mature for her age and independent-minded having nagged my husband for 3-4 years to try the violin (instead of piano or school recorder) so it might be counter-productive to ask to watch her when her door is already shut. She did not learn the Suzuki way because we searched and found there was no Suzuki teacher at all where we live then. Recently my 10-yr old son started Suzuki music this year and he loves it and all the Suzuki songs. He cannot bear it if we do not supervise partly because he needs parental supervision and partly because he counts his mum/dad as audience and he gets such a thrill out of parental supervision that it is a joy to him. In his case we don't think he could have learnt any other way. Maybe it's not so much to do with age but other circumstances or temperament of the learner?
Exactly. Like the old ad said: "Mother, please -- I'd rather do it myself!" I didn't learn by the Suzuki method. While Suzuki unquestionably works very well for some kids, I definitely don't think it would have worked well for me.
Parental involvement is one factor that I suspect makes the subject so polarizing. To be sure, some kids prefer to have their parents involved in lessons and practice -- I've seen evidence of this in v.com posts. My guess is that Suzuki is at its best in that kind of environment -- especially if the parent is also a skilled player.
I first made an early start in piano -- this was my parents' idea. They wanted me to have experience playing an instrument -- not necessarily piano and not necessarily long term; but we already had a piano, so this was my first instrument. Even then, as I recall -- little geek that I was -- I got more fun out of Hanon's 60 Exercises than I got out of the above-mentioned "Oh Susannah."
But violin lessons were my idea -- not my parents' idea. The violin muse stole me from piano soon enough when a professional orchestra played at my school. I asked my parents if I could switch to violin. They consented -- after being sure this wasn't just a passing fancy with me. It wasn't. They were involved, of course -- but only to the extent of paying for lessons and requiring regular practice. They need not have worried. I was a practice geek -- and still am.
My 9-yo son's cello teacher is using the Suzuki books and some of the learning by ear approach in traditional private lessons, and he likes the music in the Suzuki books, they are his favorite. He especially liked "The Happy Farmer," "Hunters' Chorus," and "Bouree."
I'm not Suzuki trained, I'm an adult amateur who plays in a local community orchestra and some chamber groups. I have two kids. One of them (my 9-yo son, who plays the cello) is more open to having me involved in his lessons and practice. My daughter, who is now 13 and plays the violin, has always been really hard to guide, coach, or whatever you call the expected Suzuki level of parental participation. She started with a Suzuki teacher and the experience was a near-disaster. She went from being happy and enthusiastic to uninspired and wanting to quit. Then the teacher started trying to rely on me to get the motivation back that the lessons seemed to have suppressed. I failed completely at that. We found another teacher and it's been okay since then, although I don't think violin is going to be a calling for my daughter in adulthood. It could be a hobby, though.
I personally am glad that I wasn't trained by a Suzuki teacher, because, like my daughter, I wouldn't have wanted my parents involved at the level expected by most Suzuki teachers. My learning style did not match their teaching style and it would have been an exercise in frustration on both sides.
As a parent who knows some homeschooling families, I've run into this much more than I expected. Many times it is really better to have a teacher other than the parent, and for the parent to get out of the way and let the teacher do his or her job.
There are many beautiful and different ways to teach violin and they all arrive at the same place. good luck with finding the method that works for you.
It's fair to say that many people have such misconceptions, that Suzuki is for kids who have parental support, and different approaches are better for others. When you have children, you have parental involvement, and the younger the child, the greater the need and benefit from positive parental involvement. Bach, Mozart, and many if not most other luminaries had parental involvement in their musical education, and their experience should not simply be excluded as exceptional, but rather as exemplary, to answer the teachers and students who hold that parental involvement is not ideal. Of course there are exceptions, but in such cases it would generally be the parent who is at fault, not the general notion of parental involvement.
Suzuki parents themselves are counterexamples to the claim that the Suzuki method is for kids who have parental involvement, as many of them are beginners, don't have their parents supervising them, and learn the same material with a similar approach. Suzuki's push for parental involvement is simply a natural consequence of his thought and experience, and I think a disservice is done to both Suzuki and parental involvement when an association is made in this manner -- that Suzuki is a unique method which involves parents, whereas the traditional ones don't have them.
In fact, parental involvement with modern Suzuki practice is often in name only, due to a general difference in lifestyle since the time that Suzuki originally wrote, and conversely, many non-Suzuki students have their parents directly involved to great benefit.
Modern Suzuki practice also emphasizes learning to read music with supplementary material, but to a lesser degree at the onset and obviously not at all for the very very young. This has to be addressed when you have no parental involvement, including Suzuki parents themselves.
The child who has or develops a personal urge to play and practice music diligently is I think an exception to the general rule, and arguably such a child will do relatively well despite parental un-involvement, but it's hard to argue that positive parental involvement would be harmful. There also arises a question of where this taste developed -- it cannot develop in the absence of exposure to music, and that is also a part of the Suzuki philosophy and instruction regarding the manner of parental involvement.
On the subject of older beginners having a distaste for the Suzuki repertoire -- I think that it is unfortunate that this arises. Suzuki is classically based, and the repertoire is a good sampling and representation of that, despite it being limited in scope. Much of the philosophy of Suzuki and other musical education methods is to broaden the knowledge and appreciation of classical music through active experience, which often happens. A greater exposure to classical music often makes playing pop music seem dull, and even children have the ability to learn and appreciate good music.
Of course nobody should regard twinkle variations as great music -- they are exercises, and complaints about them being dull is soon deserved because of their repetition. Real music comes later in the same book, and while it can become dull to teachers over time due to the lack of further variety, it doesn't have to be that way for the student learning for the first time, and as music stands comparison with other classical music learning repertoire.
That said, if you find other music which hold greater immediate appeal, and is worthwhile to learn as good music, I imagine that Dr. Suzuki wouldn't object, but to the contrary would encourage you further.
I don't necessarily agree w/ every nuanced detail of Suzuki's beliefs, but in general, I do think his approach works very well when understood and executed properly probably w/ few exceptions as J Ray mentioned. Also, I suspect parental involvement might not mean quite the same thing to everyone -- and what's best may well vary in actual practice (as illustrated in various earlier comments)... And many, including myself, may well find his philosophy and approach quite helpful toward learning to become better parents in general, not just specific to music training.
For anyone interested in the Suzuki approach, you really should read his book Nurtured by Love before embarking further...
I also find it a little curious (and, dare I say, polarizing) that Leopold Mozart's version of parental involvement would be described (in a different post) as "exemplary." I'm not going to criticize Leopold, nor argue with his results--at least musically speaking--but I think it's a bit much to hold him up as an example for us mortals to emulate.
In "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," Amy Chua admits that Suzuki-style parental involvement appeals to "Tiger" parents. One can legitimately argue that she takes it too far, but I think that's where the polarization comes in.
However, my experiences with my daughter, as a teacher (science, not music), and with parenting in general, suggest that it really depends on the child and the parent, whether parental involvement in music education will be helpful, harmful, or even possible. I am not decrying parental involvement in cases where it is possible and helpful. If I am decrying anything, it is making parental involvement a requirement. I am arguing that it is this *requirement* that is polarizing.
I think that music teachers such as the original poster will continue to have to deal with the issue of teaching students who simply do not have access to positive parental involvement for a variety of reasons. If the answer to that problem is, merely, "oh, but you have to have parental involvement" as opposed to finding ways to serve students who don't have it, then you are going to continue to have polarization.
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