February 25, 2013 at 6:00 AMOne question I get asked all the time is how "Suzuki" is different from "Traditional" lessons and which is better. I think it's easiest to answer this question by breaking things down into several important points:
1) There is really no such thing as "traditional" music lessons. To say that there are would mean that someone had systemized this approach and all traditional teachers follow a uniform approach to teaching. They don't. Every music teacher is going to be different. You'll even find huge differences between Suzuki teachers and their approach has been systemized!
2) What I think people are often thinking is that Suzuki = no sight reading approach while traditional = the sight reading approach. Which is really not the case. Suzuki students are initially taught by ear but sight reading is a part of the method. This would be different from an approach where the student is taught how to play by having the sheet music placed in front of them and the teacher saying "this is an A, here's how to play an A."
3) The Suzuki books are exactly that. They are books. They are not the method. The Suzuki Method itself is an approach to teaching founded on the research of Dr. Shinichi Suzuki. In a nutshell, he did a lot of work with young children learning how to speak. He noted that every child learns their mother tongue and observed the process for how that happens. Immersion, ear training, repetition and a positive environment were all things that contributed to the child learning their language. These concepts are applied to how a young child learns a musical instrument. The books themselves are designed to pedagogically teach technique while applying these teaching concepts.
Keeping those points in mind... there's really no one right way to go about learning a musical instrument. As I already pointed out, there's going to be a lot of variation from teacher to teacher even if you're sticking to one "method" or approach. Private teaching is highly personal and a teacher has to work with what they feel comfortable doing in order to be effective. For example, some teachers love to sing and dance, others do not. Some teachers work really well with young children, others do better with adults.
What's important to keep in mind is that these variations don't necessarily make any of these teachers bad teachers. But it will make a difference in how the teacher is able to work with a student. If you are interested in music lessons, the best thing you can do is shop around and observe the teachers you're interested in in action. One thing that won't change is the fact that learning an instrument takes time. So pick a teacher that you feel like you could work with for the foreseeable future.
One "advantage" of using the Suzuki books as the core of one's training is that they are very widely used, so you can participate in group classes and camps and so on more easily. That's also true of O'Connor books, albeit to a much lesser extent (so far). How many camps do you know that are organized around the Whistler books? Well, when I was a kid I used Whistler books along with lots of studies books (Levenson, Hrimaly, Dont, etc.) and I still have them and I don't think there's anything wrong with that approach. But I also never had a group class when I was a kid either (which probably would have prompted me because I had a competitive streak), and I did not learn to play by ear at all (that was just bad). Method books allow you to track your progress in a certain way and to have an idea what is coming next. Suzuki books (especially but not uniquely) allow you to compare that progress to your peers -- some might argue this comparison is undesirable but it is a fact of life that kids need to deal with eventually.
Suzuki also has the advantage of an underpinning philosophy and a significant aftermarket -- you can take or leave those things but they're there if you want them, and that makes things a little easier for non-musical parents to sort out.
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