Written by christian howes
Published: March 12, 2013 at 3:35 PM [UTC]
Yet, since veering away from my classical roots into jazz, I've cried out about the limits of classical music training in general, and made recommendations for augmenting it.
You might even say I've been on a high horse trying to "reform classical music education," pushing my progressive ideas in articles, an online method, an annual camp, and a busy schedule of teaching at conferences and schools.
When I spoke with my friend Gabriel Bolkosky the other day, his impassioned and thoughtful comments inspired me to shut my big fat mouth for a second and think about what is enduring and right about the Suzuki method, and why all the things I've been saying are really just a matter of details.
He made me realize that teaching music is not about the way you hold the bow, shape the hand frame, choose repertoire, improvise, phrase, compose, produce sound, groove, order your pedagogical sequences, or any of that geeky stuff. It's about teaching people, through music, "to be good human beings."
The tenets of Suzuki's philosophy and approach focus on nurturing the good in students and parents.
Case in point: my former teacher, Ginny Christopherson, embodies the best of Suzuki through her unwavering commitment to instill the discipline and love of music in her students, all the while demanding from parents that they never give up on encouraging the same from their children. Now that I am a "Suzuki Dad" (Ginny also taught my daughter), I'm all the more aware of how important our teacher's role has been for my entire family, and even our community.
Suffice it to say, I now concede that, while there are many new-fangled things to discover and implement in music education, some things must not be tampered with. (Let it be noted that for once I have taken a "conservative" position!)
But don't take it from me...
Violinist, Suzuki teacher, and director of the Phoenix Phest Grande, Gabriel Bolkosky says it much better than I can, and his words in this video were the reason for my writing this introduction in the first place. Check it out:
What do you think?
Feel free to comment, like, poke, throw, eat, share...
The editing of the Suzuki books are obsolete and should be tampered with. For example, the added slurs in Vivaldi concertos are preposterous. So are the fingerings high on the G and D strings for Baroque and Classical repertoire (not to mention the gratuitous 19th-century use of harmonics).
Even the repertoire, which to me lacks variety (in a time of incredible variety) needs to be examined and broadened. I still don't know why that infernal Bach Double concerto is in there.
In the later books, more editing of any kind should be omitted so that the student can make his or her own choices. We are leaving the age of the Galamian edition and are now in the epoch of Barenreiter and Henle.
Suzuki Method is a cancer on the skin of The Music!
So, I'm guessing you're not a big Suzuki fan?
Are you somehow suggesting:
--That non-Suzuki teachers do NOT teach humanity, self-expression, or how to be(come) "good human beings", well-rounded individuals and artists with discipline and love of music?
--That "traditional" teachers are only concerned with technique, or teaching the craft? (then how come "traditional" players sound more diverse?)
--That any one method or approach to teaching ANYTHING can appropriate and monopolize a sensitive, encouraging, student-centered approach as its exclusive philosophy?
--That non-Suzuki parents are not (or cannot be, wouldn't be) involved as partners in every step of the learning process?
--That developing listening skills and seeing music (learning) as speech/language is exclusively a Suzuki trademark?
That would be quite the stretch...
You say: "Some other "methods" are more like collections of pieces without the foundation that the Suzuki method provides."
--- You CANNOT be serious, Christian... Am I missing your sarcasm or irony? Why is it that the Suzuki "method" has to be constantly "supplemented" with borrowed material, since it's so "complete"??? Please...
That said, the "Suzuki philosophy" does relates learning music to learning language, and not all traditional teachers embrace that, though many do. Personally, I find the "Mother Tongue" idea to be extremely useful in understanding the way people learn music, and in devising ways to teach.
Suzuki provides a framework that is pretty easy for parent/adult students like me to grab on to. It's not that other frameworks aren't also valid, potentially superior, or whatever. But, for me as an adult student who is trying also to facilitate my daughter's training, the material hits a sweet spot in terms of being easy enough to learn, enjoyable enough to practice, and challenging enough to keep improving through regular practice.
In terms of philosophy, I take it as self-evident that the more a child is exposed to violin music and materials and immersed in a culture of music, where music is treated like a language and constantly present in the environment, the greater is the likelihood of success.
Regarding the supplementation of materials...
I think that the core materials are laid out in a way that encourages interest and advancement, but are spartan enough to spark independent learning. I can see how that might be frustrating for some, but I see it as a strength of the philosophy, not as a weakness.
But, to suggest that many of the S method's precepts are original and/or exclusive is blatantly erroneous, much like saying that, say, Christianity's (pun intended!) embracing and promotion of empathy and selflessness is either original or exclusive.
When one first judges and then champions an approach as superior based on claims of implied originality and/or exclusivity, one merely falls prey to "arrogance by ignorance". Are trombone, clarinet, percussion players "bad" and "ugly" human beings and lower musicians because "Dr." S didn't adapt his "method" for them?
If I write down the phrase "my pencil is a writing tool" and keep telling that to everybody, does that make me an insightful, original person, because I may be the first to have written down the obvious? No... Provided anybody believes me, it just makes me a good salesman, but not much of a pioneer!
Also, some say on one hand the strength of Suzuki is its codified comprehensive philosophy, but then also (conveniently) portray its omissions as "features" that encourage individuality... Well, which one is it? Following the same logic, the fact that there is no "identifiable traditional method philosophy" means that there is implied, full, self-evident support of individuality and customization in non-Suzuki teaching and learning. Then how again is Suzuki superior/original?
I hope more teachers/parents/students would realize that teaching/learning by rote and memorization (using the prescribed daily doses of "reference" CDs) is NOT the same as ear training and tends to stifle, not encourage tone development (Suzuki trademark "clubby" tone, anyone?), any more than, say, mindlessly memorizing to recite the Koran or the first 10,000 decimals of Pi. Uniformity, regimentation, predictability – quite the polar opposites of individuality and personal creativity.
And let's not even get into the actual editing of the Suzuki core materials: wrong composers (have they heard of Pezold, author of two of the "Bach" minuets?), mis-numbering of Minuets from NAMB, articulation ignoring stylistic awareness, all perpetrated "revision" after "revision", the latest edition of which you're supposed to buy $ for your institutes, of course?
One of the benefits of SM is that it has numerous opportunities for teacher training, introducing would-be or novice teachers to a standardized form of pedagogy, imperfect or incomplete as it may be. Good teachers will always continue to find education and inspiration from a variety of resources to grow and improve. But plenty of bad teachers use Galamian, Flesch, Kruetzer, Mozart, Paganini, Bach, etc. and produce horrible students - because they're bad teachers! But will someone say that Flesch and Kruetzer are useless?
Give Suzuki a break, many teachers use his name in vain.
Gabe, you say "we need to be better to one another in the process of creating anything"... Well, yes, just as we must also recycle plastic bottles and save the baby seals. And this is specific to the S method, how exactly?!? Sorry, it's just a meritless "directive" that adds nothing substantial to this particular topic...
You also say "Chris is not somehow saying that the Suzuki method is the best method". Well, what are we to think of then, when presented with something so awesomely "irreplaceable" and "indispensable"?!?
From my almost 20-yr teaching experience, ALL ex-SM students that move into my studio need intensive remedial teaching that is painful and frustrating on ALL sides of the triangle (I basically need to restart them). Parents, especially, LOVE that!!! /s
These ex-SM students come to me not knowing about music, just a little about bio-mechanics (fingerings and very basic bowing/rhythm patterns that non-SM kids get in 1 month tops!), learned mechanically, by rote. NO exceptions! (But they proudly display their SM book and CD collection!).
They are most dependent on a spoon-fed model and teaching dynamic in lessons, they struggle in orchestra and chamber music due to their sight-reading being abysmal to nonexistent, they simply don't get notes/intervals, they do not auralize/audiate, and they mostly freeze when asked questions about what they hear coming out of the instrument and why (or why not...?). All very common complaints about SM students across the board – simple coincidence?!?
What are your specific experiences?
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