Shin'ichi Suzuki, a musical icon.

June 2, 2008 at 04:19 AM · I hope I'm not shaking the bee hive again! :)

Well, last Friday, in my music history class we talked about a extraordinary man, Shin'ichi Suzuki, violinist and pedagogue. Suzuki is the creator of the International Suzuki Method, and crusader of the idea that ANY child, (with the right discipline) can learn to play the violin. As a Music Education major, the idea seems so exciting. but then I get to thinking...

COULD it be genetic?

I mean anyone could potentially learn music and its concepts, etc. But a musician of such caliber as Midori, Joshua Bell, Nadja Salerno Soneberg, or YoYo Ma... could they have been born with it?

I myself come from a musical family, could that have been the reason why I love music? Or is was it my mother introducing it to me at a young age?

So the question at hand is...

what is your opinion?

Are you BORN with it? Or can you LEARN it?

Replies (72)

June 2, 2008 at 08:14 AM · Perhaps a little bit is genetic. But I do know that my Dad can't sing a note, couldn't even hit the right note on the piano even when he tried, and says "Someone has to be an audience". I certainly didn't genetically get my musical talent from him :)

I think the biggest part comes from the inner desire to learn an instrument, and to really enjoy what you do with it. If you have that desire, you can learn anything.

That's just my 2 cents worth anyway :)


June 2, 2008 at 01:25 PM · Dr.Suzuki did not put a time frame to the philosophy that every child can learn. I recall an interview I read where he said something along the lines of, "Given enough time, I can teach any child to play the Vivaldi a minor." Dr.Suzuki never suggested he could make every child into a toddler violin-genius; his ideas were about child-raising, happiness, family life and improvement of character in good part. But the spin-off of a surprising number of very young, very skilled players has colored how people perceive his work when they haven't studied it extensively. Sue

June 2, 2008 at 01:46 PM · Buried somewhere in the many, many things that Yehudi Menuhin wrote, he addressed this question with an interesting observation. I'm sorry that I don't remember it word for word, because his elegance with words was wonderful.

He was talking about virtuosos and prodigies, but I think it applies to this question about any child. What he said in effect (and he was much less wordy than I am) is that to play an instrument as demanding and complex as the violin, it requires a special set of circumstances that have to come together in just the right way. It's kind of a "lucky hit."

Yes, you have to have the right kind of talent. But also, you have to have the right kind of education, the right kind of parents, the right kind of teachers, the right kind of upbringing, the right kind of opportunities, the right kind of work ethic, the right kind of contacts, the right kind of experiences.

And all of these things have to come together in just the right way and at just the right time and in just the right sequence. So it isn't just one factor, but a confluence of factors.

For every violinist who has had a fabled career, there are probably at least a million others who could have, but didn't, because perhaps only one of those factors wasn't there, or the timing wasn't right.

We all know (either personally or by reputation) many terrific violinists who are as good as the "greats," but who never had a chance for that kind of career because some key factor wasn't there.

We all also know of many people who could have become wonderful violinists who didn't because one of those factors wasn't there. Or maybe they didn't have that inner commitment to do thing difficult things you have to do to learn this capricious instrument.

So that's the "lucky hit" theory. Menuhin said it much more eloquently, but that's the idea.

As to Suzuki, I know little about his life or his musical talent. But as a psychologist, I can tell you that he understood the psychology of childhood, of parent-child relationships, of learning, and of what is best in the human character. And he understood these things at a level that any psychologist would (and should) admire. And when you consider all of the horrible, negative, destructive things that children are taught and what happens to them in this world, I think that you have to consider nominating Suzuki for sainthood (and I'm Jewish). Even if you don't agree with everything about his methods, there is no question that he was one of the best and most influencial educators of the last 100 years.


June 2, 2008 at 03:32 PM · Well said, Sander.

June 2, 2008 at 03:31 PM · Dianna,

Are any of your grandparents, or is your mother musically inclined? With me, my dad is the musically challenged parent as well! :) My mom however learned to play 3 instruments before the age of 10. But here's where gets kinda confusing... None of her parents were musically inclined, none of her sisters, brothers, grandparents, etc. So where did SHE get it from? So thats why i guess i am a bit torn between the two arguments... could it be that i was just a product of my musical surroundings, or was i born with that desire/talent? WHO KNOWS! :)

June 2, 2008 at 07:07 PM · I have thought about this a great deal over the years. Both of my sons are definitely musical people. They have perfect pitch, perfect relative pitch, muscle memory, fine motor coordination, melody memory, stylistic sensibility, ability to analyze a piece, ability to improvise, strong emotional involvement in music... the list of abilities that musical people have so naturally, but which I do not have. My older son had these traits very precociously while my younger son started with perfect pitch and melody memory, but has developed the rest over time.

The nurture part: I know that I did a lot to provide a musical atmosphere in the home. I was careful to keep a quiet, home with plenty of time for creative activities and to minimize the influence of popular culture. I started both sons on the violin at three and did absolutely everything the teacher suggested.

The nature part: My oldest son seemed to already know how pieces should be played. His piano teacher, and several other teachers and friends joked, half seriously, that he seemed to be some great musician reincarnated. He had no set-up time. It was like the wiring was all in place from the start.

I think there are certain inborn traits that combined can contribute to musical talent. I think also that no two successful violinists will have precisely the same set of inborn traits. There seems to be a variety of solutions to the "violin puzzle".

Here are three traits that I have noticed in my oldest son which seem to be inherited:

1) The ability to pick up and retain detail, but also to know which details are important and which details are not. My sister, mother and brother are all visual artists. In my sister's case, she was definitely a prodigy at the visual arts. Her ability to recreate in drawing, painting and sculpture the things she has seen with exquisite detail showed up very early (age three or before). She can also imitate peple with her body in the way a comedian might and can describe people and scenes in words, and write dialogue with amazing detail. I think this is a skill similar to what you would find in a linguist, and many violinists are also very good with languages.

2) A sense of geometry. I have noticed in both my son, my sister, as well as my father-in-law the ability to understand proportion, pattern and scale. Many violinists are good at chess, mathematics, and solving puzzles. My son has always been good at puzzles and mathematics, especially geometry. He is also good at fixing and building things as well as navigation. My sister was not mathematically gifted in any way, however, I once saw her create a shell inside and out by cutting a flat piece of paper and pulling it at two points, tapping in some edges. I also saw her chisel a marble block into the most beautiful horse, without a template or sketch of any kind. My father-in-law is a retired engineering professor, and the author of a structural engineering text that has been widely used. As a retired person he has become a fine woodworker, but more interestingly he designs structures. He once designed a house that rotates on a kind of screw so that the owners get a changing view through their windows. Learning to play a piece of music is like being presented with a puzzle in space and time. What could be more fun for a person with this type of brain?

3) The third skill is kinesthetic awareness. Joshua Bell was a youth tennis champion and there are lots of stories about Heifitz, Milstein and others being good at tennis and ping-pong. My mother went to college on a tennis scholarship and worked as a tennis pro and golf pro. She also played the piano well. My father went to college on a football scholarship. Undoubtedly, to play the violin, you need to have a sense of where your hands are on the violin and a sense of your entire body as it works together to produce sound.

My younger son, who is turning out to be a fine violinist and composer does not seem to have any of these three traits in any great measure. So it must be that there are lots of ways to "skin a cat".

June 3, 2008 at 02:33 AM · interesting concept Jennifer,

So it may not necessarily be one musical gene but genetic strengths in other things such as geometry, etc. Never thought about that way. Of course it could be added that your son may have had to combine his passion for music along with his 3 other strengths to complete the musical equation.

June 3, 2008 at 02:06 PM · Unfortunately, violin-playing is not immune to the laws of the bell curve. Like any learned human activity, a few will prosper, a few will fail miserably, and the rest will muddle through.

What does it really mean when Suzuki says that "all children can learn the violin"? It doesn't mean they can be virtuousi. It means they'll be right in the middle of the curve.

June 4, 2008 at 03:35 AM · I was just thinking about the nature vs nurture from a teacher's perspective.

The Suzuki method involves a child learning early and in a one on one relationship with their teacher and more frequently with their parent. This favors a particular type of learning personality. Other things, like biology, physics or chemistry or Latin are learned by older kids and in a more independent manner. In the quiet solitude of a study, a person can work out how photosynthesis takes place, or learn to identify a spider to family etc... Nobody rushes you. You don't have to perform on the spot, and nobody is observing you as you work it out.

I am sure that as a child I would have been too shy and easily embarrassed to handle the one-on -one. I am a scholastic type, (a college biology teacher by profession). I am sure there are many children out there who are like me, and for reasons unrelated to intelligence or native ability do not seem particularly gifted early on. I would place my younger son in this category. Once he was old enough to practice on his own, he began to make tremendous progress between lessons. He needs to be free of the distractions of an observer to be able to think out the problems on his own. He also has needed to develop a trusting relationship with his teacher, who is sensitive to his particular learning style.

Early starters seem to have an advantage. They get the interest of teachers and their way is made easier by the recognition they receive. Parents and teachers will sometimes give up when a child seems unable to respond right away during lessons. It can make a parent uncomfortable when their child seems slow or stupid in a lesson. If a parent of a child like this persists without anxiety, I think the talent will eventually show. Our slow-starter has by 14 not only caught up with the early starters in his cohort, but far outpaced them. An early start seems important, but personal investment on the part of the student, ability to work independently, and persistence can be more important in the long run.

That being said, if it had not been for the Suzuki method, I would not have been able to help my children with their music. As it is, my sons have something in their lives that brings them much joy.

June 5, 2008 at 04:34 PM · Suzuki's idea stemmed from the observation that everyone learns their native language, and fluently. He felt that all children can learn the violin (or an instrument) and play it fluently, if they are given the same kind of environment they have for learning language: hearing it often, celebrating each small success, starting early, repeating what is already learned, learning along with other children, parental support, not giving up the expectation, etc.

Not everyone becomes an orator or a famous writer, but basically all people learn to speak their native languages fluently, and most people learn to read and write in their native language, given a basic education.

I do believe Suzuki is correct: all people can be fluent in music. FLUENT. That's a much higher expectation than most cultures currently have, but it's absolutely do-able, given the proper educational/environmental framework and support.

See Venezuela, for example.

June 6, 2008 at 02:19 AM · Good point laurie. The language metaphor was real helpful. Anyone can learn english but there are only so many Dickens, or Hemmingways, etc. So anyone can learn the musical "language" but to get to the next level, raw talent is needed. Right?

June 6, 2008 at 07:16 AM · Carlos,

Here you get to the definitions and origins of 'raw talent.' I am under the strong impression that genes have little to do with how somebody turns out (I could write a decent sized essay concerning my theories about this but I don't have expertise as an evolutionary biologist - so I'd probably simply be wrong :P) but rather the huge number of factors playing into somebody's life from between conception and adulthood. It seems to me that these factors play a bigger part the earlier in life you are exposed to them. Not sure if this is valid or not, but for example, playing recordings to babies in the womb would increase their musicality and sense of pitch etc., and early exposure to music would do so as well. Suzuki wrote in his book ('Nurtured with Love' or something - an interesting read btw) that a lot of the tone deaf children who came to him simply didn't have a very reliable pitch space, especially with the relation of the fourth to the rest of the scale. He says something like this just means they have heard it wrong 2000 times in their life, and if they hear it right 2001 times, they're cured of their 'tone deafness'. Imagine if you had a child who from birth was exposed to in tune scales on a daily basis! If they picked up the violin, they'd have great (phenomenal) pitch.

As a piece of evidence with not too many factors involved, take perfect pitch (I know perfect pitch has little to do with musicality (it IS correlated with musicianship - not cause/effect but there is a correlation), but musicality is way too complicated for me to talk about concisely; perfect pitch, on the other hand, is fairly simple - you either have it or you don't). Perfect pitch is not completely understood, but it is fairly well established that perfect pitch is governed by exactly one gene. However, development of perfect pitch depends on early exposure to music. I don't have the statistics off the top of my head (the following is just what I vaguely remember), but something like 1/20 East Asians have absolute pitch (has to do with tonal languages), as opposed to the 0.1% or something of Caucasian/Europeans who have it. In musician groups, I think like 60% of the students at Beijing Conservatory have perfect pitch, while only 20% of the students at Juilliard have it. Studies have shown that a huge percentage of people who begin musical training before the age of 3 have perfect pitch, while fewer who begin before age 5 have perfect pitch, and very few who begin after age 5 have perfect pitch. Ah, here is what wikipedia has to say about it.

"Many people have believed that musical ability itself is an inborn talent.[31] Some scientists currently believe absolute pitch may have an underlying genetic basis and are trying to locate genetic correlates;[32] most believe that the acquisition of absolute pitch requires early training during a critical period of development, regardless of whether or not a genetic predisposition toward development exists.[33] The "unlearning theory," first proposed by Abraham,[34] has recently been revived by developmental psychologists who argue that every person possesses absolute pitch (as a mode of perceptual processing) when they are infants, but that a shift in cognitive processing styles (from local, absolute processing to global, relational processing) causes most people to unlearn it; or, at least, causes children with musical training to discard absolute pitch as they learn to identify musical intervals.[35] Additionally, any nascent absolute pitch may be lost simply by the lack of reinforcement or lack of clear advantages in most activities in which the developing child is involved. An unequivocal resolution to the ongoing debate would require controlled experiments that are both impractical and unethical.

Researchers have been trying to teach absolute pitch ability for more than a century,[36] and various commercial absolute-pitch training courses have been offered to the public since the early 1900s.[37] It has been shown possible to learn the naming of tones later in life, although some consider this skill not to be true absolute pitch.[38] Although it has been shown possible to learn to identify pitches, keys, and everyday sounds later in life, no training method for adults has yet been shown to produce abilities comparable to naturally occurring absolute pitch.[39]

For children aged 2-4, however, recent observations have shown a certain method of music education[40] to apparently be successful in training absolute pitch,[41] but the same method has also been shown to fail with students 5 years and older, suggesting that a developmental change in perception occurs which favors relative learning over absolute and thus supporting the theory of the "critical period" for learning absolute pitch.[42]"

My conclusion is that musical ability can be nurtured and honed, if the child is exposed to music early (the earlier the better) in life. And this doesn't have to necessarily be formal training - there are plenty of stories of people who are geniuses/prodigies at their respective instruments: I strongly suspect that these people had former exposure to music in some form (maybe Heifetz' mother sang exceptionally beautiful lullabies - I don't know). I doubt that musicality or musical genius or talent is particularly inborn.

Disclaimer: As I am neither a developmental psychologist or an evolutionary biologist (ha ha, I made a rhyme), there is a high probability that most of the above is total bull. The exception is the part quoted from wiki, which is presumably true beyond reasonable doubt.

June 6, 2008 at 11:15 AM · I didn't learn from the Suzuki method as a kid, and my daughter tried it when she was 6 and it didn't really work for her.

But as I've watched the 3rd graders in her class this year start to learn stringed instruments in a school program, I've begun to gain more of an appreciation for his language analogy and the idea that everyone can be fluent in music the way that everyone can be fluent in their native language.

There are a lot of kids who will be quitting at the end of this year because they never got past the stage where they sound like they are torturing cats when they practice. And I've seen too many parents view music as a specialized, foreign skill that they (and by extension their children) can't master. I applaud Suzuki for countering this notion and for bringing music instruction to people who wouldn't have otherwise received it.

But particularly as a mother, I find that the way the method has been implemented in the US has put even more pressure on family life, especially on mothers. Suzuki's comments about American mothers in _Ability Development from Zero to Three_ were written in the early 1960's and it shows. I support parental involvement in kids' musical education (and I walk the walk, practicing with my daughter every morning and with one of her friends), but I do believe that there can and should be reasonable limits, and his comments about mothers and their role just weren't reasonable--they were sexist and demeaning.

And, I think the way the method has been implemented has focused too much of the wrong kind of attention on prodigies, virtuosos, and children. The typical violin player in the American public imagination these days is a preternaturally mature Asian-heritage child. I think this stereotype is damaging to everyone, including the the most visible demographic group.

June 6, 2008 at 04:15 PM · well i'm not really talking about the suzuki method. We're talking about his philosophies. Can EVERY child learn to play the violin?

June 6, 2008 at 07:30 PM · The real key to Suzuki's idea is that you can mimic the home of a musician by playing recorded music in the home regularly and repeating the same set of pieces. He cleverly arranged his pieces so that the child first "learns," without knowing it, the basic intervals. His method capitalizes on the attraction small children have for repetition. Previous to this method, almost all professional musicians came from families of musicians. While it is common today to have musicians emerge from families of musicians, there are many who emerge from families of non-musicians.

In my observation, the method promotes fluency in players by emphasizing the learning by ear. The student can focus on sound, intonation and position without the complication of trying to read music at the same time. It is my observation that students play pieces from memory and by ear with much more style, better form, and better intonation than they do when in front of music. This is not to say that learning to read music is not important, it is just that the learning of repertoire early on by ear seems to play a role in the success of the Suzuki method. As I understand it, at the time Suzuki was formulating his method, music reading was taught in the Japanese schools. In the US, this is not usually the case, and most Suzuki teachers believe in teaching music reading. However, the original idea of requiring students to learn the basic repertoire by ear through at least book four is the norm among the Suzuki teachers I know.

June 6, 2008 at 08:04 PM · Jennifer, I love your eloquent explanation, but the learning by ear part in particular was one of the parts of the Suzuki method (philosophy) that didn't work for my daughter. She seemed to want something to look at and was impatient and antsy being asked to just listen. She'd get frustrated and sometimes even start to cry.

She did learn some things by ear, but her rhythm was quite awful and her intonation wasn't much good either. It's only recently (2 years after stopping Suzuki lessons) that she is starting to be able to hear and correct out-of-tune notes of her own accord. This ability, which is still only emerging, comes on the heels of a lot of playing with me--both in unison and using duets with different parts--a lot of listening to me whinge about out-of-tune notes, a lot of me playing the piece by myself and asking her to tell me what's wrong with it when I play the same notes out of tune that she played, and of putting tapes on the fingerboard so that she can also use visual and tactile input in addition to auditory input to help her get to the right place. I know some teachers are against the use of tapes, but they really seem to have helped her. I'm thrilled that she is finally learning to read music.

I'm not sure what that means. From what I can tell, she has, like me, decent relative pitch and the ability to hear intervals, but nothing resembling absolute pitch.

June 6, 2008 at 10:22 PM · "it" and "playing the violin" are 2 different things. Suzuki is right, anyone CAN learn to play the violin well. discipline and good teacher. but, "it", is something else as i see it. Heifetz had it, stern had it, milstein had it. in any case "it" is a sort of magic. no suzuki students i have heard of ever had "it". to teach "it" you have to have "it". have you heard suzuki play? not quite like szeryng or menuhin, etc. his system isnt designed to cultivate "it", but is rather an alternative method to teach kids to put their fingers in the right way with any means necessary. this is why no great violinists of the 20th century involve themselves with it. this is my theory, sorry if i offend anyone

June 7, 2008 at 03:09 AM · D,

I gather that "it" is musical genius of some sort?


June 7, 2008 at 04:42 AM · Mr. Kurganov,

I believe Hilary Hahn began her violin study with a Suzuki method teacher. Special players, like Hillary Hahn, tend to fly through the Suzuki books and are quickly passed on to teachers who specialize in developing extraordinary talent. The fact that the best players are studying with non-Suzuki teachers by about the age of nine does not mean the early Suzuki years were unimportant to their development.

June 7, 2008 at 05:35 AM · Since the Suzuki method wasn't widespread in the U.S. until the 1980s, it doesn't really mean too much to talk about great 20th century violinists and whether or not they started with Suzuki or became involved with it..

Among the younger generation of emerging great 21st century violinists, a great many of them had their start in Suzuki.

The list of great modern violinists who started with Suzuki method is extremely long, would someone like to start it? Among the ones I've interviewed in the last year: Hilary Hahn, Anne Akiko Meyers, competition winners, the kids at Juilliard, basically almost all the young violinists I meet today. In general, most of these young-generation violinists (in their teens, 20s and some in their 30s) credit their early Suzuki years for giving them a sense of joy and fun about the instrument. And yes, they blaze through the Suzuki books and often are studying with a traditional teacher at a young age. But I haven't heard one of them say that those formative years, doing Suzuki, were a waste.

The list of great modern violinists who are also involved with Suzuki as educators include Bill Preucil, Mimi Zweig, Brian Lewis, Michael McLean etc. I'm only barely touching on a small fraction of the people involved in the Suzuki movement.

Would anyone like to list more?

June 7, 2008 at 02:19 PM · Joshua Bell, Julia Fischer, Midori, Sarah Chang, Janine Jansen, the latest winners of the Menuhin competition....these come to my mind quickly as Suzuki kids in their early start, I'm sure you can find more.

Even in a concertmaster survey I can't find now there was a very high percent (not sure, but it was aboout 80%) of them as former Suzuki Method students.

Perhaps there should be a FAQ about common misconceptiosn of the Suzuki Method, don't you think?

June 7, 2008 at 07:23 PM · I completely agree with Cesar and Laurie. I also have read that 80% of concertmasters world-wide were Suzuki trained. This is saying a lot, considering that I believe the Suzuki method is still not all that common in some countries. It also is a strong refutation of the common complaint that Suzuki trained players tend to be unsuccessful at transitioning to reading music.

Back to the regular kid types:

Among the Suzuki trained cohort my boys have grown up with, a few have gone on to other instruments, but I can't think of a single one who has left music entirely. Our local Suzuki programs are not associated with any pre-college programs nor are they particularly intense. The focus is on the joy of making music individually and collectively and on the positive developmental aspects of early music training. In my observation, the Suzuki method as practiced locally has been very effective in producing kids who continue to play and enjoy music beyond their elementary years.

June 8, 2008 at 08:43 AM · competitions havent proved anything since the early 90's...the only one that can still hold some pride is QE. everything is politics now. so this is a bad argument. mayuko kamio or whatever her name is, won tchaikovsky but you'de be mad to compare her to a the great violinists that won that competition back when it meant something.

Either way, I can tell you my opinion of the violinists that have been listed, like Josh Bell and Akiko meyers, but its only my opinion, i guess. however, it is consistent with my view on this topic

Hilary hahn is a great violinist, but lets face it, she was in suzuki class for a year? not even. we all make mistakes. and i dont know if your interview revealed this, laurie, but but i do believe she credits her foundation to Klara Berkovich. i may be speculating, but maybe that year of suzuki is why her individual "stamp" isn't so large now.

julia fischer was not involved in suzuki method, to my knowledge. she studied in germany privately until age of 9 and then went to a music conservatory

the problem i think is this "rote learning" aspect, where children become robotic group. this, i think, is why most violinists that sound pretty good, all sound the same these days. kids play repertoire that they are not emotionally ready for, because thats how the system goes and it focuses on rapid progress.

musical community and camaraderie is important and all, but it is detrimental the way it is applied in suzuki class. I have watched many classes in my short time here on earth, and these are my observations.

I think this method accomplishes very well to train as many people possible as quickly as possible, but, then again is this the point of violin playing?

also, for those that will talk about the great numbers of people studying suzuki as support, have you heard of Genichi Kawakami? president of Yamaha corporation. There are more people in japan studying in his music schools, than suzuki. Yamaha also makes motorcycles.

June 8, 2008 at 09:19 AM · Sorry for my ignorance, but what is the Suzuki "method?" I used the Suzuki books when I was younger, but people here seem careful to make a distinction.

Also, did Suzuki train a bajillion students? I know two people (well... I know OF one, and I know the other personally) in my area, which is not exactly the music capital of the world, who each studied directly with Dr. Suzuki for a good number of years.

June 8, 2008 at 10:51 AM · There's a selection effect: like other methods and philosophies, it works for the people it works for. That sounds patently obvious, and it is, but it's also profound. You hear about the successes but not the kids who dropped out, did soccer instead, and became part of the group who (erroneously) thinks classical music is only for long-hairs and geeks.

I think Suzuki tends to work best for patient students with a healthy degree of respect for authority and a love of solo performance. There was another thread recently in which a poster expressed admiration for old-style Russian and Chinese training in which kids are forced to practice long hours at an early age and treated dogmatically and strictly with scolding. I'm not really sure who this method would work for, but if you look at the elite survivors of that kind of training, clearly it does work for some. In that case I would hypothesize it's people with a thick skin, a strong sense of self, and again, a large degree of respect for authority.

I'm not knocking the great players who came out of either of these (or other) schools, but I don't think talking about elite musicians who did or didn't study Suzuki really tells much about whether "everyone" can learn the violin. Professional soloists, concertmasters, competition winners: these are all la creme de la creme, they aren't and never were the average kid squeaking through Twinkle and whining about practicing.

These selection effects are a two-edged sword. They are inevitable, up to a point: people have different interests and abilities, and are going to choose how they spend their time accordingly. But we have now something of an overabundance of people who want to be career soloists, and a relative lack of teachers, especially in public schools. Could this be a result of a training system that too strongly selects for performers and weeds out the would-be teachers at an early age by focusing the performance klieg lights on them before they're ready?

In a different way, the selection of thick-skinned, strong, authority-respecting personalities, could also lead to a certain monotone in musical culture. Surely great music has also been written, and made, by insecure human beings or by those who question, rather than respect, authority. Questioning authority is almost the definition of rock music. I don't think bowing to one's teacher is necessarily a bad thing, but I do wonder if having a widespread expectation of students bowing to their teachers, as in Suzuki teaching, creates an atmosphere that later drives a certain demographic of talent into garage bands where they don't have to bow to anyone.

June 8, 2008 at 01:39 PM · interesting post karen and i share some of those sentiments. i will add couple things from different angles, but often things go back to the western, esp american tradition of winner takes it all mentality.

it is pretty clear by now that looking at the japanese and american car industries, the former will maintain a lead in sales and innovation, with expanding market share. there was an interview where a top level jap exec insisted that it is healthier that the jap and american companies co-exist, each continues to be key player instead of jap driving americans out of the market. if the roles are reversed, i am not sure americans will feel the same toward competition. may be a key component of jap success is built on this attitude, kinda against human nature, and certainly at odds with american business culture of winner takes it all.

on selection bias,,, i think it traces back to the beginning of animal kingdom:) where individuals compete for meat and mate. the model works pretty efficiently if not naturally. there will be "winners" and "losers" and genes with stronger competitive power, FOR A SPECIFIC TRAIT IN A SPECIFIC ENVIRONMENT, get passed on.

then someone came up with the idea of sharing meat and mate, that everyone eats off the same collective wok on the commune, a great theory for those disdvantaged. but when selection bias is abolished or suppressed, everyone just hangs and the wok is empty. kinda reminds me of the saying: with one monk, he will go fetch the water for himself; with 2 monks, they carry the bucket together to get the water. with 3 monks, no water to drink because no one wants to do any work:)

with the reshuffling, people with no interests in music are encouraged to pursue music and musical talents tend fields. some with more power wise up and resort back to the selection bias and abuse it to their advantage to the full...

one way to look at suzuki is that it provides a platform for kids to be exposed to violin early. the other is that it is yet another venue to see selection bias at play. i think as parents the most important thing to consider is the long term well being of the children, whatever it takes. if suzuki works, we use it, if not, we don't. to me, to be able to play violin is very, very insignificant in the whole scheme of things because the chance of a kid interested in pursuing prof music as a career or way of life is very very slim. yet, the exposure to music early has too many merits to list and if we can use music as a conduit for something more fitting for the kids' destiny, it is a great start. for some kids, the early stimuli may be music related, but we should be fully aware that for others, non-music related interests may be more fitting. if we as parents can be more open-minded, more realistic of kids' interests, more patient than warren buffet to see things grow and develop, at least later we can say we have tried to do our part and in the process we have learned something, about our kids and ourselves.

June 8, 2008 at 01:25 PM · Many people have this mistaken image of Suzuki trained groups of kids all playing in unison. The group lesson is not the center of the Suzuki method at all, and many Suzuki teachers do not even have group lessons. Occasional group lessons are fun and motivational for some children, but the majority of learning happens in private lessons, in daily practice with a practice partner (usually a parent) and in daily listening to the repertoire. Unfortunately, when public elementary schools (and some private elementary schools) undertake violin instruction beginning in Kindergarten or pre-K, the kids are mostly taught in big groups and the "parent as teacher aspect" is almost entirely missing.

June 8, 2008 at 07:11 PM · Interesting that I came across this thread! I'm at my computer finishing my undergraduate thesis, which is about the combination of educational psychology and violin pedagogy. I just read "Nurtured by Love" this week. Part of my paper deals with great violin pedagogues such as Galamian, DeLay, and Suzuki. I compared them as teachers, shared my experiences with trying their ideas on my own violin students, and also evaluated their methods in educational psychology terms.

The nature/nurture debate is a classic one that we can argue about for days. Suzuki takes a very extreme position. I always hesitate when presented with such a black/white, yes/no opinion. However, there is a lot of validity to his claims, and obviously his method has done a lot for many violinists. So, clearly he is right in some ways. I do not know enough to really take a stand on the issue. It's something I'll probably think about and investigate for the rest of my life!

To me, one of the best things about Suzuki is that he clearly has the best of intentions for his students, and sees a much bigger picture than violin playing. “The purpose of Talent Education is to train children, not to be professional musicians but to be fine musicians and to show high ability in any to other field they enter” (p. 78). This, to me, is one of the best arguments for keeping music education alive.

There is a lot that has already been argued on this thread. Here is a question that my adviser and I recently discussed: how much of the Suzuki method's success is based upon faith in the method and the mantra that "every child can"? Is it the method itself that does wonders? Or, is it the belief of the parent and teacher that the method works, which leads to dedication and hard work? Clearly, both are true, but to what extent? The very nature of classic Suzuki education requires lots of commitment from a parent - therefore, only a parent who cared deeply about their child's education would invest in lessons and put forth the time and effort to ensure their child's success. However, there must also be something special about a method that has shown such widespread impact on the music world.

I'm going to get my Suzuki level one certification this summer, and I'm excited to see what it's all about. Then, in the fall I will start a masters in educational psychology, with the hope of combining it with violin pedagogy. It will be cool to evaluate everything through that lens.

ok, back to the paper. :)

June 9, 2008 at 03:28 AM · Lisa, I appreciate your writing in!

The idea that "every child can" is a very useful paradigm. I would reword it "every person can". This has been my paradigm in my 23 years of teaching biology, and if I can get a student to believe this, it always works. People learn skills with different levels of ease, approach problems from different angles, and apply different constellations of talents to the same problem, but they can all do it. I just have to show them I can see particular talents in them that will insure their success.

As a parent, I knew without a doubt, that my children could learn the violin. I knew this before they even started and without any real evidence. It wasn't that I thought they were prodigies or that I longed for them to become professional musicians. I just thought they had active little brains and that I could work with them. Before they started lessons, I read Nurtured by Love and was fascinated by Suzuki's noble motivation and by his observation that many of his chamber music friends in pre-war Germany were scientists; two were important biochemists. This of course appealed to me. I had noticed already that many of my best science students were attending college on music scholarships. Most importantly, I could see that I would be able to do this with my children. Suzuki's method was organized, logical, and provided enough direction and support so that I, a non-musician, could be successful doing it. It turns out I could do it, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the journey. If a person really thinks they can do something, they tend to follow through, and this persistence leads to success.

The other part of this is that the objectives of the Suzuki method were worthy ones in my mind. I felt if they could learn to play the violin, this success would give them the confidence to strive for excellence in other arenas as well. I could make a very long list of the benefits of this early music experience as I perceived them at the outset. The joy with which my children have used their growing musical vocabulary to express themselves and to explore this infinitely interesting world of sound has been for me a priceless benefit.

June 9, 2008 at 06:28 AM · For those still a little sketchy about the Suzuki method: Learning to play at an any age involves two distinct problems. 1) Playing the durn instrument and 2) Reading the durn notes.

Public school programs don't usually begin lessons until 4th grade when students hopefully have acquired what's called Reading Readiness...These students learn both simultaniously. Suzuki attacks the 1st problem without the burden of the 2nd...Students concentrate on posture, tone production and memory. At some point, note reading is introduced and becomes a minor problem as bow grip, stroke, left hand position and the work ethic to memorize are in place. True Suzuki has a parent taking a lesson along with the student and most home practice sessions are parentally supervised...and it works !

June 9, 2008 at 08:00 AM · I love this discussion and I enjoy taking every chance I can get to be a "Suzuki Missionary"!

Laurie always gives wonderfully concise definitions of Suzuki's "Philosophy," which contains the over-arching principles which guide our (Suzuki Trained Teachers) pedagogy. I would say that the practical application of his original Philosophy varies according to teacher, and that is where we see discrepancies in the "Method." To me, there is a big difference between Philosophy and Method.

One of our colleagues, Liz Arbus, explained it this way: "It's not Nature vs. Nurture, but rather, we are nurturing their nature." I love this explanation because this argument simply can't be justified as all one side and none of the other.

As a pedagogue, I will often say, "This child is so TALENTED!" and recently I have started to quantify what I mean by that. What exactly makes a child seem so "talented" and another merely mediocre? I've come up with this theory, which I would present to the group as an idea.

Every child can learn to play the violin. Given the right environment and enough repetitions, they can learn. That's the nurture side of the coin. With good teaching and good practicing, it could happen for anyone.

However, some children can master the same skills with more or less repetitions than another child. This is where Nature comes into play. (but not totally...because we don't really know much about their nuturing from birth to age 4)

The students whom I would label as "talented" would be those kids who can catch on to a concept or coordinate a motion in fewer repetitions, thus making their progress faster. This doesn't mean that they are good home practicers or the best disciplined! Some of my hardest workers and best practicers have been the least coordinated kids that had to work extra hard. There are kids out there who just "get it" faster than others.

The world gets great musicians like Joshua Bell because he had great nurturing, combined with great teaching (Mimi Zweig and Gingold), dedicated discipline with a committment to excellence all combined with an uncanny ability (nature?) to master advanced techniques in much less time than it would take you or I to master them.

June 9, 2008 at 07:23 AM · Carrie,

I like your theory. I think its very true. music is definitely something that can be learned by anyone. But talent helps. And even talent on its own won;t get you anywhere. You need discipline and nurturing. Its just one big musical recipe. Thank you for that.

June 9, 2008 at 11:45 AM · Suzuki/nature or nurture

I saw this thread with interest as I am currently writing an article on the Suzuki Method with the tentative title "when cultural translation works both ways".

Even Suzuki did not deny the role of genetics entirely; he just attached more significance to nurture. I believe there is plenty of research that documents the importance of both elements. Besides, what is a "talent" for playing the violin? The point made by a previous writer about the "lucky hit" seems valid here, since playing the violin well involves so many different skills. What we call "talent" must therefore mean the ideal mixture of all the right ingredients.

By the way, Midori did not study with the Suzuki method. Not everyone who starts at 3 (or thereabouts) does. She was taught by her mother until she came to the US.

Interestingly her mother has just published a book in Japan, in which she emphatically denies that either of her children, Midori or Goto Ryu, has any particular "talent" and stresses the role of the environment, particular the mother. (So it's all your fault, Mum, if your child doesn't become another Heifetz? Feminists get ready for the primeval scream!)

My interest in Suzuki Shinichi is that of a cultural historian rather than a pedagogue, but I think he did a wonderful thing in demonstrating how important it is to give people chances, rather than disqualifying children as "not musical" just because they seem slow at first.

Now we need some kind of Suzuki for adult learners to continue work on the points John Holt made in "Never too Late" (Japanese translation in 2006 - there is after all a limit to what you can do with the Suzuki Mehtod in a rapidly aging society!).


June 9, 2008 at 01:09 PM · Mr Kurganov, your post seem more a rant against the Suzuki Method than anything else.

You said

>julia fischer was not involved in suzuki method,

>to my knowledge. she studied in germany privately

>until age of 9 and then went to a music


I invite you to check this link, it's in Spanish, but you can translate it with google.

In one part she says

"Y ahí están mis profesores: Helge Thelen (mi primera profesora de violín, con la que aprendí siguiendo el método Suzuki), quien me mostró la alegría que puede proporcionar la música, no sólo a mí misma sino también a los que me rodean


"And there are my teachers: Helge Thelen (my first violin SUZUKI METHOD, who showed me the joy that music can provide, not only to myself, but also to the ones around us"

EDIT: This other quote is even more interesting


"Pero fue a los tres años cuando descubrí el violín, de la mano de Helge Thelen, apasionada por el método Suzuki. Este sistema, que cuenta con toda mi admiración, se basa en la imitación y no requiere saber leer la partitura (aunque gracias a mi relación con el piano era ya capaz), incitando al niño a descubrir si es correcta cada nota. De este modo se adquiere buen oído. Por eso también tocar el violín me ha parecido siempre un juego. "

"It was when I was 3 when I discovered the violin, with Helge Thelen, passionate with the Suzuki Method. This system deserves all my admiration and doesn't require to be able to read a partiture (despite I myself was already able due to my piano training)challenging the kid to discover if the note is right, this way you acquire a good ear. Also because of this the vioilin has always seemed a game to me."

SO? do you think Mrs Fischer agrees with you, Mr Kurganov?

I'm too short of time now, but I can tell you that AFAIK, Shinichi Suzuki never claimed he had the goal to produce the best musicians of the world, however, I think after several decades some positive 'collaterlal effects' have been shown


June 9, 2008 at 01:41 PM · i don't think there is a need or merit to define suzuki method too strictly and then draw conclusions based on that. of course it is easy for me to say that since i am not in the midth of it, but i don't think the precise definition is crucial to a kid's long term development.

imo, everyone needs a start and there are many ways to start. it can be traditional traditional japanese method without any western flavor, or americanized suzuki methods (as in french fries and eggrolls) or simply using the suzuki books, or using something else. to pitch that one system is better than another is a waste of time imo.

it comes down to the expertise of the teacher. the key is how the teacher uses a system or systems creatively, catering to the need of a specific student, to individualize a general concept. he or she is in the position to make appropriate judgements on what to use, when to use, how to use, how not to use...

if the teacher is clueless, it will be meaningless to talk about systems and students.

goto's mother indicated that it is nurture that made her kids. i think nurture plays a great part but those kids must have genetic predisposition for violinistic qualities. not every sucker with the best nurture can become a good violinist, just like not everyone here can be trained to be a good (fill in the blank). not everyone,,,some will be better in the long run than others.

June 9, 2008 at 01:49 PM · Anyone can learn to play violin, assuming of course most the physical requirements are there. I met a girl in college who had MOST of her fingers and played very nicely....very inspiring. Maybe she never got to a big stage but there is something to be said for reaching your own personal goals and using everything you have been given to find joy in the experience.

June 9, 2008 at 02:18 PM · there is no denying that one never knows one's potential until one gives a good try. i am all for it, if you know what my kids go through:)

however, goto's mother's statement can be mistaken to imply that if we send over another 1000 kids randomly picked that she can turn them with nurture into world class violinists.

not going to happen. water, sunshine, nutrient,,,still need the right seedling.

a more reasonable assessment would be for her to suggest that nurture played a big part and she WONDERED how big a part their genes played...

June 9, 2008 at 03:50 PM · I am trying my own experiment. I am three years into it. An adult learning this difficult instrument. As i listen to my own playing and the recordings i made 2 years ago I have to conclude that I agree with the language metaphor in the prior comments. Anyone can learn this language of music and of this instrument.

I quickly learned French because the desire to go to Paris and to tour France was there so I learned enough language in one year to

satisfy myself. That standard was my own "standard."

The degree by which i will learn this violin will be based on my own desire, my own discipline during practice and my own ability to steer my lessons towards my ability to absorb the information in this older adult brain and the physical limitations that i have as an adult past my physical prime. (?)

I did have a nice "prime coat" of musical knowledge, a love of the instrument, and ability to recognize patterns and melodies.

There are no supernatural gifts or talents here. I know that I had been told that i had a talent for art; drawing, observation, details and mechanical ability. Given those traits, i could conclude that these have been a help for me to learn this instrument. The degree that I wished to learn it has already been

surpassed due to 2 unusually gifted musician who have given me instructions, hints, dynamic practical practice advice. One is still my teacher. I believe that I will pass up "proficient" and advance on. I cannot predict to what degree of musicianship i will advance to but to the initial question I will give the nod to the group who believe that anyone can learn to play--however i still remember this quote--I don't know who to attribute it --(my crabby old art teacher?) but here goes--"You teach a monkey to draw (play) but you can't teach him to care."

As long as i care about learning this instrument i will succeed.

June 9, 2008 at 05:28 PM · There are two issues here: 1) Nature vs nurture and 2) Degree of ability, not have/have not. I believe that both nature and nurture are involved in learning anything. For example, some people are genetically color blind, and there are probably people who are genetically tone deaf. The hypothesized genetically totally tone deaf people could learn to play piano or a fretted instrument, although I doubt they'd want to. People who are genetically partially tone deaf can be trained to maximize whatever ability they have. They may be able to learn tone differences a little bit or a lot.

My own experience as a violin teacher for beginners is interesting in this regard. I have wondered whether I would ever get a student who is hopelessly tone deaf. Will I ever find a student who, after working with me for a while, can not distinguish A from B or Bb or tell whether the interval or chord D/D is more or less pleasing than D/E or D/Eb? If so, I would recommend that the student learn to play keyboard or an instrument with frets. I have never encountered anyone like this. Of course, my prospective students are not representative of the whole population. They are self selected (or parentally selected) people who like music and want to learn to make music themselves.

June 9, 2008 at 09:27 PM · I've been musicaly inclined all my life, out of 5 children one of 3 that are and continue to be active. Classical guitar, then piano and now violin. Mom was and still is a piano player, Dad couldn't carry a note for anything. Genetic... I don't think anyone's ever studied for the time it would take to come to scientific conclusions. A gift from God is a gift from God, I'm good leaving it at that. :-)

June 10, 2008 at 12:37 AM · Most definitely, playing violin really, really well is an inborn talent. Physical size is important, too. Most of the greats are not big people. Among the greats are many women (smallish people). At 6' tall with large hands, I believe my own development has been harder for me to learn to play at the highest of levels. I do pretty well on piano and I don't even know where I learned it! And this kills me - Perelman said that he doesn't "understand" piano! Compared to violin, playing piano is self evident. Actually, any great talent, I believe, in any area is derived from a supernatural ability in their genes . Look at the great sports figures.

June 19, 2008 at 03:24 AM · Coming from a student's perspective-

I come from a musical family (Suzuki raised too!) and I periodically get remarks that the only reason I play violin well comes from having "good genes". I don't see this as a compliment or being true. I had to work to get where I am and I feel most of the time these remarks are intended to draw attention away from the fact that things in life aren't handed to you on a platter and you have to work at whatever you do if you want to do it successfully. Perhaps those who've said that didn't work as much as they should have and consequently aren't where they want to be? Turning the good genes logic around and blaming one's level of playing on bad genes doesn't make a very good excuse.

Stating that the reason "The Greats" were great only because they had good genes takes away from the fact that they had to work to get where they are. No professional athlete will tell you that it all came so naturally for them that they didn't work to get (much less keep) where they are. I think success all comes down to how much work you are willing to put into an activity to perfect it- be it violin or soccer.

June 19, 2008 at 12:30 PM · Suzuki managed to latch on to processing the brain , a method which can be applied to all learning approaches.So, yes it is true that everybody is capable of learning to play but it remains more at a craftsmans level than an artists level.Infinate repetitions will result in a young child playing 'Twinkle' but are they really understanding what they are doing? When a 'Suzuki'child is constantly reviewing repetoire for tone production are they really thinking about bow application and its results or just copying? These I think are perhaps some of the downfalls of the method. Someone mentioned that children play repetoire too advanced for their artistic comprehension and I would agree.There are so many wonderful students concertos written for evey level that playing through the Bach double at age 4 without giving considerations to historical or artistic interpretation seems a little ridiculous. It all smacks of showmanship and not artistry.

June 19, 2008 at 02:35 PM · Ms. Griffiths, with all due respect, I beg to differ from the following statement: "yes it is true that everybody is capable of learning to play but it remains more at a craftsmans level than an artists level."

Any "traditionally trained" student can be also a master of his/her craft, and be lacking musically. There's actually no proof that the Suzuki approach will produce musically-dumb musicians. It all boils down to the individual teacher, to what the student does outside his lesson room (musically-enriching activites, etc.), and to the individual student/performer. It is not a fair assessment that learning violin with the Suzuki approach is detrimental to the student musically. Again, musically lacking performers are not a Suzuki approach phenomena. It happens everywhere.

I understand where you are coming from, but I've seen many Suzuki infants play REALLY musically, even a week ago. Please take no offense at my comment, but I hope you understand what I mean above. Suzuki can be a great tool, and indeed tends to be more positive than negative.

June 19, 2008 at 02:40 PM · I still like Sarasate's famous quote: "For 37 years I've been practicing 14 hours a day, and now they call me a genius."


June 19, 2008 at 03:00 PM · More thoughts:

Yes, anybody can learn to play well the violin. :)

Yes, it is easier for some, tougher for others. :(

Yes, environment can be more important than "special talent"

YES, everybody is "talented"

With the Suzuki approach, students are encouraged to learn to the best of their abilities, with the help of the teacher AND the parent. A few will be soloists, some will be great violinists in their own right, some won't even keep playing the violin. But the process is more important than the results. Do we care about the results? Absolutely! But we do care more for the student, that he/she receives the loving nurture he/she requires. Everybody is encouraged to grow musically and technically at their own pace.

The Suzuki approach is about much more than producing little virtuosos with huge careers. It is much deeper than that. However, I still believe (and the record certainly agrees) that many greats have been raised in the positive environment that can be the Suzuki approach (Arabella Steinbacher, etc.)

I was a doubter some time ago as well. I doubt no more. The Suzuki approach is enriching to all the parties involved, teachers, parents, and the children. Please give it a chance before dismissing it as folly. I am witness to its goodness, and right now I also consider it one of the best gifts a parent can give to his/her child/children.

June 19, 2008 at 04:59 PM · I suggest rote playing indicates rote teaching often resulting in an unconsious style of playing. Maybe every child can but the issue begs the question..."But to what level?" This is where great teaching rises and rote, "turn key/assembly line process" teaching sinks to the bottom. Although many posts mention talent and method/process, in my opinion the missing elements in the equation of musicianship or other areas requiring long term committment are "motivation" and "creativity". Without creativity and motivation by both teacher and student many methods including Suzuki end up as "rote" systems for learning, playing, and teaching. (We call these "francise" studios which stress conformity in all or most aspects of playing.) It is no doubt incredibly practical for a teacher with a large studio to stick to a system, however may not be practical for all students. (These are the families that quit and are often explained away as not committed.) The limitation of the Suzuki system, and all other systems is using them as a "turn key" teaching method and business model. Many methods complement each other and in my opinion there is no "complete" method. In the case of Suzuki, vibrato and scale work is one example. I would be hard pressed to consider Suzuki a complete method, but some teachers use it that way ignoring important aspects of a complete musical education. The belief that there is "one" system or approach for all appears patently false. Each method is an evolution from the previous resulting in a large variety of resources for the creative teacher and student.

My experience with the Suzuki approach is that there is sometimes an over zealous mindset that excludes other approaches that could work for a particular learner. Many teachers require group lessons as a part of their business strategy rather than looking at the particular motivation of a student. That is in my opinion a narrow and limited view and not a fault of the approach itself. Many Suzuki teachers are creative enough to take the system beyond the rote aspect of unison playing or the requirement to keep every piece in short term memory. For some students that seems like an unproductive investment of time when other things like etudes, intonation work, shifting work, scales, etc. could be more benefitial at a particular point in time. On the other hand, if groups work for a particular student or age group, then group lessons and their corresponding cost and time committment make sense. Why require group lessons? Why not adapt as the student grows and changes? Why require memorization for all pieces? While memorizing pieces and shifts and keeping them in short term memory may motivate some, it may not motivate others. The same with the other aspects of the approach. Unfortunately, for some teachers and parents, they have a hammer, so every student becomes a nail. Nothing is further from the truth or more disrespectful to students than using a one size fits all mindset in the arts.

June 19, 2008 at 11:21 PM ·

June 20, 2008 at 06:09 AM · In response to Mr Valle Rivera, I was responding to the question which was asking if all children can learn to èplay the violin by using the Suzuki method or to you have to be born with talent.The answer is yes.I agree that the teacher is more important than the method however the amount of listening required to the same piece by the same performer will in the end influence how the student plays it.The pupil is required to imitate and not create.

June 20, 2008 at 06:34 AM · A good teacher is a good teacher, whatever the "method." A good teacher just teaches the violin to the student and is versed in many methods. The most valuable things about Suzuki are his philosophy of child education and his progression of pieces. They certainly aren't "method" books, look at the cover, people. ;) I can't imagine teaching these pieces without scales, etudes, other method books, and supplemental pieces.

And the listening is a fantastic idea, whatever you are playing. Listen to the piece a lot, hear it live (Suzuki students do in their weekly group classes and recitals), listen to recordings. It goes for any piece you are playing, whatever your level. It's part of your study.

As for memorization, you don't really know a piece until you've memorized it. It's just not that hard, especially if you listen and practice sufficiently.

June 20, 2008 at 01:37 PM · When a Suzuki student learns a piece by ear there is nothing rote about it. The child spends their time figuring out the geography of the instrument and replicating the musical patterns in their brain on the instrument. This is a very active, thinking process. I have never seen a Suzuki teacher spoon feed a student line by line, (although I have seen many fiddle teachers do this). It is really an amazing thing to watch and it generalizes well to non-Suzuki music. I once came home from work to find my 3 year old on the front porch with my husband saying, "Honey, you have to see this! He is playing the Messiah! He just heard it on the radio, and he is playing the Messiah!"

One danger, that Suzuki teachers are trained to handle, is that the child will often "know" the repertoire a full two years in advance of where they are technically. The temptation by the parent and the student is to rush ahead without having learned the particular technical skill or skills or the proper bowings or fingerings. It takes discipline on the part of the parent not to allow this type of "noodling". Our Suzuki teacher would isolate one or two key measures as pre-exercises that would be practiced in isolation for the week before the piece was started. Kids usually hate playing things out of context so this is a tough, but necessary discipline to enforce.

As far as musicality goes, this is determined by the child's nature, the teacher and the parent. I have seen very repressive teachers and parents insist on every bow between the lines etc... I have seen very obedient children learn something "perfectly" but never really break loose in an exciting or deep way. I have seen pianist and organist parents playing with their violinist children in the most robotic way. I have seen occasional pre-college students at top conservatories play as if they have not a single bit of rhythmic sensibility. I have seen all of these things with students trained in traditional method as well as Suzuki trained students. I have also seen some absolutely delightful 5-year-old Suzuki students play with style and joy and impressive musicality.

The Suzuki method is a terrific starting point, but it is not meant for higher technical training. Much would be lacking if the child stayed with the method alone through high school. Most students who wish to continue with violin in conservatory move on to more technical training before middle school. The exceptional Suzuki teacher who also has a thorough knowledge of the advanced repertoire and the various etude and exercise books, will move the advancing student on to these materials. Even before that, Suzuki teachers generally have students learn the Flesch or Galamian scales, study double stops, etc...I believe our Suzuki teacher introduced scales almost right away and had my son playing out of a double stop etude book, "Melodious Double Stops", by the time he was seven. She also used Yost for shifting, and traditional materials for playing in positions, and music reading skills. She did insist, however, on all Suzuki repertoire being learned by ear and played from memory.

The Suzuki attitude about memorization doesn't differ so much from my son's advanced teacher. He only teaches pre-professional high school, college and graduate students in violin performance. His students play copious etudes and exercises. He requires five hours of practice daily: 90 minutes of scales, broken into five blocks of time, an hour of etudes and caprices or Paganini, an hour of Bach, an hour of concerto work, and an hour of show pieces, sonatas and other recital program material. His rule about memorization is that the student gets one lesson with the music, and after that it must be memorized. Also, "All Bach must be memorized." Thank goodness for the Suzuki background!!

For the very wealthy, who can afford daily lessons for their child, or the trained musician parent who can confidently work with their child on a daily basis, the traditional approach can produce impressive results. For the rest of us, the Suzuki method has allowed us to provide a musical education for our young children that would never have been possible otherwise. We know that most of the great players in the past had an early start and daily reinforcement. The Suzuki method provides just this, and it is no surprise to me that we now see wonderful violinists emerging from non-musician families.

June 20, 2008 at 03:02 PM · Ms. Griffiths,

I hope I didn't offend you earlier. Being a diverse listener of several performances of the same works, I disagree that by listening to a recording/rendering of a piece you will have a musically-stunted growth. I believe that hearing to great musical performances is actually an enriching experience, beyond the Suzuki approach. The idea is to imitate so you can create better, not to just be a living copy of the recording the student (or you) are hearing. Remember tha language analogy. Though people in different areas have peculiar language accents and traits, in the end, not all speak in the same very way. But we did imitate somebody when we were learning our different native languages. Furthermore, the Suzuki students that develop more rapidly are usually those who listen a lot to both the music they are studying as well as other music, even beyond the Suzuki books cd's. Indeed, I would say that without this "ear-musical-training," the path to violin mastery is considerably much tougher.

Again, there are good teachers and not-as-good teachers. Good, caring teachers will worry about their students's musical development, and will take care that they start to play musically from early on, or at least will try that they do their best to achieve this. This is irrelevant to hearing a cd to have an easier time learning any given piece.

There are many other posts above that emphasize misconceptions about the Suzuki approach, but I am glad many of our forumers have already answered many of these (sadly) common misjudgments. I hope I was not offensive to anybody; I just believe the Suzuki approach, when implemented properly, works wonders for everybody involved, and consequently for those who are not even directly involved.

June 21, 2008 at 12:48 AM · Helen, I'm not so sure about -figuring out the geography of the instrument and replicating the musical patterns in their brain on the instrument." This would seem to be Visual learning-

Wouldn't it also auditory and kinaesthetic?

As to other posters re musical robots - having sat through enough suzuki exclusive recitals, I too have seen the range from individual and expressive - you can see some little kids really get th music, and then the imitators. They're 8 years old and they get to stand in front of people and play something accurately, I see no harm in it. Were those imitators in a more traditional setting (such as our local conservatorium) they would never be chosen for mini or junior ensemble, they'd not be regarded as talented enough to be important enough to perform solo, there'd be a lot of experiences that they would not share.

Suzuki doesn't appear to harm the talented, and it doesn't ostracize the typical or less talented. So I can let it be.

June 21, 2008 at 04:03 AM · If you watch a student figure out a piece on the violin, they usually are not looking, but rather feeling and listening. There is some trial and error, but little children are really quick to find their way and to remember how they did it.

Regarding the imitators: Part of the reason it is important for a teacher to play well is that children pick up all sorts of information by observation. They can pick up awkward postures as well as centered, comfortable ones, but more importantly they pick up the sound and the phrasing of the teacher. I recently saw a recital by a college student of Perlman's, and he had definitely picked up the "Perlman sound" and artistic devices. Some students are especially adept at this type of learning. This is one of the traits we would identify with talent. Eventually the artist emerges with his/her own ideas, but certainly imitation plays a big part initially. This is not specific to Suzuki training or traditional training.

To be perfectly honest, I know some very inspired Suzuki teachers, but I also know some I would not recommend. I feel most comfortable with teachers who have relatively small studios and who give abundant attention to their students. I also look for excellence in playing ability and knowledge of the literature beyond Suzuki repertoire as well as a thorough knowledge of proper, relaxed technique. I look for teachers who value fluency and zest in playing more than exactness where their smallest students are concerned, but who have high standards for polish. It is also really important for the teacher to know precisely where they are going with a particular student. They should always keep in mind the goal, a technically fit player at 17 who will have the option of going to a conservatory if that is what he/she desires. If a teacher aims high, students will usually respond with energy and purpose. If a teacher aims lower, I believe they are doing a disservice to the student. A good teacher also knows their own limits and doesn't hesitate to pass a student on to another teacher when appropriate. We found all of these things in our Suzuki teacher as well as in the traditional teachers my sons have studied with since. I don't think a parent should ever settle for less.

June 21, 2008 at 03:05 PM · Jennifer,

Very clear post. I agree the teacher is the lynch pin if you will regarding Suzuki or any other approach. As a teacher of gifted students and students with disabilities I have learned that all approaches must be adapted to a students natural strenghts and deficits. I often liken a strick Suzuki only approach to a reading teacher who would use a "whole language" approach to reading to the exclusion of other tools. While some kids can learn exclusively with whole language many need a combination of other apporaches. Most children need phonics and whole language. So fluidity in recognizing words (or pitch/tempo) does not address issues of comprehension. While memorizing is an important skill, comprehension is equally valuable when memorizing so you can start on any note anytime, anywhere within a pieces versus rote memorization where you have to always start over or at the section.

In the end, the student has to know what they are doing. Our Suzuki teacher was really great until we got into shifting and then just wanted the kids to memorize shifts with no theory to back up the request. Memorizing shifts did not translate to other music because we didn't know why we were shifting to first finger in third position instead of second finger in second position etc. The underlying system was a muddled by the lack of the entire framework. This could be likened to "construction" versus "deconstruction".

Too many teachers (music and academic) in my opinion, believe children are incapbable of understanding larger concepts and systems and therefore are not prepared to explain them in sufficient detail. If your child is one who needs the big picture before the "lego" tiny level, then introducing everything as a tiny piece, "like a lego" and trying to build up from all these little pieces can be very confusing lacking a context for the whole. That is why memorizing from CDs without understanding can be a detriment to some students instead of helpful. Using that logic a child should be able to shift anyway he/she wants as a child as long as they get to the note. So while listening helps you "know" a piece on one level, understanding how it goes together requires a bit more. Our old Suzuki teacher explained that our son would understand the shifts later and then proceeded to try to teach him book 4. Looking back, she was proably unprepared to present the concept/theory for shifting to such a little guy and just didn't know how to explain it. So for months my kid made up shifts. He could play every note off those CDs from memory, in tune, note perfect. When we left Suzuki, he had to relearn two concertos because his shifts changed every time he played them. So one is left to wonder, Did he "know" the piece simply based upon his ability to play it note perfect from memory?" I suggest he didn't know the piece but had memorized a bunch of notes in sequence, with no idea as to how the thing was put together. I suggest this did not help him. Luckily, his new teacher was able to communicate the reason shifting system. This teacher ignored our son's age and explained it in great detail. So there you go. In the end, the Suzuki certifications don't guarantee much as to what a teacher will actually teach or not teach is my experience. Our son can and still does memorize things easily. Now however, he has a reason for what he is doing beyond playing the notes. All kids are different.

June 21, 2008 at 06:11 PM · Why "should" the goal be a player who has the option at age 17 of going to a conservatory?

I hadn't thought about it that way before, but after I did, I realized that has never been what I was looking for in a teacher, for me or for my kids. It would be different if they themselves expressed interest in conservatory training or professional music careers, now or in the future, but they haven't so far. And when they become adults over the age of 17 and want to attend a conservatory then, well, great! But, in my universe, I don't really have much interest in my kids' attending a conservatory when they are 17, I'd rather they went to a "regular" academic college or university.

I didn't think that was a goal of Suzuki's either, but perhaps I'm wrong--did he say much about conservatories and who should attend them and at what ages?

June 22, 2008 at 03:50 AM · Karen,

I knew my comment would be controversial! I don't think this was Suzuki's aim either; and it was not my aim as a parent.

I have had numerous conversations with my son's teacher about this. It is clearly his aim for every one of his students to "finish" with him with the option to continue serious violin study should they desire to do so. He really feels that each of his students is a diamond in the rough and that he is morally obligated to give them his very best. He is convinced from the beginning that they are talented and that if he does his job properly they will all become fine players. Because he believes this, his students believe this of themselves, and the parents believe this about their children. His enthusiasm is contagious, and his results are simply amazing! He exclaimed recently at the end of my son's lesson, "Whatever you decide to do with your life, you will always be able to say, I can really play!" Would a parent really want a teacher who was not willing to give his/her very best to their child? I believe the most exciting, motivational, positive teachers do see talent and possibility in their students and do aim high.

June 21, 2008 at 10:34 PM · "The underlying system was a muddled by the lack of the entire framework. This could be likened to "construction" versus "deconstruction". "

The kid really would have, or will, pick up the "whys" of shifting later. The intellectual part takes about a half hour to understand completely. S's "native language" approach; you don't have your child deconstruting sentences, I expect. Shifting say, or music, or language, is not science and shouldn't be approached like it. Just as you'd be missing the point if you approached your science like poetry, like one of those guys wearing an "Imagination is more important than Knowledge" t-shirt :)

What I know about S. is just from tidbits and anecdotes picked up over the last 25 years, but I don't think he had producing polished professional entertainers in mind. But since he has them apparently doing something difficult very young, it naturally grabs the attention of some parents. It's more work to see the value of someone playing music for personal enrichment compared to attaching a value to being a star. Just as a politican may support something that's some small rights issue, but he will couch it as a money-saving issue instead, something easy to grasp.

A thing that bugs me is what seems to be taking a kid and divorcing his music from a natural cultural and social context, perhaps forever, body-snatching it and replacing it with how even someone's eighth notes are. I think that's a real possibility. And no two people will agree on what a good-sounding shift is anyway.

June 22, 2008 at 11:11 AM · Jennifer,

It sounds like that teacher is the right teacher for your son, to the extent I can judge that, not knowing either of them. But I guess I don't think the principles that you're talking about are generalizable in the way that you are generalizing.

I think parents do want teachers who will give their students their best effort, but what constitutes "best" is different depending on the child. I respect a teacher requiring 5 hours of practice a day for a student that is planning a professional career and/or for a student for whom music is more important than other worthwhile activities.

But I don't think that is necessarily "best" for all students--and more to the point for me as a parent, I wouldn't find it "best" for my own kids. That kind of a daily time requirement would destroy what is best about our family life. It would completely isolate my husband, who isn't a classical music fan, or even particularly a music lover at all. It would interfere with other goals that I have for my kids and that they have for themselves.

Also, the implication that the option for serious violin study in the future closes off at age 17 just doesn't ring true to me. Just from my own experience, I wasn't conservatory-ready at 17, and didn't go to one for those four college years, but I started studying again anyway at 29 (and again at 39). My lessons now take place at a conservatory where my teacher is on the faculty; in addition to me, my teacher has real conservatory-level students (and adult beginners). I still don't have plans to make a career of it, but I have lots of opportunities to take more lessons, classes, etc. as time permits, at the continuing studies program.

To me, "best" effort would include instilling a value of patience and respect for lifelong learning, and that would be more important than achieving some particular milestone by age 17.

June 22, 2008 at 01:50 PM · Ah...

"It would completely isolate my husband, who isn't a classical music fan, or even particularly a music lover at all".

This is so true! I guess many families have the same problem as well.

June 22, 2008 at 01:06 PM · Hi Karen,

My apologies for getting us all a bit off track here. I agree with your sentiment, especially the last line. The thread is really about the merits of the Suzuki method, not teachers for the advanced players or adult learners.

I am, as those on know, a huge fan of the Suzuki method. I also recognize that there are some valid criticisms of the method as sometimes practiced.

Transitional teachers often complain that the students who come out of Suzuki programs are lacking technically and in music reading ability. It is a shame for students who begin at three or four, and who practice in a dedicated manner, to discover that there are huge holes in their violin skills when they reach high school. Unfortunately, I know of several cases where this has happened. While Karen is thinking of her younger child, I am thinking of my teens and their friends. Teens are so self-conscious that they easily lose confidence in their playing. This is when they tend to quit the violin. Most parents would prefer for their teen to continue to enjoy playing and to have the fun of being part of an orchestra or playing chamber music with friends. Although the initial goals of violin study might be developmental, these goals change as a child gets older and more advanced, and the teacher must either be able to respond to these changing goals or know when to pass a student on to a teacher who can better serve them.

To be honest, I have to say that while our Suzuki experience was a wonderful one, we did eventually move on to a transitional teacher. I am also aware that the Suzuki teacher we had was an especially good teacher and player and that not all teachers are equal. So, I am encouraging parents of small children to take the long view when looking for the right teacher and the right program. Also, my advice is not to underestimate what your child might eventually aspire to do with music.

June 23, 2008 at 07:29 PM · I'm weighing in late on this, as I've been on vacation, but here goes: I do believe anyone can learn to play the violin, but not everyone can play it well. There is a difference. That's true for almost anything we attempt; learning to do it, and doing it well are not the same thing.

Some of it is hard work and determination, and some of it is just inborn talent. I truly believe that there has to be some inborn talent to be able to play expressively, to develop all the nuances and tone colors of which the violin in capable.

June 28, 2008 at 06:09 AM · When most parents sign their kids up for violin lessons at age 3 to 5, it's not because they expect them to be a professional violinist, it's because they want them to learn something new. For children (of all ages!) learning for learning's sake is such an important thing, and the younger the child, the more capacity they have for learning. As far as all children being able to learn the violin--all of my currents students can play the violin. Some play better than others, but they can all play, and most get great enjoyment and personal satisfaction from it. Will any of them be professional musicians? I don't teach "Suzuki" per se, but I share many of the philosophies, and I firmly believe that anyone can learn to play the violin.

June 28, 2008 at 07:52 PM · I agree with Jennifer and from what I can tell about her posts we are with a similar teacher who serves students. He said you can never tell about a little kid and they all deserve his best teaching so they can be successful in music if they choose later in life, as amatuers or professionals. I agree with him. His philosophy is that anything less from a teacher is an excuse for mediocre playing. Just because a student does not choose a career in music does not mean he/she is entitled to a less serious approach to teaching. Maybe it is the parents, but I too have met many who just seem to have low expectations of their children and therefore are satisified with excuses. If your boys decide to be scientists instead of musicians, why shouldn't they be able to play chamber music on the weekends and sound fabulous. On the other hand, if they should decide to pursue music, why should they be embarassed of their first read when playing chamber music when they get to highschool. While Suzuki is great, and our experience was extremely positive as an introduction to music lessons, it is hardly a complete musical education. Most kids I know who can play extremely well in hich school and went through the entire Suzuki approach had supplementation from many quality sources and teachers. While a one stop shop would make life easy, I just don't see there is such a turnkey, one size fits all for a complete musical education approach. You can not force someone to play/practice for hours a day or read books for hours a day. Kids read difficult books without a parent forcing them because they understand the content and can connect it to other books and experiences. I would say the same holds true students in music. When you teach the early reader, "Run Spot Run", all parents have the goal, even if unstated that their child will enventually read, and understand more complex literature or nonfiction to be successful in life. In music the many layers and explanations come at a time when they child is ready, assuming the teacher is ready to teach it all.

June 29, 2008 at 12:38 PM · My problem with a "high expectations of little kids" approach is that I don't think it is applicable to everyone. While it may be true that everyone can learn to play the violin, I don't think it is true that everyone responds well to high external expectations. Sometimes these expectations are unreasonable to the situation and cause damage.

For example, it's become fashionable in some areas these days to say that "everyone" can learn to read in kindergarten, rachet up the expectations, and blame the kids when they don't meet them. I have a friend whose son had to leave public school after he failed to learn to read in kindergarten. In contrast, I've been fortunate in that my own kids are, like me, natural early readers. My daughter learned to read in kindergarten as she was supposed to, and my son taught himself last year when he was 4. In both cases, this occurred with a complete lack of expectation on my part.

Jennifer and I had an exchange off-list about this issue. My daughter is a smart girl and very sweet and loving, and funny, but she's also very definitely an 8-year-old and something of a homebody. She likes to sing "can you, can you do the can can? yes I can can" when she plays that piece (it's in her method book). The highlight of her week is going to see a premiere of the "American Girl" movie. She needs downtime--30-60 minutes a day--in front of the TV or up in her room where nothing is expected of her. I don't think allowing her to just be that kid is underestimating her, or "making excuses."

I am one of those kids who grew up to be a scientist rather than a professional musician, and I enjoy chamber and orchestral music as a serious hobby. By and large I didn't have professional-quality teachers as a kid (couldn't afford them) and I didn't spend as much time and effort on music when I was growing up as people who were going to make it a career did. But looking back, I think this is appropriate and reasonable, not an excuse or something to regret. I learned to fit music into my life in a balanced way and still find time for things like sleep and family.

July 2, 2008 at 04:12 PM · Karen,

I have learn so much from this post as an educator. You make some excellent points.I agree about the reading expectations. I think however you are confusing high expectations with "going fast". Going fast has nothing to do with high expectations necessarily. Doing things well, in my opinion, is the domain of high expectations.

Some kids have slower processing speeds than others at different times in their lives. Kid can be a different developmental age than chronilogical age. Boys for example are often far behind girls developmentally in Kindergarten. This manifests as a child who seems immature for their age and is a cultural obsession with early achievement, more than a reflection on a specific child.In Scandinavia, for example, students learn to read much older and it is not uncommon to wait until a child is 7-8 to begin reading instruction.

My kid would go through phases where he would learn things really fast, and then really slowly. The old Suzuki teacher(s) would say, "How are you practicing at home?....This (Vivaldi am) is a 2 month piece". She confused high expectations with the ability to learn/go fast. One must take the long view. Just because a son/daughter is not ready to read at 5, as an example, or play concertos at 6 does not mean a parent has lower your expectations. We run on the assumption they WILL eventually succeed and then help them figure out how to reach their goal. The fact that you take music seriously is not wasted on your daughter even when she is watching US Girl or her TV shows. Kids do a lot of "background processing" during down time like that.

In the end, the student alone must finally make the connections, (sense making) and put it all together at the age that is right for them. Our job, I believe is ensure they get all the pieces to put the puzzle together and remove obstacles. Each time they connect seemingly disparate experiences, (etudes to a theory lesson for example) on their own, they "kick it up" a notch for themselves. If they have high quality instruction then they can have more dimensions of prior knowledge to connect more things together. They can draw on prior knowledge to make sense of the specific task at hand. This is fluency and is the only true way to "go faster". This fluency makes violin more interesting and then they practice more on their own without Mom and Dad grabbing the remote. Their locus of control is now inside of them and less impacted on external motivations and distractions. They know what they are doing! The teacher provides the necessary experiences and context in little bits for them to connect up later on. I have studied and sincerely believe that some children have a temperment that makes them more easily adapt to various levels of intensity of instruction at school or in music, art, etc. That is just who they are and with a good student/teacher match the child can enjoy extremely positive outcomes. Our teacher is an Eastern European fellow and we are from Eastern Europe so it is a great cultural match for our son and sends a very consistent message to him.

July 2, 2008 at 03:34 PM · J Kingston-- I think you're absolutely right that there's a lot of confusion about "high expectations" vs. "going fast." I think it happens a lot in American public school systems and it seems to be a perennial problem without an easy solution. Thirty-five years ago, when I entered the public school system as an early reader, I was skipped ahead a grade level. Nowadays grade skipping for individual students is no longer widely done, but this expectation of "everyone" learning to read in kindergarten, which is more recent, seems to me perhaps equally troubling.

Where I think this problem is connected to Suzuki learning is that signing up young children for lessons where the expectation of "everyone" is to practice every day with a parent, to have precise posture, to perform in front of a group, to make standardized progress measured against their peers, institutionalizes going fast. It's analogous to the expectation that everyone learns to read in kindergarten.

July 2, 2008 at 04:18 PM · Yes you nailed it Karen. As a reading specialist I believe we are in a dark period in education in general and reading in particular. I consider this acceleration mentality a bit a perversion in American culture in general. This is reflected in music study as well. My son was so far ahead in those Suzuki books it wasn't funny.He had learned to game the teacher and the sytem to some degree, which I thought was a big waste of time. They must be brought to consciousness as students and artist and there are no short cuts. No wine (whine) before it's time.

July 8, 2008 at 10:27 PM · Hi all,

A very interesting discussion so far. I cannot add too much to the debate, but as a Suzuki parent, I do have some observations regarding some of the criticisms and devotion to one method of learning or the other.

Some thoughts on Suzuki


A method of teaching or learning is but a tool. Effectiveness of the same must be gauged by the results that you observe. In other words, its not the method that is often at fault but the way it can be applied. In the case of Suzuki, one must distinguish between the method itself as an effective tool, and the adoption of the method as a religion: I do find that in America we tend to use our association with our pet organizations to be a substitute for community, and that subsequently induces us to believe excessively in what we venture into. Too much belief can be counterproductive, while a healthy degree of submission or devotion to the system is warranted in any learning experience. So, my general advice is to work with the program, but maintain enough cynicism to keep oneself and others honest.

That said, I have two children who are learning violin using the Suzuki method, and I have been happy with the results. The good of Suzuki is that it allows young children to quickly develop good intonation, memorization skills and motor skills. Yes, there is an emphasis on listening to the music regularly. However, not once has our teacher ever said that a piece of music must be interpreted in only one way. In fact, many of the pieces are regularly played in many different ways, and as time goes on, older pieces are routinely transposed to different keys, and are replayed with different bowing styles as the child's abilities mature. My older one hardly ever listens to the music more than once to get a sense of what is required, and more often than not tries to get hold of alternative versions of the originals performed by other professional musicians.

The Suzuki repertoire has arrangements that have been altered from the original in subtle ways: e.g., the Vivaldi a minor concerto has many groups of 16th note patterns modified to make them more like an etude or an exercise. The advantage is that these alterations make the learning process more interesting to the child, but sometimes subtract from the musicality of the original. So what, we merely get the child to learn the original as well as part of their training.

Simultaneously, I believe there is a necessity to teach children to read music and use other method books as soon as they are ready. Younger children (age 4-5 and above) learn to read music faster than older ones. My older one started Suzuki at the age of 7 and it was a lot more difficult to rewire her brain cells to read music fluently when she was 8 years of age. My younger one started before she turned 5 and was reading acceptably after a couple of years. Also, when a child reaches Book 3 or 4, supplementary training with method books for spiccato, scales etc is not bad. Our philosophy has been to maintain the Suzuki tradition for the Suzuki repertoire and a more ad hoc tradition for other supplementary material.

The downside of being serious about any musical instrument is that it can consume your life. Most children 4 or 5 years old have no idea whether they would like to learn music. Therefore, some amount of pressure has to be applied if they are to embark on a musical education, but no more than the pressure we apply on them when we teach them to read or write or learn their arithmetic. We do not question the latter, so the only reason the former is in question is because it is not part of a requirement of our educational system. Still, it is hard on the parent and hard on the children, and sometimes difficult to explain the rigid adherence to daily practice, and the intensity of maintaining the discipline to friends and acquaintances.

As a parent who has not had any musical training myself, being involved in Suzuki has been an incredible experience for me. The violin is a very difficult instrument, and I believe it is necessary for a parent such as me to appreciate how much work goes into becoming good at it. The methodology used makes us better parents, making patience, encouragement and praise an automatic reaction, while limiting the amount of damage that bad parenting can do to a child. For me, the added advantage has been that I have learned a lot about music (even if it is not the traditional music I grew up with), and it has in a sense eliminated any regrets I have about not developing any talents other than my vocation. Previously, I was capable of appreciating good music when I heard it, and today, I know enough to be dangerous.

The other thread in this discussion regards the question of whether musical ability is genetically pre-determined. I think there are people who are incapable of learning music -- such people are very rare. Most children are capable of learning music to the same degree of proficiency as one learns to read, write and speak. In fact most children should by implication do so. There is another extremum to the human condition that is very rare, and that is the ability to be creative and have a so-called "natural" ability or talent. This is not something that can be nurtured alone, although it is certainly possible to destroy such abilities (bad parenting will do this, and we tend to to this in America to large sections of our population) through the wrong experiences. A Heifetz, Perlman or a Ravi Shankar is born, and they have the additional advantage of the right life experiences to make their talents come forth. So it is mostly nature and nurture, not nature or nurture by themselves that are essential for excellence. I am sure there are even rarer personal experiences that will prove an exception to the norm, but I shall stick here to the specific generalities I have quoted to make my point.

For my part, I do not care whether my children grow up to be famous musicians or not. It is a wonderful talent to be able to create and play music, and it is a great diversion in times good and bad. Additionally, learning music seriously makes them good in many other ways, to appreciate industry and hard work, to recognize the importance of attention to detail, to provide an outlet for emotions and feelings, and to recognize beauty.

I don't doubt that some of what I have written is obvious to many in the forum.

July 8, 2008 at 09:10 PM · Nice post, Kumar. :)

July 9, 2008 at 06:21 AM · This has certainly been an interesting thread. I think I agree with a post near the beginning of

the thread that spoke of *right conditions* as being a huge factor in determining how a young musician fares at his/her instrument.

I have two sons, one is a cellist, one is a violinist. Both chose to play their instruments. The cellist started at age 5 1/2 (and is now 11) and the violinist began at 6 1/2 (and is now 14). I am one of those parents that just couldn't put my child into an activity without his cooperation and my children are definitely strong willed and one that has never required large amounts of practice. I have a 3 year old now and he's so not ready to study music formally. He's obviously heard music since birth and he used to love classical music the best but I've not sheltered him from other musical styles so he's changed his preference away from classical. He seems to have lots of "natural ability" but I'm guessing it's just because he's been around music so much that makes him seemed musically inclined.

As far as right conditions and nature vs. nurture, here's what I've observed. Both my children started with Suzuki. I was involved in the lessons with both of them until my third child was born 3 1/2 years ago and then I stepped completely out. My youngest, the cellist, seems to have more natural ability but he cannot read music well at all, even at age 11, due to learning disabilities. So, though I could very much see him as a professional musician, it may never happen because of the great challenges he faces. He's about to begin book 9 in Suzuki but he reads music at about a book 2/3 level. This has been a huge roadblock. Because of this and other factors, he's refused to play in a group, though it would benefit him greatly. He also has a mild hearing loss in one ear.

My oldest took Suzuki for 7 years and switched to a traditional teacher about 8-9 months ago. I believe he is less musically talented than my other son but the set of conditions is much better for him. He's got a fantastic memory, his intelligence works in his favor, and he's been able to learn to read music well and he's doing well with his traditional teacher. He's played in ensembles and orchestras since he was 7 and this has worked in his favor. He's much more successful and confident than my younger son but not more innately talented IMO.

So, my experience is that, though there may be some natural gifts, the right conditions are much more important in making a musician successful.

August 28, 2008 at 06:35 PM · The best current research suggests that it is a combination of the two. Nurture starts prenatally, and is probably the more important of the two ultimately.

Music aptitude (as Dr. Edwin Gordon defines it) is a potential to learn music and everyone has at least a little bit of it. Gordon also discovered that music aptitude is normalized across the population just like every other type of aptitude. In any given large group, about 5% have extremely high music aptitude, another 15% have high music aptitude. 60% have average, 15% have low, and 5% have extremely low. This is a bell curve.

Gordon also discovered that different people have different aptitudes within music. Some people are strong in the tonal aspect of music, others in rhythmic. (Very few people are equal in both.)

The most important part of his research, from a teaching point of view, is that you can change that aptitude up until the age of 9 and then you can never improve it. You can, however, increase your achievement level throughout the rest of your life, but your potential to learn 'stabilizes' at age 9. This is, consequently, the same age that a lot of other aptitudes (particularly in language) are fixed.

The major contribution of Suzuki was that he was really the first person to make sure that a child could start early enough to take advantage of the benefits of developmental aptitude. (He didn't know anything about aptitude research, per se.) Also, he realized that there was a relationship between learning music and language and dispensed with notation in those early years, which is the most developmentally appropriate way to go. (Going straight to notation is probably the worst thing a child can do.)

It was brought up that there are probably people who can't learn music at all. I would suggest that this would only be true if there were issues that served as learning disabilities similar to those found in speech, language, and reading. (A disorder in one of those areas does not indicate the presence of music-related learning disability.) Possible? Absolutely! Likelihood? Much less than imagined. ('Tone-deaf' is a misnomer for much of the population.)

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