Mark O'Connor compares O'Connor & Suzuki methods

April 15, 2013 at 12:00 AM · Mark posted his views below on Google Plus on Friday, 12 April, 2013. I re-post them here because the issues he raises are central to violin education. Here's Mark:

"I have to write this because I am constantly asked what is the difference between the O'Connor Method and the Suzuki Method. I have been explaining this to folks for four years now. Many have still not understood the differences, so I have to uptick the message a bit. The Suzuki Method not only has promoted an all-technical approach to violin training for children, but was bent on starting it with kids who are as young as three years-old. When you start repeating finger and bow exercises on little German 2nd tier tunes and baroque pieces at age three to nine and that is your principle musical experience - repetition, memorization-ear training, repeating the same music exactly like a million other students with no individualism and creativity, maybe there are some survivors who are creative, ones who can get out in time and become creative string players, but the vast majority won't. After reviewing literally thousands, tens of thousands of students over the last 40 years, including at my own string caps that have seen 7,000 unique enrollments, there is nearly no way out for most of them. It is a death sentence in violin creativity, unless there is a huge cultural intervention that changes their musical life around 180 degrees. It is a phenomenon of the Japanese Suzuki regimented system and their militant philosophical background, the violin students playing in unison for performances, in formation etc...everyone mimicking the director. It is not the musical semicircle which is artistic, like the symphony orchestra performs in, but it is rows of regimented student lines in synchronized quasi-socialist-realist formations.

These formations never took place in the West before WWII and without the Japanese musical training influence. Music in large groups did not take place in the West without harmony, counterpoint and artistry. The Suzuki Method or Talent Education is basically, do exactly what I tell you to and only what I tell you, then you will have a "good heart" and be a "good citizen," all codes and ethics designed for Japanese children and their beloved emperor, not Americans. American musical culture includes many other and wiser principles of self-discovery, individualism, creativity, free spirit, journey, diversity, and a whole host of other philosophies born out of a multicultural experience. It is with these ideals and philosophies - the "American System," that I created the "O'Connor Method" for learning strings.

If there is a massive campaign by the majority of the string teachers who happen to be ingrained in Suzuki, to shut down the "American System" over the antiquated WWII era Japanese method of learning music, I feel that I must take a stand, given these stated issues. Every other music group enjoys a healthy "American System" of training in this country - with concert bands, jazz bands, choral societies, percussion, guitar and the myriad of American styles that most instruments get to train in and enjoy. The violin is the only major instrument that is still in an all-baroque, 250 year-old world for their training - literally year after year - after year.

In addition, Shinichi Suzuki's veracity has become a great concern. It has come to the attention of several researchers that he may have cheated and lied not only about his training, but also about his big-name affiliates, whose names and quotes he used to market his method to the West, and he did so after they were deceased. If this purported fraud did take place, in addition to the fact that the method has failed our young players as creative artists, students who could never improvise on stage, arrange music for performances, write or compose fine music and lead ensembles as an able leader, all because of their specific violin training in Suzuki, there is no way that I should not speak up, and speak up loudly. Yell if it is necessary. This may be one of the greatest frauds and injustices in music history. He may never have gotten his method out of Japan without potential fraudulent activities purposefully deceiving the public about himself as a man, his musical training and his credentials and endorsements from major names as a pedagogue. The Suzuki Method even affected kids adversely in my own family. I did not encourage them to follow the American system like I did myself unfortunately, going with Suzuki who was a trusted name. I even oversaw one of the kids for a two period, and I was frankly taken back by how inappropriate and non-inspiring I thought it was. I began to develop these concerns a long time ago. The kids I refer to quit violin by the way. It appears America was the first and biggest target of the fraudulent portrayals with Einstein, Casals... and his methodology.

One of the Suzuki advocates wrote me this today, trying to convince me what the merits of the Suzuki Method; 'one of the most basic concepts of Suzuki is he did not aim to produce a pile of professional musicians." Yes, I concur. According to Suzuki's claims, the Suzuki violin factory in Japan a couple of generations ago produced as many as 150,000 violins per year. That is millions of violins folks. Where did all of the players go in Japan? Midori is big. But she didn't take Suzuki violin lessons either."

Read the new blog here about the devolving of the "good citizen" Suzuki.

Replies (100)

April 15, 2013 at 05:20 AM · Frankly it sounds like a load of nonsense to me. First of all, violin teaching has advanced tremendously in the classical era, romantic era, and still does so (Sevcik, Flesh, Galamian, etc). Of course, many things got started in the baroque and were passed on.

April 15, 2013 at 06:18 AM · The statement "the method has failed our young players as creative artists, students who could never improvise on stage, arrange music for performances, write or compose fine music and lead ensembles as an able leader" seems almost universally true with string players. Why else is this?

April 15, 2013 at 06:34 AM · I need more time to consider all your points.



What convinced me to continue Suzuki training in Lyon (France), was the way the children played marvellously together, bur retained complete individuality when playing solos. Real musicianship!

Let's not forget that the base of good Suzuki teaching is individual lessons, plus frequent group work

200 year-old music:

Lively folksongs and baroque dances, in "easy" keys, are a good way to start - ask any fiddler! And I have only found 3 instances of musical drivel in the entire method (any guesses?) which is more than can be said of many worthy methods.

Personally , I treat "Tradition" as a resource, rather than as a set of rules. "The Sabbath was made for Man , not Man for the Sabbath" (Jesus!)


If I want to "imitate" Heifetz (!) I have to work jolly hard, and be very creative to adapt my inferior means to the sounds I want to make !!


Yes, many Suzuki teachers and trainers, and very many "Suzuki" parents, have cult-like behaviour.

But then so do very many non-Suzuki ones. (Just look at threads on sh**ld*r r*sts.....)

Quitting violin?

The Lyon school did a survey: 95% of their ex-pupils still play, well and with joy, in adult life, whatever their career choices. This is very, very unusual in France, where musicians are normally either professional or considered complete failures.

Poor, or downright bad, teaching is not limited to the Suzuki Method.

And very many of today's western stellar violinists started this way..

I don't use the method as such at present, (with tean-agers in a French context), but my teaching has benefitted enormously from this very stimulating and demanding training.

I shall continue reading this stimulating OP. It contains many valid points, as well as many misconceptions.

April 15, 2013 at 07:02 AM · Christopher, I find that playing the violin needs such total concentration on each gesture, that my mind has little freedom left for creation. I can only improvise using well integrated elements, and even these need constant maintainance.

April 15, 2013 at 07:46 AM · My feeling is that he's picked the wrong target. Suzuki is a broad church these days, and I'm sure you can find both good and bad within it.

I increasingly feel that the real issue is the narrow classical mindset of violin teachers in many pedagogic traditions, which focuses almost exclusively on interpreting baroque, classical and romantic compositions.

There are huge and joyous fields of European, American and South American fiddling, jazz, blues and rock which are barely touched on, or even actively discouraged. These are areas where there is much greater scope for individual interpretation, improv and arranging.

After a decade of classical training in high-school I couldn't improvise a note or arrange anything beyond narrow academic exercises, and I'm sure that this is by no means uncommon.

On the other hand, you come across many fiddlers who would greatly benefit from the rudiments of classical technique.

There have always been players like O'Connor who bridge both worlds, and I'm sure it makes them more rounded musicians, but I suspect that this is rare in terms of the wider ranks of violin students. It's a question of both sides of the "classical divide" opening up and embracing the benefits that each have to offer.

April 15, 2013 at 07:59 AM · I'm unhappy with the "american" with O'Connor. His music is mostly based on european heritage, and the american contribution is tiny compared with the huge fundament all those uncounted immigrants brought with them. He should better use the term "western" instead of "american" to avoid narrow-minded nationalism.

And being creative and individualistic isn't an american invention, either.

April 15, 2013 at 11:24 AM · IMHO Mr. O'Connor writes a load of rubbish. I am not a professional violinist, just a former amateur musician (carpal tunnel stopped me for good) and a Suzuki parent in Suzuki desert.

He makes personal attacks on the person who cannot defend because he is 15 years dead. Why did not Mr. O'Connor start his criticism when S. Suzuki was still alive?

The best persons to answer his rants now are the people who studied with S. Suzuki, William Starr (and all of his children), Kerstin Wartberg and countless other teachers who studied with him.

Suzuki did not like to call his way 'Suzuki Method', it was the 'Mother Tongue Method' and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that approach and philosophy when teaching the kids.

If Mr. O'Connor does not like Suzuki's choice of repertoire (lots of baroque music), he can choose his own repertoire for teaching but it is not Suzuki's mistake that violin was invented some 300 years before jazz and most of violin repertoire includes those years of musical development.

It is the baroque music that enables people to improvize, I would recommend Mr. O'Connor to read Joachim Quantz's On Playing the Flute. True, it is about the flute but it contains lots of information about the tempi, ornamentation and improvisation of baroque pieces. Suzuki repertoire is full of Bach, is he the worst composer to learn harmony,

counterpoint, improvization from?

If Mr. O'Connor wishes different approach he can take Sevcik Op. 6, Violin School for Beginners and prescribe that to five year old, I would love to see how many kids will love music after a year of that.

I understand Mr. O'Connor needs to get sales of his violin school but he does not gain popularity by bashing other approaches. Suzuki approach is not the only one for successful teaching of children. Suzuki's aim never was creation of virtuosi but to create love for music in children and in that respect he succeeded immensely.

April 15, 2013 at 12:59 PM · It sounds more like an ad (or political comment) than a reasoned comparison, and, as others have mentioned, certainly doesn't seem to demonstrate a clear understanding of what Suzuki method does--or even is.

I agree that bashing the perceived competition is rarely the best way to appear attractive as a teacher/proponent of anything. If one really has built a better mousetrap, the product generally speaks (or bites) for itself.

April 15, 2013 at 01:01 PM · I think there are a lot of good points here, but some of them are expressed in an unfortunate or extreme manner. In particular, I think Dr. Suzuki was a complicated man, like all visionaries, and attacks on him, calling him a fraud and so on, are unfair and unwarranted. Honest criticism of the ways his theories and methods are interpreted and used today, though, is fair game, and I think that should be applauded. Much of the problem on both sides seems to me to come from an insistence on a "best" or "right" way to teach string players. Why not accept that there is no such thing, and let the different flowers bloom?

April 15, 2013 at 04:46 PM · Forgive me for going against the grain, but I happen to have a great deal of admiration for Mark O'Connor. He is a truly excellent violinist across at least three genres. Yes, he has some modern ideas that are fairly revolutionary, but without such people life would be a lot less interesting. I think there is a fair amount of truth in what he says. Native creativity, improvisation, and spontaneity are not happening to the degree they should. I don't fault O'Connor for a second for being emphatic or passionate about this collective failing of stringed instrument instruction.

In his latest epistle, where I think O'Connor crosses the line is on the matter of Suzuki's personal character. Suzuki is dead, and his method should be judged on its own merits and not on whether he might have fabricated a friendship with Einstein. That doesn't mean the veracity of Suzuki's claims aren't suitable for historical investigation, but the method has become its own enterprise. There are composers who turned out to be bad people but we still play their stuff.

I don't think it should ever be all about the method. All the method provides is a skeletal framework on which to hang other things. My daughter loves to play fiddle tunes, and we take 15 minutes of a 75-minute practice session for them every day. Even though we have all three of O'Connor's method books (they are very good, actually) we find ourselves playing tunes most frequently from Brian Wicklund's books and David Brody's "fiddler's fakebook" because we just happen to like the selections there better.

I'll tell you where I think the weak link is. Far be it from me to "dump on the teachers," but i think it's the individual teachers. The thing is, it's not really their fault. When you have to have 50+ private students, plus some orchestral or free-lance performing to make a living wage, together with the difficulties of scheduling school-aged students, and if you have a family as well, then how much time and energy can possibly be left over to find ways to bring out each student's individuality and foster their creativity? The teachers who are able to do this (fortunately including my teacher) deserve our profound admiration. I don't think any method, whether Suzuki or O'Connor or whatever, is going to fill the gap by itself.

Another thing about every kid learning the same bowings, articulation, etc., for the various pieces is that the group practices are kind of like pre-orchestra. There is a time when things do need to match.

April 15, 2013 at 05:37 PM · I think Mark O'Connor has hit upon a bigger point which should concern us. What is it about violinists that puts us apart from other musicians in having certain musical deficiencies? What is it in the teaching or the very nature of the instrument itself that produces 'musicians' with a big part of the musical skills set missing? Most violinists you meet are lacking in the skills of improvisation, playing by ear, composition and arranging, rhythmic feel and accuracy, adaptability to different genres and so on. Why? I can think of some reasons but I'll throw it to you first as I think this is the discussion we should be having and the question Mark O'Connor is asking.

April 15, 2013 at 06:03 PM · Christopher, the overarching emphasis of violin instruction is on technical rather than broader musical development. And in a sense that is not without justification. Unless you can reach a certain level of technical proficiency, a huge portion of the classical violin repertoire will never be accessible, and even the stuff you *can* play will be out of tune and/or scratchy. The violin is hard to play decently! And what I can tell you from my experiences as a jazz pianist is that you cannot possibly have too much technique if you are going to be improvising.

What about the parents? What is their role in the success of the method? Well, I'm a Suzuki dad, so I can comment on this. I certainly don't have any expectation that my kids will grow up and become professional musicians, although they can if they want to. I view music lessons as "part of their education." Daily practice does not trump every other possibly activity, although it is a relatively high priority. I think a lot of parents operate this way. We want our kids to get a lot out of it, but not if it's going to make them miserable. And still, I'd like to see that my kids get enough technical ability by the time they leave for college that they could enjoy music fairly fully, playing in a decent community orchestra, chamber groups, or whatever. As it is, my older child (10 y.o.) practices about 75 minutes per day, of which 15 minutes is something off-the-books (usually fiddle tunes). I could take 15 minutes of the remaining hour and make it ear training, and another 15 minutes and make it improv, but after 15 minutes of scales, arpeggios, and maybe some bowing work, that would leave 15 minutes for Suzuki repertoire (presently the Handel D major Sonata, a beautiful piece rich with opportunity for individual expression). I just don't think there's going to be technical growth at any appreciable rate on that schedule. I've told her that if she develops an interest in improvisation, I'll be happy to spend *additional* time on that. What happens is that she seems to prefer doing that kind of exploratory stuff on the piano (an instrument on which I have given her a half dozen lessons sufficient that she can play "Minuet No. 1" with difficulty), and she would much rather do this when I am not in the immediate vicinity to interfere.

Coming back to Christopher's point, a great example of an instrument that does not seem to suffer nearly the same problem is the guitar.

April 15, 2013 at 06:39 PM · Wow! What comments. And I hope that Mark O'Connor expected the push-back. I'm 50 yrs old and I take lessons from a very talented Suzuki teacher now but I play "fiddle" music too. Mr. O'Connor is very good at what he does but poo-poo'ing the classical repertoire is not the way to gain favor of his methods. The questions for a teacher would be: 1) do I only teach Suzuki (your choice) 2) do I teach what the student wants? 3) do I try and offer O'Connors method? Now as a student of violin 1) do I take classical because my parents want this for me? 2) am I old enough to choose the method and teacher myself? or does the parent allow this choice? 3) am I to continue my violin studies into college? I would think if e.g. I had a child that wanted to go to music school, I would not risk O'Connor's methods. The reason might be that the child never studies Kreutzer e.g. or who isn't intimate with the melodies of J.S. Bach. I believe that this would be a disaster for the serious violin student. Don't get me wrong. I'm an American that was raised on country music and Americana even though I study, absorb, and just love Classical music, violin and guitar. I understand what O'Connor wants to do, but having his name in a history book on Violins beside the name Correlli, I don't see it. Keep the comments coming. This is very interesting.

April 15, 2013 at 07:32 PM · I didn't detect any "comparison" in the quoted article, just dismissal of Suzuki.

Whatever the case, since he does have a financial stake in having people chose his "method" over other ones, one has to take it with a grain of salt.

Quite often, violin shops take the same tack: their violins are solid gold while everything else out there is cr@p. Maybe it's the same phenomena: maybe he feels that because of his success that teachers everywhere should be flocking to his materials? Maybe they're not, and he doesn't understand why.

April 15, 2013 at 07:46 PM · It's like this:

"Come on everyone, this way to being a classical soloist. Don't be distracted by those trivial things you are hearing around you, there is no time for that - far too much to do!"

That's a bit of a caricature I admit but it kind of sums the attitude toward string pedagogy.

What are we trying to do as violin teachers? (I'm one myself btw). We have so many that pass through, so many that give up somewhere along the way. Such a shame that so many are not playing into their adult life but treat it like something you learn and then never need like algebra or something. As teachers we need to be sensitive to the individual's needs. Why aim everybody at Carnegie Hall. The ideal of the orchestral soloist is not for everybody, in fact it's for a very very small few and yet this is the direction where all teachers point for aspiring professionals and amateurs alike. This is not the fault of Suzuki specifically but every violin method it seems.

In saying that there is no time to deal with such major musical skills as improvising, playing by ear, composing, etc. etc. and that all that matters is technique is so damaging. It's not that you learn technique first and then you learn all those other things later - later on something happens in the brain, the door has closed, the way music is made now happens through the eye to the page and stylistically you have an "accent" that you can never get rid of in an attempt to be musically bi-lingual.

April 15, 2013 at 07:54 PM · No one is forcing the Suzuki method down my throat. I chose to use it for my early violin studies (Starting at my current young age of 26) simply because i find classical music the most beautiful, particularly for the violin, and the Suzuki method seems to focus on it. Accusations of fraud would spur my curiosity if the Suzuki method was forced upon me, but in this case it makes me very weary of even using this method considering i chose Suzuki by choice, and Suzuki didnt really write anything i practice out of the method, just compiled the pieces.

If its creator cant rely on his methods usefulness and validity to inspire people to pick up his book, and instead attacks the character of the creator of another method when that creator wrote none of the pieces (practically) it uses it makes me doubt that creators intent (sounds like it's to make money, not to spread and tech music) as well as that creators own character.

And note, the method one uses to learn is not supposed to be the source of ones creativity, only their technique. The creativity is something one already possesses.

April 16, 2013 at 07:22 AM · I basically agree that teachers are failing to teach music holistically now, but the problem is not Suzuki or any form of more formal training.

If anything, what is required is a more formal approach to musical training from a younger age. Aural and written harmony and voice leading are by no means too difficult to teach a child if it is done in a gradual and intelligent manner...

My real question is, how is this going to be possible if you only see a student for a half hour once a week? The violin is hard enough that it does require a lot of training unless you are some genius...and if somebody is not going to be a professional, how far do you want to take that kind of training? =|

April 16, 2013 at 11:33 AM · I think Mark O`Oconnor is shooting himself in the foot by denigrating Suzuki. I have no desire to even try his method because he really comes across as a mean person in his article. I am new to all this as an adult student who started three years ago, but as I understand it, Suzuki believed that every child could play the violin. And that the ability to play music was as inherent in humans as speech. Wasn't that a revolutionary idea? And isn't that also the foundation of O'Connor's method? Would the O'Connor method exist if Suzuki hadn't promulgated these ideas?

Yes, Suzuki is rather old school, but I appreciated that as an adult student who didn't really know much about classical music aside from Beethoven's 9th. I've discovered I really like Bach and hope to be able to play the Sonatas and Partitas someday. Everytime I hear a Suzuki piece that I've had to learn on the radio, I get all excited.

I do think a good teacher should supplement Suzuki with other tunes/pieces from other genres a student is interested in. I did that for myself because I was specifically interested in Scottish fiddle tunes. I have also attended fiddle workshops and such to supplement what I was getting with Suzuki.

The line about having a "good heart and being a good citizen being a code designed for Japanese children and their beloved emperor, not Americans" is just offensive. I am American and ruminate a lot on what American citizenship means and I LOVE the idea that music can make you a better citizen. Maybe if more of us thought that way, music programs in schools would be better funded and maybe there would be better music on commercial radio.

The Suzuki method isn't perfect, nothing is and each student will respond differently and some students might benefit from a different method. But rather than bash the kupuna, acknowledge what they've done and build on the foundation.

April 16, 2013 at 11:49 AM · I think it cannot be ignored that the instrument is so difficult that there just isn't time to do everything, especially if the lesson is half an hour. I'm aware of this when I'm teaching. I hear the guitar teachers down the hallway teaching kids their favorite songs pretty early on while I'm working on the laborious task of getting a kid to play in tune. I do try to teach playing by ear and improvisation but it's hard to do it in a structured way - the student needs to be motivated in what they do outside of the lesson. I think it's important how teachers set up the student for working on their own, that they are there to point the way rather than hand feed. I think it's common for teachers to say in the early stages, "Don't get into bad habits, just do what I tell you and don't try anything new on your own". If this stays with the student too literally then they will never work out tunes by ear, noodle around or improvise. I tend to tell students to experiment, even from early on as I think it's easier to correct a bad bow hold or something than it is to try and open the firmly shut creativity door sometime down the road.

April 16, 2013 at 12:06 PM · Christopher, I think a lot of the lesson has to be about teaching the parent, especially in the first few years with a young student. Since I play the violin and piano already, I don't have a good feel for how that would be with a non-musician parent, but it's got to be challenging.

April 16, 2013 at 12:47 PM · Since he started teaching in 1948 or so, there have been differing opinions about Suzuki, how the philosophy is translated into teaching and learning, and how it does or doesn't reflect Japanese culture. I think Mark O'Connor's commentary is ill-advised. Imo, he can join the voices who have had concerns about Suzuki as a system, or he can promote his program on its merits. It smacks of ego, sour grapes or ??? to try to do both simultaneously. I have heard at a local shop, which caters to both the classical and fiddle players, that his book does not sell well. My sense is that people wanting to teach fiddle, especially if any kind of fiddler themselves, would find the first book pretty much extraneous. It is limited in content and pricey for my teaching situations.

April 16, 2013 at 12:55 PM · {do exactly what I tell you to and only what I tell you, then you will have a "good heart" and be a "good citizen," all codes and ethics designed for Japanese children and their beloved emperor, not Americans.}

This quote makes me wince, too, but I want to unpack it a little bit and look at the source of my discomfort. I think in this day and age, with Japan as our ally, with knowledge of the history of what Japanese-Americans suffered during World War II, and with many Japanese-Americans rising to prominence in the arts, business, government, and other fields, this quote is culturally tone-deaf, and in that way, I agree, it's offensive.

On the other hand, it is difficult to raise questions like these without raising some hackles in the process. I first joined this forum,, almost 7 years ago when I was looking for the origins of the Suzuki tunes my daughter was learning at the time. I recognized several of them as German folk songs under different names. It appeared to me then, and still does, that Suzuki had taken those songs, which weren't intended to build good citizens, weren't in fact very PC at all, sanitized them, and turned them into vehicles for character building according to his vision.

I remain ambivalent about that process. I find it culturally tone deaf too, even offensive. But perhaps this kind of thing was really necessary in the immediate aftermath of World War II. In any case, the original lyrics are not exactly easy to defend either: "Fuchs du hast die Gans gestohlen" (fox, you stole the goose! Give it back or I'll shoot you!)

All that played out 7 years ago, while my daughter was bored and alienated by her Suzuki lessons. It was what got me onto in the first place. She'd been so enthusiastic about the violin when she started, and had gone over the course of several months to crying at lessons and making excuses not to practice. Like a good Suzuki parent, I was trying to be involved, and provide motivation and support. But it was all for naught. She didn't like the sanitized German folk songs, she didn't like the Twinkle variations. But she did like fiddle music. That's what saved her violin experience: a new teacher who said point blank that she didn't "believe in" the Suzuki method and was willing to follow the child's lead. The O'Connor method wasn't around back then, but I think my daughter is the type of student he wants to reach. She's always been strong-willed and wanted to do things her own way, even when that makes things harder for her.

My son, in contrast, who is 4 years younger, and who is playing the cello, likes most of the Suzuki pieces. He just seems to take to it all more readily. Although he still has to be nagged to practice, there's been none of the angst and drama that I went through with my daughter over the repertoire and repetition. He only had to spend a week on the Twinkle variations and then he was allowed to move on. Maybe his teacher is just better. Who knows? It was this difference between my two children's responses that really drove home to me that it really depends on the kid.

I think it behooves us to take seriously what O'Connor is saying, and to find ways to address it, because there are a lot of students out there like my son, but there are also a lot like my daughter. They want to do things themselves, even at a young age, and are not satisfied by platitudes. Many of those kids do quit playing instruments before they are out of elementary school.

Furthermore, there are many ways to have a good heart and to be a good citizen. I think it's hard to avoid the implication of the Suzuki platitudes, that people outside the system, people for whom the method fails, don't have good hearts, and aren't good citizens. That leaves a very bad taste.

In the U.S., I think we rightly celebrate individuality and thinking for oneself. Is that celebration sometimes taken too far? Sure it is. But I don't think O'Connor falls into that trap. He's not just tearing Suzuki down, he's offering a serious alternative, based on his own vast experiences. I hope that both can coexist and flourish, because I think there is plenty of audience for his method among the Suzuki dropouts. And I hope that when both sets of kids grow up, they're still talking to each other, and interested in collaborating.

April 16, 2013 at 02:15 PM · Are you confusing song choice with method?

And (because I just can't help myself) I also fail to see how the words to a child's song written in 1824 suddenly become politically incorrect. Just because it was of German origin?

Is there a gory element to this song? Sure...but look at all the Fairy Tales. What about now? We've taken gore to a 'whole 'nother' level in 'entertainment'...

April 16, 2013 at 02:39 PM · N.A. Mohr, sorry, I just don't understand your question on about 5 different levels. "Are you confusing song choice with method?" No, I'm not, but maybe you are. I really can't tell.

I said that Suzuki chose old German folk songs for book one and renamed them. He gave them names like "Song of the Wind" and "May Song" and "Lightly Row." That's a small part of the repertoire choice--it's hardly the whole method and I didn't say it was. I don't actually know why he did this, maybe to make the songs "more accessible" in the time and place that he was writing. I just found it a little jarring when I encountered these songs, that I knew as German folk songs, in a Suzuki pedagogical context under different names. And I simply don't think they had the same intent, in their original cultural context, that Suzuki gave them in his book 1. They weren't intended to make children into "good citizens" or to give them "good hearts," for example. They weren't intended to teach specific bowing techniques. They were probably just meant to be entertaining or funny.

April 16, 2013 at 02:55 PM · "N.A. Mohr, sorry, I just don't understand your question on about 5 different levels. "Are you confusing song choice with method?" No, I'm not, but maybe you are. I really can't tell."

Five different levels? Wow. You're overthinking. :D

The songs are familiar and 'catchy'...I don't imagine there's much more to it.

April 16, 2013 at 08:50 PM · Having done much Suzuki training (as well as the MOC training for that matter, which btw is clearly modeled after Suzuki training and done by a 40-year Suzuki teacher) I can speak to why Suzuki chose folk songs, and specifically German folk songs.

Folk songs are an aural tradition; children tend to learn them very young, and by ear. At the time he was coming up with the method, Suzuki was married to his German wife, and his struggles to learn the German language were part of his revelation about learning music as one learns language. He picked folk songs because children would know them, or easily learn them, and be able to sing them very easily. He chose German songs because he was in Germany. (If he'd married an American, he probably would have picked American songs, imagine that!)

But he did also put them in the kind of order that would lead the student through certain technical hurdles: crossing strings, placing fingers, changing the original finger placement (low 2s, adding 4, etc) playing certain rhythms, etc.

My students do the Suzuki tunes so they can have a common rep in group class and so we can attend to these technical landmarks, but I do not hesitate to give them many, many other tunes: fiddle, Mariachi, klezmer, tango. Along those lines: I found another really great book for beginners that offers a lot of folk-song type of pieces to learn by ear: Sing. Play. Learn Method Book: 90 Favorite Songs in First Position. Ninety!

So that was the idea of using folk songs, and the reason for German ones. I think it's a great idea. And, they don't have to be German in order to follow Suzuki's idea (should you want to), but you just have to make sure they get those technical lessons worked in.

April 16, 2013 at 08:55 PM · "He chose German songs because he was in Germany. If he'd married an American, he probably would have picked American songs, imagine that!"

If he had, then Mark O'Connor would have little of substance to add to the conversation, based on the article that began this discussion, which I am SURE doesn't represent the whole issue...just sayin'...

April 16, 2013 at 09:25 PM · I didn't mean to say there was anything wrong with using folk songs, or German folk songs, for that matter. What I was trying to say was that I found it disingenuous that he took the songs out of context, renamed them, and put them in a book to serve a different purpose than that for which they were originally intended. There's even a German re-translation in the book, of the new titles, that have nothing to do with the old titles.

I agree, you don't have to be German to follow the Suzuki book 1 progression, but I do think that if you are, and you already know the songs in a different context, then you will interact with them differently than if you are seeing them for the first time as a vehicle for the perfection of technical exercises.

Maybe cultural context isn't considered important for kids this young--and maybe it's not. I don't really know that much about the topic. However, I think the topic of cultural context is very related to the points O'Connor is raising. I think it matters, or at least *can* matter, even to young children, if the songs are really part of their own culture or are a pedagogical add on meant to serve the purposes of adults.

April 16, 2013 at 09:34 PM · This is funny. I always thought that those initial folk songs were British (except for Oh Come, Little Children which I think is based on German Christmas carol); I thought Twinkle, Twinkle was classical British children tune (taken from Mozart?). Does anyone know which original folk pieces are the first 7 songs based on (I mean Twinkle, Lightly Row, Song of the Wind, Go Tell Aunt Rhody, May Song, Long Long Ago (is this one British? Bayly?))? In the summer I showed the words of these songs to the English couple and they recognized the tunes but not the lyrics accompanying them.

April 17, 2013 at 02:31 AM · Well, if you're going to teach violin, they need to serve the pedagogical purpose of teaching violin, and they need to be easily playable on the violin. I'm sure that one can find many folk tunes that fit the bill, these just were the ones around him that worked best for his purpose, which was to teach violin to kids.

April 17, 2013 at 02:40 AM · Twinkle: French melody titled "Ah! Vous Dirai-Je, Maman"

Lightly Row: Traditional German folk song "Hänschen klein"

Sound of the Wind: German children's song "Fuchs Du Hast die Gans gestohlen"

Go Tell Aunt Rhody: The tune is thought by some to have been derived from an air composed for a 1752 opera by the philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau.

May Song: German children's song "Alle Vögel sind schon da"

I don't see any problems with Mr. Suzuki choosing these songs for Suzuki book 1. Growing up in Asia, I started hearing and singing these songs in my mother tongue when I was a toddler, and of course, they had different titles and lyrics. I doubt that Mr. Suzuki renamed these songs. They were probably also very popular nursery rhymes in Japan, and the English titles were just translated from Japanese by someone in the Suzuki organization, if they were not already well-known in this part of the world at that time.

April 17, 2013 at 03:06 AM · Don't forget Andantino, "Muss i denn zum Städele hinaus". Or is it Allegretto? The tune was made famous by Elvis Presley singing it in a movie.

I did not learn with Suzuki, but when my daughter started this piece I thought, "Hmm... I know this." (My parents are of German ancestry, and my wonderful German teacher in high school had us all singing the beer-hall songs.) I kind of wondered about the flagrant plagiarism, what Joyce says makes sense, that these catchy tunes with their silly lyrics would have found their way into households worldwide under different titles. But ... perhaps not "Allegretto."

April 17, 2013 at 04:52 AM · Paul, yes, I guess it did, and does still, seem kind of like plagiarism to me, and that bothered me when I first saw it. It also bothers me (now that I clicked through the link to O'Connor's original blog) that Suzuki is called "Dr." without having actually earned a doctorate. He has honorary degrees from several institutions, but people don't generally use honorary degrees as the basis for using the Dr. title. I called him "Dr. Suzuki" in my first post above, because I had seen him called Dr. elsewhere and mistakenly assumed he earned the degree. People nowadays lose their jobs for saying they have PhD's when they don't--and rightly so, I think.

Joyce makes a good point, that the same tunes may just have been "around" in the culture where Suzuki grew up, but I wonder when that cross-pollination started to happen. Had it happened already when he was learning German? learning the violin? developing the method? choosing the tunes? or was it later? Growing up in the U.S., I only knew "Lightly Row" as a child, and I think that is because it was in the violin method book that I used in school (Mueller-Rusch). People also learn it on the recorder and on other instruments and in general music classes, or at least they did way back when. But I heard all the others for the first time as an adult, on a tape of German folk songs that was a gift to my daughter when she was a baby from her German grandparents.

I don't know a lot about American fiddle and folk tunes--and would love to learn more--but the few forays I've made into the area suggest that the origins and provenance of tunes are pretty important in that field. Particular fiddlers are honored for inventing particular tunes, and particular styles, and variations on them. I could see where it might be considered offensive, or at least odd, to have a situation in which it "doesn't matter" where the tunes you are using and playing come from. To some people it matters a lot.

April 17, 2013 at 05:54 AM · OMG!

I'd say that I would not consider using folk songs that are in the public domain to be plagiarism -- this one included. But how wonderful that The King sang it, I have something to show a certain 7-year-old next week!

April 17, 2013 at 07:25 AM · I'm not sure you can say that Allegretto was plagiarized from "Muss i denn zum Städtele hinaus" -- they diverge after 12 notes, although there are resemblances. In fact, Allegretto is closer to Elvis' rendition than the actual song:

I would have preferred that Mr. Suzuki used the melody from the song directly instead of inventing his inferior version. I thought book 1 had a pretty good collection of music except for his compositions, which are dreadful.

April 17, 2013 at 10:57 AM · Well, if Mr. Suzuki is to be chided for using the title "Dr." even though all his doctorates were honorary degrees, maybe that's a stretch but he does have company:

And Laurie, using folk songs that are in the public domain might not be plagiarism, but when you declare yourself to be the composer without any attribution, that's when it gets tricky.

April 17, 2013 at 11:57 AM · Elvis performed the song in a cultural context: he used the real title, he had a little German girl puppet next to him. The TV segment says "Land das Lieder" over on the left. I think that's different from using it for violin pedagogy under one's own name.

Bartok and especially Kodaly used folk songs extensively to teach children, too. I am in no way criticizing that general idea. But they come across to me as much more honest about where the songs they use came from and why they are used. Bartok and Kodaly went on folk song collecting trips, for example, and Kodaly saw a direct relationship between the folk music *from a person's own culture* and his linguistic mother tongue.

Kodaly was a contemporary of Suzuki's, actually slightly earlier (1882-1967), and many of his ideas and philosophies are very similar to those attributed to Suzuki, in particular the ideas that music literacy is like language literacy, and that music education is for everyone.

"Some commentators refer to his ideas as the 'Kodály Method', although this seems something of a misnomer, as he did not actually work out a comprehensive method, rather laying down a set of principles to follow in music education."

Kodaly's short biography from the International Kodaly Society website ( says that he earned not 1 but 2 PhD's (one in music and one in philosophy and linguistics), and he was a documented collaborator of Bartok's. Kodaly played the violin, and was a prolific composer as well. He nonetheless isn't generally referred to as "Dr. Kodaly."

Mark O'Connor doesn't mention Kodaly or his philosophy specifically, but I see some similarities in their arguments. They both seem to think it's important that the folk music learned by children is authentic, high quality, and grounded in a cultural context. Furthermore, I think that both Kodaly and O'Connor see a relationship between that authenticity and the capacity for a musician's originality and creativity in later life. I do not get the impression that Shinichi Suzuki saw, or believed, in the same relationship between authenticity and creativity. It's possible that O'Connor is wrong, but I still think it's good that he is raising the issue. I think O'Connor would get support from the philosophy of Kodaly for his ideas, too, if he chose to go in that direction.

April 17, 2013 at 01:31 PM · The question of plagiarism/public domain is much different now than it was even 10 years ago, let alone when Suzuki was writing. And, as Laurie points out, his purpose was pedagogical, not musical/cultural history.

I learned the tune as "lightly row," and I had nothing ever to do with Suzuki, so I don't know if that attribution may be laid at his head.

So many traditional melodies wandered from one culture to another freely that it's sometimes hard (and not often useful in this context) to trace them to their roots. After all, the US national anthem's tune was originally a pub-tune from the arch-enemy, the Brits. Hasn't stopped millions from (trying to) sing it.

April 17, 2013 at 01:47 PM · @Paul

To whom do you want to attribute a folk song?

By default the genuine folk songs have no composer, they are passed by oral tradition. Artificial tunes that were composed, become popular and acquired the features of folk art are not folk songs.

In both Suzuki Violin School and Kerstin Wartberg's Step By Step the first songs are clearly labelled for what they are - 'folk songs'. The fact they are named differently in English from the songs on which they were based is irrelevant.

Anybody can take a folk song that is in public domain and make their own arrangement of them.

April 17, 2013 at 08:06 PM · You guys, those songs are popular children's songs for children in Japan. In fact, these songs were assembled into a book by the Ministry of Education of Japan during the Meiji and Showa periods. Therefore, at the time Mr. Suzuki was alive, school children would be singing these songs and already know them. (Actually, even thought I was born in the US in the 80s, I grew up singing some of these songs in Japanese myself so I imagine this remains true in Japan today.) Suzuki probably chose them because of his "mother tongue" philosophy. Of course the ministry of education probably had all sorts of ideas when choosing these songs, but I somehow doubt Mr. Suzuki thought about that when choosing them...

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is still about a star (and is French in origin, as has been pointed out), Lightly Row is a song about a butterfly landing on a rapeseed flower, Song of the Wind is about a baby fox, etc.

If anything, I imagine Mr. Suzuki probably would have approved of substituting more familiar songs for them in the US, but the songs are actually pretty well organized pedagogically so it would require a lot of work. The first twinkle variations are perfect to teach detace, martele, crossing strings on the old bow, evening out up and down bow....

April 17, 2013 at 10:02 PM · "And Laurie, using folk songs that are in the public domain might not be plagiarism, but when you declare yourself to be the composer without any attribution, that's when it gets trick"

Just ask those thieves from Led Zeppelin.

April 18, 2013 at 12:00 AM · Not to mention Barney the purple dinosaur -- he's guilty too. I mean, "I love you, you love me"? We all know better. It's just "This Old Man," in disguise!

April 18, 2013 at 12:26 AM · On balance, Suzuki's exploits do seem fairly mild. But you have to admit it's not every day that you see a thread here that mentions Elvis, Jerry Falwell, Albert Einstein, Led Zeppelin, and Barney the Dinosour, but not a word about s------- r----.

April 18, 2013 at 03:05 AM · O'Connor is a genius prodigy (won the Weiser national contest and the flatpicking national contest in the same year) so however he learned is probably something that neither he nor anyone else can put into a repeatable system.

Independent of his goal or rant, there is something to be said for the fact that in essence nobody writes anything new these days. The major concertos have cadenzas that were supposed to be made up by the performer to embellish on the melody but the only cadenzas you ever hear are Kreisler's renditions.

O'Connor is no Kreisler and his American concerto or whatever he calls it is not even enjoyable to listen to imho. Whether his method works or not is inconclusive, but at least there is some attempt to give people more organic tools.

April 18, 2013 at 12:46 PM · I'd kind of like to get back to O'Connor's points, and to the cultural issues he is raising. A question about cultural issues in music teaching is what brought me to in the first place. At that time, I hadn't even heard of Mark O'Connor, let alone his method.

It was the first topic I ever posted to this forum, so it is something that is very near and dear to me: Cultural issues in music teaching

I just went back and read that whole thread again (it was from 2006), because the present discussion reminded me of it and I thought it would be interesting to read from the perspective of 7 years later. There's a lot there, but one post stood out as worth bringing back and highlighting in this thread. It was from Jesse Vallejo, whom I haven't seen around recently:

"Some things that might interest you are works written by musical pedagogues. In my early childhood music education class, we talked extensively about how children learn best through play...and also the ideas of Bartok, Kodaly, and some others about how children learn best when they learn music of their culture. Maybe even check out some writings about incorporating multiculturalism into a classroom."

If you step outside of music pedagogy you can still see that idea, that it is important to connect students' prior knowledge to new concepts, coming up in modern teaching philosophy, especially that related to multiculturalism and diversity. (For example, that is point #1 on this list from the Southern Poverty Law Center: Why is culturally relevant pedagogy important?)

While there is a lot that is great about the multiculturalism in Suzuki's approach--in fact, I think Suzuki could be seen as progressive and ahead of his time with respect to cultural diversity when he was first writing and teaching--I still think that that particular aspect, the "connection to prior knowledge," is missing from Suzuki instruction nowadays for some subset of students. Those students are thrown into this disconnected, sterile environment where technique, "making progress" and "achieving your potential" are the main goals, where silly folk songs have been taken out of their original context, the context in which they would have been an organic part of a child's mother tongue and cultural heritage, and instead made into vehicles for learning to follow the instructions, and meet the expectations, of adults.

I can't speak to whether this disconnect is a uniquely "American" phenomenon, I doubt it is. But since O'Connor is American and Americans are his target audience, it doesn't seem unreasonable that he would be trying to connect the concepts of string instrument learning to the prior knowledge and musical mother tongue of American students. Many good teachers do this already, but apparently O'Connor thinks that there aren't enough of them and wants to help expand that group of teachers. That seems to me to be a worthwhile goal.

April 18, 2013 at 01:04 PM · creativity has not been killed due to the strict exercising programm. we've learned our mother tongs the same way and yet there is poetry. suzuki's violin method is just the most concrete and promoted part of his philosophy. we are talking about a life philosophy that doesn't end with violin playing. suzuki's goal was never to generate successful soloist or proffesional players. the topic is way too narrow to be able to take into account everything involved and the posts before this one prove that. the way i see it, o'conner discards everything except the method itself and then compares them without taking into account the underlying principles that matter the most.

April 18, 2013 at 01:59 PM · Creativity and improvisation are hard to teach in a structured way. Does a child build a set of Lego or Lincoln Logs so that it matches exactly the picture on the box? Does the child prefer coloring an existing picture or creating a drawing on blank paper? Is every game with dolls or other toys exactly the same as the last? Does the child read the same books over and over? When we involve ourselves in these everyday activities we can guide the creative process gently and lovingly, certainly allowing the child to have maximum input but also helping to prime the creative pump during intervals when they feel stuck. We have to make time for this, not only in our schedules, but also in our child's schedule. Have you noticed that kids' schedules these days are fairly crazy?

One reason creativity and spontaneity don't happen as readily on the violin as they do with Lego or crayons is because the violin is much more difficult technically. A young child will be keenly aware that what he or she is playing "does not sound good" by an accepted standard. They can hear the difference when a more experienced student plays. Once one has learned a piece even fairly thoroughly, it can still feel precarious -- if I change even one fingering or try to emphasize one note, the whole passage will fall apart. My daughter has only had a few piano lessons (5-minute lessons from me) but she much prefers exploring or creating melodies on the piano because you push a button and a note comes out, and it's in tune and the tone is always acceptable. Not so on the violin.

I think this is the problem that O'Connor's method tries to address, and from my perusal of his method books his approach seems quite plausible. Start with a simple tune, then learn a couple of more complicated tunes, then come back to the simple tune and see what more you can do with it, and *not just technically.* In Suzuki we always tell our students to "maintain and polish" their earlier repertoire, with the goal being even more precise adherence to a fixed standard. The ulterior goal is so that they can fill the hall with sound at the annual play-in recital for the parents. And, there is value in that because a student can see his or her own improvement in a tangible way. But a student who starts to play May Song "differently" will often be told to "stay on task" or to "be serious."

April 18, 2013 at 05:26 PM · "One reason creativity and spontaneity don't happen as readily on the violin as they do with Lego or crayons is because the violin is much more difficult technically."

Yes, I think you're absolutely right. Honestly the whole concept of "learning music the way you learn language" doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me, if you are using the violin as the musical medium.

It makes so much more sense, in my opinion, that people would learn to *sing* the way they learn to speak, and that singing, or maybe keyboard, would be used as the technical medium to learn basic musicianship and development of inner hearing, and so on. Learning to sing that way is the foundation of the Kodaly method, as I understand it.

Whereas if you have to use the violin to learn, or teach, basic musicianship, you end up having to spend a lot of time on posture, bow hold, dealing with parents, yelling or getting yelled at about shoulder rests (or lack thereof), and that would leave a lot less room for creativity, as you and others have noted.

Interestingly, O'Connor took a different approach to Suzuki in this blog from 2009.

Mark O'Connor Talks about His New American Violin Method

“Mark did not set out to copy or compete with the Suzuki method," [violin teacher Pamela] Wiley said. “Both men have the same goal - the happiness of children and the love of the violin - so there are natural comparisons. There is certainly nothing anti-Suzuki or un-Suzuki about the method. I, personally, see Mark's method as a natural evolution of the Suzuki method for our emerging musical culture in America."

I wonder what changed in the interim.

April 18, 2013 at 06:11 PM · "Creativity and improvisation are hard to teach in a structured way."

I agree but as a bare minimum a student should be told that improvisation actually exists and what it is. Same with playing by ear, tell them that playing by notes on a page is just one way of playing music. Encourage noodling around. Improvisation does have its methods however, there is plenty of structured material in the jazz world.

I was lucky that my first teacher improvised as well as being classically trained. From my first lesson he was improvising around my open string exercises. Sometimes it's a matter of just hearing somebody and being inspired rather than direct instruction.

I think improvisation also need to be seen in broader terms. Most think that improvisation is just about taking a solo in a jazz, rock or some such context. Improvisation is also a skill that allows you to accompany, make fills and harmonize. Most overlooked of all by string teachers is the skill of noodling around in an improvisational way during practice. Instead of running up and down scales in a mindless way, a student who can improvise can noodle around problem intonation areas, shifts etc. and learn the geography of the fingerboard much quicker, having fun in the process.

Playing by ear should be a given. How often do you see somebody with reasonable (of even advanced) skill asking on a forum where they can get the sheet music to such and such piece of basic music when they should really be able to work it out. These skills are essential if you step outside of classical music but also open doors for the classical musician.

For the majority that don't make a career of it, I would like to think that my students continue to play into adulthood and enjoy music making with friends. Most likely this kind of informal music making won't involve sheet music.

April 18, 2013 at 07:04 PM · Perhaps Mr. O'Connor would like to share his thoughts? :)

April 19, 2013 at 12:57 AM · Christopher wrote, "Improvisation does have its methods however, there is plenty of structured material in the jazz world."

Well, I agree, but the effectiveness of some of the more popular methods (e.g., Aebersold-type chord-scale matching, and practicing all manner of patterns and "special" scales) for developing genuine improvisational skill is not without controversy. There have been threads on that here in the past.

April 19, 2013 at 03:26 AM · "The Suzuki Method or Talent Education is basically, do exactly what I tell you to and only what I tell you, then you will have a "good heart" and be a "good citizen," all codes and ethics designed for Japanese children and their beloved emperor, not Americans. "

Sounds like he has more of an axe to grind than simply about violin pedagogy....

April 19, 2013 at 05:57 AM · I maybe should not join in this funeral wake - but - "simply about violin pedagogy...." -

is not something I associate with Suzuki, I'm afraid.

April 19, 2013 at 05:14 PM · Here is an interesting and relevant link, a blog by Australian Suzuki teacher trainer Lois Shepheard called Response to Mark O’Connor’s ‘Say It Ain’t So, Shin’ichi Suzuki'. Shepheard wrote a book called Memories of Dr Shinichi Suzuki: Son of His Environment . She responds in her blog to claims O'Connor makes in his blog Say It Ain’t So, Shin’ichi Suzuki. He has been writing a series of blogs that all take a similar attitude toward Suzuki in his blog that he calls "Parting Shots: From a Musician's Perspective."

April 19, 2013 at 05:24 PM · The only thing Mr O'Connor has persuaded me of is that he is not someone I would want teaching my child.

April 19, 2013 at 06:25 PM · Mr. O'Connor has definitely committed himself to a course of action and it will be interesting to see how it plays out for him. He does seem unaware of two jazz improv methods, both written by Suzuki teachers, and both published before his fiddle method came into existence: Jody Harmon's method (sorry can't remember the title), and Martin Norgaard's Jazz Fiddle Wizard series. I have taught at Suzuki institutes with Martin and with Stanley Chepaitis, and they both are aware of the incredible ability and affinity that Suzuki students have for improvisation, because of their ear training.

Mr. O'Connor has definitely got the circular firing squad going. He seems to have an affinity for the circle. And yes, one of my Suzuki groups is performing an O'Connor tune at a concert next month, and yes, we will be standing in lines, to engender good posture, and yes, we will be having fun and learning technique.

April 19, 2013 at 06:55 PM · For me, it's just sad that he's trying to turn this into a war. Like classical music is "out of date" or something and fiddling is "in."

The most challenging aspect of teaching is keeping the student interested and motivated over YEARS of study. Every student gets tired of his/her core repertoire regardless of genre. So anything fresh is fun.

April 19, 2013 at 07:07 PM · Thanks Laurie, that was a good rebuttal!

April 19, 2013 at 07:30 PM · I would like to address Ms. Shepheard's point about the Dr. title. She writes:

"Mr O’Connor objects to Suzuki using the title ‘Doctor’. Suzuki was awarded several honorary doctorates in the US as well as numerous other awards. He therefore used the title ‘Dr’ as would any recipient of an honorary degree. (See p.1 of my book.)"

Ms. Shepheard is incorrect here. Recipients of honorary degrees do not, or at least should not, use the title Dr.

Page 1 of her book (which you can find on lists the numerous awards and honors that Suzuki received, including honorary degrees, but does not mention an earned doctorate, in any field.


"Honorary doctorates are not noted in direct address, so will not be addressed as Dr. (Name). And the honorary degree's post-nominal abbreviation is not listed (with your name) with the degrees you earned."

The wikipedia entry on honorary degrees is also interesting:

"A typical example of university regulations is Honorary graduates may use the approved post-nominal letters. It is not customary, however, for recipients of an honorary doctorate to adopt the prefix 'Dr' .[4]"

While I think the terms "fraudulent" and "lie" may be too strong and/or extreme to apply to the case of Suzuki, it's also not as simple as Ms. Shepheard claims.

I don't think that Mark O'Connor is being mean or nasty or nit-picky for pointing this out. Earned degrees mean something different from awards and honors. Musicians, many of whom have earned doctoral degrees in their chosen fields, should understand that difference.

April 19, 2013 at 09:32 PM · Karen - In Japan, through the 1990's, most professional doctoral degrees were not awarded for matriculation, but for achievement in a particular field. In Dr. Suzuki's case, I suspect that the title was probably conveyed when he was named as a professor at the Imperial School of Music in the 1930's. Remember, this was pre-wwii Japan and their institutions followed different traditions than ours.

I am not inclined to give Mr O'Connor the benefit of the doubt about this, given the negative and polemical tone he takes throughout the piece. He refers to the Suzuki method as "regimented", "militant", "quasi-socialist". He accuses Dr. Suzuki of "cheating", "lying", and engaged in "fraudulent" activities, and implies that there is a massive conspiracy among Suzuki instructors to "shut down the American school of music" which "forces him to take a stand".

Not knowing who Mr O'Connor was before reading a similar post earlier this year, I was surprised that it gained any currency within the teaching community. After all, people use the internet to make polemical arguments with racist overtones all the time and no one takes them seriously. I would think that all Mr O'Connoris doing with these diatribes is damaging his own reputation and professional standing.

April 19, 2013 at 10:23 PM · Sal,

Mr. Suzuki was not Dr. Suzuki, as it is clear now.

And, Mr. O'Connor ist spelled like that, not

If you want to convince people, take care that you at least show you know what or who you're talking about.

April 19, 2013 at 10:31 PM · Tobias - thanks for correcting my spelling. As to the rest... Thanks for missing the point entirely.

April 20, 2013 at 01:50 AM · @Rick, Jody Harmon's method is called "Jazz Improvisation Made Easy" (JIME) and I believe it was published in 1993.

April 20, 2013 at 02:32 AM · I don't believe there is a universal consensus on whether "Dr." should be used by honorary doctorate recipients or not...

In the Wikipedia article that Karen quoted, it also has this sentence:

"In some universities, it is however a matter of personal preference for an honorary doctor to use the formal title of "Doctor", regardless of the background circumstances for the award."

Even if it's considered inappropriate to use an unearned title nowadays, are you sure it was the case back then? (Think Benjamin Franklin and Billy Graham.)

I tend to prefer this protocol. I always thought that the title of "Doctor" should be reserved for physicians only, to avoid confusion, but maybe it's just me...

April 20, 2013 at 02:51 AM · Amidst all the hubbub, especially regarding his association w/ Einstein, I did a quick google about the letter Einstein supposedly wrote to Suzuki's father to see what's "out there".

There's not a whole lot that stuck out (for me) from the top google results (beyond Mr. O'Connor's blog reference), but I did find this 2009 piece on Suzuki and music education of interest:

Not sure how accurate the analysis is, but much of what's described there jives w/ what I've come to know about the whole Suzuki approach and phenomenon. It's definitely not as much a (fixed) instrumental method as a philosophy that's embodied in the form of a tradition or school of teaching/learning that can be quite open and loose in many particulars and readily adaptable across contexts.

Sure, it might not hold much, if any, advantage over many other methods and/or traditions depending on the context, but if you're trying to teach the violin to an "average" preschooler, the Suzuki approach probably has the leg up compared to most other ways. Also, the philosophy/approach actually doesn't only begin when you hand a violin to the 3-4-yo, but before the child is even born into the world (as explained in his book Nurtured by Love).

Now, I definitely wouldn't go so far as to agree w/ him that everyone's utterly equal prior to environmental influence/shaping, but I do think there's a whole lot of applicability there, including whether many of us have been unknowingly raised to be disinclined toward music (or certain other types of art) or at least the more sophisticated types of music (and art)... and vice versa to some extent, eg. musical families tend to produce musical descendents. The whole inheritance thing doesn't have to be limited to genes (and their predetermined predispositions) afterall... and vice versa...

RE: the folk songs in early Book 1, AFAIK, most of them are merely attributed as "folk songs" or to their proper composer, not to Suzuki himself. Don't know why that's a big deal although, yeah, would make sense to prefer folk songs w/ which the students are already familiar -- then again, the whole approach does actually attempt to foster that familiarity ahead of time as much as possible.

My own kids (along w/ probably most others here) are familiar w/ Do Rei Mi (from Sound of Music) fairly early in childhood, for instance, and they like playing that (along w/ some other ditties) by ear on their own. And their Suzuki teachers (from 2 different generations) encourage that sort of thing (contrary to some of the complaints). In fact, my 2 older kids, who are both finishing up Book 6, have been branching out for a couple years now and learning and performing various "non-Suzuki" pieces for their Suzuki recitals, eg. Meditation from Thais, Kreisler's Praeludium & Allegro and Liebesleid, Monti's Czardas, 2nd movement - Canzonetta from Tchaikovsky's Concerto, working on a medley arrangement of Broadway show tunes (including maybe adding a brief vocal section), etc. Their teacher is multi-talented and have been adding some bit of voice training to their lessons (at the kids' request) although we're still in the process of figuring out how to fit it into the music school's Suzuki program framework -- she hopes to have Suzuki Voice officially added to the program at some point.

And yeah, I agree voice/singing makes a great natural fit for the whole "Mother Tongue" approach -- some Suzuki programs (and most? Suzuki summer camps) do include some sort of voice component in large part because it helps the ear training aspect among others, and my kids' program's previous director did try to go in that direction though I guess they had difficulty w/ the logistics of fitting the extra component into their resources. Still, my older kids' teacher regularly references voice/singing in how she teaches them on violin/viola, including choices in fingerings and bowings among other things (often to reflect the expressiveness in singing), probably more so than the "average" Suzuki violin teacher. Also, this particular program does encourage and introduce some bits of improvisation among other things into their training though at a very limited scope of course -- we can always add a separate improv class (much like adding chamber music) via the music school's jazz and improv division, if desired.

Anyway, I think Mr. O'Connor has clearly misunderstood and/or oversimplified what the Suzuki "method" really is... and that's really nothing new w/ many/most of Suzuki's desenters... though it's certainly different (and a bit ironic) that he's actually attacking Suzuki from the other side of the line that divides the old school from the new as though Suzuki represents everything that's old school... As a Suzuki parent for 7 years now, I often hear non-Suzuki teachers and parents complain that the kids don't learn to read music, only know how to play by ear, etc. -- not that it's all completely untrue, especially in earlier decades -- but now, here we have Mr. O'Connor complaining more or less the opposite...

Anyhoo, I guess you just can't please everyone afterall...



PS: RE: the title thing, I imagine it's what Joyce Lin pointed out (and/or maybe mixed w/ what Sal Peralta speculated), especially if he holds multiple such honorary degrees. Do we even know if the title was even his own insisted choice or simply more of an endearing, informal title that stuck w/ him after years of references from his admiring public and followers? Although not exactly the same thing, I don't see a whole lot of complaining about the uses of "Sir" and "Dame" linked to all the honorary titles of nobility bequeathed to all sorts of famous people.

Yeah, I'm sure many official doctorate degree holders (and authentic noble-folk of by-gone eras) would resent such, but honestly, while I do very much respect the work (and intelligence/knowledge) needed to earn such degrees, I'm not sure I can say quite the same for the character of those who also hold serious contempt against Suzuki (and various others) regarding something like this -- such always remind me of this one rather ridiculous high school biology teacher I had who adamantly insisted we refer to him as Doctor... or risk getting a bad grade or some such... not that I think anyone here in this discussion is like that of course...

April 20, 2013 at 03:45 AM · I pretty much agree with Danielle, that it's sad that O'Connor has taken such an extreme tone. I much prefer the tone and content of the 2009 blog I referenced a couple of posts ago, and I wonder why both methods can't just happily co-exist.

While I understand that some people disagree about the uses of "Dr.," I was stating my personal opinion about the matter, which is that I don't think it's appropriate to use for honorary degrees. Most people today don't refer to Benjamin Franklin as "Dr. Franklin," and I'm not going to start using that title for Billy Graham either. I'm also not going to use it for Mr. Suzuki anymore, even though I used to, because I thought he had earned a degree.

That is just me. I do have a PhD (in Neuroscience), and I generally follow what Joyce suggests, I only use the title for myself among other PhD scientists and scientific colleagues. It does get confusing because some of those colleagues are MD's but have stopped seeing patients and do the same research work as PhD's. However, among most scientists who have PhD's in the United States, an insistence on the Dr. title by non-MD's, in non-scientific circles, is considered inappropriate, and likely to be a sign of professional insecurity and self-aggrandizement. It may very well be different in Japan, which speaks to the cultural misunderstandings that this topic seems to be bringing up. Since the topic is the perception of these methods in America, by Americans, what is or was appropriate in Japan isn't all that relevant, imo.

The words that struck me most poignantly in O'Connor's blog were actually the few sentences in which he described the bad experiences his young family members had with Suzuki lessons that caused them to quit playing the violin. While he doesn't go into details, I think there's a lot of pain and sadness and disappointment under those words. In a philosophy whose practitioners take the idea of being "nurtured by love" seriously, I think there should be a little more room for compassion and understanding about that experience.

April 20, 2013 at 03:49 AM · Yea, the use of Doctor was somewhat looser in the past. It was not so unusual for people who in a traditional Japanese system would be addressed with certain titles to have Professor or Doctor used in translation regardless of if that were strictly speaking appropriate in English (you can find this in old books about traditional Japanese arts for example). I think a lot of this was actually done by the English speaking world trying to find the right word.

It may no longer be appropriate to use, but again I strongly doubt there was any dishonest intention behind it.

April 20, 2013 at 04:31 AM · I tend to agree w/ your perspective as well on the whole title thing, Karen. Honestly, I've never taken to calling Suzuki (or Billy Graham or whomever else) w/ that title myself. Your point, especially about colleagues w/in the given profession, etc., makes perfect sense.

RE: the specific family experience thing, yeah, I wonder about that also though I'm pretty sure that's not something specific to the Suzuki approach itself. I'm quite aware though that there are many in the Suzuki community who have some rather rigid ideas of what the Suzuki "method" is, and they may well frown upon somethings my own kids' teacher does.

There's certainly not complete agreement on everything Suzuki w/in the community, which any knowledgeable insider can probably tell you. For instance, I've heard that the recent revisions to the Suzuki Books took as long as they did in part because of various disagreements (and some of the changes do seem quite odd indeed). In fact, part of the reason my older kids took extra long going thru Book 6 (w/ their detours into other repertoire) was because we were hoping to have the new revised edition before having them really dig into the Handel Sonatas (and commit all the fingerings and bowings to memory) -- we've given up on waiting now...


April 20, 2013 at 05:25 AM · [context: I am a long-time professional orchestral musician and advanced-level "traditional" teacher who considered himself very anti-Suzuki until discovering the brilliance -and VARIETY- inherent in the method at age 44]

Imagine this:

A world in which we all spend our time becoming better teachers and players.

A world in which Mark O'Connor spends his time finishing his wonderful American violin method, instead of spending the hours and days and weeks of his life typing blog posts and responses in what is obviously a very personal vendetta. We can get him back to this important work by not feeding him. Let's convince the poor man that he is wasting his time. Let's not waste our time.

Doctor, Mister, Senor, Hey You, Yo Vato, Who Cares Because He Didn't Care Suzuki had one thing to say about American vs. Japanese teaching: "American teaching is 95% talking, 5% playing, Japanese teaching is 95% playing, 5% talking" I have a card in my violin case. It says "Shut Up and Teach". It is a reminder that fewer words have more impact. Let's all observe this dictum, and perhaps it will work its way across to Mr. O'Connor, and we can all go about our business.

April 20, 2013 at 06:20 AM · There are definitely some pro's and con's about Suzuki that are worth thinking about and discussing; but whether or not Suzuki was a "real" Dr. seems pretty trivial to me.

Some real questions:

Is there value in the group experience promoted by Suzuki?

Do some teachers adhere too strictly to the Method? Does it foster rigidity or is that more of a personal teacher trait?

What is the quality control with the Suzuki Method in comparison to....?

Does the ear training get in the way of learning to sight read?

Is there not enough variety in the Suzuki books? Should there be a larger repertoire? Shorter selections with more variety?

Does the song by song level encourage competitive parenting?

If you are a Suzuki teacher, what attracts you to the program and where do you deviate?

April 20, 2013 at 01:33 PM · @Man, Yes, absolutely, I don't think any of the direct causes of the problems, bad experiences--whatever--that O'Connor or his family experienced can be laid at the feet of Suzuki or his method. I don't think bad experiences are unique to Suzuki, and I wouldn't be surprised if some people also had bad experiences at an O'Connor string camp. Like you said, no one method can please everyone. I also completely agree that there's a variety of teachers out there, both within the Suzuki method and outside of it, and Suzuki can't be blamed for the bad ones.

But as I understand it, the Suzuki philosophy is somewhat unique in that it places a large emphasis on building character, on creating good citizens and a good heart, on being "nurtured by love", and so on. Discussions like this always seem to end up there at some point, in some variation of, But you're missing the point! (or you're focusing on trivialities, or what you think is important is not important so just stop talking about it) because the Suzuki method is not just a technical method of violin pedagogy, it's about love and character and a good heart and educating the whole child from birth.

There's an implication, and sometimes a direct statement, that criticizing the Suzuki method or its founder is in bad taste or something because that's like criticizing good citizenship or love itself. And who could possibly be against good citizenship and love?

I don't buy that. This is just my opinion, but I think the whole idea that following the Suzuki method builds character and makes children into better people is an example of overreaching. I don't think that practicing the violin every day, or, really, any amount of hard work and dedication to learning, or any level of personal achievement, in and of itself, makes children into better people or citizens. This does not mean that I think hard work, dedication, and personal achievement have no value. What it means is that I think those qualities are a means to an end, not an end in and of themselves. And it matters to what service these qualities are put.

I believe O'Connor has also made some arrogant statements, but then, given what he's achieved on the violin, I also think he's entitled to have a high opinion of his own skills and achievements in that field. He claims that his method is more fun, and that it leads to more creativity--both of which are open to debate--but he still doesn't make the claim that his method gives people a better moral character or is the way to nurture children by love. I think that's as it should be.

And that's where I continue to have some sympathy with O'Connor's point of view and am inclined to still give him the benefit of the doubt and look for what might be right and true in what he is saying, even when his rhetoric gets too heated or harsh for my taste.

April 20, 2013 at 03:07 PM · Sharon, I have tried to be brief in anwering your pertinent and thoughtful questions:

Is there value in the group experience promoted by Suzuki?

- The group work is not intended to replace individual lessons, but to foster collective awareness and action, team spirit and mutual respect, right from the beginning.

Do some teachers adhere too strictly to the Method? Does it foster rigidity or is that more of a personal teacher trait?

- Some teachers, and alas many parents, have a cult-like approach to the method. Others, myself included, choose it for its humanism as much as for its effectiveness.

What is the quality control with the Suzuki Method in comparison to....?

- Summer workshops and international play-ins allow comparison;

- The acreditation process, at least here in Europe, is extremely demanding and thourough.

Does the ear training get in the way of learning to sight read?

- On the contrary, sight-reading should use acquired skills, both auditive and kinesthetic, rather than try to create them.

Is there not enough variety in the Suzuki books? Should there be a larger repertoire?

Shorter selections with more variety?

- The basic repertoire is already rich and well-planned, except for the casm betwwen Books 8 and 9, often filled with Kreisler "vignettes" etc. Most of us add popular and folk repertore along the way.

Does the song by song level encourage competitive parenting?

- Unfortunately, yes, but it also leads the children to a natural, hopefully unforced, competetivity.

If you are a Suzuki teacher, what attracts you to the program?

- The children play wonderfully together, but conserve their individuality when playing solos;

- The teaching of each new skill is "made to measure" rather than "off the shelf";

- The standard repertoire allows wonderful get-togethers, even unprogrammed.

- The well thought-out teaching techniques mean that one can give an effective lesson even on an "off" day!

- The standard repertoire liberates our creativity for the actual lessons.

- To the parents, "yes they can!", to the chidren, "yes you can!"

- Very many Suzuki pupils continue to play, well, in adult life, whatever their career choices.

..and where do you deviate?

- I start with a small, refined, lively sound, with no scratch, before letting it grow stronger and longer through resonance. When Suzuki ask for a "big, beautiful tone", I take this to mean a "big and beautiful" tone , not a "big therefore beautiful" tone.

- I don't treat violin playing as a Traditional Martial Art, even if it has many of the same benefits.

These children may become "beautiful human beings", not through the rigours of the method, but through the beauty of the music that the method helps to play so well..

April 20, 2013 at 03:52 PM · Regarding the use of 'doctor'. It is more appropriately used for Ph.Ds, since a doctorate is an advanced degree.

Its use to designate a medical doctor is more recent historically. In other countries they do not call medical doctors 'Doctor'.

April 20, 2013 at 04:05 PM · Picking from a multitude of options, here is a description of "honorary doctorate" from University of Ottawa: "Honorary doctorates are special academic distinctions awarded to individuals whose personal and professional achievements over the years have made an invaluable contribution to the University, to their discipline or to society at large."

That certainly could include Suzuki.

"PhD" is an abbreviation for the Latin translated as 'doctor of philosophy,' so its use in medicine is broader than it would be in other disciplines (for instance, the doctor of music is usually a DMA,unless I'm mistaken--doctor of musical arts).

Many people awarded honorary doctorates use the title; others don't. It's a matter of culture, personal preference (not to mention the prestige of the institution conferring the degree in the first place).

I don't know enough first-hand about either Suzuki Method or O'Connor's to comment on that, but, as a professional, I would say anyone who denigrates a professional colleague, living or dead, damages himself in the eyes of other professionals, whether what he says is slanderous or merely fear-full. It's very poor advertising, too.

Anyone who has had a previous teacher bad-mouthed by the new teacher recognizes that it's harder to trust the new teacher(even if s/he turns out to have been accurate in the assessment).

April 20, 2013 at 07:10 PM · Karen,

I don't know that the technical aspects of the method (or violin technique and practice in general) contains all that much of what Suzuki thinks would make kids into "beautiful" people.

As Adrian points out above, it's (in large part) the beautiful music itself (and the sharing of it) that will do that. And yes, that would be true if you follow some other technical method as well w/ all else being equal...

Nevertheless, in my experience w/ certified Suzuki teachers (of fairly wide range of personalities and teaching experiences), I find that there's a clear attempt to foster (and model) good character traits throughout all teacher/student interactions. It seems to be very much part of the Suzuki teacher training (at least in this neck of the woods). For instance, before the kids ever get to put bow to strings, they are taught (in preschooler-friendly ways) about respecting the teacher, parent, each other *and* the violin itself -- and this is something helped by (addition of) the group class aspect as well.

Of course, that doesn't mean good character traits won't be indirectly fostered thru (or be beneficial toward) the technical aspect too (beyond developing discipline and good work ethic). One nice example of this is how my now-6-yo's teacher taught her to create a beautiful tone where she drew an analogy of hugging vs squeezing the bow (to the point of "pain" for the bow) and also not forcing one buddy, the bow, on the other, the violin, as if fighting or pushing (or similar).

Yeah, my 6-yo definitely plays more aggressively (and also much more freely) than most of her peers (probably due to growing up in a household w/ plenty of violin exposure, which is in line w/ Suzuki's thinking), so the focus (regarding bowing) has been quite different for her -- and interestingly, her bowing falls somewhere between my 2 older kids, who have different strengths/tendencies/preferences there.

And yeah, my 6-yo can be pretty headstrong, so it's not always easy to convince her to do things differently, but AFAIK, a big part of Suzuki teacher training involves having the teacher learn to be creative and adapt in order to reach-and-teach each individual child right where he/she's at -- that and also help the parent become effective practicing guides at home, which might involve separate parent classes, if feasible.

This sort of thing can't really all be disseminated via a straightforward, formal violin method book or such, and could really use substantive teacher training plus plenty of helpful resources (both in book form and on the web). That's, of course, not to say individual non-Suzuki teachers can't have/develop the same qualities apart from Suzuki, but this way can certainly help build a good standard for teacher quality that leaves less to chance me thinks... and these are things that Adrian briefly point out above.



April 20, 2013 at 07:34 PM · I have to laugh when I hear people describe Mark O'Connor as arrogant. Come on, folks, you do not achieve what he has achieved without having the self-confidence to believe that it's possible.

I have seen Mr. O'Connor perform a recital, and I have heard him speak about what he believes to be "American Classical Music." He is an excellent performer and a convincing statesman. His Double Concerto is very lyrical and interesting. Taking potshots at Suzuki's reputation seem very much out of character for him, and I admit I was disappointed to read that.

My overall impression of Mr. O'Connor is that he has the spirit of the passionate revolutionary, not the arrogant empire-builder. His legacy is already quite secure and he must know this.

I don't know how well his method is taking off. I think there should be real alternatives to Suzuki simply because diversity is good. The O'Connor method books are scholarly works. I can see why it takes him so long to do them.

The only fault I could really find with the O'Connor books is that there is some sticker shock (one of his books, with CD, costs about twice what a Suzuki book costs with CD), maybe this is engendering some piracy; and the books are stiffly bound and do not lie flat on your stand, so there is the additional expense of having the bindings cut off and replaced with spiral bindings.

April 20, 2013 at 09:11 PM · I've made some criticisms of what I call "Suzuki-ism" in a previous thread. But what I'm getting from Mark O'Connor's writings, rightly or wrongly, is a false choice. His basic argument seems to imply that if you're hopefully not going to do Suzuki, you should do O'Connor. If you don't do O'Connor, you're left with almost no choice but Suzuki. No - there are many choices. I always resented the Suzuki nomenclature of "Suzuki vs Traditional" as though everything else could be lumped together and implying that only Suzuki was innovative, when it has had plenty of time to become its own tradtion. But I'm sensing some lumping from O'Connor now, as well.

April 21, 2013 at 12:21 AM · I am writing in response to a blog written by US ‘music entrepreneur, composer and violinist’, Mark O’Connor.


It seems, according to his website, that Mr O’Connor is already an established and successful musician in the US. So, I wonder why he finds it necessary to disparage the teachings of Dr Shinichi Suzuki and to suggest that Suzuki’s method ‘is a lie which was based on a lie...’ If he considers Dr Suzuki a liar, why on earth would Mr O’Connor choose to have his name associated with the Suzuki Method? The O’Connor Violin Method is put forward as ‘an American-themed alternative to the Suzuki approach’.

An announcement he made on the Internet in 2009 said he was producing a ‘Suzuki-inspired series’ of books. I’m sorry that something which inspired him then, fills him with such disillusionment four years later.

Since questions are raised in his blog, I’m happy to comment. I’m probably as qualified as anyone to answer queries about the Suzuki Method. In order to really assess it, I made repeated trips to Japan, studied with Dr Suzuki and got to know him, learned to speak and read Japanese, had discussions with and observed various teachers around the world, read some of Dr Suzuki’s texts in Japanese as well as their English translations - and taught the method.

Admittedly, Mr O’Connor describes his analysis as ‘preliminary’ and his research as ‘initial’. Further analysis and research would have been a good idea before he went public. His blog article includes information provided by Jim Ed Hodges and Katy Alexander.

Mr O’Connor quotes from my recently published book, 'Memories of Dr Shinichi Suzuki – Son of His Environment' (without giving its full title or the name of the author, Lois Shepheard), so I am presuming he has either bought a copy or has access to one. I therefore take the liberty of sometimes answering his questions/comments by directing the reader to pages in my book. If you don’t have ready access to it, there is sure to be an Internet site where a lot of my book can be read on line; then you wouldn’t have to buy it! At any rate, I wish I could dispel some of Mr O’Connor’s bewilderment over the Suzuki Method.

My comments are in the order presented in his blog:

1. At first I, too, made the mistake of thinking Dr Suzuki was all about selling violins. In fact when I first met him in 1967 at a seminar in Manhattan, I told him we couldn’t get very small violins in Melbourne, Australia. He looked at me with no comprehension of the subject. (For Suzuki’s absolute lack of business acumen, see my book p.28, 48-52). Actually, when you think about it, would it have been so very bad if he had been trying to sell violins?

2. The use of the word ‘guardian’ to describe Einstein’s relationship with Suzuki in Suzuki’s own book Nurtured by Love, and to which Mr O’Connor objects, is one selected by his German wife as she translated from Japanese to English. It could equally have been translated as ‘protector’ which may have had a different implication?

3. Mr O’Connor objects to Suzuki using the title ‘Doctor’. Suzuki was awarded several honorary doctorates in the US as well as numerous other awards. I have been alerted to the fact that it is not customary to use the prefix 'Dr' with an honorary degree. (See p.1 of my book where Suzuki's doctorates are listed: University of Rochester at Eastman, Oberlin College, The Cleveland Institute of Music.) At the same time, it is we English speakers who called him Dr Suzuki. In Japanese he was Suzuki Sensei. (Sensei = teacher, master, doctor.) All Suzuki's awards, medals, certificates, plaques etc. are on display at the Suzuki Museum in Matsumoto, Japan.

4. I’m not quite sure what Mr O’Connor means by Shinichi Suzuki’s ‘supposed relationship with Klingler’. There is no doubt that he studied with Karl Klingler. As a matter of fact, I met Karl Klingler’s daughter, Marianne, in Germany (in Ingolstadt) in the early 1980’s. She had stories of her father’s association with Suzuki. (She also wanted me to relocate to Germany and teach the Suzuki Method there.) Mr O’Connor doubts that Klingler took a young Suzuki on as a pupil and no others at the time as stated by Suzuki. However, this is quite likely. There is no doubt that Klingler was a reluctant teacher (p, 251 'Memoirs' by Carl Flesch. Also explained in my book, p.10).

5. Yes, there is something wrong with the dates of building the S.S.Hakone Maru and the dates Suzuki is said to have sailed on it, if they are as Mark O’Connor says. This merely proves that the dates are muddled, not that Suzuki didn’t go to Germany. Don’t forget that there is sometimes confusion about calculation of Japanese dates. Until very recently, years were numbered in the era of each emperor. As late as the 1980’s in Matsumoto I found documents numbered in the Showa Era – counting from the time of Emperor Hirohito, so starting in 1926 as Year 1. I have a magazine from (Suzuki) Talent Education, marked ’75 on the cover. (I used to subscribe to this magazine.) Though it was printed in 1975, the centre pages with pictures of famous people and events are all captioned with the Showa era dates. Pictures show various musicians with Dr Suzuki and/or Japanese children in Japan, generally in Matsumoto. They include Walter Gieseking, Arthur Grumiaux, Paul Badura-Skoda, Mstislav Rostrapovitch, Pablo Casals, David Oistrakh, Yehudi Menuhin, Marcel Moyse, Leonard Kogan, William Primrose, I Musici. Other pictures are of Suzuki receiving the Ysaye Medal, the honorary qualification at the University of Rochester at Eastman, and from New England Conservatory and holding the medal of the 3rd Order of the Sacred Treasure in Japan.

6. Note that I included the picture of Casals in the above list. It is not the only one in existence. There is another in one of the Talent Education magazines, for a start. I have an audio tape of Casals’ speech in 1961 in Matsumoto (see my book p.114). The tape begins with a performance by a group of ‘cellists and one by a group of violin students. Casals sobs and is comforted in Spanish by his wife. He then speaks in English to the audience. The film of this event was shown at the 16th Suzuki Method World Convention in Matsumoto last month (March 2013). Therefore Mr O’Connor’s fears that a meeting between Suzuki and Casals never took place are groundless.

If pictures, audio clips and films such as these are not uploaded onto the Internet (this causes Mr O’Connor to doubt that such events ever took place), it is merely because Suzuki Talent Education is about education, not publicity or advertising or justifying its existence. Mr O’Connor states that uploading ‘has to be done in the age of the internet to find the truth, where fabrications and assertions, if repeated often enough, become perceived as truth.’

Not so. The Internet is not the fount of all wisdom. It does not, and will not, replace libraries full of books containing knowledge. In my love of researching history in general, I check many on-line items for validity and often find them to be incorrect when compared with an established book like The Oxford Companion to Irish History for instance. Anyone can put anything on the Internet! It’s a great pity that Mr O’Connor uploaded his own assertions before he checked those.

7. The word ‘Suzuki’ in regard to Dr Suzuki’s teaching is not a ‘brand’. It is a philosophy of education.

8. I am interested to read that Mark O’Connor’s method becomes as he says: ‘more successful, more mainstream, and more clearly FUN.’ That’s great; he is to be congratulated. I’m not decrying the importance of a musician such as Mark O’Connor, but I’m not sure that his successful American-themed method can be compared with that of a world-wide Suzuki Method, over so many decades. (Last month’s convention in Matsumoto had over 5,000 families from 36 countries. The bookings for places at the convention closed after three days, when all classes had already filled.)

9. The letter from Einstein, written at the end of 1926 and quoted by Mr O’Connor does not, as Mr O’Connor states, prove that Shinichi Suzuki was one of the two Japanese men who gave Einstein a violin and that it was Shinichi’s only contact with Einstein.

Einstein’s letter to Suzuki’s father says:

‘Dear Mr. Masakichi Suzuki,

Yesterday, your two sons visited my home and showed me four of your wonderful violins. They even invited me to keep one of my choosing as a gift!’

Shinichi had six brothers, some of them violin makers. In 1926, Shinichi had already been in Germany for some years. We can therefore assume that two of his brothers brought the selection of violins from Japan. I guess we can also presume that if Masakichi Suzuki wanted to give Einstein a violin, it was for a reason. Perhaps to thank him for helping Shinichi? Certainly at the end of 1926, a Japanese violin maker wouldn’t, out of the blue, have sent violins to a scientist in Germany who in 1922 first published 'The Meaning of Relativity'. If he had heard of him at all, how would Masakichi have even guessed that the scientist dabbled in violin playing?

Einstein states in his letter that the instruments were superior in tone quality to his own German made instruments which of course would have been hand made. Masakichi was a good violin maker. He is listed in the definitive book on violin makers, Henley’s 'Universal Dictionary of Violin & Bow Makers'. The instruments shown to Einstein would not have been mere ‘factory’ instruments.

At any rate, even the Suzuki ‘factory’ instruments were largely hand made. When I visited a Suzuki workshop in Kiso Fukushima as late as 1974, I found that violins were being machine-cut one by one to a pattern and the remainder of the work was done by hand.

10. I am interested that Mr O’Connor heard about ‘mentorship’ that Suzuki received from Einstein and put forward as ‘dramatically elevating his (Suzuki’s) intellectual credentials’. I would query that too! I have not heard this as a major item toward Suzuki becoming a ‘great man’. Note that in Nurtured by Love, a book of 121 pages, Einstein is mentioned on only four pages

11. Nurtured by Love was written only by Shinichi Suzuki, not in collaboration with his wife, Waltraud, as Mr O’Connor states. Waltraud translated it. (See my book p.54)

12. Mr O’Connor wonders whether Suzuki’s ethics of training a ‘beautiful heart’ and ‘good citizen’ are appropriate to American children, then states quite categorically that such ethics were not needed. He suggests that Dr Suzuki did find these aims necessary in a country ruled by an ‘Emperor as their dictator’. Not so; since about three quarters of the way through the 19th century, Japan has had a Western-style government. The Imperial family is a figurehead, much like the British royal family.

And actually, I don’t know of any country in the world that doesn’t need good citizens.

Lois Shepheard. Melbourne, Australia.

April 21, 2013 at 01:51 AM · Wow, fantastic post. I read it twice. Very interesting.

I'm interested in Raphael's comment about alternatives to Suzuki. I did not do Suzuki when I was a kid. I had method books, which were mostly scales and studies (Harvey Whistler), and then I had books that were collections of pieces, such as "37 Pieces You Like to Play," and ultimately this program led to Mazas and Kreutzer studies, and then individually selected repertoire pieces.

I know there are still students who are taught this way (for the sake of simplicity we might as well call it "traditional") but I'd like to hear from experienced teachers who have maintained large studios (say, more than 20 students at a time) of children doing this. I guess my question is whether there are people who do the "traditional way" consistently and systematically with a big teaching studio, and with young kids, and how does it work?

April 21, 2013 at 05:05 AM · For Paul Deck: Not an answer to your question, but just so you do know...

Suzuki teachers use Whistler (oh I EVER use Whistler--it is a constant from Book 4 on) Suzuki teachers use Sevcik. We use Flesch, Simon Fischer, Mazas, Bartok Duos. We use Applebaum, Kreutzer, Dont, Fiorillo and Rode. We use everything. We use different things. We discuss these things. We argue about these things. We teach reading on a separate track, sometimes from a a very early age We teach rhythm, and reading rhythm, and in a multitude of ways.

April 21, 2013 at 08:33 PM · Mr. O'Connor's appeal to nativist instincts is most unfortunate. Japan has produced only one fine violinist? Using the Suzuki method is turning otherwise good individualistic Americans into socialists? Lee Greenwood tunes instead of Bach? If I could stop laughing, I'd start crying.

His response to Lois Shepheard on his blog is even worse. Thank you Ms. Shepheard for your reasoned contribution. I hope it will be widely read. (See above.)

April 22, 2013 at 03:08 PM · Wow, this man seems to be quite angry and racist, definitely would not want him having an effect on my impressionable, young children.

April 22, 2013 at 04:08 PM · @Rick, definitely Suzuki teachers do this, I am fully aware of that from my daughter's lessons.

My question is whether there are teachers with large studios of kids who use a "traditional" sequence *without* the overarching Suzuki framework in place.

April 22, 2013 at 05:08 PM · Paul, I think that the "traditional" method teacher certainly exists, though, as this article explains so well, "traditional" encompasses so many things, it almost can't be considered a category!

BUT, for the sake of argument, I think that the old-fashioned "traditional" teacher was one who took a student who had already started studying the violin in school -- often a student who was showing talent and wanted to delve deeper. The teacher then brought that talent along.

In America, as the schools pushed instrumental music completely out of the curriculum in many places, Suzuki teachers seemed to take over this role of starting the beginner students -- but at a much younger age. "Traditional" teachers took over when the student had reached a certain stage, maybe around Book 4.

But I believe it has evolved even further these days. Many "traditional" teachers have become more interested in starting kids from the beginning (since schools were not doing so) and so they'll do some Suzuki training and incorporating of those ideas for early learning. And the Suzuki Method itself has produced so many extremely accomplished violinists; when they decide to teach, they draw on their experiences, both from their early Suzuki days, and perhaps from their conservatory time as well.

So there are more teachers -- both Suzuki and "traditional" -- who are able to teach beginners AND be able to take them to a higher level, beyond the Suzuki books, whether that higher level involves playing classical, fiddle, rock 'n' roll, Celtic, solo, orchestral, etc. The line can be pretty fuzzy these days.

I think the more training a teacher has in many different methods, the better. It's like playing: the more techniques you have, the better you can express your ideas.

April 22, 2013 at 05:47 PM · It's really very simple. I'm just asking if there are teachers who have good-sized studios with kids, perhaps including beginners, who use neither Suzuki nor O'Connor but rather do it the way I was taught with different method books (Whistler as ONE example) plus books of pieces. When I was kid I think lots of teachers still did this, now I think even "traditional" (sorry to keep using that word but it works) minded teachers use Suzuki, either because they've decided it's a good collection of pieces, or because it provides a useful marker (the book number) of each student's approximate level and therefore a framework for setting up group classes, placing students in camps, etc.

April 22, 2013 at 06:57 PM · It is no great secret that the Suzuki family manufactured student violins.

I recall an old "Etude" magazine with an advertisement touting student violins endorsed by Leopold Auer.

Many teachers/business people do both:

April 22, 2013 at 07:22 PM · In response to Paul's query, there are definitely "traditional" teachers that bring children along from beginner to advanced stages without Suzuki. My daughter (who will decide on which conservatory to attend next year in a matter of days) has never studied the Suzuki method. She did a short stint at age 3 with a pretty-much traditional teacher who used Shirley Givens' "Adventures in Violinland" series, but soon switched (he left town) to traditional scale and etude books (Flesch, Wohlfahrt, Sevcik, Schradiek, etc., on up through Kreutzer, Fiorillo, Rode, Pag, you know the drill), note reading, etc. Interestingly, and this goes to Laurie's comment above, both of her subsequent "traditional" teachers also teach Suzuki method (to a different set of students) alongside their traditional lessons. I'm not sure if there's any direct interplay between the two approaches -- except, once, very early on, her teacher had her use the Suzuki shifting book, which he said he liked because it was simple and clear. There may have been a more subtle -- and mutually beneficial -- interplay (I'd have to ask them) between the methods but I'm not sure myself what it could have been. Knowing her teachers' twin professional lives, and also knowing many excellent students who began with Suzuki and gravitated eventually into a more traditional approach, I've never felt any antagonism between Suzuki and non-Suzuki.

April 23, 2013 at 03:04 PM · Actually, Paul, I do know of one very successful one, with a lot of students. She succeeds partly because she is good, but also because she brings her kids together in group playing and social situations, which my traditional teachers never did. As far as I know, she has no SAA training. There are also several in the city where I live, who, because performing is their primary business, take fewer students.

April 23, 2013 at 06:28 PM · A famous horticulturalist was showing a visitor around his grounds.

"Here, come look at my latest.." he says.

They turn the corner, and to the astonishment of the guest he was confronted by a thick undergrowth, brambles, accumulated leaves, mud and nary a path upon which to walk.

"What is this?!" exclaims the visitor.

"Aha, you see I decided that I would not be bound by common conventions and old fashioned ideas of what a garden should be. I decided to let self-discovery, individualism, creativity, free spirit, journey, diversity, and a whole host of other philosophies born out of a multihorticultural experience have their way with this plot."

"But, umm...." began the guest.

"Shush" interrupted the horticulturalist. "The idea that a garden should have regimented rows where flowers grow in lock step, neatly trimmed hedges, etc is pure poppycock! Pish-posh, I say. Who is to say that a flower is more beautiful than say a dandelion? Or any other weed for that matter?"

"No, the common idea of planning where each flower should go, fertilizing, weeding, etc is all an overly technical approach to gardening, most likely fostered by some vast communist plot to promote conformity, likely hatched by Stalin or chairman Mao. I simply won't have it. The rake and ho are akin to the hammer and sickle, don't you see? No room for creativity."

"I've seen many people try and grow nice, traditional gardens, and they often give up out of frustration because their peonies failed to blossom. Well, I've never had anybody fail at an attempt to simply let it all go, and see what happens. I don't even bother mowing the grass any longer. It enhances the "natural" look of my property, and gives me extra free time to watch NASCAR on Sundays!"

April 24, 2013 at 08:07 AM · Seraphim

You seem to be implying that only Classical training imparts any kind of discipline? This is surely a misunderstanding.

Sure, it's beyond reasonable argument that classical teaching is where you would go to develop technical facility. Most of the best exponents in any area of fiddling have a bit of classical background.

But for all-round musicianship I would say that the average jazz student would have a much deeper and more functional understanding of how music works than the average classical student.

As I said in my earlier post, mutual respect and understanding between the classical, folk and jazz genres would be a good place to start...

Unfortunately, I can't see how O'Connor's visceral dislike of the Suzuki tradition can help that process along...

April 24, 2013 at 08:33 PM · Seraphim

The Nascar was bit below the belt!

Seriously though, what are you likening wild growing weeds to?

The way I see it is that the classical violinist (big generalization) is disciplined but lazy. They put in the hours but don't put in any imagination to their practice, play scales up and down and don't vary the pattern, play studies without making up variations and totally shun basic musicianship like ear training, improvisation, composition and so on.

I remember when I was doing my post-graduate in jazz at Guildhall in London and I would talk to the 'straight' musicians. When I told them that I played jazz violin they would so invariably say, "Oh, fun!!!"

What they were really saying was that I was playing a music that was light and not very deep (probably because there idea of jazz was generally a Scott Joplin rag) - nothing more than a bit of fun. First of all I hope that they were having fun with their classical music at some level and indeed jazz musicians do have "fun" for the most part. However the jazz musicians on my course considered themselves just as serious as the classical musicians in there quest for creating deep meaning in music, we too had technically demanding things to achieve and had a bunch of extra things to learn like advanced harmony, improvisation, composition, arranging etc.

So the idea that you simply let it all go to play non-classical styles just shows lack of knowledge. You may see a jazz musician (or whatever non-classical style) and see that they seem relaxed and spontaneous and think that comes about by some lack of discipline but they are usually the other side of the bell curve after a lot of hard work.

It's a shame how this discussion is about Mark O'Connor vs Suzuki rather than discussing the more useful topic of how can we educate string players to have a broader range of skills than they are currently given. Can we discuss that now??!!

April 24, 2013 at 09:07 PM · @ Christopher Payne: "...the more useful topic of how can we educate string players to have a broader range of skills than they are currently given. Can we discuss that now?"

Probably best to start a new thread...this has 8 posts left in it, and besides, a new title & description will encourage new focal points.

April 24, 2013 at 10:11 PM · My post was simply an attempt at a witty lampoon of Mr O'Conner's opinionated jabs at Suzuki's methodology. Or rather Mr O'Conner's opinion on what he felt Suzuki's methods were.

I'm currently working through Suzuki book #1, and am quite enjoying the progression of songs presented. Seems like a logical progression of skills required for each subsequent song.

I do travel to Japan on business fairly frequently. Perhaps my Suzuki training will allow me to perform before the Emperor in the near future?

I think if more violinists spent less time doing scales and more time watching NASCAR the world would be a better place.

April 24, 2013 at 10:36 PM · Itzhak Perlman is famous for practicing while watching baseball, I believe...

April 28, 2013 at 11:15 AM · Just spotted a Strad article by Julie Lieberman about how to introduce improv into early string teaching. There's a pdf here.

April 29, 2013 at 03:34 AM · I have an objection:

In a recent attack on me (and on Dr Suzuki in general), Mark O’Connor, in his blogspot, says I stated that I'm ‘one of Suzuki’s top biographers’.

He is not correct. I have never stated this; never written it; never thought it. In fact my book ‘Memories of Dr Shinichi Suzuki – Son of His Environment’ is not a biography (biography = a written account of the life-course of another person) at all. In it I have explained something of Suzuki’s background, and some events which affected this son of his environment. Other than that the book is a series of memories – as per its title.

This is all explained on the book’s p. 1:

‘With the passing of time … as modern children and teachers who never met the master create their own picture of Shinichi Suzuki, he is becoming just a name, just the word ‘Suzuki’, or a characterless cardboard cut-out, or a God-like figure.

He would have laughed at this last image.’

‘… I’d like to try to sketch his likeness for you. What I recall most is his single-minded determination to impart his knowledge of the sound of the violin, his constant statement that every child can be educated, his honesty, his unfailing sense of humour and always his complete and utter humility.’

‘… I have added for your interest some additional recollections of my visits to Japan, maybe a glimpse into Dr Suzuki’s environment.’

Mr O’Connor is one of those ‘who never met the master’’, either in the flesh, or in any sort of understanding.

April 29, 2013 at 12:09 PM · Has anyone contacted Mark O'Connor for comments to this thread? Maybe Laurie could host a direct debate between Mark and Lois.

April 30, 2013 at 02:45 AM · I am afraid Mr. O'Connor uses the term American the same way George W. Bush, Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh use it. The term excludes the non believer, the atheist and me as I am a US citizen (NOT an American citizen) as I was not born here, but rather I earned the term, and the term used was US citizen, NOT american citizen. On top of it I am Catholic. Mr. O'Connor, can you clarify what you mean about American, American school of violin teaching? In so far as I am concerned, playing and teaching American tunes (which in your case seems to be US tunes) does not necessarily create an American school, but rather a US school. Walter Olivares, Prof. of violin, University of Alaska, Anchorage, AK.

April 30, 2013 at 03:48 AM · Well, the term "American" when used in place of "US" seems both commonplace and innocuous. Sounds like someone's pet peeve turned peevish.

April 30, 2013 at 06:34 AM · Greetings,

there is no doubt that Mark is a great performer and teacher who has made an excellent contribution to the literature and debate of violin pedagogy. zit is a shame that his views on Japan and Japanese people/children are fundamentally racist and insulting. Talking about 'children and their beloved emperor' shows clearly his ignorance of the country which underpins his insulting remarks. Acting as though Japan holds the greatest responsibility for militarism in the 20c and conveniently forgetting US military aggression , not to mention we Europeans who so expertly justify imperialism just floors me. I am even more puzzled by the relatively mild reaction here. I suppose people on this site wat to stay away from explosive political discussion etc.

But racism is racism and I will not condone this mans ignorant commentary.



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