Shinichi Suzuki first developed his education approach as a way of effectively teaching very young children (3-4 years old) to play the violin. It differs from the traditional way of teaching the violin in many ways. A few of them are:
In Suzuki lessons, a three-way team is formed: teacher-student-parent. It’s called the “Suzuki triangle”. One of the parents takes on the role of “home teacher”. That doesn’t mean you need to know anything about music or the violin. My job is to educate you about how to work on your weekly assignment each day with your child at home. Although the violin is well known as a difficult instrument to master, even very young students can make incredible progress when parents guide them in daily practice sessions. Most parents find this to be an enjoyable project that they can share with their child.
I’ve always seen the home teacher to be the most important in the Suzuki triangle. If you are considering taking on this role, please understand that the commitment in time and discipline is the same as if you were going to take lessons yourself. As a matter of fact, many parents also rent a violin for themselves and learn right along with their child. Many of these parents have gone on to play with community orchestras and chamber groups!
Just as toddlers learn to speak well before they begin reading words, Suzuki students master correct form and foundation skills before they begin to learn to read notes in a music book. The idea here is to allow the student to focus entirely on learning the all-important basics without the added distraction of also having to decipher a new written language.
Reading music is, of course, an essential skill for a violinist. The violin is a social instrument, and the student advances, there will be many opportunities in to play with orchestras and chamber groups. Once the basics of good violin technique are well established, I teach reading skills in the private lessons and at the group classes. In addition, when students are ready, I encourage them to enter their school orchestra, or one of the local youth symphonies. Playing in an orchestra is one of the best ways to acquire the ability to read music at sight. Many advanced students go on to perform with local community orchestras. Playing in an ensemble is also a great way to keep children motivated to practice and improve.
Instead of using written music, beginning Suzuki students listen to recordings of the songs they will be learning until the music is fully absorbed. At that point, it becomes easy to find the right notes on the violin’s fingerboard. If a mistake is made, the student knows instantly, and is able to correct it easily. This approach to learning songs is an excellent way to train the fingers to find the notes that the ear wants to hear—to play by ear! Also, the “memory muscle” is developed right at the outset. Suzuki students are known for their ability to play from memory fearlessly without the “safety net” of the printed score.
Private lessons are where students learn how to play the violin, but many other aspects of music are better taught in a group environment. Woodsong Suzuki students play music in ensemble with other children right from the beginning! Once a month, students come to group classes to learn essential ensemble skills: How to listen to others in the group, precise rhythms, and later, reading skills. Advanced students form small chamber ensembles, and in the spring summer, we have classes that focus on fiddle styles. Several times each year, we perform classical and fiddle music as a group in venues like the Boulder Creek Festival and downtown on the Boulder Mall.
A very important reason for group classes is motivation. The violin is a long-term project; the kids who learn to play it well are the ones who stick with it. Suzuki said that nothing motivates children more than other children. I teach the group classes with the intent, above all, of making them fun.
Children taught properly in this manner learn the violin well and have fun doing it. The string sections of professional orchestras all over the world are populated in large part with musicians who got their start with the Suzuki Method. To learn more about this educational approach, you and read “Nurtured by Love”, by Shinichi Suzuki, and “To Learn with Love”, by William and Constance Starr. I strongly recommend these books for parents who want to start their child with violin lessons.