Suzuki method

Suzuki method

The nihongo|Suzuki method|スズキ・メソード|Suzuki mesōdo|extra=also called Talent Education, mother-tongue method, or Suzuki movement is an educational philosophy which strives to create "high ability" and beautiful character in its students through a nurturing environment. Its primary vehicle for achieving this is music education on a specific instrument (often violin or piano, but see below for a more complete list). The 'nurture' involved in the movement is modeled on a concept of early childhood education that focuses on factors which Shinichi Suzuki observed in native language acquisition, such as immersion, encouragement, small steps, and an unforced timetable for learning material based on each person's developmental readiness to imitate examples, internalize principles, and contribute novel ideas. The term "Suzuki method" is also sometimes used to refer solely to the Suzuki repertoire of sheet music books and/or audio recordings which have been published as part of its music education method.


It was conceived in the mid-20th century by Shin'ichi Suzuki, a violinist who desired to bring some beauty to the lives of children in his country after the devastation of World War II. From his perspective as an adult skilled at violin but beginner at the German language who struggled to assimilate it, Suzuki noticed that all children pick up their native language very quickly, and even dialects which adults consider "difficult" to learn are spoken with ease by people of 5 or 6 years. He reasoned that if children have the skill to acquire their mother tongue, then they have the necessary ability to become proficient on a musical instrument. He pioneered the idea that any pre-school age child could begin to play the violin if learning steps were small enough and if the instrument was scaled down to fit their body. He modeled his method, which he called nihongo|"Talent Education"|才能教育|sainō kyōiku, after his theories of natural language acquisition. Suzuki believed that every child, if properly taught, was capable of a high level of musical achievement. He also made it clear that the goal of such musical education was to raise generations of children with "noble hearts" (as opposed to creating famous musical prodigies).

The Suzuki method was first developed in Japan. It spread from there to other Pacific Rim countries, and then to Europe. The method has also begun to be taught in a few places in Africa. Although it originally used the study of the violin to achieve its goals, it has also been adapted for other instruments: flute, recorder, piano, guitar, cello, viola, bass, organ, harp and voice. In addition, there are a few "Suzuki Preschools" which have adapted Suzuki's philosophy to use in the non-musical disciplines of early childhood education.


The central belief of Suzuki, based on his theories of universal language acquisition, is that all people can (and will) learn from their environment. Thus, the essential components of the method spring from the desire to create the "right environment" for learning music (he believed that this positive environment would also help to foster excellent character in every student). These components include:

*Saturation in the musical community, including attendance at local concerts of classical music, exposure to and friendship with other music students, and listening to music performed by "artists" (professional classical musicians of high caliber) in the home every day (starting before birth if possible).
*Deliberate avoidance of musical aptitude tests or "auditions" to begin music study (Suzuki firmly believed that teachers who test for musical aptitude before taking students, or teachers who look only for "talented" students, are limiting themselves to people who have already started their music education. Just as every child is expected to learn their native language, Suzuki expected every child to be able to learn to play music well when they were surrounded with a musical environment from infancy. (This does not preclude auditions for public performances).
*Emphasis on playing from a very young age, sometimes beginning formal instruction between the ages of 3 and 5 years old. (See Technique).
*Using teachers trained in using the Suzuki materials and philosophy. Suzuki Associations all over the world offer ongoing teacher-training programs to prospective and continuing Suzuki teachers. A basic competency as a performer was recently made mandatory for all teachers in the American Association; formal training in music or the holding of a degree is not required.
*In the beginning, learning music by ear is emphasized over reading musical notation. This follows Suzuki's theory of language acquisition, where a child learns to speak before learning to read. Related to this, memorization of all solo repertoire is expected, even after a student begins to use sheet music as a tool to learn new pieces. There is no formal plan for the age at which reading should be introduced into the curriculum; this is left to the judgement of the teacher. The Suzuki method itself has no materials for the teaching of reading; instructors are encouraged to use whatever materials they deem proper.
*The method also encourages, in addition to individual playing, regular playing in groups (including playing in unison).
*Retaining and reviewing every piece of music ever learned on a regular basis, in order to raise technical and musical ability. Review pieces, along with "preview" parts of music a student is yet to learn, are often used in creative ways to take the place of the more traditional etude books. Traditional etudes and technical studies are not used in the Suzuki method, which focuses almost exclusively on a set of performance pieces.
*Frequent public performance, so that performing is natural and enjoyable.

The method discourages competitive attitudes between players, and advocates collaboration and mutual encouragement for those of every ability and level. However, there is an audition process if a student wishes to perform publicly with the Suzuki Youth Orchestra of America, a national group sponsored by the Suzuki Association of the Americas.

Another important feature of the method is that the parent of the young student is expected to supervise instrument practice every day (instead of leaving the child to practice alone between lessons) and to attend every lesson so as to be able to supervise the practice effectively. It is not necessary for the parent to be able to play as well as the child (or at all); only that the parent knows from the lessons what the child should be doing and how the child should be doing it. This element of the method is so prominent that a newspaper article once dubbed it "The Mom-Centric Method" (Constance Meyer, LA Times, Sept 7, 2003).

Criticism and response

The most common criticisms of the Suzuki method from educators outside the various Suzuki associations are that group playing, extensive listening to and copying of recordings, and early focus on memorization lead to:
*Compromised sight reading skills
*A tendency towards rote learning and 'robotic' group performance at the expense of individual musicianship

Other criticisms include:
*Teachers are often low-level performers, and are not required to hold a degree or have had any formal training on their instrument

Opinions also include that if music is to be learned from audio recordings, the quality of the recorded pieces must be questioned in terms of style, integrity, and its positive or negative traits. The resulting views are subjective and may differ between people.

Also, any reliance on listening to a "single piece" in order to learn it is not sufficient for instilling a sense of the style of the work (where the style refers to the traits of performance that are common to many similar works), since a style can only be acquired by listening to a range of works of common style (including listening to works for enjoyment, rather than with only the goal of copying them).

Many Suzuki teachers have addressed these concerns by introducing sight reading exercises earlier and more often than was practiced when the method was first introduced in the West. Some also defend their emphasis on unity of musical expression in group performance by pointing out that this is a necessary skill "just like ... in the string section of any professional symphony", and add that although group performance plays an important motivating and ensemble role, and is a highly visible part of the Suzuki method, solo expression can also be encouraged, and individually tailored lessons are at the heart of the method(Barber, 1991). Each national Suzuki association institutes its own competency requirements for teacher training: for example, a basic "competency" audition to register teacher training in the American Association was instituted in 2002.

Criticism has also sprung up from within the Suzuki movement:
*Students may progress too rapidly and find themselves studying repertoire for which they are not yet emotionally preparedvague.
*Baroque music is emphasized in the Suzuki violin literature to the detriment of other styles and periods. Some of this literature includes note errors and 19th-century editorial changes that are not in keeping with historically informed performance practice.
*"Older students can become overly dependent" on the support structure of recordings, parental note-taking and tutoring at home, and teaching styles appropriate for younger students (Barber, 1991).
*Very young students, such as those aged 3-5, are often not ready for formal instruction, and too much emphasis on practicing hard at this age may be counterproductive (American Suzuki Journal, 2005).


Although Suzuki was a violinist, the method he founded is not a "school of violin playing" (like the French or the Russian school of playing) whose students are always easily identified by the certain set of techniques they use to play the violin. However, some of the technical concepts Suzuki taught his own students, such as the development of "tonalization", were so essential to his way of teaching that they have been carried over into the entire method. Other non-instrument specific techniques are used to implement the basic elements of the philosophy in each discipline.

*Tonalization is a term coined by Suzuki, and is deliberately similar to the word "vocalization" (as it is used by singers when they talk about warming up their voices). Tonalization is defined as the student's ability to produce and recognize a beautiful, ringing tone quality on their instrument. While initially developed for violin education, the tonalization technique has been applied to other instruments such as the piano. Suzuki believed that a student must learn tonalization in order to properly reproduce and perform music (Lavie, Karen, New Zealand Suzuki Journal, 2005). Outside the Suzuki method, the term used is "tone production," and is part of Western music education stretching back to its beginning.

*Using sound recordings is another technique common to all the musical instruments taught in the Suzuki method. Records, tapes, and CDs are used to help students learn notes, phrasing, dynamics, rhythm, and beautiful tone quality by ear. Suzuki pointed out that great artists (such as Mozart) were surrounded with excellent performances from birth, and that the advent of recording technology made this aspect of their environment possible to achieve for large numbers of "ordinary" people whose parents were not themselves great musicians & music teachers like Mozart's father was. So-called "traditional" music educators have used this technique since the earliest days of recording technology; the difference in the Suzuki method is the scale on which Suzuki systematically insisted on daily listening in the home, from before birth if possible, and his focus on using recordings of beginner's repertoire alongside recordings of advanced repertoire.

*"Adult" sized instruments are adapted to meet the demands of a small child's body in various ways. This lowers the age at which people are developmentally ready to begin studying an instrument. Scaled down instrument sizes are used for children studying stringed instruments. Curved headjoint flutes with displaced keys which are closer together than normal flute keys & holes are also available making it possible for children as young as 3 years old to study the flute through the Suzuki method. Height adjustable chairs, benches, and footrests are used for piano, guitar, cello, and string bass.

*Suzuki Institutes were established to encourage a musical community, train teachers, and provide a place where master teachers' ideas can easily be spread to the whole community of Suzuki students, teachers, & parents. These short term music festivals began in Matsumoto, Japan, where teachers & students came to learn from Suzuki himself. In the US, they often last for a week or two and include daily masterclasses; repertoire (group) classes; teacher training courses; concerts; discussion sessions; seminars; and various 'enrichment' classes in different musical styles, instruments, or non-musical (usually arts, crafts, or dancing) activities. As at any music festival, participants must pay registration and tuition fees to the institute they are attending. Each national Suzuki association handles registration for teacher training, and policies differ from country to country.

*A Common repertoire for all students of an instrument was established. This body of music allows each student to participate in group classes, helps to foster local and international musical community and camaraderie, and provides motivation for students to learn new music while keeping the 'old' pieces they have learned in top form. This is in direct contrast to music education outside of the method, in which teachers tailor the repertoire to the current need and level of the individual student.


The core Suzuki literature is published on audio recordings and in sheet music books for each instrument, and Suzuki teachers supplement the repertoire common to each instrument as needed, particularly in the area of teaching reading. One of the innovations of the Suzuki method was to make quality recordings of the beginners' pieces widely available, performed by professional musicians. Many traditional (non-Suzuki trained) music teachers also use the Suzuki repertoire, often to supplement their curriculum, and they adapt the music to their own philosophies of teaching.

The other major innovation of Suzuki was to deliberately leave out the large amount of technical instructions & exercises found in many beginners' music books of his day. He favored a focus on song-playing over technical exercise, and asked teachers to allow students to make music from the beginning, helping to motivate young children with short, attractive songs which can themselves be used as technique building exercises. He created a series of rhythmic variations on the theme "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star", using rhythms from more advanced literature in units small enough for a beginner to grasp quickly. Although these variations were created for violin, most of the instruments use them as a starting point for their repertoire.


Compiled and edited by Suzuki. In ten volumes, beginning with Suzuki's Variations on "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and ending with two Mozart concertos. The first 3 books are mostly graded arrangements of music not originally written for solo violin, although book 1 contains several original compositions by Suzuki for violin & piano. These arrangements are drawn from composers such as Bach, Telemann, Dvořák, Beethoven, Schubert, Handel, Paganini, and Brahms. Books 4-10 continue the graded selection by incorporating 'standard' or 'traditional' student violin solos by Seitz, Vivaldi, Bach, Veracini, Corelli, Rameau, Handel, Mozart, and others. Audio recordings for books 1-4 are available in separate albums by artists such as David Nadien, David Cerone, and Shin'ichi Suzuki. New recordings of volumes 1-4 by William Preucil, Jr. are being made available in 2007, along with revised versions of the books. Recordings for books 5-8 have been made by Koji Toyoda, although many of the pieces can be found separately on other artist's albums. There are no official recordings of books 9 and 10 but these books, simply being Mozart's A major and D major violin concertos, have readily available recordings by various violinists. Completing the 10 volumes is not the end of the Suzuki journey, as many Suzuki teachers traditionally continue with the Mendelssohn concerto, along with pieces from other composers such as Paradis,
Mozart, and Kreisler.


Compiled & edited by Doris Preucil. Like the violin repertoire, much of the viola repertoire is drawn from the Baroque period. In eight volumes, the first 3 have been arranged (or transposed) almost directly from the first 3 violin volumes, and the rest differ significantly as they delve into standard viola literature. These volumes include works by Telemann, Casadesus, Bach, and others. Volume eight, released in 2005, contains: Mendelssohn, Vivaldi, Cassado, Leclair, Telemann, Hummel,and Bruch. The series is expected to end with Schubert's Arpeggione Sonata. Books 1-4 have been recorded on two albums by William Preucil, and the rest are available in separate albums.


In ten volumes, with some early pieces arranged from the early violin volumes. Tsuyoshi Tsutsumi performs volumes 1 through 4. Volumes 4-10 contain: Vivaldi, Saint-Saëns, Popper, Breval, Goltermann, William Henry Squire, Bach, Paradis, Eccles, Faure, von Goens, Sammartini, Haydn, and Boccherini.


In seven volumes. The first book starts out with Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star (as with the violin books) and goes on with many folk songs & contemporary songs. As one progresses to the second book, there are pieces written by classical and baroque composers, such as Ludwig van Beethoven and J.S. Bach. There are also many Minuets in the second book.


Not currently accepted by US educators as a viable teaching method. Three volumes in this series. Volume 1 and 2 contain arrangements of the traditional Suzuki violin pieces mixed in with some new arrangements of other pieces. Volume 3 contains some new transcriptions of jazz, gaelic, and folk songs; plus works by Handel, Gossec, Beethoven, Bach, Webster, Saint-Saens, and Dvorak. Famous pieces include: The Elephant from Carnival of the Animals by Saint-Saens, Ode to Joy by Beethoven, and Largo from the New World Symphony by Dvorak.


Compiled & edited by Toshio Takahashi. In fourteen volumes, beginning with Mary Had a Little Lamb and ending in the Flute Concerto by Otaka. Also included are Concerti by Mozart, Cimarosa, Ibert and Quantz. Students also study music by Bach, Handel, Blavet, Fauré and other major composers.

oprano Recorder

In four volumes.

Alto Recorder

In four volumes.


Compiled through a collaborative process involving teachers from the United States, Europe and Australia, and edited by Frank Longay. The method begins with Twinkle Variations and many folk songs, and adds pieces originally written for the lute in the Renaissance, and spanning all musical time periods, including pieces by Sanz, Vivaldi, Bach, Carcassi, Giuliani, Sor, Tarrega, Albéniz, and Yocoh's Sakura Variations. Music in book one is performed by Frank Longay and Bill Kossler, with books two through four recorded by Seth Himmelhoch, Andrew LaFrenier, and Louis Brown. George Sakellariou has recorded books five and six. There are nine books; eight of which have been published.


In three volumes. Repertoire for volume Four is selected, though the music is not published in a single book.


Developed in Finland since 1986, the vocal repertoire of the Suzuki method is not yet widespread in many countries, although teacher training courses are sheduled yearly in Europa, US and Australia.


In four volumes. The Fifth and Sixth volumes are in preparation.

Supplementary materials are also published under the Suzuki name, including piano accompaniment parts, guitar accompaniment parts, duets, trios, string orchestra, and string quartet arrangements of Suzuki repertoire.

Historical notes

In the late nineteenth century, Japan's borders were opened to trade with the outside world, and in particular to the importation of Western Culture. As a result of this, Suzuki's father, who owned a company which had manufactured the Shamisen, began to manufacture violins instead.

In his youth, Shin'ichi Suzuki chanced to hear a phonograph recording of Franz Schubert's Ave Maria, as played on violin by Mischa Elman. Gripped by the beauty of the music, he immediately picked up a violin from his father's factory and began to teach himself to play the instrument "by ear." His father felt that instrumental performance was beneath his son's social status, and refused to allow him to study the instrument. At age 17, he began to teach himself by ear, since no formal training was allowed to him. Eventually he convinced his father to allow him to study with a violin teacher in Tokyo.

At age 22, Suzuki travelled to Germany to find a violin teacher to continue his studies. While there, he studied privately with Karl Klingler, but did not receive any formal degree past his high school diploma. He met and became friends with Albert Einstein, who encouraged him in learning classical music. He also met, courted, and married his wife, Waltraud.

In 1945, Suzuki began his Talent Education movement in Matsumoto, Japan shortly after the end of World War II. Raising children with "noble hearts" (inspired by great music and diligent study) was one of his primary goals; he believed that people raised and "nurtured by love" in his method would grow up to achieve better things than war. One of his students during this post-1945 period was violinist Hidetaro Suzuki, no relation, who later became a veteran of international violin competitions (Tchaikovsky, Queen Elisabeth, Montreal International) and then the longtime concertmaster of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.

Eventually, the center of the Suzuki movement in education was established as the Talent Education Research Institute (TERI) in Matsumoto. TERI hosts thousands of people each year—students, parents, teachers, (and teacher trainees). Other organizations have sprung up all over the world to help oversee the movement and train teachers. These include the Asia Suzuki Association, the Suzuki Association of the Americas, the European Suzuki Association (which is currently assisting in the beginnings of the Suzuki movement in Africa) and the Pan-Pacific Suzuki Association.

John Kendall of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville brought the Suzuki method, along with adaptations to better fit the requirements of the American classroom, to the United States in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Vilem Sokol of the Seattle Youth Symphony hosted Suzuki in Seattle. The majority of American Suzuki pedagogues and teaching methods are grounded in the Suzuki-Kendall system. Other pioneers of the Suzuki Method in the US include Roland and Almita Vamos, Elizabeth and Harlow Mills, Louise Behrend, Dorothy Roffman and William Starr.


*Barber, Barbara (Autumn, 1991). "Traditional & Suzuki Teaching: A Comparison". "American String Teacher".
*Bradley, Jane (Spring 2005). "When to Twinkle - Are Children Ever Too Young?". "American Suzuki Journal Vol. 33, #3, p53".
*Campell, Don. "The Mozart Effect for Children". Harper Collins Publishers, Inc., New York, NY, 2000, ISBN 0380977826
*Kelly, Birte (2002). [ International Suzuki Association: Regional Suzuki Associations] . Retrieved February 21 2007.
*Kreitman, Edward. "Teaching from the Balance Point: A Guide for Suzuki Teachers, Parents, and Students". Western Springs School of Talent Education Publications, Western Springs, IL, 1998.
*Lavie, Karen (Summer, 2005). "On Gastronomy and Tonalization." "New Zealand Suzuki Journal Vol. 16, #4, pp. 5-6".
*Meyer, Constance (2003, 7 September). The Mom-Centric Method. "Los Angeles Times", Classical Music.
*"Nurtured by Love: The life and work of Shinichi Suzuki" [Video Documentary] . Produced by The Cleveland Institute of Music. Telos Productions, Inc.
*Suzuki, Shinichi. "Nurtured By Love: A New Approach to Talent Education". Warner bros. Publication, Miami, Florida, 1968
*Suzuki, Shinichi. "Ability Development from Age Zero". Warner bros. Publication, Miami, Florida, 1981

References in pop culture

*The virtual band Gorillaz has a song entitled "Left Hand Suzuki Method" which appears on their 2001 self-titled album, as well as on the later released "G-Sides" (2002).

Related pages

*Shinichi Suzuki (violinist)

External links

* [ International Suzuki Association]
* [ Suzuki Association of the Americas]
* [ The American Suzuki Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point: The Suzuki Method in Action] : An online collection documenting Suzuki and his teaching methodology.
* [ Italian Suzuki Association]

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