Suzuki Question and Answer

Posted by gretchenleanna on April 8, 2012 at 9:55 PM

The Suzuki Method has become almost a house-hold name in America, but what exacly sets it apart from more "traditional" lessons?  In this post I will answer some of the big questions about what the method is, how it works and what is expected from the child and the parents.  Please feel free to ask additional questions; I look forward to your feedback! 

Q: What is the Suzuki Method?

A: It is a talent education program that is based on how children learn to speak and made up of three collaborating aspects: philosophy, curriculum, and technique.


- Philosophy: Every child can learn to be proficient at the violin


- Curriculum: There are 10 Suzuki Books, with a corresponding CD of a professional violinist playing pieces for the child to listen to at home


- Technique: The teaching technique has to do with creating the ideal environment for the child to grow in. This environment includes the teacher to guide the child's progress, the child to practice and listen to the CD, and the parents to take an active role in the lessons and practice, while providing continuous positive feedback to their child.


Q: What is the goal of Suzuki lessons?


A: The main goal of the Suzuki method is to allow the child to meet his or her greatest potential – to give them the tools they need to become anything they want to be. Dedication, perseverance, a positive attitude, a sense of accomplishment and self worth, and the willingness to be demanding of themselves are just a few of the qualities the Suzuki method tries to instill in children.


Q: What advantages does Suzuki have over a more traditional approach?


A: Suzuki works with the child's natural ability to absorb language and sound, the child will have an easier time learning and retaining new music.


* Will start younger students


* Child will learn to automatically memorize


* One-on-One time with your child


Q: How does the Suzuki method relate to language?


A: There are three main components in the Suzuki method that mirror language skills: Listening and repetition, positive reinforcement, and peer involvement


1) When a child learns to speak, they learn naturally from the stimuli around them. They hear language spoken all day long, and they hear certain words or phrases repeated over and over to them. The CD is what creates this aspect of familiarity and aural repetition. The CD should be played at least three times a day, whether in the background, or actively listening to it by singing, clapping, or dancing to the music. Children will learn entirely by ear at first, waiting to learn to read music until their ear training is fully developed. As in language, speak first and read second.


2) Another key factor in a child's language development is positive reinforcement. When a child first says something that might possibly be a word, it's a big deal and everyone is excited and encourages the child to say it again and again. No new word is ever just a word – it's always something special. It's the same way with learning to play the violin. Every new step, no matter how small, is a big deal, and should be praised as such. You would never say to a two-year-old who just told you her newest word that you were disappointed his or her word was so small or simple! To a violin student, no piece is ever too small or simple either – it is the beauty of the song (or clarity of the word) that is the goal and deserves praise.


3) The final component happens in group class. They make friends through their music and are encouraged to always do their best. The children see other students working on pieces they haven't played yet and are inspired to work hard so they can learn those pieces too.


Q: How old does my child need to be?


A: Ideally, children should begin the Suzuki program at the same time they are learning language skills, but also have the coordination to facilitate playing an instrument. This usually happens around 4 or 5 years of age. Some children will be ready a little sooner or need to wait a little longer, but generally, the younger they are, the more natural playing the violin will be for them. Older students are welcome to start, and depending on the student they will receive Suzuki lessons, traditional lessons, or a mix of the two.


Q: What is the parent's role?


A: The parent plays a large role in a Suzuki student's lessons and practice. The parent is at every lesson taking notes and making sure that the directions for the week's practice are clear. At home, the parent works with the child during practices, acting as "teacher" instead of Mom or Dad, and ensuring the child is prepared for each week's lesson. The parent provides the environment at home that is nurturing to the child's musical growth by playing the CD, exposing their child to various forms of music and art, and developing a positive atmosphere where their child can learn from his or her mistakes and feel a sense of accomplishment for each of success.


Q: What are the expectations of the child?


A: The child should practice daily, be respectful to the teacher and parent teacher at home, and treat the instrument with care.


Q: What is the time commitment?


A: The lessons are 30 minutes once a week, but will eventually be 45 minutes to an hour as the student advances over the years. Group classes, once the child is ready, will be an hour once a week, and there will typically be 1 recital/group concert each semester. Practice at home should be daily and last at least as long as the lesson so the student develops prolonged focus ability.


Q: What do I need to have for the first lesson?


A: You do not need to have a violin; the child will begin on a box violin until he or she is comfortable holding the instrument for a given amount of time. You will need to have a notebook for taking notes and the Suzuki CD vol. 1 for the first lesson; the Suzuki book is also helpful to take notes in, but is not required. Later, when the child is ready, you have the option of renting an instrument that is fit to your child.


Q: What does the lesson consist of?


A: The lessons are 30 minutes long and will differ according to the child's progress and level of playing. In the first lessons, the child will be working on developing his or her focus, learning how to sing the first song, rhythm, and holding the violin. Later, lessons will be spent largely on developing permanent skill. Games and challenges will be used to keep the child's focus while practicing a single skill or skill set many times. Once the child has learned several songs, these songs are played as review pieces every day so to help solidify skills and instill a sense of accomplishment in having a repertoire of pieces. In Shinichi Suzuki's words "Knowledge is not skill; knowledge plus 10,000 times is skill."


Q: How long until my child starts to play?


A: Children will begin playing a small violin when they can hold the instrument with beautiful posture all the way through Twinkle theme and four variations.


Q: How quickly will my child progress?


A: That is up to a number of factors. One is simply how quickly your child learns. I don't expect all children to progress uniformly, so though I will push your child, I will always work at his or her pace. Another factor is how much they listen to the CD. The more they hear and internalize the music, the more natural it will be for them to produce it. The final factor is the role you, as a parent, play in their development. The more involved, dedicated, and positive you are, the more your child will stay engaged and be eager to learn. It is very important that no matter how slow or fast children progress, they never be put down for not moving quickly enough; their success depends on doing their very best at their own pace.


Q: Do I need to sign up for group classes?


A: Eventually yes, but not right away. Group classes begin when children can reliably hold their instrument and can play the first song, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star with all the correct posture and technique. This can take a month, six months, or a year depending on the child and the environment/practice at home.


Q: What if my child doesn't want to practice?


A: The best way to combat this is to make practicing a non-negotiable part of the child's routine. Another key to having peaceful practice sessions is the bow. At the beginning and end of each lesson, I will bow with the child as a sign of respect and as a mental cue that this is lesson time and everything else has to wait until after the ending bow. Parents are encouraged to bow during practices as well, so the bow signifies a time to focus on only the violin. Last, but possibly most importantly, look forward to your time with your child. In a busy day, take advantage of the chance to spend 30 minutes a day one-on-one with your son or daughter, and they will look forward to it as well.


Q: What if my child wants to quit?


A: All children go through ups and downs of any activity they are involved in, but the more they are encouraged to stick it out, the more they will develop a sense of accomplishment and perseverance. Learning an instrument takes dedication, so not allowing a child to quit at their first whim teaches them that they can make it through rough patches with a sense of pride and determination.


Q: What if my child is older and wants to begin lessons?


A: They are welcome, but probably would receive a mix of Suzuki and more traditional type lessons by learning to read sooner, working with a variety of repertoire, and not involving the parents as much.



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