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Shinichi Suzuki and the Suzuki Method

Updated on April 6, 2010
Shinichi Suzuki
Shinichi Suzuki

Shinichi Suzuki was one of the twelve children born in Nagoya, Japan where his father owned a violin factory. As a Japanese violinist he had the opportunity to expand his knowledge of the musical culture of Europe as he lived there from 1920 to 1930. Through his frequent visits to concert halls of Berlin, he met and married his wife, Waltraud. In Europe, he met stalwarts in pedagogy as well as great artists of his time. He was a close friend of Albert Einstein and was influenced by theideologies of Maria Montessori and Jean Piaget.
Shinichi conceived the Suzuki technique in the mid 20th century to bring music to children who had just witnessed the devastation caused by World War II.

Shinichi and his brothers and sisters played near the factory and saw instruments being made, but the children never realized what beautiful sounds could come from a violin. When he was seventeen, Shinichi heard a recording of Schubert’s Ave Maria, played by a famous violinist named Mischa Elman. He was amazed that a violin could make such a beautiful tone for he always thought it was just a toy. Shinichi brought the violin home from the factory and taught himself to play. He would listen to a recording and try to imitate it. A few years later he took formal violin lessons from a teacher in Tokyo.

Later, he found that he had great difficulty learning the German language. He observed that children learn better when they hear their mother tongue first as sounds and later learn to write. Suzuki observed that the same analogy could be used for music. He felt that if children learnt their mother tongue without reading or writing, then they can learn to play music. Any pre-school child can start playing music if the learning steps are small and if the instrument is sized to suit the child. Formal Suzuki instruction begins at age three where the presence of the parent as an assistant guide in class is important for the child to receive guidance with the home lessons. The strong partnership between parent, teacher and child is the Suzuki triangle. Daily listening and comprehension of musical pieces helps the child learn melodies. Hearing the tone of the notes develops accurate pitch and rhythm, encouraging the child to play by the ear. The essential characteristic of the Suzuki method is not finalized to the study of an instrument, but has a more general educational approach. The final goal is not for the child to learn to play an instrument but through music learn the harmony of notes and then practice instrumental playing. Thus, through music the child develops his own personality as he himself begins to find harmony and rhythm within himself. Although Shinichi recognizes genetic heritage of music he strongly abides by the belief that every person is a product of his own specific environment. Talent is not something that is inborn, but a capacity that can be developed in every human being. It develops better if the individual is exposed to the optimum environment at an early stage.

Suzuki teachers employ one-point teaching where one technique is instructed at a time, disallowing the child to be burdened with several instructions. Group classes allow children to share music, motivate home practice and develop group music. Just as a child remembers his first words adding new words to his vocabulary, similarly Suzuki students keep original pieces learned, reviewing them daily to perfect skills for subsequent new pieces. The Suzuki method makes brilliant musical selections which are logical, interesting and attractive to children and their families. Shinchi Suzuki did not wish to create musical prodigies nor encourage competition. He wanted children to hear fine music from birth, play fine music thus nurturing sensitivity, discipline and endurance in their hearts. Shinichi Suzuki, the man who developed the Suzuki Method, died on January 26, 1998, at his home in Matsumoto, Japan. He lived to be 99 years old and was always young at heart. He was full of energy, and was cheerful and loving to everyone he met.


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