There are a number of precepts to the Suzuki Method that distinguish it from conventional music teaching. It is not that each of the individual precepts themselves are new. It is the totality of approach that distinguishes the Suzuki Method.
1. Early Beginnings
Although it is never too late to begin study via the Suzuki Method, lessons ideally start before the age of 5. So much development takes place in a child’s early years, Suzuki did not believe these years should be ignored. He felt they should be cultivated with love and care.
2. Learning From Demonstration
Students come to the teacher for their lessons to observe other children learning. A beginning student may observe others for up to a year before they start to play themselves. This encourages children to aspire to the ability of others as well as accustoms them to playing in public from the very beginning.
Students listen to the recording of the pieces they will play before they learn to play them. Suzuki felt that, just as in conventional schooling, books are introduced to children only after they have been speaking the language for several years, so written music should only be introduced to the music student once they have been playing for sufficient time. This develops a sophisticated ear for pitch and tone which enables a child to play with greater sensitivity.
4. Complete Mastery
Students of the Suzuki Method stay learning a piece long after they have mastered the notes. They are taught to play from memory which is seen as the starting point for work on proper technique and musicality. They are encouraged to review old pieces where, unencumbered by having to learn new notes, they can work on new technical skills or merely reinforce and sharpen the skills they have already acquired.
5. Common Repertoire
All Suzuki Students learn and follow the same sequence of material. Each instrument has its own repertoire which has been designed to take a child from the very simplest piece (in the Suzuki Method this will be variations on ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’) to the Grade 8 level and beyond.
6. Group Practice
In addition to an individual music lesson, Suzuki students learn in larger groups. Ideally, they would attend a group lesson once a week. Here children benefit from the social aspects of playing together, learn from the different, sometimes higher, abilities of others and benefit from the freedom of releasing their own individual sound into a larger whole.
7. Playing in Public
Not only do the children become used to playing in public by having their individual lessons observed, they also are given the opportunity to play in concerts organised by their teacher or, on a larger scale, at one of the regional or national concerts organised by their regional group or the national organisation, the British Suzuki Institute who organise concerts every 2 years in such prestigious concert halls such as The Royal Festival Hall and Symphony Hall in Birmingham.
The Suzuki student’s music is not, therefore, of restrictive benefit to them. In overcoming any fear of performance, the Suzuki student can use their ability to enrich the lives of others.
8. Parental Involvement
Parents have an active role in the Suzuki Method. Rather than being seen as a liability and kept out of lessons, parents are expected to attend lessons, to take notes and to practise with their children, most fully in the early years. It is not necessary for a parent to be able to play the instrument themselves. The teacher will show them all they need to know in order to help their child. Indeed, many parents have been so inspired helping their children, they have taken up music study themselves.
Children learn to speak their language competently because they speak it every day. So music should be practised every day. Of course, this kind of commitment is difficult to make and Suzuki understood this. He therefore said:
“Only practise on the days you eat.”
10. Trained Teachers
The Suzuki Teacher is not merely able to play an instrument, they have been trained to TEACH. Teachers learn and are expected to perform the Suzuki repertoire as well as a number of other pieces. They are also taught in such areas as child development and psychology and dealing with learning difficulties.
Suzuki wrote an account about his teaching method, how he developed it and some of the results achieved by his pupils. He entitled it “Nurtured By Love.” Nurtured - because Suzuki believed that musical ability lies in all children. He did not believe he was imposing a skill upon a child; he was, rather, guiding them to manifest what they already possessed. Love - because Suzuki music teaching is not about breeding musicians or inculcating skills in children. It is about the amazing results that can be achieved when understanding, sensitivity and discipline are brought together in a single field of study. The glue that binds these various elements together is, Suzuki believed, love.