what Suzuki isn't

erika blanco, violin

In addressing some of the most common criticisms of the Suzuki philosophy, I offer my own responses.  “Suzuki students don’t learn to read music.”  False.  Dr. Suzuki delayed note reading for good reasons.  Students, especially young students, need to focus on posture and the mundane rest position-playing position transition.  Posture is critical to tone production, future technical facility, and injury prevention.  However, I make sure that even the youngest beginners are exposed to the written musical language from the very beginning.  They will not “read” the notes while holding their violins, but they learn to identify things such as staves, clefs, and pitches by name so that when the time to play and read comes, they’ve already assimilated what musical symbols mean.  I relate this aspect of my teaching technique to parents and teachers who merely expose little toddlers to isolated letters of their native alphabet.  The children are not “reading,” but they are getting accustomed visually to what their language looks like: when the time for reading comes, fluency occurs naturally.

A second criticism is the rote-ness by which the students learn and perform.  Repetition can be a double-edged sword if the students are repeating bad habits and wrong notes.  Repetition, however, is how we memorize and master technique.  So long as the teacher is thinking forward, young beginners and intermediate students can learn healthy and efficient practicing procedures that will translate when they are ready for much more advanced literature. 

Listening, akin to the rote-ness and note reading issues, is another critique.  "Suzuki students are robots and merely mimic others' artistic ideas." Having access to sound and not merely relying on what the parent and student hear in their heads is crucial to musical development, just as it is for children learning their mother tongue.  Babies spend months listening to their families speak before they are even physically capable of forming words.  I strongly encourage students and their families to attend live performances as well as to listen to recordings of great violinists in addition to their Suzuki repertoire.  One of the biggest and perhaps more underlying reasons for listening is that it also instills in the parents and students what good tone sounds like.  Much of the time, tone production can be neglected at the expense of “progressing” faster through the repertoire.  Dr. Suzuki revered tone and tone production to the point of referring to its having a “life force.”  At every point in the student’s development, the teacher should be expanding the student’s appreciation for and ability to produce beautiful, warm, even sound.