Let me start by saying that I write this from the perspective of a parent who happens to musician rather than a musician who happens to be a parent. I have been playing brass instruments for thirty-six years and guitar a few years more. I had a brief period in my past during which I music was both my day and night job, but I’ve mostly had non-music day jobs over that time. There are more qualified musicians than I to turn to for information on the Suzuki Method. However, I am an experienced musician, I taught lessons for a couple of years, and most importantly for this discussions, I am a dad in charge of the schedules of three busy kids. So if you’re trying to decide whether to enroll your child in a Suzuki Method music program or a program with a more traditional method, I offer here my two cents.
What is the Suzuki Method?
Japanese violinist Shinichi Suzuki developed a approach to learning a musical instrument based on the way that people learn language. We learn to speak our native tongue by hearing it spoken and repeating what we hear. It is only after we learn to speak that we begin to read. So it is with the Suzuki Method. A student plays the instrument right away and later learns the corresponding notes on a page. Suzuki also had very specific requirements for creating an effective learning environment for students. A Suzuki program requires the commitment of both the student and at least one parent. Parents are required to attend the lessons and even encouraged to learn along with their children. My six-year-old’s Suzuki violin program requires a thirty minute lesson, thirty minute group class, and a thirty minute movement class every week. That’s ninety minutes of instruction time each week on top of daily practice (which also requires parent supervision).
To Suzuki Method or Not to Suzuki Method?
As a musician, I believe there are great advantages to learn by the Suzuki Method. Learning to listen and play right away can lead to a natural fluency of playing. It’s not that musicians who learn by wrote can’t achieve fluency, but a musician who relies on the page has to learn to release from it.
As a father, I struggle with the time commitment of the Suzuki program. With three kids, I have to make an effort to enable each of my kids to pursue their interests. I do not force my kids to learn music (although our school system does starting in the fourth grade). I expose my kids to all kinds of music and they have all been around my studio their whole lives. We even sometimes all play songs together in whatever capacity we can manage. However, none of my kids are required to become musicians. That being said, my six year old boy wants to learn the violin. He has a natural aptitude for music, so I think the Suzuki method is a good fit for him. The time commitment is demanding, but I will do my best to make it happen as long as it’s what he wants to do.
As a former teacher, I recognize that different children learn in different ways. Some kids are more interested in reading music. My oldest has an aptitude for mathematics0. He took traditional piano lessons at a young age, but was more interested in learning only theory on a page. He opted for choir in the fourth grade rather than an instrumental track, but he still uses the keyboard to work out his parts and their relationships to the parts of others. My daughter’s interests lie somewhere in between the boys. She wants to learn the trumpet, but her body (lungs) need to grow before she’s ready for that. In the meantime, she’s learning the piano. Time constraints prevent me from being able to enroll her in a Suzuki piano program. Our family schedule just doesn’t allow for me to attend another 90 minutes each week. So, she is learning by traditional method. However, when I practice with her, we work on her books and then play together without the page. The point I’m trying to make is that there is not just one way to learn music and different techniques will work best for different students.
If you have the time, a Suzuki program is worth a try. If you don’t have the time or are not near a good Suzuki program, don’t let that stop you from enroll your child in music lessons.
It is my personal opinion that kids should not be forced to take music lessons. If a child enjoys is interested and motivated to learn an instrument, they will enjoy it. However, I’ve heard too many stories about people who hated playing and were forced to take lessons every week. Most of them did not come away with a positive associate with making music. Music is great for the developing minds of children, but kids can make music without taking lessons or even without an instrument. I encourage you to explore whatever music classes/programs that inspire your kids no matter what the genre.