Thompson Violin Studio
Shinichi Suzuki was a great teacher, author, and advocate for the potential of every child to learn and become proficient in music. Suzuki referred to his method as the “Mother Tongue Approach,” or “Talent Education.” Suzuki revolutionized the formal pedagogy world by the analogy of music education to a child learning his or her native language, absorbing experiences from birth in the home environment without any formal training. Suzuki believed that with the right home environment, every child could realize his great inner potential.
I choose the Suzuki method, not only for philosophical reasons, but also because I feel that the violin teaching experience of Suzuki, and all the other great teachers who have contributed to this method, offers the best technical and musical support for beginners. What I offer as a Suzuki trained teacher is not just my own experience, but the experience from thousands of teachers and students who have played this music and this instrument. I have had tremendous opportunities to observe and grow from the amazing support system of the Suzuki world, and my students have access to these opportunities as well.
Basic principles of the Suzuki method include:
For the preschool through elementary years, a parent or caretaker accompanies the child to each lesson and sponsors the daily practice time. The Suzuki method emphasizes patience and encouragement from the parent, who gets to learn violin with the student and be the “home teacher.” From this foundation, we work to achieve concentration, consistency, then independence for the young musician.
Early childhood training.
Talent in music grows naturally from the earliest age through exposure to music in the home environment, and from hearing and observing older students in the studio and in concerts. For this reason, younger siblings will sometimes progress more quickly than older siblings, or spontaneously start to play and sing the same music as their family members. Suzuki teachers teach violin to the parent, so that the child will learn naturally, in the same way that they learn language.
Sound before symbol.
It is not true that “Suzuki students can’t read music,” but it is true that we learn the violin through short memorized pieces before reading music. The violin is a whole-body sport, and I find it most effective for the child to achieve basic coordination with the instrument first, while introducing music reading separately from playing. Most of my students learn to read music proficiently by the end of Suzuki Volume 1, but continue to perform from memory in concerts and group classes.
Posture, then tone, then intonation.
The quest for beautiful tone is a never-ending process that begins with the first scrape of bow against strings. Only when the body is relaxed and aligned properly will the tone open up and resonate. Then, when we have a beautiful tone, the notes will start to fall into place as well.
Mastery of the basics.
Suzuki Volume 1 takes about 6 weeks to 6 months of preparation before beginning the first piece, and 1 to 3 years on average to complete. Mr. Suzuki designed each step of the way through these pieces to prepare a complete violinist who is ready to play very well at every level. I want my students to become Volume 1 “professionals,” Volume 2 “soloists,” Volume 3 “prodigies,” and Volume 4 “virtuosi,” and I will go at the appropriate pace to achieve the best playing possible at even the first lesson.
Repetition and review.
Playing a scale or piece many times gives the student a chance to master the basics, build confidence, and learn complicated skills at a subconscious, automatic level. Repetition is the best way to build confidence, deep physical and intellectual knowledge, memorization, and of course, beautiful tone. Review means that every piece we learn will be repeated while we are learning new and more advanced pieces. I often assign specific review pieces that match a specific skill that needs work. Repetition and review allows students to correct specific mistakes efficiently through playing familiar music with a specific focus or exercise.
Individual and group learning.
Suzuki studios around the world are a hub for parents and students to work together and learn from each other. Individual lessons are a time for the parent, the teacher, and sometimes, other students, to observe the learning process at work. Group lessons offer motivation to continue practicing and the opportunity to learn from students with different strengths than your own.
I see many benefits of Suzuki violin in my teaching, and in the students and their parents who are involved with the Suzuki method. We each have an important role to play: the teacher as a guide and facilitator, the parent as a model for learning and encouraging new skills, the student who brings excitement and a fresh perspective to music making.