When is the ideal age to start a music education? Many teachers start students as young as 3 and 4 years old, but Dorothy Jones took to heart Dr. Suzuki’s admonition to focus on the babies. In this episode, we hear about Dr. Suzuki’s thoughts on an early start, the development of the Suzuki Early Childhood Education program, and explore the musical possibilities for babies and the adults closest to them.


“Sun Up” is composed by Steven Katz and Derek Snyder and performed by the Snyder cello army.

Piano Sonata No. 12 in F Major, by MOZART—performed byPaavali Jumppanen, piano

Prelude in G Major Op 32 No 5 by Sergei Rachmaninoff was played by Grant Moffett

Sonata number 3 in C major by J.S. Bach was played by Katie Lansdale

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star was played by Della Gardner

Methusaleh Podcast Productions gives masterful support to our scripts and production.


Newborn recognition of 1) mother’s voice, 2) native language, 3) stories, and 4) songs heard in utero:

  1. DeCasper, A. J., & Fifer, W. P. (1980). Of Human Bonding: Newborns Prefer their Mothers’ Voices. Science, 208(4448), 1174–1176.

  2. Moon, C., Cooper, R. P., & Fifer, W. P. (1993). Two-day-olds prefer their native language. Infant behavior and development, 16(4), 495-500.

  3. DeCasper, A. J., & Spence, M. J. (1986). Prenatal maternal speech influences newborns’ perception of speech sounds. Infant behavior and Development, 9(2), 133-150.

  4. James, D. K., Spencer, C. J., & Stepsis, B. W. (2002). Fetal learning: a prospective randomized controlled study. Ultrasound in Obstetrics & Gynecology : The Official Journal of the International Society of Ultrasound in Obstetrics and Gynecology, 20(5), 431–8.


Margaret Watts Romney: When exactly is the best time in a child’s life to start music the study of music?

Dorothy Jones: If you can talk to the mother before she has her first child that is the absolutely best time to talk to them about the kind of environment they would like to create for their child, what their dreams and hopes are for their children. And then when they hear me say things like,”The kind of environment that we are considering in the Suzuki environment is one that’s filled with beautiful music,” When the parents hear that they get really excited because it doesn’t feel to them as if it’s impossible for them to do. In fact, it’s something they would love to be able to do. So they want to know more.

In my own traditional study, Listening to the music…you didn’t do that. I studied with the nuns who were very strict if you wanted to play something you had heard what they called playing by ear, what they would crack your knuckles for it. You didn’t do that. You read the score.

MWR: Dorothy Jones is the Suzuki Early Childhood Education Committee Chair for the International Suzuki Association. How did she heal her bruised knuckles, and move from a score-based, listening-scarce music experience to advocating that parents begin filling their child’s environment with music even before they are born?

You’re listening to Building Noble Hearts, a production of the Suzuki Association of the Americas. I’m Margaret Watts Romney. Here, we take a look at the learning environments in which children, parents, and teachers gain new knowledge, and how they are encouraged to become fine individuals. Throughout this series, we speak with members of the Suzuki music community inspired by humanitarian violinist Shinichi Suzuki, and we’re finding themes of good teaching everywhere; themes like listening, community, creativity.

Dorothy Jones’ path to expertise in Suzuki Early Childhood Education could be seen as a series of coincidences. It started from a trip her husband and daughter took to the music store that ended in tears.

DJ: When our eldest daughter, Beth, was four years old, Don was an instrumental music teacher. I was teaching music in the schools. And she desperately wanted to play the violin. We don’t know why the violin exactly because neither of us played the violin. But … he was in the music store one morning having instruments repaired for his band. And he took Beth with him. And there was a small violin hanging on the wall, and she stood there and stared at it and stared at it. And when he was ready to go home, he couldn’t find her. She was sitting in the corner crying because she wanted that violin. So the owner of the store said to Don, “Oh, you’ll be back next week. Take it home for a week and let her hold it. And by next week, she’ll have forgotten about it. You can bring it back.” That didn’t happen!

We started a search for a teacher. Finally convinced one of our friends that he should start her. And he said, “I’ve never taught a four-year-old child in my life,” but he said, “I just happen to be reading a book about a man named Shinichi Suzuki. Have you ever heard of him?” And coincidentally about a month before that, we had seen on the television a program that came from Edmonton, Alberta, in Canada, and there were two teachers who had been brought to Edmonton to start a Suzuki program. And they had both worked with Shinichi Suzuki in Japan.

MWR: After some months of lessons, their violinist friend recommended they move on to someone who had more familiarity with Shinichi Suzuki’s teaching methods. Teachers who had training in Suzuki’s ideas were rare at this time in the United States and Canada, so they felt very lucky when they learned of an experienced violin teacher who had been hired to start a Suzuki Preparatory Program near them in London, Ontario.

DJ: Beth’s very first lesson with Mr. Dilmore happened the day after he arrived in London. And by this time, she was five and a half. And Sharon was with us; she was three. And she was sitting there watching big eyed. And after Beth’s lesson, Mr. Dilmore said, “And where’s your violin?” And I burst out with, “Well, she’s a bit young, she’s only three!” He said, “Young? Dr. Suzuki would say, she’s three years too late!” So on the way home, we got a violin for Sharon. Progress from that day forward just was amazing.

MWR: Dorothy created an environment for her children where they were immersed inmusic. She was teaching Suzuki piano as well, so her career path was aiming more and more towards the ideas of this man, Shinichi Suzuki.

She had her first chance to meet him when she attended the first International Conference of Suzuki teachers.

DJ: First time I met him was at the 1st International in Hawaii, in 1975. And I was amazed at how small he was. I am at least a foot taller than he was. His energy was incredible. And one of the impacts he made at that time was, he stood up in front of probably 1000 people, and as part of his speech he said, “I truly believe that music education should begin nine months before the birth of the child.” And you can imagine that there was a lot of intake of breath at that. I didn’t forget it. And two years later, same conference in Hawaii again, he said, “Two years ago I made the statement that I believe music education should begin nine months before birth. I was wrong! Now I believe it should begin nine months before the birth of the mother.” And he laughed, you know! His humor struck me as an incredible part of the man.

But it wasn’t until we went and lived there in 1985 that I really got to see him on a daily basis, and realized all of the other wonderful strengths he had … his sensitivity.

MWR: Dorothy spent several months in Japan in 1985 to further develop her own piano teaching approach and for her teenage son to study violin with Dr. Suzuki. And she ended up taking away from the experience much more than she had imagined.

DJ: If hadn’t taken David, if I had just gone myself, I would’ve watched piano lessons whenever possible, and the rest of the time, I would have practiced myself. And it would have been a totally different environment than I had.

But, watching all of these lessons day after day after day, hour after hour, I began to realize that you can train yourself to hear. And I’m not a violinist, but as I watch that group working on vibrato, and becoming more relaxed, and using the bow arm, I realized that you can train yourself to hear incredible differences in tone.

I began to realize that his ability to observe, to listen intently, were all part of what it takes to become a really good Suzuki teacher and that these were skills each of us needed to develop in ourselves. Often he would bring in a tape that he had listened to from 4 am in the morning that day, and he’d say, “Here is a four-year-old girl playing a 16th size violin, and she … played it beautifully, good tone, very accurate. And he’d say, “I hear the skill of the teacher when I listen to these tapes.” And he said to all of the teachers sitting in front of him, or teachers-to-be, “Later when your children, your students send tapes, I will understand your ability as teachers.” So those kinds of statements really started you thinking about, “What kind of a teacher am I? Am I that thorough? Do I listen that carefully? Am I training my students to listen like that?” So it was an incredible opportunity for me.

MWR: Dorothy was inspired by the deep level of focus and observation Dr. Suzuki practiced with the students and teachers around him. She wanted to develop that level of skill in herself as well as her students.

Dorothy’s daughter Sharon, now a Suzuki Childhood Education Teacher Trainer, remembers her mother’s trip.

Sharon Jones: I guess it was in 1985 when my mother went to Japan with my brother, David, she spent four months observing Dr. Suzuki and Miss Mori and Dr. Kataoka as well.

Sharon said the observant teachers in Japan saw potential in Dorothy and encouraged her to keep going on her path of immersing babies and young children in music.

S.J.: Dr. Suzuki, who I always believe was a very keen observer of all human nature, certainly figured out that Mom was somebody he needed to be speaking to…He talked to her about babies, and she took it home as a real mission.

MWR: Wait. Babies? Really? Like…weeks or months old? In a structured classroom? Expecting them to participate? Well…why not? Studies have shown that babies are already learning patterns of language and music before they are born.

Kate Einarson completed her Ph.D. at the McMaster Institute studying the development of musical knowledge in infants and children. At the 2016 Suzuki Conference, she discussed how many of these studies support Dr. Suzuki’s intuition.

Kate Einarson: Music learning begins before Age 0. Children are learning about music in utero, and in fact children and infants, recognize and remember experiences from prior to when they were born. For example, this includes voices, they will recognize their mother’s voice as newborns. They will recognize their native language. They will recognize the speech and the contour, of say English if they have an English speaking mother, and they can distinguish that from other languages that are not English. They can recognize particular stories, if you’re a mother and you read stories to your unborn child every night in the last trimester they will recognize the rhythms of that story when they are born, and even songs. So if you sing a song or play a song if you are a musician, of just listen to a song, they will recognize that as well. And I should just take a moment to say there are research studies associated with all of these.

MWR: …Which we have in our show notes on our website.

Dr. Suzuki, Dorothy, and parents around the world know instinctively that babies are picking up the words we say to them and the music they hear. It’s why we see adults impulsively cooing and babbling to babies, even though the conversation isn’t reciprocated.

Dorothy, now back from Japan, went far beyond babbling to babies. She had the initiative to set up a curriculum and classes for children age 0-3.

What did Dorothy learn from Dr. Suzuki and how did she apply it to young children? What are these classes like? She explained some of the principles to a classroom of adults and children…

DJ: We know as educators that experiences precede words, so for an infant, they have to have many experiences before they can say the word. Words never precede the experience. In fact, experiences must precede any learning that takes place. We know that experience provides the foundation for the natural development of your child’s learning and the listening skills, the observation skills, the acquisition of language all of those things that are so important to all future learning,

MWR: One way teachers create those important experiences, is with a ball rolling game. The teachers, parents, and children sit in a circle and roll the ball from one person to another and sing. This gives the children experience with music, socializing, paying attention, and waiting their turn.

Laura Speno: Many times I have seen with an older child sitting next to a younger child, the ball rolls between them and the older child will take it and give it to the younger child.

Lynne McCall: Although the activities are full of energy in our classroom, we always maintain a calm environment. The children are focused and engaged in the activity and not wandering.

MWR: Suzuki Early Childhood Education—or SECE—teachers Lynne McCall and Laura Speno.

But it’s not just teachers who see the advantages gained with these simple exercises because it’s not just the students who are in the class.

Parent: Repetition has helped my child tremendously, and it has also helped me. What I learned from the SECE classes is the importance of structure and of repeating the same thing continually day after day after day, and I’ve taken these principles that I’ve learned in class and brought them into our life at home. His bedtime routine is exactly the same from bathing to bedtime stories; his bedtime is the same every night. I structure his day and model it after what I’ve learned in the SECE program. As a result, I have no problems with bedtimes, no problems with meals, he’s a very happy child, and therefore I’m a very happy parent.

MWR: That may be just one parent’s opinion, but there are many other like it. Since the parent is in the classroom, they see the effects the classes have on children.

Parent: Because of the repetition in the class, they know exactly what is coming up next, so they become very confident in the class. I know My daughter. Because she was so confident in the class, because of the structure, she loved to come to this class; Repetition builds confidence in all aspects of life.

MWR: Repetition. And as teacher Lynne McCall reminds us, you’re never too young to pick up on it.

L.M.: One of the children in our class, Michael, started with us when he was only three months old. We have a listening activity which occurs at the beginning of every class. We walk to the beat of the lollipop drum. When we hear the drum stops, we stop. The drum starts, we walk. Although Michael was not walking and was being held during the activity, he could feel the beat, and the starting and the stopping of the drum. By the time he was six months old, still being held during the activity, when the drum started, he would kick his feet, and when the drum stopped, he would freeze along with his motoring friends. Amazing, the neural pathways where there.

MWR: Infancy is such a short time. But as Dorothy Jones began learning way back at that very first Suzuki conference in 1975, the long-term benefits of these experiences can be enormous.

D.J.: What I have seen over and over again in our baby toddler classes, is the parent learns how to cultivate that talent by having fun with the child with the music, and realizing that the more repetitions they have the deeper the understanding and the stronger ability development.

What we now know is that the mother or the father, which ever one comes to the class with the child, can be taught how to become a really good observer of their own child, and to start appreciating how the other children in the group learn too, so that we develop a community within each of the baby classes where they aren’t comparing. There’s no jealousy. They celebrate each other’s child’s development. So the first time, a child can strike the triangle right at the precise moment in Hickory, Dickory, Dock, everybody claps. Nobody has to tell them to do that. They’re just all so excited to see it happening.

MWR: Parents appreciate this environment and the support from teachers to understand their child in new ways.

Parent: The teachers in this class have been very skillful, and they’ve been a big source of encouragement. They’ve really helped point out the skills that I didn’t know my child had. Not every day is a good day for every child, so even when we come to class on a bad day, the teachers encourage us, and point out the things my child can do, which I didn’t realize.

MWR: So, in other words, the whole process of Suzuki Early Childhood Education is really for both parent and child. Dr. Suzuki encouraged Dorothy to focus on younger and younger children, to develop a program to nurture the minds of babies during this early time when they are so open to language and music. Dorothy also saw that there is a tremendous opportunity for establishing a calm environment where parent and child can both practice appreciative observation. This is the key. Observation. Children constantly observe their parent to learn what to do next and how to navigate the world. In the classes established by Dorothy, the parent also observes the child and learns their strengths, their preferences, their personality. The teacher observes everyone, giving feedback, then they all celebrate each step of growth.

D.J.: The kind of environment that we are considering in the Suzuki environment is one that’s filled with beautiful music, and one where the parent learns to observe the child so carefully that they can celebrate all the small steps, all the wonderful things that happen. When the parents hear that they get really excited because it doesn’t feel to them as if it’s impossible for them to do. In fact, it’s something they would love to be able to do.

It changes their whole perception of what parenting means. They don’t want to miss these opportunities for observation. They want to be able to celebrate all of these small steps.

MWR: If you don’t have any babies in your life right now, next time you are at the park, or the grocery store, or walking past a day-care, take a moment to observe. Observe the babies. Imagine the untold numbers of neural pathways being developed, Observe the infant interacting with their environment, and then visualize what would happen if all children were immersed in calm and encouraging environments which develop their social, linguistic, motor, and musical skills. Not only what remarkable children they would be, but what remarkable adults would be surrounding them as we learn to observe and celebrate each accomplishment.

Our theme music, “Sun Up” is composed by Steven Katz and Derek Snyder and performed by the Snyder cello army.

Piano Sonata No. 12 in F Major, by MOZART—performed by Paavali Jumppanen, piano

Prelude in G Major Op 32 No 5 by Sergei Rachmaninoff was played by Grant Moffett

Sonata number 3 in C major by J.S. Bach was played by Katie Lansdale

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star was played by Della Gardner

Methusaleh Podcast Productions gives masterful support to our scripts and production.

Want to attend a Suzuki Early Childhood Education course or learn more about Suzuki teaching? Check out the events tab at suzukiassociation.org.

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Thanks for listening and see you next time.