Book 1 Piano
Learning by imitation on sight or identifying notes himself?

Tom Yang said: Nov 13, 2016
 1 posts

I have a 4 year old learning piano by Suzuki method with a Suzuki teacher.

I grew up with Suzuki myself and know the importance of listening. We are listening to Book 1 CD daily.

What I’m less clear on and have conflicting advice from my mother (who knows Suzuki well and has read all of the books but never been trained in it formally) and our teacher (who admits she doesn’t follow the method exactly, as many parts are open to interpretation).

Which of the following methods is how he should be learning a new piece, according to strict Suzuki doctrine? I imagine for violin, maybe only Method A would really work (how well can a student watch fingers on a string and then imitate?). For Piano, I could see both options being effective, with option B obviously leading to faster learning of the actual notes.

  1. Teacher (or I) play a small section with his eyes closed, and then he attempts to identify and then play the phrase (going up, one note down, skip up, etc.) himself. Learning entirely by hearing and imitation of what he hears.

  2. Teacher (or I) play a small section with his eyes open watching, and then he imitates what he sees. Learning by imitating what he sees, and using listening to validate he is playing the correct notes, dynamics, phrasing, etc.

Thank you,
Suzuki Parent

Elizabeth Erb Sherk said: Nov 14, 2016
Suzuki Association Member
32 posts

Since a 4 year old child is a “sensor” as compared to a “thinker”, I would use both methods. Utilize the child’s hearing, the child’s singing and the child’s seeing.

Mengwei Shen said: Nov 15, 2016
Mengwei Shen
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Cello
Jersey City, NJ
220 posts

Short answer—both. (For violin, you can certainly watch fingers and imitate although it’s a little different when you can’t “see” violin notes in the way that you can see 88 piano keys.)

The premise of Suzuki being the parallel of music acquisition to language acquistion, the obvious choice is aural, by ear, listening. However, the physical mechanics of operating a piano or violin can be seen and felt, so why not also look at what’s going on? (To oversimplify, let’s say the human voice’s instrument is represented by the larynx, but a child doesn’t need to look at or feel your throat to learn to speak.)

I think it was Ed Kreitman (violin teacher trainer) who presented on the subject of playing “by ear” vs. “by rote” and said that playing by ear means: knowing whether two pitches are the same or different, whether the second pitch is going up or down, by how much, and applying it to the logic of the instrument. To learn the logic of the instrument, you have to play it, so you may first need some rote or imitation instructions. Relying solely on instructions might cause notes to come out faster but doesn’t actually teach the student how to learn.

In book 1, the violin LH doesn’t move around because all notes needed are within reach. Pitch logic on piano is “easy”—left is lower and right is higher—but in changing hand position to reach piano notes, a player could make lots of different fingering choices, not all of which are ideal. I would think a beginner needs to see or be told “correct” fingerings, but along the way, also develop the sense to feel which fingerings are better or worse.

Cleo Ann Brimhall said: Nov 16, 2016
Cleo Ann BrimhallTeacher Trainer
Suzuki Association Member
West Jordan, UT
42 posts

Book 1 is so fundamental. The purpose is to raise the students ability to listen. This is critical to tone production which is the beauty of Suzuki Method. In Book 1 we are not just “playing by ear” but we are learning to discern the differences in tone quality. It is important that this is done without interference of eye hand coordination until Book 2. The tone quality is affected not only by the use of the fingers but by the balance and strength in the entire body. That is why so much emphasis is given on seating at the piano—the correct height of the bench and the correct height of the footstool (we don’t have little pianos—like the little violins) Parent jobs during practice are to keep the position and to make sure the fingering is correct. Rote teaching at this level will handicap the child in the upper books. The child’s work in Book 1 is to hear and play. When a child really has trouble playing what they hear then it is the teachers responsibility to create hearing games for up and down and how far away in order to develop his skill in this area—We don’t want to leave them stranded—we can help on a note here and there—especially where to start. I always refer to the notes as sounds, reinforcing that we are working in the art of sound, not a visual art. With an incorrect fingering I say—please use this finger on this sound.

Of course this will never work unless there is a great amount of listening being done. Remember that everything the small child knows is “memorized” With the skill of finding pitches on the piano and listening to the Book 1 pieces until he can sing them, the skill to play them beauty follows easily. This is the skill that brings rewards for years to come. We don’t talk about memorizing (something we do with the written word)—either you know the piece now or you don’t know it yet. Knowing is being able to speak without reading.

Too long of an answer—but very important to me. Any reading (or reading readiness) is done away from the piano. Michiko Yurko has endless games for the children in Book 1 (and above) in her Music 19 series.


Gloria said: Nov 17, 2016
Suzuki Association Member
75 posts

Thank you for the prefect Suzuki answer. We are so consumed sometimes with the overwhelming details of what we are doing, both parents and teachers, that we may forget the heart of soul of the whole thing, the quality of the sound and the fact that that it is what and how we communicate.

Lori Bolt said: Nov 17, 2016
Lori BoltPiano
San Clemente, CA
262 posts

Wonderful answer, Cleo! You’ve given me new thoughts and ideas for myself as teacher, as well as sharing the essence of Book 1 with parents. Sometimes we fumble for a good way to explain this to parents. You’ve helped me today :)

Ed Kreitman also said that learning by rote is like being given verbal directions to get from point A to point B (walk to here, turn right, walk to there, turn…), and learning by listening is like leading/walking with the person to their destination.

Lori Bolt

Elizabeth Erb Sherk said: Nov 17, 2016
Suzuki Association Member
32 posts

So well articulated, Cleo! Thank you. Not too long of an answer at all! So important to the whole community of Suzuki Piano Teachers!

You must log in to post comments.

A note about the discussion forum: Public discussion forum posts are viewable by anyone. Anyone can read the forums, but you must create an account with your email address to post. Private forums are viewable by anyone that is a part of that private forum's group. Discussion forum posts are the opinion of the poster and do not constitute endorsement by or official position of the Suzuki Association of the Americas, Inc.

Please do not use the discussion forums to advertise products or services