Will SUzuki help a traditionally trained student?

Marian said: Aug 15, 2006
1 posts

I tried to teach my son piano at 6 reading “do,re,me” with no success so I quit.
At 73/4 he expressed desire to learn so we enrolled in a Russian school where they teach kids to read by “lines?” not notes. They said later on they will learn to name the notes. He can read notes “a,b,c, not do re mi” slowly BUT, he can play new pieces fairly fast by reading the lines the way he was taught. I have no idea what method this is but he reads and memorizes fasrter than me and I read notes”do, re mi” the way I was thought. 8 months since he started he played Knight Rupert by Schumann and Curious Story by Heller in the recital perfectly. He’s been playing for 1 year now and he played Tchaikovsky’s “April” Debussy’s “La Petit Negre’, BAch’s Invention several of Clementi’s SOnatina’s and Schumann’s composition’s. He plays well but I noticed one major thing. The pieces he played in the past if he does not practice it he has to realearn it again. I’m wondering if I switched him to Suzuki method would he be able to remember past pieces easily compared to now? His sight reading is very good but like I said he reads by lines. I’m wondering if I should switch him to Suzuki, maybe your method will help him remember pieces easily. Your advice is appreciated. Thank You.

Gabriel Villasurda said: Aug 16, 2006
Gabriel VillasurdaViolin, Viola
81 posts

You have posed two questions:

As for learning reading: Teaching “do, re, mi” relates to the French practice of Fixed Do where C is always “do”. This method is useful in reading all the various clefs and for decoding transposing instruments (English Horn, Alto Sax, etc.). Pianists and violinists rarely use this.

Some teachers require students to say note names as they play. I haven’t heard of the “line” method, but it seems to be in the same realm.

It seems what we want to do in reading musical notation is find a way of converting the notation into sound. We must pass what we see through the manual (fingers) part of the brain, of course. Do we need to go through the “name calling” part of the brain as well? Perhaps not. We do need to be able to name pitches in order to discuss them with others and to verify accuracy.

I’ve often wondered what is the shortest route from page to sound. While we are actually playing a new piece for the first time, I am certain that the note-naming part of the opertion is NOT needed. I think we see and recognize patterns not isolated bits of information. I am pretty sure we correlate our sense of touch with what we see; we recognize an octave leap, for instance, and just reach for it.

I used to watch the players in the New York Phil closely while they played. I was amazed how they could put their finger high up on the fingerboard and just nail a high note out of the blue. Surely this showed an ability to just feel where the pitch was. After practicing the high note thousands of times and knowing what it sounded like (in their inner ear), they were able to see the notation, remember the sound and put their hand in just the right spot.

In sightreading (when the player doesn’t quite know the sound of the high note), can a great player just go directly from the printed page to the finger placement without the hearing aspect? I continue to wonder about this.

Your second question was about the Suzuki practice of requiring memorization. Suzuki’s orginal observation of “conventional” teaching was a cycle of discover-learn-forget. In the learning of language (Suzuki’s great paradigm) we never forget old words. We use them over and over through our whole lives. We learn new words later that convey nuances of meaning to refine our expression, but we never junk our core vocabulary.

So, my feelings regarding memorization and review: YES, YES, YES. There is nothing magic about the printed repertoire. It is good stuff and it’s progressively sequenced with small increments of new learning.

Students who learn according the the Suzuki method have several reasons to remember old repertoire. They hear the pieces “forward” before they actually learn them and “backward” after they have learned them. Suzuki teachers are constantly referring back to an early piece to illustrate something new. Sometimes I require my advanced players to include one or more “old” pieces on a recital in addition to their polished new piece. A book 2 piece played by a book 6 player should sound different than a book 2 piece played by a book 2 player.

I should think the true test of the value of music lessons could only be seen years later, long after lessons ceased. Wouldn’t it be great if your student at age 75 could actually play several pieces with musicality and love?

I am often amused when a musician begs off from playing at a party giving the excuse “I didn’t bring my music [books].” Suzuki players have their music in their heads and their hearts and can play in public at the drop of a hat.

Gabriel Villasurda
Ann Arbor MI

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