Does Suzuki Really Work?

said: Sep 30, 2008
 36 posts

Dear Suzuki Method

I have recently had Suzuki trained students enter my studio for lessons. They could not read a single note. After being taught for more than a year were not able to use any fingers of the left hand. Are you guys gonna teach pepperoni pizza all day or are you gonna teach the kids how to play correctly? Language is more than just speaking and listening it’s also READING and WRITING. I am sick and tired of running into adult Suzuki students who can play great but not read a single note!! Do get me wrong, I teach from the Suzuki books, but I give the books to the students to read and study. I am finding students who attend Suzuki schools that are not allowed to look at the music. The parents tell me that the book is only allowed to be seen by the parents. What!!! What madness is this? If the parents can do it all, then what the hell are you paying me for?

Jennifer Visick said: Oct 1, 2008
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
1076 posts

Hi ddm,

What age level are you talking about?

I would not necessarily expect the average 3 year old beginner to either be fluent using left hand fingers or fluent in reading music after one or two years of study. If you are speaking of older students, that’s a different story.

Regarding adults today who grew up as Suzuki students…. it’s true that reading music was a weak point in places where suzuki’s ideas were adopted early on (i.e., when today’s adults were very young children). As I understand it, Suzuki developed his teaching ideas in a time and place where children were taught to read music in their schools, just as they were taught to read Japanese at school. Unfortunately not every country’s school system is like this. To confuse the issue even more, I understand that years ago, when U.S. teachers who were using his ideas asked Suzuki when his students began to read music, he answered “when they are working on such and such a piece”—and in that era, the Japanese culture was such that his students routinely got to that piece around age 6. It was not so in the US at that time; and it is definitely not so in this era, where it seems students have less time to practice than Suzuki’s students did, and their parents have less time to help them practice than Suzuki’s culture allowed. Music teachers who were excited about the results Suzuki was getting in Japan tended to overlook these cultural differences. Some teachers overlook them still.

However, with a Suzuki teacher who is not overlooking them, you can expect to see the following philosophy at work: First teach the students to listen, training their musical memory to memorize things by ear, and training their muscle memory to have good playing habits (i.e. good posture, good intonation, good tone, good rhythm, etc.). Then, if the foundation for these things is solid, AND if the student is developmentally ready (that is, at or above the age that it’s appropriate to expect the student to learn to read and write their native language), reading music will be taught.

In the same way 5 or 6 year olds can speak and converse at a higher level of fluency than they can read and write, and will gradually increase their reading level throughout childhood and adolescence, so suzuki trained music students will probably read at a lower level of proficiency than they can play, and will gradually increase their reading proficiency throughout childhood and adolescence. Because of this, and because Suzuki students tend to have very good musical memory, a Suzuki student is probably going to be taught to read out of some other book than the Suzuki repertoire book.

I would personally rather hear good tone, good rhythm, good intonation, and see an adult enjoying music, than I would see what I have seen too much of from students of traditional teachers: the ability to name the notes and name the rhythms but the inability to perform them well, the inability to hear when they are out of tune, the lack of phrasing in their playing, and the lack of good posture while focusing all attention on reading the page in front of them. It is probably the inattention to one of these things that causes your local Suzuki teachers to forbid a student to look at the Suzuki book. It’s not that looking at the notes is wrong; it’s just that the teacher will use other materials to teach note reading. While learning the Suzuki repertoire, the student can be freed from looking at the page while trying to focus on other necessary skills (healthy posture, good tone, intonation, etc).

I’m sure there are traditional teachers who avoid these pitfalls with their students. These are probably the students I don’t see in my studio, because they are having success with their current teachers and don’t need to find a new one. Conversely, there are plenty of Suzuki teachers who teach good reading skills. They may well be the teachers whose students you do not see in your studio….

said: Oct 1, 2008
 36 posts

For the most part I agree with your reply.

I was taught a modified form of Suzuki and enjoyed it very much. Most of my friends as well. Note reading was incorporated in the lessons and we all enjoyed it.

My problem is with the HARDCORE Suzuki teachers. I have just had a bad month with the Suzuki teachers in my area who are really hardcore and I keep getting their families come into my studio asking for help.

Other methods must be incorporated to make Suzuki work!! I am convinced of this. This is why Suzuki has updated their books. What did they add? They added more technique and theory, because they recognized that the method lacks these elements. I am sorry, but I can’t sit by and teach violin 6 days a weeks and let this go. MelBay has a BEGINNER VIOLIN THEORY FOR CHILDREN and I have 4 year olds working on it and they are going great. I have 2nd graders who are in book 3 of Suzuki and CAN read every note. I refuse to let these Suzuki teachers tell me that note reading is over the heads of children.

The Sassmannshaus Violin Method is another example of how this can be done.

Where in Suzuki do they teach proper balance? I understand “chin power” and the foot charts are used and are very important. I use them myself along with a cardboard violin with 4—6 year olds. A couple of months are ok, but years on footcharts and cardboard violins? Madness!!!! I have seen this done at a private school, where I have taken over the violin program for K-2nd. The Suzuki teacher taught them NOTHING!!!!!!

I prefer to teach balance and posture as taught by Karen Tuttle (the great viola teacher) and Kató Havas (a great violin teacher) with regards as to not rise the shoulder and to avoid tilting the head.

Suzuki mentions NOTHING as to which joints to move. The student must be aware of how to use the shoulder, elbow, wrist, and finger joints. Which I why I have my students play against a wall to stop their shoulder from moving. In my opinion Suzuki students play like machines. Do they really have an understanding? I mean come on. Do they really?

Just another quick story. An adult suzuki student came to mean and she was in book 5. She played very well, but she had no awareness of what she was doing! Not only that she could not count rhythms nor understand how to read notes. I was shocked!

Please get the Kató Havas video on how to teach good practicing. She really does a good job.

Laura said: Oct 1, 2008
Suzuki Association Member
358 posts

If I might jump into the discussion here… I have a lot to say! Whoa, how do I start?

It is clear, unfortunately, that Suzuki is not a “standard product” due to the many factors that RaineJen raised. The reality is often far from the ideal, but that does not diminish the value of the ideal, which we hope that teachers would always strive for.

Suzuki is even not a “teaching method”, per se. It is primarily a philosophy—introducing and teaching music in a manner that parallels mother tongue aquisition.

I was a former Suzuki student, and I read just fine. I passed all of my diploma/conservatory exams with full marks in sight reading, and for all intents and purposes you cannot tell that I started in Suzuki. I can say the same for a large number of people I know. It all depends on when and how reading is introduced. I began as a pre-schooler, and routinely practiced with the book in front of me (this was allowed) without being dependent on it for what I was playing. At some point, various things were pointed out in the music book during lessons, but never at the expense of “making the music happen”. There was a time to have the book on the music stand, and a time to take it away. Over time, the visual familarity of the music book caught on, and I began to read. My teacher introduced supplementary reading materials, although quite frankly I learned a lot of reading just by consistently staring at musical scores that looked exactly like how I already knew it sounded. My reading was at par with my playing by about age 8 or 9. But as a “typical” Suzuki student of that era, my playing level was already very high, in the late Suzuki books. But it was strong enough to learn my pieces independently (e.g. over summer vacation) by about Book 4, around age 6 or 7.

I believe this process was very natural, and naturally successful at that, particularly if you compare it to how children learn spoken conversation well before reading and writing. Also, the process of learning reading and writing in the mother tongue capitalizes on the child being previously FAMILIAR with the oral language—the sounds, the words, the sentence structure, the inflections and expressions. Nursery rhymes and children’s songs are taught to and memorized very naturally by any pre-school aged children, without requiring them to decipher written code in order to learn them. Alphabet books make much more sense to a native English-speaking 3-year old than to a non-English-speaking child, who truly needs to learn English from scratch as an academic pursuit.

My playing technique is also strong, and I would argue that was BECAUSE of my Suzuki upbringing. Indeed, one who attends Suzuki teacher training often spends a great deal of time re-learning and refining one’s own technique before being released with the responsibility of teaching it to very young children.

My child is a Suzuki student, and our teacher is MOST DEFINITELY focusing on the technical aspects of playing, as well as developing expression and musicality. I am a trained musician, so I can speak with some confidence here. Reading is taught, but it is not a precursor to what is being played (as it would be with traditional). It is simply introduced a little later. We are having a very good Suzuki experience.

I am quite certain, ddm8053, that your experience with former Suzuki students is very much teacher-specific. I have personally experienced and witnessed countless examples that would demonstrate the exact opposite.

I agree with everything else that RaineJen said (especially regarding the history of the Suzuki method in America, and the cultural differences we face these days that work against some of the “magic” that Dr. Suzuki had in his day). l just add a few more points:

  • Just because something is not printed in a Suzuki book does not mean that that is not taught or addressed by a properly trained and/or skilled instructor. The book is not the method. The book is a reference that shows the pieces being played. Any teacher worth his/her salt will definitely teach way beyond the book, in all aspects that ddm5053 has mentioned. Teachers are supposed to be teaching violin using a Suzuki approach, not using Suzuki to teach violin.

  • Suzuki is in no way incomplete or inadequate just because “outside materials” are used to teach reading. Again, the Suzuki books are not the be-all-and-end-all of music teaching, and I believe it is a rare thing to find a Suzuki teacher who believes otherwise beyond, say, Book 1.

  • Interestingly, Suzuki teachers’ general criticism of traditional is an equally valid opposite battle cry: “Why are traditional students so dependent on music reading for everything, such that they can’t play anything without the book, and can only ever play what they are most recently working on? They can’t tell when they’re playing a wrong note because their ears aren’t well trained, and their eyes are so glued to the page that they don’t fully focus on their sound or their technique. They never hear enough positive examples of music such that they truly know how to interpret their own playing, When they advance to the point of getting stuck (either their technique is inadequate, they get too confused with what they have to read, or they fail to become enamoured with their own playing), they get frustrated and quit.” Obviously this is an extreme position too—I did it for the sake of argument. In reality, there are pros and cons to both approaches, and best and worst case examples of both teaching and parenting in both approaches.

  • Anything taken to hard-core extremes can be dangerous, Suzuki or otherwise. However, going with the “ideal” (as opposed to worst-case) examples of Suzuki vs. traditional, I tend to favor Suzuki AS A BEGINNING APPROACH. This is because Suzuki emphasizes the power of the environment, repetitive exposure and experience, and key personal relationships in a young child’s learning (onus is more on the adults). Traditional emphasizes equipping a young child with the tools to intellectually understand what they need to learn (onus is more on the child). It’s arguable which way is better—hence the crux of the apparent “conflict” between Suzuki and traditional. But one thing that cannot be argued is that anything introduced in the “mother tongue way’ is MUCH more likely to be successful with a GREATER number of individuals—one of the key Suzuki buzz phrases is “every child can”. Not just the really talented ones—because talent comes from ability, and ability can always be acquired if the right factors are in place. (Indeed, Suzuki fails when those factors are INSUFFICIENTLY in place.)

  • Suzuki children playing like robots: you know, ironically, Suzuki teachers often have the same complaint about traditional, “eyes glued to the page” students. In a good Suzuki situation (of which there are many, trust me), students are actually liberated to explore the feeling and nuances of the music, because their brains are not stuck on the de-coding (i.e. reading) aspect of playing. They learn not to just read a script off the page, but to actually feel and perform it. Moreover, more often than not with Suzuki, they are taught the technical skills to make the expression come off naturally.

  • Agreed, there are many Suzuki children who DO play like robots. But I submit the following two propositions: 1. that these children do not have the full support of a rich “Suzuki environment” in the home (e.g. regular listening, regular exposure to good music beyond what they are learning, consistent and positive response to good music from key individuals in child’s life); or 2. that these children might not otherwise be playing AT ALL under a traditional approach. (I could go on and on about that one, but I’ll just leave that statement alone for now—unless anyone would like me to expand in another post???)

  • “If the parents have to do so much work, what are we paying the teachers for?” Again, this is simply a difference in educational philosophy. There are parents who love reading to their children from infancy, take them to the library, have whole houses full of books, and (surprise!) have children who are semi- or fully literate by preschool or kindergarten, and actually enjoy reading to boot. There are other parents who do nothing of the sort, and then complain about the school system when little Johnny can’t read. Again, I’m taking very specific and extreme examples here—but hopefully they illustrate my point. Dr. Suzuki realized the UNIVERSAL success of the mother-tongue acquisition process. He then proposed (and proved) that the same process could be successfully applied to music learning. And that process involves steady exposure in the home environment, plus regular, healthy, two-way interaction between parent and child in the subject at hand (be it spoken language, reading, or a musical instrument). Sure, we can choose not to do it this way, and that is a parent’s choice. We can always wait for our kids to learn Spanish in school starting in fifth grade instead of speaking it at home and letting them watch Dora the Explorer in Spanish. But if we choose the home-involvement approach, what is wrong with that—many would argue it has a better chance of success. The only difference is that In Suzuki, parents often begin knowing nothing about music or their child’s instrument—so part of the teacher’s role is to equip the parent as “home teacher” until the child is old/mature enough to learn more indepedently—and that is a gradual process.

  • Reading and writing is a necessary form of a language, yes. But to what degree is someone “handicapped” by weak or non-existent reading and writing skills? The answer is, it truly depends on who you’re talking about, and what in situation. What about hearing/speech impaired individuals who are fully literate? People will use whatever tools of a language they need—as long as they communicate. Because music is a language of sound and emotion, I would take someone who can play but not read well, over someone who can read but not play well, any day. As a teacher, i would say the same thing about how I would prefer to leave my students at the end of their lives, if I had to make such a choice. (Fortunately, I don’t have to make such a choice—so of course I prefer to teach reading too.) Reading is a tool of music, but it is not music itself.

Of course reading is important! But I would be hard-pressed to criticize the Suzuki approach based on the apparent lack of it (and I say apparent because reading IS taught in Suzuki—just in a different way and time). Technique and expression are important too—and I argue that these are actually supposed to be the core of the Suzuki foundation, contrary to what you are experiencing.

As you see, it’s not that black and white. I would hestitate to be so categorically opposing of Suzuki. I do hope that you get a chance to witness and experience some situations in which it works well—it is truly a joy to behold.

OK I’ll keep quiet now…

Laura said: Oct 1, 2008
Suzuki Association Member
358 posts

May I just add one more thing: I believe that what you are describing as “hard core Suzuki” is probably, in reality, very poor Suzuki.

Jennifer Visick said: Oct 1, 2008
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
1076 posts

Where did you find Kato Havas’ video? I have read one of her books and I think she has some very good ideas, and I’ve heard of videos, but I’ve never seen videos offered for sale anywhere.

I too have been influenced by Karen Tuttle’s idea of “coordination” and I don’t think it’s completely at odds with Suzuki philosophy.

How are the MelBay theory books structured? With my slightly older students, I’ve been using the Alto Clef version of Alfreds’ Essentials of Music Theory books, along with “I Can Read Music” by Joanne Martin, in combination with some tailor made rhythm reading practice that incorporates the Twinkle rhythms as units and breaks them up gradually for students to understand (something along the lines of Robert Starer’s Rhythmic Training books). I also throw in some reading practice from the “A Tune A Day” books and other things depending on a student’s interests. For four year olds who are ready, I use the same basic structure but I start slower and use large erase-able lap boards with a staff that’s about 5 inches high and no books (the print is, I think, too small for a four year old).

Spending years on a cardboard violin does seem a little extreme, if the students are practicing with daily supervision in a supportive and informed home environment. On the other hand, if a teacher is modifying Suzuki ideas to use in a K-2 school, this might not be as extreme as it sounds. If the teacher didn’t see the students every day, and didn’t see them one at a time, but only in classes, and didn’t have parents helping their Kindergarteners to listen and practice daily at home, (or, didn’t have the regular classroom teacher’s support to encourage the students to practice), and if, along with regular school being out for the the summer, there were neither private lessons nor classes nor practicing at all during the vacation months, I can easily see second year students of that age needing to come back to basics in September. In fact, I would think most students would appear to know “nothing” after summer vacation. I certainly have some private students whose vacations seem to have erased the previous 6 months of work!

For a look at Suzuki teachers talking about balance and movement, check out Susan Kempter’s book “How Muscles Learn:Teaching the violin with the body in mind” and Ed Kreitman’s book “Teaching from the Balance Point: A guide for Suzuki parents, teachers, and students”. Both authors are excellent examples of U.S. Suzuki teacher trainers whose ideas are currently being taught, and used to train other Suzuki teachers, in what I would call the some of the best of the Suzuki community. I agree with purpletulips that what you are terming “hardcore” is probably poorly applied Suzuki philosophy.

Sara said: Oct 1, 2008
191 posts


From the sounds of it, you mostly have observed Suzuki students from one or two Suzuki teachers. I have played in orchestras in High School with Suzuki students as stand partners, I was not one, and always they played and read far better than I did. I have competed in fiddle competitions against “Suzuki students” They were they ones that won the competitions. Speaking from my own personal experience of violin teachers, it was the Suzuki teacher that I found after years of learning with traditional teachers, including college professors, that really boosted my playing and made me LOVE to play and made it why I am still playing and now teaching.
I agree with you in that we should never underestimate a student as to how much and when he/she can learn something. I teach notes as soon as they have a solid posture, violin hand and bow hand. This is sooner for some and later for others. It all depends on how much a student is able to devote to practice, attending lessons regularly, and age and parent support. Remember you can only teach so much at a time and each teacher has their own ideas of priorities and has found what works for them and what hasn’t. Just the same as you have had “Suzuki students” transfer to you b/c they wanted to learn notes and didn’t feel they were learning them fast enough, I have had “traditional” students transfer to me b/c they were not being taught well in posture, tone, and technique. I do not judge the entire “traditional” system on these few students. I just figure not every good teacher is a good match for every good student.
I am just curious… Have you ever attended a Suzuki camp and observed Suzuki student in mass from all over the area and country? Has your only experience with Suzuki students been from just these teachers that you know? Could it be possible that these Suzuki teachers teach differently than our average Suzuki teacher? Perhaps they are not “Hard core”. Perhaps they are just not thorough and incorporating theory as most of us do… Just a thought.

“What is man’s ultimate direction in life? It is to look for love, truth, virtue, and beauty.” Dr. Shinichi Suzuki

said: Oct 2, 2008
 36 posts

everyone is making good points, but I just disagree with many points of the “philosophy” or “approach” Now don’t get me wrong. I use the Suzuki book because they are great teaching pieces. I play the piano part which the kids on recitals and they love it.


I have meet four suzuki students from four different teachers and one of them was taught in Costa Rica. Again, I come back to a lack of understanding what they are doing. Because once you go to the next song. It’s like a deer in headlights! I had a 2nd grade girl cry after going to Lightly Row. She was from a Suzuki academy down the street. I said “Ok, you know twinkle very well, now let go forward” and she burst into tears! The mother was in the room and she said that I was intimidating her because “only the big kids were allowed to look at the music and go to the next song.” What!!! She is 7 years old! How many years was she going to practice 6 notes!! I don’t know what I am going to do. “What kind of school was this?” I asked the parent, “Well, I was did not know if she was learning anything so I took her out.” Look it up. It’s here in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on Stirling Rd. But please don’t get me in trouble with any of the local teachers here.

With regards to ear training. I was taught the “DRONE APPROACH”
If the child is playing something in A Major. I play a low A on the piano so they can pick up the overtone series. This way that low A is like sending a magnet through the air and the child’s ear HEAR the wrong notes and fix them because the notes will fit into place by this drone. Many cultures learn good ear training this way. By singing from a drone.

said: Oct 2, 2008
 36 posts

Ok listen, Thank you everyone for your responses. I will stay on this site for a couple more days then cancel my account. I just wanted to get some answers about the Suzuki approach. You all have been very nice and and the answers were very thoughtful.

Good luck


Laura said: Oct 2, 2008
Suzuki Association Member
358 posts

Sorry—I hope we are not scaring you off. I really hope that your experience with just four Suzuki students isn’t going to permanently color your perception of an entire music education philosophy which has had a very positive impact on millions of children over several decades.

Another point to add that seems not to have been brought up yet: please do not forget that with all the benefits of starting a child so young under the Suzuki way, we are still dealing with young children. Kids who cry at a Suzuki lesson are just as likely to be crying over something else. Or… as I’ve posted before on this forum, it’s quite possible that music lessons are the first time a young child has ever had to concentrate/focus/work at anything, so they might naturally balk at first. It rarely stays that way if the Suzuki teacher and parent are doing their job in terms of relating to the child. The younger the kids are, the more fun you have to make it. And you have to learn to adapt the experience to the individual child, even if it means that every lesson and every practice turns out a little differently. But if you look at the parallels with language acquisition (how babies and toddlers learn to talk), it all makes some sense, don’t you think?

Kids are kids, and we learn how to deal with them. A large part of Suzuki teacher training is in the relational aspect, not just in the instrumental instruction. Dr. Suzuki himself was very much about reaching the heart of every child, over and about whatever progress they may be making on their instrument. But consequently, progress on the instrument was a natural result.

Suzuki supporters are not trying to take over the world—it is just one approach that many people choose and appreciate. But contrary to your original proposition, in short, yes it really does work. There is an older thread somewhere on this forum which lists a large number of famous performers who all started in Suzuki. I even know a number of them from my own backyard (although I am not among them :) )

Among my friends and relatives who still play and enjoy music as adults, I know more of them with a Suzuki background than not. Conversely, of the ones who say “I took so many years of lessons, i hated it, I quit, I can’t play anymore and I don’t care”—there are more of them with a traditional background than with a Suzuki background. These are the same people who, when they become parents, seek out Suzuki teachers for their children. This is not a scientific claim, but I find it reasonable to assume from my perspective that Suzuki has a relatively high success rate with making music education “stick”.

These thoughts alone should hopefully be enough food for thought about the merits of such a method and philosophy. Good luck David—I really hope that you encounter some positive examples of Suzuki education one day. There are many out there, and you will be highly touched when you witness them. I’m sorry that you have encountered only bad examples—but there are good and bad examples of anything, everywhere.

Sara said: Oct 4, 2008
191 posts

I had a teacher that used the drone A and other tones. What really trained my ear was not that, but a Suzuki teacher teaching me to hear the open string “ring” in the tones and in the octaves. The drones were not effective with me. For some they may be. I wouldn’t throw it out but I wouldn’t limit myself either.
Good luck. :D

“What is man’s ultimate direction in life? It is to look for love, truth, virtue, and beauty.” Dr. Shinichi Suzuki

said: Oct 6, 2008
 36 posts

well, I am still working with this student from a Suzuki studio. The studio did everything by ear. The student was not getting anywhere. This is what the mother keeps telling me. “Getting her to practice was a nightmare.” Reading is very important to me. This is what I am doing to help her and it’s working very well and she has a great new attitude.

Reading finger numbers

Explaining basic note values (quarter =1 half =2….) I have a worksheet that helps her and she gets it

Singing and clapping finger numbers

After this we learn draw out the fingerboard and I give her an alphabet clock with the 7 letters and we go through the
fingerboard finding all the As and Bs and so forth. What’s the difference between a line note and a space note and so on.

Flash cards

I could go on and on about how this will give the student confidence. ANTICIPATION is key. The student must anticipate the notes
feeling what’s coming next so they wont freak out. I think the fear is that the students will freak out, but if the teachers put kids in groups and let them work with those violin flash cards results will come and reading is not as hard as some think.

Laura said: Oct 6, 2008
Suzuki Association Member
358 posts

Glad to hear you are still around, David :) It sounds as if you are a very good teacher who analyzes what every student needs and provides the necessary teaching accordingly. I like your idea about the alphabet clock—I might start using that one too!

If you continue lurking on the board, you will likely find a very similar attitude among Suzuki teachers. I believe that further to the apparent conflict that began this thread, we have much more in common than we have differences. Good teaching tools are sought after, shared, used, and appreciated no matter by whom or for whom. Perhaps this could be the opportunity to keep talking. We could learn a lot from each other. That is one reason why I appreciate this board, anyway.

Interestingly, what you describe (in terms of what was wrong and what finally worked) is actually very common within Suzuki, too. Sometimes the very opposite is common, too—for example, a parent who says “getting my kid to practice is a nightmare” because the child is paralyzed and freaked out by note reading, and finds that things turn around when doing things more by ear is finally introduced.

I believe that a lot of it has to do with the age of the child, their learning style, and how quickly they learn. Very young beginners tend to do better starting off by ear, with delayed introduction to reading. Older beginners get quickly frustrated by learning by ear exclusively, because their minds have already progressed to a more logical and academic style of learning that matches their school experience. It also has do to with individual children, their abilities and attitudes. Some children I teach with the book in front of them, other children I do not, and still with others I switch back and forth depending on our focus of the moment. I have delayed reading as late as mid Book 2, and it is all going well now (e.g. the note reading is catching on just fine). I have also just started a Twinkler on note reading because it was so obvious that he was itching for this sort of thing. But I am using different reading material, so that we can use the Suzuki things to focus on playing technique and ear training.

Reading is important to most musicians, agreed. But ear training should be equally important. Whether to introduce one first or the other, or at the same time? It depends on the child. Because Dr. Suzuki worked routinely with VERY young beginners (as young as 2-3) who were not even literate (yet fully conversant) in their native language, he went with learning by ear first because that is where those children’s learning abilities tended to lie.

As for anticipation, I agree with you there too—it precludes a lot of anxiety and frustration. However, while a pure note-reading approach does this by equipping a child with the ability to decipher what comes next, the Suzuki approach does this by equipping the child with the aural familiarity over what comes next. If you are not familiar with this aspect of the method, Suzuki requires consistent daily listening to the repertoire being studied. A child who is listening enough already “knows” how the piece goes, so that is how the anticipation is provided in the Suzuki way. That is how Suzuki chidlren’s playing (if properly taught and practiced, of course) can sound quite natural, pleasant, and even musical—because the deciphering stage is bypassed, at least in the beginning stages. When the teacher shows the child the fingerings and bowings, it eventually clicks given enough practice—the child recognizes that he is playing what he expects it to sound like.

Proper introduction to note reading, even if delayed, will be successful as long as it is proper introduction such as what you describe you did with your student. My students also read and sing finger numbers, learn note values, and all of that—but under the Suzuki approach, they just do not relying on those things as the sole way to learn their music until a little later. If your playing ability can develop unencumbered by your reading ability, what’s wrong with that (or to phrase it another way, why hold them back by reading)? The reading will eventually catch up. The younger the child, the more strongly that concept can be applied.

As for a child apparently learning nothing, this can happen with any method—traditional, Suzuki, or other. The key is for a good teacher to find out the problem and provide what is needed, as you seem to have done. And this happens within Suzuki too, really!

Sarah said: Oct 7, 2008
 11 posts

We’ve been working with a Suzuki teacher since we began violin and as a parent I can say it definitely works. In fact, I can’t imagine how hard it would be to teach a 4 year old violin without the “Suzuki triangle” of teacher, parent (as home teacher) and child working together.

As for being a “deer in the headlights” when moving on to the next piece I’ve never had that experience. One of my boys is a typical Suzuki student. He listens to his CDs daily and “knows” all of the songs far ahead of where he’s actually playing. When he’s in group class he copies the bowings and the fingers to songs he hasn’t started yet until he’s comfortable playing them. Often, when learning a new song the entire song will click for him after the teacher introduces the “preview”. Learning new songs is fun for him because he knows what’s coming next and he wants to play the same songs his friends in group class can play.

Reading is slower, but he’s only 6 so I’m not worried about it. We spend time on note reading each day using a book that teaches note reading. But, we also use a royal conservatory book and learn new songs by reading the notes in it. He’s slowly getting it but it’s definitely harder for him to read than it is for him to play.

This is my performer child as well. He loves to play with the musicality of the piece and he’ll draw out long bows or emphasize certain dynamics in order to please a crowd.

My other son loves to note read. He doesn’t learn well by ear but as soon as we introduced the book for him to see where the dotted half notes were in Minuet 1 he really took off. He now uses his book to learn a new piece but he does not like being confined to the book so he works hard to get to the point where he can play the song without the book. His songs really come alive after he’s been out of the book for a while and he’s comfortable enough with the songs to add in dynamics and to play with good posture.

We had four weeks of lessons with a traditional teacher last month and it was a wild ride. He introduced a new song each week and all of a sudden our practices were 75% new notes and bowings. We usually spend maybe 15% of our practice on new notes and bowings so this was a real change. The pace was too fast for the boys to really polish and perfect pieces that they learned. Sure, they learned a lot of new songs but the quality of their playing suffered because the time and attention that is usually given to a completed piece wasn’t given. We continued polishing the newly learned pieces at home, but the teacher never asked to hear them again and didn’t continue to guide the boys to better playing using those pieces. Now I feel like we have enough raw material to last us a few months as we continue to improve our posture, tonalization, and intonation. Our newly learned songs are coming along really well, but in order to get them up to our regular standard we will need to spend more time polishing them and making them even better than they are now. I am relieved to be back with a Suzuki teacher because it’s clear that quality and quantity are not the same thing and frankly, I’d rather have the quality.

said: Oct 7, 2008
 36 posts

well I disagree. I teach a 4 year old right now and she is having fun tracing circles (space and line note) and coloring them in.
she does not need to know the alphabet letters but finger numbers are working for her. I in my 4 years of teaching have not ever seen a child practice with their children. In fact yesterday, the mother of a 5 years said that she “rather have (her child) practice and play only in class because “she does not want to hear all that noise” Well now…there are parents like this you know. I think it’s great that children and parents work together, but I have to be realistic. I just have not seen it, so I have to teach differently. Now back to the 4 year old. The mother comes into every lesson and helps me and understands what needs to be done at home and the child is already practicing 0pen 1 open 1 open 1 on every string. just getting the bow to go to every string level is a great goal. It involves muscles of the arm and elbow to develop. But again, I am just calling it as I see it. Maybe up north the kids are great but here in Florida the culture is different perhaps

Sarah said: Oct 7, 2008
 11 posts

Or perhaps the students down there are just much more mature? I know that my boys, at four, often needed a reminder to position their feet properly before playing. They would also, often, need to have adjustments made to their bow holds (”Is your thumb bent?” “Where does your pinkie go?”, etc). They were able to make good bow holds and place their feet in position, but often it took a reminder question from me before they fixed something. Same with playing. Sure, they could play rhythms but would they always watch their bow carefully to see that it stayed on the highway? Not unless I mentioned it first.

If we had started at four without parent participation we would have had the issue where the child practiced things wrong all week and then had half an hour to work on things the right way with the teacher, then it would have been an entire week of practice where they likely wouldn’t remember to keep the bow on the highway, or to bend the thumb of a bow hold or to have proper violin hand posture. Yet, with a little parental interaction during practice all of those things the teacher wants the child to pay attention to can actually be practiced—properly! In Suzuki, they tell us that we need to practice doing something properly more times than we practice doing it incorrectly—having a parent involved in this; especially with very young beginners, makes it possible to have effective practices.

Laura said: Oct 7, 2008
Suzuki Association Member
358 posts

What Sarah CB described is very much how Suzuki is supposed to work—and it sounds very much like it does in her situation. I’m curious, David, what you are disagreeing with. Are you disagreeing with the whole approach and experience she is describing, or are you simply stating that it is not realistic for everyone to do it like that?

If it’s the former, I respectfully argue that one shouldn’t criticize what is working—there must be something to it since the results speak for themselves. If it’s the latter, then most certainly—Suzuki only works with parent involvement at home. No one would argue with you on this. Indeed, any parent who does not or cannot help their child practice at home should be steered AGAINST Suzuki in favor of more traditional instruction.

A lot of this discussion about “Suzuki vs. traditional” has centered around the “learning by ear vs. learning by reading” debate. However, I suddenly realized after Sarah’s post that two key components of Suzuki education have been left out of the discussion so far. These components are so critical that, like regular listening, if they aren’t there, then Suzuki fails.

Firstly, there is the role of ROTE LEARNING. Lots of learning by watching, seeing, copying, doing, repeating, and having someone physically help you until you get it. This is the world of a little kid—so Dr. Suzuki simplpy capitlized on this phenomenon. It’s not uncommon, for example, for the Suzuki teacher to begin simply by “mold” the child’s fingers and body into the correct position, and moving the child like a puppet to produce the correct sounds. What is happening here is that the child becomes pleased with what she hears—she believes she is making this music happen, sounding exactly like what she is already familiar with in her mind. She wants to do more. So she’s willing to repeat the experience any number of times, until one day (perhaps as early as tomorrow or next week), something clicks and she is able to correctly bow the Pepperoni Pizza rhythm independently, somehow always starting on a down bow because that’s the only way she’s ever experienced it. So the adult lets go of the bow arm and lets her go at it. Then another day, she can put down and lift up finger 1 on her own. Then another day, she can change strings from A to E on her own. So now she can play the first bar of Pepperoni Pizza on her own—wow. The process continues until she can play the entire piece on her own. Pretty soon she is playing the entire book on her own, with her natural musicality coming through because she has embraced the “language” of the music in her heart, even if she has yet to understand the spelling and grammar.

I have seen this process happen time and again, with my own students and with my child’s peers. So that is why I have problems hearing that “absolutely nothing is learned” with Suzuki—it must be an example of poorly applied Suzuki philosophy, as RaineJen said.

That is just one little example with a complete beginner. But the concept builds on itself—even Gossec’s Gavotte at the end of Book 1 can be learned this way, but by that time the child has enough ability to do a lot more on her own (e.g. respond to an instruction of “down bow” rather than have the teacher grab her arm and draw it down). Of course, the right terminology is used and the teacher and parent do talk and use words and concepts that the child is expected to understand and remember. However, they learn just as much by experiencing it than by simply understanding it.

Of course, the relational skills between child and adult required to make this happen are highly important, perhaps even intensive. That is why Suzuki teachers are so specifically trained in the relational aspects of their profession, and parents are required to be the “home teacher”. It used to be that life was simpler and mothers were more available for their children—times have changed, and that is simply a reality that no one can argue with. But when it can happen, so can Suzuki.

Secondly, there is role of EXAMPLE AND MOTIVATION. Participation in group activities, having the bond of common repertoire, and having only the best performance examples to follow are all key elements that help children learn quickly. (As mentioned before, Suzuki teachers are held to a high standard of playing, and part of Suzuki teacher training is to ensure that the teacher’s own playing is up to par. Of course, this is the ideal, and one of the goals of the SAA. In reality, there are many Suzuki teachers who are not representing the method well.)

So that is how and why it works. It might not be everyone’s capability, reality, or even choice—and I don’t think anyone will argue with you there. There is also no monopoly on most of this stuff—many successful traditional approaches incorporate some or all of these same factors. But it does work, and more commonly so than one might believe based on only limited, negative and indirect exposure to Suzuki.

So to make a long story short, yes, it does work. I believe the crux of this discussion now seems to be whether or not all of the necessary elements are attainable, or even desirable—and the answer to that can only rest with the individual parent, individual child, and individual situation.

said: Oct 7, 2008
 36 posts

Can someone tell me how to delete my account?



Debbie said: Oct 7, 2008
Debbie Mi138 posts

To start with, I admit I didn’t have time to read every post in this discussion, so forgive me if I am missing part of the discussion. But, I would just like to add another way of saying the same thing.

A good musician will have a well-rounded musical education. Aurally, Visually, Kinesthetically, and Theoretically. I must also mention that I know I cannot spell well! Anyway, a good teacher, no matter whether or not they chose to call themselves “Suzuki” or “traditional” will know how to incorporate all of these aspects in their teaching.
I chose Suzuki because I have found my students to be having a great time learning, many very helpful resources available, and I know the system already.

Ultimately no matter what method you use, with each student, you are not teaching “the Suzuki Method”, but rather, you are teaching “Jonny” or “Jennifer”, or whoever the student is, so you have to adapt to the needs, age, and backround of each individual student.
So, if a student walks into the studio who can play many songs but cannot read a note, the teacher must adopt the attitude that Dr. Suzuki encouraged. Say, “Great! Now let’s add _______ to your skills.” Not, “Bad student. Why can’t you do this yet?” Or, “Bad former teacher! You didn’t do it right.” Instead, one must say, “Yes! I love the fact that your former teacher did help you to play something on your violin. Now, let’s add the next skill into your knowledge”.
This sort of attitude really really helps! “Where love is deep, much can be accomplished.”

I know that, as a former Suzuki student, I did really struggle with note-reading. However, my former teacher really gave me a lot, even though note-reading was a big struggle. Now that I am a professional, I have not once wished that my teacher hadn’t taught me how to play by ear! It is such a huge asset, and so many of my collegues struggle with many apsects of music-making that I have no struggles with, thanks to Suzuki! For instance, in orchestral settings, not only can I now read the music, but after 1 or 2 rehearsals, I can hear how my part fits in with the other parts. This gets quickly stuck in my memory. And I memorize passages so easily that I can, after 2 rehearsals, look up in spots are really watch the conductor. Even though I sit in the back of the section, I can really keep myself in sinc with the front of the section since I basically know the part without looking.
I know there are traditionally taught players who can do this all over the World. But, I think Suzuki really gives kids who might never be able to do this a chance to develop these skills.
Also, what an awesome amount of fantastic violin technique was incorporated into my playing as a youngster, and I didn’t even know it was there! I just thought I was learning a cool piece!
I don’t think we should throw out the baby with the bath water! Yes, kids really need to read. But don’t miss the genius and beauty of Suzuki in the process!

Anna said: Oct 11, 2008
 145 posts

I sort of get what an alphabet clock is.

what about sharps and flats. Can someone explain to me how you make an alphabet clock is made ? Sounds really good. Do you have twelve letters or just the ABCDEFG once each ? bit confused !
Also when they draw the fingerboard, do you draw the tapes the child has on the fingerboard ? I think for the child to be able to draw the fingerboard is a really good concept.

Thanks ,this is such an interesting board!

Connie Sunday said: Oct 11, 2008
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
670 posts


well I disagree. I teach a 4 year old right now and she is having fun tracing circles (space and line note) and coloring them in.
she does not need to know the alphabet letters but finger numbers are working for her. I in my 4 years of teaching have not ever seen a child practice with their children. In fact yesterday, the mother of a 5 years said that she “rather have (her child) practice and play only in class because “she does not want to hear all that noise” Well now…there are parents like this you know. I think it’s great that children and parents work together, but I have to be realistic. I just have not seen it, so I have to teach differently. Now back to the 4 year old. The mother comes into every lesson and helps me and understands what needs to be done at home and the child is already practicing 0pen 1 open 1 open 1 on every string. just getting the bow to go to every string level is a great goal. It involves muscles of the arm and elbow to develop. But again, I am just calling it as I see it. Maybe up north the kids are great but here in Florida the culture is different perhaps

If you’ve only been teaching for four years, is it public school or private teaching? That makes a big difference, too; perhaps you should listen to people like freesia and myself, who have been teaching for 40+ years? You might gain some insight.

Also, there are other string-related forums which have a lot of wisdom to share. Please see:
String-Related Discussion Lists**[/size]
Violin—Fiddle—Viola—Piano—Orchestra—Composition Forums

Addendum: Note that a discussion on developing a private studio, and the literature available for this, has been carried over to Maestronet. Please see:

Free Handouts for Music Teachers & Students:

said: Apr 8, 2009
 36 posts

The following is a great article from Wikipedia

Criticism and response

The most common criticisms of the Suzuki method from educators outside the various Suzuki associations are that group playing, extensive listening to and copying of recordings, and early focus on memorization lead to:

* compromised sight reading skills
* a tendency towards rote learning and ‘robotic’ group performance at the expense of individual musicianship

Other criticisms include:

* teachers are often low-level performers, and are not required to hold a degree or have had any formal training on their instrument

* if music is to be learned from audio recordings, the quality of the recorded pieces must be questioned in terms of style, integrity, and its positive or negative traits. The resulting views are subjective and may differ between people.

* any reliance on listening to a single piece in order to learn it is not sufficient for instilling a sense of the style of the work (where the style refers to the traits of performance that are common to many similar works), since a style can only be acquired by listening to a range of works of common style (including listening to works for enjoyment, rather than with only the goal of copying them).

Many Suzuki teachers have addressed these concerns by introducing sight reading exercises earlier and more often than was practiced when the method was first introduced in the West. Some also defend their emphasis on unity of musical expression in group performance by pointing out that this is a necessary skill “just like … in the string section of any professional symphony”, and add that although group performance plays an important motivating and ensemble role, and is a highly visible part of the Suzuki method, solo expression can also be encouraged, and individually tailored lessons are at the heart of the method (Barber, 1991). In order to assure the quality of teachers, each national Suzuki association institutes its own competency requirements for teacher training: for example, a basic “competency” audition to register teacher training in the American Association was instituted in 2002. Suzuki teachers often urge their students to listen to many different recordings and live concerts in order to help them acquire a sense of musical style.

Criticism has also sprung up from within the Suzuki movement:

* students may progress too rapidly and find themselves studying repertoire for which they are not yet emotionally prepared.
* Baroque music is emphasized in the Suzuki violin literature to the detriment of other styles and periods. Some of this literature includes note errors and 19th-century editorial changes that are not in keeping with historically informed performance practice. (The International Suzuki Association is in the process of addressing this by revising the violin repertoire).
* “Older students can become overly dependent” on the support structure of recordings, parental note-taking and tutoring at home, and teaching styles appropriate for younger students (Barber, 1991).
* very young students, such as those aged 3-5, are often not ready for formal instruction, and too much emphasis on practicing hard at this age may be counterproductive (American Suzuki Journal, 2005).


Jennifer Visick said: Apr 8, 2009
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
1076 posts

Ah, Wikipedia…!

I just can’t resist pointing out that I edited and rewrote quite a bit of that particular article. (oh Humilty, where art thou?)

And as a public announcement I’d like to take this opportunity to remind any contributors to this board that the article still needs some work and—as there is quite a bit more to it than what is quoted above—you should go look at it and see if you can help out.

Particularly in the descriptions of the common repertoire for flute, recorder, organ, voice, and harp….
Also a brief description of the ECE would be in order if anyone knows anything relevant.

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