Countless times and in numerous places, Suzuki stated that the goal of his method was not to produce professional musicians. Furthermore, Suzuki found the mere question of whether a child could “amount to something,” (meaning in this case to become a successful professional performer) demonstrated “an unwholesome view of the child as potentially a usable thing or worse, a profitable thing.” Susan Baumann has highlighted this in her writing about her experience with the Suzuki Method in Japan:

Upon my arrival in Matsumoto it was pointed out to me that a high percentage of the students who had studied music at the Talent Education Institute from age three or four had actually quit their lessons by the age of fourteen. I was shocked to learn this because most of the fourteen-year-olds, and in fact most of the Japanese students over ten years of age, were at my level of ability or well beyond it. I thought about how children of their “talent” in the Western sense would not be allowed to quit in the United States after such miraculous accomplishments. It was mind-boggling to think that Suzuki was producing child prodigies. How could he be happy about producing talented children and drop-outs at the same time? It was a paradox. Yet he was happy, he continually boasted about the fact that only five percent of the Talent Education children go on to be professional musicians.

If not to become a professional, why study music, particularly to such a high level? Suzuki stated, in the preface to Waltraud’s translation of Nurtured by Love, that through studying with his method, one can turn a “mediocre child into a noble human being.” Defining what Suzuki meant by “nobility” is of importance for two reasons. Firstly, Suzuki teachers must have an understanding of what Suzuki meant by nobility if they are to evaluate the success of their teaching. Secondly, if one wishes to critically analyze the Suzuki Method, for research purposes or for the purpose of comparison with other music pedagogy methods, one must have an understanding of what it was Suzuki sought to do.

In this article I define what Suzuki meant by “nobility,” the development of which is the purpose of the Suzuki Method. My definition is based on a critical reading of Suzuki’s text Nurtured by Love (Ai ni ikeru is the Japanese title), originally published in 1966. In her autobiography, Waltraud Suzuki discusses translating Nurtured by Love, and suggests that this was the text Suzuki wrote to explain his philosophy: “People started asking why Suzuki didn’t write a book so everyone could understand his philosophy better. He wrote one, but in Japanese. Then everyone demanded that it be translated.” I have therefore chosen to use Nurtured by Love as a source rather than Suzuki’s other writings.

One of the challenges of understanding Suzuki’s definition of nobility is that Nurtured by Love is not written in a systematic fashion. Rather, the book is a collection of stories, ideas, and thoughts. Suzuki never explicitly specifies what he means by nobility.  However, throughout the text, he does write about the goals of the method when discussing various topics. I have therefore assumed that each of these goals is an element which when taken together with the others, compose Suzuki’s definition of nobility. While systematic descriptions of the Suzuki Method have been published by many teachers, to my knowledge, this is the first presentation of a systematic description of Suzuki’s goals.

Below I describe the goals of the Suzuki Method, or as stated above, the elements that make up Suzuki’s definition of nobility. These elements or goals are not entirely distinct; rather, they are all related and sometimes similar. For further assistance to the reader, I have indicated keywords and citations to research corresponding to the topics discussed herein. Thereby, the reader can explore other places where ideas similar to those of Suzuki are discussed.

Eight Goals of the Suzuki Method

1. One must be productive.

As Suzuki wrote in the preface to the earlier edition of Nurtured by Love, “Man, I believe, should follow Mother Nature, and bring forth fruit.” In order for man to be productive, or “bring forth fruit,” his ability must be trained. For this reason, “People should make every effort, even though it is difficult, to accumulate and build superior ability.” Suzuki felt that teachers must train children, with the assistance of their parents, to develop this superior ability. By “superior ability,” Suzuki perhaps meant superior relative to normal ability. However, if Suzuki succeeded in training all children to have “superior ability,” then “superior ability” would, in effect, become the new normal.

An alternative definition of “superior ability” may perhaps be superior to the ability developed in normal generational progression. Though Suzuki never explicitly stated that he believed ability increased with progressive generations, he intimated this idea when he wrote, “Thus be it Einstein, Goethe, or Beethoven had he been born during the Stone Age he would have attained no greater cultural ability than that of the people of that age.” One could explain Suzuki’s concept of “superior ability” to mean an ability developed to a higher level than what one would expect from the progress of each generation. That is, with each generation one expects people to develop ability beyond what was achieved in the previous generation. Accordingly, by “superior ability” Suzuki may mean ability that extends beyond the normal generational progression.

In psychology research, this increase in ability from generation to generation has been used to explain the “Flynn Effect.” Flynn observed that with each generation IQ scores increased, resulting in the need to re-standardize IQ scores with each generation. While some have suggested theoretical answers to why IQ test scores increase with each generation, these theories remain highly conjectural. One such theory, as stated above, is that with each generation the potential for developing ability increases.

2. One must not believe they lack talent.

If one believes some children lack talent and therefore should remain untrained, those children will “spend their days unable to experience a vivid happiness, a soul-satisfying joy.” Suzuki originally believed:

I felt my own incompetence piercing me to the marrow of my bones. “How Pathetic! My talent can only be described as feeble, and yet as I slog away at this day after day. What value can there possibly be in these efforts that will take me nowhere? I just don’t have the kind of talent that wells up from within. To give up now may well mean to know myself.” Utterly dejected, I began reasoning thus to myself. This sort of thing can occur to anyone in their youth, to some degree or other, and often more than once. Especially those who pursue artistic paths experience it almost without exception.

Suzuki became depressed because he believed that because he lacked talent, he could not develop ability. This encouraged him to develop a method to train ability with no consideration to the concept of in-born talent. Suzuki’s description of the emotional state resulting from continued failure and the belief that one lacks the ability to succeed in learning, is referred to by psychologists as “learned helplessness.”

3. Memorization.

Memorization is a key element in the Suzuki Method, and training students to memorize with ease is a goal of the method. Students are required to memorize all of their music, and constantly have an entire repertoire in their mind available to play at any moment. Suzuki believed memory can be trained. Suzuki further believed that the skill of memorizing music was transferable to memorization of other material, from other subjects. That is, students trained in musical memorization are able to memorize other things as a result of this training. At a rudimentary level, Suzuki believed the skill of memorization was valuable because it helped students succeed in school. As Suzuki wrote, “For example, I believe that children who have good grades at school are those whose memory has developed well above the normal range, and that less successful students are simply those who have not formed this ability.” On a more complex level, Suzuki felt memory served as the foundation for contemplative and creative thought and claimed it was the tool to life’s fulfillment. He derived this idea from the writings of Diasetsu Suzuki, as he quoted in Nurtured by Love:

This is because human beings possess such a thing as memory. Memory is tremendously important, for it is the source of human contemplation and creative thought. As long as human beings have memory, experience is possible, and if experience is possible, there will surely be a path for gradual advancement. . . . Memory serves as the basis of experience, and it is because experience exists, one can say, that humans are able to fulfill the reason they are human.

Lastly, Suzuki believed that memorization of music could help in the treatment of students with physical and mental problems. When writing of a student with infantile paralysis which was later cured, Suzuki claimed, “Through violin playing and memorizing the music, her brain and body were stimulated. And it was this activity that made the child mentally and physically sound.”

4. Self-examination.

In the Suzuki method students constantly review previously learned repertoire so that they can scrutinize their playing and try to improve it. This is done with the assistance of the teacher, as well as through listening to recordings of master performers as a model. Students listen to themselves play, and compare it to the recording they have already heard. Because the students are playing from memory they need not pay attention to a printed page. Additionally, because the piece has been played many times, students can play it without focusing on what note comes next. This freedom from the printed page and from thinking about what comes next in the piece, allows students to concentrate solely on the sound they are producing. Self-examination, Suzuki believed, was not only a skill which helped one improve as a musician, but is essential to bettering oneself in any regard. As Suzuki wrote, “Fortune shines on those who often engage in self-reflection.” Social psychologists and educators have used the terms, “self-evaluation” and “reflective practice” to specify this concept.

5. Immediate Action.

In order for self-examination to be beneficial, Suzuki argued that students must develop the skill of taking action right away. Suzuki often complained that people merely thought about things without putting them into practice. Suzuki believed the habit of immediate action was essential for everyone. He even went as far as to say, “Indeed I would suggest that success or failure in life hinges on this alone.” According to Suzuki, people who develop the habit of action as opposed to those who merely think about things are those who will build a “fine society.”

Suzuki taught students to develop this habit of immediate action in three ways. The first was by merely insisting on it. When a student stated that they have thought of doing something Suzuki insisted that the student follow it through right away. This was facilitated by the large memorized repertoire at the student’s disposal. If a student wished to change an aspect of their technique they could do so by playing all of the pieces they know with this change. This is easier than trying to learn new pieces while incorporating the change.

Secondly, Suzuki helped students pick realistic goals:

To act with resolve is to live with hope, or to keep in view a lofty mountain. There will be difficulties, but there will not be despair. Nobody can reach the summit in a single bound. And as long as one desires to make the climb, one must approach it step by step. Never make haste. This is a basic principle. One accomplishes nothing if one hurries and falls. Never dawdle either. This too is a basic principle. If one continues, regardless of what anyone else says, to move one foot before the other in silence, and without hurry or rest, one will never fail to reach the goal.

By having the teacher, or sometimes the student, pick smaller goals, it is easier for students to develop this habit of action, as they are less likely to fail, and the action required is less demanding. The type of goals Suzuki suggested students strive for, or the teachers assign, are often called “S. M. A. R. T. goals” in business research. The acronym stands for specific, measurable, assignable, (although some researchers have substituted “attainable”), realistic, time-related.

Thirdly, Suzuki fostered the ability of immediate action by modeling. When Suzuki was confronted with a situation where someone thought of doing something but did not follow through, he himself went out and demonstrated the action and its concomitant skill.

6. Development of Kan.

Kan is a concept Suzuki loosely defined as “intuition,” or “sixth sense.” Suzuki described Kan as the “reliability slumbering at the base of rational experiences, and it works in an instant when needed.” Suzuki claimed that through violin playing, a student could develop Kan, and “Kan produces Kan.” Because of Kan, according to Suzuki, one is able to accomplish many great achievements. (In the 2012 edition of Nurtured by Love, many instances of the word Kan have been replaced with the word intuition.)

Suzuki provided several examples to explain Kan. In one place Suzuki explained Kan as the reason why a violinist can tell where violin strings are, even with his or her eyes closed. Even without using their eyes, the violinist can “see” the strings. In another place, Suzuki used Kan to explain how he knew precisely what was problematic in a violin student’s technique simply by listening to a recording. This may have been something as specific as lowering or raising the elbow of the bow arm. Through listening to the recording Suzuki claimed he could “see” the student. Kan is additionally used to explain Suzuki’s ability to throw a stone accurately over a great distance, in a nervous situation, because of training from the early years of his life.

From the examples Suzuki provided, Kan seems to be a combination of visual, haptic, spatial, and procedural memory. However, Suzuki believed it was because of Kan that noble laureate physicist Hideki Yukawa was able to conceive his theory of mesons, and Einstein his Special Theory of Relativity. Suzuki does not explain how Kan functioned in either of these cases. Furthermore, these examples imply that there is more involved to Kan than just the aforementioned types of memory. A complete description or definition of what Suzuki meant when he used the word Kan may not be possible, and perhaps this is why Waltraud Suzuki, in the original translation, chose not to translate the word from Japanese. However, it seems to me that Kan is a form of expertise that makes the performance of skills, or creation of ideas, easy or second nature.

7. Search for love, truth, virtue, and goodness.

In his preface to the 1983 edition of Nutured by Love, Suzuki asked, “What is man’s ultimate direction in life?” He immediately answered this question by writing, “It is to look for love, truth, virtue, and beauty. That goes for me, for everyone.” Suzuki, never precisely defined what he meant by these terms, but he did specify how his method helps students find them. Suzuki claimed that these terms are developed by his method in two ways. The first is that the Suzuki method does not reject children as being inferior. All children are accepted and treated as if they too can reach a very high musical level, or high level of any skill to which the method is applied.

All branch chapters of Talent Education throughout the country accept every child without any admissions tests. This is because we operate on the assumption that talent is not inborn, and that every child develops in proportion to her life experience and the efforts she expends. “Let’s have children study the violin as a way to acquire a beautiful heart, artful sensibility, and refined abilities. The violin is the medium through which we cultivate their humanity.” Teachers of every branch chapter operate on this principle. They collaborate with the parents of their students in a joint effort to foster something precious in each child, who in effect constitutes life itself.

Because no child is rejected, the Suzuki Method can be considered a method that loves all children. While discussing a child with infantile paralysis who kept dropping her bow, Suzuki wrote:

But the great love and persistent endeavor of both the mother and teacher won out. The time came when the child was finally able to hold the bow throughout the entire piece.

The second way Suzuki claimed that love, truth, virtue, and beauty are found is through the music itself. Suzuki claimed that music “is a language of life that transcends the oral and written word, a living art that should be acknowledged for its mysteriousness, and therein lies its capacity to enthrall.” By studying, listening, and playing music, one absorbs the character communicated by the composer, as Suzuki claimed:

Bach, Mozart, Beethoven… all of these composers are vividly alive within their music, powerfully speaking to our life forces, purifying us, elevating us, and offering us supreme joy and emotional depth.

Similarly, in a reflection upon hearing the Klinger Quartet play the Mozart Clarinet Quintet, Suzuki wrote:

I am uncertain as to when I started thinking this way, but I consider myself to have been nurtured by Mozart, and through him, to have come to know love, truth, goodness, and beauty that transcend all reasoning.

This idea is part of the reasoning behind Suzuki’s choice of repertoire for his students. In the Suzuki Method, even the youngest beginners study music of renowned composers, rather than playing études or exercises. In the early volumes of the Suzuki Method, students encounter works of J. S. Bach, Handel, Weber, Schumann, Vivaldi, and other notable composers.

8. Energy and Patience.

Suzuki believed that the ability to continually work on a goal, what Suzuki calls “energy,” (from Suzuki’s examples, it seems “energy” could be defined as persistence) along with patience is essential to develop any skill. As Suzuki often said, one must work “without hurry or rest.” Suzuki compared the development of ability in children to the planting of a seed. At first it seems that nothing is happening. However, eventually, with proper and constant care, the seed germinates and begins to grow. If one lacks the energy for the care a seed requires, one will never see it sprout. Analogously, if the teacher, parent, and student lack the “energy” to repeat things again and again, or lack the patience to wait and see the results, the student will never become an accomplished violinist.

Suzuki claimed that energy and patience were abilities themselves that needed to be trained. As he wrote that “achievement is the product of energy and patience which have to be trained like all other abilities.” Suzuki trained students in energy and patience through demonstration. Both the teacher and parent would assist the child in many repetitions of a skill on a daily basis. The teacher and parent would divide the necessary skills into small steps, not moving on to the next step until the student had mastered the current one. Through the reinforcement created by witnessing the results of such work, students were trained in energy and patience. Suzuki believed this type of training in music would transfer to any skill and thereby the students could “follow Mother Nature and bring forth fruit.” Curiously, while Waltraud Suzuki’s translation makes regular use of the word “energy” when discussing this topic, Selden’s translation does not. Thus, in the older translation it is easier to see this idea as a goal of the method.


While the Suzuki method has been utilized to produce remarkable musicians, it was not Suzuki’s goal to create professional musicians. Rather, Suzuki strove to develop noble people through teaching them music. Suzuki believed that noble people were people who were productive, did not lament lack of talent, had a developed memory, engaged in self-reflection, acted on their thoughts, had developed kan, strived for love, truth virtue and goodness, and had the patience and persistence to achieve their goals. Through studying music using the Suzuki Method, Suzuki argued any one can develop these traits.

The above description of the goal of the Suzuki Method, is to my knowledge the first systematic description of what Suzuki meant by “nobility.” It is my hope that others will take on this task as well, ideally using other methodologies. For example, it is my hope that one who spent a lot of time with Suzuki might take up the task and provide unique insight based on their experiences with him. By doing so I hope we will reach a better understanding of what Suzuki meant by nobility, and how Suzuki sought to teach it. In this way we may all improve our teaching and strive to foster noble people.