Translated by Luciana Arraes

This article will describe my experience as a Suzuki flute teacher in the musical program Guri Santa Marcelina in the city of São Paulo, Brazil, between the years of 2011 and 2020. My gratitude to Mayki Fabiani for his help and commitment to the revision of this article and to Luciana Castillo for making it possible

Who I am – My Story

I am a Black Brazilian woman, born in São Bernardo do Campo, a city neighboring the capital São Paulo. I was raised in a neighborhood far from downtown, where basic items like schools, grocery stores, pharmacies, banks, and libraries were not accessible.

I come from a Christian family where playing music was very much part of our daily lives. I have memories of my great-grandmother singing hymns and talking about how much she would have liked to have learned an instrument. But being a poor indigenous woman in an unequal society, learning music was not possible.

As a mother, my great-grandmother made sure that all her children would learn to sing and play instruments: granted, many women in my family were not able to learn music because of the taboos of the time. I grew up longing to play the piano, but because of financial hardships during my childhood, that was not possible.

At age 13 I began my musical studies at church, which offered theory classes, saxophone, clarinet and flute—all taught by the same teacher. I began playing saxophone but soon discovered the sounds of the flute. 

A year later, I began teaching lessons to beginner students, since my teacher could no longer keep up with all the classes. I became a teacher because there was a need, but the teaching experience allowed me to develop my instrument technique and was my very first source of income.

At age 16 I received a scholarship to attend the music school at Fundação das Artes de São Caetano do Sul and later at the São Paulo Municipal Music School. I attended important festivals in Brazil, such as the Campos do Jordão International Festival. I attended the Universidade Estadual Júlio Mesquita Filho – UNESP in São Paulo, where I graduated in 2016 with a bachelor of music in flute performance.

The teaching experience I acquired at church accompanied me at all times during my musical development. I taught in several churches and small schools, while being part of musical ensembles—symphony bands and martial bands.[1]

In 2005 I joined the São Bernardo Symphony Band, being its principal flute from 2005 to 2010—a time when political groups advocated for the band’s closure, resulting in several musicians being laid off, myself included. In 2010 I began teaching group and individual flute lessons and music theory at the cities of Ribeirão Pires and São Bernardo do Campo Municipal Schools.

In 2011, at age 26, I joined the faculty of the Programa Guri Santa Marcelina, a social project in São Paulo, at the same time I was attending college. It was a challenge to coordinate and organize the college work with teaching.

My reality as a public university student reflected the reality of many of the inner-city population. Higher education exposed the inequality that a young Black person might face while entering and attending college. Among all the challenges to earn a degree, some inner-city students face additional ones: the distance from their houses to the university, limited financial capabilities to afford transportation, meals, books, instruments, reeds, and many other materials, with the additional fact that universities in general are not equipped with spaces and schedules that would allow students to coordinate work and their studies.

In 2015 I began the research for my undergraduate final thesis, in order to fulfill the requirements for graduation. My research was focused on the different pedagogical methods used by the teachers at the Programa Guri Santa Marcelina, which led me to be introduced to the Suzuki Method, used by several of the faculty in the program.

That year, I began the Suzuki training with the fundamental course Filosofia Suzuki (Suzuki philosophy) with teacher trainer Shinobu Saito. In 2016 and 2017 I completed training of Units One through Three of the Suzuki Flute Method in Peru, with teacher trainer Kelly Williamson.

In order to be able to attend the training in Peru, I applied for an SAA scholarship that would help me with some of the expenses. Even with the scholarship, I still had to pay, without any extra help, for plane tickets, room and board. Since the training events often happen in times of the year that school is in session in Brazil, I had to miss some days at works, which were taken out of my paycheck.

Since encountering the method my teaching has become based on Dr. Shinichi Suzuki’s philosophy and concepts, looking to develop skills in my students such as discipline, patience and courage, allowing them to become exceptional human beings.

Structural aspects of Programa Guri Santa Marcelina

Things were different back then.” – A phrase commonly said by elderly people from some regions of Brazil

My grandmother used to say this phrase quite often in order to illustrate the differences between her generation and the present time. In general, such statements are given when the new generation is not able to realize the social advancement that have been happening along the years.

As a result of my own struggle to find a music school at the beginning of my musical journey, I am able to perceive more clearly the opportunity given by social programs such as the Guri Santa Marcelina, Programa Vocacional and the Instituto Baccarelli to further access to musical education by a big portion of São Paulo’s population.  With that in mind, whenever given the chance I remind my students to “take advantage of this opportunity, because things were different back then.”

The Guri Santa Marcelina, created in 2008, is a program that offers social change through music. It has 46 locations in different regions in the city of São Paulo, mostly in inner-city neighborhoods. Classes are divided in music classes for students age six through nine; sequential and modular courses for students age 10 through 18 and music education for adults.

There is no audition requirement to join the program. The only requirement is that the student under 18 years old is registered and attending school. Classes happen in groups and are organized in four classes a week, divided in applied instrument lessons, choir, music theory and ensemble practice. Students can borrow instruments for their lessons and performances, which usually occur at the end of each semester and feature a program prepared by students and faculty.[2]  

Staying in the sequential courses is decided based on each students’ needs. There is no failing the course or losing their spot due to a low performance. The students are advised to take some courses again when necessary. Students that complete the sequential course are guided to apply for other music programs in the city to continue their music studies.

Each location of the project is run by a team of three professionals: a social worker, a local instruction analyst, and an assistant for pedagogical support. The Guri Santa Marcelina has youth artistic ensembles for repertoire development. Students enter the ensembles through an audition process that analyses not only the instrumental or vocal performance, but also the student’s attendance to the project classes and activities.

The project has 10 ensembles: Children’s Symphony Band, Youth Symphony Band, Children’s Big Band, Children’s Guitar Camerata, Children’s Choir, Youth Choir, Family Choir, Children’s Symphony Orchestra, Children’s Chamber Orchestra, and Regional de Choro. Meetings and rehearsals happen at the Guri Santa Marcelina main campus and performances take place in different venues in the São Paulo region.

My Suzuki approach at Guri Santa Marcelina

The Suzuki method helped me to understand more clearly the teacher’s role and importance in the student’s development. I understood that it is possible to have excellent education in different societies; as Dr. Suzuki points out, every parent anywhere in the world wants what is best for their child, therefore, excellency in instruction can be applied to any social structure. That was the way that Shinichi Suzuki’s philosophy was spread around the world until it arrived in Brazil, where the method is applied in different schools, music studios, social projects and Suzuki schools, embracing a broad and diverse group of people.

In his book Nurtured by Love, Dr. Suzuki explains his belief that people who have their abilities blocked can be transformed in talented beings, or average human beings can become extraordinary ones, all through an educational system that respects and values human factors.             

Dr. Suzuki believes that every person is born with natural abilities, and my role as an educator is to ensure a healthy classroom environment that allows students to develop their full musical and human capabilities and use it in all aspects in their lives.

My teaching went through a significant transformation after understanding the Suzuki philosophy, realizing that in order to offer an instruction that would be accessible to all, I had to turn the flute into an interesting instrument, taking into consideration all the aspects regarding the students coming into my classroom.

In my private studio, I was able to observe that my adult students are searching in learning the flute as a complement to their professions and work. Several of these students have already reached professional fulfillment and chose to take lessons in order to develop artistic capabilities. In general, these students are financially comfortable, with a strong family structure, being true also to the children that attend lessons at the studio.

At the other end, the students in the Guri Santa Marcelina project have diverse family and financial situations. The vast majority of the students in the flute program are looking to develop themselves musically so they can play in church or just to learn something different, while others are looking to find ways to develop themselves socially and financially as well. 

To adapt my lessons to my studio, I use the Suzuki philosophy to create an environment that fosters learning, looking to nurture my students with clear instructions and a diverse repertoire that connects with different cultural expressions and presents all the professional uses of music, such as music as an educational tool and in science and in medicine.[3] I look to illustrate to the students ways to explore their potential and develop their multiple abilities.

In the first weeks of the semester, the classes are about familiarizing the students with the Suzuki method, bringing the attention to the relation between learning a language and learning music. We discuss how Dr. Suzuki built a philosophy on the similarity between those two learning experiences and we also focus on the need to always be updated to everything that is flute related.

I help students understand that the flute program will be conducted based on the benefits of group instruction and raising the attention to the fact that learning music is a continuous process where every person will develop in their own time. Following these elements, my students are able to go beyond the exercises focused on the instrument, learning how to work as a team while respecting everyone’s differences, deal with the frustration of not getting an immediate result, and to value the learning process more than the final results. Suzuki explains that every child that is educated with expertise and understanding is able to reach a high level of knowledge, stating that the more information a student is given, the more can absorb.

As a Black teacher who is part of a segment of society that historically is not intended for the Black community and playing what is sometimes considered to be an elite instrument, I am conscious of my role in encouraging students to keep following their path in their classical music studies, because I understand the current reality of many of these students.

The social contexts directly influence the engagement of the students. In many cases we can attest to the student’s difficulties with coming to class regularly, either for financial reasons of for the lack of family support. Many of these students drop out of the program for the need to work, or for the lack of inspiring artists in the inner-cities neighborhoods. Applying the Suzuki method in a social program is a challenge, since these social issues need to be taken into consideration, as well as the lack of a family structure that provides a nurturing learning environment for these students.

In the flute lessons and group classes, I chose to develop a curriculum that takes into consideration the many challenges that the students face in their musical journey, balancing the social aspects and allowing learning from a perspective that make sense to these students. I encourage the students to study regardless of their hardships, and to understand that it is possible to have a career in music amid all the challenges. By following my example, the students believe in the possibility of developing their goals, despite all the adversities.

Before any understanding of the musical aspects, it is necessary to construct the idea that it is possible to learn music. In this way, I look to provide flute lessons that do not overlook the importance of social context, as I know how much that impacts the progress of the program. 

Parental involvement is without a doubt one of the most important strategies in the Suzuki method, although one of the hardest ones to be applied at the Guri Santa Marcelina. The hardships to make the parental involvement possible in a social project face challenges such as: the lack of habit in participating in the child’s lesson, from the parent perspective, unstable family structure, work schedules being incompatible with class schedules and the parent’s fear of not having enough knowledge to help their child.

To foster parental involvement in the project, I take advantage of the parent meetings to promote an open class where my students teach their parents the assignments they have learned in their own classes. Parents, guided by their own child, perform breathing exercises, tongue articulation[4] and learn how to properly develop the flute embouchure.[5] During this open class I look to reinforce the exercises that should be worked at home, explaining how important family support is in the student’s development. I show to the parents that it is possible to follow and support the practice and general studies of their child, even not knowing musical techniques. After the open class, parents move to better understand the learning process and start to be more involved in the home practice activities of their child.

To develop a good learning environment, I reinforce to the students to always be in touch with the flute, by means of practicing the instrument or listening to the repertoire. I use social media to facilitate that communication between the student and the instrument, encourage students to compose music during their lessons, drama scenes or dance steps that can relate to the subject being learned, besides incorporating diverse repertoire that will reinforce learning and memorization.

In the daily activities, I use objects and toys as tools to aid breathing exercises, hand and body posture, and embouchure, looking to turn the learning process into something natural. I use balloons, toy windmills, soap bubbles, in addition to constantly researchng materials that can be used as aid in lessons. These strategies make the daily practice more dynamic and creative. In many cases, we turn building our breathing toys into family activities. This process of building teaching aids helps to foster other abilities.  

Respecting the student’s own time is crucial for excellence in education. To foster a healthy classroom, I also focus on sharing knowledge: helping students to share what they have learned, supported by a safe environment, allows them to develop their musical skills in their own time and learning style. Despite all my efforts to keep students engaged in their flute lessons, many of them drop out due to financial reasons, with the fact that many students are in a situation of social vulnerability.

In the children and youth ensembles, as well as in the music schools located in downtown São Paulo, the social disparities are very obvious due to the financial hardships and difficulties to afford transportation and food, besides the lack of family support in balancing work and their studies.

The social programs are the gateway for these students to being able to see themselves with new opportunities. It is important to keep developing ways to face inequality and to provide access to good education. It is not possible to develop a respectful music education without taking into consideration the structural inequality of our society.

It is important to fight for social policies that will aid the fight for equality, but that is not enough. The inequalities present inside the social programs and Suzuki communities need to be faced, and those within these structures need to understand their role in the fight against inequality.

Despite all the structural challenges, I continue to allow flute lessons to be an opportunity for students to access new life and world perspectives. Nevertheless, a lot still has to be done. We shall keep moving.


[1]. A martial band is a group of musicians that usually performs outdoors in addition to indoor venues.

[2]. First semester comprises the months of January through July and second semester the months of August through December.

[3]. I introduce the fields of Music Education and Musicotherapy, besides the growing field of the use of music in Neuropsychology.

[4]. Tongue articulation is a simple technique that allows wind instruments to separate the notes.

[5]. The correct shape of the lips when playing the flute.