In autumn 2011, the ESTA UK magazine ‘arco’ started a series of articles exploring the various teaching methods that were then in vogue in the UK. Many of these methods and approaches are highly successful and form the backbone of teacher training and practice in this country, and indeed across the globe. Given how important these systems of string education are, it seems pertinent to outline the main ones in order to enthuse new teachers to explore what each has to offer. The first of the series (Autumn 2011 edition of ‘arco’ volume 36 number 4 pages 10-13), was an article on the Suzuki approach ‘Suzuki Rediscovered’ by Kate Conway, the then director of the Suzuki HUB in Hoxton. What follows is not a complete rewrite of the article, but a summary of the essential points that Kate made.
The Suzuki method is an approach to instrumental teaching developed by Dr Shinichi Suzuki in 1950’s Japan. Dr Suzuki realised that as children have the ability to learn their ‘mother tongue’ language by the age of two they have a huge capacity for learning and developing talent. This led to a philosophy of learning that is based on these fundamentals:
- Start learning when very young
- Become immersed in what you are learning through practising every day
- Listen to the perfect version of what you are learning to play more than you play it yourself
- Have love and support from your ‘home teacher’(generally a mum or dad)
- Learn each step really well before progressing to the next so everything sounds wonderful
- Have individual and group classes every week
‘Suzuki children thrive in the total environment of support; they develop confidence and positive self-esteem, determination to try new things, self-discipline and concentration, as well as a lasting enjoyment of music and the sensitivity and skill for music making’ – Ed Kreitman (founder and Director of the Western Springs School of Talent Education and the Naperville Suzuki School)
‘In practice, this method creates young musicians who really play beautifully right from the start’ – Kate Conway. In lessons the ‘home teacher’ is in attendance alongside the Suzuki teacher, and learning happens both individually and in groups.
Group participation and community are at the core of the Suzuki approach; making it not just about music making, but also the forging of what can end up being lifelong friendships. The ‘home teachers’ also form friendships, and this leads to a support network that adds to the overall learning experience.
Playing by ear
Initially, the students learn their music by ear, in a similar process to the way babies learn to speak. Learning to play without the aid of written notation means that harder pieces can be played than would usually be possible with a more traditional notation led approach. This does not mean that notation reading is neglected, but acquiring the skills needed for this does not hold back the technical and musical development of the young player. Listening skills and technical skills can be concentrated on separately, eventually all the skills combining to create a highly competent musicians that can also read music fluently.
Every Suzuki student learns Suzuki repertoire. This is the same worldwide for their instrument and there are pieces that are common to all instruments that are taught under the Suzuki umbrella. The choice of repertoire has been very carefully planned, with each successive piece using 80% existing skills and introducing 20% new skills. Constant ‘review’ of their old pieces means that they are honing their instrumental and musical skills whilst playing well, rather than perhaps always struggling with the demands of increasingly technically harder pieces.
‘As a child, I found learning music quite solitary, except for orchestra when I was older. Learning Suzuki, my son has had a totally different experience and has loved the social side of it from the start.’ – Suzuki Parent
The recording play an important role in the Suzuki approach to learning. Originally these were on vinyl records, then cassette tapes. Cd’s soon followed and now iPods and iPhones provide useful media on which to hear the repertoire. The recording of a students’ own playing to give them instant feedback is now an important element of many teachers’ approaches, as are online reference tutorials. Some teachers are even developing teaching through the medium of Skype, opening up opportunities to children who would otherwise not have the chance to learn the Suzuki way.
There is more detailed information about the Suzuki approach at www.britishsuzuki.org.uk
There are many approaches used in the teaching of stringed instruments, and ESTA has a membership that encompasses each of these without bias. For more information about string teaching in general and ideas of your own career development, why not see what the European String Teachers Association can offer you by visiting our websites www.estastrings.org.uk and www.estaeducation.co.uk