My Thoughts On Suzuki
Found in: Other Methods
Rhea P. AU
I remember Suzuki being launched as a new method while my Mom was teaching piano. It created quite a fuss at that time.
I read about it and have retained some knowledge, but have since done more research of the topic so my understanding has changed.
I think that while it is interesting that some of our students have had some very negative experiences with Suzuki, it is important that we are careful not to adopt an “us and them” (i.e. we’re great, they’re not) approach. There are many people who have had very positive experiences with the Suzuki method and there are many people who think that it’s the best thing since sliced bread. Also, there are many people who believe that the only reason to enroll their child in music lessons is to develop them into classical performers – and that’s not where Simply Music is at. Other teaching methods are valid alternatives for learning to play piano, but they aim differently from where we’re aimed.
I obviously think that Simply Music is a much better approach, but I’ve formed that opinion partially because of the values I hold about music and partially because it provides a very solid, tested and comprehensive curriculum.
I believe that we have chosen to be Simply Music teachers because we believe playing music is a life enriching experience and worthwhile in it’s own right, even if you never perform or are never very ‘good’.
I believe that we think that popular music is real and relevant music and is great fun to play.
I believe that we think that everyone already owns the ability to play music and has the right to participate, as a birth-right, and not only if you have enough ‘talent’. (This is starting to sound like a creed!)
Anyway, be generous towards other methods. We’re good enough as a method and strong enough as an organization to hold our own.
While Simply Music and Suzuki share some similarities of approach, I think that there is a significant difference in philosophy that changes the whole direction of each program.
The Suzuki method was originally designed for the violin. Anyone who has endured a child’s violin practice will tell you that that it can be excruciating because kids generally are not fussy about how close they are to the note. As I understand it, getting the right note with the violin involves having the right technique; holding the violin and bow correctly, stroking the strings correctly.
My understanding of Suzuki is that by getting the students to listen to the music before learning the piece, they would not only develop the ear to hear the right note (when they played it) but also be encouraged to play the piece musically. By sticking to the same piece for a long time, they would develop the right technique to play the correct notes, and also play the piece musically with the correct inflection and subtlety. The way I understand it, the idea is to virtually fix all of the technical issues with playing the violin up front. i.e. “You’re not moving off Twinkle, Twinkle until it’s perfect – and then every subsequent piece will also be perfect”.
It seems that the idea of getting the kids to start so young, and to primarily emphasize technique, is to never let them develop any ‘bad’ technical habits that may have to be corrected when they’re 18 and playing as a concert musician. In the classical world of music, performers can be seen as athletic performers. That is, being a good musician means being able to play a difficult passage flawlessly. And that relies heavily on their ability to master technique. Just like a runner won’t get to run in the Olympics unless he has appropriate athletic technique, a performer won’t get to play at a professional level unless he has appropriate musical technique. As Neil once explained at the training, at the highest levels, music is about the subtle finessing of form. Advanced musicians are completely occupied with harvesting the last 1% of playing ability.
The theory with the Suzuki method was that it was going to bring forth a mass of highly able performers, and revolutionize the standard of performance. Suzuki has been around for at least a generation and this is apparently not the case. There are not a significant number of Suzuki performers at the highest level, nor are there more performers at the highest level.
So how is it different from Simply Music?
1. Suzuki has the overall objective of producing performers within the classical realm (as opposed to the popular realm), with the implication that the classical realm is the only valid place to music to occur. In contrast, Simply Music emphasizes general musicianship in all types of music, with the implication that the most important thing is to be playing music. Also, Simply Music recognizes that most people have exposure to the popular realm of music and want to participate in it.
2. Suzuki emphasizes technical excellence above all else. In contrast, Simply Music emphasizes the joy of playing music. Simply Music assumes that if the student isn’t having fun, there won’t be any music anyway. Simply Music believes that building a large repertoire, covering a variety of genres, will develop of it’s own accord sufficient technical mastery.
3. Suzuki emphasizes ‘correct’ musical interpretation of the master composers, and de-emphasizes the ability to create your own music or to understand what makes up a song. In contrast, Simply Music emphasizes a player’s own creativity and provides an understanding of what makes up music (through the accompaniment stream, arrangements and composition).
Essentially, Simply Music presents a dynamic, structured curriculum focused on developing a comprehensive toolbox of skills that produce a self-generating pianist.