8 thoughts on “The Pros and Cons of the Suzuki Violin Method

  1. Hello Julie!
    Thank you so much for this blog post! As a Suzuki violin teacher, I know firsthand that parents are often not really sure what they are getting into when they begin Suzuki lessons.

    I obviously am biased towards Suzuki method, but I wanted to address some of the cons you mentioned.

    1. Group Lessons. Most Suzuki teachers actually only teach group lessons once a month, so it isn’t really that much more of a commitment. (And the students love the group classes anyway.)
    2. Listening. How many times have you listened to “Let it Go?” Kids love repetition. And nowadays, they can listen with headphones on a small iPod or whatever. It doesn’t have to drive the family crazy.
    3. Recitals. Are traditional teachers really not having their students play in recitals regularly? I can’t imagine that this is true, especially in a high-quality teacher’s studio. Performance is an essential aspect of music playing no matter what method you use.
    4. Rote Learning. Back in the ’70s when the Suzuki method first came to the USA, many new teachers misunderstood this concept and delayed note reading for too long. Most teachers now introduce note reading in the first year of lessons. Violin playing is intensely physical–there’s a lot to think about, so worrying about trying to read the notes is delayed for a little bit. In my studio, it’s only about six months. Not a huge deal.
    5. Practice commitment. Teachers of any sort want their students to practice. Otherwise they make no progress. It does fall on the parent to encourage this, but you had to do that with brushing their teeth too. Make it a consistent habit, and it won’t be so much of a fight.
    6. Parental Involvement. Yup. You gotta commit. It’s not for everyone, for sure. However, there should be some element of parent involvement in any music lesson situation–your piano or violin teacher is not a babysitter, and one lesson a week (and no practice the other days) will not bring any improvement.

    Sorry this comment is sooo long.

  2. I am a Suzuki parent to four children – each learning piano, and the eldest two learning viola/violin respectively. It is a huge commitment as you say for parents, and the more children the more the juggle of competing priorities for practice time.

    However one of the pros that you might not have emphasised enough in my mind is the strength of the relationship you build with your child as they learn their instrument, and more or as importantly, as they learn the power of persistence, grit and the joys of overcoming obstacles to reach your goal.

    Our practice time is my one-on-one time with my children where there are tough times (when they are frustrated with themselves or when I ask them to do another repetition) but there are so many great loving moments as well. Learning how to give praise to your child has been such a revelation for me as a parent. Praise that is not hollow or empty and that builds up their self-esteem. They just love our times together at the instrument.

    My eldest is just entering his teenage years and I think our hours together at the piano and viola have forged an amazingly close relationship of mutual respect – where we can have differences of opinion (including yelling and door slamming!) and then come back together and keep going. I hope this will help us through the sometimes rocky next period of his life!

    Suzuki method has taught to be a better parent – supportive and demanding at the same time. The key difference to traditional method (which is how I was taught long ago) in my eyes is the supportiveness (day in day out, every practice session, the feedback I give him on his practice) and this I hope makes my children feel how much I love them every day.

  3. I have noticed that so-called “traditional” music lessons seem to be taking a lot of the good points from Suzuki and using them nowadays. To use my violin student child as an example:
    *I attend her lessons, discuss things with the teacher, take photos, make notes, etc. I sit with her during practice. I bought my own violin and learnt a bit so I could go to music camp with her. I reckon I’d be as ‘involved’ as any Suzuki parent.
    * She could barely read music for the first year, although I and her teacher encouraged her to learn. Even though she now reads well, we still continue to listen to the recording for her pieces hundreds of times as a way of getting them into her brain so it’s easier to memorise her work.
    *And speaking of memorisation, yes I make her memorise music. I don’t consider a piece “ready” if she still needs the music.
    *She has plenty of chances to perform: studio recitals, eisteddfods, exams, orchestra concerts, busking and other informal performances.
    *She doesn’t get group lessons from her violin teacher, but she benefits from playing in youth orchestra and going to music camp, as well as occasionally doing ensemble work that we organise with other kids.

    The only major difference I can see is that if she were learning with Suzuki method, she would be learning all the same pieces as every other kid. And to be honest, I think it’s an advantage that our teacher carefully helps each student select the repertoire that is best for them to learn, instead of having to do the next one in the book. (I understand that many Suzuki teachers also do this when they choose extra music to supplement the program.)

  4. I was an adult student in Suzuki classes to brush up my piano skills and in pedagogy observing a Suzuki teacher teach up to 3 students at a time. I also attended the 1 day seminar “Every Child Can”. The info session reinforced the idea music can be learned like a child would learn a native language by listening before reading.

    1. Giving credit to Suzuki teachers and parents. In many Asian cultures there is a tradition of respecting your teachers & your elders. In an ideal situation parents can reinforce what students learn in class. In my case I was brought up in a non-musical family. Neither of my parents has the patience to play an instrument except criticize. I think students should be given more credit learning pieces on their own.

    2. Outside repertoire: a lot of Suzuki teachers tend to stick to the Suzuki books with repertoire pre-selected by the SAA (Suzuki Association of America). I’ve gone through a number of articles in the monthly Suzuki magazine issued by then SAA. Seemed like the only pieces Suzuki students learn to play are from the Suzuki repertoire books when there is enough sheet music available online to last a lifetime.

    3. People who learn to play by ear have weak sight-reading skills or vice versa. Relearning the same pieces they can already play by ear is not the best way to learn to read. In order to have strong reading skills, you need to get students to play unfamiliar pieces regularly. Suzuki teachers need to be encouraged to introduce repertoire outside Suzuki books to help students improve their sight-reading.
    From personal experience I was at a b-day party. 3 kids had a piece of sheet music on the piano. They had traditional music lessons for about a year. Each took turns trying to decipher the notes like a foreign language. After half-an-hour they didn’t come close to what the piece is supposed to sound like and gave up. Looks like the kids lack both sight-reading & listening skills. Once there were 2 kids who was in Suzuki piano & violin visiting from out of town. They played a few pieces as duet including the popular “Minuet in G”. Whether the piece came from a Suzuki book is irrelevant. At least they can play.

    4. Different approaches of learning should not be in competition: don’t make method A sound like it is better than B in every aspect. You take the best points from a traditional learning approach and the best from the Suzuki approach and combine them for ideal results. Personally I don’t believe in a 1 size fit all solution (Suzuki or not the end result is to get students comfortable playing any repertoire at a certain level, not just the pieces in a Suzuki book).

    1. The suzuki method is a scam, you won’t learn any real skills, and encourages parents to become overly controlling/live vicariously through the child. My parents paid for 5 years of weekly suzuki lessons for me to not read a single note, not have enough knowledge to be able be in beginner school music class, had never heard of beats or timing, and not be aware notes had letter names. I could only play back music by rote if I had just heard it played to me, and my parent came to like that control, and they eventually told me they would prefer I just quit music rather than play music without them when I got old enough to insist I sometimes be allowed play alone. I had never played even for five minutes of this whole time without either teacher or parent (sometimes both) continuously yelling directions at me.

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