Are you looking for more information about the Suzuki violin method? Below, we’ll go into detail about everything you need to know about the Suzuki method, including its pros, cons, and everything in between for students and their families.
The Suzuki violin method can be a polarizing topic in the music world, as there are many different opinions surrounding it. While some argue that the method helps children develop a high level of playing ability, others say it doesn’t teach students proper violin techniques.
If you’re considering the Suzuki violin method, it’s best to thoroughly research it before you determine if it’s a good fit for you or your child. To ensure you have all the necessary information to make an informed decision, we provided six principles of the Suzuki method along with their pros and cons.
What is the Suzuki Violin Method?
The Suzuki violin method is a specific musical curriculum that was developed over fifty years ago by Japanese violinist, Shinichi Suzuki. After the devastation of World War II in his home country Japan, Suzuki was looking for a way to bring joy and happiness to the children. He noticed how easily kids learn their native language and figured the same principles applied to teaching them how to speak would translate into other aspects of life—specifically, navigating how to play a classic violin.
Suzuki developed a philosophy based on a few key beliefs, including saturation in the musical community, deliberate avoidance of musical tests or auditions, and focus on playing from an early age. It also involved using well-trained instructors, memorizing solo repertoire, learning music by ear before reading it, regular playing in groups, and more.
Now that you better understand the Suzuki violin method, let’s dive into the five techniques.
The Five Techniques of the Suzuki Method
The Suzuki violin method includes five techniques developed for young musicians:
- Tonalization: A play on the word “vocalization,” Suzuki developed this as a way for a student to recognize and produce a ringing, beautiful tone from their violin.
- Sound recordings: Listening to one’s own music and others’ music is a teaching technique that has been around for years. But in this case, the emphasis and scale in which recordings are listened to in the home begin before the child is even born.
- Adapted instruments: Instruments are adapted to fit the physiological requirements of a small child’s body. This enables children to begin their learning at an even earlier age.
- Suzuki Institutes: Suzuki established these as places for students, teachers, and parents to share and expand on their ideas in a central location.
- Common repertoire: This particular technique allows students to participate in group classes and provides motivation for them to learn new music while keeping the “traditional” musical pieces they’ve learned in their best form.
Suzuki Method: The Pros & Cons
1. Structure of the Suzuki Method
Suzuki violin programs are a mix of group and private violin lessons. Below are the pros and cons of this structure.
- Pros: Students receive frequent reinforcement of skills because they are attending at least two lessons per week. The varied lesson plans provide a well-rounded approach, covering many different learning styles. Group lessons are also a great environment for children to be encouraged and challenged by their peers.
- Cons: The lesson commitment for the Suzuki violin method is more than that of traditional private lessons, which can be too much for today’s busy families. Additionally, the Suzuki structure is pretty regimented, without much flexibility for missed lessons.
2. Listening to Violin Music
Students are encouraged to listen to violin music daily, especially recordings of the songs they are learning in lessons. This requirement of the Suzuki method comes with its own set of pros and cons as well.
- Pro: Listening to music daily is a fantastic way for children to develop an ear for the violin and other instruments. The more they listen to the songs they are learning, the faster and better they will learn those songs.
- Con: The commitment to listen to music daily typically falls on the child’s parents. Not only is this a burden on busy families, but some parents will quickly grow tired of listening to the same Suzuki violin songs day in and day out.
3. Performances and Recitals
Recitals play an important role in the Suzuki violin method, which also has advantages and disadvantages for families.
- Pro: Preparing for a recital gives students a goal to aim for. Students are often proud of their accomplishments after a recital, which is a great self-esteem builder. Suzuki recitals with group performances also provide a safe performance environment for new violinists.
- Con: Children who are very shy may have a hard time with this aspect of the Suzuki violin program. It can take a while before a student feels comfortable enough to go on stage and showcase his or her skills.
4. Rote or Memory Learning in the Suzuki Method
Beginner students learn songs by rote (or memory) in the Suzuki method. Note reading is finally introduced several years later into the program.
- Pro: Students develop excellent ears, meaning they can hear whether or not they are playing in tune. Songs become very strongly ingrained in their minds because everything is played by memory. Students who struggle with note reading will find great freedom in playing music without reading notes.
- Con: Because note reading is not introduced until later in the program, it can often be a struggle for students. By the time they learn how to properly read music, their violin techniques are much more advanced. Going back to the basics can be frustrating, not to mention difficult for students who might have already developed bad habits.
5. Practice Commitment
Daily practice is expected when learning the violin with the Suzuki method. Here are the advantages and disadvantages of this factor.
- Pro: Any student who practices an instrument daily, even for 10 minutes a day, will make significant progress. After all, daily practice is one of the best ways to improve upon one’s skills. With this in mind, the Suzuki method is excellent for making regular practice a necessity.
- Con: As parents are well aware, most children will not practice unless they are told to. A lot of responsibility for the daily practice sessions will fall on the parents, which can quickly become a burden or cause friction in the family.
6. Parental Involvement in the Suzuki Method
With the Suzuki method, parents are expected to learn the violin alongside their child. This means attending all lessons and classes and directing practice sessions at home.
- Pro: Young children benefit greatly from having such strong parental involvement. This is especially clear with the parent-directed practice sessions at home. The focus and assistance that parents provide during these sessions ensures that students are reinforcing the skills they learned during their violin lessons.
- Con: The Suzuki violin program is a sizable commitment for parents. In addition to attending lessons and directing daily practice, parents must carve out significant time in their schedule to learn the instrument themselves. Not only does learning an instrument take time and patience, but it can also be difficult to master as an adult.
As you can see, there are many great aspects of the Suzuki violin method. The cons are largely circumstantial and depend on the lifestyle of each individual family.
The Suzuki method is great for some families and very difficult to adhere to for others. If you have further questions, you might want to take a lesson with a teacher who has Suzuki violin experience, as he or she will be able to give you sound advice and guidance.
Julie P. teaches flute, clarinet, music theory, and saxophone lessons in Brooklyn, NY. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Music Education from Ithaca College and her Masters in Music Performance from New Jersey City University. Learn more about Julie here!
8 thoughts on “The Pros and Cons of the Suzuki Violin Method”
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.
Hi Brecklyn-We’re so happy you liked the article and thank you for all your helpful insight!
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.
Great point, Jane! Thanks for sharing 🙂
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.)
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).
I think it is one of the biggest frauds in music history!!
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.