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Is Suzuki THE best beginner method?


ElectricGemini
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We seem to really be stuck in this mode of some people blindly insisting that Suzuki is the literature books and nothing else.

I studied with several certified-and-trained Suzuki teachers in two respected Suzuki programs, during my childhood. I was introduced to scales as soon as I got beyond the Twinkle level; while I was studying within the Method, I worked through scale books by Schradieck, Galamian, and Flesch (multiple scale systems for multiple fingerings, bowings, etc.) I started doing Sevcik exercises when I got to the Book 3 stage. I studied several books of Doflein, to ensure that I was sight-reading new material each week, and so I could play duets with my teacher. I went through Suzuki's Quint and Position etudes, as well as Wolfhart and Mazas. I was taught plenty of repertoire beyond what was in the Suzuki books, too.

Nor are Suzuki teachers stamped out of a mold. I had a teacher who had been a student of Gingold. I had a teacher who had been trained in Romania, steeped in Soviet-style technique (similar to the way that Zakhar Bron's students play). I had teachers with a variety of other "lineages". They had different ways of playing, different approaches to technique, and different teaching styles -- even though all of them were firmly rooted in the Suzuki method.

I don't think anyone would argue that one could learn the violin using the Suzuki books as literature alone. (Part of the method also involves training teachers to understand the specific technical points that students should take away from each work -- something also missing when most teachers use the literature alone, I think). I would argue, though, that even if you DID use just the literature (taught in the Suzuki-desired way), you'd probably get beginners that were just as successful as those trained with Doflein, Strictly Strings, etc. Beyond a certain point, of course, diversification is necessary. Suzuki is unusual in that the Method extends far beyond the level of most methods, thus perhaps increasing the attractiveness of not diversifying.

I am unequivocally a fan of Suzuki, though, like many others, I switched to "traditional" training before getting through all the books.

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Hmmm.

Keep in mind such things as: it was designed for preschool-age children (I know others have said this, but I'll repeat it!). Hence the 7 lessons or whatever of Twinkle variations - it was designed for kids who can spend FOREVER doing the same thing over and over again! - a 4-year-old could spend months doing Twinkle Variations A, B, C, D and the Theme, and not get bored. Witness so many parents who say "my son/daughter has memorised the whole Pokemon movie (fill in movie/song/etc.here!) and still watches it." Yes, boring and a bit pointless for older kids and adults, but not for a 4 or 5 year old.

Posture: Depends on the teacher, not the method. Sometimes depends on the student. Two of my nephews took Suzuki violin; one had awesome posture and a lousy left hand, the other slouched and had an okay left hand. Go figure.

Teacher training: Remember that Suzuki always intended for teachers to adapt his method to themselves; he never wanted teachers to blindly follow his method like robots. He said something like, if your name is Smith, you are teaching the Suzuki-Smith method! Therefore, you'll always find teachers who focus on some things and not others.

Is it the best method? I'd say for small kids, yes (as mentioned above somewhere) - say up to age 7 or so - but ONLY if the parents are willing to participate to a certain extent! Could be a good or bad thing, but parent involvement is crucial, as small children don't "practise" the same way older children or adults do.

Laurel

[This message has been edited by Laurel (edited 02-16-2001).]

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When I first looked into Suzuki I mistakenly considered it a method, as with Strictly Strings, String Essentials, All for Strings, etc. The more I know about it, and the more I've read from Mr. Suzuki's writings, I have come to realize that what most of us view as a method is only the published collection of tools used in teaching an approach.

The genius of small children playing what they cannot read is that it is natural. The mother tongue is not learned by reading as we learn. We learn to vocalize, to speak words, to speak thoughts, to speak sentences. Then we begin to learn to correspond in our written language.

To separate the literature from the approach and criticize or even attempt to critique it is grossly unfair.

[This message has been edited by Brad Stevens (edited 02-16-2001).]

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OK, I'd like to add my two cents. I started out using Essentials for Strings, book 1 and because I am self-teaching, found it very easy to follow, understand, etc. etc. Book 2 leaves a lot more to be desired: I've decided, for me, that snippets of scales, tunes, mundune arpeggios with one or tune full length songs are just not doing it for me.

Upon Crystal's suggestion, I got Suzuki books 1 and 2, if for no other reason than to have something else to play/warm up with. I've only looked at book 1 (this was yesterday) and am quite pleased with the songs throughout. I haven't read any of the instructions, rather I was looking for simple, tuneful warmups that had some purposeful structure underneath them, as I am trying to get comfortable with my new fiddle. There are several tunes in there written by Suzuki himself which I find to be quite lyrical. Level wise I am past this, but they seem to be a nice way to refresh and get going.

As you can see from my way of learning, I mix in whatever I can. As Lydia and Theresa have more or less said, what is the point of exclusivity? We're adult learners who are either picking it new in our adulthood, or returning after having learned as a child - nothing "pure" about it, but that's what makes looking at all the options out there worthwhile. I also believe in tinkering, whether with Suzuki, Wolfhart, Essentials or Sevcik - oh, heck, it just makes a tastier soup!

-Greta

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Lydia, very well said. You were fortunate in your early exposure, varied and solid as you indicate.

Really, there isn't a "best" single method. And, really, posture and such concerns are the responsibility of the student and teacher working in cohort.

And, finally, I will remain highly suspicious of those who categorically criticize Suzuki without gathering enough information about the specifics of the training of any Suzuki student in question.

Best regards,

Theresa

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To understand this entire question one has to go back to the heart of the Suzuki philosophy. His basic philosophy is very interesting but the Suzuki method is not one that I would advise anyone to follow specifically. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Use your intelligence and commonsense or get a teacher with both attributes who can guide you between those two points of ignorance and knowledge quickly without wasting time on the useless in between.

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I have to say two things:

Saying that a Suzuki "certified-and-trained" teacher is always a good choice seems a big exaggeration. No training and certifying can assure somebody to be a good professional, and Suzuki method is not an exception. I`ve teaching in summer courses to students all around the world, and some suzuki-trained people is always there.

Actually, among the best teachers that use Suzuki material are some that are not "certified-and-trained", and they commonly uses the 1st volume( nothing more from Suz. method) almost as a songbook. It`s unfair to "put the blame" on these people.

Second thing: if you do the Suzuki material AND all the scales, exercises, studies, complementary repertoire, another methods( like Doflein), you can`t be considered as a "Suzuki student", because you`re just doing ALL together( maybe you don`t even need the suzuki material, in that particular case).

And, let`s be honest: Suzuki method is an international enterprise, and his books are printed by the Warner Brothers. Music teachers are frequently naive about the "real world"( unless they have a wider basis), and they need to go through a way they can survive commercially, and buy strings, etc. We should be careful about saying this is the best method for all ages( even if it`s excellent to early beginners and some easy-going adults, nothing against that).

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quote:

Originally posted by Locatelli:

Second thing: if you do the Suzuki material AND all the scales, exercises, studies, complementary repertoire, another methods( like Doflein), you can`t be considered as a "Suzuki student", because you`re just doing ALL together( maybe you don`t even need the suzuki material, in that particular case).

You're incorrect. There's a philosophy behind the teaching, the emphasis upon listening, the insistence on polishing and memorization, the constant review of previous material, the heavy parental involvement, the particular approach to teaching technique through the repertoire, etc. -- all these things are part and parcel of the Method. The method is emphatically not just a collection of useful literature.

Suzuki always intended his material to be supplemented with scales, exercises, etudes, and other literature. He says so repeatedly in his writings. Indeed, he *advises* this, especially in the later books, where there are large difficulty gaps between books.

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quote:

Originally posted by lwl:

You're incorrect. There's a philosophy behind the teaching, the emphasis upon listening, the insistence on polishing and memorization, the constant review of previous material, the heavy parental involvement, the particular approach to teaching technique through the repertoire, etc. -- all these things are part and parcel of the Method. The method is emphatically not just a collection of useful literature.

Suzuki always intended his material to be supplemented with scales, exercises, etudes, and other literature. He says so repeatedly in his writings. Indeed, he *advises* this, especially in the later books, where there are large difficulty gaps between books.

Ok, there`s a philosophy( that`s something I`ve been listening since I was a child). I was a Suzuki student myself, when I was a child. Let`s analyse what you mentioned.

1)Emphasis upon listening. If you mean listening to the recordings, ok, Suzuki differs from other approaches here. But I still prefer emphasis on reading and listening to the teacher on class, at the traditional duo-playing system, at least with 7 years to up.

2)Insistence upon polishing and memorization. I don`t see this as a consistent difference between other systems. There`s a heavy tradition on memorization ( and polishing, if I understood what you meant with it) between several "traditional" schools of playing.

3)Constant review of the previous material. If you mean reviewing the whole previous material, ok. But a good teacher from any school would come back to basic exercises, open strings, etc., no matter the students` level, with no need to study again things as Bach`s minueto, etc( you can do it spending less time with short simple exercises).

4)Heavy parental involvement. Well, I`ve been reading about that, and about the heavy parental involvement of jewish and asian families in general education of their children, what makes me think that`s nothing new or exclusive of Suzuki playing, but an much older heritage.

5)Teaching technique through the repertoire. In my opinion, you always teach technique through the repertoire when the piece is beyond the student`s level, which is not necessairily bad. But the written literature offers plent of examples that this have been done since a long time. Of course, Suzuki does it more, and I don`t think it`s the best way to build technique in a long term.

Honestly, I don`t see a lot of innovation on the Suzuki method. But I admire a lot( and apply) all the Pre-Twinkle exercises and the 1st volume.

About the philosophy, I think we should discuss that on later posts, since I`ve been listening about it since a long time, but never get convinced that is really something I could call Philosophy involved on this. What I see people calling "Suzuki philosophy" is much more a pedagogy based on the mother tongue process, talent education, nurturing the children`s character on a non-competitive environment, and other themes related to teaching young children. So, even if you consider the whole method( the volumes, tapes, philosophy, pedagogy) as just one thing, we can discuss each one: just the volumes, or just the pedagogy.

Friendly,

Locatelli

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Locatelli,

1. Yes, I did indeed mean the emphasis on listening to recordings. There's also a heavy emphasis on "listening ahead", so you listen to works well in advance of playing them. Normally, children would never get to hear the early music they play, played well by an accomplished violinist. Indeed, this applies all the way to the point where the student starts the major concertos and recital works. (Less so now that there are projects to record student-oriented pieces like the Viotti concertos, the miniatures are coming back in the form of CD reissues of stuff from the 78s era, and so forth, but it's still the case.)

2. In Suzuki study, you memorize all of your repertoire, at a performance level. I would argue that many, if not most, traditional teachers do not teach this way. (I'd be interested in hearing what particular traditions you believe do, though.)

3. I do mean reviewing the whole of the previous material. Eventually you drop things off the tail end, of course, but because it's thoroughly memorized and occasionally refreshed by things like play-ins, it stays with you. (Twenty years later, I can still play most of the Suzuki music I studied from memory, and I suspect with a week of review I could probably play all of it from memory. This is not true of the traditional repertoire that I studied at the time, not even the things that I memorized and polished and performed.) This is not a waste of time, by the way -- it's often useful to pull out things that are well below your maximum technical level, in order to concentrate upon tone, interpretion, etc.

4. The Suzuki method demands involvement of parents regardless of race/culture. I'm sure many non-Suzuki teachers would welcome it, as well, but not very many of them demand it as a condition of the child's study.

5. This is an open debate, with teachers of all stripes on either side of the issue. Suzuki is different in that the repertoire has detailed instructions with it (which teachers learn in their training). I actually find it interesting that nobody else has written study guides to major student repertoire, by the way.

Violin-teaching has changed massively in the last century. When Suzuki first started teaching the method, it was certainly new and innovative. As time has gone on, of course, aspects of it have been absorbed into mainstream teaching, along with other ideas in teaching.

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Lwl, I must agree with you that Sukuki influenced a lot the way we teach the violin today. I can`t prove to you what old schools preceeded Suzuki at one point or another, because I can only speak for myself and the way I learned, and have no pretention to get a profound knowledge about how the majority of the violin teachers did it before Suzuki( an impossible task).

And, as you said before, you can find Suzuki teachers from all backgrounds... from eastern european schools, France, Latin-america, etc., and they always adapt the original principles to the place they live (exactly like Suzuki suggested).

It makes me realize that, currently, it`s probably impossible to divide the teachers between Suzuki and non-Suzuki. You will always find Suzuki principles well-aplied by "non-Suzuki" teachers, and distortions of the same principles done by Suzuki teachers from all origins, temperaments, generations. It`s quite unreal to suppose that exists such thing as a "pure Suzuki teacher".

Probably it would be better to create a association to support string teaching and playing around the world( Suzuki or not), following the model of the Suzuki association, than stimulate this label that only separate the musicians, as if they were from different sects.

I think there are higher principles that unites all string players in the world, and that ones should be more stresses than the distinctions between beginner methods( honestly, I find almost all of them irrelevant).

Friendly,

Locatelli

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I have had Suzuki teacher training on cello through Book II and have taught a number of students using whatever parts of it I felt were useful. My understanding of the method is that it provides a formal structure for breaking down each aspect of playing into discrete points. Each exercise is carefully designed to introduce each new point after the previous one has been mastered. (BTW, the Twinkle variations are based on the rhythms in the Bach Double Violin Concerto.) Use of beautiful folk melodies instead of poorly written exercises at the beginning is brilliant and original. However, if the teacher does not stress good tone, intonation, musicality, etc., those things won't magically come into being. Parental involvement is also key. I wouldn't say it's the "best" method, but it provides many useful tools for teachers -- and at least it's a method! (How many of us have had teachers who threw all kinds of things at us for no apparent reason?)

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I didn't start with suzuki but my friends did and I'm under the impression that they teach you how to read notes by color (correct me if I'm wrong) and you learn more to memorize songs in the earlier stages than you do read music. My friends did not learn how to read music well until their third or fourth books. Is that a good idea? I don't know. I learned piano first so I already knew how to read music but I just think that more exercises are needed so that not just the memorization of the pieces is taught. I agree that more likely than not, the music is not being taught the way Dr. Suzuki intended.

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quote:

Originally posted by jackjack:

I didn't start with suzuki but my friends did and I'm under the impression that they teach you how to read notes by color (correct me if I'm wrong)

Yes, you're wrong. A few teachers do, but there is no particular way to teach reading in Suzukiland. Part of this is because in the Japanese educational system, children learned how to read music in their music classes at school. It was not all on the private teacher's shoulders to teach it. I like teaching reading, and usually start it by the end of Book One.

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