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Shirley S Kirsten

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The Suzuki Method for Piano in Pure and Adulterated Forms
by Shirley S Kirsten   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Sunday, March 04, 2012
Posted: Sunday, March 04, 2012

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Let the Holy War begin!

The Suzuki Method for Piano in pure and adulterated forms/opinions about

The traditional Suzuki method was devised for violin instruction by its pioneer advocate, Shinichi Suzuki. Students as young as 2 or 3 were encouraged to begin study, in a learning framework based on language acquisition. (I recall outdoor black and white film footage showing hundreds of Japanese children lined up in rows with baby-size violins, in synchronized melody–It looked like a post-war celebration)

The music was very appealing–A collection of folk and classical offerings with “Twinkle, Twinkle” as a primer favorite, gave impetus to volumes of published Suzuki albums. These soon became hot-sellers creating a new industry! David Cerone, a violin teacher at Oberlin Conservatory during my years of attendance, became the official player-soloist on all Suzuki recordings. No doubt it was a lucrative endeavor.

As I understood it, the philosophy bound up in the original Suzuki approach, embraced a very early immersion in violin study without exposure to note-reading. The latter would be shelved for a future time (Such thinking paralleled the sequence of language learning and then development of writing skills with its built-in lag. A child would not be required to write, etc. until he entered primary school–or perhaps, preschool.)

Part and parcel of the Suzuki construct was aural absorption of recordings to the point of saturation. The child would listen to pieces he was playing and basically “copy” the melody, tempo, phrasing, nuance etc.

During private or sometimes group lessons, the teacher would be the leader, with her copycat student as a full- bloom follower. Don’t forget Mom or dad’s required presence at lessons as prelude to a pulverizing process continuum during the week. (talk about chewing up bits and pieces of music, regurgitating them and feeding the young.)

Peers, teachers, parents, and Lord knows how many participating relatives, would create a village of support built around the “method.”

Animal Farm, perhaps, if you know what I mean– or a commune, at best. Maybe, “It takes a village,” would be an optimistic Suzuki-bearing message.


Ironically, once upon a time, the Suzuki Violin method was magically transferred to piano, with its original precepts remaining intact. (Did I sniff a profit motive?)

Some Suzuki piano teachers, however, integrated traditional methods into their approach, while others were more strictly orthodox. (religious wars in the making?)

Piano student transfers who had been immersed in a pure Suzuki learning environment from age 4 or 5, turned out to have poor note reading skills by the time I personally interviewed them at age 9, 10 or 11.

One 12-year old, admitted that her “Suzuki” piano training made her resistant to reading music. (she definitely displayed a lag)

I did, however, notice her physical comfort with the piano. She had a nice hand position, supple wrist, graceful, relaxed arms and could easily be prompted through any technical routines. (which was a tribute to her teacher’s technical skill and agility in the modeling process)


My concerns with some recap and repetition

What worries me about purist Suzuki Piano instruction:

1) note-reading is far too delayed.

Because a child relies on copying the teacher or parent during his formative years of study, there’s no particular motivation to read music.

The Suzuki-saturated students I had inherited over the years had considerable difficulty psyching themselves up to read music.

It was like the first 5 years of musical exposure were a Freudian predictor of notation avoidance pathology–N.A.P.


2) While it’s valuable to have a good pianistic model for the physical side of playing, I’m not sure making a child ingest one particular way of interpreting a piece, or standardizing it makes much sense.

3) Having students churn out the same pieces, ad nauseum at recitals fosters comparisons of how the same piece was performed by one student or another.

I once attended a Suzuki recital in four parts that lasted for 3 cumbersome hours. Pieces like,”Twinkle, Twinkle” were played relentlessly with little relief. I will admit, that by and large, the Suzuki pieces were delightful, permeated by Classical morsels.

4) Drafting parents to be surrogate teachers during the week could be a living nightmare for some children!

How many moms or dads would have the proper emotional distance to mentor their kids? Too many had little patience, and made unrealistic demands on their children to play perfectly.

On the positive side:

The idea of mirroring back a good physical relationship to the piano in the earliest years of study was sound, but traditional mentors could provide the same, while integrating elements of note-reading into the lesson. (or a precursor)

Depending on a child’s age and readiness, a teacher could expose children to parcels of notation in digestible form, as I had done with Rina, age 5 (She started piano at 4)

A review of my last post will refresh. My approach to a child this young would be creative, innovative— borrowing materials from varied sources where it applied. (For example, I used Irina Gorin’s Tales of a Musical Journey as my springboard) but on my own, I’ve developed simple duets based upon transcribed versions of Saint-Saens, Carnival of the Animals to use with with Rina.

I don’t adhere to any deadlines, preferring to take cues from the child. Any other instructional modality, whether it be PURELY Suzuki-based, or a strict instructional path with little room for variation, doesn’t seem to work.

Why, then, I ask myself, are we are so dependent on organized teaching materials, to the exclusion of tailor-making a learning journey to suit each child’s needs?

Food for thought.





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