What are European-Style Suzuki Music Lessons?

 

In Japan and Europe, Suzuki lessons place the same emphasis on learning to read that they do on learning to play by ear.  This will come as a surprise to some American readers.  Dr. Suzuki always intended for students to be literate, however.  His own students certainly were!  

As proof, consider what Dr. Suzuki did once to motivate two of his teen-aged students:  One morning, he gave them the written score for the Vivaldi double-violin concerto in A minor.  He told them they had only a day-and-a-half to learn it on their own.  He would, of course, listen to them in a few hours and help as needed, to make sure it would be ready...for a live radio broadcast the next day, at 1:00 pm!  
(Source:  Nourished by Love, by Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, pp. 30-32.)  The point here is that the students learned this piece by reading the music, not by ear.  They used their marvelous ear skills to help themselves master the piece quickly, but the initial "data input" came from reading the music.

Dr. Suzuki was a master motivator.  He was full of joy and had a playful nature, as his smile in the above photo shows.  (See photo, top of page.)  He knew what the needs of each student were, and came up with creative ways to unlock each student's potential.  This challenge he gave to his teenaged students was extraordinarily bold:  It could have resulted in a terrible failure for less well-trained students.  

Dr. Suzuki knew his students, however, and knew they had all the training they needed for this feat.  He was confident these two fifteen-year-old boys could handle the reading, interpretation, and performance technique involved.

If Dr. Suzuki had not taught these students how to read music — and how to read it very, very well — they would have been unable to learn and perform this advanced Vivaldi concerto in less than two days' time.  Instead, the students were able to learn the score on their own, and performed splendidly.  
The Talent Education Research Institute in Matsumoto, JapanYes, they certainly did know how to read music!

Unfortunately, there is a belief held by many in the United States (including by some teachers) that Suzuki students should not be taught how to read music.  This probably results from the fact that Dr. Suzuki did not speak English when he came to the United States in the 1970's, which is when his movement caught fire here.  His proponents in the United States certainly meant well, but misunderstandings arose.

Thankfully, his Suzuki Method has been preserved in its original form in Europe and Japan, and is still being taught at the original Talent Education Research Institute that he founded in Matsumoto, Japan.  (See photo of building, at right.)  Our school is fortunate to be part of a small but growing number of music schools, dedicated to bringing Japanese teachers over from Dr. Suzuki's Talent Education Research Institute, in order to train teachers here in the United States.  
This group of schools is called the Suzuki Piano Basics Foundation (SPB).  Through our combined efforts, we are pleased to be able to offer authentic training in reading, ear-training, and ergonomic piano technique at annual institutes around the United States.  (See photo, below.)  This training is available to all music teachers, so that we can pass Dr. Suzuki's original teachings on to our students.