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The Suzuki Music Experience for Children

By Mychal Gendron

Is musical ability something that all children are born with? Is talent in music something that is inherited — “in the genes” — or is it something that can be developed and nurtured in a loving, supportive home?Sukuzi_guitar student

Dr. Shinichi Suzuki believed that all children have a talent for music, and that the critical factor for the development of this, or any ability, is the quality of the environment for learning. Throughout his long life (1898-1998), Dr. Suzuki devoted himself to teaching children as young as age three to play the violin with beautiful tone, with musical expression, and with great joy. He based his theories of teaching music on one very basic observation, in his home country of Japan — “All Japanese children speak Japanese” — a simple, obvious, but very powerful statement that acknowledges two things:

  • The acquisition of language involves a very complex set of skills, yet most children in any culture master their native tongue by the age of five; in bi-lingual cultures, children easily learn more than one language and are able to communicate appropriately in different situations.
  • Parents or caregivers are by far the best teachers of language because they provide the model for speech development as well as the environment for learning, support and nurturing.

The recognition of the ability for music inherent in all children sets the stage for the next important step in music education for young students — Dr. Suzuki called this “Talent Education”. Using language learning as the primary model for teaching music, new skills are taught in small, easily learned steps; repetition of these skills, as in language, is critical to total mastery. Newer skills are added gradually, while retaining older skills through review — again, like continuing to use known vocabulary along with recently learned words. And, as in speech, these skills are fostered in a home environment that enhances the importance of music through listening and active playing.

Since coming to the United States with a group of his students in 1964, Dr. Suzuki’s ideas and methods have been adapted from the teaching of the violin to cello, viola, bass, piano, flute, guitar, recorder, harp and voice. The great success of the “Suzuki Method” has led to the establishment of music programs throughout the world that teach according to Shinichi Suzuki’s principles, with administrative centers in Japan, Europe, Australia and the U.S. Suzuki instructors are rigorously trained and devoted to the teaching of young children; most continue their training year after year in the pursuit of lifelong learning. In this country, these instructors often have thriving private studios, but they can also be found teaching at better community music schools or in schools that specialize in teaching the Suzuki method.

When searching for the best quality in music education for their children, parents will find many options to consider. If the Suzuki method sounds like the answer to your child’s and your family’s needs, there are important things to look for before making a commitment – any fine Suzuki school or program should:

  • Provide guidance to caregivers from trained, registered Suzuki instructors who specialize in working with children as young as age four.
  • Present step-by-step instruction and a graded system of achievement levels for each child’s musical growth.
  • Develop the “inner ear” for music in each child, plus solid instrumental technique, expression and a love for music.
  • Provide a social outlet and ensemble experience in graded group classes to supplement private lessons.
  • Help families to create a positive, nurturing environment for music in the home.

The Suzuki instruction books, for all instrument and at all levels, are available to the general public, and it is both legal and ethical for music instructors who have not taken Suzuki training to use these books in their teaching, but the knowledge of how to apply Suzuki philosophy and method to the musical materials is something that only trained instructors have. Families can easily obtain the most up-to-date information about these instructors in the United States, and elsewhere, by contacting the Suzuki Association of the Americas at www.suzukiassociation.org; all teachers who have taken Suzuki training are registered as SAA members, and a teacher search on the website will help to locate the best instructors for each instrument in any U.S. city and state.

To be sure, a Suzuki education in music involves a real commitment for the parents or caregivers — this includes attending all lessons with the child, participating in group/ensemble classes as well as private lessons, and taking responsibility for regular home practice. But the rewards — the acquisition and retention of musical skills, the confidence and pride of accomplishment that children feel when they reach treasured goals, and the possibility of a lifetime of doing and sharing something they truly love — are the best reasons for parents to invest in their children’s artistic lives.

Mychal Gendron is a registered Suzuki Teacher Trainer in guitar. He has been a clinician at Suzuki workshops and on the faculty of Suzuki institutes throughout the U.S. Mychal has been a regular presenter at Suzuki Association of the Americas Conferences and was Guitar Coordinator for the conference in 2008. His compositions and arrangements have been published and recorded by Mel Bay Publica­tions and by Opus Guitar Publications.

Mychal maintains an active Suzuki Guitar studio at Rhode Island Philharmonic Music School and is a Teaching Associate in Guitar at Brown University. He holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the North Carolina School of the Arts and a Master of Music degree from New England Conservatory. Mychal has performed in France, Brazil and throughout the U.S., including all six New England States.

For more information

Please contact the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra & Music School for more information about Suzuki instruction at 401.248.7020 or mgendron@ri-philharmonic.org.

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1 comment
  • I highly recommend the Suzuki method for teaching young children (as young as 3 or 4) an instrument. You know how young children learn through play? That is how children learn through the Suzuki method. They play games while learning the instrument and therefore have fun doing so. This is not a traditional “ok, Johnny, time to sit down and practice!” method. Instead you play a game with them that involves learning a particular skill, just as you might for a counting game or a game that teaches shapes.

    I also highly recommend Mychal Gendron at the RI Philharmonic Music School as a Suzuki guitar teacher! My daughter has been taking guitar lessons from him for a year and has made solid progress. More importantly, I’ve also watched her grow from a shy child who didn’t want to participate during the intro class to one who proudly gave a short recital to her kindergarten class recently and in a self-assured voice answered all the questions from the other children!