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How DO Suzuki Students Learn Their Pieces?

There is nothing especially mysterious about the process of teaching a three, four or five year old how to play an instrument. I have experienced many instances where parents have inquired about music lessons for their young child and repeatedly asked during the conversation “so they’ll actually be able to play an instrument?” The straightforward answer to this question is another question: “do you think they can play?”

The Suzuki method breaks everything down to the simpler task. This is why sight reading is taught as a separate entity. It would be difficult for anyone of any age to attempt the complex task of playing an instrument while trying to figure out how to read music at the same time. Therefore, beginning students are taught their pieces by ear; listening and repeating is a skill most people have already mastered at a young age.

Most of what goes in to learning an instrument has nothing to do with the actual playing. One really good example would be the ability to sit still and focus on a single task. In the Suzuki method, the child initially does not do a whole lot of playing on their instrument for quite a few lessons. Instead, many of the activities (or “games”) are done away from the instrument but are designed to help attention span, focus and memory.

Once these skills are acquired, real work on the instrument may actually begin but in a step by step fashion. For instance, on the violin, a student will spend a great deal of time just trying to master the bow hold. Without a proper bow hold, there is no way to produce a good sound as the bow is pulled across the strings.

While mastering beginning technique, a Suzuki student will do a great deal of listening to their Suzuki CD. The CD does two things: it familiarizes the student with the repertoire and helps to establish a sense of pitch. It is not unlike retelling a story to someone; it is easier to retell if you already know how the story goes.

Constant listening and learning to associate certain sounds with certain note names will make playing “Twinkle” for the first time a much simpler process. The students already know the tune, they know how certain pitches sound, all that is left is figuring out how to create those pitches on their instrument.

It is important to understand that the Suzuki method is not about listening to a piece and regurgitating. It is about mastery of each small step in order to achieve a greater whole. In order to really get the most out of the method, the student or parent of a younger student must be willing to embrace the long term bigger picture. The skills music teaches a person will affect everything they do in life, not just their ability to play an instrument.

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