The Suzuki method first came to the the United States in the late 1960s, and its official organization, the Suzuki Association of the Americas, was formed in 1972. As it existed in its early years, its proponents believed that all children could learn to play the violin if started at an early age, and that the learning process occurs through two primary mechanisms. The first is imitation, primarily imitation of the teacher. The second is group learning, consisting of group lessons and group performances. The suzuki books were put together for two primary reasons. First, to offer a structured program of pieces of increasing difficulty to use with each student over many years of their development; and second, to facilitate group learning by keeping everybody “on the same page” and able to play the same pieces together.
Suzuki Programs have been extremely valuable to the classical music community because they start children young, at the point when they are best able to learn (between ages 3 and 7), and because they have generated enough interest to continuously attract new generations of students to playing violin (and other stringed imstruments). The Suzuki brand has become almost a household name, and thus a very marketable title for a violin teacher to hold.
But: The Suzuki books are not, by themselves, “the suzuki method.” And, use of these books in instruction, even exclusive use, does not constitute Suzuki Method. The books are merely a means to an end. And they were were written originally to be played by the teacher and imitated by the student without the student ever actually learning to read music on his own.
Without the group component, the Suzuki books have lost much of their ability to excite today’s students. The bulk of the “songs” are from the baroque period, and are written largely by such eighteenth century composers as Vivaldi, Bach, and Corelli. The look of delight I so frequently see on their faces when I tell students they can play something else is very telling.
I do frequently use pieces out of the Suzuki books, especially for beginners, (Book 1 is particularly useful). But when I see in their faces that the music just isn’t reaching them, I make other suggestions or allow them to make their own (appropriate for their level) selections.
Suzuki intended the books full of pieces of increasing difficulty to be an essentially complete course of instruction. However, I believe in the value of scales, etudes, and exercises as more focused ways to develop technique. Of course musicianship, musicality, and love of music comes from, (what else!) playing music. And, in my opinion, the music must inspire the student. I am producing my own violin books series, which begins with 40 songs in 1st position arranged in increasing order of difficulty, that children already know. Included are The Banana Boat Song (Day-o), Simple Gifts, Amazing Grace, You are My Sunshine, Kum-baya, On Top of Spaghetti, and Wheels on the Bus go Round and Round.
However, for students who want to participate in competitions, or in the best community student orchestras, or even one day attend conservatory, it is necessary, eventually, to introduce works from the standard violin repertoire. Most of which are not in those Suzuki books!
As for me, I started playing violin because my mother turned on the television one day when I was 3 years old and was greeted by 100 tiny suzuki students playing twinkle twinkle little star together. The very next day she brought me to MacPhail Center for the Arts in downtown Minneapolis and enrolled me in their suzuki program. My teacher was Mark Bjork, who was then the President of the Suzuki Association of the Americas. It was an excellent start, and I would not hesitate to recommend participation in a full suzuki program.
Lisa Ann Berman, M.M.
Masters of Music in Violin Performance, Yale School of Music http://www.simplyviolin.com/