by Brian Lee
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Your long essay on Suzuki music instruction was quite disturbing to me as a Suzuki teacher. Perhaps you have never seen the product of good Suzuki teaching or watched a good Suzuki teacher teach. I would like to point out some of these misconceptions. The problems you noted do exist, because there are some bad teachers out there with not enough education or common sense to adapt the teaching to the needs of the student, but is wrong for you to say the Suzuki Method is bad because of your bad experiences in your particular situation.
First, about the sequence of material: "There are several volumes of these. It is not permitted to take material from any other source. The order in which pieces are presented is carefully arranged so that the technique is taught in a prescribed manner. You do not deviate from this."
False. Many teachers teach pieces in a different order, and almost all conscientious teachers will supplement the repertoire with other books for teaching reading and reinforcing technique. I use Wohlfahrt etudes, and the reading methods such as "All for Strings" and "Strictly Strings", as well as fiddle tunes, while the student is studying Books 1 through 4. This is encouraged by all the teacher trainers (five of them so far) that I have worked with. After Book 4, the students repertoire, scale, and etude work should be practically indistinguishable from a non-Suzuki studentís.
"Recordings are used to teach the pieces, and demonstrations by the teacher. The child does not learn to read music." and "He may never read music very well, even once it is taught."
English speaking students do not read and write English at the same time they learn to say "mommy". Similarly, reading and writing in music come after the child has a small, fluent musical vocabulary. I usually introduce reading in late Book 1. ALL of my students can read simple music by Book 2. Reading is a part of every lesson from Book 2 on.
"The child is required to have perfect intonation, and because he is tiny, this can be achieved very quickly."
True. I require all my students, including older ones who are not taught using Suzuki principles, to have accurate intonation. Is there something wrong with perfect intonation?
As to the child wanting to do music and having the drive, there are tidbits of truth in your diatribe, but the point of immersing a young child in good music and training them to play an instrument is not merely to develop a musical adult; it is (as Dr. Suzuki always said) to foster the growth of the human being. There are experiences and lessons to learn in studying an instrument that will help the child for a lifetime, even if they do not keep playing as an adult. There is no failure if a Suzuki student decides not to play as an adult. The things they have learned about discipline, striving for improvement, valuing something beautiful, working in harmony with others, and making music instead of merely consuming it, are precious. The child who has the drive and desire to become a musician will find a way, Suzuki-style or not. But you must realize that some Suzuki children DO choose music as a career or as an avocation for the rest of their lives.
I am not an expert in Japanese culture, but I was uncomfortable with your references to the people as "imitators" and "human computers". Different cultural values and ways of being are evaluated in very different ways by outsiders. I know that many people disagree with yours. As just one example, your writing implies that there is something wrong with imitation. That is a Western value. It is not shared by most of the people of the world. What is wrong with imitation, if one is striving to acquire something beautiful? Perhaps to a foreignerís eye, Americans are not as individual as they seem, since the vast majority seem to be overweight, loud, self-centered, undisciplined boors who do not make an effort to learn another language or respect other cultures. These characteristics could make us seem rather similar in their eyes.
As for the mother of the Suzuki student being furious about her daughter not being accepted into the advanced music program in which your son was accepted, I feel bad for the mother. I wonder if this is the first occasion for her to realize that her teacher had not been preparing her for the "real musical world". This story that you told is an extreme but not uncommon one in some parts of the country. On the other hand, there are other areas where virtually all of the Suzuki teachers do understand that in order for the child to be able to fully participate in and enjoy their musical skills, they need to be prepared to play non-Suzuki repertoire, read music, and play with other people in groups.
It is unfortunate that your dislike of the Suzuki approach is so strong that you feel compelled to post it for the world. A good Suzuki teacher in your neighborhood might have made all the difference. It appears that you were unfortunate enough to discover the other kind.
Congratulations to your son. He is to be commended for his efforts and so is his teacher. I was a late bloomer too, who caught up with my age mates through my desire to become a good musician.
Best of luck to you and your son, and I hope your town gets a GOOD Suzuki teacher!