My Answer

Pat Goltz

Back to homeschool index
Back to Response
Forward to Another Response

In response to

Your long essay on Suzuki music instruction was quite disturbing to me as a Suzuki teacher.

That is understandable. If you did not believe in the method, you would not be using it.

Perhaps you have never seen the product of good Suzuki teaching or watched a good Suzuki teacher teach.

I have seen the product of good Suzuki teaching. I have been at a concert given by the tour group under Dr. Suzuki's direction (he was personally present at the concert), and I was moved to tears by the more advanced students.

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.

I didn't personally have bad experiences with it. I was never personally involved in it. I have simply seen the results in other American students. And I have read several of the books.

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 student’s.

You are an American. Americans change everything. You are quite right that some American teachers will do things such as this. I wouldn't call that pure Suzuki, though. I have never heard Dr. Suzuki comment personally on this practice, nor read any such comments. However, knowing the Japanese culture as I do, I think that this practice won't be all that common in Japan. And some people will adhere strictly to the method anyway, even in America.

"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".

I think they should learn to read right away. I know how to teach an infant to read (and I don't mean the way Glenn Doman does it.)

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 problem is (and I say this as a person who would have thrived under Suzuki because I have such a good ear for music, that I could listen to my mother playing a piece once on the piano and know it by heart. I can still reconstruct an entire orchestral piece in my head, after having listened carefully to it only five times) that if you put the rote learning ahead of reading music, some students will never learn to read music well at all. I have also had experience with people who learned to read music first, and who had trouble with memorization. In the traditional Suzuki method, reading is NOT taught early. That is an American innovation. Japanese children learn everything by rote for a very long time. This is partly due to their writing system, and their failure to analyze Chinese characters (kanji) by their radicals as Americans have done. Japanese people do not tend to be analytical.

"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?

Not at all. But as a substitute for other things, it isn't preferable. Good relative pitch is a very good idea as well. But one of the things I observed is that this didn't necessarily carry over into the upper positions, which is one of the problems the Suzuki violin student I mentioned had. And by the way, my kids' string teacher doesn't have a lot of use for Suzuki, either, nor does my mother, a piano teacher of many years.

It is quite likely that my article needs refining. Your criticisms help me to see that, but I do think my basic complaints are correct.

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.

I wouldn't exactly characterize what I wrote as a diatribe! If you think it is, you haven't seen one of my diatribes! LOL That said, I agree with what you said above. And according to the Japanese culture, that is a very Japanese way of fostering the growth of the human being, and I happen to agree with it. In fact, that attitude came across to my kids and when they grew up, two of them married Asian women. The older one in particular saw a great resemblance between his wife and me, that is, until after they had been married awhile. But to someone getting to know her, there was a great resemblance. I realized too late that I had failed to explain some very important things.

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.

This is true.

There is no failure if a Suzuki student decides not to play as an adult.

I regard this as a partial failure. Seriously. If the method is what it claims to be, then people will want to keep playing as adults. Nearly all of them. This is the criticism of my friend the concert pianist.

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.

I agree.

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 realize that, and I don't think I said something that would negate that. I'll check.

I am not an expert in Japanese culture, but I was uncomfortable with your references to the people as "imitators" and "human computers".

It may require a bit more explanation. I majored in Oriental Studies in college, and concentrated on Japan.

Different cultural values and ways of being are evaluated in very different ways by outsiders.

I am aware of that. However, my knowledge of the cultures of Asia is sufficient that I can operate successfully in their context, and was instrumental in persuading both Asian families to accept marriage between their daughters and my sons.

I know that many people disagree with yours.

I know that. In fact, the ability to disagree is part of what makes us Americans.

As just one example, your writing implies that there is something wrong with imitation. That is a Western value.

Actually, I think imitation has its place.

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?

The point I was trying to make (and maybe I need to reword it) is that musical expression by imitation is fine, but maturity in musical expression comes with age, and the youngsters simply haven't had time to develop that. This doesn't mean that they cannot do quite well and move me, because they did. But this criticism was primarily from my mother, and I see the validity in it.

And I see no problem with imitation to acquire something beautiful up to a point. But the whole point of art is that you add something uniquely your own. Young children cannot do that yet, and if you teach them imitation as a serious virtue and never talk about anything else, then you fall into the same trap as the Japanese.

Perhaps to a foreigner’s 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.

I agree. And indeed, we are not as individual as we think ourselves to be. Most people do imitate others, and think themselves indivduals to do so. It really amazes me how people can fool themselves in this way. Heck, you see the same thing in music! When some of the modern composers decided to ditch the rules, they made up some of their own, and then everyone conformed to THOSE. I am thinking of some of the twelve tone writing.

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.

So do I, but her anger was directed in the wrong direction, and was very harmful to both her and her daughter, because she took her daughter out of the program altogether and started slandering the director. She cut off her daughter's nose to spite her face.

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.

That is good to hear.

It is unfortunate that your dislike of the Suzuki approach is so strong that you feel compelled to post it for the world.

I think that if I have an opinion to express, I should be free to express it. Suzuki is not above reproach, and you have seen fit to criticize me, and I have accepted it graciously to the best of my ability. You won't see the flaws of something from a place where no criticism is allowed or accepted. And without seeing the flaws, people will perpetuate them.

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.

I did not personally ever work with a Suzuki teacher. I simply saw the results. I do, however, know one personally. The sad part is that he is an excellent guitarist, but he has a very low opinion of his playing because it isn't perfect. But it is still very, very good, and he is a delight to listen to. He is worth listening to. It is too bad that he became such a perfectionist that he couldn't enjoy his own music. Instead, he was tearing his hair out over his rendition of Cathedral by Mangore. What a shame!

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.

Thank you.

I will re-examine my essay in the light of your comments. I am sure it could use some refinement. Thank you for writing to me.

Best of luck to you and your son, and I hope your town gets a GOOD Suzuki teacher!

I agree, and thanks once again.

Pat Goltz

Back to homeschool index
Back to Response
Forward to Another Response