Another Response

Miranda Hughes

Back to homeschool index
Back to Shinichi Suzuki Had a Good Idea, But... My Answer

Pat, welcome to the list. I hope you find it as inspiring and enriching as I do. For the record, I was a Suzuki violin student and am now a part-time Suzuki teacher and a Suzuki parent to one (or two or three, depending on how you count) young Suzuki violin students. My kids are 7, 4 and 2. (We also homeschool, as an aside. Since we don't don't "imitate school" and don't use the "Biblical method", I *strongly* object to this statement from your website, which you apparently think describes the style of homeschooling we adhere to: "The Summerhill method involves abandonment of any pretense of discipline, allowing the child to decide when, or even whether, to acquire the skills we call an education." Yikes! But that's a topic for another list.)

I'm not going to try to debate your entire Suzuki article, as a good part of it seems based on anecdotal experience with a few rather quirky individuals. But I would like to offer up a few observations. First, you commented that by starting a child of three or four on an instrument, "Suzuki never permits this drive to develop in the child, because the parent makes the decision before the child is old enough to develop this particular character trait." Being in the thick of parenting young children right now, I absolutely disagree with this. Young children have desire and drive every bit as intense as that of older children. Ever watch a three-year-old wrestle for 15 minutes with a button or mourn for days over a lost blanket? It's just that this drive is rawer, less sophisticated, than that of older child, and thus in the case of a drive towards something as complex as playing the violin it requires the support of someone like a highly involved parent. The essence of the early Suzuki start is *desire*, or drive. That the parent has an active role in creating and maintaining desire makes the drive no less intense.

We North Americans tend to place much higher value on independent, unsupported drive than on co-operative drive. I think your comments about your son Allen's autonomous drive to learn violin at age 12 are in part a reflection of this cultural value. My 2-year-old is intensely driven to play the violin, to the point of spending up to 30 minutes at a shot, an eternity at this age, striving for perfect A-string sound on a long down-bow. It's just that the violin is not something she can learn independently, so her pursuit, beginning at age two, is going to end up less valued in our culture. She is going to require years of daily support from me to do what she wants to do, and somehow, to someone on the outside looking in, that makes it look like *my deal*, not hers, simply because I am cooperating with her and supporting her in it.

In North America, saying "I don't know, he just decided he wanted to do it; I had no part in it... I just paid for the lessons" is seen as a more worthy a path for a child than "she really wanted to do it, and so we worked together for years in order that she could get to where she wanted to be." It's about the western value placed on independence rather than co-operation and attachment. (This is where I could head off on a long tangent about the modern preoccupation with early independence of the child from his family within the educational system ... but I'll leave that for another list too.)

A specific comment about the early introduction of note-reading as being an American adaptation, not "pure" Suzuki. In 1967, when Dr. Suzuki was in North America with a tour group, he was asked when the children were introduced to note-reading. His answer, "Book 4", was an unfortunate one. If he had said "age 6" (which was the age of his Book 4 students), the reading issue would not have been as poorly applied as it was in the early years of Suzuki teaching in North America. For many years, Suzuki teachers here left note-reading until the Book 4 level, when students were 9 or 10 and very entrenched in their auditory learning preferences. Nowadays, many North American Suzuki teachers tend to begin to introduce note-reading around age 6. That *happens* to be at an earlier stage in the repertoire than in Japan, but it is an appropriate age for many kids, both here and in Japan. It's not exactly an American adaptation when looked at from that perspective.

You wrote: "The very young student works on a particular piece of music until it is absolutely perfect. He does not go on to more difficult things until that piece is mastered. We are talking about a performance worthy of a highly trained professional musician."

Having watched video-taped recital performances of Japanese children this past summer, I also take issue with your comments about the degree of perfection in technique, posture and imitation that is required of Japanese students. The North American teachers I viewed this videotape with were all astonished at the *lack* of perfection demonstrated by the young Book 1, 2 and 3 students. These children were playing very advanced repertoire for their ages, and with excellent tone, but "perfection" of intonation, technique and posture was *not* being demanded.

I find your comments about the issues pertaining to "transplanting" the Suzuki method from Japanese to American culture confusing. You seem to be saying the the "problem" with the Suzuki method is its "Japaneseness", yet you decry any adaptations to American culture as impure. You cannot have it both ways... you can't claim that the Suzuki method as it's taught in Japan is unsuitable for American families, and then look at Suzuki teaching that *is* more suitable in an American context (eg. the introduction of note-reading at the Book 2 level, the supplementation with fiddling repertoire) and claim it's not pure Suzuki by definition. By whose definition? Dr. Suzuki himself preferred to call it the "Mother Tongue Method" and not the Suzuki Method, because he expected that every teacher would teach differently, because putting his name on it made it appear that his own particular style of teaching defined the approach. He was decidedly un-Japanese in his appreciation of the uniqueness of individual children, parents and teachers. He explained that other teachers would teach something that would at best be called the Suzuki-Mori method, the Suzuki-Hayashi method, or maybe, in my case, the Suzuki-Hughes method. He never expected strict adherence to a particular pedagogical approach. He changed his own teaching all the time. He was famous for his "new ideas." There never was any such thing as "pure Suzuki", even for Dr. Suzuki himself.

It seems to me that you're making a number of ill-informed assumptions about what constitutes the Suzuki method in Japan, and basing your objections its use within an American context on these.

Back to homeschool index
Back to Shinichi Suzuki Had a Good Idea, But...My Answer