Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds. The mediocre mind is incapable of understanding the man who refuses to bow blindly to conventional prejudices and chooses instead to express his opinions courageously and honestly.
–Albert Einstein, 1940
What Are the Criticisms of the Suzuki Method?
I want to share a painful personal story with you. It happened many years ago, and I am finally able to talk about it, having processed it all these years.
I had just completed my Suzuki Teacher Training for Suzuki Book 1. It was my first introduction to the Suzuki Method, and I was elated! Not only had I learned how to teach young children this devilish instrument, but I had solved some of my biggest problems in my own playing.
My memorization had improved, I had learned concepts about tone production that I had never heard of before, I had learned about sympathetic vibrations and how it can help our intonation, and the list could go on and on.
My two weeks at the Suzuki Teacher Training had been like going to a spa where every ache and pain is dissolved with warm bubble baths and aroma-therapy. I was SO excited and elated by all that I had learned!
My former violin teacher lived in the same city where I was taking the Suzuki training, so I gave him a call and arranged to visit him, having not seen him for 4 or more years. I arrived at his home, and he walked me back to his sitting room where he had ordered a pizza for us to share as we chatted.
This man, who has since passed away, was a great man and a great musician. I loved him to the very center of my being because he had melted away so much of my musical paralysis and had really taught me all about musical expression, and so many more abstract concepts that he seemed to convey as much by telepathy as by his broken English.
So we began by talking about my master’s studes in Wichita, and my position as Principal Second violin in the symphony there. He seemed mildly impressed and proud. It was VERY difficult to get any sort of enthusiasm from this strict, stern man, but I thought I detected a slight smile of approval.
Then the topic turned to what brought me to the area. I enthusiastically bubbled over with my experience at the Suzuki Teacher Training, all that I had learned, that I would be taking over a full studio of over 30 students, that the Suzuki Method is so wonderful and such a loving, positive method.
His stare grew cold, and my heart is pounding even as I write this down, some 10 years after the event. This man never came out and SAID what he meant. He spoke in riddles, fables, and parables, but his message was always unforgettably clear, and such was the case now.
He started out in his thick Russian accent which I loved, “Lora….you vill learn much from a method such as Suzuki. You vill learn book by book by book. You vill have mothers with babies in their mini-vans marching in and out of your studio. They vill follow their religion. You vill tell them ven to eat, ven to sleep, ven to put their violin up, ven to put it down.”
I was smiling at him, desperately hoping he was teasing me. He was not teasing, and as he continued, my smile faded, and I’m sure the blood drained from my face. “You may love this Suzuki Method, but no student of the Suzuki Method vill EVER be a student of mine.”
And he meant me. He meant that I was no longer included in his pedigree of students. He was washing his hands of me, and no longer claimed me as a student. I felt as if the wind had been knocked out of me. There was no graceful recovery from the awkward, painful situation..I simply told him good-bye, and then stood out in the street and cried before driving home.
This story is so painful to share, even years later, that it brings the tears as I write.
My question is this: WHY is there such violent opposition to the Suzuki Method? I already know the answer. Critics of the Suzuki method say:
- It just creates robots with no musical expression
- It makes students unmusical
- Too much conformity
- All students learn is staccato and the upper half of the bow
- Students are forever crippled from learning to read music
- Students never learn to read music because they get lazy and prefer to play by ear and fake it
- Suzuki dictates too specifically what to do and not do…people follow it so rigidly it is like some cult or religion.
In a future post, I will take each of these criticism and reveal it for what it is: a judgment born of ignorance, misinformation, or fear, or all three.