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.
Lora- I can fully understand your pain and sense of betrayal of a man who just couldn’t see Truth, even when all it would take is the simple opening of a book to enlighten him. (If there is an allusion to that comparison with Christianity, sorry, it’s the lens I look with!) I have read ‘Teaching from the Balance point’ and garnered much insight from it. Pity your Russian pedagogue couldn’t even look at that, or the lovely book, ‘Nurtured by Love.’
While I was an undergrad music major, I had a very prominent Suzuki string teacher in So Cal. try to teach me, back in the day, the FIRST time I tried to ‘re-learn’ strings; and, while he had numerous ‘intonalization’ studies published, and was a Suzuki teacher, he never once taught ME how to ‘hear,’ because he wouldn’t go back to Book 1 with me ( which I now realize, is what he should have done). He finally told me I had ‘no ear,’ and refused to teach me further, all when I was doing professional gigs and solos in my (other) chosen instrument all over the area! The fault lay with HIM, not with me. I needed instruction, not just minimal involvement. And it was because of him, I lay aside my string studies, until my kids came along.
Sorry, this is going to be long. So many times, I have met teachers who are great at teaching those who ‘already have it’ and make a ‘name’ for themselves that way, (and often hold tenured positions at Universities- a-hem!) but can’t teach a rank beginner, (or a ‘damaged’ individual) and don’t want to be found out for the charlatans they are- so, when someone with less than proficient skills comes to them, they are often dismissive, and rude. I’ve had this happen in Piano, Strings, Voice, Dance, you name it. In Bachelor’s, Master’s and even Doctoral programs in Music. A case of ‘Definitely been there, done that.. to me!’
But it is the true TEACHER who can take someone from
‘square one’ (even in post-doctoral mode- lol!) who is able to instill technique, love, and above all, UNDERSTANDING of the medium, who is/are truly the GREAT TEACHER(s)… not the ‘name’ persons, who I consider the real charlatans in this world!
Shinichi Suzuki was that sort of man, who was a truly great teacher- what the Japanese call a ‘sensei,’ I believe. And I can count on one hand the great teachers I have known in my almost six decades on this Earth, who are like him; my current voice teacher, my Suzuki piano teacher (for my kids) and a very, very few others in non-music disciplines.
You, Lora, have that passion and the desire to truly TEACH to the enlightenment of the soul, via the medium of the Violin. I have already learned so much in little more than a month and a half, and that, after a Doctorate in Music. I don’t think you realize how gifted this series is, and how much it means to myself, and others like me. May I be blunt and say, God has gifted you with this Teacher gift, precisely BECAUSE of the struggles and pains you have gone through. Rejoice in this, and know that there are those who value what you have to give- ESPECIALLY in the area of Suzuki Violin instruction!
Wow, John, you TOTALLY get it.
YES, it’s easy to make yourself look good as a teacher by teaching those who are already “on their way”, or who are gifted! But to give up on everyone else? It’s just not right!
Suzuki was a beautiful person who taught that EVERYONE can learn music. Did he mean that everyone will become a professional musician? Of course not! He meant that everyone’s life could be enriched by music, and that everyone can become a better person through music.
I’m glad that you have a big enough perspective now to realize that your teacher in undergrad was short-sighted and…well, lazy. I’m glad your kids provided you the opportunity to pick up violin again!
THANK YOU for your outpouring of support in this comment, John!
I’m looking to take your lessons, but having read this I wanted to tell you how much respect I have for you continuing to do something because you believe in it after an experience like that.
Thanks, Octavia. It was definitely one of those “life altering” moments!
I love your name, by the way!
Thanks so much to Lora and Diane for your generous comments.
I think I haven’t had enough time yet to decide if my problems are just beginner adjustments.
I will continue to refer to your suggestions while I try to figure it all out.
Your sample Suzuki lessons are great, by the way.
This is one of those days when I can’t even get the bow to go across the strings.
I have rozened, rubbed some off, tightened and loosened the bow. All I get is scraping….I am guessing angle and tension. Any insight would be appreciated. This happens about every two days.
I very well remember those “unsettled days” in my own violin study. Some days it just felt so natural and sounded so good…other days it was like I had gone backwards 2 years!
It’s good that you checked the rosin and bow tension. Those things can definitely add to that bad tone.
Another thing I think is a HUGE cause of that phenomenon is how you are holding the violin.
I figure for the first 15 years of playing violin, my posture was completely unsettled. I didn’t have the right shoulder rest or chin rest…and so even in COLLEGE, as a music major, I would STILL have days where nothing worked and I had no idea why. Those days disappeared after I finally got my Mach One shoulder rest and the Stuber chin rest….those were FINALLY the right combo for MY body…..and so…gradually, I got into a very consistent placement of the violin on my shoulder….same elevation, same angle from the neck…..and so my bow could FINALLY learn how to work in a straight line now that my violin wasn’t moving to a different spot each and every day.
So, pay attention to the little details of how you are holding the violin. Even make little marks. Pay attention to where the button hits your neck. Where does your jaw contact the chin rest? Where does the center point of your chin go? Look in a mirror…..look at the exact elevation (height of scroll), the slant of the violin, and the angle of the violin coming out from your neck.
Another trick is to find the most comfortable practice shirt. It can help to wear the same shirt or the same STYLE shirt….you will learn where your shoulder rest contacts the shirt….heck, you can even MARK where it contacts the shirt. (when you are having a good day, obviously….you wouldn’t want to mark it on a bad day, unless you wanted to see where NOT to place it)
But most important, learn where those contact points are on your BODY, so that regardless of the clothing you wear, you can be consistent.
This was a great question. I think I’ll make a post on the blog out of this one! Keep up the good work!
Pat: I see that Diane EMAILED her comment to my email, instead of posting it…but I’m sure she’d want it posted, so here it is:
Hi Pat. I’m a violinist here in SoCal. My husband and I have a violin shop north of San Diego. Here’s what might be the problem. Kun shoulder rests have a very angled rest and they do NOT fit all body types. Do you have a good violin shop in your area where you live? We are not talking here about music stores…but violin shops that cater to stringed instruments of the the violin family. One of the other problems that could be happening is that you have a chin rest that does not fit properly….perhaps it’s not high enough for you. The space we need to fill with the chin rest and then the shoulder rest is from the breast bone to the jaw line. This varies with all adults! You need to fill that space with the correct setup (we call this a setup…chin and shoulder rest combination fit to fill the space). If the chin rest model and height is not suited to you then you have problems with your neck bending down and that puts tension in your neck and shoulder…this is not good for playing or your physical well-being. Sometimes the shoulder rest can be heightened but if you get the shoulder rest too tall then the violin can be wobbly on your shoulder. You might visit a violin shop and ask to see different shoulder rest and chin rest combination that would fit you better. Never play in pain or think you’ll tuff it out…pain is NO GAIN! You can permanently hurt muscles, joints and tendons. If you go to a good violin shop and ask for help they will give you some suggestions. Also, the only way you can make sure of a good setup is to try it out with your teacher and practice…so make sure if you buy a chin rest that it can be returned and exchanged for another one. Ask your teacher for help here with a good setup and violin shop. Some teachers…especially young ones…do not know alot about chin and shoulder rest setups…do NOT go with what they have either…they are built differently than you…: >)
Sharmusic.com, Southwest Strings and possibly other on-line violin retailers have programs that will send you shoulder rest and chin rest combinations for trial in home…there is a small service charge for this…call their 800 number and inquire about their programs. It is so worth getting just the right combination of shoulder and chin rests to make play and learning a joy. Hope this helps.
Stay tuned. Diane in SoCal
Bob’s Violins and Bows
So I shouldn’t be concerned that my grandson is learning Suzuki method, and his mom is teaching him to read music on the side? Now I want to squeeze in another question: I, the 80 yo grandmother who has started violin, think I shouldn’t tell him I’m doing this. Why? Because I’ve seen that when adults take over a child’s interest, it often seems to ruin it for the child. Legos, model trains, whatever. But I am a pianist who really wanted to be a violinist, so am struggling and having fun, too. But should I keep it a secret? Am I over-thinking this? Thanks for input.
That is a very interesting question about should you keep it a secret. It makes sense that it would sort of spoil the “exclusive” feeling the child has by being the only violinist. Myself, I would have loved nothing more than to have one of my parents start up the violin with me! (I started in 5th grade, though, a little older than Suzuki kids)
The Suzuki philosophy about that is that a parent MUST learn the instrument in order to assist in practicing.
My experience has been that it strengthens the relationship, gives common ground and mutual respect.
But, it is a possibility that it could ruin it for him.
You know your grandson best. Your judgement will be better than mine.
I do not see any harm in learning to read music on the side, as long as he forces himself to learn all of Book 1 by ear. Once book 1 is done, he will have some great ear training in place, and he’ll continue to develop it, even if he uses music thereafter. (ideally, he’ll continue to develop it….it might be good to challenge him now and then to “figure out Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer” by ear, or some fiddle tunes, just to keep the ears working.
Good luck to you. I know you’ll make the right choice!
And I would add that I can see where the classical violin method comes from, as my husband is from a European country where classical music masterpieces originated.
The classical method has its depth and great, great merits. However, I wonder, that without the Suzuki method, how many lesser kids would have picked up the violin 🙂
My heart goes out to you when I read that you cried before driving home. But I believe you stood ground and believe in the Suzuki method. (am still wishing for your lessons!)
My daughter has been thorough so many so called “Suzuki” teachers, who basically use the Suzuki books. Until we found one true Suzuki teacher who came here and then left. She opened up my eyes to what the Suzuki instruction really is.
The whole thing is that Dr Suzuki didn’t leave any instruction behind while he taught at Matsumoto it seems, and people think that the Suzuki method is just down to using the Volumes 1 to 10. How wrong. That’s why it matters whether a so called Suzuki teacher has gone through training.
Until today, we still vividly recall how our “true” Suzuki teacher sang bowings of the Minuets to us, and made our life happy learning the song. The instruction was magical to say the least. Learning was easy, and smooth, not something like “ok, we will start with the first two lines of the song this week and so on”.
Sadly, we magical teacher went home. Our current teacher, for what she isn’t, loves kids thoroughly.
But our magical teacher bequeathed her legacy of teaching that helps me help my daughter. I struggle to recreate her magic, and it’s real hard given my background. I have bought books to help me but I wonder what I do after Vol 3……
Hi Linda! I enjoyed reading your comment and the story of your many teachers. That scenario is all to common, but it only takes ONE GOOD TEACHER to shatter the binding spell, or the curse, or the struggle. That one teacher showed you the light, and now you know how to seek it for yourself. Thank heavens for that one teacher.
And good for you to appreciate the current teacher you have now for what she can offer. YOu are obviously a good family to work with!
Do you have William Starr’s book, “The Suzuki Violinist”? I dont have it yet, but from what I understand, it goes thorugh much of the repertoire, discussing the teaching points for each piece.
Also, Ed Kreitman’s book, “Teaching from the Balance POint” is like a “teacher training in a book”. I took Ed’s class. He was my first intro to the Suzuki method (the one I was so excited to tell my Russian teacher about), and when I opened his book…..it was like, almost VERBATUM what he had just taught us in the teacher training for Suzuki Book 1.
Of course, your daughter may be further than that, but he still teaches concepts in it that are timeless….things like the Suzuki philosophy of “See all, ignore much”, and the concept of PRIORITIES. He asked the class what our MOST IMPORTANT priorities are in life. We said things like, “family, love, career”…..and he told us that his top priority in life was “air to breath, food to eat, and shelter from the elements”. Then he went on to explain that priorities are a matter of the perspective you take.
The point of this exercise was that too many teachers teach from faulty priorities….they try to clean up a messy passage, they work on NOTES, they work on learning tune after tune after tune, and too many kids and parents try to advance from book to book as rapidly as possible, as if the book you are in determines the level of the musician. He said his top priorities for his students are: perfect posture, beautiful tone, and accurate intonation.
Since then, any student I get, I am evaluating them on those 3 basic things.
THANK YOU for taking the time to post.
I shudder to think of the many people who would not have been able to even approach violin without Dr. Suzuki, whose basic belief was that music, violin, is for EVERYBODY, for the enrichment of our souls, not to amaze audiences or become famous. He said learning violin makes kids better human beings.
Please feel free to post your questions here. I’ll answer them as I am able!
Best of luck to you.
Oh wow, you actually replied!!! THANK YOU!!! I am not a musician, so can only tell you what I’ve heard from others. First of all, she is such a good player, it took her current teacher FOUR YEARS to realize she has a memorization/reading problem. For auditions she is playing:
Bruch violin concerto no. 1, op. 26
Sarasate Introduction & Tarantella, op. 43
Bach Partita II in E Major, Preludio, BWV 1006
Paganini Caprice no. 13, op. 1
Her teacher believes the memorization is an issue of not really reading the music as actual notes, but more in a spatial way. So she does not see an A and place her finger on the A, she sees the “space” it’s in and then places it on the “space” on the string.
I have a vid of her on YouTube that I can send you the link for, but don’t want to post it publicly like this, if you know what I mean. This would give you an idea of what level she is playing at, which is pretty high. I think it’s too late to change the music for her auditions as the information has already been submitted to the schools. However, after auditions, if she can commit to working on this, I am hoping she will be in much better shape when she begins music school.
I am the parent of a Suzuki trained violinist who is preparing for college auditions. We switched to classical training 7 years ago, but she continues to have memorization, rhythm and reading problems. I am not a musician and all and did not see this coming. Her teacher was trained in eastern Europe and has no clue what to do. They are both totally frustrated with each other. Do you have any advice on how she can strengthen these weak areas? Thank you.
Your daughter’s problem is a common one, and I”m afraid to say it is NOT EASY to fix it. But, the good news is…it can be done!!!! (but keep reading, because it might just be an easy fix)
My initial response to how she can fix the problems is to find a GOOD Suzuki teacher who specializes, understands, and is willing to help her overcome the issues. THe problem was created by poor Suzuki instruction, but still, it was caused by Suzuki instruction…..and therefore, I think the best way to UNDO it is through GOOD Suzuki instruction.
But then again, I might not be understanding her problem. If her PLAYING is good, good tone, good posture, good intonation, then the problem is EASY to fix. She just needs to drill drill drill on note-reading, and study it like it is a math class. (not much fun for most people, but the key to SO MANY THINGS)
Ok, so disregard what I said about finding a Suzuki teacher, because that would be if she sounds sloppy, out of tune, and inaccurate. (common problem from bad suzuki teaching) And let’s assume she sounds pretty darned good, just has problems with rhythm, memorization, and reading.
For that, I would recommend my course, “Learn to Read Music”, which you can learn more about here
But that takes lots of discipline to work through that course alone.
You could also ask your current teacher to DRILL HARD for 6-8 weeks on understanding rhythm, reading music, and how to memorize.
What pieces is she currently working on, and what pieces does she hope to use as audition pieces? I cannot stress strongly enough that it is more important to play a less advanced piece WELL than it is to play an advanced piece POORLY. So you may have to downgrade the pieces she plans to use.
Once I hear back from you, I can offer more insight. My Suzuki Book 2 course covers TONS of advanced topics, and it might be just the thing she needs. I know….you are probably cringing….”WHAT? Suzuki Book 2? No Way!” But this course covers martele’, colle’, detache’ (several different types), spiccato, vibrato, and it also includes the “Learn to Read Music” course free.
Anyway, bless your heart for being there for your daughter. HOpefully you can work out a solution, if she is willing to do some heavy duty work to see it through.
I would also add this:
If you wanted to strengthen a weak bicep muscle, you would not go to the gym and start doing 50 pound curls…..you would start with 5 pounds and work up. The same goes from memory. If she has not learned to memorize well, then she should start by memorizing 3 EASY tunes per day. (hymns, christmas tunes, patriotic tunes, or Book 1-2 Suzuki tunes, if those aren’t memorized already)
Have her do that for 1-2 weeks.
Then, have her learn 3 intermediate songs per WEEK for 2 weeks.
She will start to figure out how to create memory markers, and how to attach the brain to ear to fingers. Those connections must be made for good memory.
ONLY THEN can she be successful memorizing bigger tunes.
thanks for sharing your story, Lora. Probably everyone reading it has had the experience of sharing our joy with a trusted someone, only to receive rejection and invalidation in return. And that does affect our music life. That is also one of the reasons that I think of myself as a “kitchen fiddler” rather than as a musician (along with the absence of formal training, of course). But out of your rejection came this wonderful learning that you offer us – the phoenix from the ashes, so to speak. And that is a good lesson for us all. Jarl
Thanks for sharing your story! Interesting that your dear, beloved teacher could not find words of encouragement, but perhaps felt slighted by the organization of the Suzuki Method . . . It’s distressing to have gone through all the questions without any answers to what he meant, but I suppose that’s part of being human.
EXACTLY, Laura. Thanks for reading that article. It was a personal one! 😉
As a music teacher (of the piano), I stress the importance of correct technique from the beginning – knowing what to do and how and when to do it in order to produce a beautiful sound. This is one of the many things I love about Lora’s teaching of the Suzuki method – you know exactly what you are supposed to be doing as a beginner. We started putting dynamics in our music early on (so much for the “no musical expression” criticism), and have been doing ear training (so often neglected, but not by Lora) from our first week. Lora often talks about note values (in preparation for reading music later, I imagine). I love this method, and have great respect for its attention to giving students a great foundation stack of skills to work with.
Wow!! I’m blown away!! I’ve just got to say that it is my “ear” that hears the music. It travels to my ‘heart’ and it is my “ear” that tells me whether what I’m playing is fantastic, mediocre or lousy. The notes on a piece of paper is a tool and a help but the real transformation in my playing happens when my bow arm, my ear and my heart work together as one. I love the Suzuki method, I love it’s music, and I appreciate the discipline it guides me with. Thanks for sharing Lora.
Thanks for reading and replying, Marie. I’m glad you share my appreciation of the Suzuki method.