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Learning Piano the Suzuki Way
There are several types of piano lessons available to children. The Faber and Faber method, Suzuki method, and the Alfred method are examples of various philosophies. This article addresses the use of the Suzuki method of learning piano, along with the pros and cons of this approach.
The Suzuki method of teaching piano is based on the “mother tongue” approach. With this approach, children are taught music as if they were being immersed in a foreign language. Children are exposed to music, learning to listen to the piece before any attempt at reproducing the song is made. Children learning to play piano with the Suzuki method are taught to play “by ear” first, and learning to sight read music is not taught until the child is successful with reproducing music by ear.
Parents must make a commitment with this method, because parent involvement is vital. Parents reinforce concepts in the home environment and provide positive feedback for the child.
Piano Equipment for Suzuki Lessons
Correct posture is important for young piano players, so finding the appropriate accessories is important. Children taking Suzuki violin lessons will learn to play with scaled-down violin sizes. Likewise, adjustable piano benches and footrests are vital for young Suzuki piano students.
Children enrolled in piano lessons should also have an acoustic piano in the home. The feel and sound of an electronic keyboard are not the same as a real piano, so electronic keyboards are not recommended.
Is the Suzuki Method Right for Our Family?
Parents must decide if they have the right level of commitment to the Suzuki approach. Parents attend all Suzuki lessons for young children, and the teacher may teach both the parent and child when the child is very young. Parents may even be expected to play during some lessons!
Parents will be expected to play the recorded music at home, and they should take notes during practice times to effectively communicate any difficulties and successes with the teacher.
Parents should also sing to the child frequently—even if the voice quality is off-key, children learn by listening and will develop a basic ear for music. Singing is the most important first step in training the ear for music.
Suzuki piano books are graduated sets of music, increasing in difficulty as the child increases in skill level. Volume 1 contains songs like “Lightly Row” and “London Bridge.” The books come with a listening CD so the child can hear the song played and reproduce what they hear. There are seven volumes in total.
5-Year-Old Piano Player: Suzuki Method
Benefits of the Suzuki Method
- Children do not need to read to play the Suzuki method. Since Suzuki is taught by listening and developing an ear for music, being able to read music is not necessary for beginning piano students.
- Since children do not need to sight-read music, this method allows children to begin lessons at a younger age than other piano teaching methods. Many children begin learning to play piano at the age of three years (or younger)!
- Since children learn to play music “by ear,” they learn to play music with feeling. Music does not sound mechanical or halting as a child tries to decipher sheet music.
- Children obtain a feeling of success early on in the process, as the Suzuki books teach the children to play real songs right away. Meaningless scales and finger exercises are avoided.
- The positive environment and reinforcement used with the Suzuki method makes playing a joyful event rather than a chore.
Criticism of the Suzuki Method
The most common criticisms heard regarding the Suzuki approach are:
- Children do not learn to read music.
- Children do not develop good technical skills.
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These criticisms often stem from myths surrounding the Suzuki technique.
While the Suzuki method does not rely on sight-reading initially, nearly all studios teach sight-reading as the child progresses through the various levels. Parents should verify that a Suzuki teacher does teach sight reading by a certain level – many studios begin teaching children to read music once they have completed the first book.
If the parents do not participate as they should, a child may not develop the appropriate technical skills. Uninvolved parents should not choose the Suzuki approach, as the child requires frequent parental encouragement and help to remain successful with this method.
When Can Children Start Suzuki Piano?
Children can begin learning the Suzuki method as young as two years of age. By the age of five, all children would be considered “ready” to start learning the Suzuki method. The biggest factor in determining readiness is the parent’s willingness to teach their child. The child should also express a desire to learn the piano, and the entire atmosphere should be kept light and positive for young children.
The Suzuki Method in Action
A Brief History of the Suzuki Method
Shinichi Suzuki was born in Japan but moved to Germany in the 1920s. He was teaching university students the violin but became more and more fascinated with teaching young children.
He noticed that very young children learn languages with amazing ease—they simply had to be exposed to it, and they would learn to understand and speak a language. Using this basic philosophy, he developed his approach to teaching music to young children. The Suzuki method was originally called the “Mother-Tongue Method” or “Talent Education.”
When World War II broke out, Suzuki’s lessons were halted for a period of time. Once the war ended, he began teaching students again in Motsumoto, Japan. The method spread to the United States in 1958 when a student at Oberlin college showed a film of Suzuki’s method to American violin teachers. Duly impressed, the teachers began to learn more about this unique method of teaching music to very young children.
Of course, Suzuki’s main goal was not to create simple musicians but to create better citizens of the world. An oft-repeated quote is:
“If a child hears fine music from the day of his birth, and learns to play it himself, he develops sensitivity, discipline and endurance. He gets a beautiful heart."
The Suzuki method is currently used to teach many different instruments, including violin, guitar, and piano.
Questions & Answers
Question: Are there digital downloads of the Suzuki piano method available instead of CD's?
Answer: Digital downloads are available on the suzukiassociation.org website.
Question: How many pieces will a student learn at each level?
Answer: The Suzuki system is sequential, so each piece within each book is more difficult than the piece before it. Since each student learns at their own pace, the number of pieces they learn will vary within a specific period of time. Suzuki level 1 has 19 pieces within the book. Suzuki level 2 has 13 pieces, but the difficulty level is increased. Level 3 has 11 pieces, and level 4 has ten pieces. Levels 5 and 6 have eight pieces, and level 7 has six pieces.
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on April 18, 2019:
I hope I can help you locate a Suzuki teacher, Bernie! Are you looking specifically for a piano teacher, or are you looking for another instrument? The website below will help you locate a Suzuki teacher: https://suzukiassociation.org/find-a-suzuki-teache... .
Another option is to contact STEP Birmingham to see if they have a recommendation for a Suzuki piano teacher for children: https://www.stepbirmingham.com/
Bernie on April 16, 2019:
I would like my child to learn music the susuki method. I live in birmingham an struggling to find one. Any one any ideas or know if someone.
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on July 13, 2018:
That is fantastic, Marijke! We love music and both of our boys take piano. They are taking traditional lessons now, but participate in the National Piano Guild and perform ear training exercises as part of their repertoire every year. My younger son is actually profoundly deaf (he hears with a cochlear implant) and has perfect pitch - which was a fun discovery as we didn't think that would be possible for him! I certainly wish all children could benefit from learning to play a musical instrument.
Marijke on July 11, 2018:
I learned in a traditional way and feel like my personal ear training was very lacking. I started my daughter when she was 4 with Suzuki. She is now 7 and doing well. She just learned to read music with no trouble this last winter. (after just turning 7) We do sight reading for 15 minutes a day at the moment.
Unknown on January 12, 2017:
I think that sight reading is very imporatnt to life
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on June 19, 2015:
Hi Retha, Suzuki teachers are trained. There is a South African Suzuki Association Facebook page - I wonder if someone on that page would be able to lead you to a teacher?
Retha van Zyl on June 17, 2015:
Hi Leah, I stay in South Africa and want to know if you should be trained to become a Suzuki teacher? I cannot find information regarding teachers here.
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on June 14, 2015:
Suzuki is a fantastic way to start children on the violin. I truly believe music is (and should be) an integral part of a child's education when they are young. There are so many fantastic benefits to their developing brains, jma. I hope your children love music and continue to take lessons as they get older! My boys are ages 7 (almost 8) and 9, and love playing piano.
jma on May 10, 2015:
Growing up I played piano the traditional way with exams every year.
After hearing friends from the Suzuki violin program and researched myself, i put 3 of my children ranging from ages 3-8 in the suzuki piano program. It was hard at first but after the first book graduation and a public performance, it has greatly motivated them to continue with their hard work. My 7 and 8 year olds have just started sight reading this year from the normal john thompson books- with ease!
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on May 15, 2012:
Suzuki is a fantastic method for teaching young children - I hope your child develops a love for music, tizzie!
tizzie44 on May 15, 2012:
I did not learn using Suzuki. I learned to read music and can sight read about anything. I much rather that I had learned to play by ear and to improvise. I intend to start my toddler using Suzuki and also teaching him to read music.
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on February 17, 2012:
Suzuki is great for allowing kids to play by ear and for letting them feel and appreciate the music. My own son is taking more traditional piano lessons (he is six) but we certainly allow him to play around on the piano and have fun with it - we want him to have the ability to be creative with music in addition to learning the technical aspects. My younger son may do Suzuki - we're still debating with him (he has a congenital hearing loss, so I'm not sure how well he'll learn to play "by ear" as opposed to learning via a more traditional route).
Kymberly Fergusson from Germany on February 16, 2012:
Very interesting - thank you! I knew that the Suzuki method was quite popular, but didn't know how it differed.
As a child learning the piano, I was severely told off for playing by ear - I was forced to always read music. It effectively has stopped me from being able to improvise fluidly, therefore jazz is awfully difficult.
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on January 22, 2012:
I do think it is important to learn to sight-read music after a certain age. Most 3 year olds can't learn to sight-read music, so Suzuki is probably the best fit for a very young child, but reading music is an important skill - I do know that most of our local Suzuki studios teach children how to read music after a certain stage. My own son is currently taking a more traditional route - he's six years old and is learning to read music and play at the same time. We're still deciding which method to pursue for my four year old - he is hard of hearing and I'm not sure if he'll be able to learn "by ear" as well as a child who has full access to sound. We may take the more traditional route with him, but we're still researching!
Escapes on January 22, 2012:
Very informative. My daughter started to play the piano at age 5. She is now 15 and doesn't read music very well, but thoroughly enjoys playing and is quite good. She listens to a song once and can replicate it without a problem. I am happy she can do this, but she is frustrated that she never learned "correctly".