WHO SAID THEY COULDN’T DO THAT?

"How can we have an entire industry dedicated to "teaching music," and never get around to actually showing anybody how to create music? I believe that the answer to this question lies in the European origins of our most basic ideas about what it means to "teach music." Remember, for centuries the primary goal of classical music education was to produce performers capable of reading a sheet of music and correctly playing the composer's ideas. And this is no small task. It requires both a formidable control over one's instrument and a very high level of skill at reading complicated musical phrases on a written page. It also requires great sensitivity and expressive power. However, in the European classical tradition, the performer's role is not to understand how to create music but how to execute it."

..... David Reed (author of "Improvise for Real", "Understand the music you hear. Play the music you imagine")

The standards of traditional mainstream musical education as practiced today, were established over a hundred years ago, and have evolved very little since. A comparison the piano syllabus, as used by me when I began my lessons, over half a century ago, with that of today, would reveal more similarities than differences.

When musical education practices were established, the emphasis was placed on producing performers, rather than creators of music. There is nothing wrong with learning to perform the works of the Masters. It requires strong technique, mature tone, intellectual and emotional maturity, and years of dedication. There is, however, a distinct handicap experienced by many classical musicians, and that is, the ability to have spontaneous musical conversations, better known as improvisations.

Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven were all brilliant improvisors, but classical pianists have lost the art, being so dependent on the printed score. The improvisational skills, as practiced by the Masters, were all but lost by the 20th century.

“There is something stultifying about a tradition where millions of pianists are all playing the same 100 compositions. The way we’ve developed musicians is falling apart, as it was designed for a very narrow outcome – preserving and perfecting the canonic repertoire.”

…… John Mortensen, music educator

When it comes to the art of improvisation, many classical musicians are “Strangers in a Strange Land”, often dismissing the musical validity of this skill, or viewing it as being reserved for a few “blessed” individuals, granted this gift by Mother Nature, God, or genetics.

I have always believed this is rather ironic, because, after all, is not music the “Language of Sound”? If this is true, is not the highest form of linguistic knowledge, the ability to carry on spontaneous conversations?

In 1964, Dr. Shinichi Suzuki introduced his revolutionary philosophy of musical education at a Music Educator’s Conference in Philadelphia. This caused much controversy amongst North American music educators, as Dr. Suzuki’s method was founded on principles diametrically contrary to existing established musical educational policies in North America.

To comprehend the profound difference between Dr. Suzuki’s “philosophy of musical education”, as it compares to traditional music education’s “method of teaching performers”, one must celebrate the true potential of young children and understand how Mother Nature has provided them with a way to learn easily and naturally something as complicated as a language.

The inspiration for Dr. Suzuki’s approach to musical education came to him in a remarkably simple way. As a young man, he studied violin in Germany and found learning the German language to be difficult and frustrating. At the same time, he was intrigued by the ease with which toddlers were able to learn and speak the words he found so confusing. He recognized that we are born with the amazing ability to, through mere listening and repetition, become fluent in our “mother tongues”, well before our “formal” education begins. As a result, Dr. Suzuki developed his ideas through a strong belief in the concept of "Talent Education", a philosophy of instruction that is based on the premise that talent, musical or otherwise, is something that can be developed in any child.

"Though still in an experimental stage, Talent Education has realized that all children in the world show their splendid capacities by speaking and understanding their mother language, thus displaying the original power of the human mind. Is it not probable that this mother language method holds the key to human development? Talent Education has applied this method to the teaching of music: children, taken without previous aptitude or intelligence test of any kind, have almost without exception made great progress. This is not to say that everyone can reach the same level of achievement. However, each individual can certainly achieve the equivalent of his language proficiently in other fields."

…… Shinichi Suzuki, (Kendall,1966)

Dr. Suzuki based his philosophy on the following principles:

  • The human being is a product of his environment. A strong, robust environment, driven by positive reinforcement, patience, and careful step-by-step nurturing, encourages learning in a natural, seamless way.
  • Begin the earlier, the better – with not only music, but all learning. In the past, traditional methods of education have often discounted the potential of early childhood education. Our natural ability to be able to learn our complicated mother tongue from birth is an indication of this. This is also clearly illustrated by language immersion programs, where, when provided by the proper environment, young children easily learn second languages, easily and naturally.
  • Repetition of experiences is important for learning, which begins the moment we enter this world. Our communication skills grow, as we hear the words, we will eventually speak repeated by the people in our environment every day.
  • Teachers must be at a high level and continue to grow to provide the best possible instruction for the child. This includes building a strong, nurturing relationship with not only the child, but parents as well.

"First, to set the record straight, this is not a 'teaching method.' You cannot buy ten volumes of Suzuki books and become a 'Suzuki Teacher.' Dr. Suzuki has developed a philosophy which, when understood to the fullest, can be a philosophy for living. He is not trying to create the world of violinists. His major aim is to open a world of beauty to young children everywhere that they might have greater enjoyment in their lives through the God-given sounds of music."

…… Hermann, 1971

In my close to fifty years of teaching experience, I have experimented with various methods, philosophies, and lesson formats. Without a doubt, a healthy Student/Parent/Teacher scenario always attains far better results. In these times of Covid, it has been invaluable form my students, both in the studio lesson and online Zoom lessons.

Parents do not need to play the child’s instrument. They merely need to understand the lesson assignment and to provide strong, consistent, positive support and encouragement at the lesson and at home. The rewards are many!