Suzuki Violin Compared To Traditional Violin Lessons
By Helen Baxter
The Suzuki violin method has come to dominate the way violin is taught in America and throughout much of the world. Mention the Suzuki violin method to music educators, and you will get a variety of responses.
While it is common for some teachers to mix elements of Suzuki violin method with the traditional approach other teachers either love or hate the Suzuki method. Let’s examine the Suzuki violin versus the traditional violin below.
The Suzuki violin study method emphasizes passive modes of learning – watching and listening. Before engaging in formal study, Suzuki violin students are exposed to recordings of the first and subsequent pieces they will play, as well as recordings of great performances from the general classical repertory.
This continues when students begin formal study and as they progress. Recordings are played as “background music,” for hours each day and at low volume levels. Here, the thinking is that exposure to recordings is similar to the effect of immersion that naturally occurs in the process of primary language acquisition.
Successful study is enhanced by prolonged repeated exposure. Suzuki violin students develop an internal model of the music to be studied. They memorize the music and internalize the nuances of pitch, tone, timing, articulation, and dynamics demonstrated in recorded performances.
Traditional violin study favors a type of training that virtually ignores passive learning approaches. While students may be encouraged to listen to recordings of the more advanced repertory played by concert artists or symphony orchestras, beginning students are generally not given the opportunity to listen to recordings of the beginning pieces that they are or will be studying.
Suzuki violin incorporates the passive mode in class. Before Suzuki violin students ever receive the violin, they observe others who are doing what they will eventually do. Even after receiving and working with the violin, they continue to observe others in the masterclass setting and group lessons.
Meanwhile, the more traditional violin lessons are modeled on an environment of isolation. When students do interact, competition between individual students is often used as a means to motivate them. Cooperative learning techniques are neglected or ignored. With the one-on-one model, students don’t get much opportunity to study and play music with peers.
The Suzuki violin method imparts technical skills needed to play the violin in a way that has similarities with the approach used in traditional Asian martial arts. There is meticulous attention to form, detail, and movement and it is usually taught by a master who has been handed the skills by other masters.
Suzuki formulated a highly original violin technique that is radical and remarkably efficient. He has disseminated these ideas to teachers and students in the form of “teaching points” – specific descriptions, each dealing with a single aspect of technique and recommended exercises for its mastery. In the process of renovating violin study, Suzuki dramatically improved the way the violin is technically mastered.