Created by Japanese violinist and pedagogue Shinichi Suzuki in the mid 20th century, the Suzuki method is an internationally known teaching philosophy and musical curriculum that aims to create a learning environment for would be musicians that is supposed to help foster excellent moral character. This method is supposed to be equal to the linguistic environment that one has when acquiring their native language.
Wanting to bring beauty to the lives of children after the devastation of WWII, Suzuki was a skilled violinist who was beginning to learn the German language. It was at that time that Suzuki realized that children could speak their native language fluently by the age of five or six without difficulty. Something that an adult would normally have a difficult time with given the same amount of time to learn a new language. With this in mind, he believed that children could also become proficient at learning to use a musical instrument.
Unlike French or Russian playing school, Suzuki’s school focused on non-instrument specific techniques, such as tonalization (a term coined by Suzuki). Some of these technical concepts were carried through the entire method, and are pillars of the philosophy that the Suzuki method teaches.
Inside the Suzuki method, tonalization is much like vocalization, except it focuses on a student’s ability to recognize and produce a certain tone on their instrument. Initially meant for the violin, this technique can be used on many instruments, including the piano. Outside of the Suzuki method, tonalization is called tone production, and has a long history in Western music.
Another technique that is common in the Suzuki method uses sound recordings of musical instruments. This is so that students learn notes, rhythm, phrasing, tone quality, and dynamics by ear. Although non-Suzuki trained educators also use this method, Suzuki believed that the amount of time spent listening to such recording should be much longer than what they had been prescribing. He believed that children should hear music while in the womb, that they should listen to how they played when they had started, and listen to how they progressed.
Through the Suzuki method, normal sized instruments that adults used became smaller so that children as young as three years old were able to practice using them. Pianos, flutes, and violins were scaled down along with footrests and benches so that children could begin playing. And, thanks to Suzuki’s successes, violin makers started to make even smaller violins for children in preschool.
With success, Suzuki Institutes were able to establish music festivals, the first being in Matsumoto Japan. Teachers, students, and parents were able to go to training courses, group classes, and non-musical activities for a few weeks to learn from Suzuki. These extended later to the US, with the addition of concerts, seminars, and teacher training courses. Of course, fees were required to be paid in order to attend these festivals to the institute the student was attending at the time, but the Suzuki association handled registration for teacher training and policies from every country.