The Suzuki Method for Guitar; the benefits, shortcomings and how they might be overcome
Updated: Nov 10, 2020
The Suzuki method guitar books are made from a series of brilliantly graded and sequential pieces, each building on the last. Once the student gains some momentum, progress can be swift and the student capable quite quickly. The method makes use of many pieces of the classical guitar repertoire.
The question arises, do you have to completely embrace the Suzuki teaching philosophy and methodology in order to benefit from the method books? I can only speak from my experience, but no you don’t.
The Suzuki method is aimed at very young children and has produced many fine young musicians. Typically, they come from families whose parents have high expectations and a strong work ethic.
The philosophy of the method is that children learn to acquire music skills in the same manner as they acquire language skills. A child learns to speak only after being immersed in the sounds and rhythms of the “mother tongue” and will speak only after having heard its words spoken perhaps hundreds of times. So, this leads to the next question, how do you create an environment where the child is immersed in the music that they are to learn?
Well, the recordings that accompany the method books are to be continually played, in the car and at home. At least one parent is to accompany the child to their lesson and learn alongside the child or if not, take notes. The parent is to establish a practice routine and must ensure that pieces are played as per their teacher’s directions. The parent becomes the ‘at home tutor’ and practicing becomes part of the family routine and as natural as any other family activity.
But what about the child whose environment is not that favourable, whose parents can’t attend lessons or would prefer to send their child to soccer on a Saturday morning than sit through another group lesson or ensemble rehearsal? Can a young child learn to play an instrument whose parents don’t want a Suzuki flavoured home?
Most of the parents of my young students are happy to have their child taught guitar but keep their involvement to a minimum. Although some have been known to sit in on lessons and learn alongside their son or daughter, parental involvement is not something I insist on. Although, as any music teacher will tell you, parental involvement and enthusiasm can have a huge bearing on the progress of the child.
I don’t actually get many parents asking that their 3 or 4-year-old child be taught guitar either. They usually start asking for lessons from about the age of 5. While their fine motor and cognitive skills are only just developing, a 5-year-old child can understand instruction better and is learning to associate symbol with sound at school.
Five years of age is about the right time to start learning guitar and reading music. Early childhood educators teach from this age and start developing a child’s fine motor skills with activities like colouring in and using scissors to cut out pictures. They are taught to recognise words by associating a word with a picture or image.
The guitar teaching method that I use (Copy, Play and Learn Guitar) assists children as young as 5 years of age to develop their fine motor skills and learn to read music in a similar way as early childhood educators teach a young child to read and write. Kids learn naturally through imitation, and Copy Play and Learn uses this as the cornerstone of its methodology.
Children start to think about how music works and explore the relationship between the pitch of notes and their likely position on the stave and fingerboard early. Prior to using both hands there are pieces that allow the child to focus on one hand at a time. Musical phrases sometimes use stepwise movement to show the student how notes appear in alphabetical order on the stave and on the fingerboard and are often associated with words. Those same phrase/ word combinations appear in later songs, triggering a child’s memory. Some pieces follow visually logical patterns which help the student play what can look like a complicated piece of music. Being based on the imitation principle, a child will imitate their teacher playing a short phrase, and will have heard it, seen it, processed it and know where it fits in the context of the piece.
Copy Play and Learn Guitar takes young children from being absolute beginners, with little finger dexterity and no ability to read music, to being independent note readers and able to interpret and respond appropriately to the signs and symbols of written music. It is easy, fun and requires surprisingly little effort. The student is then easily able to move on to the Suzuki guitar method books and books like it.
I personally find the Suzuki philosophy and methodology of instruction too involved for most average young children and their parents, especially children whose parents simply don’t have the time or inclination to act as tutors. However, in my 30+ years of experience, I have found that by using simpler techniques, designed for young children’s stage of development, they progress much quicker into more advanced methods like Suzuki.
To learn more about Copy Play and Learn Guitar head to https://www.copyplayandlearn.com/
Author: Bryce Leader
Bryce is a teacher trained conservatorium graduate who has been teaching guitar since 1978.