Monday, February 15, 2010

Nurtured by Love: Dr. Shinichi Suzuki

Nurtured by Love: The Classic Approach to Talent Education, by Dr. Shinichi Suzuki

Published in 1983, Translated by Waltraud Suzuki.

Summy-Brichard Inc.

Prepared by: SarahRose Black

Shinichi Suzuki’s classic approach to music education, known as “Talent Education” is outlined in his 1983 publication “Nurtured by Love”. To briefly summarize the content of the book, Dr. Suzuki’s premise is that every child is capable of achieving a level of excellence if they are trained correctly; this “training” involves Suzuki’s famous “mother-tongue approach”, during which a child is exposed to the music they are going to learn many months before they actually pick up the instrument. Suzuki’s idea came from his observations of Japanese mothers interacting with their children. He noticed that the constant talking of mothers to their children led to the (almost) inevitable reproduction of the sounds from the baby some months later. Suzuki used this approach and found that if children heard “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and other folk songs for months before, the children were able to replicate them with ease. Suzuki’s teaching methods rest on the philosophy that all people are born with a natural ability to learn. Most newborns adjust to their environment and most adults do the same. Dr. Suzuki believed it was possible (and very important) for every person to foster and improve their natural abilities. Essentially, he strove to nurture “fine and noble human beings”. These premises are the foundation upon which his philosophies and pedagogical practices sit.

Dr. Suzuki worked to bring out what he called “natural ability”. His belief in the potential of every human being to be “fine and noble” drove his desire to develop a pedagogy. From a sociological standpoint, Dr. Suzuki’s background is interesting and relevant to examine. He survived war-torn Japan during the second world war and fled with his family and some family friends into the mountains where they all remained in hiding for the greater part of the war. It has been said that Suzuki went without much food for weeks in order to provide food for the children he was with at the time. Since then and until his death, he suffered from severe stomach problems as a result. His undoubtable capacity to love and care and give back to his community shone through in many different ways. His enormous contribution to the world of music education has spread to over 30 countries and has inspired and ignited students and teachers alike.

Many of Dr. Suzuki’s philosophies have personally influenced and touched me very deeply. My bias is that I was raised as a Suzuki piano student in a very traditional fashion. The “Suzuki triangle” was formed with me, my father and my piano teacher. I listened for months before I played, and I listened long after my fingers were able to execute the pieces I had heard to often. Today, I am a Suzuki piano teacher and hope to offer my students what my teachers offered me.

Talent education is an interesting approach to learning and teaching. It is based upon the arguable premise that all children are naturally ready to learn and can be taught to play just as beautifully as anyone else. Furthermore, a nurturing environment is essential to the Suzuki approach. The child must be positively reinforced and nurtured by those surrounding him or her. Although these premises are arguable and questionable, I have seen the effects of the right amount of listening coupled with a nurturing environment and a supportive teacher. Many Suzuki students play with grace, eloquence, technical proficiency and passion. However, one of the major problems with this approach is that the process necessitates several components which may not always be in place for the child. A child may want to have a music education but may not have the required parental support needed for Suzuki education. If the child/teacher/parent triad is not in place, is the Suzuki method not possible? Some would argue that it would not work in the same way. Suzuki purist are staunch about the commitment needed to become a Suzuki student. Others argue for flexibility within the method. Pedagogically speaking, many would argue that one method cannot fit every child to a tee the way Dr. Suzuki argues it can. For example, an older student starting with the Suzuki method might not experience the same effects as a younger student. This raises the question of whether talent education works if a child is “too old” to experience the benefits of the mother-tongue approach. I am inclined to believe that the ear training/mother-tongue approach works mainly with young children, just as language acquisition works much faster for young children than it does for adults. Dr. Suzuki himself might be the exception; he learned violin by ear around the age of 18. Although Suzuki has limitations, the method also has wide-ranging benefits.

Suzuki’s method, although staunch, has been shown to be highly effective in many different countries. Dr. Suzuki was an inspirational human being with a lot of love and musical expertise to offer. His optimism and passion for teaching have ignited the world of music education. I have found Dr. Suzuki’s life and teachings to be highly motivating for me as a music educator, and for the parents and students with whom I have used this method.

Some quotes for thought:

"Filled with the joy of love, I have given up saddness"

"Talent education is life education"

"My dream is for the happiness of all people"

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