Rachel Massey Talks Suzuki Method

Today I’m posting a short essay that our violin teacher, Rachel Massey, wrote for our blog about her evolving views on the Suzuki Method, created by Shinichi Suzuki. For a long while, the Suzuki Method has been one of the “buzz words” in music education, and Rachel thinks there’s good reason for this.

A few notes before turning things over to Rachel: (1) you can find a short overview of the Suzuki method here, (2) Rachel’s biography can be found at the end of this post, and (3) give us a call if you’d like to schedule a lesson with Rachel.

Thanks for reading!

Growing up, my exposure to the Suzuki method was pretty limited. Despite the fact that my earliest violin lessons were in Boulder, Colorado, a hub for the Suzuki Association and Suzuki Training, my teachers chose instead to focus on more “traditional” European methods and pushed me to start reading music as soon as I began, at age 7. While we still used the Suzuki books, they were more a vehicle for graduated repertoire and less about the violin method. Suzuki for me instead became synonymous with ridiculously talented peers (most of who had started by age 5 or earlier), a few beloved pieces and a few less-beloved ones, and a circulating rumor among the non-Suzuki kids that the method produced “automatons” and students who don’t know how to read music.

Until recently, I could include myself among the skeptics of Suzuki’s violin school. This wasn’t so much because I had any proof that my Suzuki peers were in any way insufficient. On the contrary, it had more to do with the violinistic trait of competition. From the very beginning, I was jealous of the effortless technique of these Suzuki kids. When I heard that they might, in fact, be flawed, I was all too eager to believe it, a consoling thought that offered a possible one-up on the Suzuki clan at long last.

The Suzuki Method emerged in Matsumoto, Japan out of Dr. Shin’ichi Suzuki’s belief that “every child can.” Suzuki himself didn’t begin to play the violin until his late teens (a very late start for anyone hoping to make a career out of music), and because of this had a greater chance to observe the earliest processes of learning an instrument with an adult eye. Suzuki’s first observation had to do with a child’s mother tongue: barring anything extraordinary, every child is able to speak the language of their parents at any early age. If children can pick up language so easily by listening and mimicking, why couldn’t they do the same thing with music?

The whole question seems elementary, but in effect it turned musical pedagogy on its head. Up until Suzuki’s revelation in the mid-20th century, Traditional European methods were the way music was taught. These methods encouraged a later start, early sight reading skills, and, quite often, rigid obedience and discipline. Many pedagogues of the European school intended their teachings to make great concert artists. Suzuki, on the other hand, intended his to make great people: “I want to make good citizens,” he said. “If a child hears fine music from the day of his birth and learns to play it himself, he develops sensitivity, discipline and endurance. He gets a beautiful heart.”

My own journey with Suzuki started as I began pondering how best to teach my students. I’ve been teaching for many years, and for many years did so in the same way I was taught. Recently, teaching has become a much bigger focus for me, and with that shift came a reevaluation of my methods. I was accepting more children into my studio, and I found the toolbox I had with which to teach simply wasn’t big or broad enough; I wanted to find ways to engage the kids, to relate to the way in which they access music, and to make the violin into a joy rather than a chore.  Because of this, I enrolled in Suzuki Teacher Training at Suzuki School of Newton. At the end of May, I will be certified in Book 1. While at the school for class and observation, I have witnessed two boys so excited about their violins and music that they insisted their mothers wait while they played their repertoire together in the hallway, all giddy and without an ounce of competition. I have also seen students come to their lesson each week with grins on their faces, not dreading their lessons but excited for what the thirty minutes ahead might hold. And I have heard 4, 5, and 6 year olds play with beautiful tone, great intonation, and, most importantly, with genuine expression. Not once have I encountered an automaton nor a child incapable of reading sheet music as well as she uses her ears.

I’m very excited to incorporate my Suzuki training into lessons with my students at A Street, as well as in lessons in my private studio. I would be hesitant to imply that any one method works for all students, but I’ve been very pleased with the emphasis in Suzuki on finding how best to reach a particular student rather than making the student bend to you.  I’ve been able to teach both children as well as adults using games, tools, and concepts from the Suzuki method. Perhaps most surprising, though, is how I’ve been able to teach myself.

Biography:

A student of Yumi Hwang-Williams, Sally O’Reilly, Joey Corpus, and Mark Lakirovich, Rachel Massey attended high school as a violin major at Denver School of the Arts, and furthered her violin and viola studies at Denver University and Longy School of Music. She has played under the direction of noted conductors David Zinman, Julius Rudel, Michael Stern, James DePriest and, most recently, Benjamin Zander of the Boston Philharmonic. Rachel has also performed by invitation at Music on the Rhine in Dusseldorf, Germany, Aspen Music Festival, and on viola at the Las Vegas Music Festival. Currently, Rachel is a member of the Boston Philharmonic, associate principal for the Mercury Orchestra, and plays traditional and classical styles with cellist Daniel Hawkins in the Driftwood Duet.

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About Justin Stanley, Teaching-Artist
I'm a musician and educator based in Boston, MA.

One Response to Rachel Massey Talks Suzuki Method

  1. Pingback: Violin in February and a Review of November’s Guitar Class « Astreetmusic's Blog

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