What is the Suzuki Method for Piano?

Dr. Shinichi Suzuki and his whole-person piano method 

The Suzuki method is completely unique among piano methods.

A classical method, Suzuki differs from traditional piano methods in that students begin playing by listening and imitating, rather than relying on learning to read music at the very beginning. I call this a delayed reading approach.

I'm a fan of methods that build a repertoire before jumping in to music reading, because they give students the opportunity to freely interact with the piano and experience the joy of playing.

piano keys closeup

Becoming fluent in note reading is a long process, and this joy of playing and freedom of self-expression helps carry students through.

Students often become frustrated in traditional methods because learning note reading first limits what they can play and express until they can read notes well enough to play like they want to -- usually several years down the piano lesson road.

Suzuki: An Overview

This method is a way of teaching that was developed by Shinichi Suzuki, a Japanese violinist and teacher.

Dr. Suzuki believed that every child could achieve a high level of musicality, if taught correctly and with love.

His end goal, however, was not brilliant musical prodigies but good people.

In nearly every picture you'll find of Dr. Suzuki, he's smiling - or just about to! Isn't that joyfulness contagious?

Have a beautiful tone
Have a beautiful heart.
Dr. Suzuki

Children can begin the study very young - even as young as three. In violin, the students use scaled-down sizes of instruments made for young hands.

The method relies on committed parental participation, starting early, and lots of repetition and listening.

Students watch, listen, and imitate -- both teachers and other students.

Dr. Suzuki based his method on the model of language learning: we learn to speak by being immersed and imitating. Dr. Suzuki calls this the mother-tongue method. (Simply Music is another method whose approach to music learning is based on language acquisition.)

If love is deep,
Much can be accomplished.
Dr. Suzuki

Other key elements of the method include:

  • immersion in music: listening to the music being learned daily, and attending concerts 
  • ear training: learning by ear precedes note-reading and music theory
  • repertoire: students review and keep playing all music learned, building a repertoire 
  • performance: students play regularly for each other, for parents, and in recitals, so performing is a normal part of the learning process
Dr. Shinichi Suzuki

Dr. Suzuki himself didn't start playing violin until age 17, even though his father owned a violin factory and he grew up playing outside the walls.

He simply never knew what a violin could sound like until hearing a professional recording, after which he began to listen and teach himself violin from recordings.

After studying with private teachers in Tokyo and Germany, Dr. Suzuki returned to Japan and began to teach.

He was a true innovator in music education, believing that all children could learn to play when surrounded by music and taught by loving teachers and parents.

The idea that only certain people are "talented enough" to learn to play an instrument was common, and that belief continues to this day. Dr. Suzuki's teaching continues to make a dramatic impact all over the world, proving that we are all innately musical.

This is a very "nutshell" overview of a remarkable teaching philosophy. If you'd like to read and learn more about the Suzuki method, please visit the official Suzuki Association site.

The Suzuki Method
My thoughts...

I have a niece who has taken many years of Suzuki violin study. I've observed firsthand the great parental involvement - practice and listening is done as a family.

Whenever we're over for dinner, practice time becomes an impromptu concert! My niece has not only been taught to play, but also how to perform graciously (and without anxiety).

Performing is natural to her, and I see none of the performance anxiety I used to experience at her age.

Plenty of opportunities to perform, as well as lessons that are in group format, means playing for others is a normal part of the learning experience.

In addition, she knows much more about music, performers and composers than I did at her age (as a classical flute student). She has had a positive experience as a student, likes her teacher, and has made good friends with fellow students in her group classes.

Teaching music is not my main purpose.
I want to make good citizens, noble human beings.
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.
Dr. Suzuki

If you are looking for a classical piano method, I thoroughly and wholeheartedly recommend Suzuki instruction. Although there are far more Suzuki string teachers than Suzuki piano teachers, you might be blessed to have an instructor where you live.

Find a Suzuki Teacher...

To search for Suzuki piano teachers in your area, visit the Suzuki teacher locator. I wish you joy and success as you search for the best piano method for you and your children!

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