The 6 most important things I've learned as a Suzuki parent

ViolinGirl Book 2 recital

Many Suzuki kids begin learning to play long before they have any idea whether they want to play or not. It’s the sort of substituted judgement that parents apply all day long every day; but for some reason we fret about it more with music than we other endeavors like brushing one’s teeth or going to school. When ViolinGirl began her violin studies not long after turning three, I had only a very rudimentary idea of what the Suzuki method entailed. I knew that many students started early and that parents were more involved - perhaps even required to play - than in traditional music education. So for me as a Suzuki practice parent and ViolinGirl as the student, we are both on a learning path. What I’ve learned about children, about music, and about myself through Suzuki training, in no particular order:

The Suzuki method is less about trying to achieve more at a younger age than it is about gaining fluency with music at a sensitive period for language development.

The core piece of Suzuki pedagogy is that children can learn music in the same way they learn language. In the same way that children learn their mother tongue, through gradual patient shaping of their initial attempts at imitation, Suzuki students learn music first through imitation of beautiful tones and repetition of patterned rhythms. Later they learn the formal rules of music in the same way that students learn grammar long after they are fluent in their native spoken language.

The ability to play a musical instrument well is not an attribute that’s “out there” waiting to be discovered. All children already have it.

The prevailing attitudes toward musical talent are shaped by the assumption that talent is a trait, not a state. Much research literature has now pointed to the ways that what appears to be pure intrinsic talent is really hard repetitive work. Clearly there are the wild exceptions - the children who can play Paganini Caprices at age 7. Even there, the talent is the seed of hard work falling on (very) fertile ground.

A love of classical music is developed through exposure and the parent’s interest.

If the parent listens to classical music, the child will too. And the child will learn the patterns, harmonies and structures that are part of the Western musical heritage. It’s all about intention. What develops well develops through intention.

Being a Suzuki parent is very difficult.

I don’t mean to put prospective parents off by talking about the difficulty; but it is hard. If I were younger and more self-absorbed, I don’t know how I could have done this. It is a selfless act to work with your child through the difficulties of beginning an instrument like the violin. Parents should understand that it will tax them like no other undertaking. But seeing your child on stage playing with grace and beauty is rewarding beyond compare.

Being what your child needs you to be in order to learn her instrument is incredibly rewarding.

When you and your child embark on Suzuki training, you have no idea how your child is going to respond. You don’t know what words will motivate them. Or discourage them. You don’t know what your child’s hot-button items are. Or yours. Little by little, I’ve learned to work with my daughter in a way that is productive and enjoyable; but it wasn’t always that way. Sometimes it still isn’t. But there’s a transformation that happens, whereby you become exactly what your child needs you to be. There’s nothing more personally satisfying than this.

You have to push through difficult periods. The first one is really tough.

With the violin - and it’s probably true of most instruments - getting through learning the Twinkles (Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star) is arduous. We had weeks of fall-on-the-floor tantrums. And that was just over one of the rhythmic variations. And I still remember ViolinGirl crying over how difficult it was to play “Lightly Row”, one of the earliest pieces in Book 1. I met parents who did not want to push kids over this hump out of fear of making them dislike music. This is wrong. Absolutely, positively 100% wrong. You don’t learn to love music and become a good player by avoiding pain; but by working through it. Even today, when she complains of something being too hard, I remind her of first of her earliest success and how silly it was to think of simple songs as being too difficult. Then I remind her that nothing worth doing well is easy. No one regrets having continued with music lessons. But most who quit eventually regret it. As a parent I learned how hard it is to push through those difficult spots.

Of all the wonders about the Suzuki triangle, one of the greatest is that student and parent are on parallel journeys. The student is learning how to make beautiful music and the parent is learning to be what they need to be to help the child’s potential unfold. I hope these ideas help you in some way to be a more aware Suzuki parent.