Information and links for relating to the Suzuki method and Suzuki piano are shown below.
Useful information about the Suzuki method, lists of teachers and British Suzuki Institute (BSI) events can be found at: www.britishsuzuki.org.uk
For information about the London Suzuki group (LSG) please use: www.londonsuzukigroup.co.uk
If you need a piano footstool here's a link to a UK supplier: www.pianofootrest.co.uk
Here is a link to some articles on various aspects of the Suzuki method, from the January 2007 edition of the EPTA Piano Professional magazine: www.jennymacmillan.co.uk/Suzuki%20article%201%20Jenny%20intro.pdf
I have included one or two articles that Suzuki parents may find useful to read and reflect on below.
The Staircase of Learning
Learning to play our instruments requires that we develop new skills. Physical skill development is enhanced or sometimes only possible, if we correctly approach the tasks in hand using all of our concentration, our listening skills, our knowledge of the recordings and always remembering what it is that we’ve been asked us to practice. Remember, if you can demonstrate a new skill in your lesson that does not mean you have learnt it. Our muscles need many repetitions before they will have progressed to executing any skill with ease and without persistently demanding our attention.
The process of learning any new skill at the piano is often described as happening in 4 stages known as the “Staircase of Learning”
Here is a story and some comments that follow, both passed on to me from Christina Smith (Newfoundland) via Helen Brunner (London).Both are violin teachers but you can apply this story to the piano in EXACTLY the same way. It emphasises the importance of daily practice. When you read the story it might be helpful to try replacing the phrase “bow hold” with “relaxed and balanced Twinkle hand position”
ABILITY DEVELOPMENT V’S INABILITY DEVELOPMENT – DO THE MATHS
Dr Suzuki called his method of education “Ability Development”. In order to develop ability, you have to listen and practice every day. If you miss a day, you lose about 50% of what you achieved the day before. If you miss two days, you loose 75 – 80% It’s kind of like take-home pay: there’s gross and there’s net. It takes at least 200 repetitions for and average four year old to achieve conscious competence over making a bow hold.
Billy is four. He and his mum practise every day. At the second lesson, the teacher showed them how to make a bow hold. Billy and his mum do fifteen bow holds every day and by the next lesson he is making a pretty good bow hold, with help. One week later, he can do it all by himself. Two weeks later he has achieved unconscious competence holding and moving the bow and has moved on to playing the Twinkle rhythms on open strings.
Susie and her mum practise twice a week. They do fifteen bow holds each practice, but because the skill was not reinforced the next day, it is as if they only accomplished five each practice. At this rate it will take Susie 20 weeks to acquire a reliable bow hold. After two weeks, Susie’s mum has trouble getting her to practice. Susie reasons that it doesn’t happen every day, so why does it have to happen THIS day? When she does practice, she finds it difficult to focus, because that skill has not had enough repetition either. After three weeks, Susie is getting frustrated because no matter how hard she tries, she can’t manage to make that darned bow hold right. After all, she’s made 90 of them, but it’s like she only ever made 30. Her mum is getting frustrated because Susie can’t seem to focus well on the task at hand. After six weeks (60 net repetitions) Susie’s mum goes to the teacher and tells him/her that Susie is getting bored and that it is time now for her to advance. Two weeks later (80 net repetitions) Susie’s mum again urges the teacher to let her advance. Against his/her better judgement, the teacher allows Susie to play rhythms on open strings, even though she still can’t reliably make a bow hold. Now Susie has two skills to build simultaneously. Susie eagerly plays on open strings, but can’t make the bow go straight because a) she still can’t reliably achieve an ergonomically efficient bow hold, and b) she doesn’t get enough repetitions to build this skill either. This skill seems even more difficult than the last one. Another six weeks go by and Susie’s mum urges the teacher to let Susie begin using her fingers.
By Christmas, Billy is balancing the violin beautifully, has a good bow hold, can play Twinkle Variation A through and is working on Variation B. Susie is still trying to build basic skill like focus, holding her violin up, holding the bow correctly and keeping her bow straight. By June, Billy is playing through Allegro with lovely tone, good intonation, no mistakes and a balanced posture. Part way through the next year, he starts Book Two (piano book 1 takes longer than this!). It takes Susie four years to finish Book 1. Her pieces are full of mistakes, she can’t manage to make a reliably good sound and her mum and teacher are still harping on about making a nice bow hold. She doesn’t enjoy her music but her mum says she has to do it. She has adopted a coping strategy of shutting down and not trying because she has learned from experience that effort doesn’t lead to success. Her mum has come to the conclusion that Billy is “exceptional”. She and Susie continue because Dr. Suzuki says that “every child can learn music”.
The teacher swears to himself/herself that this won’t be allowed to happen again. The next September, Johnny and Melinda begin lessons. Johnny’s Dad can only practice with him twice a week. Melinda and her mum practice for ten minutes every day after breakfast…… You finish the story.
As you can see, this is no small commitment. If any of the ingredients of success are omitted, the method will not work as it is intended. It is not fair to expect a young child to advance without sufficient input from a grownup. While missing a day once in a while when your regular routine is disturbed won’t impede your child’s success, lack of consistent, dedicated application will. Lack of consistent listening and practice means lack of success, which in turn means lack of motivation, then to lack of ability and eventually to lack of self-esteem. It is important for your child’s future happiness that music not be connected to a feeling of failure. If you simply can’t manage to ever get to group classes, if practicing routinely with your child is impossible, if you don’t have time to devote to creating and maintaining the musical environment, you will either have to change something in order to make it happen, or possibly wait until the child is old enough to take responsibility for their music by themselves.
The Suzuki Method requires dedication, discipline, love and perseverance. It is rewarding, though, as you and your child develop a deeper understanding and mutual respect through musical study. The Suzuki community is there to help you on your way.
It helps to assess your daily schedule (and your child’s) and plan an appropriate time for practice. The ideal time would be when your child is not too tired and another adult is available to look after siblings. This ideal situation will not be possible every single day but planning ahead will make it much more likely to happen and also helps the practice to go smoothly. Make sure you have “violin time” (“piano time”) every day, even if you only sit and listen to the CD. If practice is seen as an optional activity you will have arguments!
- Attend Group Classes
- Bring your child to concerts (Suzuki and non-Suzuki)
- Attend Suzuki workshops
- Enjoy the process. Take pleasure in each small achievement. The journey is just as important as the destination.
- Listen to the teacher and follow instructions. Do not push ahead! – you may be creating future problems.
- Apply the method seriously, have faith in it and above all, do not limit your child’s potential by any doubts on your part.
Home Is Where The Heart Is
© Graham Rix 2010
In his book "Conversations with Arrau", Joseph Horovitz asks the pianist
Claudio Arrau about his thoughts on music education. Arrau is clear that in
his ideal conservatoire for the developing musician he’d recommend just
two compulsory subjects - dance and psychoanalysis.
Arrau was one of those master pianists whose playing captured and
enraptured me as a teenager not only through his ability to approach those
great works of the piano repertoire with such penetrating insight but also
because the unfolding of these sublime interpretations was inseparable from
the unmistakable sound he made. Even in his recordings of the Liszt
Transcendental Etudes there’s not so much as a hint of the “clang clang” we
can so often hear these days as the potential for a series of beautifully
sculpted sounds merely descends into a list of accurately executed notes.
Arrau seems to have known that of which Dr Suzuki spoke so often -
“beautiful tone - beautiful heart”.
This parlance is wonderful - it leaves us with a sense of knowing what it
means without giving away it’s secret. As adults, we have to let the sense of
what it means seep in and as part of that process invite ourselves to form
new perspectives and experience new sensations. As adults, most of us need
to be aware that as we try to learn, often we don’t notice the very thing that
would help us on our way. For whatever reason, sometimes we do our best
not to become conscious of certain things, yet if only we could see what we
were obscuring it would deepen our insight.
So, how many of us have really spent more than a moment with this phrase
“beautiful tone - beautiful heart”? Ever been inspired to draw a picture
about it? Ever written a poem or a story about it?
Not so very long long ago, Jack lived with his Aunt Rhody in a small
apartment. One day, the postman’s delivery brought the usual bundle of
bills and other burdens but among these was a letter that caught his
attention. It contained the news that he had been “given” a plot of land and
there was an offer to go and view the land whenever he wanted. Full of
wonder, he paused for thought - he had wanted to build his own house for
as long as he could remember and had always known that one of the biggest
conundrums was finding the right place and the right time to do it. Maybe
this was a kindly nudge to let him know that now was the right time. So
knowing that things like this did sometimes happen and still not quite
believing it, he made arrangements to go and have a look.
Arriving “on site” Jack was struck by how well managed the whole place
was. Everything had been thought through and the results were astonishing.
There were several houses under construction - some quite advanced and
others less so, but in every case it was obvious that keen design and
planning had taken into account the best aspect for each house so that once
they were built, there wouldn’t be any need to add ugly extensions or even
rebuild in order to make the most of the location. Equally amazing was that
the houses seemed to compliment the land they were on. This was the
overriding feel of the whole place - something natural had been included in
the community design from the very outset - everything was balanced and as
he looked around the twenty or so plots, Jack soon realized that every house
had a garden too - that wonderful arena where nature meets culture. He
knew that building his own house and making it his home would be a huge
undertaking and it was important not to rush, but a quick visit to this
remarkable place told him all he needed to know. These were such beautiful
houses, a degree of care and nurturing had been built into their design - so
different from most traditional new builds he’d seen. Something about this
place resonated with Jack and uniquely, it was encouraging him to take all
the time he needed to build his house.
Straight away Jack made enquiries about making a start. It took a while
for him to realize that the land he had seen was now his. No one seemed
quite sure where these plots of land came from in the first place and whilst
there were rumours about a wise old Japanese man who used to visit
sometimes, he’d not been seen for years now. On site, whomever he spoke
to about developing his ideas always said the same thing - “go and visit some
houses that are under construction - go and observe”. This he did, visiting
many different houses and seeing them at many different stages of
development. He soon got a much clearer sense of what would be involved -
there was a lot to consider and a lot get on with! Jack had thought he knew
exactly how he wanted his house to be, but seeing all these quite exceptional
houses on site, he was inspired to look at it all again and differently. It
dawned on him that he could give free reign to his insights and imagination,
indeed he was encouraged to do so in the secure knowledge that provided
he managed to track them down, all the skills he needed to complete his
project would be at his disposal. Managers, architects and designers would
all be there to help with the planning, whilst many skilled craftsmen and
women - brick layers, plasterers, electricians, plumbers, carpenters, roofers -
would be there to help with the house itself. These skills were all needed
and an integral part of the finished product. How exciting to know that this
opportunity offered the chance to actually realize something that had until
now just remained an inner experience or dream for Jack. What’s more,
there would be no need for any of that “do it yourself” learning new skills at
the top of a ladder with a dozen nails between your teeth, a chisel in one
hand and a cordless power tool in the other!
It took about three and a half or four years before the building work was
ready to begin. Jack had found a wonderful project manager to oversee the
building project and learnt to trust her advice. She explained that he was
not to look on with great expectation too far ahead of the very first project
which would be laying the foundations of the house. As laying these
foundations seemed to take forever, this was quite a test of their relationship
since Jack wanted nothing more than to enjoy the finished property, to see
the lights go on and that healthy glow of approval from friends, family and
neighbours at what had been accomplished. He soon learned that in this
community, people were only too happy to show their appreciation for the
building so far. They knew only too well how important this first task was
and didn’t judge his project because it was apparently slow but rather
offered him help and assistance and made sure he was happy with the
process. So in the end, he didn’t stand there on site with folded arms,
looking at his watch and getting inwardly irritated whenever there was a
delay or problem but rather Jack realised that he could let himself enjoy the
process of laying these foundations - after all, if it’s done well it will only
have to be done once.
Spring came with first buzzing honeybees and the distant call of a cuckoo.
The foundations were laid and Jack could share the footprint of his new
home with the neighbours - they came round and everyone celebrated with
something of a party. They were only too pleased to come and see the bare
concrete base structure and there was so much support for how things were
developing and in equal measure, many wonderful and insightful
suggestions as to how he might proceed. Although Jack had been very
nervous and uncertain as to how things were going, he slept soundly that
night feeling happy that everyone had responded so positively to this
beginning. That night he dreamt about a wise old Japanese man and awoke
somewhat startled thinking that he’d heard a doorbell ringing - but there
was no one there!
During the next phase of building, progress was a lot easier to see as the
bricklayers built walls that the plasterers rendered and the carpenters slung
beams on which the roofers roofed. Jack visited every day and marvelled at
the skill of these craftsmen and women. Everything looked so perfect and
yet so effortless - how many bricks had they laid to develop such skill? How
many walls had they rendered? - not too wet and not too dry - not too much
plaster and not too little and always so smooth and beautiful finished. He
spoke at length to one of the roofers about this who told him about the ten
thousand times you have to do anything before you really know it well and
that although we call these ten thousand times, repetitions, there is a great
difference between our first attempt and our ten thousandth. If you want to
master a skill, you have to experience this. Jack thought and thought again
about all this - there was a lot to understand. He came to appreciate that he
couldn’t be an expert at everything but that he could trust and communicate
regularly with the project manager. In her hands the quality of the building
works was maintained and all those skills afoot were reliably contributing to
his emerging house.
By now, in his minds eye, Jack could actually see what his house would
look like and forgetting how much he’d enjoyed the slow process of laying
the foundations his thoughts ever increasingly turned to the finished house
and what it would be like to live in. Jack wanted to choose furniture and
paint colours, surfaces and light fixtures and to move in as soon as possible
and have done with the endless building works. His project manager knew
otherwise. She explained very patiently, that they hadn’t even got the first
fix wiring and plumbing done yet and that his “moving in” as some kind of
end point to the project was ill-conceived; these things take time! By all
means have another party and invite the neighbours but remember some of
them have been through this process and are now living in their houses -
take care to listen to what they tell you. This he did and at great length
Jack’s neighbours explained that the feel of a house, the furniture and paint
colours, surfaces and light fixtures are not something you just invent. A part
of what makes these more finished houses feel so ideal is that they have all
evolved - they reflect the people whose lives are lived in them. Discover
what it is at the heart of your house, unearth what it is important for you to
do to make your house feel like home and always remember that in this
undertaking you have never finished.
It was around this time that Jack realised there was something more he
needed to grasp. He had engaged with a very insightful house building
programme that had provided him with so many resources to make his
house as well designed, built and located as possible. But if Jack wanted his
house to have some of that wonderfully vital feeling that made houses in this
community feel so harmonious, then he would have to accept that the
design was not everything but just a necessary ingredient. Jacks house - his
home - would ultimately have to reflect who he was and how he chose to
A restlessness crept into Jack’s world at around this time. There was no
easy way to be sure about how the house might turn out now. It was as if he
had come face to face with his own reflection. Although uncertain about
how to go on with the building, he determined that the best thing he could
do was to steer an honest course. At night, dream followed dream upon
dream. Old dreams mixed with new dreams as kings, warriors, magicians
and lovers spoke and spilt their wisdom nightly. Jack became more and
more anxious. He would fight with his Aunt Rhody over nothing and even
fight with his project manager about how to proceed with the project. Even
worse was that Jack would fight with himself over every decision that
concerned his new house. He knew he was missing something but he
couldn’t see what it was. Then, after many weeks and months there came a
special dream, so real and clear that it could not be forgotten.
There was a house, a magnificent house with a magic fountain in front of it and an
ancient garden behind. In the garden was a beautiful pool where the animals from
the forest would often come and drink - the lion and the fox, the snake and the goat,
the raven, the lark and the cuckoo. It was winter and inside the house the doorbell
sang greetings from a friendly visitor. Jack opened the door and there on the
doorstep was an old Japanese man. The two men bowed to each other and as they
did so Jack caught a feeling of radiance from his visitor whose whole body seemed
to glow with a noble warmth and friendliness from his heart to his smile. Jack
showed his guest the house but just as he was about to finish, the Japanese man took
Jack by the hand and led him to a little room he’d never seen before. Here there was
a set of stairs that went down into a very large and inviting kitchen. This room was
much older than the rest of the house with a stone floor and big old wooden tables
covered with pots for cooking in. Although they were now in a basement, there was
a large window and just beyond the glass, bathed in moonlight was the garden. As
it was night, many animals had come out from the darkness of the forest to drink
from the beautiful pool and some, sensing Jacks gaze upon them, were coming ever
closer to the house. Then suddenly Jack was looking back into the room - the place
where cooking was done. The heat came from a huge fireplace and the glow from
the flames warmed the whole house. On these flames, pots of raw meat and bitter
juices were transformed into the most delicious food imaginable. Fish and golden
loafs of bread had been set on the hearth ready for eating and the fire, contained by
this exquisite stone surround, seemed to be alive, warm and radiating a friendly
invitation to step forwards and dance with the flames. In a timeless moment, Jack
looked at the old Japanese man whose eyes conveyed so much. Then, knowing that
Jack had seen what he had come to show him, he bowed and set off up the stairs
leaving Jack by the fire. As he was about to turn the corner the old Japanese man
spoke: “beautiful home - beautiful hearth”
© Graham Rix 2010