Dr. Suzuki developed a method for teaching little children to play musical instruments. He called his method “The Mother Tongue” method, because of an epiphany that came to him one day. All little children learn how to speak their native language! Tiny little Japanese children learn to speak Japanese! It is a very difficult language, and few adults ever master it, if they didn’t grow up speaking it. Yet babies learned it quite effortlessly. Were babies somehow smarter than adults? Or is the method of language instruction superior? He wondered what would happen if he taught children music the same way that they learned to speak, and the Suzuki method was born.
Teaching Children to Have Beautiful Spirits
Suzuki did not want to raise a nation of musicians. Teaching children to be concert violinists was never his goal. Teaching them to have beautiful spirits was. He lived through both world wars. What a lot of ugliness he must have seen, and yet he was not embittered by it. His father’s violin factory was bombed, and one brother was killed in the explosion. But this modest, self-taught musician with only a high school diploma went on to change the world. In 1991, a the age of 93, he was selected as one of the most influential people of the twentieth century.
The Mother Tongue Method Explained
What is the mother tongue method? How does a baby learn to speak? He is first loved. He is surrounded by language and quiet acceptance. His parents already love him – he does not have to earn that love by learning to speak. His parents speak to him, as though he could already understand. They surround him with words. They sing to him, talk to him, read to him, and when he utters his first babbling sounds, they praise him profusely. What parent isn’t proud to tell everyone at the office when his baby son first makes the sound “da-da”!
The baby is making sounds but not intelligible ones. His parents continue love him and praise him, and model perfect language. He says more nouns, and later a few verbs. He even starts to form two-word sentences. “Wan down!” “Go bye-bye!” The wise parent praises his toddler, but continues to model perfect speech. The parent may repeat, “You want down. Yes, son. You want down,” as he reinforces and reteaches correct pronunciation.
By age five, most children have mastered the basics of language. They speak in complex sentences, and are able to make their wants and wishes known. They may learn a few more vocabulary words once they start school. They may even learn to diagram a sentence, but most of what they have learned they learn from their parents, not the twelve years spent in formal education.
Music Instruction May Begin at Birth or Before
When the child is a toddler, often around age 2, the mother then starts violin instruction, but brings her child to every lesson. This is important, for the mother must understand the basics of violin before she can help her child practice. As soon as the toddler shows an interest in imitating his mom, then he begins formal violin instruction. The Suzuki method continues to teach in the same manner as language acquisition, though. The child listens to a recording of the short musical selection he is to learn – as much as ten thousand times! The child learns how it is supposed to sound, and learns to correct himself. Because Suzuki students concentrate so much on building listening skills, they often perform very well in all areas of study in school.
Only Perfect Practice Makes Perfect
There are many books, blogs, and websites available to help Suzuki parents. There are charts for daily practice, motivational techniques, and more. Then communities with larger Suzuki programs may also have group lessons and theory classes for their little students. The group lessons are a blast, and often all the motivation that young students need. However, I had four children enrolled in a great Suzuki program, so I basically had twelve half-hour classes a week! It wasn’t far to the church where the program rented space, but it was too far to walk. When two of my four decided they didn’t really want to continue, I didn’t try very hard to change their minds.
None of my children majored in music when they went to college. But they are all musical. They sing in church choirs. They sing when they do their chores or take a shower. My son took his violin with him to Korea when he was stationed there. My oldest daughter plays her violin for her daughter now. And I think that my children do have beautiful spirits. They care about deeply about each other, often calling each other more frequently than they call me! They care about their friends and neighbors. They are considerate, polite, responsible, resourceful young adults. I’m so proud of them.
I can’t guarantee that if your child studies the violin he will be a kind, responsible adult. No program of instruction can do that. But I do believe that the time a parent spends actively involved with his child can make a world of difference. So whether it be in music, baseball, camping, biking or stamp collecting – whatever is your passion, share it with your child.