Focus on the Suzuki Method: Listening
Dr. Suzuki developed a method of teaching young children to play musical instruments he named “Talent Education.” He began with the belief that every child can learn. Four elements of this method separate it from traditional music instruction: listening to recordings, involving parents, delaying notereading, and reviewing.

As detailed in his book Nurtured by Love, Dr. Suzuki was asked to teach a young child to play violin. As he thought about how to approach teaching this complex instrument to a three-year old, he had an idea. Virtually every child can speak her native language because she is totally immersed in the language from before birth! Suzuki modeled his teaching method on the way each child learns to speak his mother tongue.

Listening is the way the students learn the musical language. At first, the student learns to repeat sounds heard from the instrument like imitating vocal sounds heard from a parent. Slowly, these sounds are put into longer phrases with musical nuance added, much like how a child slowly learns to speak in phrases, then full sentences.

How much listening to the assigned material should your child do each day? Suzuki piano experts vary widely in their suggestions for beginners (books 1 and 2). In the book Teaching Suzuki Piano: 10 Master Teachers’ Viewpoints, these 10 teachers recommended anywhere from one to six hours of daily listening.

For students in Book 3 and higher, the reasons for listening change. Notereading allows us to read notes and rhythms, but we still must listen to high quality recordings for tone, tempo, style, and musical quality. Students may also be asked to listen to several different recordings of the same musical work. This will facilitate their maturing as a musician, allowing students to pick preferred versions, and eventually learn to create their own interpretations.

When deciding how much listening to fit into your schedule, think about your child and answer the following questions:

  • Does my child easily remember his review pieces?
    • Does my child learn new pieces at a satisfying rate?
    • Is my child able to pick out notes on the piano of the songs he has heard on his own?

If the answer to any of the above questions is no, then you may want to consider increasing your daily listening. The amount of daily listening should increase until your child can play through his review pieces with relative ease and frequently goes to the piano to try out what he’s heard. Not only will progress through the repertoire increase, your child will begin playing more musically. “Listening is the heart of the Suzuki method. To attempt to teach this method while leaving out listening to the recordings ensures failure…If listening is deleted, you do not have the Suzuki method.” (Beverly T. Fest, from Teaching Suzuki Piano: 10 Master Teachers’ Viewpoints).

Ways to Increase Listening

Link listening to another regular event in your daily life: getting in the car, brushing teeth, bedtime rituals, homework time, etc.

Play the music while the child is sleeping

Create a playlist for your child, which includes his or her favorites and the Suzuki material. Put it on random…but the rule is no skips on the Suzuki songs.

October Listening Challenge: Power Listening Playlist!!

For another trip to the treasure box, make a playlist or CD with your child’s current piece 10 times in a row, followed by her next 2 pieces 10 times in a row. Pledge to listen to this playlist/CD at least one time a day for one week. Let me know where you are in this process. Do you notice any differences in playing? Is your child retaining more information about the piece? Do you notice any other improvements? Do you notice any drawbacks?