My two little boys have recently begun learning to play instruments using the Suzuki method. I had heard about it for many years and how amazing the progress was for the children taught using it, but never experienced it firsthand. Well, it so happens that we live in a place where the program here is very well organized and the teaching is excellent.
Being a home schooling family, we were able to get into the program much more quickly than many others. Since I am able to bring my boys for their private lessons when other children are at school, we did not have to wait on a waiting list as so many others do. So, last fall we had the boys begin taking lessons... the eldest on the viola; the younger on violin. I must say it is amazing to see how much more quickly they progress than I did when I first began learning to play the violin in grade school group class many years ago.
Some key differences I have noticed are:
1. Much more parental involvement from the very start. This means the parents are active participants in learning what the children are to practice and to assure that they get effective practices between lessons. Those parents who haven't ever learned to play a string instrument are even encouraged to learn to play at least the basics themselves so that they understand better what the child is learning. The parents are present at lessons, listening, taking notes and reinforcing at home the key points the teacher makes...
2. Private lessons for each child from the beginning. I remember my wonderful elementary school orchestra teacher, Doris Welborne, faced with maybe up to 20 brand-new students all in the orchestra room at the same time, all needing instruments tuned, chaos reigning on many occasions... It was amazing that she was able to get us all to play together at the same time at all, much less foster the interest in continuing on and gaining proficiency as time went on. We certainly did not have that one-on-one attention for each child that allows each of the Suzuki students to have help with the particular problems he/she may have with the instrument and technique. We were taught not only to play the instrument, but to also read the music right from the start. This all necessarily slowed the class as a whole down a great deal. Some of us already had been taking piano lessons and could already read the music; others had no clue. I was so impressed with how quickly my boys moved through learning the various techniques and fairly difficult pieces in such a short time. It was a huge contrast with how I learned myself.
3. Listening CD's for getting the tunes etched in the child's memory. The technique of getting the children to listen daily to the music they will be playing helps a great deal in their ability to play the pieces. Particularly for the younger students, less emphasis on reading the notes and more emphasis on the technique of actually playing the instrument seems to be very effective.
4. Playful techniques in the group classes. Keeping the interest of the children and making it fun for them seems to help in the learning process. Each teacher has his/her own techniques and fun games or variations on the various pieces that keep it interesting for the children. Even if a child has been playing a particular piece a long while, the various techniques, bowing, fingering, etc. that are used to make it a bit different allows them not to become bored and reinforces the things they have learned over and over.
5. Frequent opportunities to play in front of others. Recitals, outdoor concerts for local events, playing in front of other classmates... these all take away the fear of playing and standing in front of an audience.
It has added a bit more driving and commitment of our time to a schedule than I had last year, but I think it has been a great confidence builder for the boys. Not only do I hope that they both become accomplished string players in time, but I believe that the ability to read music is a life skill that they'll be glad of for the rest of their lives.
We are getting ready for a music workshop for the boys this weekend... there will be guest Suzuki instructors working with the children tomorrow and Saturday. They'll have the opportunity to learn from someone new, who may have different techniques and be able to help the children progress by seeing things with fresh eyes... We are all looking forward to it a great deal.