Search This Blog

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What is a Suzuki Teacher?

Recently, I received a lengthy email asking me to comment about a particular teaching situation. I thought the questions raised were worth addressing for everyone to read, so I am doing a blog post about it. I welcome anyone else's comments or suggestions as well.

To summarize the email, there were three issues raised:
  1. What is a true Suzuki teacher? How can a parent tell if the teacher is really a trained Suzuki teacher? What should a parent look for when searching for a Suzuki teacher?
  2. What should a new parent expect for the child in terms of lessons and learning? Will there be an instrument involved, or will the teacher be waiting until the child is older before beginning actual lessons and instead spending the early years playing games or focusing on other non-Suzuki programs?
  3. What is the parent's role during the lesson? Should the parent interact to discipline the child or should the parent stay out of the way and let the teacher handle it?
These are all three important questions, so I will address them one by one. As I began this task, I realized that these questions raised very important and lengthy points. I will respond in three parts in three separate blog posts, beginning with the question of "What is a true Suzuki teacher?"

I put my name on any available teacher referral list, even though I may not live in the area where the teacher referral list is maintained. I do this so that I have an opportunity to educate the public concerning what Suzuki education is and how to look for a Suzuki teacher. I am not sure if it is possible to tell if a teacher is a trained Suzuki teacher, but there are some common character-
istics and experiences that are shared by all Suzuki teachers. There are many teachers who may be highly qualified to be good teachers. However, if a parent chooses to select a Suzuki-trained teacher, then there are a few guidelines that might help the parent's search.

Let me be clear: there are many qualified teachers available, however they may not be Suzuki-trained. I have encountered many teachers who claimed to be "Suzuki teachers" but who in fact did not take any Suzuki training. Instead, these particular teachers rely on such support as "I grew up learning under the Suzuki Method," or "I've used the Suzuki materials for years."

As for growing up studying under the Suzuki Method, I am fairly certain that most of my students would not be able to recite the teaching points to every song, even though we spend a lot of time working on these points. Nor would my students have the benefit and wisdom of having studied these materials from a teacher's perspective, which is to say an educator's perspective and experience. The teaching side of the fence is vastly different than the student side, as any teacher will tell you.

As for the teacher who uses the Suzuki materials for years, I have met many of those same teachers in Suzuki teacher training courses. These are the same teachers, highly qualified I will remind you, who then sit back in amazement at what they have learned during the teacher training courses and say, "I'll never skip teaching that song ever again! In fact, I won't ever go out of order or skip any of the Suzuki songs!" Or, they will admit that they had no idea of the depth and wealth of skills and ability learning opportunities that could be found in each piece of the Suzuki Method repertoire. That is the value of the specialized Suzuki teacher training.

So, first and foremost, a "Suzuki teacher" will have taken teacher training somewhere, sometime. If asked, the teacher will be able to tell you where, when, and what course the teacher took. If you feel more comfortable finding out the information without asking the teacher directly, contact the Suzuki Association of the Americas at or call its office at 303-444-0948 or 888-378-9854. If a teacher has taken teacher training, he or she will have registered that training with the SAA.

The second most crucial component of the Suzuki Method of Talent Education is the group class. Individual lessons are important, but so are the group classes. Group classes are a great way to motivate students in their music learning. Students enjoy the classes and look forward to them. Group classes afford students an opportunity to learn from students who are more advanced than they are, and also for older students to learn leadership skills and act as role models for younger, less advanced students. At the same time, all students learn in a group setting, so there are opportunities to learn social skill interaction, ensemble playing, and teamwork responsibilities. My second question to any potential "Suzuki teacher" is whether they maintain a group class.

The format of the group class may not be as formal. I know of several successful Suzuki teachers who maintain group classes combined with other teachers' studios. I recall when I first started seriously teaching. I did not have a group class in the beginning because of the difficulties of finding a suitable location and making appropriate financial arrangements. After I began doing group classes, I immediately understood the benefit of teaching them. It was a great opportunity to reach all my students at one time. My group class structure has altered over the years as the students have changed. Some years are lean years because the particular group of students are heavily involved in other extracurricular activities, such as sports or family. I have had some wonderful group class years with full classes, large ensembles, and many performance opportunities. The attendance numbers may vary over time, but the students' enthusiasm for the classes do not.

The third question I would ask any potential Suzuki teacher is whether the parent could come and observe the teacher in action during lessons and group classes. Any Suzuki-trained teacher will welcome a visitor to the individual lessons and group classes. Anyone, especially new parents and students, are welcome to visit (and hopefully interact) with my studio at any time. In fact, I publish my performances as well, so that potential students and their parents have an opportunity to observe my abilities and skills first hand and to meet me in person at recitals and symphony concerts.

There may be many teachers who teach with the Suzuki guidelines of nurturing, enthusiasm, and parental involvement. However, when a parent contacts a potential teacher with the intent of finding a "Suzuki teacher," that the teacher should be upfront about what services he or she will offer. I think that a teacher should not label him- or herself as a "Suzuki teacher" unless the teacher has in fact taken sanctioned Suzuki teacher training and then also embodies the Suzuki philosophy by offering group classes, among other things. There is no reason to hide the actual circumstances from a prospective parent.

A teacher's purpose should always be the growth and benefit to the student. There are many roads to the same destination in all endeavors. I happen to have chosen the Suzuki Method as my route in music education, and I use the Suzuki principles in my university teaching as well. The Suzuki Method of Talent Education is more than just a "method" of teaching a student how to play an instrument. Dr. Suzuki used the violin as a vehicle to teach his students how to be upstanding and productive members of society. I also believe that the violin (or music education) is a wondrous vehicle to impart important life skills to my students and their parents. I also happen to believe that the Suzuki Method of Talent Education is one of the best ways to accomplish this lofty goal.

No comments:

Post a Comment