I’ve always liked the sound of the Suzuki method. Until recently I had only a very vague notion of what it actually entailed but had heard about the emphasis on group playing, which sounded fun and sociable. For the uninitiated, Suzuki is often described as ‘the mother tongue’ method – children start very young (from 3.5 upwards) and the emphasis is on immersion, repetition, listening and support in the home. This page explains it very clearly, and here, is the wiki link. Generally speaking, opinion seems to be divided: I know several professional musicians who learnt this way themselves and are complete devotees, and others who don’t see the value in children beginning formal instruction at such a young age.
Anyway, my oldest child is almost four and so, if it’s the right thing for her, now is the time to start. The process begins with observing some classes and we went along to our first one earlier this week: it was impressive and, initially, a little daunting. We walked in (late) and found three impeccably behaved 4-year-olds sitting on their respective mats, listening attentively to the teacher and playing musical games (stand up when you hear xx rhythm, sit down when it stops again). Behind each little musician was a mother on a chair scribbling notes. Later, the children took turns to trot up to the front and practise their solo (bowing before and after). When I say solo, they are at the very, very early stages so it’s basic one-note stuff but the structure and organisation were quite formidable considering the age of the children.
I didn’t think we’d last 5 minutes before one or other of my children started kicking off but they seemed pretty gripped by what was going on and even 21-month-old who’d come along for the ride, sat quietly on a chair for the duration of the lesson (it may actually be the longest she’s sat still in her whole life during waking hours). There was a 10-minute break before the second half of the class, which was all about musicianship and looked a lot more like the other kinds of music groups we’ve been to but a tad more structured: sitting in a circle, singing your name, learning to shake in time etc The difference, for me, was that my normally shy daughter joined in like she’d been doing it her whole life.
The things I liked about it:
(a) The children seemed to be having a really good time, not one of them complained, asked when the session was finishing or looked fed-up
(b) Despite being highly structured, the atmosphere of the classes was very gentle. The teachers were enthusiastic, funny, unpatronising and incredibly good at keeping control of the very young children they teach without being overbearing
(c) There’s a big emphasis on attention to detail: correct positioning of instrument, bow hold etc is constantly being reinforced so that it becomes second nature
(d) ‘performing’ in front of other people is a very regular (and therefore presumably unscary) occurrence, which must be beneficial later in life in any context
(e) It was a warm environment: lots of toys in the main waiting area, younger siblings tottering about, picnics being had.
(a) It is (relatively) expensive. There’s a transparent breakdown of costs here (as you’ll see if you click on that link, the Hackney Suzuki Hub that we went to offers discounts to people who are struggling with the cost.)
(b) It requires a really big time commitment – one 90-minute group lesson plus a 30-minute private lesson every week – so, when you factor in the travel time each way, it’s not for the faint-hearted.
(c) It requires a lot of input from the parent: you are your child’s ‘home teacher’, which means you have to attend all the lessons, take notes and supervise daily (albeit brief) practice sessions at home. I’m hoping this will work out quite well for me because I might learn something along the way but if you don’t have any personal interest in music it might be a turn-off. Also, I’m freelance and work flexible hours so attending lessons will mostly be feasible for me but would be tricky in families where both parents work full-time 9-5.
I’m already hooked so now it’s down to my daughter to decide over the next few weeks of observation whether she is too.