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Children Learn to Play Music by Listening in Suzuki Method

  • Deborah Block

Children can learn to play an instrument before they even start school. That's the philosophy of the Suzuki method of teaching music. The child first learns to play music by hearing it, rather than reading musical notes.
Five-year-old Hannah Mei Steury started violin lessons two months ago. Her teacher, Stephanie Flack, says “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” is the first song children learn to play.
“It’s a very simple tune that’s easy to learn by ear. And then they learn the elements of how to hold the violin, the bow. We put it together slowly and then they’re playing music right away," she said.
Hannah Mei’s mother, Judy Steury, is amazed at her daughter’s progress. “I think it’s great, and she does love it, and she’s humming it in the car," she said.
Flack was a Suzuki student herself as a girl, and is not surprised by that. “Our method teaches pieces from the beginning," she said.
Her daughter Shannon plays more advanced pieces. She says she likes classical music. “In classical, you can change things up and play it how you want to play it. I usually change the tempos just a tiny bit and the loudness," she said.
The Suzuki method was founded more than 50 years ago by Japanese violinist Shin’ichi Suzuki. He believed all children could learn to play music. His method was later was adapted for other instruments.
Rhonda Cole became one of the first Suzuki teachers in the United States forty years ago. She trains violinists to be Suzuki instructors, but says teaching children to play is inspiring. “They’re more sensitive to musical sounds," she said.
Gradually, children learn to read musical notes and eventually perform complex music. Divya Kumaran recalls it opened a new world for her. “It feels good after you’ve completed a song and after it’s perfect," she said.
The Suzuki method discourages competition among the children and encourages them to play together, including public performances.
Even if their parents don’t have a musical background, they’re expected to provide support and encourage their children.
Kathy Adams accompanies her son Jared on the piano as he practices each day. “I have such an appreciation for what it is to listen, to truly listen to the music. Jared’s a great example. He has an amazing violin ear," she said.
Jared says he was awestruck when he recently got an autograph from Joshua Bell, one of the world’s top violinists. "I think he’s absolutely brilliant. This is the first time I’ve actually walked up to him. I’m not sure if I said hello or not but it was just amazing," he said.
After nine years of teaching, Stephanie Flack is still excited to see her students progress. “Their love of music and seeing how much they enjoy it is just really is rewarding for me," she said.