At West County Strings, music has always been an integral part of our lives, and we strive to share our love of music and the joy that music has brought us with all of our students.
Our teaching follows the philosophy and principles of the world renowned pedagogue, Shinichi Suzuki. The Suzuki approach deals with much more than teaching a child how to play an instrument. It seeks to develop the whole child, to help unfold his natural potential to learn and become a good and happy person.
When children start their lessons at an early age, a parent participates by attending lessons, taking notes and practicing with the child at home. We teach the children to play by ear at first, allowing the student to focus on posture, tone, intonation and musicality. The important skill of reading music is added to the curriculum after the basic skills of playing the instrument are mastered.
As our students progress past the repertoire used in the Suzuki Method, we still maintain Skill as the Point of Departure, and believe in a standard of excellence at every level. We also maintain our goal is to produce noble and productive citizens first and foremost.
What we hope to achieve with our music instruction is the ability to do something extremely well. Music is an art form. If the students bring that art form to a very high level, it will affect everything else they do. Learning to struggle with difficult tasks in music instruction is a skill that carries over into all of life. What we hope to achieve in our music instruction is to instill in all children a love of music and to develop a beautiful heart. Through the Suzuki growing process, children thrive in a total environment of support; they develop confidence and positive self esteem, determination to try difficult things, self-discipline and concentration, as well as a lasting enjoyment of music, and the sensitivity and skill for making music.
The Suzuki Method
The Suzuki Method can be thought of as having three main components:
- A Philosophy of education: All children have talent!
- The environment, rather than genetic background, will determine the success or failure of the student.
- Dr. Suzuki observed that every child learns his or her native tongue in the first few years of life by listening to and imitating the mother’s voice. Dr. Suzuki calls this the “mother tongue” approach to learning. We now know that the same process can be used to teach music.
- We are most successful when we break each new skill into the smallest possible steps, affirming and supporting each attempt with positive reinforcement.
- The purpose of music instruction is not to create professional musicians, but to develop the whole child through the study of music. Dr. Suzuki’s goal was not simply to develop professional musicians, but to nurture loving human beings and help develop each child’s character through the study of music.
- Curriculum of materials
- The curriculum of the Suzuki Method is slightly different for each of the instruments studied. Each instrument has a well-considered anthology of musical pieces that spans several volumes of music. All instruments begin with Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star and end with a major concerto from the classical music period. If it is true that “everything in music is preparation” (Gerhart Zimmermann), then the genius of Suzuki is truly expressed in the scope and sequencing of the music in his carefully planned method.
- Suzuki gave much thought to the introduction and subsequent repetition of each technique to be studied. The brilliance of the method is that all of this technique is disguised in musical selections that are charming, compelling, interesting, delightful, and attractive to children and their families. Much of the motivation for learning comes from the desire to learn new pieces in the repertoire.
- Techniques that flow from the philosophy
- Suzuki teachers use a number of techniques that make the method a unique approach to teaching instrumental music. These technical concepts are specific teaching ideas that flow from the philosophy of the method.
- We want to capitalize on the child’s ability to absorb sounds in the early developmental years before age six, so formal instruction may begin as early as age three. If we begin lessons this early, then clearly we must invite the aid of a parent as an assistant teacher to help guide the child in practice at home. This strong partnership of parent, teacher, and child is often referred to as the Suzuki triangle.
- When a child learns to talk, parents are involved in the process with their child. In the Suzuki Method, parents attend lessons with the child and serve as “home teachers” during the week. Previous musical knowledge from the parent is not at all required, however, as the teacher ensures that parents understand all unfamiliar technical and musical concepts. Parents work with the teacher to create an enjoyable learning environment.
- Since the method is based on the mother tongue approach to learning, the use of reference recordings is essential to the progress of all students. Daily listening to recordings of the pieces to be studied helps the child to learn the melodies and to hear how good violin tone sounds. Listening also aids in developing accurate pitch and rhythmic pulse.
- One of the most important techniques employed by Suzuki teachers is that of learning to play the instrument by ear. This approach allows the child and parent to focus on how they are playing rather than on what they are playing. In other words, the goal of a Suzuki student is to focus on how well you can do something rather than on what you are able to do.
When appropriate, we teach with a varied approach and love diversifying our curriculum. We think it is important to introduce students to different styles, genres, and time periods of music. This is mostly done through varied repertoire, sight-reading, and music theory. We enjoy nurturing special interests, and exploring new ideas and techniques with students. We think it is necessary to introduce violin and viola as a part of the whole for a huge musical world, and when possible we encourage students and families to explore this world together.
We believe that music is an absolutely integral part of education and life for children as well as adults. Overcoming the challenges that we meet while learning to play an instrument equips us with problem-solving skills that carry over to many other aspects of life. It creates discipline in a fun and nurturing learning environment and helps develop creativity.
We know that the life of a musician has the potential to go far beyond the Suzuki Repertoire. It is our desire to help foster a diverse and complete understanding of music at all stages. In order to do this it is absolutely crucial to understand where each child is at in their development, and facilitate challenges that are uniquely appropriate for them.