Suzuki Method at TEC

Music is Movement

Children learn by moving.   From the very beginning at the PreTwinkle stages to advanced level violinist all students learn through motion.   Playing the violin is a very physical activity that needs to be experienced with the entire body.   From the very beginning we learn that 'Bowing is breathing'  'Bowing is balance' and 'Bowing is walking'

The body needs to feel music as a complete physical impulse.   Before birth our children were already responding to music with movement.   The sounds in the womb with mothers heart rate playing in the background resemble a drum circle around the campfire.  The unborn child's first impulse is to dance with in.   Toddlers continue to express themselves at a deep impulsive level to the music we put in their environments.  If the PreTwinkle Class is filled with movement we can start a child as young as three years of age.

One day, Dr. Suzuki was seen standing outside a classroom door, his eyes closed. When asked what he was doing, he replied, "I am mentally preparing myself for the five-year-old mind. I want to come down to their physical limitations and up to their sense of wonder and awe."

Listening is magic

Suzuki used to say to us "Did you open the door" in reference to listening.   If we do not listen to the music first how can we even begin to start learning its language.   Each piece of music has its own dialect.    Just as with learning a language the brain needs to have enough experience with music to recognize its many components.   Even when we are sleeping the brain is listening.  Through listening are learning at a deep subconscious level. 

Listening to pieces repeatedly every day can help us develop our memories for music in a deep intuitive place that allows us to be more spontaneous in our musical expression.   Suzuki children who are confident with instruction of new pieces have already been listening to their newest pieces months and years ahead of the first time they attempt to play them.   They listen frequently and daily.

A child is already listening to his mother tong before birth.  He is almost two years old before he first begin to form in his mouth, the first words that he can solicit his environment with.   It is not until age 5 that most children spill over the rim with conversation about the world they know.  We now know that they need a rich listening environment of listening to do this. We can not possibly teach them every single word they know. They learn from everything we put in their environment. By listening day in and day out for months at a time language seems to appear from them like a magical ability.

Start with Large Motions

Preschool children do not detect small motions.   They are finding control of their fingers for the first time.   We start out using large swinging motions to feel the motion of a bow.   Bowing needs to be felt with the whole body from the bottom of the feet to the highest reach of their arms over their heads.

If we start by expressing the quick rhythms which their ears can detect using small motions on the violin they will not be able to feel or remember them.  We start teaching the feeling of up and down with large motions using the ball so that the motions stick to them all the way up and down their bodies.

Start with Quick , Lively Rhythms

Dr. Suzuki recognized that young children were very responsive to the music of Vivaldi and Mozart.   In particular to the fast movements.  Children love speed.  As toddlers they learn to walk by running.  Their hearts even beat faster than ours. One minute is an hour to them.

The 4 Twinkle Rhythms can be found in the Vivaldi concertos.  We teach them up to temple so that young ears can hold them together in small units.   If we slow them down children will shorten each rhythmic unit for us leaving the end off.   We want them to hear them as complete units even though their hands are not ready to tap them to the recording.  It is better to do a short segment up to tempo than a long segment slowly.   This gives young ears access to very compact and rich auditory piece of  information in every Twinkle bite. 



Teaching Balance

Before we introduce the instrument their are so many motor skills that the child needs to get control of.    We start with the feet and work our way up the trunk of the body to the fingers.   Children need to move before they can stand still and find their balance.  They learned to stand still by running as toddlers.   It is very difficult to keep ones balance while standing still for long periods of time.

In addition to that we are asking them to balance an instrument on their shoulder under their chin.   They need to feel weight in their feet and their bodies before they can feel how a violin can float from their shoulder.  We take advantage of the fact that children love to play games by moving and labeling parts of their body.  Foot charts and box violins give the child opportunities to develop those skills before having to worry about dropping the real instrument to fall to the floor.

Unlike adults who are stiff and must learn to relax muscles children are very flexible.  They may seem to be very wobbly and week.   The foot chart and the box violin provide manipulatives which can be used to create games of balance and endurance.   Running and jumping stimulate the vestibular system and make the child more sensitive to balance.                                                  

Developing Tone

Before we can bring our hands up to hold a bow and balance fingers on the finger board of the violin the child needs to develop his core strength though out the trunk of the body.  This allows the elbows to hang comfortably from the body.  The bow is balanced on the strings of the violin not forced into the string.  Tone of the bow comes from the ability of the arm and the fingers to balance the bow on each string.  Even the intonation and vibrato is achieved by balancing and rolling the arm and fingers around the finger board, not by squeezing the fingers against the neck as a guitarist needs to do.

Tone is made by allowing the bow and the string to move freely.  It must breath with the movement of the whole body.  Everything we have done up to this point to prepare the body is for the purpose of making a beautiful tone. The first experience of putting the bow on the string has been awaited with eager anticipation. We want the first sound that the child makes on the string to be one that inspires many future attempts. All the work that has been done to bring a child to this moment should be rewarded with success.

Violin size

When the real violin is introduced, it is very important that the size of the instrument is correct for the child. The elbow must remain comfortably close to the body so that the fingers can be relaxed when the time comes to use them. I tell parents that their "child's body is a delicate musical instrument." Any unnecessary tension caused by placing a violin on the child's body is likely to affect their bow arm as well as the flexibility of their fingers in the violin hand. This will be heard in the tone and limit one's musical sensibility.  It is difficult to hear what one is playing when the body is distracted by tension.

When it is finally time to obtain an instrument for your child we have a special way of measuring the arm against the instrument that no one else uses that is parent and child friendly.  In most cases Ms. Cynthia will be able to check your violin size at a group lesson when their are other instruments available.

Reading Music

Reading in language comes many years after much listening and a good bit of speaking.  Children at age 5 need and chance to do some of their own story telling before they have the skills to read someone else's stories.

Suzuki children have been listening to and then playing as many pieces as possible with great posture and a well developed tone before they are ready to read the notes they are playing from memory.  We want them to have spontaneous control over their tone and intonation before we add additional task for their busy brain to take on.  A student who is still struggling with basic skills of playing the violin will be over whelmed if asked to add the complex activity of reading.  Their playing will become mechanical.  

To start reading music before this is like asking a child who just learned to speak his first words to start learning them by reading them.   Their ability to speak would immediately slow down.   All of their attention would leave listening and speaking and be focused on the difficult process of reading.    Small children may learn to recognize basic symbols and shapes but we would not confuse this with the ability and readiness to read.  There are many factors that go into the process of reading, the command of verbal language being only one of them.

We usually know when children are ready to start musical literacy when they become curious about the musical symbols in the music books that their teacher and parents are making notes in.  This often occurs when they are near the end of Book I or when they are experiencing success with reading books at school. We start with short lines of large notes, rhythms and symbols they are already using when they play from memory.  We are also careful to set them up next to a music stand that is properly adjusted with their best posture.

If we want our child to excel in reading we read lots of books to them.  We fill their lives with lots of conversation.   Our best music readers are always the children who have been doing the most listening to many kinds of music.   They have great memories of musical information to draw from as they make attempts to decode the notes on the page.


Talent Education Center: Suzuki Violin © 2009
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