We are constantly flooded with theories and studies about the best child-rearing practices, designed to create the healthiest, happiest, smartest, most talented, nicest, most perfect children in the universe. And the ideas seem to change from generation to generation – what was thought to be excellent child-rearing practice a generation ago, is now thought upon with horror – how could our parents have done this to us? And as parents, we wonder – consciously or not, what will my child look back on with horror about their own parents’ child rearing practices?

I’d like to start this discussion of The Suzuki Parent’s Role by acknowledging that we’re all human. We all make mistakes and we all do some wonderful things too.  We have good moments and bad, as well as days that just slide by never to be remembered. We all have our own theories about what’s good and what’s bad. We have moments that we know we’ve done the right thing and know everyone in the universe would agree, moments when we know we’ve done the wrong thing and can bet that most people would agree, and moments when we haven’t a clue whether a particular moment will be remembered by our child as good, bad, or simply forgotten as completely inconsequential. With all that in mind, I’d like to most humbly share some thoughts specifically for parents whose children are studying a musical instrument with the Suzuki Method.

The thoughts I’ll be primarily sharing here are summaries of Dr. Shinichi Suzuki’s approach to teaching music. I very strongly recommend reading Suzuki’s book for parents titled Nurtured By Love for a more in depth treatment of Suzuki’s philosophy and parents’ role in it. Before going any further, I will mention here that some people react to this book with “Wow, what a wonderful soul, that’s so beautiful!” etc. while some react with “That’s sort of extreme isn’t it?” To those who tend toward seeing it as extreme:  Yes – if you take it completely literally and as if it was written by an American author, it will definitely come across as extreme. But please note that in the preface to Ability Development from Age Zero he states “There is no mistake in the genetic rule that there are no two people alike on earth. I am only saying that ‘Inborn greatness or mediocrity is not known… Every healthy child in Japan has the ability to speak excellent Japanese by the age of six or seven. It is the very way they were raised. This shows that every child has plenty of developmental possibilities.” The basic premise of Suzuki Methodology and Philosophy is that ALL children with normal physical capability do learn to speak their native language with a degree of fluency that any adult who is not a native speaker would be hard pressed to duplicate. The goal is to duplicate the environment of the native language learner in a music learning situation. And the premise is that musical competence is attainable by all children to the same degree that competence in speaking a native language is attainable by all children. Regardless of genetic tendency that may lead one child to play like Marcel Moyse, Paula Robison or Emmanuel Pahud, or an alternate genetic make-up that may lead a child to develop an enjoyment in playing for the local band, have greater appreciation for the nuances involved in attending a concert, or simply develop a stronger work ethic and enjoyment for beauty in life, or as Suzuki says, “a noble heart,” as a result of their musical study, I do personally believe that the time a parent invests with their child’s music learning process is of irreplaceable value, without regard for the specific end result. And I believe that is Suzuki’s basic message.

So what is the parent’s role in the Suzuki approach to music learning?

1.  Play the Suzuki CD every day, as well as other high quality recordings, attending concerts, etc. (more thoughts on listening here).

2.  Attend lessons with your child:

  • Be alert and attentive – make sure your child knows this is the most important thing in your world at this moment.
  • Show non-verbal appreciation for your child’s accomplishments (verbal appreciation is sometimes welcome also with discretion!)
  • Bring a notebook and take notes (some use a phone, iPod or iPad  these days, taking pictures and video clips in addition to notes).
  • Write down specific details and larger pieces and concepts to focus on in practice, write down any wording that the teacher uses that seemed to strike a chord with your child, take note of an approach or non-verbal cue that seemed effective in helping your child internalize a detail
  • Make sure you understand exactly what the daily practice plan is for the week. Make sure you understand it well enough to convince your child that you know what’s expected when practice time rolls around.

3.  Practice with your child every day

  • Find the time to make it a routine that you enjoy together; it’s much easier to glide into a practice session if it’s just an assumed part of each day. You wouldn’t say “Oh, you don’t feel like brushing your teeth today? Ok, we’ll skip it then for today.” If you did, it would probably be harder to convince them to do it the next day also. Here’s a link to one little tip that I found overwhelmingly helpful in keeping the routine going in my Suzuki Mom days.
  • Plan ahead to make it fun. Here’s link to some additional thoughts on this. And here are some ideas of practice games and how to use them.
  • Make sure you go into each practice session with a clear idea of one goal you have in mind from your lesson notes in addition to more general plans, but also make sure you’re open about how much gets accomplished on a particular day. One day may last 2 minutes and it’s ok to just appreciate the fact that it happened. With regular practices, some of them will go on longer, and on those days you’ll accomplish enough to more than compensate for any lost time. Suzuki said “when the child looks up, the lesson is done.” In other words, respect your child’s needs to move on, on any particular day, in order to make it clear you respect their needs and pave the way toward more productive days.

Now that my own kids are off in college, I’m hoping to share additional thoughts from my own experiences as a Suzuki Mom. Stay tuned!