An aspiring jazz trumpet player's blog about jazz improvisation and ear training.

January 28, 2006 Ear Training 8 Comments

Suzuki method - music education

suzukiI just finished reading "Nurtured by Love," a book by Shinichi Suzuki that introduces the Suzuki method of Talent Education. The main concept behind Talent Education is the idea that talent is NOT merely an in-born trait. Rather, we all have the ability to learn, and the skills that we develop (i.e. our "talents") are the result of our upbringing and experiences in life. Through talent education, any child can develop a talent for music.

While most people think about the Suzuki method in regard to musical education (specifically violin and piano), Suzuki sees Talent Education as "life education." The same principles that help children to become talented in music, will also help them to become good people for the rest of their lives.


If you've read a few of my blog entries, you probably know that I'm displeased with my musical education. My main gripe is the fact that ear training and developing the ability to play by ear wasn't even remotely discussed until I entered college. Honestly, I had no idea that anyone *could* play something entirely by ear (boy was I clueless). Even though I was one of the best high school trumpeters in the state, I couldn't even play a simple song by ear. Too bad I didn't have my ear training tools back then!

I didn't really appreciate the necessity to play by ear until I began college. That's when I'd finally meet jazz musicians who could play effortlessly by ear. They were phenomenal. By comparison, I was terrible. Even though I would soon begin to take ear-training classes in college, those classes were solely focused on identifying sounds. In two years of college ear training, we never discussed, nor did we practice, playing by ear. Due to this omission, and due to the fact that I still couldn't play by ear, I had resigned myself to the idea that it's a talent you're either born with or not. Since I didn't have it, there was no point trying.

I now believe that we can all ABSOLUTELY develop the ability to play by ear. I also believe it's one of the single most important skills for an improviser, or any master musician for that matter. If this is true, why didn't any of my music teachers try to develop this ability in me, or in any of the other students I knew?


And this brings us back to Suzuki… I first became interested in the Suzuki method several months ago, while researching alternative methods of music education. Among other things, I read that Suzuki believes children should learn to play their instrument before they learn to read music.

Suzuki advocates playing before reading because that is precisely how children learn their native language -- children learn to speak before they learn to read. By the time children do learn to read, they are already able to speak fluently in their language (or in multiple languages!) as they have internalized all of the skills required to speak. Even subtle nuances such as dialects and inflections are already mastered before reading enters the picture. Children learn all of this because they are immersed in speech by their parents from the day they are born. Suzuki applies this same mother-tongue approach to teach music. In essence, children learn to speak music before they learn to read music. Makes sense to me.

Suzuki's Talent Education School started in the 1940's. It was brought to the U.S. in 1959. "Nurtured By Love" was published in 1983 (1983 is when it was translated to English). So, these ideas have been around for a while. They make a lot of sense to me and I think they would have helped fill in the gaps from my own musical education. So why weren't they adopted by more educators? Why is music education today strikingly similar to the way Suzuki describes it to be in the 1940's? Why are we taught to read music before we can "speak" it? No, I'm not really looking for answers to these questions. I'm just looking for a change in music education…


While Suzuki focuses mostly on child education, that doesn't mean adults have missed their window of opportunity. It just means it will take longer for us to develop similar skills because we have to retrain ourselves. Suzuki gives the example of learning how to sing a scale in tune. If you've sung it out of tune 3,000 times, you will need to repeat it correctly more than 3,000 times in order to retrain yourself. That means you might have many years of retraining ahead of you (as do I), but at least it's attainable.


SuzukiTalented.org - read the History and FAQs sections

SuzukiAssociation.org - Suzuki Association of the Americas. Includes a teacher directory.

I just found your blog, and like it. I'm a late musical learner myself. I started playing cello (Suzuki method) about six years ago, and I've astounded myself with a new ability to play by memory. Unfortunately, because I'm an adult who can read music, I start with the music first, and then move into the memory work. MY daughter, who has played cello (Suzuki method also) doesn't have this problem. She hears anything I play and can play it back to me by ear. This is incredible to me, but I don't think that it's a special gift. I'm like Suzuki in believing that every child has this ability, if it is nourished.

I hope that you update your blog sometimes!

Comment by Rick

Hi Carol,

Thank you for sharing your family's experience with the Suzuki method. It's especially interesting to hear the differences between you and your daughter.

Like you, I'm not always able to "let go" of the theoretical aspects of music. This battle usually surfaces when I'm playing along to recordings by ear. If/when I realize that I'm playing something in a less familiar key (F#, Db, G#, etc), I instantly start thinking about theory: what notes are sharp/flat, chord tones, etc.. The next thing I know, I start worrying about notes, theory takes over, my playing becomes stiff, and I'm unable to play musically. No doubt, this stems from the many years I spent struggling with these keys back when I everything I played was written down.

Of course, when I sing I don't pay attention to keys at all and I never have this problem.

Thanks again for writing!


Comment by Rebecca

I'm majoring in music education and I totally agree with you about needing a change! I decided to become a teacher because I had no ear training, not even music literacy training until high school. Just basically fluff with no content. I don't think I'm alone on that, but it's really disappointing because kids can learn so quickly, and understanding and being able to appreciate music is a valuable thing all your life even if you don't become a musician. I hope I can help fix things...


well you already do :-)

I just requested this book from my library, excited to read it, thanks for your work!


Comment by thean

Im a little relieved that this lack of proper tutoring doesnt just occur in South Africa where i'm from.

On the other hand i find it so sad that teachers have the ability to invest and dont use it.

Thank you again for this awesome website.

We'll get there man!

Comment by john

I just finished a music fundamentals class and did very, very well on the written stuff but bombed on the audio (e.g. rhythm dictation, interval and cord identification). Your recently discovered website gives me a chance to study intervals and chords over the summer in prep for my music theory and ear training courses in the fall. I'm sure I'll do much better. I just have to find an equivalent rhythm training site.

Thanks for this great site.

Comment by Felix

"Twinkle Twinkle Little Star", 11556654433221, dodosolsollalasolfafamemereredo, ccggaagffeeddc. These are just three possible was to sound out this tune in Suzuki. I was impressed the first time I read his book nearly 30 years ago. He used to start teaching with this song by rote. I thought that Zoltan Kodaly, Bela Bartok, and Orff had solved those ear, eye, hand, and voice coordination problems years ago but I guess not. The French and Italians had solfeggio for children and the Americans were way behind everyone. I took lessons from 1958 to 1968 and althought my teacher had a Bachelor's, and Master's from Roosevelt in Chicago and a PHD from Julliard in Manhattan way back in the 1950's he refused to ever teach me anything about the sense connection between the ear, eye, hand and voice. He impressed the community by having us students study extremely difficult classical piano works and memorize them to perform once a year at his church thus showing off his great skills as a teacher. My parents and I wasted a lot of money on those piano lessons all the way from the age of 8 to 17. When I got to college I knew I had been ripped off. It was too late. I did very well in theory, performance, ensembles, history, and literature. However sight singing and ear training were so poor I wondered if I had made the right choice in majoring in music. When I became a teacher of music after a lot of struggle I always worked with my students in teaching what to listen for in music and how to use their ears to get the best enjoyment from listening to music. I believe the reason why so much noise is being sold as music in the pop culture is because people do not know how to listen. Most people are lost. They have nothing to base a criterion of what is good or bad. It is all subjective nonsense. I will never forget Dick Clark on the TV show American Bandstand when I was a young man. Dick would pick a boy and a girl at random from the audience of dancers and listeners and ask them to lsiten to a new song. The rest of the kids would dance to it, after that Dick would ask them on a scale from one to one-hundred how would you rate that record. The answer from week to week got to be routine because the kids gave the same answer all the time. "I give it a 90, because I liked the beat and it's easy to dance to." This is why if there is enough money behind a record to play it constantly on top 40 stations it will sell well. American people do not have a clue.

Comment by Adolfo


Not only in America... here in Spain we've been mimicking foreign styles since forever with pretty much poor results. The authentic music that was born in Spain besides local folk is Flamenco and it is way much more appreciated in foreign countries that inside our boundries (only these last 5-10 years Flamenco is being recognised in theatres and schools). It is so sad to see that the top ten are filled with songs with so much little imagination and even the artists are not the authors as all is producers and money behind to reach the #1.

That is what we are told, teached and selled... and the vast majority is happy (clueless) or even worse, indifferent...

@rick I'm enjoying a lot yor website and the tools you have created to improve our musical skills... love your "PlayBy Ear" app for iphone! congrats and keep the good work!

Comment by joe farley

Spot on everyone!At the turn of the century round 1901, the butcher's boy could sight sing using the tonic solfa method...most poor and otherwise poorly educated kids in England could do this. What happened?

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