After years of seeing this book on pedagogy library shelves, I finally had a parent hand me their personal copy to read. (She knew that I had young children and have been interested in starting them on violin with her favorite nearby Suzuki teacher.) Turns out, there are many ideas within this book that have more to do with raising children with love than just teaching piano or violin. Dr. Shinichi Suzuki met and worked with some amazing people (spoiler alert – he was friends with Albert Einstein!) so reading about his life experiences was pretty amazing.
He shares so many different ideas for nurturing children through love that there is no easy way to summarize this book. Thus my book review today will go through many of his main ideas that I found truly inspiring or thought provoking. I hope this will encourage you to discover a new interest in the philosophy and pedagogical materials developed by Dr. Shinichi Suzuki.
First he talks about how our “life force adapts itself to fit the environment”. In his opinion, man is born without talent and superior talent or development comes about only from a better environment. And what does not exist in the environment cannot be developed. Using examples of how nightingales are trained, how parakeets learn to repeat, and scientific cases of children brought up by wolves, he shares that the only ability a baby has at birth is how quickly they can adapt themselves to their surrounding environment. Thus he states,
“We must give much thought as to how children should be reared and trained, how the development of their minds, sense, wisdom and conduct should be guided.” (p.11)
Dr. Suzuki shares many examples of working with talented children or children with physical disabilities. Through persistent efforts and practice on the part of the student, the parents, and the teacher, he believes every child can be trained! And as he says, “Ability is life.” So much is possible when you develop ability!
Another of my favorite quotes from the book is:
I loved how humble Dr. Suzuki was about his enormous success and his students. He shares experiences with WWII and when he was very sick that taught him to treasure life, not money or fame. Rather than push to only develop concert musicians, Dr. Suzuki worked to develop a beautiful character in all of his students.
Love for Children
He shared about studying Tolstoy and learning how precious children were. I loved his list about the beauty of children and what he learned from being with them:
“They have no thought of self-deception.
They trust people and do not doubt at all.
They know only how to love and know not how to hate.
They love justice and scrupulously keep the rules.
They seek joy, live cheerfully, and are full of life.
They know no fear and live in security.” (p.64)
These are the truths we know from working with children each day! How lucky are we that in our job as piano teachers we don’t have to sit behind a computer screen or within a small cubicle all day. I’m grateful for my chance to work with children and learn from them each day.
Another point I loved from this book was Dr. Suzuki’s view of practicing. He discusses how parents can be too calculating about learning to play an instrument. We need to start children “with the fun of playing a game, letting their spirit of fun lead them in the right direction”. (p.95) Yet he mentions how much work it does take to play an instrument in my new favorite quote for parents:
His “training” starts with the parents, having them go to lessons and practice a few pieces at home. As the child sees the parent practicing and hears the recordings assigned, they develop a desire to learn too. Once the desire is there, Dr. Suzuki discusses the importance of private lessons and group lessons. Playing with other children is the true “talent education” as they see children who are ahead of them in training which inspires and influences them significantly.
Creating Good Character
Dr. Suzuki met so many neat people through his studies and his teaching experiences. He reflects on the character of these men and what they taught him time and time again. His dreams to help children ran far beyond just music. In 1964, Newsweek published an article about him with this quote from Dr. Suzuki,
“I just want to make good citizens. If a child hears good music from the day of his birth and learns to play it himself, he develops sensitivity, discipline and endurance. He gets a beautiful heart… If nations cooperate in raising good children, perhaps there won’t be any war.” (p.104)
So much to learn from this amazing man and I hope you’ll take the chance to read one of his books soon.
Whitney Hawker, NCTM, teaches group and private piano at Weber State University, Utah. She loves surprising students with the perfect piece or a new exciting game! After graduate school, she missed sharing ideas and resources daily with colleagues so she and her friend, Spring, began blogging together at 4DPianoTeaching.com