UNI Suzuki

The Suzuki Approach


Principles of Suzuki Talent Education

More than forty years ago Shinichi Suzuki, a Japanese violinist and educator, discovered the unique combination of philosophy and method called the "mother tongue approach."  This method made it possible to teach very young children to play the violin in as natural a way as they learn to speak.  By listening to repeated words, observing the speaker, absorbing the experience, and finally imitating, children become fluent in their native language.  The Suzuki approach utilizes this process of listening and imitation in an environment created by daily listening to music and by close cooperation and participation of at least one parent.         

The UNI Suzuki School program is based on the educational philosophy of Dr. Shinichi Suzuki which is called Talent Education and follows these principles:

  1. The parent is actively involved in the learning process.  The mother or father attends all lessons and recitals with the child and supervises his or her practice at home.  In the beginning stages of instruction, the parent learns the music along with the child in order to motivate and instruct. 
  2. Emphasis is placed on listening to performances and recordings of music being learned and on learning through imitation.  Reading is taught later when the child has mastered the basic techniques of the instrument. 
  3. All Suzuki repertoire is memorized.  The child develops good concentration and discipline.  However, other repertoire that is not memorized is taught to help develop reading abilities. 
  4. There is constant review of previously learned repertoire. 
  5. The repertoire included in the Suzuki volumes includes familiar folk melodies and classical music of the Baroque, Classical and Romantic periods.  In addition, contemporary music and other selections may be learned if the student desires. 
  6. Though Suzuki emphasizes learning technique through careful study of the repertoire, additional technical and theoretical study is incorporated according to each child's needs. 
  7. Individuality is emphasized.  Students are not pushed beyond their present abilities.  The concentration, motivation, and attitude of each student is observed and each child is allowed to develop at his or her own pace.                                                                             
  8. The Suzuki child becomes a natural performer because of the periodic group and solo recitals and the constant emphasis on accurate musical performance.  The child rarely practices alone, and thus finds performing in front of others easy. 
  9. The actual learning process for the Suzuki child involves exposure to sounds, attempts to imitate the sounds, encouragement and correction from teacher and parent, and repetition and refinement.  A natural environment similar to that of the learning a language is provided by constant review of skills and techniques already learned. This may also be referred to as the Mother Tongue method.
  10. Talent Education stresses that, just as ALL children can learn to speak, they also can learn to perform and appreciate music. 
  11. Suzuki emphasizes good character:  "Teaching music is not my main purpose.  I want to make good citizens.  If a child hears fine music from the day of his birth and learns to play it himself, he develops sensitivity, discipline and endurance.  He gets a beautiful heart."  Learning to play and appreciate music and transferring there abilities to other aspects of life is essential to Talent Education. 

Recommended Supplemental Activities: 

  • Attend local concerts and recitals. 
  • In addition to your repertoire of Suzuki music, listen to recordings of your instrument and others as well as chamber and orchestral music.
  • Attend workshops, retreats, master classes, and summer institutes. 
  • Read Nurtured by Love and other materials about  Dr. Suzuki and Talent Education. Items available from the Somer Streed Memorial Library (UNI Suzuki School resource).  Click here for list.
  • See more

Individual Lessons         

The parent is actively involved in the learning process.  It is the responsibility of the mother or father to attend all lessons, groups and recitals with the child and supervise the home practice.  One of the most important ingredients for success is the parent's willingness to spend time working closely with child and teacher.  The goal of the private lesson is to have the student learn the skills required to play the instrument with special emphasis on tonalization and musicality while developing a positive parent-teacher-child relationship. 


  • Be on time for lessons
  • If you cannot attend a lesson, arrange to have lesson taped.
  • At lessons, assume the role of a quiet observer, remembering that the child cannot learn from two teachers at once.
  • Bring a notebook and pen/pencil to take notes. (Weekly practice sheets are available.)
  • Learn to tune and care for the instrument.
  • Learn to play the instrument.
  • If siblings attend lessons, please provide "quiet" toys or books for the child so that you are free to observe the student's lesson.
  • Understand the specific assignment for the next week, and don't hesitate to ask if instructions are unclear.
  • If you wish to discuss your child with the teacher, do it by phone or make an appointment, not during lessons or when the child is present.
  • Should a problem arise between teacher/parent or teacher/student, discuss it with the teacher as soon as possible.  If you are uncomfortable speaking to the teacher, contact the director. 


  • Attend and be prepared for all lessons, groups and recitals.
  • When you arrive at lesson, get out your instrument, prepare the instrument    for lesson, get into rest position and be ready for the beginning bow to begin the lesson.
  • Learn to properly care for your instrument (dusting, cleaning, etc.)
  • Be attentive and respectful when working with the teacher and when listening to others perform in group lessons and recitals. 

Group Lessons

Group lessons are wonderful opportunities to motivate your child.  They offer a chance to hear pieces which will be worked on in the future and the opportunity to recognize and utilize the skills already learned.  However, there are two other important purposes for having group lessons. 

First, group lessons give your child a musical peer group with whom he/she can identify.  Group playing is often slightly below solo material level for the majority of the class and offers a chance for the students to play for each other in a non-threatening environment, develop self-confidence and poise in a group and derive motivation and social enjoyment from their peers and friends. 

Second, classes are preparation for ensemble work.  Playing in a group involves an entirely different set of skills than playing a solo.  Many group activities are used to develop a sense of ensemble while reviewing and polishing various technical and musical points in a pleasant and stimulating environment.  Group lessons are valuable aids for motivation since children do learn from advanced students and want to do what they see other children doing. 

You and your child are expected to attend group lessons weekly.  It is very difficult for both the teacher and the student to make real progress in ensemble work if the same group is not there as expected.  Please do not send your child to group lessons without coming yourself.  We need your loving and encouraging eyes, ears, and smile.  Often, the teachers in the younger classes need the parent to participate as partner or teacher for your own child. 

Your child is placed in a group on the recommendation of his/her private teacher, in consultation with the director.  He/she is moved to another group in the same manner, with consideration of his/her level of advancement, and the needs, goals and makeup of the particular groups.  As in the case of acquiring a new instrument, bigger does not always mean better.  Your child should be able to have both listening and playing experiences in group.   A Book II student in private lessons will not be put in a Book II class until he/she can comfortably play the majority of the material in that book and can work in an ensemble.  

Much of the material presented in group will eventually be incorporated into the private lesson.  These group sessions are planned ahead of time and progress through the semester, so attend regularly, take notes and learn the material yourself so you can reinforce it at home.  To insure that the group lessons are effective and worthwhile for the students, please remember you are responsible for the behavior of any children who might be with you at group time. 

The Importance of Listening         

The primary goal of the Suzuki program is to enrich the lives of children through a musical experience.  The primary step in this process is for the child to learn to listen.   Children need to "hear" the music before they can begin to appreciate or imitate musical sounds.         

Parents can create three types of listening opportunities:  review listening to the pieces already studied; listening to the current piece; and advance listening for preparation and motivation for the next piece in the book.  In fact, it's valuable to listen several books ahead.         

Repetition in listening is extremely important!  With a cassette recorder you can tape the current piece five times, the past piece five times, the next piece five times, and then the rest of the pieces in that book -- all on one tape.         

Sometimes, you will provide "environmental listening" by putting on the tape while getting dressed in the morning, getting ready for bed at night, reading, riding in the car, eating meals, or doing chores.  The other kind of listening, "active listening," requires participation while listening, such as, tapping the beat or rhythm, singing the fingerings, singing note or pitch names, or even singing made-up words.  Parents need to encourage and participate in active and environmental listening often with their children.         

In a recital or concert, children should be taught to have respect for the audience and performers by giving their full and silent attention.  The more children are taken to musical events and exposed to the listening discipline--modeled by attentive parents--the better equipped they will become for eventually disciplining themselves to listen. 

Review, Review, Review         

  1. The habit of review, if established early, provides the benefit of a repertoire always at the student's fingertips.  Review allows for very positive, pleasant experiences in solo playing and the fun of playing with a group at any time, without the bother of music books or stands.
  2. A Suzuki instructor at a Dubuque workshop commented, "You don't gain ability by learning new songs; you gain ability when you play review."  Suzuki himself said that once the notes are learned, we can begin to make music with a piece.  Here are some suggestions for beginning to make music. 
  3. Review during each practice session, not just a matter of happenstance but as a planned part of the session. 
  4. On a day when, for some reason, a full practice session on new or current materials is impossible, have the child perform an individual "play through" of old and familiar pieces. 
  5. Include review listening in your regular listening schedule.  The ease of review and depth of refinement is contingent on review listening. 
  6. When a particularly tricky spot in a piece seems to have gotten away from the fingers, take these measures out of the piece and practice them in exactly the same disciplined manner as when you first learned them (e.g., play a particular shift correctly ten times, or stop before a low second finger spot and place the finger low, ten times).  This should not take more than two or three minutes a day and, in a week, the skill will have been restored.
  7. Ask your child questions about earlier pieces.  Encourage him or her to know what string and finger a piece begins on, what direction the bow goes, who the composer is--without your having to sing or hum the piece.  (This is a good car game!) 
  8. As your child plays a review piece, he/she should play at his/her current level of achievement.  For example, if your child plays in book 4, he/she should play even "Twinkle" like a Book 4 piece! 
  9. Have a system (list, chart, cards--be creative) recording every known piece for regular review.  Some parents use two jars labeled "Do It" and Done It."  All review pieces in the child's repertoire are written on slips of paper and placed in "Do It"; each day the child draws a seventh of the slips, plays those review pieces, and deposits the slips in "Done It."  By the end of the week, "Do It" is empty, "Done It" is full, and all pieces --not just the favorites--have been reviewed equally.  Charts are also available to facilitate the review process. 
  10. Finally, enjoy review and the depth of refinement it offers.   Rejoice in your child's expanding memory.  One must be a little awed at the capacity for retention Suzuki children demonstrate and thrilled at the carry-over into other areas of life, both practically and philosophically. 

Integrating Practice with Lessons-Seven Lessons a Week 

  1. Take good notes at lessons so that you'll know exactly what the teacher wants you to practice that week.  Practice sheets for taking notes at lesson are available at registration. 
  2. You may want to bring a tape recorder to lessons so you can listen to and practice a difficult spot along with the example your teacher recorded for you. 
  3. Do not start your child on a new piece without the teacher's permission.  There are preparatory exercises which lead to the actual work on each new piece that your teacher will want to preview with the student.  You could cause your child much additional work by trying to take the lead in this area.  Even if you have had an older child learning the piece before, do not take the initiative to move ahead.  Each student's needs are different, and the teacher will advise when and how each child should move on in the repertoire. 
  4. Be careful not to slip into the "from piece to piece" attitude.  We must strive to encourage our children to go "from skill to skill." 
  5. Ask the teacher at the end of each lesson how long he or she wants the student to practice each day.  It is also helpful to ask specifics, such as how many times certain sections should be repeated each day, which pieces are to be reviewed and for which particular skill, and how tonalization should be practiced during the week.  When you are armed with specific instructions from your teacher, your practice sessions will be more productive and more rewarding. 
  6. Pay close attention to how your teacher leads the lesson.  It will be your responsibility to prepare for and pace the practice sessions at home.  Sessions filled with the child stalling and the parent talking are unproductive.  It's kinder to your child in the end to keep practice moving: note how your teacher does this. 
  7. Focus your energy and your child's energy on one attainable goal for the week (if your teacher has set one) or a goal for the day.  Having too many goals is confusing.  Work on one thing at a time.  Ask your teacher for focus and direction. 

Management of Practice 

  1. Establish a regular practice time when both you and your child are rested and at your best.  Try some time in the morning, before school. 
  2. Encourage your child to expand his/her efforts, but avoid pressuring him/her.  Provide lots of positive comments; words of praise first, on even the smallest accomplishment; then, constructive comments for improvement. 
  3. Remember that there are basic ingredients to be included in each practice session. 
  4. Warm-up, or tonalization, if your child is at that level.
  5. Preview work on new material, the most difficult spots
  6. Polishing of current material
  7. Review and concert performance pieces
  8. Reinforcement of good playing posture and habits at all times
  9. Note-reading will eventually be introduced and this, too, must become a segment of the practice time.  This involves, at first, simple recognition drills using the staff only, and then finding the notes on the instrument.  Even if you are not a musician, you can quickly learn enough to keep one step ahead of your child in these early note-reading games.
  10. More advanced players will also be assigned additional technical studies such as scales or supplementary material not in the Suzuki literature.  It is expected that these note-reading games and technical studies will be practiced every day.
  11. Even if you don't have a solid 45 minute block of practice time, grab the odd 10 and 15 minute periods available for warm-up and positive practice.  Spacing out the practice time not only makes practice possible in busy families, it also provides optimum learning.  (Concentration is greater when mental and physical fatigue are eliminated.)
  12. Be courageous!  When things get dull, everyone's patience wears thin and progress seems slow, but don't be stymied.  Think up new games and ways to practice.
  13. Occasionally, a plateau or particularly trying time may call for a change in practice.  Periodically, the substitution of a home concert or review is better than no practice at all.
  14. During practice sessions, involve the child in the process.  Instead of telling him "it's out of tune," ask him what he hears.   Remember you are teaching your child how to practice.  Ears, eyes, and brain need to be trained to analyze problems and provide solutions.  Eventually your child will be practicing without your help.
  15. Even if you don't want to be a pushy parent, be advised that you must provide the initial motivation.  You can't wait for your child to get in the mood to practice.  You must pull your child through discomfort and discouragement to success.  From then on, your child's own motivation will be stronger and will carry him/her to further successes. 

Important Points for Parents--From a Suzuki Teacher

Include the following tips and you will be well on your way to success:

  • Listen -- the more the better!

This is why younger brothers and sisters seem to learn so quickly; they've been listening more than anyone else.

  • Be interested, enthusiastic, and encouraging!

Parents must be interested and positive about their children's involvement in music, really like practicing most of the time, take good notes, pay attention in lessons, and so on.  Children can sense any lack of interest on your part.

  • Review!

Review should take up one-third to one-half of every practice time.  This is where students gain solidity, fluidity and confidence.

  • Be consistent!

Practice every day!  Even if only a little, practice very day!

The Suzuki Bow and Other Graces

There are certain small disciplines your student will learn and make use of at each lesson.  Some have a more symbolic meaning than meets the eye; all contribute to a more disciplined and graceful approach to living and learning.  The bow, which performers use to acknowledge applause, is used at lessons, group lessons and performances at all Suzuki programs and institutes.  It signifies the beginning and ending of the lesson.  From the time the student and teacher bow to one another, it is lesson time.  The parent should not interject comments or attempt to physically or verbally assist or reprimand unless specifically requested to do so by the teacher.  The bow also indicates respect for one another, for teaching and for learning.  These small, but important disciplines give a framework to the lesson which is easily understood.

The correct bow (arms to the side, feet together, and look at toes) like the correct playing posture, is a confidence builder and when practiced routinely, helps to develop stage presence and poise as well as a genuine attitude of respect.

The bow, and other non-Western ideas you may encounter have been carefully and thoughtfully incorporated into our program, not to rubber stamp or copy the pleasing mannerisms of another culture, but to contribute to the attitudes towards life, learning, and music which we hope to encourage.

The Weaning Process

There may come a point in the instructional process when your teacher will recommend that the parent either taper off in lesson attendance or stop attending with the student.   At this point there may be a period of guided short assignments with which the student begins to work on his own before assuming the full responsibility for instruction and practice.  The time for "weaning" will vary due to the student's age, development, and the personal dynamics involved, so please be appreciative of the teacher's assessment of the situation and, as in all other areas of talent education, do not judge your student's lesson situation by that of others in the program.  The goal in early years is to help the student establish solid and efficient thoughtful practice habits.

Occasionally, a teacher will ask a parent not to attend lessons for a short period of time in order for the teacher to develop a more personal or direct rapport with the student.  After a short period, the parent would attend lessons again on a regular basis.

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