The most asked question in regards to starting lessons is “Suzuki vs. Traditional – what’s the difference?” While both Suzuki and traditional approaches, when utilized by a nurturing and caring teacher, ultimately yield the same results, there are some key differences. Let’s explore.
#1: Caregiver Involvement
In the Suzuki method, the caregiver is involved during 100% of private lessons, group classes, and home practice. The caregiver’s concurrent learning, dutiful notetaking, and commitment to the routine of practice is part of what makes Suzuki work. Caregivers are always welcome and encouraged to attend traditional lessons (our director’s mom attended her lessons until she was 19 just because she enjoyed it!) but it is not a requirement.
#2 Learning By Ear
Traditional students begin to learn to read music immediately alongside learning to play the instrument. Students learn the placement of pitches on their instruments through quick exercises and short melodies that work on note reading fluency.
In Suzuki lessons, students learn to play their songs by ear first. Students listen to a reference recording daily to help internalize the melody. The Suzuki method sometimes gets a reputation that it’s students don’t know how to read music – this isn’t true. A good Suzuki teacher will introduce note reading when the student’s technique has established a steady foundation.
#3 Starting Young
One of the key definitions of Suzuki vs. Traditional is that the Suzuki method allows students to begin learning their instrument as young as three years old. If you’ve seen a prodigious toddler shredding Vivaldi on their instrument, they are likely a Suzuki student.
This is partially because of the caregiver’s involvement but also because learning by ear is a more organic process for a young child than learning to read the standard music notation system.
Learning to play an instrument and read notation at the same time requires some developed mental multitasking. This means that traditional methods are often better suited to a slightly older child. As a general rule, a student can begin traditional lessons around the age of eight (although we’ve made exceptions for particularly mature students as young as six).
#4 Group Classes
Music is a social activity. Understanding that students learn from their peers, Dr. Suzuki included group classes as an essential part of the Suzuki curriculum. Group classes are required along with weekly private lessons.
Traditional lessons can be an excellent complement to a student’s school instrumental ensemble. However, group classes are not part of the traditional private study curriculum.
#5 Repertoire & Review
Knowledge is not skill. Knowledge plus ten thousand times is skill-Shinichi Suzuki
Another special element of Suzuki is its common repertoire. Dr. Suzuki carefully selected the repertoire to teach new skills in a certain order. Because of this, students all learn the same songs in the same order. Each song teaches specific skills that often return in later songs. Suzuki students must review their “passed” songs in order to keep all their skills sharp.
Traditional students often learn through short written exercises, scales, and arpeggios. These exercises teach foundational skills, but traditional students don’t review their repertoire as often as Suzuki students.