Should there be a Suzuki Clarinet School?

The Suzuki Method™ for instrumental teaching, developed by Shinichi Suzuki, came to into being just after the Second World War. He devoted his life to the development of the method he called Talent Education.

Shinichi Suzuki believed the main aim to be the development of the whole child, with education through music. Dr Suzuki himself always said that his wish was to foster the human qualities in the child.

 I have had the privilege of experiencing the Suzuki violin teaching of one of the top teachers in the North West, working with my daughters for the last 8 years. It has been an enlightening experience with some rather different approaches to teaching an instrument.

The first of those is well known to many musicians as the defining feature of the method, playing from memory. This is not entirely correct as the whole approach to the Suzuki Method™, we might call it a pedagogy, is based on working through progressive levels of books, learning from the music but memorizing as they go.

The aspect of playing from memory is a substantial bonus in educational terms, which has proven benefits in all aspects of young people’s development. How many of us have worried about having to perform a piece or perhaps a concerto from memory?

There are detractors from the Suzuki approach but it has brought many young players to the stage well equipped to take on a career in music. Recently a well known solo violinist confessed that they regretted not having come up through the Suzuki Method™ as they might have found it to be a useful foundation for learning to play the standard repertoire from memory later.

One of the best aspects of the Suzuki approach is the emphasis on listening and playing along with the performances on the CD’s that accompany the Suzuki books, something many of my students have yet to learn. This builds aural perception skills that are often left as an afterthought or until the last minute preparations for a Grade exam.

With the digital age upon us it is easier than ever to find recordings of works that we are teaching or learning, often with many different performances, some good and some dreadful, so why not use them to enhance the learning experience? Many teachers will of course do this already, but making it part of the requirement for study is rarely adhered to.

There is a further major advantage in the group lessons, which are integral to the approach, as players discover the importance of the work they do at home in learning to count and playing together at very early stage.

I really admire the Suzuki Method™ for its pedagogy of progressive learning. This is not just from exercises, which Suzuki thought children would find boring, but through real works especially chosen and often minimally re-arranged, that encompass the techniques required at each development stage.

There are other instruments using the Suzuki Method™ apart from violin, which now includes viola, cello, piano, flute, guitar, bass, recorder, harp, voice, organ and trumpet….but so far not clarinet or saxophone.

Although there some good tutor books published, often in several volumes, there doesn’t seem to be a cohesive all-embracing technique to introduce and develop clarinet players, or am I wrong?

My experience of studying, in both Europe and the US, has led me to see that there are substantial differences in the approach to learning to play the clarinet outside the UK.

In the US for example the pedagogical approach is accepted as the way to develop young musicians. Using studies like the Rose Etudes and Studies or the Modern Daily Studies from Kal Operman, along with a more unified approach to aspects, like the embouchure for example, lead to an impression of a more systematic approach.

However none of this is as detailed as the method, which Suzuki laid down. There is a clear road to progress from the beginning through his well thought out levels, together with clear and strict instructions for the teachers, who have to qualify and continue with refresher courses before they can call themselves a Suzuki teacher.

Perhaps the clarinet is just too easy to make a sound on in the first place so we feel we don’t need to worry about things like the right embouchure or use of the air. The idea of just sticking it in your mouth and blowing is just too appealing – after all it does make a sound so I must be doing it right? That’s one way to look at it.

A final point in Suzuki’s “plus box” in my view, and perhaps the most significant, is the expected involvement of the parents both in the lessons and practice at home. There’s a discussion point if ever there was one!



For more information on the Suzuki Method