What Mr. Suzuki Knew About Ed Reform

May and June is recital season so I’ve been reflecting on the man who made playing-by-ear possible: Mr. Suzuki. I have two children taking Suzuki music lessons, one on violin and one on piano. I have always been curious about the method and was never trained myself to learn to love music the way Suzuki intended (hence I no longer play piano).  It doesn’t help that I’m utterly tone deaf either. I was never destined to be a musician, but fortunately there is more to learn from Shinichi Suzuki than music.


The first time I opened my son’s violin book I was scared. In his forward, Mr. Suzuki says, “The destiny of a child is in his parent’s hands.” I thought, “That’s a big responsibility; I am at fault if my son doesn’t become a brilliant musician.” But Suzuki added five conditions for ability development:

  • An early start
  • A superior environment
  • A commitment to practice
  • A superior instructor
  • A thorough teaching method.


That’s better; it’s not all on a mother. It’s all these conditions that make the difference between success and failure. These conditions sounded a lot like our work when I read them. I was most struck by “commitment to practice.”  It feels like what we need in the Innovative Professional Development (iPD) space to make the work sustainable. Suzuki has this great method of practicing or polishing songs. You play the practice ones over and over until they are polished. And when they are polished, you focus on a very specific skill (like where your fingers are pointing or your bow hold). It’s a good way to isolate something and really focus on it. You use a practice song to focus on because you know the music so well.  Like “Twinkle Twinkle.”


It would be good if iPD helped teachers figure out which are practice versus polish skills!  Suzuki also has a very consistent set of songs that teach different skills and all the Suzuki kids around the world learn the very same sequence. Sound boring? Not really. It’s his way of building a common language. Kids learn other songs in addition to those songs, but they can all polish and play together the exact same songs together. I love when a teacher just starts playing “Long Long Ago” and all the kids that have completed Book One just join in. It’s like “the Long Beach way” of creating a common language and a common outcome—you get really consistent results!


Finally, it’s the c word—commitment. The mom has to sit with the child and provide encouragement. The mom has to go to classes with the child and learn at the same time.  But it’s only to help hold the child accountable for their actions and eventually, they don’t need the mom to tell them what to practice or polish—they just need the encouragement. How about those coaches and the peer-to-peer collaboration for teachers? Aren’t they just the Suzuki mom in disguise?  Isn’t what we really want for teachers to take it up on their own the way my son (I wish…soon I keep saying) takes up his violin and goes through his practice and polish songs regularly?

– C.