Some aspects of the Suzuki method remain steeped in controversy. There is no reliable evidence to support the idea that musical training improves character and a sizeable body of research contradicts the notion that genetics has no role in musical aptitude.
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Giving children an instrumental music education can be expensive. In addition to purchasing an instrument and paying the cost of music lessons, parents invest their time by encouraging practice, attending recitals and driving their child to and from lessons. Parents rightly want value-for-money and confidence that their child’s teacher employs an evidenced-based, proven teaching method. There are numerous approaches to teaching music, each with its own philosophy and history. To a parent looking to make an informed choice about music lessons, the options can be befuddling. But given the research highlights parental involvement as an important component for a successful music-learning experience, developing an understanding of the teaching method is vital. One method that polarises the music education community is Shinichi Suzuki’s (1898-1998) “talent education” (saino kyoiku), commonly known as the Suzuki method. It was first conceived as a system for teaching the violin. The Suzuki method arrived in Australia in the early 1970s and was quickly applied to a variety of instruments. Research highlights a range of positive outcomes for children learning how to play an instrument via the Suzuki method. It also shows Suzuki is not the only method that works. While the degree of parental involvement may mean Suzuki is not right for every family, the caring learning environment it encourages is one worth emulating.
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A recent thesis from the University of Southern Mississippi compared the Suzuki method with the method of its fiercest critic, the O’Connor method. The O’Connor method is an American system where a set of music books are sold to teachers and students, and training to accredit teachers. These books are tailored to different levels of ability. This method is less focused on parental involvement in teaching and the selection of music is more geared towards American music. The study found the two approaches could both be effective and shared common aspects related to technique, expression and the mechanics of learning the violin. The thesis does claim the O’Connor method embraces a more diverse musical repertoire. But the modern Suzuki organisation says its teachers have more flexibility in incorporating different styles of music. Finally, a study out of South Africa highlights ways the Suzuki method can be adapted for use in different cultural contexts. The authors examined the challenges associated with Suzuki’s requirement for high levels of parental involvement for orphans and children from low-income and single-parent families. These challenges could be overcome by a community approach to music education. In a group learning setting, older and more advanced students mentored younger, less advanced students and provided the encouragement and guidance otherwise provided by a parent. Some aspects of the Suzuki method remain steeped in controversy. There is no reliable evidence to support the idea that musical training improves character and a sizeable body of research contradicts the notion that genetics has no role in musical aptitude.
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