Suzuki Method and the Special Needs Child

. April 30, 2016.

“Any child can learn,” is the guiding principle of the Suzuki Method of Talent Education, founded by a Japanese violinist Dr Shiniki Suzuki.  Watching young children all over the world learning their native tongue, Suzuki believed that this same nurturing process could teach any child to play music fluently and beautifully. If you’ve seen performances by tiny virtuosos taught the Suzuki method you might suspect that such skill could only come from the most gifted and motivated students. Surprisingly, this isn’t the case. Dr. Suzuki believed that, “If a child hears good 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 with Love

“Teaching a student with special needs is not necessarily different from teaching any other child,” says local teacher, Wendy Azrak, who is both an instructor and the parent of a special needs young adult who grew up in the Suzuki studio. Each lesson follows a predictable structure, focusing on a single task at a time and lots of repetition.

This is how teaching can begin with very young children and also makes it well fitted to the student with disabilities.  Success and joy in learning are primary goals of each activity. While the teacher is working with the student, she is modeling the method for the parent, who reinforces the task at home during practice time.   

Building on Baby Steps

Kathryn Schmid, whose son Ethan is on the Autism spectrum, says, “The concept is inclusive. The student knows what is coming and there are constant opportunities to succeed.” As a baby hears his mothers’ voice speaking full, complex sentences from before birth, so a Suzuki student will hear a recording of the music long before he beings to play. By the time they try their first notes, they will have a mature model deeply memorized. A small spot in the piece, chosen because it teaches a specific new skill, is then learned through imitation, repetition and games. Suzuki kids learn to break down problems to a manageable size, strategize to overcome weaknesses, and persevere through difficulties to success. 

We’re All in this Together

In addition to private lessons, a feature of Suzuki study is a weekly group class as well as other group activities for students of multiple ages.  The oldest players continue to perform even the earliest repertoire, developing musicality and performing confidence. Everyone participates regardless of their learning pace, and sees what is ahead as well as how far they’ve come. The Suzuki method is more than a book of specific songs. Teachers receive extensive training in the pedagogy from certified Suzuki teacher trainers.

Ann Arbor area teachers can be found by zip code at the website. It is recommended that you interview several and visit a studio and a group class to find the teacher who is the best fit for your student. Dr. Suzuki’s books such as Nurtured by Love (Alfred Music 2013) or Ability Development from Age Zero (Alfred Music, 1999) provide a deeper understanding of the philosophy behind Suzuki Talent Education.