Is your Suzuki Student Progressing Slowly? More Listening Could be the Answer!
Occasionally, I will have a student that progresses through the Suzuki repertoire very quickly. Each piece comes easily, almost effortlessly. Are these students just more talented? Did they practice more than the others?
My hypothesis is, while these students did practice consistently, they did not practice much more than other consistent practicers (who didn’t progress as quickly.) Nor were these students more inherently gifted at the violin. The main thing that set them apart from the other students was that they actually did their listening.
I totally get that life is crazy. We are busier and more distracted than ever before. But seriously, listening to the Suzuki recordings is the EASIEST part of practicing. All you have to do is turn it on and then go about your regular business.
So why am I nagging about listening so much?
There are so many benefits to listening to the Suzuki recordings. Here are ten perks you can expect when you and your child start listening regularly:
1. Their intonation will improve. Playing in tune is so important. No one wants to listen to an out of tune violinist. (Not even the violinist!) When children listen to their Suzuki repertoire, or other high-quality recordings, they become accustomed to hearing good intonation. They will listen to their own playing more intently and adjust to make it match what they are hearing in their mind.
2. Their tone improves. When first learning an instrument, it is good to know what is possible. If children only hear their own tone, which may be scratchy, squeaky, or weak, they may not know the richness of tone that is available to string players. Listening to violinists with beautiful tone opens up the possibility to play with beautiful tone themselves. Again, this improves self-listening and evaluation. Of course, the student will hear their teacher play with good tone, but that’s only once a week! If your child heard you speak only once a week, do you think they would learn to talk very quickly or fluently? Probably not.
3. They will learn their pieces more quickly and easily. In the Suzuki method, did you know that teachers are encouraged not to tell their students what the notes to the new pieces are at all? If children are doing lots of listening, they usually can pick out the notes on their own! It’s kind of incredible. Even if they aren’t doing enough listening to pick out the melody themselves, listening can fill in the blanks so that you don’t need to spoon feed every single note of a new song.
4. They will memorize their pieces faster and with more security. Even once students are proficient note readers, listening to the recordings will help with memorization. After listening to a piece several times, the form of the piece becomes clear. You know which sections repeat, and which are different. Massive amounts of listening can prevent those memory slips that are so frustrating in performance.
5. Learning a piece isn’t just about learning the notes and bowing on the page! There are many more details to consider. Dynamics, articulations, tempo changes, all of these things can be heard on the recording and then imitated by the child. No directions necessary. No need to remind your child about one more thing? Yes, please.
6. One of the most helpful benefits of listening to the Suzuki recordings is that it helps you avoid making mistakes that are difficult to fix. Have you ever learned notes or a rhythm wrong? It is so hard to change those things in your brain and muscle memory. It is so much better to avoid those altogether. If the student is very clear about how things are supposed to sound, they are much less likely to repeatedly make mistakes that become permanent.
7. Listening to upcoming pieces builds anticipation and excitement. If you listen to the repertoire ahead, the student can become acquainted with pieces that they like and are excited to play. These goals can get you through a practicing rut. “Maybe if we work really hard and practice every day, we can pass off this piece next month and start Humoresque!”
8. Listening is not the only important component of good Suzuki practice, review is also essential. Listening to review pieces helps students keep them fresh and easily accessible. If students keep up on their review, not only do they have their newest piece polished and ready to perform at a moments notice, but many others as well. What a confidence boost!
9. Have you ever read a new word in a book but had no idea how to say it? McKenzie, I hope it’s ok if I share this story….Oh well, I’m going to share it because it is hilarious. Years ago, Mckenzie (my fellow Suzuki violin teacher and sister) started referring to something she called “Hores Devores.” Do you know what she meant? Yup, hors d’oeuvres. It is the same with music! If children are listening they become acquainted with advanced techniques like vibrato, trills, spiccato, ricochet, sautillé. If they have already heard these techniques executed well on their recordings, they are more likely to execute them easily and well themselves.
10. It makes your teacher happy. Your teacher wants your child to be successful. Your teacher wants their students to have a great time, and progress on the instrument. When progress stagnates, motivation and enjoyment diminishes for the student, and that makes your teacher sad.
The Suzuki Method is built on the philosophy that children can learn music just like they learn to speak. Children listen to their parents and others speaking even before birth, and then spend the rest of their childhood listening and imitating everything they hear. If you want your child to learn an instrument the same way, they need to be immersed in that language too. How many hours a day do they hear their native tongue? How often do they listen to their Suzuki repertoire? If you are not seeing the progress you want, it’s something to consider!
What benefits have you seen from listening to the Suzuki recordings? How much listening do you think is necessary?