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Listening Well As Suzuki Families

I was a Suzuki child. I started asking for violin lessons when I was 3 years old. Finally when I was 6 my parents decided I was old enough to know what I was asking for and I got violin lessons. Yay! I count myself extremely lucky to have been enrolled in Suzuki lessons from day one, with an excellent teacher.


But here’s where 6 year old Sarah was surprised... Turns out, you have to listen to the Suzuki CD all. the. time.


It wasn’t really all the time, but for a 6 year old, it sure seemed that way. My mum would have us listen to the CD while we were getting dressed, eating breakfast, lunch, after school and sometimes even during dinner. My sister and I counted ourselves lucky that we didn’t have to listen to the CD in the car like some of our young, unfortunate friends did.


When my parents decided to enroll my sister and I into violin lessons, they decided they wanted something different than the traditional lessons they had taken as kids. They chose the Suzuki Method because of it’s high parent-participation level, and because the learning was based on natural methods similar to reading and writing. My parents recognized that the Suzuki Method would add a little something extra to my skills that they never got in traditional music lessons. I count most of my musicianship skills on the fact that EVERY DAY, we listened to the Suzuki CD. Listening to music is integral to growth as a musician.


Listening is one of the foundations of the Suzuki method. Children learn words after hearing them spoken hundreds of times by others. Shinichi Suzuki began to apply the basic principles of language acquisition to the learning of music, and called his method the mother-tongue approach. Listening to pieces in the Suzuki repertoire is important so that your child grows to know them immediately, it is the #1 thing you can do as a parent to get your child to learn quickly and easily. Without listening, you’re not learning the Suzuki Method.


So how do we listen well and how do we teach our little musicians to listen well? To begin, we have to understand that we learn through two types of listening: passive and active.

-passive listening is when you just play the music in the background and go about your activity without paying very much attention to it (a brand jingle you wake up one morning singing and can’t remember a day where you didn’t know it by heart. I’m looking at you Sleep Country Canada...). -active listening is when you concentrate on the music, listening for differences, learning the melody and rhythm, or listening for specific details (like you would in school or church).


When little musicians are constantly listening to the repertoire they will be learning, their minds are soaking it up. They might not be listening attentively, but they are listening! Suzuki recounts in one of his books how a younger sibling who had never played a specific piece (she had listened to the CD constantly and her older sibling playing it), at a lesson one day picked up the violin and played the piece note for note the first time through. There is so much potential in the little musicians we nurture!


Listening to the Suzuki CD should be both passive and actively listened to. Because it is only around 30 minutes long (yay!), listen whenever possible and make sure listening is accessible for children. A teacher who spent some time learning under Suzuki in Japan before he died reported that one child was seen playing outside with a cassette player strapped to their back, with the tape continuously playing! Wearable listening contraptions aside, my golden rule is to listen to the whole CD at least once a day, and multiple times a day at different times is best.


A parent in the States uses “night listening”. Her children listen to their respective Suzuki CDs all night while they sleep and the progress has been astounding. If anyone wants to experiment with this, we would be interested to see the results! Aside from "night listening", you could take a page out of my mother's book and play it whenever your children are at home. With AUX cables and Bluetooth readily available in almost every new car, you could play the recording straight from your phone when you're driving, even the shortest distances.


“But Sarah, we’ve listened to the Book 1 CD for so long that I think if I hear Song of the Wind one more time I’m going to accidentally burn it.”


This is where supplemental listening comes in. If you think that your partner may smash the CD to bits if they hear it again, purchase another Suzuki book CD! It will do you a world of good to hear some Book 4 repertoire as encouragement to keep going.


You can also pop in some non Suzuki listening. For starters, check out the short list below for some ideas on what to listen to when you can’t bear to hear the Suzuki CD one more time.


-Benjamin Britton’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra

-Classical Kids’ CDs, any and all of them (musically narrated stories follow composers like Beethoven, Handel and Vivaldi in a story of their life. Beethoven Lives Upstairs was my favourite!)

-Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals

-Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf (there’s a lovely CD edition narrated by Dame Edna Everage that I highly recommend)

Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker and Swan Lake (better yet, take them to the ballet!)


A longer list of supplemental repertoire will come soon, but for now feel free to listen to whatever your heart desires! Your child's brain with thank you.


Happy listening!