Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Suzuki Method

Apparently Mark O'Connor has some problems with Shinichi Suzuki's violin method, and some doubts about Suzuki's professed biography. I have no knowledge of Suzuki's personal story, but I do know something of the Suzuki method and its place in violin pedagogy. My son Alexi learned from the Suzuki books when he started violin at age 4. Suzuki's idea was that little kids could learn to play by ear and from memory before they were able to read music. To me it is a very sensible concept, although in my son's case he started reading musical notation almost from the very beginning. No harm done: the Suzuki books do have written music, so a precocious reader can learn to play both ways: by ear and by note. And that, of course, is how it must be for any serious classical musician. From there, it was on to the student repertoire and then Mozart and Vivaldi.

Any "method" is at best a useful tool in the hands of a gifted teacher, and a resource in the hands of an enthusiastic young violinist. Natasha Fong was the gifted teacher, and Alexi Kenney the young artist. It was a good match. Suzuki is a "good" method if good teachers find Suzuki books good for their students: full stop. It seems that many do.

O'Connor is disdainful of Suzuki's beginning lesson based on "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" (which my son sang as "Kappa Maki Sushi, Kappa Maki Sushi..."):
In a recent interview, Mr. O’Connor explained the goals of his own violin method, which he calls “an American school of string playing,” and spoke excitedly of his hopes of inspiring a new generation of players. He took out his violin to demonstrate why he thinks “Boil ’Em Cabbage Down,” the fiddle tune that starts his book, is superior to the well-known “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star Variations” that the Suzuki book begins with.
I find this somewhat amusing. If the "American school" of string playing is supposed to appeal to today's American kids, then violin transcriptions of Katy Perry or Drake are in order. I see no harm in that. But any kid can also learn the fun and beauty of Twinkle Twinkle, or Vivaldi, or maybe even the Bach Double. And every interested kid deserves the chance to give them a try. Mark, if that is your goal, more power to you. But there's no need to throw Suzuki under a bus in the process...


  1. Hi, I know this post was from a long time ago, but I found it during a google search for Natasha Fong. Natasha was also my son's violin teacher, and I was trying to locate her to ask her advice about a violin we still have. But she does not seem to be in or near Palo Alto anymore. She was wonderful -- do you have any idea whether she's still teaching somewhere? Thanks!

    1. Barbara, sadly, Natasha died in 2013 after a battle with cancer. We still live down the street from her husband and son.


  2. This is such sad news. She was a lovely person and a wonderful teacher. Thank you for letting me know.