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Learning music the Suzuki way

Japanese child cellists reared in the Suzuki way performing in Tokyo

(Keystone Archive)

"Beautiful tone, beautiful heart" was the title of a rather unusual orchestral concert staged at Lucerne's Culture and Congress Centre last weekend.

It was unusual because the musicians, whose ages range from four to 18, learnt to play their instruments according to what's known as the Suzuki method.

This is based on the principle that all children possess musical ability and that this ability can be developed through a nurturing environment, in much the same way as children learn their mother tongue.

The method was pioneered by Shinichi Suzuki, a Japanese violinist and music teacher who died three years ago at the age of 99.

Mother-tongue method

The mother-tongue method, as he called it, stresses the importance of listening to music and learning to play it before learning to read. The ideal starting age is three-years-old, and Suzuki advocated close involvement by parents in a learning process which is also aimed at helping youngsters develop as human beings.

"Teaching music is not my main purpose," Suzuki wrote. "I want to make good citizens, notable human beings."

Peter Rüttimann, based at Meggen near Lucerne, is one of a handful of Suzuki music teachers in Switzerland. "My involvement began when I visited Dr Suzuki in Japan in 1977," he told swissinfo. "It was like entering a new world, and when I returned to Europe I attended Suzuki teaching courses in Lyons and Munich.

Avoiding criticism

"Dr Suzuki was a charismatic man who knew exactly how to motivate young people learning to play a musical instrument. He would never tell youngsters that they had played badly, although he might say - gently - that they could do better."

The involvement of parents is important. Barbara and Walter Fellmann, who also live in Meggen, became actively involved in the Suzuki Association of German-speaking Switzerland after their eldest daughter - at the age of seven - told them about the method. Now 14, she is still a Suzuki music student and has been joined by her three siblings.

The youngest, Seraina, is four. She began violin lessons a year ago, playing a miniature version of the violin.

"All the children love playing music," says Mrs Fellmann. "They learned to play by ear, and when they are old enough they learn to read music. No pressure is ever put on them to play and we never have any problems getting them to practice."

by Richard Dawson

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