Suzuki Method | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Suzuki Method

The Suzuki method is a teaching system developed by the Japanese violinist and educator Shinichi Suzuki (1898-1998) and disseminated after World War II under the name Talent Education (Sai-no-Kyoiku).
The Suzuki method is a teaching system developed by the Japanese violinist and educator Shinichi Suzuki (1898-1998) and disseminated after World War II under the name Talent Education (Sai-no-Kyoiku). The essentials of the Suzuki method are an early beginning, parental participation, and rote learning. The children look, listen, and imitate. There are regular private lessons and periodic group lessons. Children as young as two-and-a-half or three years old are accepted without any preselection, and introduced to music one step at a time. It is a highly individualistic method in that no child proceeds to the next step until the previous one has been fully mastered, no matter how long it takes.

Children trained in the Suzuki method learn to play the same way they learn to speak, by hearing a sound and then reproducing it. This is what Suzuki calls the mother-tongue method. The pupils imitate not only their teachers but also their peers, and find confidence in the common enterprise. Parents are essential to the success of the training and are involved directly as home teachers. Parental participation is inversely proportional to the age of the child - the younger the child, the greater the parental involvement.

Suzuki first applied the method to the violin, but subsequently it was adapted to other instruments, as well as to pre-school and elementary education. Apart from the violin, there are viola, cello, string group, piano, flute, harp, and guitar methods available. It is anticipated that it will eventually be adapted to all orchestral instruments.

The Suzuki Method in North America

The Suzuki method was introduced to North America in 1964 at a Music Educators' National Conference in Philadelphia, where Suzuki demonstrated the method with a group of his pupils. This marked the beginning of what has been termed the 'Suzuki explosion'; the Suzuki method became widely used in North America, particularly by string teachers. In 1966, the project SUPER (Suzuki in Penfield-Eastman-Rochester) brought Suzuki to the Eastman School of Music in New York State. Many of the leading Suzuki teachers in North America (including Canadian teachers) received their training from Suzuki at SUPER.

The Suzuki Method in Canada

The Prairie Provinces
In July 1965, Thomas Rolston founded the Society for Talent Education in Edmonton. The program got under way that same year under the Japanese Suzuki-trained teacher Yoko Oike, who was joined one year later by Yasuko Tanaka. Tomoko Otsuka started a cello program in 1966. By 1974, more than 600 pupils had been taught in Edmonton by the Suzuki method. Other centres in the prairie provinces began their own Suzuki programs, including the Calgary centre, started by Georgiana Ritter, Kyoko Kawakami, and Allison Sloan; Regina, started by Ernest Kassian and Adele Graham; Winnipeg, started by Dorothy Breckman; and Saskatoon, started by Robert Koss in 1971. Calgary developed its own Suzuki music program, establishing the Suzuki Talent Education Society of Calgary and the Suzuki Piano Association of Southern Alberta. Merlin B. Thompson started the Suzuki Piano Program at Mount Royal College in Calgary in 1988. With the institution of charter schools in Alberta in the 1990s, Edmonton established its own Suzuki Charter School to include Suzuki music as a vital part of the child's overall education. Manitoba and Saskatchewan began Suzuki programs and incorporated various Suzuki ideas into the music curriculum of the public-school system. By 1980 the Suzuki method, or adaptations of it, had also been introduced at the University of Regina by Howard Leyton-Brown; in the school string programs of the elementary schools in Lethbridge, Alta; and in the youth string program of the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra. The Saskatchewan Suzuki Piano Institute in Regina was established and, in 2002, the Brandon University School of Music established the Brandon Suzuki Talent Education Program, with Robert Richardson Jr. as its first director.

Canadian Teachers

Among the first Canadian Suzuki-trained teachers to teach the method, or an adaptation of it, were Jean Cousineau, Alfred Garson, Baird Knechtel, Claude Létourneau, Ted McLearon, Susan Magnusson, and Harry Wagschall. Knechtel, Létourneau, and McLearon pioneered the Suzuki string group method in a school situation. The first Suzuki pre-school program in Canada was started in 1985 by piano teacher Dorothy Jones in London, Ont, with the assistance of Susan Grill.

John Konrad, who began teaching at the Bornoff School in Winnipeg in 1937 and directed the school under his own name after 1949, was famous for the excellent results he achieved working along lines similar to those developed independently by Suzuki. Other Canadian teachers have not hesitated to develop and adapt the Suzuki method to suit their needs. In general, Canadian Suzuki teachers tend to emphasize reading more so than do the Japanese; music notation is introduced at an earlier stage, though without sacrificing Suzuki's stress on memorization.

Canadian Teacher Training

In Montreal, Jean Cousineau introduced his method, which was based on the Suzuki philosophy, but adapted to French-Canadian conditions. He submitted his ideas to Suzuki in Japan, published the teaching manual Canadian Music in English and Japanese, and on his return to Montreal founded the Petits violons. Létourneau introduced his Suzuki-based method in l966 and that same year founded Les jeunes violinistes, which in l973 became the Société musicale Le Mouvement Vivaldi, which combines principles of the Suzuki and Kodály methods.

Beginning in 1966, Alfred Garson travelled across Canada, conducting workshops, training teachers, and helping to set up Suzuki programs in Vancouver, Calgary, Regina, Winnipeg, Hamilton, Halifax, and St John's, Nfld. He became director of the Suzuki program at McGill University in l970, and was the first Canadian to sit on the board of the Suzuki Association of the Americas. (Dorothy Jones was the first Canadian to serve as president of the association, from 1988 to 1990.) Garson ran a successful experiment from 1970 to 1980 in an elementary school (kindergarten to grade six), in which Suzuki philosophy and basic principles were applied to academic subjects. Both Cousineau and Garson were seen teaching and performing with their pupils at Expo 67.

Merlin B. Thompson, considered one of Canada's authorities on the Suzuki piano method, developed a two-year part-time program in Suzuki piano pedagogy at Mount Royal College in Calgary in 2001, and in 2003, he established the first online distance delivery course in Suzuki piano pedagogy. Considered the only program of its kind at a Canadian university or college, the program consisted of courses in Suzuki Piano Pedagogy, philosophy, and performance, as well as providing participants with experience as apprentice teachers. The online course combined Web-based activities with video-conference technology.

In Kingston, the pianist Valery Lloyd-Watts and Carole L. Bigler were teacher trainers of the Suzuki method. In 1979, Lloyd-Watts and Bigler co-authored Studying Suzuki Piano: More Thank Music (published by Warner), which was often referred to as the "Bible" for Suzuki piano teachers. The book was revised and retitled, Mastering the Piano: Beginnings to Artistry (published 2004).

Suzuki Visits and Workshops

Garson invited Suzuki and his pupils to Montreal in l966; Suzuki returned several times, and also visited London, Ont, and Winnipeg in 1972, and Edmonton in 1977 and 1985. Suzuki's frequent visits to Montreal undoubtedly helped to establish a strong foundation for the method in Quebec. In 1978 Haruto Kataoka, who with Suzuki developed the Suzuki piano method, gave master classes to teachers at the Northwest Community College in Terrace, BC, on piano teaching by the Suzuki method. An international gathering of Suzuki teachers and pupils is held in Kingston, Ont, each July, headed by Valery Lloyd-Watts, who was also the recording artist for the Suzuki piano method.

Professionals with Suzuki Beginnings

Many children's orchestras, chamber groups, solo performers, conductors, and even composers in Canada have received their training from the Suzuki method. Among the outstanding Canadian Suzuki-trained string players, for instance, are the violinists Scott St. John and Michelle Seto and the cellist Shauna Rolston. By 2003, the method was not only well established but also continuing to experience strong growth.


In 1967, as a centenary project, the Women's Committee of the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra started a Suzuki program. Akiko Takubo, Keiko Yamada, and Marta Hidy were the first Suzuki teachers in Hamilton, starting their program in 1967. By 1980, the Suzuki method had become a popular form of music instruction in Hamilton and the program was reorganized under the name of the Hamilton Suzuki School of Music. Margot Jewell was its first director. In 1969, Herman Dilmore began a Suzuki program at the University of Western Ontario in London. The London accompanist, Dorothy Jones, started preparatory music classes in Suzuki in 1972. Elayne Ras and Dave Stelpstra started the Huron String School in Clinton and Seaforth and, in 1985, the school moved to Goderich. It served more than 80 students in Huron County and many of its senior students performed with the London Youth Symphony. Dilmore trained many Suzuki teachers, including Jean and Bruce Johnston, who started teaching Suzuki at the Toronto Montessori Schools in the 1970s. A Suzuki program was started at Seneca College in 1974. About the same time, Jean Grieve began a Suzuki program in Oakville. Other schools appeared in the Toronto area, including Toronto Suzuki, Beaches Suzuki School of Music (Ajax/Toronto), Etobicoke Suzuki School of Music (founded in 1982), the North York Suzuki School of Music, and the Toronto Flute School (founded in 1998 by Vicki Blechta). Daphne Hughes and Comer began the Guelph Suzuki program as a subsidiary to the Hamilton one. In 1972, the Suzuki String School of Guelph was founded by Daphne and Bill Hughes, Hazel Comer, and Gail Lange. About the same time, similar programs started in London, Ont, under the influence of Jones, and in Ottawa. In Kingston, Valery Lloyd-Watts and Carole L. Bigler established Suzuki Kingston in 1974. More Thank Music was Suzuki Kingston's Summer Music Festival, an annual workshop that included learning and fun as well as teacher training sessions. By 2003, Suzuki Music/Suzuki Musique in Ottawa served more than 200 families in the Ottawa-Gatineau (west Quebec) area. By 2003 it was considered one of the largest Suzuki music schools in Canada with an instrumental program as well as a "Headstart program," a music introductory group class for three- to five-year-olds. Communities in northern Ontario started Suzuki programs in the 1990s, including Thunder Bay.


Jean Cousineau started his own Suzuki-based method in Montreal in the late 1960s. The Institut Suzuki Montreal was founded later. Under the directorship of Gilles Comeau of the University of Ottawa, the Studea Musica Institute offered a Suzuki summer program and teacher-training sessions at the Orford Arts Centre, in Magog, Que. By 1980, the Suzuki method had been incorporated into the curriculum at the Conservatoire de musique de Hull.

Eastern Canada

The Suzuki method of instruction appeared in the Atlantic provinces in the 1970s. Eileen Kearns first started teaching the Suzuki method in her violin studio in St. John's, Nfld, in 1975. The Suzuki Talent Education Program (STEP) of St. John's was established in 1982. Yvonne De Roller began the Halifax Talent Education Suzuki Music School (HTESS) in 1983. By 1990, it had more than 200 students.

British Columbia

Suzuki programs were developed in Vancouver at the Vancouver Academy of Music, by Jerold Gerbrecht and Marian Schreiber. The Suzuki method was included in the Victoria Conservatory curriculum as well as in individual studios in smaller centres like New Denver (Miranda Hughes Suzuki). In 1974, Susan Magnusson established the Langley Community School Suzuki Institute, a program that involved a faculty of 16 and an enrolment of more than 200 students. Its annual Suzuki Summer Workshop included instruction for young people of all ages as well as a Teacher Development program in piano, violin, and cello.

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