View Full Version : The Suzuki Method and the Ukulele

01-05-2016, 07:10 PM
Just curious: Does anyone here have a background in the Suzuki Method? If you have, how have you applied the method to your uke playing? Is it what the rest of us think of as "playing by ear"?

01-05-2016, 08:04 PM
When first learn twinkle twinkle little star in Suzuki Method, teacher tested my son's left hand freedom. He played it with sticking his headset to the wall in order not to hold his violin with his hand. Teacher ask my son his left hand off when open strings. We need totally freedom of left hand in Suzuki method. Therefore I bought strap straight away for my soprano. :D

01-06-2016, 04:18 AM
The Suzuki Method is more than just "learning by ear." The method emphasizes the importance of immersion in a community of musicians who share your repertoire and absorb lessons from one another in the pursuit of serious musical study.

Not all aspects of the method are easily applicable to the uke and much of the method was developed specifically with a young child in mind. The uke lacks dynastic, formal schools of technique, so many aspects of the Suzuki method (developed to teach classical instruments with more illustrious histories than our humble ukulele has) are more abstract in application and the method's rewards are more limited on ukulele. This is a bit of a shame; the ukulele's demure size requires little modification for children to play it well, and I'm sure its music box-like sound would inspire many children.

Here is how I have applied what I've learned through the Suzuki method to ukulele:

Listening exercises:
-Listen daily to performances of the pieces I'm learning (Jake Shimabukuro's "Departure Suite", a collection of American folk music, and Howard Heitmeyer's arrangement of "Here, There, and Everywhere").
-Listen daily to great ukulelists (right now, that's Lyle Ritz and Derick Sebastian).
-Keep a journal in which I critique and reflect upon these performances.

Involvement in the ukulele community:
-***Read this forum!***
-Attend ukulele picking circles whenever possible.
-Attend concerts that feature good ukulele playing or songs from the repertoire I intend to learn to play on the ukulele.

Daily practice sessions:
-Make a sound, listen to it as it decays, assess its tonality then reflect upon how I might improve it. Rinse and repeat.
-Practice simple exercises while focusing on elements of sound. For instance, if I am practicing scales, I listen for pitch, dynamic level, and tonal color and practice as slowly as necessary to ensure evenness across all three.
-Improvise a melodic idea. Repeat that idea. Develop that idea. I do this both on one string and on three strings in both open and closed positions. I then transpose these "solos" to other keys.
-Spend time refining and expanding my repertoire every day
-Consider the mechanics of playing ukulele and strive for a solid technique (this is difficult due to the paucity of classical ukulele instruction) that enables me to more readily control the sounds I make. I am making some progress in this area by adapting classical and flamenco guitar technique, but the ukulele is not a guitar, and my progress has been limited by the paucity of dynastic ukulele instruction.

That's not everything, but in summary, I suppose I have adapted the more structural elements of the Suzuki method to ukulele.

Ukettante, thank you for posting this thread. While writing my reply, I reflected upon the ukulele's status as an approachable instrument and wrote an essay that I'll post another day in a thread of my own. Had I not read your post, I almost certainly would not have stepped back and considered how my childhood instruction has influenced my approach to learning ukulele.

01-06-2016, 01:11 PM
I watch an interview with Sarah Maesel on line. She didn't say she learned with the Suzuki method in her early years, but what she descrbed sure sounded like it. It worked for her!!!

01-06-2016, 01:12 PM
Wow, bacchettadavid, that's a really in-depth analysis. Thank you for putting all that to words. While I was the "involved parent" in our sons' Suzuki years (piano and violin, but I don't think either completed Book 3), I wasn't aware of all that learning going on at their lessons (again, Book 3 limits may have been the reason).

As I read your comments, they help me re-commit to some tried-and-true elements which I've let slack (as in listening daily to the pieces I'm learning) and some I've never tried (the sound decay and focusing on elements of sounds). Thank you for triggering some thought in my own examination of my playing.

01-06-2016, 05:43 PM
OP here.

Thank you so much, bacchettadavid, for the very thoughtful post. Very insightful, very valuable. And I very much look forward to your eassy. Do post it once it's done!

Now I gotta think about how to integrate your approach into my own routine . . . Oh, and try some Lyle Ritz music.

01-06-2016, 06:02 PM
Bill, your perspective is refreshing. I'm not used to taking such a casual approach to musical study, but I think there's value in it (especially in music as a communal phenomenon). I think am simply more accustomed to an approach that depends upon methods that go into the mechanics of playing (for the ukulele, this would include right hand knuckle placement, picking angle, the various steps in the process of a pick and how the string is manipulated at each stage, etc.) and have been frustrated by the absence of such methods in ukulele study. I definitely think I will try to add some more playful and less disciplined elements to my daily practice in the spirit of the instrument. Seriously, thanks. This might be what I need to get past an emotional roadblock I've been stumbling over lately in my approach to daily practice.

Tonya, I think we both really have Ukettante to thank for opening this thread. Suzuki teachers use an array of tools in their teaching. It's possible your son did some similar exercises, but there's no guarantee. By the way, thank you for the "files" section of your website. I found it very informative when I was first getting into ukulele, and I still turn back to it from time to time. You have some sound pedagogy there yourself.

I love ZzTush's idea of using a strap to better relax his left hand (I still cannot remove my left hand while completely supporting the ukulele either....working on that), and it makes me reconsider using a strap more regularly myself. Anyways, I don't wish to capitalize on this thread. I'm sure I'm not the only one in these parts who was taught according to the method. How has everyone else incorporated the Suzuki method into their uke playing? Curious ears want to listen!

01-31-2016, 01:11 AM
David, I just wanted to express appreciation for your posts here. Very insightful. I had only briefly read about the Suzuki method in the "Guitar Zero" book (still the most motivating music-related book I've read), and it was educating to read how you'd apply the fundamental structural elements to ukulele learning. You could probably derive a more in-depth "plan of action", or a quasi lesson plan, from those pillars. I'd love that.

None of the more traditional methods of teaching (anything) work really well for me, not even when I went to school (I think my mother had realized this and tried to get me into a Waldorf school, but those were rare and had long waiting lists back in the eighties), but whenever I tried to do the "full immersion" thing, particularly when I learned Go (the board game), where short of moving to Asia I fully embraced the culture, history, background, and community, right down to importing Go sets and literature from China, it yielded substantial results.

I need to somehow apply this to my ukulele learning, outside of just buying more ukes. :)

01-31-2016, 01:58 AM
I teach band and strings at an arts magnet elementary school. Over the years I've had a few violinists who study privately with a Suzuki instructor. They all play very well but some could not read a simple piece I would give them. I also have a friend who is a certified Suzuki teacher (guitar and piano) and I've asked him about the reading issues. He told me he transitions his kids to actual reading mid way through the first book. He did admit that some teachers don't push the kids to read.

02-01-2016, 04:39 AM
I am not Suzuki certified, though we had to study the method in college. For young children, I can see the benefits. I've seen a 2 year old go into a violin lesson. It is pretty wild. My concerns with Suzuki centered around the lack of theory and technique curriculum, along with the repertoire - everyone playing the same pieces. It seems limiting to me. For a young child starting to learn a difficult instrument like violin, those limits would be of help, but as a student develops and comes into their own, the repertoire should be tailored to their needs and abilities, and I am a firm believer in technique study. Technique study is paramount. My students thrive on it.