Musical Composition, Theory and Songwriting/What do you think of Suzuki piano method?


Dear Clare,

May I ask if you can advise on the Suzuki piano method.

I have read some articles about it. To be sure, it is very demanding for both children and parents. And the father of this method seems to have his own philosophy about child rearing - there are quite a few books by him.

How is this method regarded in the UK? For example, can I assume that most gifted learners, who would be accepted at major conservatories, had to go through the Suzuki method? Or maybe they went into the conservatories thanks to their earlier exposure to Suzuki?

Thank you

Hello Liam,

I don't know about the Suzuki piano method as such, but all my life I've accompanied children for exams/auditions/festivals and I can always tell immediately which children have learned using the Suzuki method, on any instrument.  I absolutely loathe it.  It produces soulless automatons whose technique may be good but have no musicality.  Everything's learned by rote so they never learn to sightread (which is a serious handicap), and their playing is purely mechanical because they do as they're told and are never taught to think for themselves.

Music is about communication, so once you've learned a piece and can play it without mistakes you can start thinking about phrasing and dynamics - how to bring it to life for your audience.  If you're a seven-year-old violinist playing an easy piece like "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" (which is one of Suzuki's favourites, incidentally) you need to decide how to end it, for example.  You have two possibilities - you can start the phrase quietly and get louder towards the end so it finishes triumphantly, or you can start the phrase quite loudly and gradually get softer so it fades away to a peaceful close.  Which do you think is right?

Now, there's no right or wrong answer to this, it's what you feel.  If you're not sure which is more effective, we can try it both ways and then you can decide.  When you've made up your mind, you need to exaggerate your louds and softs so your audience can really hear the difference between them as they gradually change.  That's interpretation, and it's what I teach as an accompanist.

Most children know what they think the answer is but are scared they'll get it wrong, which is why I make it clear there is no right or wrong answer and they don't necessarily have to agree with me.  They're the soloist and I'll follow them.  Usually if we try it both ways it's obvious that one way works better than the other - there's no shame in trying it out, deciding it didn't work after all and changing your mind.  The musical children know exactly what they want and aren't scared to say so - often I meet children who know what they're trying to do but can't because they don't have the strength or control yet (they run out of bow or breath and it makes them angry, so then we have to work out ways to get around their physical limitations - take a breath here in the middle of the phrase so you can get to the end comfortably).  Without exception, a Suzuki-taught child hasn't a clue what you're talking about, and this is true at any level.  I ask an advanced player "where's the climax in this section, where are we heading for?" and they don't know.  Hopeless.    

I trained at a major conservatory, as you know, and over decades have played on the concert platform with other performers and sat on festival committees with musicians who've worked predominantly as teachers.  I can't think of more than a handful who had a good word to say about the Suzuki method.  

Hope this helps.  

Musical Composition, Theory and Songwriting

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Clare Redfarn


All aspects of the academic/theoretical side of music, including harmony, counterpoint, elementary composition, history, harmonic analysis, aural training, sightreading - the lot! Please note I'm not primarily a composer so I can't help with composition beyond what's required for Grade 8 theory or A'level. And don't ask me about psychoacoustics or music psychology as I have no knowledge of, nor interest in, either subject.


58 years as pianist (soloist and accompanist); 43 years as harpsichordist (soloist and continuist); 10 years as violinist and 6 years as bassoonist (youth orchestras/chamber groups); 46 years as piano teacher, coach in performance/interpretation (all ages, instruments and levels) and private tutor (mainly the old O'level, Grade VI+ ABRSM theory/practical musicianship, A'level and undergraduates); 21 years as ballet pianist (Cecchetti syllabus).

Member of Musicians' Union in Britain 1978-1989 and 1991-2009.

I've been writing professionally since I was 20 - too many programme notes to count over the years and a number of articles. Additionally, from 1996-2000 I was a Music Assessor for London Arts and as such regularly wrote critiques of concerts given by recipients of Arts Council funding.

MA in European Cultural Policy & Administration (Warwick University, 1994)
B Mus with Honours (London University, 1977)
Postgraduate Diploma in Arts Administration (City University, 1982)
Licentiate of Royal Academy of Music in Piano Teaching (1976)
Licentiate of Royal Academy of Music in Harpsichord Teaching (1978)

Studied RAM Junior School (1966-74), then as full-time student (1974-78).

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