This is the second post in the four part “Nurture Series”.
Dr. Suzuki titled the book about his life and philosophy Nurtured by Love.(1)
The book is an autobiography which details his travel to Germany as a young man where he studied violin, and through this study came to know Einstein and other great thinkers as well. He also was greatly influenced by observing how easily the German children spoke German while he struggled. These experiences helped him discover the “mother tongue” approach to learning music, which is learning music the same way one learns their native language – through listening. He also tells about his first students and how he nurtured them by the “mother tongue” approach which developed their ability.
The book documents the time of his first discovery of the “mother tongue approach” through to the development of the worldwide Suzuki Education movement. This is a wonderful first book for parents to read about the Suzuki method.
So, the fundamental point in nurturing children is to encourage and support them by applying the “mother tongue approach” in which all children learn naturally, to learning music, and abilities in life.
Natural learning is a broader term for the “mother tongue” approach as children are not only learning language from what is in the environment, but are absorbing everything including actions and feelings as well. Natural learning includes what parents and teachers think they are “teaching” a child, but is much more long lasting and developmental. Children are learning everything from inflection in speaking, to how their parents are feeling.
Parents can greatly use this awareness that the child is always absorbing what is going on in the present moment to create an optimum environment for learning. “What is my child learning from the environment right now?”
It is useful to relate the acquisition of language to learning piano. How exactly does the child learn to speak? Why do children acquire the same accent as those around them?
By thinking of this carefully, it becomes clear that playing the highest quality recordings is very important for developing a high ability in piano. Also, it is important to play the specific pieces the child is working on many times in the same way children hear those sounds first such as “mama” over and over again before they speak. It is also important to play pieces that are in the advanced repertoire in the same way it is important for children to hear people talking at a level they may not “understand” , but are absorbing sound patterns, and even subtle meanings of terms and phrases.
The child is internalizing the sound during the sensitive period of language acquisition between birth and about 7 years so it is most important during this time to acquire the language of music. Every child can learn to speak music if the parent will provide the daily environment of listening to music for as many hours a day as possible.
When a child begins playing the pieces on the piano it is vital to sing the melodies while the child is finding which keys match the correct sequence of pitch. You can simply sing “Da, da da” on each sound. If you imagine that you are singing a song and forget the words, you would keep singing the melody and substitute a sound such as “da” in place of the words. This can work very well for the singing the melodies in Book 1. You can also use the solfeggi (Do Re Mi.) to correlate to a specific sound with each pitch, but it is not necessary. You can also sing the finger numbers, when it is helpful to the child. It’s best however, not to use the finger numbers any more than necessary so that your child will learn more directly through the sound. You can practice these by singing along with the recording as you are listening and memorizing the pieces. It is also fine to sing words to some of the songs such as “Twinkle”, and “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” However, if you only sing words, the child may focus only on the words, and not the sound of the melody. If the child has internalized the sound of the pieces through listening, he/she will be directed to the note when they hear the sound of the melody. It is good to sing a small part such as one measure or one phrase many times and then have the child play those notes after it is sung. The parent can go back and forth like this until it has become easy, and then move on to the next part or phrase.
Helping children find the correct notes and sounds in the beginning in a natural way is important for learning how to learn. In the beginning, it may take a while to learn one piece. How many times does the baby hear “mama” before they speak? Later, a child can hear a word one or two times and repeat it.
If you learn how to learn through this process of singing the pieces in small parts and repeating them until it is smooth with a good sound, the next pieces will be learned more quickly. If you focus on learning how to learn, it will become easier and easier to learn the pieces. So, the beginning is the most important time to nurture natural learning.
Natural learning is learning from the environment directly without instruction. In music, this is learning by sound. If you watch great master teachers teaching piano to advanced students, they are always singing to help the student get the feeling of the music. By singing during the practice, the parent is helping the child learn naturally without too much verbal instruction (“put your third finger on the note E, now F, no, that’s the fourth finger…” for example.) After the pieces are learned, the parent can still sometimes sing and very lightly clap the beat while the child plays to help him/her feel the natural places to breathe for phrasing, and to keep tempo. The more we can enable natural learning, the easier it is to learn.
1. Nurtured by Love, by Dr. Suzuki