True musical joy could never have been possible for me without the Suzuki method. After over 15 years of playing recorder in duets and large and small ensembles, I started over agin at the beginning. But maybe I should back up a bit.
I have always been musical. Growing up I sang in choirs, in musical theatre, and in pop bands. I joined a Balinese gamelan where we learned entire concerts by heart. I memorized very quickly and retained very well. My ear was my superpower. I was the first person “off book” in choir and my friends delighted in my ability to name any popular song in the first note or two. But I could not read music.
It wasn’t that I hadn’t tried. I’d taken piano and sight-singing lessons but these ended in frustration. When my husband, a professional musician, suggested I try a “one line” instrument I took up the recorder and fell in love with it. I was already a huge fan of Baroque music and it seemed like a natural fit.
With only one stave to deal with, things improved somewhat. I joined a quartet and a large ensemble. My good ear served me well but I quickly hit a sight-reading wall. Despite having help “on tap” with my husband and years of faithful practice, things never got easier. I was frustrated and ashamed. It was emotionally difficult to practice and I felt stuck, always learning the notes and never getting a chance to work on the actual music.
Finally, at 52, I got some psycho-educational testing done and was diagnosed with ADHD and something called a “severe visual processing disorder”. My fears were confirmed; sight reading would never get easier for me. I needed a different approach.
I didn’t think anyone would be willing to teach the Suzuki method to an adult but I found a wonderful teacher, Kathleen Schoen, in Alberta. We started lessons at the beginning of June and I burned through Level One on alto in about two weeks, easily learning two to three songs per day. We added the soprano book to my to-do list and I began working in both voices on Level Two.
Here I received my first shock: one of the pieces (Handel Water Music Bourée) was something I had just played with my large consort. How on earth could this be only Level Two? Of course the music got harder in Level Two but unlike before, I was not frustrated. I did not feel defeated.
I’m a teacher myself. I teach seniors how to use technology like iPads and iPhones and I spend quite a bit of time building good foundations before moving on to higher concepts. I was extremely impressed with the layout and progression of the Suzuki method, which had clearly been very carefully designed for a logical and gentle progression through the music.
Kathleen then suggested I purchase the music for the remaining levels as inspiration and in Level Six I found a movement of Vivaldi’s Oboe Concerto, a particular favourite, that I had long dreamed of playing (in fact I had memorized the entire thing) but never imagined I would ever be able to play. Now it’s on my long-term to-do list!
The Suzuki method changed everything for me. I no longer had to drag myself to the practice room and endure frustration and tears while trying to stay focussed for a scant 30 minutes. I was now forcing myself to stop after an hour to save my hands and arms from strain. My self-esteem soared! I was no longer dreaming of a future where I might one day be able to work on music that I loved. I was already doing it! As I no longer had to work at interpreting musical text, I had the brain-space left to instead focus on interpreting the music.
It’s fall now and I have about four songs to go in each of the soprano and alto books. Music is no longer an impenetrable wall but rather a puzzle to be solved and I know that with time and attention I will “solve” it. I would highly recommend the Suzuki method to any adult interesting in learning music. If I had one wish it would be for a place for adult Suzuki students to chat. Just like the kids, we need peers to accompany us on the journey.
Why I believe the Suzuki method is excellent for adults:
- Very little time spent working on “kids’ songs” before moving to more engaging music
- Much faster progression to more advanced pieces than traditional method
- No written music to “scare” the student who may jump to conclusions with fears like: it’s too low/high, I don’t know that time/key signature, I can’t do trills, etc.
- No music books to “forget” so as long as you have your instrument with you, you can practice
- The ability to practice without your instrument by listening, meaning you can be practicing almost always
- Without needing to read/interpret musical text, the student can focus on the physicality of playing and the sounds they produce