Why I love Suzuki method for music education

We unschool in our family: video games all day, no math. I didn’t teach my youngest child how to read and write. He learned to read from Pokemon and he learned to write on Minecraft.

But each of my kids plays an instrument. My eleven-year-old son plays the violin and he practices 40 minutes a day. My eight-year-old son plays the piano and the cello. He practices 30 minutes of piano and two hours of cello each day.

Their music education is the Suzuki method, which is completely the opposite of unschooling. But I’m totally comfortable with it. Here’s why:

1. I’m teaching my kids to work hard at something. We cannot work hard at everything. We can really only work hard at one or two things. If you’re really working at it. That’s why people who are very hands-on parents can’t hold down a job. It’s why most famous artists were not primary caretakers. Kids need to play. And they need to learn to work really hard at something. I don’t think it necessarily matters what that one thing is. They need to know the feeling of it so they can continue to do it in their life with whatever they choose to work hard at.

2. Kids need to learn the purpose of focus. If you focus on one thing it’s a risk. But you can’t get good at anything if you don’t focus. Dillitantism is not fulfilling. We know that from decades of research. But focus is very high risk. If you choose one thing, you also choose to give up lots of other things. That’s actually a big reason people are horrified by the Amy Chua’s book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom – because of everything she asked her kids to give up. But teaching kids how to consciously give things up prepares them for adult life where we must do that all the time.

3. Expertise is essential to self-actualization. People are happier when they are an expert in something. They are being their true selves when they are doing something that is right for them. And they are feeling the joy of gaining high-level skills. You might think that some people don’t need that, but in fact you are misunderstanding expertise. There are people driven to be experts in social grace. There are people driven to be experts in caregiving. The problem is that sometimes we don’t recognize the range of possible expertise or the importance of it. To learn grit and determination – two essential traits of resilience – you must teach expertise.

4. Kids don’t have the self-discipline to do something difficult. Their brains are not fully formed enough to force themselves to do something hard. And also, they don’t understand the value of doing something ten minutes a day and making very small progress that adds up. Parents know this value intuitively. They say, “You have to make your kids do school because they need to do stuff they don’t like.” But that’s not exactly true. Kids need to learn to do stuff they like that is hard. Because adults wish they had more of that skill. Every adult wishes that.

5. Kids benefit hugely from learning a second language early on. I don’t need to link to the research for this. You are already either congratulating yourself that your kid speaks two languages or you are beating yourself up that your kid does not. Music is a second language. It counts. And unless you speak a second language, or you hire a full-time nanny to speak a second language, your kid is not going to learn one early on. Music is the exception.

6. Suzuki is a cult. I’m not going to lie to you. It takes over your life. Because you absolutely have to practice each day.  And you have to do things the same way all the other kids are doing it. Finger by finger. Song by song. What I like about this cult, though, is that the kids are very focused and the parents are very involved. It’s a cult of parents who are putting their kids first. It’s a cult of parents who are not raising their kids like other people tell them to. They are doing what they instinctively think is best, and it looks different. It’s a cult I like. And it makes me a better parent to be part of it.

7. Suzuki teaches skills to learn anything. My older son is studying for his bar mitzvah. There is no synagogue near us so we do it ourselves. He studies online. And he uses the same practice skills for Hebrew that he uses for music. I didn’t even have to show him—he knew it intuitively because he’s been trained how to learn effectively. The research about becoming good at something is not about how much time you put in as much as how effective you are at practicing. Noa Kageyama has a whole blog dedicated to how to practice. It’s about music but it could be about anything. Even sports. Good practice habits are the same for anything you are trying to learn.

8. Accomplishment is very important for a kid to experience. Winning a soccer game when you practice once a week for the whole season is very different than moving to book two after practicing every day for two years. Your sense of accomplishment is only as big as your commitment to working toward that accomplishment.

School does not teach accomplishment—everyone graduates if they show up. Everyone gets A’s if they are well-suited for school. The smartest kids don’t even have to work that hard.

Unschooling doesn’t teach expertise unless the parents are very involved and committed to fostering that expertise. It doesn’t have to be music. But it needs to be something. 

41 replies
  1. Commenter
    Commenter says:

    I’d be more interested in this post if it were a comparison of the Suzuki Method with other music education systems.

    You could take “Suzuki Method for” out of the title and it would make just as much sense; it’s really not about the Suzuki Method at all, just about children studying music.

    • Isabelle
      Isabelle says:

      I really agree with this.

      Just because Suzuki has a stranglehold on the market and it is practically impossible to find a teacher who doesn’t use it (because that’s what parents want to pay for, because they hear about everyone else using it, because all the teachers teach it–feedback loop!) doesn’t mean it is THE VERY BEST EVER way to learn music. Like any strict methodology, there are things that are inherently good, good for some kids/bad for others, and things that are inherently bad (like the complete lack of improvisation training.)

      There are also a whooooooole lot of kids out there who end up sounding like little violin robots because of the way Suzuki works, and missing out on just *enjoying* making music, either by themselves or with other people.

      I studied violin for a long time, and taught hundreds of kids beginning/intermediate violin, and have some serious issues with Suzuki. Honestly, I think Suzuki is like an expensive Prep School- parents who have the means send their kids to work hard, be indoctrinated and come out with the “skills needed to succeed!” But it is the opposite of student-centered or student-driven learning; everyone learns the exact same songs in the exact same order and you must all sound exactly the same.

      I totally agree with your points about kids learning something hard, and that music accomplishes that beautifully for kids, but I think you have drunk the Suzuki Kool-Aid the way most parents have drunk the Standard Curriculum Kool-Aid.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        I specifically avoided Suzuki for some of the reasons you said, but most of all so that my kids can have a love for music and be different from everyone else. I don’t want my kids to be like all the others, on the same timeframe, doing things the exact same way, this sounds like school, with grades and curriculum and no one can move ahead, no one can be special or different. Isn’t that the whole point of homeschool/unschool anyway? Why should I treat music any differently when this is working so well.

      • Commenter
        Commenter says:

        I believe there are good reasons for using the Suzuki method for the youngest students, three to six maybe. Their finger strength is very little, and the method simplifies music so that it can be played more easily with weak little fingers: it doesn’t even start using the fourth finger in the first year, only plays in first position for years, and key changes requiring different finger positions are also delayed. Tiny children who couldn’t play other pieces requiring position changes, use of fourth finger, etc. might be able to play Suzuki book one pieces. Likewise, it doesn’t start out by teaching children to read music because it was developed to teach little children who can’t read at all. It’s a nice introduction to music for tiny ones, learning how to replicate a song by listening to the same tape over and over again, and putting your fingers on the fingerboard tapes. After a few years, kids can pretty much play a succession of simple songs, and that’s a good starting position for serious music study. Even our conservatory prep uses Suzuki for the youngest students, before they get a permanent teacher.

        We studied at a local Suzuki school for a few years, until we became disenchanted. To be fair to the method, part of our disenchantment was with mismanagement of the school. The teachers rarely stay there for more time than it takes them to get a better job, and it’s hard on a child to have his teacher changed or classes cancelled. But I also believe that more permanent teachers at a better-managed school would still have to work hard to overcome built-in shortcomings of the Suzuki method.

        As Isabel says, “everyone learns the exact same songs in the exact same order and you must all sound exactly the same.” One of the problems with this procedure is that the children (I believe inevitably) treat moving to the next song like leveling up in a video game. Student A is considered “better” because he is playing Gossec Gavotte rather than the Happy Farmer. In my experience, children are in such a rush to move on to the next song to catch up or keep ahead that no child ever learns to play a song well and clearly. I wince as I recall our twice-yearly recitals, where children sawed horridly through songs down the Suzuki ladder. Parents were equally caught up in the pressure to advance through the books because it fed into their vanity and hope about their children’s precociousness. But everybody in the audience with a clear mind and without a tin ear was annoyed by the cacophony. Today we use “Suzuki” as a verb to describe sawing through a piece mechanically, out of rhythm and out of tune.

        When we switched from the Suzuki method to the traditional method at conservatory prep, I told the Dean I’d rather my son learn to play fewer songs better. In the traditional method, learning to play a song better involves more than just playing the same song over and over again. It may require more hours of scales, finger exercises, bow arm exercises, and etudes in the same key than it does of playing the song itself. My son probably has learned fewer pieces in the past year than he would have if he’d kept with the Suzuki method, but they are harder than the Suzuki pieces he would have learned and I have no doubt whatsoever that he plays them much better than he would had he stayed with Suzuki.

        One of the things our teacher focuses on which was absent from my son’s Suzuki study is the development of his ear. The first thing he said was “get rid of those tapes.” I know that within the Suzuki method the universally used fingerboard tapes are eventually surpassed, but I think they are kept for too long entirely, and distract the student from ear development. Students should be figuring out whether they are playing in tune by listening, not faking it by looking at tapes for years. One of the reasons I rarely heard a student at a Suzuki recital play an entire song in tune is the tapes. They allow a student to progress to songs he cannot really hear, and once they slip or the strings stretch the student just carries on out of tune oblivious to the difference. In the traditional method, tapes are removed earlier if used at all, and lessons focus heavily on developing correct intonation through hearing rather than seeing.

        Suzuki proponents might argue that because their method focuses on learning songs from recordings it is even more dedicated to ear training. I don’t believe this to be the case. In my experience, intonation is ignored far too much in Suzuki; a microtone off seems to be good enough, where it isn’t with my son’s current teacher (and of course the correction is through hearing it rather than looking at a tape). Recordings are used in Suzuki not because that’s a better way to learn intonation but because they begin with children too young to read, and Suzuki ignores reading music until much later than the traditional method for this reason. This presents a difficult to correct impression to children that what is on the CD is “the music,” instead of what’s on the page being “the music.” Once the kids are into book two, they can no longer hear all the notes from the recordings accurately, and their imitations of what they hear begin to omit notes and simplify rhythms. The teachers begin to have great difficulty in reversing their students’ incorrect learning. Delaying the transition from playing with recordings to playing from sheet music also makes it difficult for children to learn music for which they have no recording. An intermediate child trained in the traditional method can easily play any of the intermediate Suzuki songs by sight; an intermediate child trained solely in Suzuki can’t play an intermediate piece for which no clear recording is available by any method – especially if it includes more than first position.

        I believe that the Suzuki method is a good preparation for very young children to begin music study. There is no need, however, for children to begin as young as three to five, and beginning so young has no relation to how well they’ll play as adults. Though the stated ideology of every child being able to make music is beautiful and optimistic, it doesn’t necessarily embody this aspiration in practice. Most children who start Suzuki practice will quit before they are adults, and never touch an instrument again, because they are being forced to do it by their parents, whose emotional investment in having a “prodigy” can be an incredible burden for a youngster. Very few children are self-directed in any meaningful sense at the age of three to six, even “unschooled” children. PT herself says she won’t let her children self-direct themselves to school. Once children reach the age where self-direction becomes more meaningful – probably above ten for most kids – they can learn much more quickly, and can understand the intellectual basis of music much better as well. A motivated teenager could replace ten years of Suzuki study in two years. Pat Goltz gives a personal example and good analysis in “Shinichi Suzuki Had a Good Idea” (google it – PT puts linkers in quarantine).

        The children who stick with the Suzuki method for a long time would do well to focus their goals on folk music and oral traditions, because they will be at a disadvantage when it comes to the classical tradition. If a child wants to play chamber music or in an orchestra successfully, he must at the very least modify Suzuki study if not switch to the traditional method entirely in order to learn music theory, reading, and the violin techniques he will need. The traditional method introduces formal music theory and solfege early on, which helps immensely with understanding and correctly playing written music. For collaboration in the classical tradition, this is essential. Children trained with traditional methods will be ready to collaborate meaningfully in classical ensembles sooner (Suzuki students may develop an advantage with folk music that is passed on without writing).

        In our experience switching from Suzuki to traditional methods, it is clear to me that my son learned more in one year at the conservatory than he did in three years of the Suzuki method (taught principally by an instructor who studied with Suzuki in Japan). My son likes his lessons more, he likes his peers more, he likes his practice more, and it is more pleasant to listen to him play, especially at recitals. Part of this is having a more serious and reliable teacher (and a more serious school), but part of it is also the change in focus in his studies. As a result of this change, he has better opportunities to participate now in the world of classical music and a higher likelihood of continuing to be a musician for life. This is not to say that these things don’t happen with the Suzuki method; it’s just that, after early childhood the Suzuki method as compared to the traditional method may be more of a hindrance than a help.

        • Penelope Trunk
          Penelope Trunk says:

          Thank you for sharing so much of your experience. I think probably the teacher matters a lot more than the system. But regardless what I really want to say is that I love when you guys add links to comments – I love links. I don’t automatically moderate comments with links.


          • Commenter
            Commenter says:

            I agree that the teacher probably matters more than the method. The corollary of that is that what you really like is not the Suzuki method but a great teacher at a stable institution. And if a teacher is great why wouldn’t s/he want to work at a stable institution? So that’s where you tend to find them. Not working out of attics filled with cats. Not in peeling walkup railroad flats or strip malls between kids’ karate studios and sandwich shops. Not pinned on bulletin boards next to snow shovelers and dog walkers.

            I found one out of the five Suzuki trained teachers my son studied with was great. She left four months in to take an orchestra gig, and why shouldn’t she? I found one out of one traditional method teachers he had at conservatory prep to be great. And he’s not going anywhere because he’s already at the top. When it’s my daughter’s turn you know where she’s going. If I were to give advice to someone else I’d say find the best, most established musical institution near you and go there.

            Suzuki is a good method to use with children too young to learn in the traditional fashion. Stuck to too long, it impairs their development. You have found a great teacher at a reputable institution, and as your child gets older he will play less and less from the Suzuki books and study more and more outside the method, until that’s not a word that occurs anymore.

            Right now my son is garage banding Bartok duets with himself, and it sounds great. I think one of the silliest things about the Suzuki empire’s dogma is the myth that the traditional method is more boring for children. It has been wonderful to see my son blossom musically once freed from the strictures of the Suzuki sequence.

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          This was a thoughtful and thorough response. When I was researching methods (suzuki vs traditional) that was my conclusion as well.

          Of course piano is very different than cello or violin, in that you use both the left and right hands to play notes. I love hearing my oldest make her own music and writing down the notes and the times, our teacher quickly corrects fingering and tone and time. And she goes through books really fast the teacher always acts surprised. My middle can’t even start traditional until she is 5 1/2, and she can read at a 2nd grade level, it’s her finger dexterity at the age of 4…

          Like Penelope said, a good teacher makes all the difference as well. I love our teacher, she is very picky with students she takes, she comes to our home, and she has a great relationship with my oldest. We do two recitals a year. We’re starting voice lessons this month. Another difference on our side is that we’re not going the classical route, we’re going singer/songwriter route.

      • Bob
        Bob says:

        Exactly. My child was part of a major metro youth orchestra (auditions required) and the number of Suzuki parents wailing that little Johnny was placed in a lower orchestra than they deserved was astounding. The directors held firm….these kids may have some skill in playing their instrument, but they have never participated in an orchestra and are simply not prepared. On the other hand, the kids who have been in the *public school* orchestra program (ours starts in elementary school) have the same skills AND have learned how to participate in an actual orchestra. What matters is the passion for learning and acquiring music theory….not the method.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Yeah. I think that’s true. I’m not sure it’s bad. I like labels – I think they help us self-sort and organize the world in our heads. Labels appeal to the black-and-white thinker in me. But I’m not sure anyone fits into a label perfectly. So it’s a double-edged sword.


    • Mark W.
      Mark W. says:

      I’m an individualist … even though I made it through all kinds of school. :)
      Also, while I’m here, the correct spelling of Dillitantism (in #2) is Dilettantism. *Picking the fly shit out of the pepper.*

  2. Daphne Gray-Grant
    Daphne Gray-Grant says:

    I so agree with everything you say today. But here is one point you forgot. Let’s call it #9: It teaches kids how to fail.

    This is just as important as accomplishment and, arguably, more useful training for the rest of life. When you can’t play a bar of music correctly the first time, or even the 100th time, you learn you have to keep working at it. This teaches you that failure is temporary and overcome-able.

    I can’t think of a more valuable lesson. Especially for entrepreneurs.

    • mh
      mh says:

      DG-G — teaching kids how to fail is an excellent point. Coping with failure is one of the hallmarks of character.

  3. wendeeB
    wendeeB says:

    Thank you so much for this today. We’re a Minecraft family too. My 7 y/o has an uncanny ability to add by 64 :)

    I really needed to read and remember this. Though I don’t think I could ever unschool, I 100% agree with the “only can work hard on limited few things.” BINGO!

    I fail because I want 100% focus and dedication to Math=Grammar=Science etc. They’d be happy doing science and grammar all day. What you wrote makes so much sense.

    This too: That’s why people who are very hands-on parents can’t hold down a job. That’s me. I had my two bachelors degrees, and my masters degree and I knew the second my 1st son was born that being a mommy was going to be my life. Dedicating myself 100% to helping them be the best people they can be is apparently what I was put here for. It’s very very nice to see it in writing. xoxox Wendee

    • Melissa
      Melissa says:

      I learned to speak Italian as an adult. My best teacher was television, Italian television. Especially the commercials.

      Their repetitious nature and clear messaging was exactly what I needed. And it’s really easy to zone out in front of the TV on a daily basis.

      I also made sure to watch “Chi Vuole Essere Un Millionario” (Who Wants to Be a Millionaire) everyday with my dictionary next to me. I learned idioms from the lower tier questions (always the hardest for me).

      And I felt like a genius when I could easily answer the higher tier questions, after frantically looking up vocabulary in the dictionary.

      I had a grammar workbook that I would flip through from time to time. I picked up on tricky grammatical concepts much faster when I studied them on a need-to-know-basis, rather than in a steady progression.

      Obviously, the fastest way to learn a language is through immersion. But there are lots of reasons why that isn’t practical. TV really is the next best thing.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        Thank you for pointing this out. I love T.V., I learn a lot from shows. Comedic timing, current trends, I follow the stock market, and I love musicals and documentaries. I don’t know why T.V. keeps getting bashed by all the groups.

        When my father immigrated from Europe he couldn’t speak any English, he learned how to speak and understand English by watching TV, Gilligan’s Island and Batman specifically… learning language this way is fascinating! How he learned to read and write English I’ll have to find out, it couldn’t have been easy….

  4. sheela
    sheela says:

    So, in your family’s case it is music, but the compulsion part, that one exception to the unschooling rule, the one subject you make your children pursue with commitment and focus is the important part?

    I love Italian, it was the only subject in college that I was motivated to work at, because I wanted to live in Italy. Should I compel my daughter to study Rosetta Stone Italian every day for an hour? It’s not like I can bring her to an Italian conversation group in my little town, like you can bring your son to Suzuki recitals (which I was also raised with, but the method utterly failed with me and the only tune I can play today is Twist and Shout…..it was the only song I chose to learn myself….not the method’s fault, methinks, entirely, mostly a disconnect between my overbearing mom and me)

    The Italian issue is not a rhetorical question- I asked myself this yesterday, when she expressed an interest in taking it up again after a lapse of 2 months. What to do??

    • Gretchen
      Gretchen says:

      Well, actually she can’t bring her son to “Suzuki” stuff in her small little town either…she travels back and forth 8 hours a couple times a week! At least with the Italian, you can converse with your kid….but I think the point is we’re supposed to be letting them find their own passion? (at least in the home/unschool mentality?) Also, I know she has all these links to back up this insane specialization at younger and younger ages (?) but my gut tells me that primary grades are time to explore…

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        The suzuki org website shows several suzuki teachers near her area that go through book 4. I don’t think that being suzuki is her only requirement for her sons. Although I remember a post about her older sons violin teacher from a year or so ago and how great she was with his aspergers. I assumed she was local.

  5. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    This one is a little misleading.

    In any case, my oldest plays piano and we do the traditional method. She practices two hours a day and I have to yell at her to stop playing. I have never asked her to practice, or reminded her to do theory or anything else. When I’m working with my other kids I can hear when her fingering is off and yell from my room to start again. I mean, if she’s gonna practice then I will listen, but I’m not a tiger mom or whatever they are.

    All I ask from my kids is that if they are going to do something, even if they aren’t the best, to do it with the best of their ability and that will make me happy. Of course, they want to try everything under the sun until they find that one thing that they are special at, which always comes back to math and physics. There is a musical component to math and physics I’ve been told…

  6. gordana dragicevic
    gordana dragicevic says:

    Math is also a possible second language. Personally i sometimes wish it was the first, because there are no social nuances ;)
    But having said that, music is a lot like math and good musicians tend to understand math intuitively, even without taking classes. Actually music is how math sounds, just as visual arts are what math looks like. Even ancients knew that, but we tend to forget…

    I know nothing of Suzuki method so i’m not going to comment on 6 and 7, but as for the rest – thank you for so many truths in one average sized blog post!

    • MBL
      MBL says:

      This reminds me of vihart’s What is up with the noises?
      It’s not my favorite of her videos, but I still like it.

    • Gretchen
      Gretchen says:

      Math is great…music is great…but I don’t think they fire off the same things in the brain as a true second language. People really stretch things to be what they want them to be…

      • gordana dragicevic
        gordana dragicevic says:

        from what i remember of leafing through neuroscience books (was a long time now, but too interesting a fact to forget), music processing in the brain actually fires off pretty much the same areas of the right hemisphere that the language processing fires off in the left hemisphere.

        but both math and music go beyond learning a “real” second language – language is processed predominantly in the left hemisphere, whereas to produce good math or good music one needs to use both hemispheres equally. this is more difficult and more complex to learn, and i’d dare say more worthwhile to the kids down the line.

      • Gretchen
        Gretchen says:

        You say same, but right not left…so…what I said…not the same. I didn’t say what was more or less valuable. I am countering the assertion that music is a substitute for language learning. Why not do it all? Or…none at all…or…only if the kid is interested, after all, they are supposed to be self-directing, no?

        • gordana dragicevic
          gordana dragicevic says:

          Gretchen, nobody said music was a substitute for language learning – my comments were about music being equally (or possibly more) valuable in terms of child brain development and subsequently, in terms of acquiring new knowledge and skills, languages included, later on.
          actually it is a shame not to expose children to another language while they are young since before the age of 13 or so we learn a second language (or no matter how many languages) effortlessly, the way we learn our first – and it is not nearly as much work as learning music. afterwards it gets more difficult…
          if my personal story means anything, i was doing maths and music (and enjoyed them both) much before i started learning another language at school (English – at the age of 10 or so), but it was not a problem – by my early twenties i was reasonably fluent in 6… from mine and other people’s experience i’d say languages are much easier for little kids to learn and we should definitely give them the opportunity to do so, but math and music are without doubt more fundamental.

    • mh
      mh says:

      I think it’s fascinating that math is a universal language.

      Why isn’t the universe random? Why should the universe run on math? But it does.

  7. Marie-Eve B.
    Marie-Eve B. says:

    If it’s free will like it seems, the method is great. Any method that fits our needs can work with unschooling. And I like what you say about only becoming experts at some things, because of the hours needed to be so, of our talents, and personality types.

    I just wanted to add there’s a way to be great, to learn by yourself, and to get the expert/books yourself, as I believe you did with beach volley and I did myself with mixed martial arts, and I’m learning with electric guitar.

    I think that the best way to be motivated is by yourself, for me at least, when I was pushed to learn I got injured or bored.

    The leader of the unschooling movement taught himself to play well cello, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Never_Too_Late:_My_Musical_Life_Story. What I read about it was very interesting, he found effective ways to learn by himself.

  8. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    All this driving to Chicago for music lessons reminded me of the time my middle child wanted to be an actress. She got an audition and was cast in this Disney short program (before it was cancelled and never aired) and that required me to drive 6 hours to Los Angeles one way. In my mind I justified the driving because it was something she wanted to do and I was going to make it happen for her. My husband humored me, but the driving back and forth, memorizing lines, and staying in hotels got old really fast. I decided to get her into local theater instead. It’s not Los Angeles, it’s not Hollywood or Disney, but she still gets to do what she wants for now, and it’s a lot less driving. She’s happy. She still has that outlet. She’s still getting the tools that she needs to be better. When she’s older she can make her own decisions to make it a full time thing.

  9. mh
    mh says:

    Sensing a trend in the last couple of posts here…

    video games and musical instruments are both things that you “play” – in these two areas, grown-ups actively call learning “play.” And kids do astoundingly well at them — at playing.

    Other things kids play are “house” and “war” and “LEGO” — the super creative, spontaneous things kids do, we call play.

    There was a sci-fi book about teaching kids leadership through play — called “Ender’s Game.” I haven’t thought about it in years, but reading Penelope’s recent posts brought it back to me.

    Must think of ways to make unstructured learning more like play.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Ha! I was thinking this same thing. Other types of games/learning, monopoly, chess, risk, heck even memory…. Settlers of catan … I learned a lot about economics from monopoly, strategy and anticipating opponents moves in chess….

    • MBL
      MBL says:

      “lalalalala” I’m going to pretend I didn’t read anything here.

      I requested “Ender’s Game” from the library a couple of days ago…

  10. Melita
    Melita says:

    My kids have a second language and they are doing music – piano and choir. Their school report cards are pretty terrible. I tell them it doesn’t matter. My younger daughter agrees, but my older daughter thinks it means she’s dumb. She talks about the “smart” kids. Someone has approached me to start an unschool – a place where where about 10 kids can attend. They have offered to financially back it, and I said yes immediately, but now I don’t know. I am thinking about what that would mean. This blog is helping me to work it out, thanks.

  11. CeeBee
    CeeBee says:

    As someone who studied music in college with big aspirations to be a professional singer and also as someone with friends of varying degrees of musical success from Grammy award winners to college professors to DMAs with home studios, I honestly want to say that the biggest contribution you can make to your son becoming a successful professional cellist will have a lot more to do with how big your pocket book is compared to sitting along side him and practicing. Someday he will need to do that without you and I don’t think he is too young to start. Most of his peers are putting in those long hours already without a parent in the room and are putting in longer hours. But things he will need as a young adult that will strangle his musicianship will be affording life in general: college/conservatory tuition, summer camp/program tuition, extra teachers, extra funds to go to different competitions all over the world, daily living expenses, brand new cellos, paying for him to live while he goes to grad school or tries to make on his own after his four year studies are over.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Hi, CeeBee. The one who could be a professional musician is eight. His current teacher would take him right now if I were not helping him practice.

      But I really have been thinking a lot about the money stuff. There was an article in USA Today about how many parents of Olympic medalists go bankrupt. And there’s an article in the Atlantic about how child prodigies have one thing in a common: a parent dedicating themselves to that development – which is, of course even more costly than a $20K cello.

      So I think that for most arenas, spending a ton of money on the kid might go hand-in-hand with the kid doing something amazing while they are very young.


      • CeeBee
        CeeBee says:

        My apologies. I was thinking it was the 11 year old that was playing cello. That is crazy about Olympian parents going bankrupt. I think I seem to remember you linking to an article over on your regular blog that mentioned how hard it is to be a professional athlete who isn’t big enough to get endorsements. I’m not sure it’s as dire for a musician because there are tons of types of work they can do that don’t revolve around finishing first place just to get paid. I will say that having a parent who understands who their child should be studying with is very important, but not as important as the money. Money can eventually fix previous insufficient teachers with outstanding new ones, and it can provide a more relaxed life while struggling to make it without having to keep a 9-5 to pay the bills/student loans. That always kills it. What is impressive is that musicians never come out of undergrad with any kind of business courses on how to sell themselves as a product while they’re waiting to make it big.

  12. Kathy Donchak
    Kathy Donchak says:

    I have read many of the Suzuki philosophy books, and taught students that began in Suzuki. I think the North American Suzuki tends to do what America’s do with many things, which can be to get away from its foundation which I completely believe in. If you understand the gentle simplicity of the method, you would want it for your child, but the studio and the teacher matters here more than ever. My Suzuki students played very well and with emotion. I think it is a wonderful foundation for the youngest players because they are playing well very early on. Music needs to be taught with foundational pieces first and that is why it is the same songs for every child. Where it is individualized is what each child brings to each piece. It is successful due to the required parent involvement and committment. As an adult I used the method to teach myself guitar, and I enjoyed the process of listening and feeling much more than traditional piano. The Suzuki method is similar to how choral music is taught. You listen, and move with the rhythm, then play. I understand why you enjoy it Penelope.

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