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The Suzuki method is influenced by the violinist Suzuki's observations of how children learn to speak their mother tongue. Some of the characteristics of the method are

  • learning music by ear is emphasized over reading musical notation
  • increasing the difficulty in small steps
  • regular playing in groups
  • retaining and reviewing every piece of music ever learned on a regular basis
  • frequent public performance
  • discouraging competitive attitudes
  • emphasis on baroque music

The motivations behind the techniques seem plausible, and it's easy to find supporting anecdotes. However, are there any studies that actually confirm the efficiency of these techniques compared to other techniques?

Is the Suzuki method "better" than other methods?

Edit: For any plausible definition of "better".

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    Please define what you mean by "better". More graduates going into professional music? Better reviews of performances? It's very difficult to evaluate this as a claim against other methods when the criteria is only "better". Still an interesting question. – Larian LeQuella Oct 14 '11 at 20:15
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    Leaving aside "regular playing in groups" and "learning by ear", every other step is pretty much how MOST kids learn music where I grew up (that was the method in Soviet music schools). Not sure about the rest of the world. – user5341 Oct 15 '11 at 0:18
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    As far as "learning by ear", my personal observation is that more musically talented kids always start by that method, and therefore it may be more of a correlation than causation even if it is true. – user5341 Oct 15 '11 at 0:21
  • @LarianLeQuella: You are absolutely correct. The last sentence is a bit tongue-in-cheek, that's why the quote marks are there. There are several different benchmarks, and I don't want to narrow down the options. Basically I want to know if there is any research done at all. – Zano Oct 15 '11 at 12:16
  • @DVK I played from the sheet, but usually after listening to how the piece was supposed to sound, being played by some professional band on a CD. Are you saying that you didn't learn any musical notation? – Mateen Ulhaq Jan 30 '12 at 2:11
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There is a Ph.D. thesis on this topic, written by Marian Newsome Moorhead in 2005, titled "The Suzuki Method: A comparative analysis of the perceptual/cognitive listening development in third grade students trained in the Suzuki, traditional, and modified Suzuki music methods."

Basically, a bunch of students taught in the Suzuki (which emphasizes rote learning over theory) and some other methods were asked to complete specific musical games. Their performance was then analyzed and compared. The Suzuki students did the same or less well overall compared to some of the other groups. The author tentatively suggests that "cognitive scaffolding" (music theory and such as absent in the Suzuki method) is important for early music acquisition, concluding that:

Although nonsignificant when compared to Suzuki and Crossover samples, Traditional students had the highest means on three of the five Games. It is possible that by this age, the note reading training provided for Traditional students for longer lengths of time may give these students an edge on cognitive understanding and its application to music listening. However, it would take additional research to support that possibility.

This generally coincides with research on second-language acquisition (which is in some way similar to learning music). The pragmatic consensus is that theory and practice are both important in acquiring new skills.

  • Interesting. The paper is behind a paywall though. Do you have any selected quotes you could include here? – Zano Mar 14 '13 at 9:20
  • I added a quote, but as you can see the conclusions are somewhat speculative. At the very least, we know that the Suzuki people don't do better than others. – denten Mar 14 '13 at 18:04
  • The group without private tutors did the worst in this study, highlighting perhaps that the method is not as important as the time spent and the motivation. – denten Mar 14 '13 at 18:07

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