Method to the music
Suzuki is the golden standard—but is it the only way to learn a string instrument?
I remember being five years old and trying to hide under the covers to avoid going to my Suzuki group lessons on Saturdays. Most little kids want to watch cartoons Saturday mornings, not tune up a violin and dig into a rousing rendition of “Lightly Row.” Yet I have to say it worked—I still love, play and read music years later. But is Suzuki the only option? Local instruction experts weigh in on what methods work best.
Violinist Shin’ichi Suzuki, who wanted to bring something beautiful to kids living in postwar Japan, developed the Suzuki method. This early musical immersion stresses direct parental involvement and treats music like learning a language—it happens with greater depth and ease if first heard by ear. It’s called “the ‘mother tongue’ approach, because it’s how we learn to speak,” explains Susanne Baker, director of the DePaul Community Music Division.
“Suzuki has that proven track record. It’s definitely going to work,” says Jamila Jones, communications director at the Sherwood Conservatory of Music. “And it doesn’t just teach a kid how to play as a soloist, but how to play with people. That type of methodology, if you start it at a young age, is never forgotten.”
Where to study
- DePaul Community Music (804 W Belden Ave, 773-325-7262; music.depaul.edu/cmd)
- Hyde Park Suzuki Institute (5500 S Woodlawn Ave, 773-643-1388; hydeparksuzuki.org)
- Merry Music Makers (3717 N Ravenswood Ave, suite 212, 773-929-4666, plus other locations; merrymusicmakers.com)
- Music Institute of Chicago (1490 Chicago Ave, Evanston, 847-905-1500, plus other locations; musicinst.org)
Other teachers espouse different approaches, often encouraging music literacy—reading the music off the pages, not learning the notes by ear—from the get-go. Luis Solares, founder of Bucktown Music Inc., argues that “just teaching Suzuki is too ear-based. We want our students to learn the songs they want to play, and be able to read music from the very first lesson.”
Where to study
- Bucktown Music Inc. (1890 N Milwaukee Ave, 773-904-7426; bucktownmusic.com)
- Old Town School of Folk Music (4544 N Lincoln Ave, 773-728-6000, plus other locations; oldtownschool.org)
- Guitar Chicago (150 N Michigan Ave, 312-863-8588; guitarchicago.com)
Some academies layer the principles of the Suzuki method, combining learning by ear with music literacy. They offer Suzuki-style weekly group lessons in addition to weekly private lessons. Others offer a choice of two different tracks—traditional or Suzuki.
“The best way to get started is with Suzuki training,” says John Teller, founder of Andersonville Suzuki Academy. “But I supplement, because the repetitive nature of listening to the Suzuki tapes is an awful lot for some families, so we’re flexible.”
Katya Nuques of the Suzuki-Orff School for Young Musicians says that the school combines the Suzuki method with the Orff practice: “It brings in Suzuki’s parental involvement, but adds Carl Orff’s belief that music is inside every child.” The Orff philosophy helps kids “to develop motor skills through music, movement and play, too.”
Where to study
- Merit School of Music (38 S Peoria St, 312-267-4489; meritmusic.org)
- Sherwood Conservatory of Music (1312 S Michigan Ave, 312-369-3100; sherwoodmusic.org)
- Andersonville Suzuki Academy (1502 W Edgewater Ave, 773-271-4406; andersonvillesuzuki.com)
- Suzuki-Orff School for Young Musicians (1148 W Chicago Ave, 312-738-2646; suzukiorff.org)