What is the difference between Traditional and Suzuki lessons?

One of the most frequently asked questions is whether a student should take Traditional or Suzuki lessons, and what exactly the difference is between these two methods. Although the following points give a brief overview, it is important to keep in mind that there is a wide range of differences from one teacher to the next within each method. Many traditional teachers incorporate Suzuki concepts into their teaching, and the Suzuki method is often modifed in practice.

The most striking difference between the two approaches is the fact that the Suzuki method involves the parent 100% of the time, which enables students to start lessons at a much earlier age than traditional lessons taken without parent supervision.
A student may start as young as 4 with a certifed Suzuki teacher.

The Parent-Teacher-Student Triangle

In both Suzuki and Traditional methods, the role of the parent or caregiver is crucial to the success of the student. The parent’s role is much more intensive in the Suzuki method, however. The parent is expected to attend every lesson and take notes. They become the “home teacher” and are expected to actively participate in their child’s practice, reinforcing concepts learned in the lessons.

In traditional lessons, the parent may or may not watch the lessons, depending on each situation. The parent’s role is to provide an adequate practice environment with good lighting, free of noise and distractions, and to ensure that the practice takes place as scheduled according to the teacher’s guidelines. They should make sure the student arrives to his or her lesson on time, has all books and materials, and is picked up on time. Parent responsibilities beyond these vary greatly from teacher to teacher depending on the age, goals, and personality of each individual student.

Listening To and Reading Music

Suzuki method emphasizes watching and listening frst, following the philosophy that children learn to play music through immersion in the same manner they acquire language and other skills – music is frst and foremost about sound. Children learn to say new words only after they have heard them spoken hundreds of times. In the same way, it is essential that children listen to recordings of the pieces many times and become thoroughly familiar with them in order to play them beautifully.

Note reading is introduced after students learn to play, just as they learn to read after learning to speak.

Since traditional teachers usually start a student at age 6 or later, note reading is typically introduced much sooner, often at the same time they are learning to play. It is worthwhile to note that the Suzuki method has proven to be effective with any age student, and many traditional teachers incorporate the Suzuki model of listening and watching frst into their traditional teaching. Many traditional teachers use the Suzuki repertoire books as well, since they contain classic standard literature and are sequenced to develop musical and technical skills.

Group Setting

An important element of the Suzuki method is a group lesson component. Students learn by watching each other in a cooperative setting. There is a wide variety from teacher to teacher regarding the frequency and exact format of group lessons —some have weekly group classes in addition to private lessons, and some include group classes monthly or on a less frequent schedule. In general, Suzuki group classes are meant to be fun, interactive sessions where students develop friendships as well as polish musical skills. Classes may include musical games, theory, and performing for one another, for example, and always are presented in a relaxed environment where students leave with a sense of accomplishment and joy.

Traditional lessons are typically one-on-one private lessons only. Although students are often encouraged to join ensembles and orchestras as they become more advanced, there is no expectation of group instruction as part of the curriculum.

Suzuki Philosophy

Suzuki teaching is based on a philosophy of respect for the child. Dr. Suzuki has said talent is not inherited, and the potential of every child is unlimited. All children are respected as unique human beings, and they are capable of developing their musical abilities as well as they develop their linguistic abilities. Dr. Suzuki’s main goals are for the child to build a noble soul, to develop an appreciation of beauty, to give a sense of purpose to life, to learn the discipline of acquiring a skill and to become a fne human being. Dr. Suzuki called it Talent Education. He believed that with the proper education and environment, every child can learn. Talent can be learned, ability can be developed, and just as each child learns to speak his native language, he can learn a musical skill through the Mother Tongue approach. Here is an outline of the Suzuki Method concepts.

  • Environment nurtures growth
  • Every child can learn
  • Parental involvement is critical
  • Children learn from one another
  • Success breeds success
  • Encouragement is essential Ability develops early

Suzuki Method (Instrumental Lessons)

The following information is from the Suzuki Association of Americas. To learn more, visit their website: suzukiassociation.org

Every Child Can Learn

More than fifty years ago, Japanese violinist Shinichi Suzuki realized the implications of the fact that children the world over learn to speak their native language with ease. He began to apply the basic principles of language acquisition to the learning of music, and called his method the mother-tongue approach. The ideas of parent responsibility, loving encouragement, constant repetition, etc., are some of the special features of the Suzuki approach.

Parent Involvement

As when a child learns to speak, parents are involved in the musical learning of their child. They attend lessons with the child and serve as home teachers during the week. One parent often learns to play before the child, so that s/he understands what is expected from the child. Parents work with the teacher to create an enjoyable learning environment.

Early Beginning

Early years are crucial for developing mental processes and muscle coordination. Listening to music should begin at birth; formal training may begin at age three or four, but it is never too late to begin.


Children learn words after hearing them spoken hundreds of times by others. Listening to music every day is important, especially listening to pieces in the Suzuki repertoire so the child knows them immediately.


Constant repetition is essential in learning to play an instrument. Children do not learn a word or piece of music and then discard it. They add it to their vocabulary or repertoire, gradually using it in new and more sophisticated ways.


As with language, the child’s effort to learn an instrument should be met with sincere praise and encouragement. Each child learns at his/her own rate, building on small steps so that each one can be mastered. Children are also encouraged t support each other’s efforts, fostering an attitude of generosity and cooperation.

Learning with Other Children

In addition to private lessons, children should participate in regular group lessons and performance, at which they learn from and are motivated by each other.

Graded Repertoire

Children do not practice exercises to learn to speak, but use language for its natural purpose of communication and self-expression. Pieces in the Suzuki repertoire are designed to present technical problems to be learned in the context of the music rather than through dry technical exercises.

Delayed Reading

Children learn to read after their ability to speak has been well established. In the same way, children should develop basic technical competence on their instruments before learning to read music.