Suzuki coined the term Triangle which represents the relationship between Child, Teacher, and Parent .
In January, 2013, before I taught violin in Cusco, Peru, for 6 months, I taught and attended workshops at the XXVIII International Festival in Lima, Peru. I studied Book One and Book Two with the Suzuki Teacher Trainer from Minnesota, Nancy Lokken. The first thing she did was to draw this on the board:
The letters represent Child, Teacher, and Parent. She kept coming back to this sketch during the week-long course, smiling and redrawing the Triangle.
The 1st Stage of the Triangle as explained by Ms. Lokken:
The heavy black line of initial stages of the Triangle, when the Child is very young, represents more communication, understanding, feedback, and dialogue between the Parent and the Teacher. The Child is really like a tail being wagged. He is along for the ride.
Even at home, when the Teacher isn’t there, the Parent is working with information and skills taught by the Teacher. Yes, there is communication between the Child and the Parent, but there is not a lot of independent thinking on the part of the Child.
The 2nd Stage of the Triangle
Notice that there is a more even distribution of communication as the Child ages and the Triangle matures in a healthy way. Even though these ages are approximate, it’s been my experience that children begin to take initiative and make decisions about their playing very early. However, the Parent is still completely involved. He or she writes notes in class, asks questions at the end of a lesson, confides in practice issues, shares in successes, and, of course, leads the home practice.
The 3rd Stage of the Triangle
Ages 11 and up
As the Child becomes more and more independent, the relationships begin to shift. The Child and Teacher eventually become the exclusive participants in lessons.
The Triangle Must Change
Some parents have a tough time at this stage, and I can understand. Unfortunately, if this shift doesnt happen, the “young Adult” doesn’t feel he or she is part of the process. This age is tricky, yet so important. C.S. Lewis wondered if adults merely rethink what they thought during the age of 11-14 (Surprised By Joy).
The Child must begin to take responsibility for what they like and don’t like about their playing. If they are to continue progressing meaningfully on the instrument, they must take more and more initiative and have more and more of an opinion about what they hear coming out of their instrument.
This means that the Parent must not only refrain from interacting with Teacher or Child during lessons, but Parents should also “let a lot of things go” at the home practice. Things that they used to be charged with attending to like playing in tune or using the correct bowings might need to be ignored. Interfering with the child’s blossoming responsibility to listen to himself will slow his development as a musician, and frustration will ensue. Edmund Sprunger, in his book Helping Parents Practice, addresses this stage at length and gives parents excellent ways to handle home practice.
The Child becomes the Adult in the Triangle
What we seek is the creation of an Adult of discipline. A person who has grit to work at something until he gets it, but also knows how to solve the problems along the way, so he doesn’t keep banging his head on the wall.
When Nancy described how the Triangle changed, I rethought the way I had perceived it. Now, my sense is that this Triangle is like a living organism. It is born with the first lesson, or perhaps even the first phone call or email I get. It grows and changes, it can be hurt, it can be nurtured, it can thrive, and it can die or be killed.
People go from infancy to childhood to adolescence to adulthood and what do they need? They need basic nutrition. Sure, an infant might need her carrots mashed up while an older child can just chomp into a raw carrot, no problem, but they really need the same basic nutrients. The Triangle does not take carrots or juice but begs to be fed this:
- Patience, Respect, Dignity, Mercy, Love, Kindness, Gentleness, Humility, Trust and Flexibility. (Can you name more?)
These are the nutrients of the Triangle. They might appear in different forms at different times to different people, but just like some people are vegetarians, they still need protein. That ain’t changing!
The stages of development MUST happen. Just as a plant must geminate and cannot do so faster than nature allows, neither can the Triangle be hurried. Also, just like a plant must get bigger and produce leaves and fruit, we cannot wish it to remain a tiny precious plant, or it will die. There’s a lot at stake. But the good news is that if we only do some basic maintenance, the Triangle kinda does what it’s meant to. Like a seed grows to a plant if only some ordinary care is given, so, too, the Triangle will grow!