The Suzuki Triangle
Suzuki coined the term Triangle which represents the relationship between child, teacher, and parent that makes it possible for a child to play the violin well.
In January of 2013, just before I began to teach violin lessons in Cusco, Peru, for 6 months, I taught and attended workshops at the XXVIII International Festival in Lima, Peru. I studied Books One and Two with the Suzuki Teacher Trainer from Minnesota, Nancy Lokken. The first thing Ms. Lokken did was to draw a triangle on the board like this:
The Suzuki Triangle
The heavy black line of the initial stages of the Triangle, when the Child is very young, represents more communication, understanding, feedback, and dialogue between the parent and the teacher.
Even at home, when the teacher isn’t present, 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 much independent thinking on the part of the child.
Notice that there is a more even distribution of communication as the child ages between parent, teacher, and child. 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, still maintaining the dialogue with the teacher. The parent writes notes in class, asks questions at the end of a lesson, confides in practicing problems, shares in successes, and, of course, leads the home practice.
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.
Some parents have a tough time at this stage, and I can understand. Unfortunately, if this shift doesn’t happen, the “young adult” doesn’t feel he or she is part of the process. This age is tricky and so important.
Children around this age (each child is unique) 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 the 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. In his book Helping Parents Practice, Edmund Sprunger addresses this stage at length and gives parents excellent ways to handle home practice.
This really does happen!
To share an anecdote from an Atlanta area Suzuki teacher, Martha Yasuda: A 9-yr. old student asked her after a so-so performance at the student recital – “How do I get to sound better on the violin? I just don’t think I sounded that great like some of the others did.”
Mrs. Yasuda answered, “You probably won’t like my answer, but here it is–you need to follow better directions when I tell you to do things in lessons.” She reports they proceeded to fix all the posture problems they had been working on, and the child transformed completely right before her eyes. The child even commented: “I’m pretty sure my wrist is way too high.”
As Mrs. Yasuda says, “My most euphoric moment of maybe the past decade or more!”
The triangle has matured!
“If you put it off until some other time, you will never get it done, because ‘some other time’ has its own tasks…” Shinichi Suzuki