18 June 2013, by Tan Yi Lin

Starting with Suzuki

Coco and Claire have been attending Saturday music classes for a few weeks now.

I can almost see my readers’ eyeballs widen now. What?! Music lessons for a 21-month old and a two-month old?

So kiasu for what?

Well, hear me out first.

For one, it’s music – not math! We’re not in pursuit of academic excellence or trying to build a couple of geniuses here.

Nor are  we pressing the girls to pick up a classical musical instrument so early on, although I would like them to be able to play and master one at some point in their childhood.

As a child, I studied music through organ and piano music programmes at Yamaha. On hindsight, I felt that the school focused mainly on teaching notation (how to read sheet music) and theory, and playing song after song in music books – without fully mastering any of them – for the sake of ‘finishing’ each level on schedule.
Even with private piano lessons at home, the focus was on honing three yearly exam pieces. We would spend only fifteen minutes at the end of each session actually listening to pitch, timing and rhythm – only because there was an examinable aural section. I really sucked at keeping time, and identifying keys, chords and intervals. To date, I feel that I’ve never really understood or mastered music and can only play pieces with the aid of a score sheet. I’ve always been in awe of people who can play by memory, or by simply just listening to a piece of music and expressing it through an instrument. There’s a piano sitting at home which NOBODY plays. EVER.
I don’t want my children to learn music the way I did. If there was a better, more meaningful and enjoyable method of nurturing a lifelong love for music and the ability to make music, I was ready to embrace it.
This is why I was attracted by the learning principles set out by Nurtured By Love, a music school that teaches music using the Suzuki Method.
Who…zuki? 

Dr Shinichi Suzuki was born in Nagoya, Japan, in 1898. He developed an approach to music education from observing the way children learned to speak their mother tongue from a very young age. He believed that all children have ability and that their potential for learning is unlimited if they are given the same nurturing conditions in which they learn to speak from birth.

In other words: cultural talent, such as the ability to speak a language or learn music, is not innate. No child is born with musical talent. The ability to make music is not genetic nor hereditary. The contrary also holds true: no child is born tone-deaf or without the ability to learn music. Musical ability is the result of nurturing the child in a musical environment. When a child displays a superior skill – often described as ‘talent’ – it is because he was raised in, not just a normal environment, but one of musical excellence.

The Suzuki Method

The Suzuki Method of teaching music to young children is often referred to as the Mother Tongue Method because the teaching strategies are founded on creating the same conditions in which a baby learns to speak – beginning early, with plenty of repetition, surrounded by a familiar environment of love and encouragement where parents are the child’s first, most important teachers.

The Suzuki Method is not just the teaching of music to children. It is a combination of musical, social, spiritual and emotional development education.

In other words: ‘life education’. It aims to enrich the lives of children by developing the whole child through the medium of music. It is a method that helps to develop a loving, balanced, confident and happy child.

Now, which parent wouldn’t want all that and more for their child?

The Suzuki Early Childhood Education (SECE) Programme
With that in mind, I brought Coco for a trial session for the SECE programme. As the name of the programme suggests, the students in the class are very young, ranging from two months to four years old. The goal of the programme is to develop the musician within each child as if it were a first language – by ‘absorbing’ ability from their environment.
The SECE curriculum is very simple: well-known children’s songs and nursery rhymes, such as Wee Willie Winkie, Six Little Ducks and Pop Goes The Weasel, are repeated week after week. As the students become more familiar with the songs and rhymes, simple tasks are layered on, such as clapping to the beat, hand actions, or striking a musical instrument at a specific time during the song or rhyme.
Donning cat ears while reciting Pussy Cat, Pussy Cat

Donning cat ears while reciting Pussy Cat, Pussy Cat

Coco learning about music tones on the xylophone

Coco learning about musical tones on the xylophone

The eensy weensy spider climbs up the water spout...

The eensy weensy spider climbs up the water spout…

Inverting the 'rain stick' to make the sound of rain coming down that washed the spider out

Inverting the ‘rain stick’ to make the sound of rain coming down that washed the spider out

Just like how every new word mastered is an achievement to be celebrated, every skill performed correctly, such as beating the drum to a steady beat, is a milestone reached. Progress may seem slow, even invisible at times, and much repetition is required – just like how a child learns to speak. In time to come, the students may pick up a musical instrument and learn to read written music.
Coco keeping a steady beat on the lollipop drum

Coco keeping a steady beat on the lollipop drum

Claire gets some help from daddy to rock the shaker to the beat of the song

Claire gets some help from daddy to rock the shaker to the beat of the song

With regard to developing musical ability, the merits of the SECE programme are clear:
– Speech acquisition
– Singing in tune
– Rhythmic awareness
– Sensitivity
– Good coordination
– Comprehension of language and stories
– Creativity
– Confidence
– Memory skills
And… off she goes again
Now, it isn’t easy getting a bunch of toddlers to concentrate and cooperate with the teacher and one another for a full 45 minutes. They all have super short attention spans and much effort is needed on the part of the parents to get them excited about each activity and to draw their attention back to class. It’s incredibly tiring! Coco, in particular, is a bit of a joker and thinks it’s hilarious to lie right in the middle of the circle and pretend to sleep, or stick her butt up in downward dog position. I guess that passes off as showing creativity.
Which is why I hope that the SECE programme will help to build focus and discipline through skill sets such as:
– Listening skills
– Desire and readiness for learning
– Ability to concentrate for long periods of time
– Other simple but important things such as acting on an instruction, waiting for your turn and showing appreciation for other students’ efforts through applause.
Success breeds success
It’s clear to us that Coco enjoys every session and her confidence grows week on week. It’s wonderful watching her discover new abilities, like how her face lit up and beamed with pride when she was praised for keeping a steady beat on the drum without assistance from the teacher. While she’s always the first to step up to play the musical instruments, she’s learning how to master patience by waiting her turn, and how to clap for other kids. Even Claire, at just two months, shows interest in the appearance of the musical instruments and the sounds that each one emits, as well as what the older students are doing.
It’s beautiful watching them grow and progress.

While I can’t say for sure that my daughters will turn out to be accomplished musicians, I am assured that an early introduction to music will help them to cultivate an appreciation and love for music and for other people, which will in turn bring them joy and success beyond just learning to play a musical instrument alone.

“If a child is brought up to have a beautiful heart and wonderful abilities, with love for others and the happiness of being loved, then the mission of a parent is ended. The way will open up for the child later. Parents do not need to worry whether or not their children will succeed.”
– Dr Shinichi Suzuki

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Posted on : June 18, 2013

Filed under : New Mums & Dads

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