Merit School of Music

Considering Suzuki Method Strings Classes or Lessons? Here’s Everything You Need to Know

A Suzuki Method student plays the cello and smiles

There’s a lot of buzz about the Suzuki Method for learning a string instrument. But is it right for your child? What’s the difference between Suzuki violin classes and Traditional violin instruction? And what is Merit School of Music’s Suzuki-Alegre Strings Program? 

You’ve come to the right place. Follow along as our music education specialists (some of the top Suzuki experts in Chicago) walk you through what you need to know when considering Suzuki strings classes or lessons for your kid or teen. 

1. What Is the Suzuki Method?

About the Suzuki Method 

The Suzuki Method, developed by Japanese violinist Dr. Shinichi Suzuki in the mid-20th century, is a renowned approach to music education that emphasizes early immersion and a nurturing learning environment.  

At its core, the method believes that all children possess the ability to learn music, much like they learn their native language. Through repetition, memorization, and positive reinforcement, students develop both musical skills and a love for music that can last a lifetime.  

The core components of the Suzuki Method include: 
  • Early immersion: Beginning music education at a young age. 
  • Parental involvement: As a parent, you attend classes and lessons with your child, providing support, and creating a nurturing environment at home. 
  • Repetition: Practice involves repeated exposure to pieces, gradually refining skills, and deepening understanding. 
  • Positive reinforcement: Encouragement and praise are integral to the learning process, promoting confidence and motivation. 
  • Community: Regular participation in group classes, fostering ensemble skills and a sense of community among students. Children are greatly influenced by their peers to stay motivated and to keep practicing! 
  • Suzuki repertoire: Sequence of pieces specifically chosen to develop technique and musicality progressively. There are set sheet music books for each instrument, with teachers supplementing the repertoire as needed.  
  • Performing: Opportunities for your child to showcase their progress through recitals, concerts, and other performances, enhancing confidence and stage presence. 
  • Skilled teachers: Instruction provided by qualified Suzuki-trained teachers who understand the method’s principles and tailor their approach to each student’s needs. 
  • Memorization & delayed sheet music reading: Delaying the introduction of sheet music reading until after students have developed a strong foundation in playing by ear and memorization, allowing them to focus on technique and musical expression. 

2. What’s the Difference Between Suzuki Method & Traditional Method?

Parents often know they want to sign their child up for violin classes or lessons, but they’re unsure if Suzuki or Traditional Method instruction is the right fit. What exactly is the difference between these two methods of strings instruction? 

The important thing to keep in mind is that it’s the pedagogical method that’s different. The content is largely the same. So, while a beginning Suzuki violin class and a beginning Traditional violin class might both be learning to play “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”, the teachers are employing different approaches to teach that repertoire.   

Check out the below table for a detailed comparison of the two methodologies. 

Side-by-side Comparison: Suzuki Method vs. Traditional Method 

Methodology Suzuki Method Traditional Method

Starting Age

  • 4 years and older 
  • Emphasis on starting at a young age
  • 5 years and older 
  • Can start training at various ages 

Learning Approach

  • Repetition 
  • Ear training 
  • Memorization 
  • Delayed sheet music reading 
  • Community as a core principle 
  • Learn to read sheet music from the beginning 
  • Group classes and ensembles provide community

Parental Involvement 

  • Parent attendance is required (up until a certain age) 
  • Parents serve as home teachers and actively participate in their child’s music education 
  • Parent attendance requirements depend on the school or teacher. At Merit, for instance, parent attendance is required (up until a certain age)
  • Parent involvement is encouraged, though it’s not typically as integral 

Teaching Philosophy

  • Teachers are required to be trained in Suzuki Method 
  • Emphasizes positive, nurturing environment that builds a child’s confidence, musicality, and love for music 
  • Teachers might be trained in Traditional Method, Suzuki Method, or both 
  • Emphasizes technical proficiency, music theory, and interpretation from a written score, though the environment should still be positive and supportive 

Repertoire

  • Standardized collection of pieces chosen to gradually develop specific technical and musical skills  
  • Mix of traditional folk songs, classical compositions, and Suzuki-specific pieces
  • Broader range of repertoire that varies depending on school, teacher, or student preferences 
  • Usually also contains a mix of traditional folk songs and classical compositions

As you can see, there are many similarities between Suzuki and Traditional Methods. In the end, it really comes down to what particular style is the best fit for your child, your family, and your musical goals.  

Here are a few questions to consider:
  • How important is it that my child learns to read music early on in their musical studies? How important is ear training?
  • How involved do I want to/can I be? Make sure to research how the school or teacher that you’re considering approaches parent involvement and community with both their Suzuki and Traditional programming. Some schools (including Merit School of Music) prioritize parent involvement and community regardless of the method.
  • Do I have a repertoire preference? Or is there a certain type of music that I think might motivate my child?
  • When learning, does my child respond best to a positive, nurturing environment or one that is more technically focused? Again, we recommend researching the teaching style employed by the school or teacher you’re considering. At a music school like Merit, all of our teachers cultivate a positive, nurturing environment while maintaining a rigorous (and fun!) curriculum.

Check out The Parent’s Guide to Music Classes & Lessons for more guidance on making the best choices for your music-loving child.  

3. What’s Special About Merit School of Music’s Suzuki-Alegre Strings Program in Chicago?

History of Suzuki-Alegre Strings 

At Merit School of Music in Chicago, we’re incredibly proud to be the home of the world’s only Suzuki-Alegre Strings Program. This renowned program fuses the Suzuki Method with a diverse array of music from Latinx culture.  

Why combine these two mediums? Founded in 1998 at one of Merit’s in-school music programs in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, the one-of-a-kind curriculum was built to celebrate the Latinx heritage of Pilsen and of the students in the program. Alegre means “joyful” in Spanish—so the program name says it all. Suzuki-Alegre classes, lessons, and ensembles are bursting with the joy of music and the joy of being part of a community. 

What Makes Suzuki-Alegre Strings Special  

Today, the rich cultural Suzuki-Alegre programming continues to reflect the diversity of the city of Chicago and of Merit’s student body. Suzuki-Alegre Strings engages hundreds of students, both at Merit’s West Loop music center and at multiple community sites across the Pilsen, Little Village, and Brighton Park neighborhoods through Comunidad de Alegre Strings, part of our Merit Music in Communities (MMiC) program. Every year, 300+ students of all ages from the Suzuki-Alegre Strings Program perform together on one stage as part of Stringtacular, a vibrant, joyful performance event. 

Tenets of the Suzuki-Alegre Strings Program include community, ensemble performance, and parent involvement. Suzuki-Alegre students have performed at the opening of the National Museum of Mexican Art, played for President Vicente Fox of Mexico, toured Japan, and made several television appearances. 

When signing up your child for Suzuki-Alegre programming, you’re joining a thriving community of music students and parents, many of whom have been in the program for years. In order to support student engagement and growth, parent attendance is required at all group classes and private lessons for students under the age of 10. For students 11 years and older, teachers and parents will discuss if it makes sense for parent attendance to continue. All group class students are also required to enroll in private lessons—a requirement that reinforces concepts learned in classes and ensures students receive the one-on-one support they need to progress. All group class students are also required to enroll in private lessons—a requirement that reinforces concepts learned in classes and ensures students receive the one-on-one support they need to progress. This pairing of classes and lessons is proven to have outstanding results for young string players.

The final key ingredient to the Suzuki-Alegre Strings Program is the belief in every child’s innate ability to learn, perform, and succeed. 

Merit’s Suzuki-Alegre Program Offering 

The below tables break down the specifics of Merit’s Suzuki-Alegre Program offering.  

You can also: 

Merit’s Strings Offering: Suzuki-Alegre Strings vs. Traditional Strings

Methodology Suzuki-Alegre Strings Traditional Strings

Type of Instruction & Ages

  • Private lessons: 4 years and older 
  • Group classes: 6–15 years 
  • Ensembles & Conservatory: 10–18 years (Intermediate advanced students) 
  • Private lessons: 5 years and older 
  • Group classes: 6–15 years 
  • Ensembles & Conservatory: 10–18 years (Intermediate advanced students)

Instruments

  • Violin 
  • Cello 
  • Viola
  • Violin 
  • Cello 
  • Viola 
  • Bass 

Experience Levels

Beginners – advanced 

Beginners – advanced 

Private Lessons Required?

Yes

No

Parent Attendance Required?

Yes, for 10 years and younger. For students 11 years and older, parent participation requirements are determined by teachers

Yes, for 10 years and younger. For students 11 years and older, parent participation requirements are determined by teachers

Repertoire

  • Standardized collection of pieces chosen to gradually develop specific technical and musical skills  
  • Mix of traditional folk songs, classical compositions, and Suzuki-specific pieces 
  • Broader range of repertoire that varies depending on teacher or student preferences 
  • Usually also contains a mix of traditional folk songs and classical compositions 

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