Shinichi Suzuki and Musical Talent: An Analysis of His Claims
Ebin, Zachary Israel
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The Suzuki Method is a popular and influential method of music education for strings. Central to this study is the Method’s premise that musical talent is not inborn, but rather cultivated through one’s environment. A critical reading of treatises by other influential violin pedagogues revealed that Suzuki’s premise was revolutionary. An analysis of Suzuki’s claims regarding musical talent showed that some of his claims are valid and some are unsubstantiated by current research. Suzuki’s argument that musical talent is not genetically inherited through a comparison to bird-song is flawed. In particular, important differences between bird song and human music suggest they are non-commensurate. From a story about children raised by wolves, Suzuki argued that human ability is a direct result of the environment and not an inborn predisposition. This story proved to be a fabrication, and while one’s environment clearly has an effect on development it is likely not as strong as Suzuki maintains. Suzuki argued that just as being right-handed or left-handed is a result of repetitive use of one hand, so too any skill can be trained through repetition. Though current research has failed to identify the cause of handedness, it has shown that, as Suzuki maintained, dexterity in the non-dominant hand is best trained through repetitive use of that hand, and in an environment with strong motivation to do so. Suzuki claimed that all children learn to speak as a result of their environment. Therefore, if we teach music in the same manner, all children should achieve equal mastery. This is only partially correct. Some children do not learn to speak even when the proper environment is in place. However, speech acquisition and music learning show a number of similarities, supporting Suzuki’s idea of using speech acquisition as a model for music education. Suzuki’s claim that tone-deafness is not an inborn condition, but rather is caused by a deficient musical environment has not been disproven. Indeed, research has provided support for Suzuki’s claim that intensive remedial training can rectify deficient musical perception. Through an examination of Suzuki’s foundational claims, this dissertation serves as a foundation for future Suzuki research.