Shinichi Suzuki; Started Music Classes for Toddlers

<i> From Times Staff and Wire Reports</i>

Shinichi Suzuki, who pioneered a method for teaching toddlers to play musical instruments the same way they learn to speak--through imitation and constant repetition--died Monday. He was 99.

Suzuki, whose approach popularized musical instruction for the very young, died of heart failure at his home in Matsumoto in central Japan, said Hiroko Yamada of Suzuki’s Talent Education Research Institute.

The Suzuki method--or mother tongue method, as Suzuki preferred to call it--is based on the concept that by listening and imitation, children can learn to speak any language--and play music--by the age of 3. Originally conceived for the violin, the method has been expanded to include piano and other instruments.


“More than 30 years ago, I realized that children everywhere speak their native languages with the utmost fluency,” Suzuki told The Times in 1966, when he brought his little orchestra, consisting of children ages 6 to 10, to Pasadena during a nationwide tour. “This linguistic ability is the result of a method which has been in continuous practice throughout human history. Why can’t they learn music the same way?”

Suzuki believed firmly that talent is taught rather than inherited and, with the right training, anyone could master music. One of his mottoes was: “A talent is not something given naturally, it is something you foster.”

Just as babies learn language through listening and repetition, first mastering syllables, then words and then sentences, Suzuki taught music in a series of small steps, combined with constant review and repetition. Great emphasis was placed on playing by ear; children were not taught to read music until they had been playing for several years.

Since the method was introduced in the 1950s, hundreds of thousands of young musicians have learned to play using the Suzuki method, performing on miniature violins and other instruments with remarkable precision.

Born the son of a violin manufacturer in 1898, Suzuki went to Germany in 1921 to study the violin under Karl Klingler. After returning from Germany in 1928, Suzuki began his career as a violinist with the Suzuki Quartet.

He joined the faculty of the Imperial Musical School in Tokyo in 1935 and taught at Kunitachi College of Music, Kyodo News said. Suzuki is survived by his wife, Waltraud, 94. He had no children.