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  • Writer's pictureCatheryn Ferguson

Lessons from "Nurtured by Love"

Updated: Dec 3, 2021


Shinichi Suzuki’s book, Nurtured by Love, has taught me many lessons that have changed the way I approach music study, teach lessons, practice my instruments, and how I view music. I wanted to share my favorite lessons from his book, along with my thoughts on it. After reading this post, you may want to read it too – you can find it on Amazon using my affiliate link HERE.


At its core, the Suzuki Method embraces the idea that music is a language that anyone can learn by surrounding oneself with it and regularly practicing it. One is not simply born talented, rather it is nurtured by a supporting, intentional environment. How one practices is important, too; it is not merely about repeating something for hours on end.



Music is a language


You may have heard that music is a language. In fact, many Universities even accept Music Theory courses as language credit. Music is a language not limited to one culture, but as Longfellow said in 1835, “Music is the universal language of mankind.”[1] Harvard conducted a study on this claim and found a great deal of support backing this widely accepted claim. [2] Shaw takes it a step further in 1890 and says, “…though music be a universal language, it is spoken with all sorts of accents.”[3]


In the 1930’s, Suzuki came to the realization that, with or without intention, all children learn their mother tongue. They learn through observing, listening to others, and trying it themselves, on a regular, daily basis. For a young child, learning to speak is not a chore relegated to practice a few times a week; rather, it is a natural part of everyday life.


Suzuki poses the question, what if we treat music the same way? What if we surround children with music from a young age, making it part of our daily life? He put this into practice with his own students and the results were staggering.


Today we see the continued Suzuki Curriculum or Talent Education model reaping great success in hundreds of thousands of students.[4] I believe it’s not necessarily the particular method book one uses or school one attends. Success in music studies relies on the teaching approach and one’s mindset of receiving and applying musical instruction.



Surround yourself with music


How does one practically apply this model? It cannot be done solely by visiting a music teacher for 30 minutes once a week (though still beneficial as a student learns new skills/concepts, learns the mindset in how to approach music/practice, and is recalibrated/corrected on mistakes). Rather, setting up a positive learning environment at home is crucial! As Suzuki says, “What does not exist in the cultural environment will not develop in the child.” (pg. 14)


We all know that what you surround yourself with will shape who you are. You may have experienced a negative work environment that poisoned other parts of your life. Contrarily, you may have experienced a wonderful, uplifting work setting resulting in a sustainable and productive situation. Likewise, we know that the type of food we eat directly impacts our bodies and our overall health. Garbage in, garbage out.


When we consider those crucial years of development in children, it makes sense to create an intentional environment that helps them learn and grow. If you want creating music to be part of your or your families’ life and growth, you need to intentionally surround yourself with music, making it a regular part of the household whether it be listening to or playing an instrument.


It comes down to making intentional, small, daily decisions that will end up having a huge impact. This can be as simple as putting on a YouTube playlist in the background of various genres during playtime, singing or humming a particular song as part of your morning or nighttime routine, playing/practicing an instrument at home daily (even making it part of playtime), watching live performances in your community, and being a cheerleader for practice time. Parents have the opportunity to set the tone in the household and make a huge difference in a student’s success in studying music!



The preposterous idea of “having no talent”


Suzuki was a strong advocate for children, saying, “all children can be well educated.” [5] While most would think that a child simply does not have any musical talent, Suzuki’s method embraces the idea that, “his ability or talent simply has not been developed properly.”[6]


The debate of nature vs. nurture comes to the front of my mind as we consider this. While there is a balance between the two factors, skills can most certainly be nurtured to a certain level: whether that level is virtuoso or amateur depends on many controllable and uncontrollable factors (the student, their drive to learn, the teacher, home environment, time and effort put into it, how the student practices, etc.). The idea of nurture all comes back to repetition, “’Ease comes with training.’ We simply have to train and educate our ability, that is to say, do the thing over and over again until it feels natural, simple, and easy. That is the secret.”[7]



Repetition


Practice makes perfect, repetition is the mother of learning. Both these phrases come from the Latin proverb, “Repetitio est mater studiorum” and communicate the way to make a skill second nature is by rehearsing it over and over. Live, breathe, eat, and sleep the skill until it becomes part of you. Just as one meditates over Scripture or sayings, so a musician should repeat their music until they can truly feel and express through the song. This was the heart of Suzuki’s ideology on practicing. Music should be a repeated part of our everyday life.



How one practices


How one repeats is important: one does not efficiently learn by practicing the exact same way over and over. While we each tend to identify with a certain learning style (visual, auditory, or kinesthetic), it is important to practice music using all three. I have more to say on learning styles and practicing along with practical ways to do this, but I will put that in another blog post.


I tend to identify with the visual learning style and have learned, through the help of Suzuki as well as Professor Jensen[8], just how powerful learning and teaching kinesthetically is for the musician. Suzuki recounts his experience teaching a blind child how to play the violin[9]. At first, he was troubled by the student not being able to look at sheet music or physically see the instrument. After some time of pondering, he worked with the student on being able to “see” the violin by touching the bow, working to hold the bow with the right hand then touch the tip of the bow to the left hand, spatially knowing the size of the bow and where it lies within space. While the blind student was not able to learn via the visual learning style, they learned through kinesthetically knowing the feel and size of the instrument.


This is a skill I work on with all my seeing students, having them close their eyes and trusting their hands, trusting what we could visually confirm was happening kinesthetically with their hands would happen even when their eyes are closed. To my students’ surprise, they almost always can perform what I request perfectly eyes closed because they have internalized and kinesthetically know the music in their hands, ears, mind, and heart. I have Suzuki to thank for opening my eyes in embracing all learning styles for all students!



Memorable Quotes from Nurtured by Love


I have highlighted so many passages and folded the corner on so many pages of my book! Suzuki had a beautiful way with words that I wanted to share my favorite direct quotes from the book. I’ve referenced the page numbers at the end of each quote.

  • ““Talent is no accident of birth.” (pg. ix)

  • “We are born with natural ability to learn.” (pg. ix)

  • “Man is born without talent. People are what they are as a result of their own specific environments.” (pg. 10)

  • “What does not exist in the cultural environment will not develop in the child.” (pg. 14)

  • “You should stop wanting your child to become a professional, a good money earner. This thought is concealed in your question and is offensive. A person with a fine and pure heart will find happiness. The only concern for parents should be to bring up their children as noble human beings. That is sufficient. If this is not their greatest hope, in the end the child may take a road contrary to their expectations.” (pg. 15)

  • “Exertion is always beneficial as long as one is aware that it is goal oriented.” (pg. 36)

  • “Every child can be educated; it is only a matter of the method of education. Anyone can train himself; it is only a question of using the right kind of effort. Poor training produces poor ability.” (pg. 37)

  • “After one has learned a thing, it should be thoroughly mastered by repeating it again and again.” (pg. 37)

  • “’Your head and fingers are not working together, that’s all. If they don’t work in cooperation, your practice is no good…place your fingers slowly and carefully in the positions you want to reach fast. Repeat over and over again for three days. On the fourth day do it a little faster and continue for two more days. On the sixth day you should be able to do it fast without difficulty.’” (pg. 38)

  • “The habit of procrastination will influence a person’s fate throughout life. Developing ability depends on action and the directing of our attention to doing things.” (pg. 41)

  • “’Ease comes with training.’ We simply have to train and educate our ability, that is to say, do the thing over and over again until it feels natural, simple, and easy. That is the secret.” (pg. 42)

  • “The more on practices, the better one becomes. Talent is born this way.” (pg. 42)

  • “If you think of something, do it. Of what use is knowledge by itself?” (pg. 84)

  • “One must be able to put things into practice.” (pg. 88)

  • “’There is no merit in just thinking about doing something. The result is exactly the same as not thinking about it. It is only doing the thing that counts.” (pg. 88)

  • “If you compare a person who practices five minutes a day with one who practices three hours a day, the difference, even though they both practice daily, is enormous. Those who fail to practice sufficiently fail to acquire ability. Only the effort that is actually expended will bear results. There is no shortcut. If the five-minute-a-day person wants to accomplish what the three-hour-a-day person does, it will take him nine years. What one accomplishes in three months will take the other nine years.” (pg. 97)

  • “We are all born with a high potential, and if we try hard we can all become superior human beings and acquire talent and ability.” (pg. 108)

[1] Longfellow Quote: 1835, Outre-Mer: A Pilgrimage Beyond the Sea by H. W. Longfellow, Volume 2 of 2, Chapter 1: Ancient Spanish Ballads, Start Page 1, Quote Page 4, Published by Harper & Brothers, New York. https://books.google.com/books?id=7QAIAAAAQAAJ&q=%22is+the+universal%22#v=snippet&q=%22is%20the%20universal%22&f=false [2] Harvard study: https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2019/11/new-harvard-study-establishes-music-is-universal/#:~:text=Henry%20Wadsworth%20Longfellow%20wrote%2C%20%E2%80%9CMusic,to%20be%20shared%20across%20societies [3] Shaw quote: 1949 (Reprint of 1932 edition), Music in London: 1890-94 by Bernard Shaw, Volume 1 of 3, (Music review dated December 10, 1890), Start Page 90, Quote Page 91 and 92, Constable and Company Limited, London. [4] Suzuki method statistics: https://suzukiassociation.org/about/stats/ and http://www.suzukimusic.org.au/suzuki.htm [5] Suzuki Nurtured by Love. Pg. 3. [6] Suzuki Nurtured by Love. Pg. 2. [7] Suzuki Nurtured by Love. Pg. 42. [8] I was honored to observe Professor Jensen put kinesthetic teaching into practice as I assisted her teach Class Piano at UCF. She would describe to the classroom of beginner pianists what a 5th, a chord, the five-finger pattern, a scale, what these should feel like in their hand. [9] Suzuki Nurtured by Love. Pg. 46-50.



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