What Are the Differences Between the Suzuki Approach and Royal Conservatory?

In Canada, the Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) is the predominant approach to piano instruction. The RCM has a well-organized system of graded materials providing a sampling of piano repertoire. They publish books for every grade level, and also have a syllabus (book of repertoire lists and regulations), organizing many hundreds of piano pieces by historical period and level of difficulty. The books provide an overview of many composers, and now include some jazz and more modern styles of piano. RCM provides a systematic approach to piano, with a focus on preparing for exams.
Some key differences between RCM and the Suzuki Approach:
• There is no inherent attention paid to good tone from the beginning in RCM, nor is there a role for parents, so their system is not inherently geared towards young students.
• The RCM books do not start with learning by ear.  RCM now issues recordings for the music in their main repertoire series, but there is a focus on reading music from the beginning.
• There is no common repertoire in the RCM system.  The RCM books are designed to be like a large buffet:  one can choose certain items from the huge list, whereas in the Suzuki books, every song is learned in order, which provides a common repertoire between Suzuki piano students.  The Suzuki Approach also builds systematically on the skills learned in each song.
• The RCM system does not include a philosophical approach to teaching piano, and so an RCM teacher may not believe that every child can learn the piano, nor that it is the teacher’s responsibility to find the approach that a particular child needs.  The RCM approach is focused on the exam curriculum, not the child.
• RCM is exam-focused; scales and technical exercises, and ear and sight-reading tests are also required.  The Suzuki method focuses on playing at a high level (without the deadline of an exam).  Many students are quite uncomfortable with the exam process: after all, being judged by a stranger is very different than playing pieces for supportive family and friends.  There are other performance-oriented opportunities for feedback in the Suzuki method, including the Fall Workshop and Spring Festival.
However, for advanced Suzuki piano students considering studying music at university, there is merit in undergoing the exam process.  Universities have similar procedures to the RCM exams, and older students need to learn how to deal with the pressure of an exam.  To that end, the ESPS graduation recitals require that all students perform three pieces (or movements) from memory.  This is similar to the RCM exams, where students perform three pieces (later five) from memory. ESPS students are well prepared to take an RCM exam if they choose.
Tim Eckert, ESPS Teacher
Associateship of the Royal Conservatory in Piano Performance (ARCT)

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