The Life of Dr. Shinichi Suzuki

“Confronted with a high mountain, you cannot walk the summit in one stride, but must climb step by step to reach your goal. Without stopping, without haste, carefully taking a step at a time forward will surely get you there. “

Dr. Shinichi Suzuki spent his life proving that ability is not inborn, that talent can be created and that ALL young children can develop exceptional talent. He was born in Nagoya, Japan in 1898, the fourth of twelve children of samurai heritage. His father ran a workshop that made traditional Japanese instruments but by the early 1900’s his father’s fascination with the violin had evolved into manufacturing violins. It was intended that his son, Shinichi, help with the family business but, inspired by a recording of Misha Elman playing Schubert’s Ave Maria, Suzuki became passionate about teaching himself to play the violin.

In 1920 he toured extensively throughout Europe with his friend Marquis Tokugawa before settling in Berlin. There he continued his violin studies, met many outstanding musicians as well as his future wife, Waltraud Prange. Upon his return to Japan, he formed a string quartet with his three brothers, gave concerts throughout the country and became a conductor with the Tokyo String Orchestra.

At a quartet rehearsal one day in 1933 he surprised his brothers by stating what they all considered obvious; that ALL Japanese children speak Japanese. With this simple observation, Dr. Shinichi Suzuki had discovered a way to develop musical ability in young children.

Evolution of the Suzuki Approach

At the end of World War II, Dr. Suzuki was invited to teach at a school in Matsumoto using his visionary method. Because he was a violinist, he first applied his theories in teaching young children to play the violin.  After ten years of research, he completed the Suzuki Violin Volume one and began The Talent Education Research Institute. It was here he continued to develop his method and by the 1960’s, western teachers began to travel to Japan in order to observe Suzuki’s students and to learn from him.   Eventually,  the method expanded to include piano, viola, cello, bass, flute, recorder, harp, guitar, trumpet and voice.

By the 1950s, Suzuki operated music schools throughout Japan. Dr. Haruko Kataoka moved to Matsumoto in 1955 to be an accompanist. Kataoka and another teacher developed the first Suzuki piano repertoire.  At the same time, Dr. Suzuki was invited to bring a tour group of Japanese students to the United States in 1964, and he began to make regular trips to the U.S. after that.

In 1972, the Suzuki Association of the Americas was founded. Constance Starr introduced the Suzuki Piano Method to American teachers.

Dr. Suzuki believed that music can make a unique contribution to the total learning process. His idea of teaching peace and understanding through music has gained acceptance and much respect. Over 500,000 Suzuki students around the world study music through this approach.

During his lifetime he received many honorary degrees, was named a Living Treasure by the Emperor of Japan and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Dr. Shinichi Suzuki remained an active leader and educator until his death on January 26, 1998.