Dr Suzuki – A Life of Music and Discovery

Dr Shinichi Suzuki revolutionised the way music is taught to children around the world. Here is a brief summary of his life.

Early Years

Born 18 October 1898 in Nagoya into a prominent musical family.

Suzuki’s great-grandfather had started Japanese SAMISEN factory – making 3-string banjo-like instruments and they began making violins in 1888.

In 1900 his father opened the first violin factory in Japan, employing over 1000 people.

Suzuki attended Nagoya Commercial School, graduating at age 18. He worked in his father’s factory after school in his spare time. The school’s motto – CHARACTER FIRST, ABILITY SECOND became Suzuki’s motto.

Suzuki Discovers the Violin

At 16, Suzuki heard on their new family gramophone a record of Mischa Elman playing “Ave Maria”. The beauty of this music inspired him.

He began teaching himself to play the violin and soon went to Tokyo to study with Koh Ando. He stayed with his patron Marquis Tokugama who later convinced Suzuki’s father to let him travel to Germany with him.

In 1920. he went to Germany. After a 3 month search for “the right teacher”, Suzuki selected Karl Klinger, a former student of Joachim, who became his teacher and mentor.

Met notable people including Albert Einstein and his wife to be, Waltraud, a young singer and pianist, through Klinger.

In 1930 he and Waltraud returned to Japan. He formed a string quartet which toured extensively in Japan, introducing Western Chamber Music. He taught violin in schools and universities, including the Imperial Music School in Tokyo in 1931. He later became President of this School.

He also became a disciple of Sensei Mizumura, searching through meditation and concentration for his ki (spirit or character) and kan (unconsciousness or intuition), seeking the pure Zen mind.

Teaching Children – The Mother Tongue Method

Around 1937, he taught his first young students including Koji Toyodo who became an international artist and is now President of the International Suzuki Association. Suzuki had not considered teaching young children before this, but it came to him like a flash: “all Japanese children speak Japanese – why not apply this method to other faculties?” 

The Mother tongue method, combined with his love of the violin and his concern for character training in children led to Suzuki’s first book, Strong Education, published in 1941. His second book, Talent Education for Young Children, was written partly before and partly after the war and asserts that the success of Japan depends on the education of its people. This book is the culmination of his thoughts and experiences and remained the basis for his thinking. So strong was his belief that he called for changes in the education system in Japan, particularly early childhood education. Education which began at the age of three or four was ideal for strong character development. “The image of young growing children, who are the essence of life’s joy, took hold in my imagination.”

Dr Suzuki was most concerned with the ki of young children, especially after the traumas of war and deprivation. He asserted that “listening, imitating and memorizing were the only skills needed to further education in ANY area.”

In 1946 Suzuki settled in Matsumoto and began the development of his Matsumoto Music School, later renamed in 1938 Talent Education Research Institute (TERI).

1964 saw his first visit to USA with a group of 10 students. This really impressed musicians all over USA and began Suzuki’s world impact.

Died on 26 January 1998 aged 99 years.