Suzuki music training for young kids – what’s the point?

Book One cello master class (courtesy Bryan Takasaki)

Book One cello master class
(courtesy Bryan Takasaki)

This is Suzuki Institute week for us, which means that I spend a precious August vacation week trudging around the Hartt School in Connecticut, attending parent-child classes, lectures, and recitals with our six-year old, who plays the cello, and our eight-year old, who plays the violin.

I am not a musical person or a tiger mom (a category well-represented here).  I’m one of those slacker Suzuki parents who sit in the back, madly thumbing emails back to the office and darting out for emergency conference calls. But Suzuki has opened my eyes to a new way of being in the world. At the end of the week I leave exhausted, but inspired.

I don’t play any instruments, and it would never have occurred to me that my daughters should, had it not been for my sister Jess, who did Suzuki violin lessons through high school, and whose children (ages four, nine, and twelve) have studied Suzuki classical guitar for years and play beautifully.

But despite its touchy-feely, “every kid can learn music” meme, Suzuki is a boot camp for parents.  Kids this young – many, including mine, started at age four – can’t be shuttled off to lessons and sent to their rooms to practice.  No, in Suzuki the parent isn’t just writing the checks; she must be both student and teacher, attending every weekly class, learning along with her child, and then supervising each daily practice.

Which has often, over the years, made me question why I’m spending  six + hours of my life every week on this particular activity.  My kids aren’t prodigies and they aren’t going to be professional musicians.  Music isn’t going to get them into college, and it doesn’t even help keep them physically fit like swimming and riding (our other time sinks).

I’ve simply been hoping that over time,  musical training bring my girls enjoyment and the rewarding experience of mastering something beautiful yet difficult.

But it is interesting to ponder whether early, systematic music study has any lasting impact.  Interestingly, a neuroimaging study published this year did find long-lasting brain changes, in the form of enhanced neural connectivity in the motor cortex of adults who underwent  musical training prior to the age of eight.

Just one study, and these sorts of structure-function, small n MRI studies are difficult to interpret, much less to replicate, but still something to motivate any parent out there who is laboring through endless repetitions of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star . . .

2 thoughts on “Suzuki music training for young kids – what’s the point?

  1. Pingback: What’s the point of music education? (Part 2) | Home, School

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