The Suzuki Violin School: Past, Present, and Possible Future

May 15, 2024

Abstract

According to the International Suzuki Association, by 2024, all ten books of the Suzuki violin method’s International Edition will have been published (https://internationalsuzuki.org/violin). Scholarship engaged with the method largely focuses on the pedagogical philosophies undergirding it, with a seemingly tacit attitude that the compositions found within the method themselves are not up for scrutiny. This attitude may derive from Suzuki himself, who described the works in the method as hailing from the great composers (Starr and Starr 1983, 104). This review article, on the other hand, undertakes a critical study of the method’s repertoire itself. I begin by illustrating the makeup of the composers found in the method, highlighting the lack of diverse authorship. I then consider some of the issues surrounding composer attribution that still remain and explore the likely source of various compositions’ inclusion in the curriculum. There is an incongruence between Suzuki’s use of late-nineteenth century violin albums when developing his method, which often contained incorrect composers/titles and/or contained errors in the scores, and the fact that the repertoire of the Suzuki Violin School has rarely been changed or updated. Recommendations are made based upon these findings, ones that are important to consider given the social movements in the last ten years that have highlighted inequities among race and gender.


The Suzuki Violin School: Past, Present, and Possible Future

 

Introduction

One could argue that the influence of the Suzuki method on strings pedagogy in the United States is unmatched (e.g., Hines 1999). The method is the subject of many articles and theses (e.g., Kendall 1996; Hines 1999; Carey, 1983; Eubanks 2014; Ovietta 2015; Thibdeault 2018; Akutsu 2020; Collins-Davis 2021; Henke 2021). At its core, the Suzuki method is based on the belief that our ability to learn music is not innate and emphasizes parental involvement in the music-learning process along with daily listening to music, with special emphasis on listening to the Suzuki repertoire (Suzuki Association of the Americas 1998). The method was also heavily criticized in a series of blog posts by Mark O’Connor, who was largely concerned with what he viewed as Shinichi Suzuki’s inaccurate claims about interactions with Albert Einstein and Pablo Casals (O’Connor 2013a; 2013b; 2014). O’Connor, however, does not scrutinize the repertoire within the method itself nor its philosophies beyond its emphasis on mimicry over other musical skills such as improvisation. In this review article, I offer a discussion of the repertoire’s makeup, labeling, and possible sources, providing the first critical overview of the Suzuki Violin School’s most recent International Edition.

 

Overview of the Editions of the Suzuki Violin School

The Suzuki Violin School has three editions in English, each consisting of 10 volumes. The first edition to be printed in the United States was published in 1978 by Summy-Birchard Inc. This edition does not contain any supplemental information such as scales and the provenance of the repertoire, although occasionally there are practice suggestions found prior to various works (e.g., the Original Edition’s Volume 8 includes a section titled “How to Practice” that explains a method for practicing trills in Gaetano Pugnani’s Largo Espressivo).

When the violin method was revised twenty years later, various volumes were released over time. Volume 1 of the Revised Edition was published in 1995, whereas the Revised Edition’s Volume 2 was not published until 2007. Changes in the Revised Edition include additional practice exercises, scales and arpeggios, a glossary of terms, measure numbers for each piece, some information about the sources for the pieces (e.g., page 33 of Revised Volume 2), various modifications to bowings and fingerings, and text in English, French, Spanish, and German. Actual changes to pitches themselves, however, are few and far between. To my knowledge, only five pitches were changed in the Revised Edition, all within Volume 3: there was one pitch changed in Johann Sebastian Bach’s Gavotte in D Major, and four pitches changed in the same composer’s Bourrée I and II from his Cello Suite No. 3.1See Brown (2023) for a discussion dedicated to these changes and the rationale involved. Volumes 6, 7, and 8 of the Revised Edition also include new sections at the end of the book titled “Exploring Additional Repertoire” that contain recommendations of other pieces to play (e.g., Volume 6, Revised Edition 2013, p. 32). However, these suggestions are not found in the earlier volumes.

By 2024, all 10 volumes of the International Edition have been published. Although we might consider it the third edition of the Suzuki Violin School, the International Edition does not have significant changes from the Revised Edition. A promotional note found on the Shar Music website selling Volume 6 states, “The only difference between the International and Revised Editions is the Foreword. The piece selection, markings, notes, etc. are identical” (Shar Music n.d.).  The most prominent change is that the International Edition offers a recording of the method’s compositions played by Hilary Hahn.

Throughout these three editions, the Suzuki Violin School’s repertoire has remained static. No compositions have been removed, and all are presented in the same order. In fact, only one piece has been added to the method since 1978: Carl Bohm’s Perpetual Motion, from “Little Suite,” op. 6, which was new to the Revised Edition’s Volume 4. Indeed, John Kendall’s early report of the method from 1959 illustrates that the repertoire from even then to now has largely remained unchanged (Kendall 1959). Of course, maintaining the same repertoire ensures that pedagogues specialize in teaching the same pieces over time, and these works form the basis of communitas within group-class settings. I will address some of the disadvantages of this canonic consistency in the sections that follow.

 

Makeup of the Suzuki Corpus

In order to facilitate a study of the compositions within the Suzuki Violin School, I created a database consisting of various features about each piece, including the work’s composer, its title, the nationality of composer, the date of composition, etc.2Those who wish to explore this database themselves can reference it at https://osf.io/k4yx7. There are 66 compositions in the Suzuki Violin School (90 works, if one counts the individual movements). Of these works, there are just 28 unique composers (including Suzuki himself, who composed six pieces found in Volume 1). As shown in Figure 1, the most represented composer is J. S. Bach, followed by George Frideric Handel. The 17 remaining composers are represented with just one piece each; this is represented by the right-most entry in the chart. Some works have composers who are unknown, such as the folk songs, while other works are attributed to the wrong composer. I address this topic later in the article.

Figure 1. Number of works (to include different movements) by each composer represented in the Suzuki Violin School. The 17 remaining composers each have one composition/movement apiece.

Not including the first 12 pieces in Volume 1 (many of which are folksongs with unknown composition dates), the average year of composition for the method’s repertoire is 1760 (with the mode being 1720 and the median being 1735). If this calculation includes the hypothesized composition date of the folksongs, it seems that the average year would not change substantially. For example, the likely source of Go Tell Aunt Rhody (Volume 1) is Jean-Jacques Rousseau from one of his operas (1752), a work that was then adapted into a popular tune in the late 1700s (one such example is that published by J. Dale in 1789).3Readers may reference Mark Polesky’s website for more information about the source of this folksong at https://www.markpolesky.com/suzuki/vol.1/#no.4.

Figure 2 illustrates the number of compositions in the Suzuki violin method books from various periods. The vast majority of the works (51 out of 90) were composed in the Baroque period. The six pieces composed in the twentieth century were all composed by Suzuki as pedagogical works contained in Volume 1, and are not representative of repertoire from that era.

Figure2

Figure 2. Bar graph illustrating the number of compositions in the Suzuki method books from various periods.

An analysis of the composers’ identities reveals that none of the composers across any of the 90 works in the Suzuki Violin School are women. There is a tonalization exercise called “Annie Laurie” composed by Lady John Scott (see page 3 in Volume 6’s Original Edition), but it is an unnumbered exercise, and the composer is not attributed in the table of contents in any edition. Further, with the exception of Suzuki himself, none of the composers in the method are Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC). Figure 3 illustrates the best estimate of what would be the modern-day location of the composer’s birth for each of the pieces within the Suzuki violin method (if the composer was known).4Figure 3 captures 85 of the 90 compositions in the method. It does not include the hypothesized origin of the five folk songs in Volume 1, as it only captures the modern-day birth location from all attributed composers in the method. Note that because the Twinkle Variations are attributed to Suzuki in Volume 1 rather than as a folk song, as they were in Suzuki’s 1955 Talent Education Series, this work was counted as one of the six pieces from Japan in the chart (all penned by Suzuki). It is clear that white, Western European composers (mostly German) dominate the Suzuki repertoire.

Figure3

Figure 3. Bar graph illustrating the modern-day location of the composer's birth for each of the compositions within the Suzuki violin method (if the composer was known).

It is worth acknowledging that this analysis is of a method developed in the mid-twentieth century for Japanese violin students, and was thus created in a completely different era and culture. And yet, I believe that we still must assess the compositional makeup of the method using today’s lens because the repertoire has essentially remained unrevised across editions of the Suzuki Violin School, and we continue to utilize it. Below, I explore what factors might have influenced Suzuki’s selection of specific pieces for inclusion in the method, and then conclude the article with some recommendations for the future.

The Method’s Emphasis on Playing the Music of the “Great Composers”

Suzuki studied violin for approximately ten years in Germany during the 1920s (Wood n.d.). It was during this time that he likely became familiar with Western European violin repertoire and began developing pedagogical ideas. The repertoire selected for the Suzuki Violin School seems to have been chosen depending on a variety of factors, including introducing a logical progression of keys (A Major, then D Major, then G Major, etc.), the composition’s level of difficulty, and its facilitation of introducing various techniques, as one would expect for a strings pedagogy method. However, the method’s strong focus on J. S. Bach’s music and other “great composers” of the Western Classical tradition also suggests that Suzuki was focused upon enculturating Japanese violin students with these composers, possibly as a way to add philosophical weight to his method. According to Wartberg (2013),

Suzuki was convinced that children who listened to music by Johann Sebastian Bach would absorb some of his character traits and feelings. During my studies with Dr. Suzuki in Matsumoto, Japan, he spoke many times about this subject. I quote from my notes: “When children grow up with the music of Bach, their souls will be directly influenced by Bach’s spirit with its strong personality, deep religious earnestness, desire for order, and noble character. The life forces of children sense the traits of a composer and absorb them to bring them to life in themselves. I am certain that every heart capable of feeling music will assimilate its special radiance and its clear message.”

This sentiment can also be found in Starr and Starr (1983, 104), who quotes Suzuki as saying, “You are going to play the music of great composers, and you must try to catch their hearts in the music.”

In today’s world, however, we owe it to our students to reevaluate pedagogies on the basis of their inclusivity. Various studies have demonstrated that students benefit from pedagogical materials that incorporate figures who align with some aspect of their personal identities (e.g., McLaren 2015; Deckman et al. 2018). Some have advocated that music pedagogues start with repertoire to be the catalyst of change (c.f. Miller-Niles 2023). If we are to dismantle colonization and white supremacy, method books such as the Suzuki Violin School need to make appropriate changes in their repertoire.5Such conversations are going on in other music fields. For example, see Philip Ewell’s (2020; 2021) writings in music theory. Frequently used music theory textbooks have answered these calls with incorporating more music by women and/or BIPOC composers (c.f. Marvin and Clendinning 2021). While the Suzuki violin repertoire has remained unchanged within its method books, I have personally observed many pieces written by women composers and/or BIPOC composers included in Suzuki group classes, and other violin pedagogues have similarly described their own efforts to emphasize diversity in the group forum (e.g., Conway n.d.). Yet relegating these works to group lessons, and not within the method books themselves, runs the danger of tokenism. To combat this, Hess (2015) poses various issues one should consider when rethinking music curricula and pedagogical methods.

One possible reason there could be reticence to modify the repertoire is because there is so much overlap between the violin, viola, and cello Suzuki repertoire, especially in the first few volumes. Other instruments in the Suzuki method do not have as much overlap and also contain works by composers from outside of the backgrounds that dominate the Suzuki Violin School. As examples, the Suzuki Bass School contains pieces by Black composers Maceo Pinkard and Miles Davis (Volume 3), and the Suzuki Guitar School includes works by Argentine composers Hector Ayala and Julio Salvador Sagreras (Volume 3).

It is clear that additional repertoire has been on the minds of violin pedagogues within the last decade, as evidenced by the efforts from the violin and violin committees of the International Suzuki Association (ISA) to compile their own list of supplemental works for their more advanced books.6 The violin works that have been suggested to accompany Volumes 6–8 can be found at https://suzukiassociation.org/news/suggested-supplementary-repertoire-for-revised/. This list seems aimed at including more works from the Romantic era and beyond, rather than an attempt to diversify the violin canon. An analysis of the composers in the ISA’s list reveals that of the roughly two dozen works suggested as supplemental violin works, only one is composed by a woman (Maria Theresia von Paradis’ Sicilienne) and all are white. Further, the ISA has not provided supplemental repertoire lists for Volumes 1–5.

 

Questions about the Method and Its Compositions

Beyond its lack of diversity, other concerns about the Suzuki Violin School’s repertoire remain. For example, despite Suzuki’s interest in presenting students with works of the old masters, a variety of pieces in the method are either attributed to the wrong composer or listed incorrectly, undermining Suzuki’s intentions. This challenges any reverence for the Suzuki canon, given that some of the works attributed to the “great composers” are in fact written by their students or revised significantly by an arranger many years thereafter. For instance, there are considerable questions of authorship for works that were originally called Minuet 2 and 3 and attributed to J. S. Bach (Volume 1 and 3), Jean-Baptiste Lully’s Gavotte (Volume 2), Handel’s Sonata No. 3 (Volume 6), and Henry Eccles’s Sonata in G Minor (Volume 8). Thus, as much as ten percent of the Suzuki violin repertoire is spurious.

It has long been known that the work known in the Original Edition of Volume 1 as “Minuet 3” (and described in the International Edition as “Minuet No. 3” in Volume 1, p. 41, and as “Minuet” in Volume 3, p. 12) was composed by Christian Petzold, not by J. S. Bach (Schulze 1980). Indeed, the work is now categorized within the Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis as Anhang III, works that were once attributed to Bach but for which it has been established that they were not composed by him. Despite this, the composition is still attributed to Bach in the Violin School’s International Edition. The same work is included in Suzuki method books for other instruments, but little consistency ensues. It is simply called “Minuet” and attributed to J. S. Bach within Volume 3 of the International Edition of the Suzuki Viola School (published in 2018), whereas it can be found as “Minuet in G Major” and attributed to Christian Petzold in Volume 2 from the New International Edition of the Suzuki Piano School, which published ten years earlier in 2008. A similar issue exists for Minuet No. 2, as the New International Edition of the Suzuki Piano School lists the composer as anonymous (Volume 2, 2008, p. 14), but the International Edition from the violin school that was published twelve years later in 2020 still attributes it to J. S. Bach. Many students learn multiple instruments, and better consistency and accuracy in composer attribution and titles of works seems warranted between volumes and various instruments across the Suzuki method.

The composition called Gavotte, attributed in the International Edition to J. B. Lully (Volume 2, p. 24), is known to have been written by Marin Marais, a student of Lully’s. The confusion in authorship seems to have derived from the fact that Marais dedicated his set of works to Lully in large print on his first page.7Marais’ 1686 score and additional information on the misattribution to Lully can be found here: https://www.violinwiki.org/wiki/Rondeau_from_Pi%C3%A8ces_de_viole,_Livre_I_(Marais,_Marin)(arrangement_Suzuki). See also Judd 2023. Whereas Marais calls his composition a Rondeau, the work can be found with significant changes and arranged for violin and piano under the title of Gavotte in Willy Burmester’s 1906 anthology of violin works titled Stücke alter Meister, a source Suzuki was likely to encounter when he was studying in Germany. I believe that one motivation for Suzuki’s inclusion of the work was because it contains the first augmented second presented in his method. Ironically, that interval is not in Marais’s original score and crept into Burmester’s version when the latter added a flat to the key signature of Marais’ work. Marais composed the work in D Dorian (no flats/sharps in the key signature), Burmester arranged the work for violin and piano in D Minor (using a one-flat key signature), and then Suzuki transposed the work into A Minor, maintaining Burmester’s augmented second not found Marais’ original composition (see m. 30 in the Marais score, as opposed to m. 23 in the Suzuki/Burmester version). In the “Sources” section on p. 33, the Suzuki International Edition’s Volume 2 acknowledges Marais as the composer, but inexplicably does not correct the composer in the table of contents, nor in the score.8 The viola and cello International Editions also erroneously list Lully as the composer for this work.

Other compositions have undergone revisions to their authorship, as new knowledge about the correct composers is acquired. For example, while Volumes 4 and 5 of the Original Edition lists the composer of the Concerto in A Minor as Antonio Vivaldi, it has been since discovered that the arranger of the piano part and composer of some of the more virtuosic passages found in the Suzuki version was Hungarian violinist Tivadar Nachéz (Niles 2019). In the Revised and International Editions, Nachéz has now been added as the arranger, with Vivaldi as the composer, when the work is presented in Volumes 4 (first and third movements) and 5 (second movement). Thus, there seems no reason that Petzold and Marais cannot be updated as the correct composers for the above-mentioned works. The reluctance to updating the correct composer seems to be due to the reverence Suzuki had for the “great composers.”

The other compositions in the Suzuki violin method that have questionable authorship are Handel’s Sonata No. 3 in Volume 6, and Eccles’s Sonata in G minor from Volume 8. Mark Polesky (n.d.) argues that the composition in Volume 6 is not written by Handel and its actual authorship is unknown, although IMSLP still attributes the work to the composer.9 See https://www.markpolesky.com/suzuki/vol.6/#no.2. He also suggests that some movements from Eccles’s Sonata from Volume 8 may have been authored by Giuseppe Valentini, and offers compelling evidence that the second movement was composed by Francesco Antonio Bonporti, as it was published eight years prior to that by Eccles.10 See https://www.markpolesky.com/suzuki/vol.8/#no.1

New to the Revised and International Editions is a Sources section that can be found at the end of many books of the violin method (but not all, cf. Volume 4). This section offers an improvement to the title and composer name found at the start of each piece, which lacked specificity in the Original Edition. However, the information provided is oftentimes still too brief. For example, the title to Ambroise Thomas’s composition is listed as “Gavotte from Mignon” (Volume 2, p. 20), and the sources section on page 33 does not provide much more information, stating only “Gavotte from Mignon (Thomas) from the opera Mignon.” The Sources section would be more useful if it listed that the composition is specifically from mm. 9–ff from Mignon’s Act II. (No.7) Entr’acte. It could also include that the original composition is in A Major, but the Suzuki version is transposed to G Major. I also note that the International Editions for other Suzuki instruments, including the cello, guitar, piano, and viola schools, do not contain a Sources section altogether, so I commend the Violin School for it while suggesting improvements.

Mentioned above when describing the authorship of the Lully/Marais “Gavotte,” numerous works found in the Suzuki Violin School were composed during the Baroque period and then arranged in the late-nineteenth century for inclusion in compilation albums for violin and piano accompaniment. It was these fin-de-siècle versions that occasionally recomposed large sections of original compositions and listed incorrect composers. I hypothesize that Suzuki was consulting these sources when compiling the works into his method, and it is these same errors that made their way into the Suzuki Violin School and also provided the basis for many Suzuki piano accompaniments. For example, Burmester’s Stücke alter Meister (1906) seems to be the source of at least six compositions in the Suzuki Violin School: Martini’s Gavotte (in F Major in Burmester and transposed to G Major in Suzuki’s Volume 3), Ludwig van Beethoven’s Minuet (Suzuki Volume 2), Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf’s German Dance (Suzuki Volume 5), Handel’s Bourrée (Suzuki Volume 2), Lully/Marais’s Gavotte (in D Minor in Burmester but transposed to A Minor in Suzuki Volume 2), and François-Joseph Gossec’s Gavotte (in D Major in Burmester but transposed to G Major in Suzuki Volume 1). These works are listed as numbers 2, 12, 16, 19, 23, and 26 in Burmester’s album, respectively. Other turn-of-century violin albums published in Germany could have also been Suzuki’s sources. For example, Beethoven’s Minuet (Suzuki Volume 2) and J. S. Bach’s Bourrée (Suzuki Volume 3) can be found in an album of arranged works for violin and piano called Violinist’s Treasury (Moffat 1919), and Friedrich Hermann’s Beginners’ Violin Album (1893) contains the compositions entitled Cuckoo (of the Suzuki Piano School), Long, Long Ago, and Hunter’s Chorus (in A Major instead of Suzuki’s G Major). Finally, Sara Heinze’s arrangement is the likely source of Suzuki’s Volume 3 version of J. S. Bach’s Bourrée, as her arrangement for violin with piano accompaniment corresponds to that found in the Suzuki editions nearly note for note. Heinze’s version of the Bourrée was first published in 1872 and then was published again in 1874 within Hermann’s Volume 1 of Klassische Stücke for violin and piano accompaniment.11 Heinze’s arrangement of the Bourrée (called a Loure in her version) can be found by clicking on the “Commercial” tab, and then “Arrangements and Transcriptions” at the following website https://imslp.org/wiki/Cello_Suite_No.3_in_C_major%2C_BWV_1009_(Bach%2C_Johann_Sebastian). Hermann’s album, published two years later, contains Heinze’s arrangement and can be found on page 9 of the complete scores at the following link: https://imslp.org/wiki/Sammlung_klassischer_St%C3%BCcke_aus_Werken_ber%C3%BChmter_Meister_(Various) In Brown (2023), I illustrate that Heinze’s arrangement is the source of some errors in pitch and meter that occurred in Suzuki’s original violin edition from 1978 that have mostly been corrected in the Revised and International Editions. In sharing the sources that Suzuki was likely consulting when creating his method, my goal is to impress on the reader that various pieces chosen for the Suzuki Violin School were selected from these sources and carried with them errors in pitch or attribution. Some of these issues still remain in the Suzuki method today.

Mark Polesky (n.d.) has noted that “the majority of the pieces collected in the ten volumes of the Suzuki Violin School are not originally composed for violin and piano.” He also illustrates that of the roughly 90 works in the method, “only 10 were originally written for violin with piano accompaniment—and this includes the 5 Suzuki compositions from Volume 1. (The others, by the way, are the [Jean] Becker Gavotte in Volume 3, the 3 [Friedrich] Seitz concerto movements, and the Perpetual Motion by Carl Bohm in Volume 4.)” Further, eleven works in the method were initially composed for voice (such as Carl Maria von Weber’s Hunter’s Chorus, Volume 2). If these works have entered the violin pedagogy canon, then works written specifically for the violin by diverse composers seem to also deserve consideration.

One final concern about the Suzuki violin method is that there does not seem to be an obvious approach to the introduction of scales throughout the books. There are some scales found throughout in the Revised and International Editions, but their introduction does not always correlate to an upcoming composition. For example, two pages before Volume 2’s Gavotte (attributed to J. B. Lully) is the A melodic minor scale, but the following Gavotte asks students to perform an augmented second (between F-natural and G-sharp) for the first time in the method. It would seem that an introduction to all three minor scales—natural, harmonic, and melodic—would be more pedagogically useful. In fact, the Suzuki Cello Volume 3 does just that—introduces all three minor scales—before the same composition, which even dates back to the Cello School’s Original Edition from 1987. Other instruments have taken a different approach to the inclusion of scales. For instance, the viola school does not contain any scales in any of the editions. A more systematic approach to the introduction to scales could be revisited in subsequent editions of the Suzuki Violin School.  

 

Final Thoughts and Recommendations

The Suzuki method has been the soundtrack of my entire life. Growing up in the 1980s, I observed my mother teach Suzuki violin in our living room, and I, too, studied the violin and piano via the Suzuki method from the age of four. In what feels like full circle, my young children now study the Suzuki method on the violin, piano, and guitar. I suspect that there is a connection between Suzuki’s ear-based method of familiarization with compositions and my decision to dedicate my career to teaching ear training. In the classes that I teach, I have routinely turned to the Suzuki repertoire to introduce my students to hearing binary forms, aurally identifying modulations from tonic to dominant keys, and recognizing various chords. For example, I love the method’s first appearance of an augmented sixth chord (m. 30 of the accompaniment for Niccolò Paganini’s “Witches’ Dance”) and the Neapolitan that occurs in m. 9 of the first movement of Vivaldi/Nachéz’s Concerto in A Minor, RV 356, Op. 3, No. 6.

My fondness for Suzuki pieces derives from the many memories of engaging with these works over my entire lifetime. This, however, now lies in contrast with the reality illustrated within this article. Besides the few pieces in Volume 1 composed by Suzuki himself, all of the numbered pieces in the Suzuki violin method are written by white, male composers. Students, then, are learning an underlying, narrow narrative that these white, male, mostly German, and mostly Baroque composers were the primary contributors to the development of Western art music, a picture that is historically inaccurate. This needs to change in light of social movements in the last ten years that have highlighted the many inequities in our world. I cannot recommend the Suzuki method any longer with the realization that the method reifies the hegemony of the Western canon and whiteness. Suzuki violin students are not only being taught technique, but also implicit lessons about which composers are “important,” and, by extension, what types of composers are not.

Violin pedagogues looking to adopt a new method or for supplemental repertoire to combat these issues might consider Music by Black Composers as an excellent resource (Pine 2020). The initiative has released the first volume in what will be a set of gradated violin works written exclusively by Black composers. Another wonderful reference is Violin Music by Women: A Graded Anthology (Cooper 2013), which contains four volumes of music composed by women, along with a website that provides suggestions for how the works can correspond with the Suzuki repertoire. Bonnie Greene’s collections contain folk tunes from all over the world and are presented in volumes designed to supplement the early Suzuki violin books (e.g., Greene 2020). There are also several lists for supplemental repertoire that correspond with the Suzuki violin books, and although they primarily contain works written by white men, they do include some examples of underrepresented composers.12 See http://www.pytheasmusic.org/young_violin.html, https://www.violinpractice.com/redir.php?file=/uploads/pdf/230-1-1488395244.pdf, and https://stringpedagogy.com/members/volumes/references/repertoire.html. Finally, rich databases of works such as the Composers of Color Resource Project and also Music by Women could be consulted to seek out new works for possible inclusion.13 See https://composersofcolor.hcommons.org/ and https://www.musicbywomen.org/ Thanks to the resources mentioned here and others, I have observed a change in the diversity of composers heard during Suzuki group concerts. For instance, at the most recent Fall 2023 children’s strings concert put on by the Peabody Preparatory, just three of the twelve pieces on the program were written by white, male composers.

The larger question is whether the Suzuki method can be separated from its current repertoire. Other fields, such as music theory, have had similar conversations, and many theory pedagogues have decided that its pedagogy by and large can be divorced from the repertoire that was used in previous generations to demonstrate concepts. In response, a number of new resources now provide teachers with repertoire by women and/or BIPOC composers, arranged by music theory topics and accompanied by suggestions for including these works in the curriculum (e.g., Maust 2024).

I would advocate for similar efforts to be made in violin pedagogy, so as to analyze the pedagogical value for each piece introduced in the Suzuki method and decide whether a similar piece by a composer from a historically underrepresented background could accomplish the same goals. Further, I strongly believe that it is necessary to add pieces written by underrepresented composers within the volumes of the Suzuki Violin School. While some pedagogues may focus on supplementing Suzuki repertoire with works by diverse composers, others may feel that not including pieces by women and/or BIPOC composers within the method itself runs the risk of teaching students that the Western canon is still the province of dead white men and not one of inclusivity. In fact, there is precedence for adding to, and even replacing, repertoire in the Suzuki method. While the Suzuki Violin School has only added one composition to its repertoire since its Original Edition, a comparison of Volumes 1 through 4 of the Suzuki Piano School reveals that four compositions were removed altogether and five new compositions were added to the method (albeit all by white, male composers) between the piano method’s Original Edition (1978) and its own New International Edition (2008).

We are giving students a lifetime of memories engaging with musical works, and representation needs to matter. While major orchestras, music conservatories, and various music academic disciplines (e.g., Ewell 2020; 2021) have been having dialogues about the music that is being played, heard, and studied, it doesn’t appear that the Suzuki method has yet to examine these important issues. Only by addressing the points raised herein will we be able to offer Suzuki students a music education that treats all music, and in turn all people, with equal dignity and respect.

 

Works Cited

Akutsu, Taichi. 2020. “Changes After Suzuki: A Retrospective Analysis and Review of Contemporary Issues Regarding the Suzuki Method in Japan.” International Journal of Music Education, 38( 1): 18–35. https://doi.org/10.1177/0255761419859628

Brown, Jenine L. 2023. “‘That’s Not How It Goes!’ Explaining Differences in Pitch Between Earlier and Later Editions of the Suzuki Violin School.” American Suzuki Journal, 51(4): 17–22https://suzukiassociation.org/news/that-s-not-how-it-goes-explaining-differences/

Burmester, Willy. 1906. Stücke alter Meister. Berlin: Schlesinger. https://s9.imslp.org/files/imglnks/usimg/2/28/IMSLP665826-PMLP220651-Burmester_StueckeAlterMeisterVol12345_Violin.pdf.

Carey, Tanya. 1979. “A Study of Suzuki Cello Practices as Used by Selected American Cello Teachers.” DMA document. University of Iowa.

Collins-Davis, Christine N. 2021. “An Analysis of the Suzuki Method as it Pertains to the Importance of Teaching Music Using the Native Language Approach; the Comparison of the Suzuki Method to Traditional Methods; and Now the Native Language Approach Aids in Teaching Music to Students with Dyslexia.” Master’s thesis, The University of Texas at Arlington.

Conway, Kate. n.d. “Diversity Conversation Starts for Suzuki Groups.” Accessed July 10, 2023. https://www.suzukihub.com/new-page-5

Cooper, Cora, ed. 2013. Violin Music by Women, A Graded Anthology. Sleepy Puppy Press. https://www.violinmusicbywomen.com/

Deckman, Sherry L., Ellie Fitts Fulmer, Keely Kirby, Katherine Hoover, and Abena S. Mackall. 2018. Numbers are Just Not Enough: A Critical Analysis of Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Elementary and Middle School Health Textbooks. Educational Studies: A Journal of the American Educational Studies Association, 54 (3): 285­–302. https://doi.org/10.1080/00131946.2017.1411261

Eubanks, Kara. 2014. Essays in the Theory and Practice of the Suzuki Method. Ph.D. diss., CUNY Graduate Center.

Ewell, Philip A. 2020. “Music Theory and the White Racial Frame.” Music Theory Online, 26 (2). https://mtosmt.org/issues/mto.20.26.2/mto.20.26.2.ewell.html

Ewell, Philip A. 2021. “Music Theory’s White Racial Frame.” Music Theory Spectrum, 43 (2): 324–29.

Greene, Bonnie, arr. 2020. Blue Book of Tunes–Violin: A First Book for Violin. One World Strings. https://oneworldstrings.com/

Henke, Krystyna. 2021. “Situating Suzuki Music Pedagogy’s Values in the Literature.” Holistic Education Review, 1 (2): 1–21.

Hermann, Friedrich. 1874. Klassische Stücke, Volume 1. C. F. Peters. https://imslp.org/wiki/Sammlung_klassischer_St%C3%BCcke_aus_Werken_ber%C3%BChmter_Meister_(Various)

Hermann, Friedrich. 1893. Beginners’ Violin Album. Edition Peters.   https://imslp.org/wiki/Beginners'_Violin_Album_(Hermann%2C_Friedrich)

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[1] See Brown (2023) for a discussion dedicated to these changes and the rationale involved.

[2] Those who wish to explore this database themselves can reference it at https://osf.io/k4yx7.

[3] Readers may reference Mark Polesky’s website for more information about the source of this folksong at https://www.markpolesky.com/suzuki/vol.1/#no.4.

[4] Figure 3 captures 85 of the 90 compositions in the method. It does not include the hypothesized origin of the five folk songs in Volume 1, as it only captures the modern-day birth location from all attributed composers in the method. Note that because the Twinkle Variations are attributed to Suzuki in Volume 1 rather than as a folk song, as they were in Suzuki’s 1955 Talent Education Series, this work was counted as one of the six pieces from Japan in the chart (all penned by Suzuki).

[5] Such conversations are going on in other music fields. For example, see Philip Ewell’s (2020; 2021) writings in music theory. Frequently used music theory textbooks have answered these calls with incorporating more music by women and/or BIPOC composers (c.f. Marvin and Clendinning 2021).

[6] The violin works that have been suggested to accompany Volumes 6–8 can be found at https://suzukiassociation.org/news/suggested-supplementary-repertoire-for-revised/.

[7] Marais’ 1686 score and additional information on the misattribution to Lully can be found here: https://www.violinwiki.org/wiki/Rondeau_from_Pi%C3%A8ces_de_viole,_Livre_I_(Marais,_Marin)(arrangement_Suzuki). See also Judd 2016.

[8] The viola and cello International Editions also erroneously list Lully as the composer for this work.

[9] See https://www.markpolesky.com/suzuki/vol.6/#no.2.

[10] See https://www.markpolesky.com/suzuki/vol.8/#no.1.

[11] Heinze’s arrangement of the Bourrée (called a Loure in her version) can be found by clicking on the “Commercial” tab, and then “Arrangements and Transcriptions” at the following website https://imslp.org/wiki/Cello_Suite_No.3_in_C_major%2C_BWV_1009_(Bach%2C_Johann_Sebastian). Hermann’s album, published two years later, contains Heinze’s arrangement and can be found on page 9 of the complete scores at the following link:https://imslp.org/wiki/Sammlung_klassischer_St%C3%BCcke_aus_Werken_ber%C3%BChmter_Meister_(Various)

[12] See http://www.pytheasmusic.org/young_violin.htmlhttps://www.violinpractice.com/redir.php?file=/uploads/pdf/230-1-1488395244.pdf, and https://stringpedagogy.com/members/volumes/references/repertoire.htm.

[13] See https://composersofcolor.hcommons.org/ and https://www.musicbywomen.org/.

423 Last modified on May 20, 2024