The Suzuki Triangle, key to the Suzuki Method and to successful lessons, represents the relationship between the Child, Teacher, and Parent. Unlike traditional instrumental lessons, the Suzuki method includes the parent.
Parent involvement is valuable for a number of reasons.
The parent gets to enjoy their child’s experience of learning to play an instrument.
The child can begin lessons at an earlier age because they have the home support to do so.
Parents can help the child remember what the teacher said in the lesson.
The parent has a better understanding of the teaching points of the lesson.
The parent joins in practice time and can create the right environment for it.
Although the Suzuki triangle is always, child, teacher, and parent, the relationships change over time. Nancy Lokken director of the Augsburg University Suzuki Talent Education gives an excellent explanation of the triangle stages.
The 1st Stage of the Triangle: ages 2 1/2 – 6
Ages 2 1/2 – 6
At this stage, the child is along for the ride. The heavy black line of initial stages of the Triangle, when the child is very young, represents more communication, understanding, feedback, and dialogue between the parent and the teacher. The Child is really like a tail being wagged.
Even at home, the parent works with information and skills taught by the teacher. There is communication between the child and the parent, but there won’t be a lot of independent thinking on the part of the child.
The 2nd Stage of the Triangle: ages 7 – 10
Notice that there is a more even distribution of communication as the child grows older and the Triangle matures in a healthy way.
Even though these ages are approximate, children begin to take initiative and make decisions about their playing very early. However, the parent is still completely involved. He or she writes notes in class, asks questions at the end of a lesson, confides in practice issues, shares in successes, and, of course, leads the home practice.
The 3rd Stage of the Triangle: ages 11 and up
Ages 11 and up
As the student becomes more and more independent, the relationships shift. The child and teacher eventually take over the lessons, and the parent takes a back seat.
The Triangle Has to Change to be Successful
Some parents have a tough time at this last stage. Unfortunately, if this shift doesnt happen, the “young Adult” doesn’t feel part of the process.
The Child must begin to take responsibility for what they like and don’t like about their playing. If they are to continue progressing meaningfully on the instrument, they must take more initiative and have an opinion about what they hear coming out of their instrument.
Parents must refrain from interacting with the teacher or their child during lessons. They should also “let a lot of things go” at the home practice. Things that they used to be charged of like playing in tune or using the correct bowings might need to be ignored. Interfering with the child’s new responsibility to listen to himself will slow his development as a musician. He’ll become frustrated. In Helping Parents Practice, Edmund Sprunger gives parents excellent ways to handle home practice at this stage.
The Child becomes the Adult in the Triangle
What we seek are students who have grit to work at something until they get it. Also, we develop students who know how to solve problems along the way. These are students who don’t get frustrated because they have learned strategies in their lessons and group classes.
Key to the Suzuki Triangle Survival
My sense is that the Suzuki Triangle is like a living organism. I cannot stress enough how key the triangle is to successful Suzuki experience. The triangle is born with the first lesson, or perhaps even the first phone call or email I get. It grows and changes, it can be hurt, it can be nurtured, it can thrive, and it can die or be killed.
The Triangle needs
Patience, Respect, Dignity, Mercy, Love, Kindness, Gentleness, Humility, Trust and Flexibility. (Can you name more?)
These are the nutrients of the Triangle. They might appear in different forms at different times to different people. But they must be there.
The stages of development MUST happen. Just as a plant must germinate and cannot do so faster than nature allows, neither can the Suzuki Triangle be hurried. Suzuki teachers like to use the metaphor from the children’s book, The Carrot Seed, by Ruth Kraus. Just as the carrot seed had to be routinely cared for in order to grow, so does the triangle need care.
Also, a plant grows taller and produces leaves and fruit. It cannot remain a tiny plant, or it will die. If we only do routine care, the Triangle will do what it’s meant to. Like a seed grows to a plant if only some ordinary care is given, so, too, the Triangle will grow!
A good place to go for parent support and a deeper understanding of the triangle is Christine Goodner‘s blog and Facebook page for parents called The Suzuki Triangle Community.
“In addition to raising children, the most important thing on which to spend one’s time is knowing human beings.” Shinichi Suzuki