Suzuki and the Nightingales

One of the gems that I recently acquired was a wonderful book by Shinichi Suzuki, the inventor of the Suzuki method of music education, entitled, “Nurtured by Love”.  In it he makes the passionate assertion that talent can be taught and musical skills can be learned by anyone.

His section on the importance of teacher is deep and profound for me, and again points the importance of the singing teacher’s knowledge, skill, and heart in training voices.

The first month in a nightingale’s life determines its fate. I had always thought that a nightingale’s incomparable song was instinctive or inherited. But it is not so. Nightingales to be used as pets are taken as fledglings from nests of wild birds in the spring. As soon as they lose their fear and accept food, a “master bird” is borrowed that daily singings its lovely song, and the infant bird listens for a period of about a month. In this way the little wild bird is trained by the master bird. This method has been used in Japan since olden times. The best environment is furnished for training birds. In short, it is the nightingale’s “talent education.” The master bird plays the role of teacher to the little bird. The pupil goes on to receive various other kinds of training, but it is most important to have a good teacher during the first month. Whether the wild bird will develop good or bad singing quality is indeed decided in the first month by the voice and tone of its teacher. It is not a matter of being born a good or a bad singer. Be it only the case of a nightingale, the life force has a wonderful power to adapt to its environment. If it has a good teacher, the infant bird will, through physiological transformation, learn from experience to produce tones as beautiful as those of its teacher. But if a bird is brought to such a teacher after being raised by wild nightingales, there is always failure, as long experience has shown. This is the law of nature in shaping and forming life’s potential. Isn’t the example of the little nightingale a valuable hint for the development of human potential as well?

Suzuki, Shinichi. “Nurtured by love: A new approach to education.” Exposition Press, 1969.

2 thoughts on “Suzuki and the Nightingales

  1. Great post, Justin! I would also suggest the Suzuki classic “Ability Development from Age Zero”. I trained for several summers as a Suzuki teacher and there is a lot there that informs my present teaching. Many wonderful concepts – Mother Tongue Approach, One Point Lesson, Nature vs. Nurture, ideas about the acquisition of ability which tie in with such newer books as Gladwell’s “Outliers”. Dr. Suzuki was an inspirational guy and many of his trainees have carried his work to the whole world.

  2. Another good post. These are the kinds of things that we need to ask churches and schools and administrators to read, because they provide the foundation for an active singing culture. We need to move singing from entertainment and passive watching and listening to the whole body and community experience it can be!

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