top of page


I believe the single most important thing I can do for my students is to help them to develop their own individual voice on their instrument. When a child has found their voice, the instrument becomes a part of them and can be used for self exploration and self expression. Through music, they can express feelings that they may not even have words for.

There are three stages to the development of an independent Suzuki musician. In the beginning, all decisions about playing the instrument are being made for the child. In the second stage we begin to invite the child to take over responsibility for some aspects of their playing. In the final stage, we ask the child to take full ownership of their playing.

Lets start at the beginning.

Very often a family calls the school and says that their child wants to play a string instrument. The question that we then have to ask is: have the PARENTS DECIDED that their child will play a string instrument? We cannot embark on a journey of musical development on the whim of a 4 or 5 year old. There must be a commitment from the parents.

Parents make decisions for their children all the time. What kind of diet their child will eat, whether they will home school, public or private, and how often and when to brush their teeth. Taking music lessons is one of these important decisions. As we begin our lessons the Suzuki way, we soon realize that there is a very special relationship which will develop between the teacher, parent and child. We call this the Suzuki Triangle. Some would say that it is the cornerstone of the Suzuki Method.

Depending on where you are on your Suzuki journey you may not have realized that the Suzuki Triangle is a relationship that is designed to change over time and ultimately dissolve when it is no longer needed. The ultimate goal is to develop a student who is an accomplished learner - one who might hear a piece of music on the radio, know how and where to order the music, how to break it down and study it, and be able to perform it without the assistance of either the parent or the teacher.

One of the things that changes about the Suzuki Triangle over time is how we motivate our students to participate in the program so it is important to understand about motivation and the types of motivation that we use.

Intrinsic motivation

Intrinsic motivation is simply the desire to perform a behavior or activity for its own sake, like a hobby (e.g. reading, painting, singing, playing an instrument) It means you would do that activity for no other reason besides the love and joy of doing it. Most of our younger students do not possess this type of motivation.

Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivations are all other reasons that drive us to do something. That means we perform the behavior for reasons other than the love of doing it.

Extrinsic motivation occurs when we are motivated to perform a behavior or engage in an activity in order to earn a reward or avoid a punishment.

Examples of behaviors that are the result of extrinsic motivation include:

  • Studying because you want to get a good grade

  • Cleaning your room to avoid being reprimanded by your parents

  • Participating in a sport in order to win awards

  • Competing in a music contest in order to win a scholarshipIn each of these examples, the behavior is motivated by a desire to gain a reward or avoid a negative outcome.

Stage one of Suzuki Study

During the first stage of Suzuki study, we use a lot of extrinsic motivation. Some examples might be:

A treat or snack for good practice session

A celebratory dinner after a performance

A sticker

A game strategy to engage a young child in a practice activity

A chart to color in to show progress on repetitions

A “high five” for a job well done

The teacher’s praise for a good lesson

Extrinsic motivation can be beneficial for a number of reasons

  • External rewards can induce interest and participation in something the student had no initial interest in.

  • Extrinsic rewards can be used to motivate students to acquire new skills or knowledge. Once these initial skills have been acquired, the student may then become more intrinsically motivated to pursue the activity.

  • External rewards can also be a source of feedback, allowing children to know when their performance has achieved a high standard.

Extrinsic motivators should be avoided in situations where:

  • The individual already finds the activity intrinsically rewarding

  • Offering a reward might make a "play" activity seem more like “work"

While most people would suggest that intrinsic motivation is best, it is not always possible in each and every situation or at every stage of development. In some cases, people simply have no internal desire to engage in an activity. Excessive rewards may be problematic, but when used appropriately, extrinsic motivators can be a useful tool.

Researchers have arrived at three major conclusions with regards to extrinsic rewards and their influence on intrinsic motivation:

  • Unexpected external rewards typically do not decrease intrinsic motivation. For example, if you get good grade on a test because you enjoy learning about the subject and the teacher decides to reward you with a gift card to your favorite pizza place, your underlying motivation for learning about the subject will not be affected.

  • Praise can help increase internal motivation. Researchers have found that offering specific and genuine positive praise and feedback when children do a good job, can actually improve intrinsic motivation.

  • Intrinsic motivation will decrease, however, when external rewards are given for doing minimal work. For example, if parents heap lavish praise on their child every time he completes a simple task, he will become less intrinsically motivated to perform that task in the future.

Stage Two of Suzuki Study

During the second stage of the development of the student, we begin to look for ways to transfer ownership of very small and specific aspects of the practice to the child.

Can you make a beautiful bow hold for the entire piece?

Can you be responsible for your posture during this song?

Can you make every ring tone sing in this passage?

Can you play with your best tone in this line of the music?

This is a very important step, because playing a musical instrument is not one skill. There is no such skill as “playing the cello.” Playing the cello is a complex skill made up of many smaller sub skills that all occur at the same time. By isolating individual smaller skills and asking the child to take responsibility for these one at a time, we can help the child to build confidence and pride in his or her ability to do the skill well. This is an important component in developing intrinsic motivation.