The best way to describe this comparison is with a table and a few explanations. Each row in the table corresponds to the paragraph of the same number:
Suzuki Traditional Kodály
1. Sound to Sound Sight to Sound Sound to Sight
2. Intuitive Cognitive Intuitive and Cognitive
3. Child Developmental Subject Logic Child Developmental
4. Quick Technique Slow Technique Quick Technique
5. No literacy Visual literacy Aural literacy
1. Suzuki – The student hears the song first from a teacher, a parent, or a recording playing it; hence, sound to sound.
Traditional – The student reads the note and then plays it; thus, sight to sound.
Kodály – The student’s model is his/her own singing voice. The song is taught by rote from the teacher’s singing, often in singing games. The rhythmic and melodic elements of the song are derived and given a name and a symbol, which the student will recognize when placed on the staff; thus, sound to sight.
2. Suzuki – The “mother tongue” approach. Children learn how to speak their own language through hearing it spoken. They perceive it without having to reason or concentrate; it’s just part of their environment. The music is likewise presented through listening and can be perceived at a very young age.
Traditional – The music must be read first, before it can be played. Reading language or music notation takes cognitive skill and concentration. The difference between Suzuki and traditional is like the difference between speaking a language and reading it.
Kodály – Singing is intuitive to all children. The first instrument is the singing voice. Learning to play an instrument is easier and more musical if the songs are sung first and then transferred to the instrument. Next, reading the symbols on a page of music, which were learned first from sound, calls upon the child’s cognitive skills. First intuitive, and then cognitive.
3. Suzuki – The Suzuki “mother tongue” concept of learning is itself child developmental. Rhythms and bowings begin with small note values, much easier than long ones with extended bow strokes. Generally speaking, however, the technical demands progress rapidly from piece to piece. In my opinion, there are some large gaps in the learning sequence which make it not child developmental: too many new things all at once.
Traditional – In past decades, a subject-logic approach was used in traditional violin methods. Rhythmically, it began with the whole note and then proceeded to halves and quarters: certain to kill any enthusiasm for playing the violin. Since those days, several wonderful pedagogues have taken a more child developmental approaches to technique. The work of Paul Rolland was especially significant. However, one needs only to look at the preliminary instructions about music notation and fundamentals given in most method books, to realize that the student must intellectualize certain abstract concepts about music before he can begin to play.
Kodály – The learning sequence begins at the best starting place for children’s voices and experience. Rhythmically, it begins with feeling the basic beat. Melodically, children are able to sing a range of only five or six tones with no half-steps. While the best first tones for singing are pentatonic, the best for starting a string instrument are those which are step-wise starting from the open string. Learning those first music elements one at a time through singing, and then transferring them to the instrument at the appropriate time is the order of things for a smooth, natural, child-developmental learning sequence.
4. Suzuki – The principle advantage is that a young child can get to the technique of the instrument very quickly. There are no prerequisites which involve reading. I call it quick technique.
Traditional – Having to decode the page before you can play, tends to slow down the process of acquiring excellent technique. There’s only so much brain available to think of everything. I call that slow technique.
Kodály – There are actually two learning tracks going on simultaneously. The intuitive one, starting from sound, transfers to the instrument very easily, and results in quick technique. The reading track is going on at the same time to create literacy. It’s important for teachers to have their objectives clearly in mind: am I working on technique or am I working on literacy? That determines your approach. The nice thing about this separation of tasks is that it allows a teacher to customize a student’s program according to his/her strengths and needs. Gradually, the students’ ability to play and their ability to read merge until they match.
5. Suzuki – The biggest weakness of staying with the Suzuki approach for very long is the lack of literacy. Most Suzuki teachers now find a way to introduce note-reading of some form or another from traditional sources. The necessity of a prescribed repertoire I find particularly limiting and tiring as a teacher.
Traditional – Learning by these methods, students who persevere until their technique catches up with their ability to read music notation, can become great sight readers and independent learners. Reading notes, however, does not necessarily mean that students will know in their heads what the notes are supposed to sound like. I call this visual literacy.
Kodály – One of the primary objectives is to educate the ear and achieve music literacy based on hearing. (See articles “To Hear or Not to Hear” and “What is Solfege and Why is it Important” in this blog) These students become even better sight readers, because they hear in their head what they are about to play. With careful step-by-step learning, students can achieve a high level of musicianship which this type of literacy makes possible.
Which is the best approach? It depends on the result you are looking for. Many fine players have emerged from each of them.