Vol. 13.6 November/December 2008

To facilitate, promote, and educate the public
on the way of teaching and playing the piano taught at the
Talent Education Research Institute in Matsumoto, Japan by Dr. Haruko Kataoka.

Piano Basics Foundation News

Editors and Layout
Dr. Karen Hagberg and Teri Paradero
Chisa Aoki and Teri Paradero
Web Editors
Carol Wunderle - Volume 13.6
Kenneth Wilburn, Senior Web Editor

Hard Copy Illustrations
Juri Kataoka

Leah Brammer - Media
Rita Burns - Workshops

Production and Distribution
Linda Nakagawa, Barbara Meixner,
and the Sacramento Teachers Research Group

Send Articles to:
Suzuki Piano Basics Foundation
67 Shepard St., Rochester NY 14620
Fax: 585-244-3542

Linda Nakagawa
242 River Acres Drive
Sacramento, CA, USA 95831
Phone: 916-422-2952

Next Deadline: December 20, 2008

To Nurture

By Haruko Kataoka

From the Matsumoto Suzuki Piano Newsletter
Vol.13 No.7, December 22, 2003
Translated by Chisa Aoki and Teri Paradero
Edited by Karen Hagberg
Illustrations by Juri Kataoka

This was Dr. Kataoka’s closing address at the 10-Piano Concert in Matsumoto on November 16, 2003, two months before her death in January, 2004.

I would like to thank everyone for coming today. I was told that I would be addressing you later in the program, but after listening to the last piece, I am overwhelmed that children are so wonderful, and I want to speak now.

Contrary to traditional teaching methods, we have been teaching music according to Dr. Shinichi Suzuki’s intention. What is this intention? It is that the most important time for human education is during childhood. You must instill what is good during childhood: manners, for instance. Being able to say ‘thank you’ and to greet others properly depend on how much discipline parents employ to teach these manners so they become imprinted on their children for life.

Because of this realization, Dr. Suzuki concluded that the most important time for music education is during childhood. Furthermore, we all speak the language of our native country fluently. This does not happen because anyone exerts any extra effort. Before you know it, we were able to speak Japanese, English, French, any language at all.

Dr. Suzuki’s intention was not especially to develop professional musicians. Nor was it a question of whether or not a person has musical sense. Teaching young children music in a good environment while nurturing ability in good basics, even if they don’t become professional musicians, will result in their being able to enjoy music throughout their life. It is an education that develops a human being who can enjoy music just like one enjoys the ability to speak.

In Japan, the word ‘kyoiku’ (education) is a wonderful word. Its meaning includes ‘to teach’ and ‘to nurture.’ Generally speaking, in most education teaching is accomplished, but nurturing is absent. When educating children, you must teach them and then you have to nurture them. Teaching alone is not good enough. We have to nurture them until they have definitely developed their ability. I have taught piano students for over 40 years honoring Dr. Suzuki’s way of thinking. When you earnestly teach Dr. Suzuki’s method, the student really changes. For example, if you teach children and then give a test, assuming that 100 points is a perfect score, some children may get a 100 and some may get 30. Typically, children who earn the lower score are blamed for not studying or for being lazy. Dr. Suzuki’s response to a situation like this, however, was to tell the teacher that he or she taught that child only 30 percent of the information. This was a shocking revelation to me. In Suzuki Method we always teach patiently until the child is able to achieve 100 points.

Needless to say, every child has been granted his very own individual personality from birth. And, of course, there are differences in each child’s home environment. Working with all these parameters can be difficult at times, but it is also enjoyable because we can work with unique individuals who are not robots.

No matter how hard we try to teach the basics every day, children don’t do what we asked them to do two weeks ago. Their easygoing nature is a result of their natural lack of urgency when it comes to plans or schedules. However, today, as I was listening to the concert, I remembered I was tough with them two days ago because they couldn’t do something, but today, they were able to do it.

I was very moved by the last piece, the Polonaise. I had played it long time ago. It is a very difficult, virtuosic piece. Because I was not taught good tech-nique by my teacher, my playing was frantic. Despite this, everyone would flatter me, telling me I was so good. But today’s 10 pianists were not playing frantically. They were playing with ease.

I regret that I have inconvenienced everyone this time because of my ill health. The students really have not had the opportunity to play this piece much. They are all my students and all of them are presently in college. They come from Tokyo, Kyoto, and other cities quite a distance away. Every single one of them, to my pleasant surprise, asked if they could play in the concert. They all said that they really wanted to play. I voiced my concern with them about their long commute, but they still all insisted that they wanted to play. With the exception of one student, all are majoring in fields other than music, such as law or economics. They all attend different schools for their respective areas of study.

I am in awe of how amazing children are. Today, they played absolutely together and so incredibly well. When they were asked to go back onstage for a second bow, many were in tears. I, too, was moved to tears. Children—human beings—are so wonderful. When they put their minds to something, incredible strength wells up from somewhere within themselves.

For the future of Japan, we must nurture our children with the utmost care. Dr. Shinichi Suzuki truly realized this great method and then taught us this method. I am deeply impressed with the thought that we must ensure its continuation, so it can be taught to future generations.

We are planning our 14th 10-Piano Concert to be held in a year and a half. It would give us great joy if you can come and join us again. Thank you so much!


Renee Eckis


Suzanne Lichtenstein
2415 Easton Turnpike
Waymart, PA 18472

Carol Wunderle
1025 S. Beach St. Apt. 65
Daytona Beach, FL 32114

We Must Change Our Thinking: The Legacy of Haruko Kataoka

Speech delivered by Karen Hagberg
At the 20th Annual Conference of the Suzuki Association of Ontario
Royal Conservatory of Music, Toronto
November 7, 2008

Just twenty years ago I traveled to Japan for what I thought would be a few months of study with Haruko Kataoka, the co-founder of the Suzuki Piano Method. It turned into nearly four years. Even though I graduated from the Piano Department after just 18 months, I stayed on, realizing that I had so much more to learn. Truly, I could be in Matsumoto today learning things I still do not know. That is the nature of studying the Suzuki Method as I have come to know it.

I met Dr. Kataoka six years before I went to Japan, at the first Conference of the Suzuki Association of the Americas in Chicago in 1984, where Dr. Kataoka was a featured guest. I have such a strong impression of that first meeting. She said so many things that I had never heard anyone say before. I sensed that, for the first time in the world of music pedagogy, I was hearing the truth.

How many of us have one or two good students?

I recall that she looked out over a large conference room filled with piano teachers, and she asked how many of us had one or two good students. Most hands went up. Then she said that these one or two students would be good without us; that they were probably good in spite of us; that all of the students of a good teacher would play well; that, in fact, we had to judge our teaching by our worst student.

These words may have discouraged some teachers in attendance, but they had a positive effect on me. I had not taught piano for very long at that point, but I was getting burned out with frustration. I could not seem to help my students get better. I sat helplessly by, simply observing how they played. And I knew I was not the only teacher doing this. I had joined local teachers’ organizations and had had conversations with several colleagues that often went something like this:
  Teacher A, “Do you have any good students this year?”

  Teacher B, “I have one, how about you?”

  Teacher A, “Sadly, I don’t have any at the moment.”

As if we, the teachers, had nothing whatever to do with how our students played! Actually, before I met Dr. Kataoka I was seriously considering giving up piano teaching if I had to be stuck in a career where I would be so ineffective. Her words gave me hope: hope for myself as a teacher and for my students; hope that I really could learn to teach every child who walked into my studio and to stop merely noticing which ones could manage to play pieces without much instruction at all; hope that, whatever their level, all of my students, since I had grown up with a very unnatural way of playing the piano, would learn to play better than I can. That one idea alone gave me a reason to pursue this wonderful career, work that Dr. Kataoka always called the best job in the world. When I first heard her speak, I was ready for the idea that I had responsibility for the way all my students play the piano.

Musical talent is the result of a child’s environment.

So much of Dr. Kataoka’s pedagogy is based on the idea that we must change our thinking. In fact, the very philosophical basis of the Suzuki Method, that musical talent is not inborn but is the result of a child’s environment, is totally contrary to the conventional wisdom with which we were all brought up and the conventional wisdom that comes at us even today from all corners of society—from the professional music world on down. It is very easy, in this persistently non-Suzuki environment, to lose sight of the basic tenet of this pedagogy, very easy to wander away from it and into a more traditional world that is understood and accepted by our colleagues at large. Both Dr. Kataoka and Dr. Suzuki anchored their teaching on this very basic philosophical foundation on a daily basis, knowing how difficult it is to change one’s thinking in a world that is hostile to this radical idea. If I learned one thing in Japan, it is that I have to remind myself every day that we are children of our environment, and that my job is to create a good musical environment for my students with the conviction that they are all capable of learning to play the piano with ease and natural technique, that they all can learn a deep love of music and an appreciation for beauty in the world. Both Dr. Suzuki and Dr. Kataoka were convinced that children taught this way would become agents of peace in the world. Their goals were lofty, serious goals.

Teachers can learn from our students.

I recall many other things that Dr. Kataoka said at that conference nearly 25 years ago. She informed us that our students will play exactly as we do, since they learn, not by explanations, but by example. When I heard her say this, I didn’t have nearly the understanding of this statement that I do now, after twenty years of teaching workshops where I have the unique privilege to teach numbers of students whose teacher also has a lesson with me. This principle is so true, in fact, that we teachers may work on our own technique simply by working on those things we’re constantly telling our students. If we hear ourselves say, “Sit up,” many times every day, we need to work on our posture. If we are saying, “Don’t drop your wrist,” we need to practice not dropping our own wrist. If we say, “Don’t make noisy tone,” we are probably not listening to ourselves as we produce exactly that same noisy sound. Viewed in this way, our students become our best teachers. We must change our thinking to realize this and to allow it to happen.

Provide students with the best examples.

Because children learn principally by example, Dr. Kataoka often told teachers that we may play any old way when we’re sitting alone in our studios, but that we have to be very careful, indeed, when playing anything in front of students. Many visitors in Matsumoto found it difficult to understand why we studied the Twinkle Variations and the other simple pieces in Book 1 so diligently. We were, after all, piano teachers who had studied much more advanced repertoire. But I came to realize that we were being taught to play them as if we were Horowitz or Rubenstein. We were being taught to be able to demonstrate a natural tone and technique—quite an order actually—more than any of us would be able to do in more difficult repertoire until we could do it here, at the beginning. We were being taught that our expertise on simple pieces would determine the future of each and every student in our studio. For more advanced repertoire, the models should be the great pianists of the world, not us teachers, mediocre by comparison. There is an inherent humility in this approach. Teachers have no right to set ourselves up as models in a world where there are great pianists, as this would only serve to set unfair limitations upon our students. Both Dr. Suzuki and Dr. Kataoka believed that students of a good teacher would play better than the teacher. We adults have the responsibility of creating the environment around our children. Children need to be provided with the best examples. We have to change our thinking.

Build ability step-by-step with the basics.

Dr. Kataoka often described most piano teaching as hanging curtains and pictures before constructing the walls or the foundation; asking students to do things they were not ready to do: for example, talking about beautiful phrasing before a student has been taught to make a single, musical tone. This is how she developed the term Suzuki Piano Basics, to emphasize what is important in pedagogy if we are to be able to teach ability to every student who comes along. She confined her teaching almost exclusively to the basics of the human body when it performs a physical task (posture, relaxation, concentration) and the basics of music (rhythm, melody, accompaniment), believing that a student would be able to choose exactly how he or she wanted to play after acquiring these basics. She believed in individual preferences, and would not presume to teach a student how to feel a piece of music or even to like a piece of music. The basics, she believed, are the only aspects of piano playing that can be taught. And these should be taught thoroughly at every lesson.

So her lessons consisted of many repetitions of basic movements, always listening to the resulting sound with concentration. In this way, she was able to raise the level of ability in her students so quickly that it astonished observers. I recall the first advanced lesson I saw her teach. I was perplexed seeing her do nothing different from what I saw her do in beginners’ lessons. What kind of teaching was this, I wondered? We have to change our thinking.

Teaching is a full-time job, and it is the best job in the world.

In the wider musical establishment, the most respected teachers are those who also perform. Dr. Kataoka often said that teaching and performing are two separate, full-time jobs, and that a single person cannot excel at both. Neither she nor Dr. Suzuki performed. They each taught 365 days a year. They were completely dedicated to teaching and to their students. A major element in their success was sheer, hard, relentless work. I never saw people work so hard.

Dr. Kataoka loved teaching, and this is the other major element in her success. She would often remind piano teachers that we have the best job in the world. She truly believed this, and I think it is true.

We have to change our thinking.


Mondavi Center for the Arts, UC Davis, Davis, California
Saturday, August 15, 2009
2:30 p.m.


All Suzuki Piano Basics teachers wishing for their students to participate in the 2009 Suzuki Piano Basics International 10-Piano concert in Sacramento must complete pre-registration for themselves and for their students in order to qualify to participate in the concert. The following is a reminder of the guidelines:

   1.   All teachers are welcome. The total registration fee for teachers is $275 for August 1-15, 2009. Those who help with the concert          will receive a free concert ticket.
  2.   Another observation option is available. A   teacher may pregister for a 3-day pass for $150. The 3day pass is good for 1-3 days                of observation. (Pre-registration fee will not assessed if you contact Linda Nakagawa at least two weeks prior to your arrival.)
  3.   Teachers who wish to enroll their students must be a member of Piano Basics Foundation and must pre-register by December          10,2008.  (The pre-registration deadline for local Sacramento students is November 1, 2008.)
  4.    Preference will be given to students of teachers who have had lessons with a Japanese teacher in 2008 and 2009.
  5.    It is highly recommended that the student also have had a lesson with a Japanese teacher.
  6.    Teachers with students participating must attend all rehearsals.
  7.    Students who come alone and require homestay must be old enough to take care of themselves (independent of their parents).          Homestay hosts will provide transportation to rehearsals, meals, laundry etc. The fee for homestay will be $225. Students will also need          spending money for any sightseeing, personal purchases and/or meals away from the homestay.
  8.    Priority will go to teachers who have observed, or have had their students participate in past 10-piano concerts.
  9.    Students will be chosen on the basis of repertoire and homestay availability.
10.    Homestay is not available for families. Students coming with parents are asked to stay in a hotel for the duration of the 2-week          rehearsal period. Practice facilities will be provided.
11.   There is a greater possibility that students will be accepted if homestay is not requested.
12.   All performers must be in Sacramento and ready to rehearse from Saturday, August 1, 2009 at 10:00 a.m. until the concert on         August 15.
13.   Pre-rehearsed groups of 10 students will not be accepted.
14.   Registration Fee for students (bowers included) is $200, payable upon acceptance to SMAC-Sierra Branch.
15.   Rehearsals for local students and teachers are planned for every week-end starting at the end of June. Students and teachers outside of         the area are welcome!

Please contact Linda Nakagawa by e-mail ( or by phone (916-422-2952) to request registration forms and submit by December 10, 2008. (Note: Sacramento-area teachers' deadline is November 1.)

Piano Basics Foundation
Upcoming Workshops/Events

January 31-February1, 2009
Rochester, NY

Suzuki Piano Basics Workshop with Linda Nakagawa
Contact: Karen Hagberg 585-244-0490

February, 12-16, 2009
Orange County, California

Suzuki Piano Basics Teacher Research Workshop
with Keiko Ogiwara and Keiko Kawamura
Contact Mei Ihara 714-997-8692

February, 19-23, 2009
Louisville, Kentucky

Suzuki Piano Basics Teacher Research Workshop with
Keiko Ogiwara and Keiko Kawamura
Contact Bruce Boiney 502-241-5921

March 10-12, 2009
Tucson, Arizona

Suzuki Piano Workshop with Karen Hagberg
Contact: Ann Taylor 520-881-0452

March 13-14, 2009
Phoenix, Arizona

Suzuki Piano Workshop with Karen Hagberg
Contact: Vicki Seil 480-234-9003

April 23-26, 2009
Atlanta, Georgia

Suzuki Piano Basics Workshop with Bruce Boiney
Contact: Jocelyn McQuire 404-524-5800

June 2-6, 2009
Louisville, Kentucky

University of Louisville Suzuki Piano Institute
Contact: Bruce Boiney 502-241-5921

August, 1-15, 2009
Davis, California

International Suzuki Piano Basics 10-Piano Concert
Mondavi Center for the Arts
Contact Linda Nakagawa 916-422-2952

The events listed above are for the information of Suzuki Piano Basics Foundation members and others.
Suzuki Piano Basics Foundation does not endorse, sanction, or sponsor events.

To add or change items on this list and on the Suzuki Piano Basics website, contact
Karen Hagberg, 585-244-0490

A Reminder to All Members:

Membership in Suzuki Piano Basics Foundation is for a calendar year. This means that all memberships are due for renewal in January. We value your membership, and try to keep the cost of membership low by not sending out multiple reminders. Please renew using the enclosed form. Your prompt attention benefits us all.

Please send corrections to Kenneth Wilburn, Senior Web Editor

To the Kataoka Sensei Memorial.
To the Suzuki Piano Basics Home Page.

First Online Edition: 18 May 2009
Last Revised: 9 March 2012