Suz started teaching herself music as a young child on a toy 2-octave plastic organ/ keyboard which was the foundation of her reading music notation. She sang in choirs throughout all her school years, from elementary years to college. In middle school, she taught herself guitar from the Laura webber folk guitar course on OPB, and then taught herself piano as a young teen ( in addition to learning from fellow piano players). A professional musician since the age of 14, Suz spent up to 5 hours a day honing her piano playing skills in numerous ways. Over the years she added in playing multiple instruments (guitar, piano, mandolin, bass, and more).
Bonus: What was the first piano song Suz taught herself?
Answer: Saturday in the Park.
Suz studied music education at Western Oregon University, and is also an trained Montessori teacher (with Association Montessori International). She arranged songs for college choir, and medleys for high school talent shows, including the fabulous patriotic medley for the class of 1976 graduation. Working at a music store for years inspired her to learn different instruments and music software and technology. She also taught a series of workshops at Gracewinds Music on instant piano playing using chord theory techniques. This led to her co-writing and recording underscoring music for “Piano Dreams: The Movie,” a music education film about how to quickly play piano using only a few chords. These experiences and more informed her unique style as a private music teacher (and a workshop leader).
So how did Suz start teaching private students? She owes it all to a parent who kept asking her (for months) to teach piano to her son. “I’m not an official piano teacher,” Suz thought. But finally, she gave it a chance, and discovered that she LOVED teaching piano and guitar — combining official piano lessons sight-reading books with her own brand of improvisation, chord theory, and other “whole brain” approaches to teaching.
Word spread and soon Suz had a full docket of students who loved how she individually tailored lessons and music experiences to the individual passions and interests of each student — e.g. practical performing musician theory (simple approach to how songs work); songwriting; forming bands with other students; recording CDs; having recitals as community service events at retirement homes; auditioning for shows; playing at farmers markets or open mics; practicing jazz and songwriting improv; exploratorium (trying different instruments — including Boomwhackers); and working with the particular learning styles of each student.
Examples of Suz working with unique learning styles
For example, one student had a stroke as a young child and was unable to use both her hands. But she could sing like Aretha Franklin! So Suz accompanied her with blues style piano playing as the student practiced making up songs — and she was the hit of the music recitals. Woo HOO! Another student with autism had difficulty sight-reading music, but had an AMAZING ear. He could hear a song once and play it exactly. YOWZA! So they worked mostly by ear and by rote. He also created a cool intro/ narration to his Star Trek: The Next Generation song at one of our recitals — which was super fun! Other students brought friends or family members to their lessons to practice playing together (e.g. cello/ guitar; piano/ guitar), and their friends and family members also joined them in our yearly recitals.
CUSTOM-MADE STUDENT MATERIALS: From Bouzouki to Uke
In addition to creating learning materials for piano, guitar, uke, mandolin, and bass, Suz created individualized teaching materials to meet the needs and interests of each student: Bouzouki tablature of “He’s a Pirate?” Sure! Notating songs student write? Yep. Making easy alphabet-based bass lines to try? Of course. Simplifying advanced rock or video game songs so they are playable for beginners — on Ukulele? Or mandolin? Psaltery? Charango? Or Banjo? Yup. Teaching students how to figure out songs by ear? Yep again. Having students dress up and sing for elderly people in Hospice care? You got it! Songs in Spanish? Yes. Tinkering with cellos, accordions, mandolins, and more? Yep. Welcome to Suz Doyle Music’s Exploratorium!
Above all, Suz’s outside-the-box approach to teaching (whether it be private lessons or group workshops) is focused on following each student’s curiosity and making learning FUN by jumping in and trying things. And by exploring the “bigger picture” of music.
Examples of Suz’s top secret bigger picture teaching tips
For example, what different instruments have in common— (e.g. the mandolin and violin strings are tuned the same as the bottom 4 strings of the guitar, upside down and backwards — so guitar chords can be “flipped” and easily played on the mandolin or violin. And the Charango is really just like a double-stringed ukulele with an extra “E” note on top.) Or the basic practical performing-musician-theory of how songs work (7 chords in a key; 3 are major; 3 are minor, 1 is diminished; and you can play by ear by understanding that the 3 major chords are the essential “bones of a song,” which enables you to play by ear by “playing the bones.” But I digress. Back to the summary:
FINALLY, THE REAL SUMMARY:
Of course, the other part of being a teacher is also being a life-long learner. There is always something new and interesting to learn, and Suz invites her students (and herself, and her fellow musicians) to dive into new possibilities. Life — and music — is full of fun new things to learn.