Shin’ichi Suzuki was born in Nagoya, Japan in 1898, one of twelve children. He spent his childhood working at his father’s violin factory, putting up violin soundposts. A family friend encouraged Shinichi to study Western culture, but his father felt that it was beneath Suzuki to be a performer. He began to teach himself how to play the violin at 17 after being inspired by a recording of Mischa Elman. Without access to professional instruction, he listened to recordings and tried to imitate what he heard. At the age of 22, the Marquis Tokugawa, a friend of Suzuki’s, persuaded his father to allow him to study in Germany, where he studied under Karl Klingler. Suzuki never attained any formal education past his high school diploma. While in Germany, he spent time under the guardianship of Albert Einstein. He also met and married his wife, Waltraud Prange (1905-2000).
Upon his return to Japan, he formed a string quartet with his brothers and began teaching at the Imperial School of Music and at the Kunitachi Music School in Tokyo. During World War II, his father’s violin factory was bombed by American war planes and one of his brothers died as a result. The family was left penniless by this, so Suzuki decided to leave his teaching positions and move to a nearby city, where he constructed parts for wooden airplanes to raise some money. Extremely poor, he gave lessons to orphaned children in the outer cities of where he lived. He adopted one of his students, Koji, and started to develop teaching strategies and philosophies. He then combined his new practical teaching applications with traditional Asian philosophy.
Shinichi Suzuki died at his home in Matsumoto, Japan on January 26, 1998, aged 99.