It’s all about sound…

child_violin_jpg_w300h405When I began my tertiary music training I had very little idea that I would become a music teacher. All I ever wanted to do was play violin. I was not altogether enthusiastic about teaching. Obviously I was too young and naive to think about how I’d earn my bread and butter when I finally finished!

Since then of course I’ve had a complete mind change. Teaching is something I could do for hours and not get tired. It’s one of those things that seems to be the perfect job for me. I love it.

Just a few weeks ago I began doing some re-thinking about my teaching style. A good thing to do if you’ve been doing things the same way for while. I’ve incorporated a few things I’ve learnt from other teachers, and a little bit of Kodaly. But, on the whole, I tend to teach from the printed music. This is not necessarily something I planned to do; it’s just the way things turned out. It has been reasonably successful up until the last few years when I seemed to gain some children who struggle excessively with aural skills.

They are fine with rhythm, music reading/notation and producing a good tone. Some of them also play from memory. But the elusive part is intonation. With the violin, a small shift in position affects all the notes on that string. If the first finger is flat then usually the other three fingers are flat as well.

So what is it that has caused this decline in aural awareness?  My theory is that it has a lot to do with the home environment, the types and styles of music a child is exposed to and how old they are when they are exposed to them.

When you think of someone like Mozart you can easily imagine, with his father being a musician, that he was exposed to music from a very early age, probably from birth. Dr Shinichi Suzuki founded the world wide music education movement known as the Suzuki Method on this very concept. Suzuki observed how easily children learned to speak their native language and concluded that children could learn music this way if taught with love and dedication. This means starting very young. It’s not uncommon for children taught this method to begin at 3 years of age.

The distinction between the Suzuki style of teaching and traditional teaching is that the Suzuki Method relies very much on aural training coming first, way ahead of reading. And when you really think about it, isn’t that what music is all about? The dots and markings on the page are not music in the sense of something we hear. They are more like a historical record or permanent indication of the composer’s intentions.

Suzuki is big on involving the parents too. Parental involvement is very much central to the early learning period. This correlates very well to something I’ve noticed in my years of teaching. Again and again, with my own students, those who excel are those whose parents are genuinely interested in their progress and are intentional in their involvement. They encourage the child to go beyond what they think they are capable of, to try new things and not to be afraid of failure.

So, it looks like Suzuki is something to look into a little more depth. Developing a good tone and accurate intonation is crucial to good violin/string playing. After all, music is all about sound.

(Read more about the Suzuki Method here.)

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