Music Proper

Teacher brought me music.  It’s book one of Suzuki for violin, and of course it confirms that that’s exactly what I’ve been learning.  I’m interested in the pedagogical notes – especially in the preface to the book, where Suzuki writes four principles for helping children learn the violin (paraphrased):

  1. Listen to the recordings
  2. Strive for beautiful tone
  3. Proper tone, posture, and bow hold should be attended constantly
  4. Provide motivation to the child so he will enjoy it

I feel I’ve got 2-4 handled – I have to do my own motivating, of course, but I’ve got that one in the bag.  Number 1 is interesting to me.  It’s a key to the Suzuki method – listen well to play well.  While I listen to violin music a lot these days, I’m not listening to the songs I’m playing.  Nevertheless, I feel I’m making excellent progress on all fronts – with the bow and instrument hold, tone production, rhythmic appreciation, memory of the music.  But it’s clear from the two books I’ve read, one by Suzuki himself and the other by an apprentice, that lab listening was absolutely essential to the method.

I do wonder if tonal appreciation is the key to the listening Suzuki stressed, versus aural reception of merely the melodies of the beginner songs.  I feel a bit odd trying to game the Suzuki system, but my teacher has not stressed listening to a Suzuki CD, and, again, so far so good with my outcomes, from my perspective.  I will ask her next week if she thinks the CD would help.  I have to admit that listening to the songs I’ve been playing is not nearly as interesting to me as listening to the greats play the greats.

Most surprising to me was the fact that from the most beginner song, which in the book is “Exercise for E-String Posture,” the songs are laid out in proper musical staffs.  The most common complaint I’ve heard about the Suzuki method is that it does not teach music reading properly (or at all, to read some of the harsher critics!).

The preface of the book gives the subject a bit of an airing, “Guidance for music reading will begin in Vol. 4.  Just as the alphabet is not taught when children first learn their mother language, so music reading should not be included in violin study until children have sufficiently developed their musical sensitivity, playing skill, and memory.”

Teacher knows I had three years of violin as a child, and that once upon a time I did know how to read music.  I also get the feeling that she’s a pragmatic educator, versus a Suzuki ideologue.  As I flipped through the pages with her yesterday and asked questions about bits of musical notation I’ve forgotten, she happily answered them.  Since Suzuki relies on the linguistic analogy, I wonder how he would feel about a person who had some knowledge about how to read music, and who is also fully literate in spoken languages (unlike the beginner violin children for whom he created his method).  I do imagine that as a pragmatic educator that he would say it’s fine/desirable to learn both, given the givens.

For me, I think it’s all going to continue to be perfect.  The finger positions are noted above the notes, and I expect that over time, sight reading will come back naturally as I work through the books.  I think Teacher made the right choice in giving me these first few months to focus only on the sounds and the hold.  Ultimately I agree with Suzuki – that the best performances are played by ear/from memory.

Thanks for reading.


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