To Read Is To Spar

Wohlfahrt’s Opus 45 is a book of etudes – pieces composed for the technical skills they build in their players.  So I assumed that’s why Teacher wanted me to get it – as a tool to help me improve my technical skills.  But in yesterday’s lesson she told me that she has another quite concrete motive – it’s really about sight reading music.

The Suzuki method is all about aural appreciation – playing by ear.  But to my mind it’s really not that cut and dried.  I absolutely engage with the music at this stage of my playing; there is no way I could play the repertoire without it.  I listen to the CD, of course – a lot, in fact.  I am very familiar with how a piece is supposed to sound.  And then in the lesson Teacher generally plays and has me copy her.  But she’s known all along that I learned to read music somewhat as a child, and she actively encourages me to do so.

I have often wondered what an adult totally new to music would do when approaching the Suzuki method.  Much of what I understand about the way young brains acquire knowledge and skills supports well enough Suzuki’s listen-and-copy method, but I have some questions about how the method works with older learners.  Much criticism exists, and I’ve come to learn that most Suzuki based teachers, like my own, supplement Suzuki’s curriculum with materials intended to fill in some gaps in the Suzuki way.

I was delighted and surprised yesterday when Teacher said, “I’m not going to play this for you; you don’t know anything about what it’s supposed to sound like, and that’s the point.”  It immediately struck me that – quite literally – I had not yet played a single note that I didn’t know what it was supposed to sound like in advance.  Even all of the supplemental tunes I’ve downloaded on my own have been songs I know extremely well.

With my study of the violin I’m constantly making analogies to my other formal adult learning pursuit – karate.  To me this moment in my playing is akin to the moment in our style of karate when we begin to spar, which we don’t do until we’re a couple of years in.  For me on the violin, up until now it’s all been drills and choreographed, proscribed movement (I know exactly what I’m supposed to do and when).  But here I am now, standing in front of unknown music – it’s a lot like standing across from a sparring partner who could throw anything my way at any moment, and I just have to deal with it.

Teacher left and I started playing the first exercise – sparring music is going to be almost as fun as sparring people.

Thanks for reading.



  1. Sight reading can be such a fun challenge! And a frustrating one:) But you will find it quickens your mind musically and sharpens all your playing. I should do it more!!:)

  2. […] about the Suzuki tunes versus Danny Boy – I have not listened to Wohlfahrt, in fact that’s been part of the point , Teacher uses this book for technique, yes, but also to help students learn to sight read music […]

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