Printer-friendly version weekend vote: Can everyone learn?

The Weekend Vote

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Published: June 6, 2014 at 9:35 PM [UTC]

The idea of "everyone can learn" came up in several ways this week.

First, in this blog, I referred to Shinichi Suzuki's idea that every child has ability and can learn to play the violin, given the right environment. Suzuki's concepts (and remarkable success rate) have become more widespread and changed many people's ideas about the concept of "talent" -- the idea that talent is inborn for all people and simply needs cultivation.

Suzuki also promoted the idea that it helps to start very young, just as that helps in learning a language. But with teachers being more open to talent as educable and with the advent of the Internet, people have had greater success and encouragement in learning violin later in life.

So can everyone learn, truly? This was a question posted in this blog by Kate Little.

Some teachers embrace the idea, others don't. But is it true, that all people can learn, despite age or "talent"? What do you think?

From Karen Collins
Posted on June 6, 2014 at 9:40 PM
I think the answer is that anyone can learn. But how *well* can anyone learn? That's a question I'd enjoy a discussion on.
Posted on June 6, 2014 at 9:46 PM
Learning to play requires at least average intelligence. Clearly not everyone has that. Sorry if that sounds elitist but there seems no way of escaping that conclusion.
From Anne Horvath
Posted on June 6, 2014 at 10:24 PM
Not everyone is fortunate to have good enough health to play the violin.

From Tom Holzman
Posted on June 6, 2014 at 10:29 PM
I suspect that most people with normal motor skills and dexterity can learn. The big problem obviously is those who have motor issues such as cerebral palsy. The other big problem is the tone deaf. I had a colleague at work who told me she was tone deaf. So, I sang a do-re-mi scale for her up to sol. She could tell that do and sol were different notes but could not tell that the others were different from do. She also had no sense of what the do-sol interval was. Anyhow, I suspect that people like her are not capable of learning to play violin. However, I am open to other opinions about both categories I have identified. There are obviously some special cases such as Adrian Anantawan who lacks a right hand, holds the bow with a prosthesis and is a world class star, but he has the requisite motor skills, unlike the son of my wife's cousin who has CP and can barely use either hand at all.
Posted on June 6, 2014 at 11:58 PM
probably most will not have the talent plus doggedness to become virtuosos, but i think most of people can learn to play at a beginner or even intermediate level, given time and training and average mental and physical skills.....
Posted on June 7, 2014 at 1:48 AM
ANYONE CAN LEARN TO PLAY AN INSTRUMENT, INCLUDING VIOLIN WITH THE RIGHT TEACHER. Both of my kids started with a teacher that could teach anyone to play the violin that wanted to learn. He taught a tone deaf boy to play Vivaldi A minor Concerto in tune. He taught an autistic boy that needed help in school. The boy eventually went to a music conservatory. Gifted students did even better. When I was young, a student music teacher in my high school taught Down Syndrome students (IQs around 60, many with physical handicaps) to play recorder. I cried when they played Jingle Bells at the the school Christmas concert.
From Kate Little
Posted on June 7, 2014 at 1:55 AM
I'm not sure that it matters whether or not everyone can learn. We could argue this all day and night. What matters is what the teacher and the student believe.

If the teacher and the student both believe that the student can and will learn, than the student will.

If either the teacher or the student believe that the student has inability to learn, than progress will be seriously retarded, and possibly not present at all.

From Ellis Jackson
Posted on June 7, 2014 at 6:05 AM
How well do they want to play...? The goals of the student and the abilities of the teacher to get them there are more important. Just because one can learn something doesn't mean one necessarily should, nor should one teach just because one can (but honestly shouldn't).

To Laurie's point about impressing teachers: teachers must give equal effort to inspire their students--which will drive them to further impress their teachers. This kind of positive feedback loop is at the heart of playing well, as it is a process in execution rather than a state of collected abilities.


From Kevin Keating
Posted on June 7, 2014 at 12:45 PM
Define "learn to play." Learning and excelling are two very different things. I believe most people can learn to play, depending on their physical circumstances and their ability to hear musical tones. Some are more predisposed to it than others. But how well they will play, how far they will go with it, is another matter.
From curly swampash
Posted on June 7, 2014 at 1:14 PM
Any one who works at it with determination can play.
A recent Strad had an article about children with no arms and other physical challenges playing the Cello.
Posted on June 7, 2014 at 2:27 PM
If by "learning" we mean being able to make a violin sound like a dying cow then, yes, everyone can learn to play.
Posted on June 7, 2014 at 3:54 PM
If someone doesn't have the interest in learning, and doesn't have access to a violin, then I'd have to say no, they can't learn to play it. But otherwise, I agree with Kate. I'm not sure we'll ever know definitively, and I don't think it really matters if we do. It matters what the individual teachers and students believe about each other. A teacher who doesn't believe a student can learn, or a student who believes a teacher cannot teach, should not be working together.
Posted on June 7, 2014 at 5:24 PM
If it takes an unskilled, unmusical person 50 years to master "Twinkle", have they learned to play violin?
From Patrick Tinney
Posted on June 7, 2014 at 6:37 PM
I would like to support one of Tom Holzman's points.

In a previous enstrangement I had a cousin-in-law who was an elementary school teacher. Part of her degree required a music component, I think including the recorder. She claimed to be tone-deaf and they did not believer her. She was required to undergo testing.

She was able to convince the audiologist that she had no ability to distinguish pitch differences. Sad but true.

As sad as a cello player I knew who was hit by a car and lost her ability to taste anything. Though in her case she admitted to having been a fairly tasteless person most of her life.

Posted on June 7, 2014 at 6:51 PM
I absolutely believe everyone can learn with the rare exception of an actual physical handicap.
Efficiency of learning may vary based in natural aptitude, good teaching, and willingness to work at it.
What I would like to know though is, what do you do when someone IS working hard. .. and being taught well and thoughtfully and creatively (at least I'm sure trying! ) but still the pieces are just not coming together. As you might guess I have one of these right now and am at my wits end what to do with it and how to communicate to the parents about it. Maybe a separate post is in order, but I would love thoughts on this. ..
Posted on June 7, 2014 at 9:36 PM
The question is not whether everyone can learn to play, but whether everyone can learn to play *well*. Learning to be a good violinist requires dedication, and most people aren't willing or able to put in the amount of practice required.
That said, I believe anyone can benefit from the study of the violin.
Posted on June 7, 2014 at 11:26 PM
In order to learn to play the violin (or viola, cello and bass and some other instruments) it is necessary to have a "musical ear", otherwise the learner will never know whether or not he/she is out of tune. Now, the real question would be : "If someone is born without a musical ear (I know many of them !), can he/she develop a musical ear ? If the answer is NO, then it's impossible to learn to play the violin, SORRY ! But if the answer is YES, then I believe that anyone can learn to play the violin ... how well ? That would be a different story.
From Zlata Brouwer
Posted on June 8, 2014 at 10:05 AM
Definitely everyone can learn :). Some people just learn a bit faster than others.

When I look at my students, there is a great variety in talent (lots of talent or less and different areas of talent).

When I look at the results they are getting, it’s really simple: the students who practice a lot and who have good quality of practice (which means they listen to themselves and practice efficient and effective), get greater results.

I’ve got averagely talented students who are hard workers and get good results. I’ve got students with a good ear, but play out of tune just because they don’t practice enough.

Talent without practice is nothing. Practice without talent can get you somewhere. Talent together with good practice is of course the best.

It’s most important that violin playing is important to you, touches you, is a way to relax and enjoy yourself and makes you a better happier person.

Posted on June 8, 2014 at 5:33 PM
Yes, anyone can learn to play anything... however, it goes without saying, that the violin family of instruments
are among the most difficult to master (whatever mastery means)... to what level one aspires to accomplish on the violin is commensurate with:

A) When one starts study. It is a proven fact that very few people (5% if that) who start studying the violin, viola or cello as adults will be able to attain a professional skill level. Still, with good teaching and careful practice, an adult beginner can learn and attain a gratifying experience. I have some adult students who are doing very well.

B) Poor or negligent teaching will produce poor string players, of any age. I have issues with 'teachers' who do nothing but 'teach'. The best teachers are those who keep up their performing chops.

From Gregory Lawrence
Posted on June 8, 2014 at 5:57 PM
Yes, I believe anyone can learn... However, to what level
one learns the violin, viola, cello, bass is dependent, I think, on the following...

Starting age of student ... those who start as adults, are less likely to be able to attain a 'professional' skill level. And, there is no guarantee, even with the best teaching one who starts at an early age, 5 - 10 years of age, will attain a professional level. Many factors
are at play: Inborn talent, amount of (correct) practice,

Having said all that, I believe that 'passion' or the lack thereof, is a HUGE factor in how well one learns to
play the violin, or ANY instrument. You can teach technique, theory, etc... but you cannot teach or learn

Posted on June 8, 2014 at 9:51 PM
This obsession with reaching a professional level ithat many violin players appear to have s beyond me. What's the point in discussing this? I think my time is better spent practicing, and while I'm at it I will find out what this particular adult starter is capable of doing. I'm lucky to have a teacher who is convinced I can learn to play well, and who teaches accordingly.
From Paul Deck
Posted on June 9, 2014 at 2:48 PM
""Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?" G. W. Bush, — Florence, S.C., Jan. 11, 2000.
From Joyce Lin
Posted on June 9, 2014 at 4:58 PM
Whether everyone can learn or not is beside the point. I believe the ides of "Every child can learn" (or adult for that matter) is that everyone should be given the benefit of the doubt that s/he has potential to learn, instead of being written off before even given a chance to try because s/he is of the wrong physique/age or deemed not talented for whatever reason.
From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on June 10, 2014 at 1:26 AM
"It is a proven fact that very few people (5% if that) who start studying the violin, viola or cello as adults will be able to attain a professional skill level."

Five percent? Really? Those sound like pretty good odds to me. Do 5% of children who start studying the violin, viola, or cello attain a professional skill level? From my experience having gone through a good school music program and watching my own children and their friends go through another one, I don't think that, for children, it hits even 0.5%.

From Paul Deck
Posted on June 10, 2014 at 4:33 AM
I'm with Karen -- I think the fraction that reaches a professional level is vanishingly, punishingly small. But I'm not a professional level player, and even though it would be nice to have that skill, I enjoy playing the violin and I think the skill that I do have on the violin and on the piano has enriched my life considerably. Isn't that a reasonable and sufficient goal for one's children?

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