Teaching methods: repetition or understanding?Teaching and Pedagogy: Are we using repetition to teach instead of musical understanding and meaning?
From Helen Martin
In summer quite the other way I have to go to bed by day.." Bed in Summer by Robert Louis Stevenson
At age four my daughter could repeat this poem after only one reading. I think we are overusing repetition. Our goals need to include listening with understanding.
From Scott ColeHelen,
Posted on August 9, 2008 at 09:08 PM
The amount of repetition is dependent on the individual. Some need large amounts and some need one. I have some students who have to be told the same thing every lesson for years on end, and some who get the very first time. Listening and understanding are great, but neural pathways aren't built without repetition. Sometimes brute repetition is the only method that works.
From Helen MartinInteresting, Scott-
Posted on August 9, 2008 at 10:45 PM
Love to have some examples. I guess I am concerned about ends vs means.
And, I think there is a lot to theories of readiness.
From Marc BettisI agree Scott,
Posted on August 9, 2008 at 11:55 PM
Playing violin is at the beginning, is a very very physical puzzle. You need lots of subtle things to do their own thing without mental effort--building the ability to do many tasks without concious effort (for any of them). We all work to build automatism of technique-so as to free our minds for artistry and other things. This is where repetition comes in-in building that degree of independence. There are lots of strategies for practicing-and most involve repetition, and kids need to learn "how" one practices, and what practice "is"--if they can wind their own motor, the understanding can follow eventually (when they are ready).
Kids need to come to the point of needing to understand things and wanting that level of understanding, to progress beyond a certain level. Every child is different as to when they are ready, themselves, for answers to whys (and those explanations stick in their minds).
From Pauline LernerI agree that there is a strong need for repetition with beginners. They need to get to a point where things that were once hard become easy. Once they can play with the basic techniques good enough that they don't need to think about them, they can listen to the music itself and work on it. When my students have learned a simple tune but are afraid to stop looking at the fingerboard and his fingers, I have them play with eyes closed. They all protest that they won't be able to do it, but I insist. After they play with their eyes closed, they are amazed at how much better they sound. This is what happens when they focus on the music itself.
Posted on August 10, 2008 at 12:22 AM
Methods of teaching vary. I once met a girl who had been trained by her teacher's version of the Suzuki method. She had to listen to a recording of a Suzuki piece one thousand times and then play it. She played all the notes correctly, but her music sounded absolutely dead.
I think we should teach some basic theory with each piece. What is the key signature? What is the meter? What is the feeling of this piece, smooth (Brahms Lullaby) or "choppy" (Hunter's Chorus")? Why do you think that the music gets slower and softer at the end of the piece? Which combination of notes sound good together (octaves)?. Then they should be given scales and arpeggios. They should go back to an old piece after they have learned new things and play it again. Sometimes the sound is very different.
I love it when a beginner "discovers" the rules himself. I have one young student who has a tremendous musical intuition. He sometimes says, "I don't like the way this piece ends, so I wrote my own ending." His ending resolves to the home key. While playing a piece, he sometimes stops and says, "This part would sound better if I play it like this." He puts in his own interpretation of the music. Now he is beginning to play some notes and double stops in the second or third position. He wants to figure out the fingering (when and where you change positions) himself so that he can play the double stops accurately and not slide around too much. This kid is unusual, and I really enjoy teaching him.
From Bruce PattersonI think that aptitude helps.
Posted on August 10, 2008 at 02:22 AM
Repetition is necessary for any trade, craft, or art if one desires to become proficient.
From Nicole StacyDepends on what your expectations are with regard to her development; 'understanding' is a very broad term. I hope I won't offend if I suggest that even a precocious four-year-old child's understanding of concepts can be somewhat limited in depth and scope. It was just a few years prior that they learned that objects and people still exist even when you can't see them. Many have yet to accept the fact that if you pour water from a short glass into a tall glass, you don't have more water. I think you have the right idea and there are certainly things you can do, I just wouldn't let it trouble you much while she is so young. A teacher of mine tried to get her class (I think it was second or third grade) to read music and it was a flop -- they had the note values memorized but couldn't put them together into rhythms to save their lives -- and a year or two later it went much better.
Posted on August 10, 2008 at 02:45 AM
As for the repetition, neuroscientist Daniel Levitin states that the common denominator among many studies is this: the time commitment required to be considered an expert at something is about 10,000 hours (or a little less than three hours a day for ten years). Feel any better? :)
From Graham ClarkI am an improviser. I play things in concert that I have never played, or even tried to play, before. What I play is based mainly on my level of musical understanding, and when I hear what should be played, I play it instantaneously. (Sometimes I goof).
Posted on August 10, 2008 at 10:43 AM
However, how I have gained the technique to play this way has been through many thousands of hours of repetition, of scales, of intervals, of finger patterns, of arpeggios, and of pieces. Also of fitting phrases and lines to chord sequences.
Often someone will need to understand something musically before they will bother doing the repetition work. I don't think that our repetitions do any good without perception of how the scales etc should sound, or without a clear mental image of how we want the music to sound.
We need both. Musical understanding provides the frame for the donkey-work.
From Dimitri AdamouI think before touching an instrument its a good idea to graps understanding of musicology about it on general, I know there are some instruments which while being taught you are not allowed to touch it from the beggining (I think its one of the Indian guitars) till you gather some sort of level with your body alone.
Posted on August 10, 2008 at 11:14 AM
Understanding and insight are also helpful, recently I gained an insight regarding playing notes - I should pretty much treat it like a mechanical response, like finger 1 should touch so and so ONLY when in such position. I used to think - just play the damn note.
From Helen MartinIs it my imagination or am I reading "black and white" replies? I am not questioning the value of repetition but rather its overuse. What about the question of "listening with understanding." (Might also be called Audiation.)
Posted on August 10, 2008 at 04:49 PM
From Michael RichwineWell, the question was stated in a pretty black-and-white way. Of course a balance is necessary, but personally I haven't been able to gain any skill at all without tons of repetition.
Posted on August 10, 2008 at 04:59 PM
I agree with Suziki's saying: "Knowledge is not skill. Skill is knowledge plus 10,000 times."
So far, my own development has been about 2% understanding and 98% practice.
I improvise, too (not at GC's level, of course) and it's easy enough to hear the notes I want to play in my head, but if I don't do my exercises consistently enough to keep the notes under my fingers, it becomes impossible to play them.
From Graham ClarkIn my teaching I make it clear that we need to do something right many more times than we did it wrong before we can feel confident about always playing it right.
Posted on August 10, 2008 at 06:02 PM
I think it was Buri who said in another thread (a little reluctantly) that some repeat until they get it right, others till they can't get it wrong.
From Helen MartinHi, Michael-
Posted on August 10, 2008 at 06:43 PM
Sounds like "listening with understanding" offers you very little. Guess you will have to stick with the 10,000 times.
And, no, the question was not "black and white." Try another reading, please.
From Ronald MutchnikI may be misunderstanding the point, but isn't some understanding along with repetition coming into play when you explain to a student why, for example, we play certain notes in a certain part of the bow or why and how we move our arm a certain way when we move from one part of the bow to another, or why we position our fingers a certain way to reach notes easily or shift or any other technique that, when done efficiently and with ease, will set us up for a desired musical effect as well. After all, aren't the techniques we are learning to master the result of figuring out how to make certain sounds, whether it's the pitch, rhythmic, or dynamic aspect of the sound, or a combination thereof?
Posted on August 11, 2008 at 02:04 AM
From janet griffithsI like to think that my students understand what they are repeating and are not mindlessly chundering out in a copycat fashion.So for me its important that they learn to read music right from the start and before they start repeating a phrase they work out its progression by themselves.The big advantage is that once they have worked out by themselves what they are supposed to play they have laid down the foundations of a programme of correct repetition.
Posted on August 11, 2008 at 06:04 AM
From Karen AllendoerferMy teacher recently told me to use repetition to improve my intonation, to be able to get my fingers down on the right note the first time. That seems to me like a motor skill that can go along with listening for understanding in other areas. There's no need for the two to be mutually exclusive.
Posted on August 11, 2008 at 11:31 AM
From Andrew VictorWhen I have trouble with a passage, I play it until I get it the way I want (for that day and time) correct 10 times in a row. The i put it away for the day and go on to other things (playing, practicing, or whatever).
Posted on August 11, 2008 at 11:59 PM
Next day, I try that passage again once I'm warmed up. If I get it right first time, I'll try it again in case any parts are rough. I'll continue the repetition process if I make an error -- 10 times perfect.
If I'll be performing it, I check that passage every time I practice the piece.
If I find that for some reason I continue to have trouble with it, I'll try alternative fingerings/bowings to see if something different is more natural for me.
I recommend the same repetition approach to my students.
This concept of repetition includes phrasing and musical style; everything about the way one plays it is part of the process.
From Scott Cole"Interesting, Scott-
Posted on August 13, 2008 at 10:19 PM
Love to have some examples. I guess I am concerned about ends vs means."
You're kidding, right? You actually need examples of music that would need lots of repetition?
From Graham ClarkSome people think there is some kind of secret way to develop more quickly without so much hard work.
Posted on August 13, 2008 at 10:34 PM
Well, I can say there is!
But it is simply a way to use repetition more efficiently.
From Scott ColePracticing in groups and rhythms is the "secret" way to practice efficiently. The alternative is to be a fast learner with great motor memory.
Posted on August 14, 2008 at 01:08 AM
From Robert CourteauViolin playing is a highly complex motor skills exercise. To be able to improve such an exercise, and to get beyond the exercise to the art, there is not many things besides repetition - creating automatisms to free the mind from controlling consciously the numbing mountain of motor actions, and make room for artistic control.
Posted on August 14, 2008 at 02:02 PM
Understanding is important - it is essential to decide what to repeat, when to repeat, when to stop repeating, whether what is repeated is good or bad, etc. But understanding cannot replace repetition - it can only make it more efficient.
Look at the parallel in elite sports - there is no performance without a large volume of training (and since we're talking repetition, that's what training is), but there are ways to train more efficiently if one understands what each element of training bring, where one's strengths and weaknesses are, and how the tedious repetition of training can be adapted to the individual.
From Helen MartinHi, Scott-
Posted on August 15, 2008 at 03:07 AM
Re repetition: you wrote "I have some students who have to be told the same thing every lesson for years on end, and some who get (it) the very first time."
So I was hoping for an example, or examples, of "the same thing."
From John SkeltonI'm going to weigh in because I think I can explain what Helen is talking about.
Posted on August 24, 2008 at 06:18 PM
Most of you are looking at this from a technical point of view, going so far as to even suggest that intonation is somehow a motor skill (more on that below). As is often done, the acquisition of skills on a violin is compared to learning a sport or anything else physical. No one denies the need for repetition - that is the very nature of practicing. However, efficient practicing requires self-correction, which is something that only the mind can do. The fact of the matter is that executive skills (i.e. technique) aee best learned AFTER a basic understanding has been instilled (and not the other way around). In other words, you can't mindlessly repeat things in the hope of "freeing yourself for artistry". All that teaches you is how to be a robot - putting the emphasis on quantity (how many times you do something) vs. quality (how well you can do something).
What Helen is talking about is best compared to how you learn language; arguably, the most important skill we acquire of a conscious level. Infants do not mindlessly repeat sounds when they babble. They are making an attempt to imitate the sounds they hear while concurrently processing the results. It is an act of comparison and analysis and the skill of moving their tongues, vocal cords, and mouths to make more intelligible sounds is secondary.
This, consequently, is why intonation is not even remotely a 'motor skill'. Nor is it acquired by 'repetition'. It is acquired by comparing sounds produced to sounds known (or heard from others). True, it usually takes more than one attempt to get things in tune, but it is not the repetition of putting a finger down that teaches intonation, it is the understanding of the analysis that makes it a skill. If I asked you to play an F# on the D string, would it really matter which finger you used? I know a LOT of kids who are taught to get the 'correct' finger down but who simply cannot make a distinguishable difference between F sharp and F natural. These are students who are taught with repetition alone.
Also, with all due respect to Suzuki (since I learned via his method), learning an instrument is about problem solving, not automation. If it takes the proverbial 10,000 times to fix something (which, of course is hyperbole) then I prefer Edison's view on this: "I haven't failed. I have found 10,000 ways which do not work." The difference here is that there is a qualitative process at work, and not a guarantee that X number of times equals skill.
The bottom line is that effective musical performance requires a transcendence of technique. A player needs to be able to speak through his or her instrument without thinking about technique. He or she chooses where to put a note, how to play it, and in what manner to articulate it based upon hearing that sound ahead of time in his or her head. If all you do is mindlessly repeat technical issues, this will never happen. I believe that all Helen is trying to say is that one needs to pay attention to the bigger picture (i.e. an understanding of the sounds being created) from the outset and not let it be some nebulous goal once muscle memory is achieved.
To put it in Dr. Edwin Gordon's terms, one needs to develop one's audiation instrument if one wants one's executive instrument to work properly.
From Benjamin EbyAs the Greeks say, repetition is the mother of learning. And as Fux said, "Water wears down the stone, not through strength, but by constant falling."
Posted on August 24, 2008 at 08:29 PM
I would say, "Thoughtful repetition consistently applied over time will lead to mastery" and leave it at that.
From Jennifer LaursenWhat a wonderful post, John! I agree with your assessment entirely. The role of the teacher is to provide the proper search image (the tone, the sound, the description of the way the hand should feel etc...). With each repetition, the student homes in on the goal. It can be tough to teach a young child to stop and compare their result with the search image after each attempt and before trying again, but it is the key to efficient practice. It requires a good deal of energy and concentration to do this properly. In my mind a few high-quality repetitions are much more effective than lots of mindless repetitions.
Posted on August 25, 2008 at 03:52 AM
From al kui think learning violin is not really just like learning a new language, more like learning to sing in a new language. you need to learn the language AND learn to sing. thus, there is a very important role with repetition, to acquire mental, motor and mental/motor skills. however, with proper guidance, in terms of level of performance, the first time you do it should not be the same as the 10th time you do it. there should be carry-over with each practice. (hey, if you have a teacher that somehow makes you benefit the same amt regardless of number of repetition, something is missing).
Posted on August 25, 2008 at 01:41 PM
i think for many people at the beginning stage, intonation on the violin/how to sound ok has a lot to do with motor skills which need to be developed with thoughtful repetition. if not, people with born good ears should have no big problem sounding good on the violin in the beginning. that is hardly the case as i understand. there is a big disconnect between your mind and your fingers. through repetition, you connect them.
lets look at a silly example. when venturing into asian restaurants, many of you are tempted to use chopsticks. my bias is that most of you are not very good at using chopsticks, particularly if viewed by people who are born to use the sticks as kids. lack of understanding on techniques? i don't think so since you get pointers every single time!
it is lack of practice, aka repetition.
to go beyond the theme, one thing awaits a violin student is the transition from doing what the teacher mandates to doing it with own initiative. it can be as simple as paying attention to details, experimenting with different fingering, thinking about phrasing independently, think first and then play... imo, a good teacher encourages that transition to come in as early as possible. from then on, repetition takes on a new feel or meaning.
From Helen MartinYes, thank you, John!
Posted on August 25, 2008 at 02:17 PM
May I have your permission to quote your reply?
From John SkeltonQuote away!
Posted on August 25, 2008 at 11:50 PM
I agree that violin playing is not like learning a language. It is, however, the act of learning how to speak; in this case, the 'language' of music. (That is why we use the term 'articulation' to refer to how we bow and pluck on this instrument.) What would be the point, though, of learning how to speak if not to communicate? That is why the two are inseparable.
This brings up an interesting point, which is that you can teach someone to speak any language through repetition and imitation without them understanding what they're saying. If you repeat a phrase often enough phonetically (whether verbally or in writing), most people have the capacity to parrot it back with a semblance of accuracy. That is what we get when we assume that repetition itself is the answer. (I like the term 'thoughtful repetition' used earlier.)
This is a HUGE problem because it carries over to the reading of music notation. In our hearts, we all know that sightreading is an important skill, but why are so many young string players so bad at it? A child should be able to sightread something AT their level of technical proficiency, not just BELOW it, with reasonable accuracy without any real mental preparation at all. (I know many teachers who teach sightreading as if it were a separate skill even though it is probably the most important thing a professional musician can do.)
The reason why most students can't sightread well is because they cannot audiate as they perform. This is an essential quality of literacy in the same way that a child reading text for the very first time (at an appropriate reading level) can do so fairly fluently and derive meaning concurrent with the reading. There are musicians who do so naturally, but for most young players, it is an overlooked (or delayed) skill.
Did you know that beginning string players in the early 20th-century school systems could all sight-sing by the time they picked up a violin or cello? The first song in Joseph Maddy's "Universal Teacher" violin book is in D major and uses quarter notes on the pitches in the major tetrachord, mostly in scalar succession. After hearing "DO", the students would first sing it in solfege, followed by performance on the instrument.
...and then the student would sight-transpose it starting on the open A string.
...and then the student would sight-transpose in E major (starting on D 1st finger).
There are no fingerings above the notes (which is a flaw in the Suzuki method), and the only guidance given for the left hand is general shaping (i.e. keeping the fingers curved and the wrist down). Maddy didn't figure anyone needed to be told where to put their fingers if they knew what it was supposed to sound like.
This would be pretty much impossible for most students using the most popular method books today because they are taught to speak without really having anything to say. (And yet, many do quite well it seems.)
From al kugood post john and agree that most kids have problem with sightreading, even at very high playing level. (it becomes more apparent when confronted with a piece never heard before.) this, the inability to sightread, goes along with other byproducts of our modern society: poor penmanship, emails replacing letters, etc, etc, etc.
Posted on August 26, 2008 at 01:40 AM
yet, i do not think "repetition" is the culprit for poor sightreading. the main reason imo is that teachers today do not place as much emphasis on it as years ago. really, it is as simple as that. how many teachers on v.com demand their students to sightread half a page EVERY SINGLE LESSON? let me guess...rarely if ever!
paradoxically, it is the "repetition" process during sightreading exercises that help people to become proficient with sightreading. initially they may act like parrot, gradually, they see patterns and neurons start to fire and eventually they master it in their own way over time.
therefore, with many issues facing a student, just working harder under a demanding teacher is the answer above all else, as convincingly illustrated by the disproportionally high number of advanced students from asia. there is no hidden secrets...just work harder! :)
may be the orignal thesis of this thread is that it is better to work smarter than harder. can't argue with that on face value. yet, since the bar is being set higher from stiffer competition, i would put more value on working harder than smarter. if you can't work hard, you are not going to work smarter anyway (working smarter to many is actually harder because you have to think!). if you can work hard, then working smarter is the natural step to follow.
why do most kids have issues with working hard? because it is not cool, it is not fun, therefore not american!
" There are no fingerings above the notes " you think that is bad, i think that is great! :)
let them figure it out! that is part of sightreading! think in terms of the note and not get spoon-fed which finger to put on there. kids can play with fingering and get lost without. why? because they have been conditioned as such. they are what their teachers fed them.
From Graham ClarkRepetition doesn't really help with sight-reading. The second time, it isn't reading at sight.
Posted on August 26, 2008 at 01:40 AM
However, putting up new pieces all the time, does.
From Jim W. Miller"the inability to sightread, goes along with other byproducts of our modern society: poor penmanship, emails replacing letters"
Posted on August 26, 2008 at 01:46 AM
Back before email, in the heyday of good penmanship, people could sightread better?
From al kugraham, do you really think i would suggest re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-play the same piece again and again and again? :) i meant to repeat the PROCESS again and again with new materials.
Posted on August 26, 2008 at 01:52 AM
jim, coincidentally, yes. the reason being back then, or in some other countries right now, sightreading is a big part of learning music. carp, i am not even a musician and telling you guys this. wise up dude:)
From Jim W. MillerAl, the other day I heard that nature's way of making old people content to kick the bucket is to make them disgusted with the present, modern world :)
Posted on August 26, 2008 at 02:04 AM
From John SkeltonThanks, Al!
Posted on August 26, 2008 at 04:36 AM
Again, the basis of this thread is not that repetition is bad, but that it is overused. I would probably want to redefine that and say that its value is misunderstood. Repetition is only useful when the performer (regardless of level) is able to measure and evaluate the level of success of each repetition. This goes along with many of you are already saying. A lot of us who can make an assessment regarding accuracy of notes and rhythms usually set a 'minimum' number of times to give us a sense of confidence in our consistency of success. However, my argument is that you have to be able to tell whether you got those things "correct" or not by your own estimation. That's where 'working smart' comes in.
I would also agree that the more unfamiliar music you read, the better you'll probably get at sightreading. Incidentally, the patterns of which you speak are from the two main musical vocabularies: tonality (tonic, dominant and subdominant chords primarily in major and minor) and rhythm (macrobeats, microbeats, divisions, and elongations primarily in duple and triple). However, these functions (the things that allow you to generalize and become a better sightreader) should first be developed in an audiation setting, which means through singing and movement. It is certainly possible to become an expert sightreader just by doing a lot of sightreading, but the process is a lot more efficient if you address context and content in their optimal settings (just as you advance your literacy by learning new vocabulary).
On the whole, though, I agree with that point. (The more books you read, the better of a reader you generally become, everything else being equal.) I would go one step further and agree with Dr. Gordon that there really is no such thing as "sightreading" since all reading is done visually. There is simply that which is familiar and that which is unfamiliar.
You bring up the work aspect of playing, saying that the answer is simply hard work (rather than smart work). I have to say that perhaps I'm a bit skeptical of your example. Playing a stringed instrument is more important within Asian cultures, which makes the number of advanced players vs. total players quite "proportionate" to what exists elsewhere in the world.
Perhaps I was unclear, but I'm against fingerings above notes. (I'm also against having the note names in, above, or below the notes too.)
So, to paraphrase the original post: It's easy to explain what it means to practice harder. "All things considered, the more you practice, the better you'll get." How do we teach an eight year-old, let's say, to practice more efficiently and make more productive use of the same amount of time?
From Emily GrossmanI have my students sight read at practically every lesson. Some students spend a lot of time doing it. I try to keep them on new pieces every week, if I can. It's good for your musical and intellectual health.
Posted on August 26, 2008 at 07:14 AM
Repetition builds a more fail-proof net for performance. At least for me, the simplest parts that have required the least practice from me are usually the parts that fall apart when I play them in front of an audience. If I blank out on how it goes or what comes next, my fingers won't automatically go there unless I've practiced the habit into them, and that may take a lot of repetition.
From al kuthe above good posts from emily and john noted.
Posted on August 26, 2008 at 11:35 AM
back on sightreading,,,agree john the audiation that you mentioned is essential, like it goes without saying,,,sing it in your head before playing it with fingers, but the subsequent repetition of the process is what helps us become not only visually but cognitively more tuned in, to the point that eventually it becomes "automatic", like riding a bike without even paying attention to the act of paddling and balancing, like burping out "answers" to jeapardy. the loop involves seeing AND brain processing...after all, optic nerve is a cranial nerve; with practice, the processing becomes better and faster. without, it doesn't. you can be well versed in audiation and terrible in sightreading simply because your teacher did not put you on the spot like, say, emily does to her students during lessons. nothing intellectual about it, someone just has to do the dirty work and gets the ball rolling. as nike slogan goes,,,just do it.
on repetition, here is a simple exercise, even mentioned by someone here, that i use with my kids with golf training. ten good shots in a roll, or start over. if it takes another 3 hours, i am game. mind you, the key is not 10 shots, but in a roll...
so, "repeat" the same thing 10 times, right? hardly.
the first time is often a no brainer and the tenth time carries so much weight that you can see the kids LEARNING to deal the pressure, LEARNING to focus on the mechanics despite the pressure, LEARNING to breath, LEARNING to find some inner calm... and i don't have to say a thing.
to make things more interesting, after the 9th shot, i come out and suggest: boy, i see you are shaking, are you going to choke now?
now, since my kids are not serious with music, i don't impose such routines on them because we are americans and all we want to do is to have fun. but those who have set their eyes onto a solo career or high pressure music gigs, you'd better start REPETITION early. the moment you walk into an audition, it is the tenth shot.
From Christian VachonHi,
Posted on August 26, 2008 at 12:46 PM
For me the answer is both: Understand first, repeat after.
Repeating without knowing what you are solving and how the problem works is useless. Understanding something but not taking time to build the correct reflex means that it will never be consistent nor reliable.
From Graham ClarkAl: "graham, do you really think i would suggest re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-play the same piece again and again and again? :) i meant to repeat the PROCESS again and again with new materials."
Posted on August 26, 2008 at 12:53 PM
Sometimes we need to state what should be obvious. But what is obvious to one, may be obscure to another.
From al ku"Understand first, repeat after" of course, we give the best we can in terms of understanding and then we try to verify our understanding doing it. and it takes two: good teacher and good student to make that work.
Posted on August 26, 2008 at 12:59 PM
yet, the process varies depending on individuals. some are born with gifts like better eye-hand coordination, better imagination, earlier physical development, more open-minded personality and these people progress much faster and earlier. you tell them one thing and they can relate to another. on their own.
others need to struggle more. they may not understand all that well, or fast enough. they may need to explore in the dark longer, to overcome some fear, to get more comfortable with themselves. with this group, it is perfectly alright imo to not expect much understanding at first try but keep trying and trying and trying and trying and then a light bulb may blink and the trying become easier afterwards.
one needs to treat students like eggs:). put them in different cartoons and deal with them accordingly.
From Robert CourteauTo recycle my sports training example: knowing what to train and how to train is as important as training. You can aimlessly run for hours on end, and never really improve your performance.
Posted on August 26, 2008 at 01:34 PM
So repetition without understanding is useless. But so is understanding without repetition. There are a number of things I understand exactly how to do on my violin. Only thing is, I have to make sure my brain, nerves and muscles understand and remember it as well.
As for sight-reading now vs "then", I used to suck at sight-reading - back when "internet" would have been flagged as a typo. I must agree - the Suzuki method actually makes it worse, because it relies on note-to-finger association, and once you've learned this you have to un-learn it to sight-read correctly. I started singing in choirs later on, and that's where I really learned sight-reading. But again it's a learned skill that strongly improves with training - i.e. repetition (not of the same piece, of course, but of the process).
From Jessie Vallejo(sorry if this is a little disorganized...I'm taking a break from doing laundry and packing for grad school!)
Posted on August 26, 2008 at 05:00 PM
It's definitely been a tug and pull relationship when I've been teaching or dealing with students.
When I was teaching middle school orchestra students, and high school students for lessons, I would try to make them sing (audiate), break down practicing in steps, explain concepts (keeping your neck and joints straight, nothing contorted, for their health...ideas of use of bow and how it contributes to sound, etc.)
I always got down on myself after teaching a lesson where I tried too hard for musical understanding (and then would talk too much), or ones where there was a lot of playing and I felt like I was enabling them to not practice and they didn't learn much other than me making them go through the motions.
The singing was most helpful with my 6th grade students, since they had less apprehensions of singing and would just try it.
I also felt that singing enabled me to demonstrate what I wanted to hear, without always giving them the visual crutch of watching me (something I would do using other instruments too). I sometimes told them it was us sorting out our brain issues from our physical issues. Don't get me wrong, I learn best by my visual learning, but I wanted to challenge them to rely on other more "musically" related ones (ie, their ears and aural learning).
Hmmm...in terms of learning music and sight reading issues...as much as I believe sight reading is an essential tool to play an instrument, at the same time there are many WONDERFUL musicians, and complex systems that do not rely on any notation.
Flamenco for one...it is extremely complex and free from notation (although there's some here and there), and I don't believe the lack of notation is bad. I think many flamenco artists are fantastic musicians. It relies on a heavy development of the ear, audiation, internal rhythm, and just having a feel and understanding for the musical vernacular.
Often, I would agree, that people don't LISTEN enough, or don't let it become something inside them. Literacy is really a "western" world value, and many cultures have thrived on aural and oral traditions (storytelling, for example). It also demands a lot on memory and understanding.
Notation is not necessary and can be a hinderance in my opinion.
HOWEVER, I would NEVER not expect a violin student of mine to be able to read the music. It is just one method of learning and definitely has its benefits. I see it as a tool that has its appropriate times of use.
From Laurie NilesI think teachers are the ones who tire of repetition and rote learning, but it's a necessary part of the process. Which of your students do better, the ones who practice every day, or the ones who don't? Haven't we all seen the promising, "natural" player who seems to "get it" mentally, but then goes nowhere because he/she doesn't practice?
Posted on August 26, 2008 at 06:29 PM
No, playing something badly 10,000 times doesn't help anyone. But I do like the saying "perfect, plus 100."
And sight-reading is helped by repetition; that is, by doing it a lot. Read, read, read.
I like students to have both pieces they are perfecting and repeating, and literature they are reading. In other words, a performance piece, and also a book where they are turning at least a page (or more) a week.
From Jennifer LaursenI have a violinist friend who trained in Spain. He studied sight singing well before he was allowed to pick up the violin. He was very good at going from the note to the sound in his head, but claims that he really had trouble reading music when he had to go from the note to his fingers. In Suzuki, and other methods where you play by ear, you go from the sound to the fingers. In both cases there is a crucial step missing.
Posted on August 26, 2008 at 08:30 PM
I heard a teacher recommend to an advanced student that he play lots of chamber music with friends (just sight reading it together) and to rotate from Violin I to Violin II. The desire not to look bad in front of your friends, especially when you have your turn on Violin I, will drive you to think fast. Almost all intermediate and advanced violin students can read a piece of music when given enough time to work it out, it is doing it in a fluent manner while under pressure that is generally the problem. This is a skill that definitely improves with practice.
From Christian VachonAl - understanding does not only involve violin technique. Sometimes it can be something like understanding weight, balance, psychological obstacles, how to ground yourself, etc. and how to overcome the various difficulties. What one has to know is the source of the obstacles and how to overcome them. For students, the hard thing is that only one major thing can be overcome at once, and sometimes there are many to overcome. But helping one to analyze and then repeat helps to save time and frustration. I find then that the students are more positive about learning, because they see instantaneous result that settle in.
Posted on August 27, 2008 at 02:09 AM
From Ronald MutchnikIt seems that a good teacher must be a good observer, especially with regard to the way a student is taking in information and to what extent repetition is working or not working and to what extent explanations are sinking in or not.
Posted on August 27, 2008 at 02:27 AM
Despite the best of intentions and the best preparation and organized plan you have in mind for a given student, that student may be more visual than aural or more kinesthetic than visual or more eager to jump in and try without listening first and taking the appropriate steps one at a time, so you must try to meet them half way while using the strengths they have and encourage them to develop ways of learning that come less naturally to them but may still be necessary for a well-rounded ability to learn music.
Some students are very shy and afraid they will make a mistake even if you do not speak of their efforts in terms of right or wrong or give obvious looks of approval or disapproval and you must tailor the way you get them to repeat things or the explanations you give them in such a way that they will have the confidence to follow through. Other students with tougher skins and more reckless, impatient behavior need to be helped to focus and guided repetition can truly help build up their concentration and build solid skills.
We are not just teaching violin when we teach. We are teaching the whole child and the more you know about them- what interests them, what they like to do in their spare time, what are their favorite animals, foods, and their favorite places to visit or go on vacation, etc., the more you can draw on that knowledge to keep their interest and develop the musicality within them.
Just the other day, a student told me her favorite animal was the dolphin and when we used the idea of bending our wrist and fingers on the bow as if we were petting the dolphin gently so that it would enjoy being pet that way as opposed to having the fingers and wrist being immobile and inflexible, she was able to move her hand smoothly and flexibly. I could have done exercises and repetitions with her for the purpose of curving the fingers and bending the wrist explaining why these movements were benefical to her sound and to the flowing quality of the music but it seemed this "other" approach got a solid result right away and, in the process, was enjoyable because it sparked the imagination, and the sense of wonder and creativity.
I am not saying that one must always come up with images or clever, fun ways to develop the students skills and understanding of the music, but the ability to do so should be in every teacher's "discovery" box and, more often than not, the issue of repetition versus understanding will not likely be an issue.
From Jim W. MillerJennifer, I think I had the crucial step you say is missing working :) When I had to do music dictation, I paid no attention to the intervals, but imagined a fingering for what I was hearing, and got the note names that way. Later I had a violin teacher who said ear training ought to be done in terms of the instrument. I didn't know what he was talking about, but it was probably that. At the same time, that also lets you play something by ear without figuring out the intervals and then translating that to a fingering. I think probably most people with enough playing time could do that, no matter how they were taught.
Posted on August 27, 2008 at 02:49 AM
From Jennifer LaursenI was just thinking about what it took for my kids to learn spicatto and ricochet. It required a lot of repetition with refinement as they figured out where in the bow it worked best, just how flexible the bow hand had to be, how to get different speeds and different heights of bounce. The same thing was true of fingered octaves as they figured out how to get them to ring, and how to produce different tone colors. It required years of this "figuring out" sort of repetition to develop the big sound.
Posted on August 27, 2008 at 12:57 PM
The other place repetition is essential is in passage work. It is obvious to a listener when a player has not done the required passage work - things are just not secure. Here again it is a "figuring out" sort of repetition. You make conscious things like how many notes are on each of the down bows, where exactly does the beat fall, on which finger, how many strings are being crossed, and you figure out how to work with gravity to make smooth all the transitions.
At the highest level is the kind of "figuring out" repetition that goes into developing your musical ideas and finding a way to make your musical ideas clear. Here it is sometimes the repetition of just one note or two notes to get the articulation and color just right. In the process the player finds lots of right ways and this gives the player flexibility and allows for a measure of spontaneity in performance.
From Aysha NI agree, unfortunately i have ben playing the violin for 11 years, and still have trouble sight reading, due to that i was taught more by repettition rather than learning to actually understand music.
Posted on August 27, 2008 at 01:20 PM
From Helen MartinThanks, John!
Posted on August 27, 2008 at 02:45 PM
Jennifer, your Spanish friend may have had a violin teacher who used decoding as opposed to audiation. In other words he was confused by conflicting methods. Yes, we do need to coordinate our teaching.
Once, however, we use visual designations (on the fingerboard or on the page,) we are teaching decoding. If we sight-read by decoding we will need a lot more practice than if we audiate. Using Positions is decoding. In fact we are drowning in decoding. It is visual and the visual brain will hold on tenaciously. (Reference, Doidge, The Brain That Changes Itself.) The deeper we go - with the visual,- the more difficult it is to develop the aural.
Re tapes: Suzuki is quoted as saying that the numbered notes were for the teaching mothers, but I have yet to see a beginning Suzuki student with an unmarked fingerboard. Or, for that matter a public school string student who is not pulling the violin to the right to look at the tapes.
And, Laurie, you seem to be equating repetition with practicing. I respectfully disagree.
From Graham ClarkI once saw in a TV programme on Music and the Brain, a violinist wired up so that the researcher could measure the evoked potentials (i.e.electrical activity evoked in the brain.by doing things. Or, rather, I would like to think, the activity that makes us do things)
Posted on August 27, 2008 at 03:31 PM
When he played from sheet music, activity in his auditory cortex droppped off. In effect, he was so plugged into the link between vision and fingers that his internal listening system closed down. Not entirely, but below what you would expect intuitively. I suppose there was still a bit that was monitoring for intonation.
And here's a little anecdote: a few weeks ago I met a very interesting man in a violin workshop. He began to talk about sight-reading, and said that, if you gave him some sheet music, he would have to play it to know what it sounded like. He couldn't hear it in his head wothout playing it on the fiddle. So the link between eyes and inner ear was practically non-existent.
From Anne HorvathMy favorite sightreading story, from the biography "Menuhin" by Humphrey Burton, p. 58:
Posted on August 27, 2008 at 04:12 PM
[This refers to Menuhin's lessons with Enesco] "One day in spring 1927 a lesson was interrupted by a surprise visit from Maurice Ravel. He brought with him the manuscript of his new Sonata for violin and piano. The first public performance was announced for May and he wanted to try it out before entrusting it to Durand for publication. With Ravel at the piano, Enesco sight-read the entire piece, stopping occasionally to work on a tricky passage. He then laid the music aside and proceeded to perform the Sonata, including its gorgeous, bluesy slow movement, from memory."
Rachmaninov had total recall like that, and so did Kreisler. The rest of us have to work at it a bit harder...
From Jennifer LaursenHelen,
Posted on August 27, 2008 at 04:47 PM
I am not sure exactly what the distinction is between audiation and sight-singing. He (my Spanish violinist friend) called it simply "solfege". He does this with his own students a bit and his focus is on hearing the intervals in your head. Never-the-less he found sight reading violin music to be difficult.
Regarding Suzuki and the fingerings written in. If the parent and teacher are really following the method, the child does not use the music at all. They learn to read music by working out of some other music reading materials which vary with the teacher. Ours were Reading in Positions, Melodious Double Stops and an earlier one the title of which I cannot remember. My sons music reading really improved when they started using the Galamian Scales and Arpeggi and the Kreutzer Etudes. Having a default set of fingerings for scales and etudes really makes the initial read-through of something much easier. Since the Kreutzer etudes would change weekly or bi-weekly, it forced them to learn an unfamiliar piece efficiently.
I think somehow it usually all comes together regardless of the method of initial introduction. My youngest son who has played violin 11 years, also composes. When I watch him work, he sings a line then writes or types in the notes. He'll then go back and sing the bass line or look at the chords he's written in in relation to the preceding or following chords, and then he might modify them. If he is writing for string instruments he'll sometimes also finger along with his left hand. It is obvious to me that he can hear notes in his head as well as intervals and entire chords. For him, a Suzuki trained youngster, about six years past the Suzuki repertoire, all this has come naturally with lots of exposure to solo, chamber and orchestra music and the theory that his teachers have passed on as well.
From Jim W. MillerAnne, I don't trust that story; partly because it was new and nobody (except maybe Ravel) could know how much of it was going under the table. Although I did know someone who learned and memorized Bartok #2 in less than a month well enough to win a top competition.
Posted on August 27, 2008 at 05:06 PM
From al kuappreciate ron's sensible post, as usual and agree that if approached sensibly, there is really no issue between so called repetition vs what is the other thing again? christian's post on teaching more than just violin tech is also a good one; however, it may be too much to ask that most teachers would do that or would be capable of doing that well.
Posted on August 27, 2008 at 11:10 PM
anyway, as i read into helen's recent post, i see that there may be some issues with STYLE of teaching, that is, so called suzuki vs her own way. i don't know much about either one, so i am all ears. may be after all, the "repetition" that helen was referring to is not what i have in mind:)
still, in my opinion, jennifer's description of what her sons have gone through makes a lot of sense, regardless of label.
on sightreading,,,if the student has problems with it after a long time, i would consider that the teacher has not put enough emphasis on it, be it repetition or understanding. as simple as that.
graham described this interesting man in that shop with inability to sound out note without playing. i am exactly like that. i understand quite well how to proceed to fill the void but i never worked on it. i believe many beginners are exactly like that. to me it is not surprising at all. for instance, graham may speak with a british accent and understands how american accent sounds like. can graham, without practice, but with good understanding, carry on a conversation with a convincing american accent?
From John SkeltonFor the benefit of those who may be reading these terms but aren't exactly sure what's being said:
Posted on August 28, 2008 at 12:11 AM
Solfege is a system of syllables for the purpose of singing pitches. There are actually several different solfege systems. Suffice to say that they are simply another way of naming pitches which happens to work better in a singing context. (Also, the solfege syllables are used in some countries instead of letter names.)
Audiation isn't solfege, although it uses one of the solfege systems in it tonal activities. Audiation is basically the ability to hear music without it being present aurally. We all audiate. Those days when you get a tune stuck in your head, you are audiating at a basic level. Being able to look at notation and hear what the music sounds like is called notational audiation. There are other forms as well.
Someone brought up an excellent point in debating me on whether sightreading is the most important skill. I should've been more specific. I meant it is the most important skill in the area of notational audiation. Audiation itself is the most important skill since that is what allows you to also play by ear.
On the subject of important skills, I would suggest that improvisation is the third part of the musical triple crown. If audiation is like being able to think in a language in order to make effective communication (listening and performance), and notational audiation (both reading and composing) is like being able to read and write, improvisation is like being able to tell a story in one's own words - the hallmark of comprehension and the beginning of the creative process.
I was delighted to read Jennifer's post where she mentioned that her son also composed. All too often we teach reading without teaching writing. Although reading should precede writing, the reinforcing nature of the two skills cannot be overstated.
On the subject of Suzuki, I do realize that children are not reading music right away. (I was a Suzuki student for about a decade.) However, the presence of fingerings is very authoritarian. Normally, I wouldn't say that, but the 'official' Suzuki people treat them as sacrosanct and get very upset if you suggest any changes. Ironically, Suzuki himself was less dogmatic about such things.
Thanks also to Christian for bringing up those other factors. I know far too many students who are taught rhythms without learning how to move to them properly. I don't mean moving their bows, I mean feeling the time, weight, space, and flow (the four elements of rhythm according to Laban) internally.
From Laurie NilesNope, I'm not confused. Practicing is mostly repetition. :) Once you figure out the puzzle (by yourself, or with the teacher), it's repetition, baby, or you don't play very well.
Posted on August 28, 2008 at 04:24 AM
I don't know many Suzuki teachers in this day and age that don't introduce reading as soon as possible. I'll argue that they are wise not to introduce the reading on Day 1. Then again, maybe I'm not hanging out with the hard-core Suzuki people. Still, I think the method has evolved. I would never use the actual Suzuki books as a primary means to teach reading, that's for sure.
Now, should one use repetition in teaching? Well, yes, if a student doesn't understand the concept. And yes, you have to drill students on occasion, especially if they aren't doing it on their own.
Of course one needs to teach concepts and other higher ideas. Importantly, a teacher needs to be VERSED in such things and know when the appropriate time is for incorporating theory and expression into the lesson, and to what degree to take this. But it goes hand-in-hand with building skill.
Playing the violin is a physical skill as well as an art. With out the physical skill, honed by much much repetition, the rest of it is irrelevant.
From al kui agree with laurie very much on her stand on this. i think the issue is not suzuki or not, but who teaches and how it is taught. again and again, we hear that suzuki students do not know how to sightread well. only partially true. on the other hand, the implication is that non-suzuki students have THEREFORE no problems with sightreading. again, imo, only partially true. why? because simply on statistical inference, not all non-suzuki teachers have great direction, planning and execution for their students. if non-suzuki teachers insist on teaching in the sequence of A>B>C,,,suzuki students cannot be taught in the sequence of A>C>B ? in the long run, i have seen both suzuki and non suzuki students ok with A and C well but missing B. and also situations where students are well versed in A and B and C, suzuki or not. thank god there are hilary hahn and julia fisher who went through some level of suzuki; otherwise, the tide of negative sentiment toward suzuki would actually sound credible.
Posted on August 28, 2008 at 01:05 PM
are there suzuki teachers who mindlessly spoonfeed their students? of course. but are there great suzuki teachers who can combine the merits of suzuki with other essential ingradients to bring up promising students? what do you think?
it seems to me, the comparison so far has been good non suzuki teachers on one side and bad suzuki teachers on the other. lets go further for fairness: compare bad non suzuki teachers with good suzuki teachers...
on some level, it is as ridiculous as assuming the term "repetition" MUST mean mindless, thoughtless, boring, non-progressive, un-inspiring, un-responsive chores,,, hey, watch your attitude, you are a sophisticated artist with feelings and imagination, right:)
need i suggest this: most if not all of you here reading this post are not that bright to start with, like 99.99999% of the world population. you get where you are mostly because of the process of repetition. and when i use "repetition", i have assumed that you are not brain-dead, thus there must be mind-body interaction with every motor action, from the moment of your first suckle, your first attempt to stand, your first fall...
From Robert CourteauI still remember as a child the shock of going to "reading classes", a couple of years after starting to learn with the Suzuki method (actually a local variant, but that's not really relevant). It felt like "ok, we showed you all this stuff, now you have to be able to do it without the little numbers on the notes". I am certain that myself and my peers all went into a direct conversion of note figure to fingering, which later brought me into the "oh my god, this isn't first position, let me get my calculator out" way of sight-reading. I was only brought out of that rut by choir singing, where sight-reading is an essential, the peer pressure mentioned a few times in the thread did its magic, and I was freed from the numbers on the notes.
Posted on August 28, 2008 at 01:29 PM
As for the definition of "solfège", in French (and I assume in Spanish as well) it means a lot more than "La" vs "A", it refers to the entire musical notation system; so in a solfege class, you learn about everything from signature, modes, scales, to rythm, etc. Most of the time this is done without reference to a specific instrument, and sight-reading may or may not be included. I'm not sure how this would be called in English: music theory?
From al kurobert, short of going into choir singing, knowing what you have gone through, what would you advise in terms of how to effectively sightread without a scare for the future generation?
Posted on August 28, 2008 at 01:52 PM
From Jennifer LaursenOK! My last comment on sightreading:
Posted on August 28, 2008 at 03:57 PM
I was just thinking about the reading issues that showed up when my kids transitioned from the Suzuki books to a traditional teacher. The main one was in figuring out that the numbers in the Galamian scale book indicated a shift or a fingering that would not be obvious from the hand's position. The notes were not the tricky part, but rather playing with the indicated fingerings and bowings. All sorts of fingerings seem to make sense to a young player, including those that box them into a corner. The whole phrase comes to a halt while they figure a way out of their trap. The less inhibited just skip ahead and come in again where they can, but a perfectionist might find this to be a traumatic event. Eventually they get to a point where they know what the shift markings mean and which fingerings will work for this arpeggio, scale or passage and which ones to avoid so that they don't tend to make traps for themselves.
Also some more thoughts on repetition:
My oldest got through book six in the Suzuki Repertoire before moving on to an "advanced" teacher. The first assignment the new teacher gave was to play open strings with the metronome set at 60 beats per second and the bow marked in quarters with chalk. The assignment was to concentrate on one of five different things at a time (finger motion at the bow change, the movement of the arm through its different positions (triangle, square etc...), the straightness of the bow, the bow speed as measured by the rate the little chalk marks on the bow passed some point on the bridge, and two others I can't think of at this moment. I recall clearly that this approach of very close and minute observation of details appealed immediately to my son. This teacher went on to teach my son how to teach himself, the crux of which was repetition with observation and evaluation with the aim of making each try an improvement on the last. It is an approach that my son embraced and continues to use effectively now eight years later. He feels it has made him very efficient in learning new pieces, because this approach focuses on technique that generalizes well. It also makes him very self-sufficient so that he can make substantial progress outside of his lessons.
From al kuthanks jennifer, the details in your post make fun and informative reading. i am convinced that there are many "similar" ways to get "there" as long as the teachers, the parents and the students all pay attention and care.
Posted on August 28, 2008 at 04:47 PM
From Robert CourteauAl, I'm probably the worst person to answer your question - in terms of overall musical skills and capabilities at least. I would rate myself a lowly intermediate amateur at best, who plays for my own pleasure (and in spite of potential effects on the rest of the house).
Posted on August 29, 2008 at 01:39 PM
But if I try - assuming using the Suzuki method, I would try and parallel "solfège" (I still don't know what the proper English term should be), to teach the basics of the language, and add sight-reading without the instrument. The real question is at what age can someone start that sort of more formal teaching. I am sure there are numerous experts on this forum that can add lots to this. But as an ex-pupil, I would emphasise an early switch from fingered music to "the real stuff".
My nephew recently lent me his score for the Bach concerto for 2 violins, 1st movement, from his Suzuki book. I was amazed that students would get to that level of musical proficiency, and still rely on probably 3/4 of the notes with fingering. I was so lost trying to read that music (couldn't tell which fingerings were useful - position changes, stretches, etc - and which were not).
From al kuthanks robert. you are probably the second worst if you are talking to me:)
Posted on August 29, 2008 at 01:52 PM
agree that the "general" trend of nowadays is not encouraging and that the earlier kids get to do the "real" stuff the better off for the long term.
one way that makes sense to me is to encourage (or shall i say mandate or demand:) kids to sightread with zero guidance, for EVERY CLASS. let them struggle through it, but write down questions and concerns to discuss with the teachers, where correction will be made and understanding will deepen.
in an otherwise recital oriented environment, teachers and students really do not have incentives to dwelve on sightreading. as long as the recital performance goes well, everyone is happy...
From Robert CourteauI forgot the peer pressure part - orchestra, ensemble, etc. No better incentive to quickly learn to sight-read than when you're the one that keeps on screwing up...
Posted on August 29, 2008 at 02:50 PM
From Ronald MutchnikRegarding the sight reading issue, I have found that knowing intervals and which finger combinations are possible with intervals is very helpful in training the student to identify a distance between any two notes and know the appropriate choices in an instant to play those notes on time and in tune.
Posted on August 29, 2008 at 03:46 PM
The naming of the fingers is not so much the issue as knowing the physical distances up and down the fingerboard and seeing the possibilities ahead of time much like seeing moves ahead in a game of chess. Even if you can hear the notes in your head and know what the interval between two notes sounds like you still need to know the geography of the fingerboard and what combinations work. By practicing those, you are inherently familiarizing yourself with the fingerings associated with notes in a given position or between positions and this helps you to plan ahead. This also helps with rhythmic flow so that you do not have to hesitate because you can't figure out what fingers to use in time to catch hold of the notes you are about to play.
It also is beneficial to practice mixing up all the notes in a chromatic scale in relation to the starting note so that you are used to seeing all manner of sharps and flats juxtaposed with each other. Reading scales in thirds, fourths, fifths, sixths, sevenths, etc. also helps the eye get used to those patterns. With rhythm, grouping 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 or more notes in one beat helps us become familiar with the sound of different divisions of a beat and is especially useful when playing pieces like the Bruch Concerto in G minor or Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending for example.
Sight reading is also a matter of memory.Not unlike building up our vocabulary, we recognize rhythm or pitch patterns and learn to play them instantly upon sight as casually and effortlessly as we use words in our speech or in sentences. We know how they are spelled,so to speak, their meaning, and the context in which they are typically used.
Recognition of rapidly changing rhythm patterns is also a skill that needs to be developed. So many students are used to expecting a pitch change from note to note but when the rhythms change frequently they have more trouble counting and recalling the rhythm patterns. In this regard, playing serial music or other complex contemporary music is especially helpful.
The key is adaptability. I see no harm in learning to sing and hear intervals and rhythms and learning to recognize fingering choices even if you have fingerings written in at first. When the ear, eye, and sense of touch work together one develops sight reading solidly.
From John SkeltonOne thing I would add to your post, Ronald, is that the main reason why we want to rely mostly on our ears (and slightly less on the action) is that if we are teaching younger students, they need to adjust to new instrument sizes from time to time, which requires re-learning the geography. Obviously, getting a feel for where things are makes it easier. (That's why most teachers usually add 3rd position and then 5th position prior to 2nd and 4th.) Knowing what the sound should be is still the best method of self-assessment in developing that type of physical familiarity.
Posted on August 30, 2008 at 12:04 AM
There are also issues with physical differences between handmade instruments and also differences in tonal functions for the 'same' basic note, but those are much more advanced topics that don't need to be hashed out here. Suffice to say that knowledge of the physical geography is essential, but it is still the ear that is used to confirm tonal success.
From Ronald MutchnikI believe you are absolutely right John- the proof is also in playing scales with one finger as Ruggiero Ricci advocates and as found in the Yost books. The ear must determine the distance.
Posted on August 30, 2008 at 02:36 AM
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