If a person appears to be "tone deaf" or "has no sense of pitch," can that person successfully learn to play the violin?
I was thinking about this recently, while listening to a student play a shifting exercise perfectly in tune, hitting every ringing tone dead-on. I actually had to fight the urge to make her repeat the exercise, just so I could hear it again. So in-tune! I smiled - intonation bliss.
What made it even more blissful was the fact that this very same student, just a few years ago, played very out-of-tune, most of the the time. The transformation was remarkable.
While some students never need a primer in pitch, sometimes a student just doesn't seem to hear pitch at all. The student plays out of tune, without even noticing it. A teacher can stop and fix things, but ultimately the student must be able to do that for himself or herself. The violin requires incredible precision - there's just one "in tune" and countless ways to play "out of tune."
In this case, we worked on hearing ringing tones and took every possible opportunity to point out concepts of pitch. She was open to listening more closely, and that was a big key in helping her develop a more sophisticated sense of pitch over time.
Her improvement is just one more example that proves to me that transformation is always possible. One must not give up on a student, one must not give up on one's self. Patience and persistence win the day, whether one's "natural talent" looks obvious from the beginning or not.
Here are a few examples. Over the course of 30 years of teaching, I have I seen students with seemingly "no sense of pitch" develop a very precise sense of pitch. I've watched students fall in love with the tone of their instruments, transforming a scratchy sound to a rich and expressive voice. I've seen them work out rhythms issues that seemed impossible. One student said in exasperation, "I don't GET 6/8 time!" and yet the next week she had figured out a whole page of rhythms in 6/8.
With patience, work and persistence, skills that people identify as "talent" can and will emerge. There is only only thing that truly holds back progress: quitting!
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