Like most children of my generation, I learned to play the piano, strictly by eye. The music was plonked on the stand and I attempted to decipher it, note by note. Even by the time I got to my lesson, I didn’t really know what it sounded like. My teacher’s way of solving this problem, was to pound out the tune, 2 octaves above my fumbling rendition. “Listen, listen,” she would screech. What a cacophony!
Every now and again, I would be sent home with the familiar piece to learn, a nursery rhyme, or a popular tune. It was as if the fog had lifted. I had already listened to it and sung it countless times. The song was already part of me and the music more or less fell out of my hands.
At that time, I wasn’t aware of importance of this discovery and it was many years later, that it happened again. I just was starting to learn the organ, when I fell in love with the great prelude and fugues by Bach. My precious recording of the G Major Prelude was almost worn out, by constant repetitions. I made my teacher’s life miserable, until I was allowed to learn it and was astounded by how easy it was to learn this complex piece.
Highly impressed, my teacher asked me to try a piece that I had never heard before. I just couldn’t figure it out. I felt like a particularly uncoordinated spider, unable even to coordinate my fingers, let alone hands and feet. After a month of trying to play it, I gave up in disgust.
Back we came to my beloved Bach, a trio sonata this time. I knew this one all right, having listened to it zillions of times. Surprisingly, it was easy to put the three melodies together, one with each hand and the third with my feet on the pedals. Strangely, the message was still not sinking in, because very soon, I began to think that I could only play Bach. Until…
Scroll forward a lifetime and I am learning Suzuki violin with my children. The teacher tells us that we have to listen to the recording every day. Suddenly, I can learn and remember long pieces with ease, something that I couldn’t have dreamt of as a child. My daughter can also pick up and play new pieces by ear. Why, the music is there, inside us, begging to be played.
Suzuki stated that all children learn to speak their mother tongue. Yes, they invariably learn to do this, with consummate skill, at a ridiculously early age, but only if they are able hear in the first place. If you have witnessed the struggles of a hearing impaired child who is trying to speak, you will understand.
Music teaching is a predominantly aural experience. It is my children’s second language. Neither of them can speak French, which they learned from textbooks, as they have never listened to it spoken, on a daily basis. Why do we handicap our children, by not giving them the opportunity to listen to what we want them to learn.
So let your children listen. Play your children’s repertoire, EVERY day. Only when they can listen, can they speak music.
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