To Hear or Not To Hear: That Is The Question
Until about 15 years ago, I had been teaching my own blend of Suzuki approach and traditional violin methods. But, I wasn’t satisfied with the results I was getting. Technically, my students did fine, but I lacked a system for teaching real literacy and musicianship, so my students could hear in their heads what they saw on the page.
I was relieved to know I was not alone when I read the following from Lyman Bodman, retired professor of string pedagogy at Michigan State University, in his Essays on Violin Pedagogy:
“No one, but no one, who cannot hear melodic intervals can play a violin in tune…This is another string teacher responsibility, and a way must be found to fill this need…There was once an almost golden age of training when those privileged few in Europe were given, at a very early age, a thorough training in solfege. There was also a time in our own country when in many elementary schools solfege was in the curriculum. We might wish that present day music education in America could learn from that era and do more to establish fundamental musicianship for our children. As it stands at this time, the violin teacher must teach much more than the violin. It may be true that our country is now leading the world in training instrumentalists, yet there is a glaring shortcoming, namely teaching children music fundamentals and sight-singing.” (2002, p. 21)
Fortunately, I found a way to teach these musical basics when I encountered the teaching principles and practices of Zoltan Kodály. He and his associates researched and put together a Hungarian national music curriculum which brought about the music literacy of an entire people. It was so good, that music educators around the world took notice and began to apply the principles. His concept of the educated ear as essential for achieving true musicianship was the piece of the puzzle that had been missing from my early music education and my teaching. (See International Kodály Society at http://www.iks.hu and The Organization of American Kodály Educators at www.oake.org)
One basic premise of Kodály ’s philosophy is that the voice is the first instrument, and you cultivate musical sensibilities at first through singing. You find most Kodály programs being conducted in elementary school general music classes and also in choir programs. There are not many string instrument applications, with the notable exception of Colourstrings developed by Geza and Csaba Szilvay, the internationally recognized string educators out of Finland. (See www.colourstrings.fi and Helsinki Strings)
Another principle used by Kodály is that folk songs from the cultural heritage of the student should be the first study material. Therefore, a more authentic and useful program for American students, in contrast to Hungarians, would use songs from North American and English speaking cultures when first presenting musical elements.
For well over a decade, I have been involved in developing a string curriculum which uses materials from our own folk cultures, and which integrates with typical Kodály-based singing musicianship classes that are being taught in American elementary schools. What a joy it is to be using the tools which produce thinking, hearing violin students!
“Bad musicians cannot hear what they are playing; mediocre one could hear it, but they don’t listen; average musicians hear what they just played; only good musicians hear what they are going to play.” -Edgar Willems (1890-1978) Belgian music psychologist and pedagogue