Violin Tip No. 1: The Art of Listening

While going about my daily business, I like to make connections between different experiences and ideas. Since music mirrors life, I believe these discoveries will prove thought provoking to many people, not just violinist, so I’m going to be writing down them down under the title, “Violin Tip No…..” This is the first of such articles. I hope you find them intriguing. Feel free to comment and add your own thoughts šŸ™‚

Teaching is exciting for a number of reasons, not the least of which are the frequent life-altering discoveries that are made while teaching children apparently simple exercises and lessons. This happened today in a way I’d like to share and remember. We started talking about the “art of listening”. When we’re studying music, there are two (there are more, but for practical purposes we’ll discuss two) main ways we can listen. They are 1) just listening to the sound coming out of the violin and 2) listening to the music in your head and imagining how you want it to sound. These two ways of listening go hand-in-hand. We can improve every day when we compare what we are really hearing to what we are imagining. When the sounds are alike, we know we want to do more of the same. When they are different i.e. when what’s coming out of the violin doesn’t line up with what we are imagining, we can objectively see the aspects that need improvement. This is a reason why, when studying music, it’s important to listen to other artists and also to use your own imagination so as to gain a clear picture of the sound you wish to capture.

I explained this concept of listening to my students today. All of them were under the age of ten. They already knew a bunch of stuff to listen for, but would need to be reminded again and again. This time I gave them the word for today’s lesson, “listen”. I told them about the two ways of listening and then told them, “Now play your piece and listen to the sounds”. After I would ask, “What did you like?” They gave answers like, “Oh, my sound was good”, or “This spot was smooth”, or “My intonation was good right here”. “Good”, I said, “I noticed that too. So you can continue to do more of those things. Now what did you notice that you would like to make better?” Then they’d say things like, “This spot was hard” or “It was squeaky” etc. Then I’d ask what we could do to make it better and gave some suggestions. The exciting part about all this was that they are now teaching themselves and all I have to do is guide them.

Life can be amazing when we listen. To just contemplate things that go on around us, to take in what another person is really saying, to ask if you are comprehending their meaning, this gives depth and connection to our lives and our world. We have so much in our own heads sometimes, it’s refreshing to sometimes just sit back and really listen.

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