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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000320.txt from 2000/04

From: "Dee D. Hays" <>
Subj: Re: [kl] good beginner books
Date: Sat, 8 Apr 2000 16:26:48 -0400

----- Original Message -----
From: <>
Subject: Re: [kl] good beginner books

> > This discussion is very interesting. I think Dee's argument here is
> analogous to learning music "reading" than music "playing," though. I've
> long admired the Suzuki approach, because of its emphasis on tone,
> and expression right from the beginning. This seems to be in line with
> Jim was saying about the need to emphasize air flow and phrasing so the
> sounds produced will not be perceived as individual notes strung together,
> but as a musical thought. I agree that with this approach the technical
> aspects of playing the instrument are mastered because it is necessary to
> so to be able to play expressively. I have to admit, however, that the
> criticism often directed at Suzuki students for having poor music reading
> skills is not without foundation. They can often play quite difficult
> but only the pieces they have been taught - they cannot necessarily
> those skills to a new piece at sight. In this area, the "whole language"
> analogy may be appropriate. Students do need to be taught systematically
> to decode the marks on the page so that they don't have to learn every
> by rote and by memory. Those "whole language" students who can't read
> well probably CAN communicate very effectively and expressively through
> spoken language, though. Spoken language comes before learning to
> written language. The Suzuki approach works the same way - the ability to
> play musically and with technical facility precedes the ability to read.
> agree that basic mechanical skills of playing an instrument as well as
> music reading skills have to be mastered, and shortcuts in these areas
> prove detrimental, but there is no need to delay work on things like line
> expression.
> This sounds like arguments we had in a class called "Aesthetic
> Education" with Bennet Reimer. He insisted that the aesthetic experience
> the most important thing and all our teaching should foster that, while we
> future band directors argued that there wasn't going to BE any aesthetic
> experience until the kid could play the right notes and count. I think
> that we were probably missing the point, and there really shouldn't be any
> dichotomy. The simplest music can be played beautifully. Even a beginner
> can be taught to play whole notes with an ear toward producing something
> lovely. Yes, the basics of playing and reading are necessary, but always
> the service of musical expression. (And, yes, this is the responsibility
> the instructor.)
> Susan Schwaegler

Some excellent points here. The teacher that I had for my older daughter
did indeed make sure that musical expression was included. Yet if there was
a problem with a basic element, she went back over it as many times as
necessary. This is a big argument for not rushing a student through the
development stage. If it takes two weeks to get through the page of whole
notes so that all the elements from notes through counting to aesthetics can
be covered then it takes two weeks. As in any project, extra work up front
pays off in the end. The entire "project," in this case learning to play an
instrument, will take less time as you won't have to go back and fix
mistakes. That whole note lesson, for example, could be a student's first
exposure to crescendo and diminuendo. They don't move on until they can
play all the notes, count correctly, and do the expression. Of course one
doesn't need to be a nitpicker and require absolute perfection. Just be
sure that the student understands it and that the overall level of execution
is good.

The Suzuki method probably suffers from its own success. The results are so
impressive that everyone, even the teachers, overlook the fact that at some
point in time the student must be scheduled to learn the formal elements of
music including reading music. In language, we learn to speak very young
but people do realize you have to be specifically taught reading and writing
so we have formal programs to do this. Children raised in homes where the
parents have an extensive command of the language will be very advanced for
their ages. This is quite similar to the results of the Suzuki method. But
as I stated, in the area of language the parents know that the child still
must be taught to read and write regardless of how well he/she speaks.

Another problem that arises with the development of teaching methods is that
often a hypothesis will be developed based on observing a different age
group than that to which it will be applied. Two year olds learn
differently than 12 year olds who in turn learn differently than 22 year
olds. The two year old must learn by repetitive doing. Suzuki will be a
big success here. The 22 year old will learn better by a combination of an
explanation of how to do it, why to do it, then observing someone else
doing, and then trying it for themselves. The Suzuki method is highly
unlikely to be the right tool for these people.

Still more problems arise from observing how an experience person functions
and then attempting to use this as a teaching approach. This was the
problem with the "whole word" reading method. Studies showed that adults
read words as words. Often times adults read whole phrases as a single
entity. So some one had the idea lets teach children to read as they will
read as adults. It is an idea that sounds good on the surface but failed
abysmally in practice. The children didn't learn anything about how words
were formed and so floundered on any combination they hadn't seen. They had
no tool to allow them to figure it out.

Now in light of these several concepts, lets look at the Suzuki method. Who
is it intended for? As I understand it, it is basically aimed at pre-school
age children. It is a learn by repetitive doing. Just like walking or
speaking, the child becomes very comfortable with the instrument and using
it. It is a familiar part of them. It is very effective at obtaining this
familiarity. To the child, it is almost an extension of their body. Now is
it appropriate to use for an adult? It would be very doubtful. The adult
no longer learns in the same manner as the child. They need the
explanations. They need to know the theory behind what they are being asked
to do so that the patterns make sense. When they understand the
explanations, theories, and patterns, then they can put it into practice.

School music programs start late enough in the child's development that it
is already too late for the Suzuki like approach. Their learning methods
are already mutating to the adult learning approach. Thus they actually
need the mechanics (notes and articulations, etc) somewhat in hand to allow
them to even pay attention to the phrasing.

I think part of the problem lies with how instrumental music is approached
in most schools. Children sign up for band and are taught in one mass group
playing as a band from the 5th grade with little instruction outside the
band. Basically all elements are neglected (notes through aesthetics) just
to keep the band moving along as a group. It is not entirely the teacher's
fault. They must satisfy the parents and the administration. The parent
wants to go to the concert and say "that's my Johnny right there in the
flutes." The school administration wants to be able to show that they have
a program. The most visible form is the band.

I would like to see more schools adopt the approach that the school I
attended had. Yes you started instrumental music in 5th grade but there was
no band until the 7th grade. Students simply had like instrument lessons
until they hit junior high. This allowed the teacher to focus on the
requirements of that instrument. The students had a pretty good handle on
both basic mechanics and basic musicianship before they had to try to put it
together in a mixed instrument setting. It seemed to work pretty well.

Anyway, this is plenty to think about for now.

Dee Hays
Canton, SD

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