Thursday, August 31, 2006

Fiona's violin week

Fiona's had an amazing week on violin and she knows it. Last week at about this time she was showing an interest in teaching herself some of the upcoming Suzuki repertoire. I attempted to redirect her into non-Suzuki pieces, since the Suzuki repertoire is usually approached with very specific teaching goals in mind and with specific sorts of emphasis. I wanted her to leave that music to be taught "properly" later. Instead I suggested she teach herself "Mary Had a Little Lamb." She rose to the challenge. It took her only a couple of days of persistent trying to get the whole thing worked out.

But far from distracting her from the Suzuki repertoire, this success gave her an appetite for sounding out more and more pieces by ear, and of course the pieces she knows and loves best are the Suzuki pieces. And so the next day she devoured "Go Tell Aunt Rhody." And the next day it was "Song of the Wind." And the following day, "May Song," "Allegro," "Long, Long Ago" and the first part of "Perpetual Motion."

She has no difficulty getting the endings right. There's always a "long tail" on the first phrase of "Long, Long Ago" and a "short tail" on the second phrase. She never gets the wrong number of note repetitions in the off-kilter descending scale passage in "Song of the Wind." She already knew about the bow retakes in "Allegro" and did them without any direction. It's not like she's been watching and hearing endless daily repetitions of these pieces -- her siblings are working on Book 4+ repertoire. [Confession: I can't remember the last time we played the Book 1 CD.]

She plays a lot. Lately she's been taking her violin out two or three times a day, and not always just for ten minutes. Sometimes she's at her music for up to an hour! While she loves playing through new stuff best of all, she's also content to do some picky focused work on technical issues. She thinks hard about the things I ask her to focus on (eg. 4th finger placement, a relaxed left thumb, using a particular part of the bow for certain notes or placing her fingers on the string on their inside corners). If she makes a mistake or an awful sound, she laughs and says "Oops! I'd better try again" rather than getting angry, frustrated or mortified and shutting down. She loves getting guidance and input and loves the time she spends doing hard work on the violin.

Her appetite for violin is gluttonous and I worry about her burning out. I come home from 5 hours at work and she meets me at the door: "Yay! Now we can do violin!" I have to offer her a treat before bedtime so that she will stop practising. She seems so driven and focused that it almost doesn't seem right in a 3-year-old. So yesterday I started gently encouraging her into some off-instrument music learning that is more playful. I got out some of the beginning music theory materials I'd made up a few years ago. She took to them instantly. She's building "snakes" out of musical alphabet letter-names, and clapping and saying simple rhythmic patterns built from groups of eighth-notes and sixteenth-notes. She's making scale and arpeggio patterns with the note letter-names, and enthusiastically reading off "takataka ti-ti TA takataka."

What an amazing little sponge she is. The joy that radiates about her while she is engaged in music learning is amazing to behold. With the other kids I've seen veiled evidence of such joy at regular intervals but I've never seen it as unselfconciously oozing out of a child's pores as it is with Fiona these days.


  1. (jaw drops open)

    How difficult it is not to compare children when one reads about such an amazing kid! Eleanor, my six-year-old, playing for 14 months, has just barely completed her goal of 100 Twinkles in August, and she will probably be playing Twinkles for some time yet. We all soldier on.

  2. Heather, it is difficult not to compare, I agree. If it makes you feel any better, one of my strongest students, a newly-12-year-old now playing just beautifully in Book 6, who also took up piano three years ago and just rocketed through her piano books, was in exactly your daughter's situation 6 years ago. I didn't think she'd ever get the rhythm of Twinkle B sorted out.

    I should also probably emphasize, to keep things in perspective, that Fiona is not playing "Long Long Ago" and "May Song" well, not by any stretch. She gets the notes and the rhythm right, but her tone, technique and the particular teaching points are hit-and-miss. She's playing the pieces, but nowhere close to the level of mastery that would normally be expected of a Suzuki student at that level.

  3. It CAN be discouraging when you see another child doing something so well and so easily where your own child struggles.
    We know a little girl who just started violin when she was 6 years old and is now in grade 8 violin. The amazing thing? she just turned 9.
    She past my son years ago though he was older and had been taking lessons quite a bit longer. It was a bit discouraging.

    We have come to appreciate her gift though. We saw her pass many teenagers, girls twice her age. We now realize that It's not about us and where we are at. Everyone is different and we should appreciate each others strengths. It's a hard lesson to learn though.


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