Wednesday, October 18, 2006

By ear, inch by inch

Parents are supposed to obsess over their firstborn's milestones, but I am obsessing over Fiona's. I suppose it's because with the first three I didn't realize how fleeting all this early developmental stuff would be, and now I know it's the last chance I'll have to marvel over these tiny, wonderful accomplishments. And maybe it's because she's so delightfully observable, with none of the secretiveness of her perfectionistic older siblings -- yet! And maybe the four-year gap between Fiona and her elder siblings has made my memory hazy, but she seems the most precocious of the bunch. Who'd have thought I could still be surprised and amazed the fourth time around.

In August, I blogged about the amazing burst of progress she'd suddenly experienced on the violin as a result of discovering that she could sound out tunes by ear. She certainly couldn't nail every note at that point, far from it. But what seemed really exceptional was that she could hold the note she was searching for on her violin in her mind's ear, try out and compare several possibilities until she found a match, and then hit "play" again on her mental image of the tune and pick up where she left off. Because this "pause, compare, unpause" facility was so highly developed, she was able to experience success at a basic level in playing by ear, and her accuracy improved rapidly over the course of a week or two. By the end of August she was able to play "Long, Long Ago" the first time she'd ever tried it with scarcely a stumble.

In the six weeks that have followed, she's focused a lot on her violin technique and tone, and I moved her (a little prematurely, I confess) up to a sixteenth-sized violin since the thirty-second was essentially unplayable on the D-string or with 4th finger down, and she was learning both.

But her by-ear skills continue to accrue, bit by bit. She set to work learning to play the violin pieces she'd taught herself on piano instead. At first she played everything in the key of C. But lately she's trying out F major, and she's managing the B-flats! Today I hear her playing arpeggios up and down the piano, and she seemed to be hearing where the fourths should be. Or perhaps her ear had helped her brain memorize the key pattern ... but she did this in C first and then transferred it to F. Why F? I have no idea. She seems to "hear" C and F major as suitable piano keys. Although she was given a little orientation to middle C way back in the summer, when she was trying to pick out Twinkle, no one has taught her where F is. And she starts pieces on the appropriate scale degree without guidance, so "Go Tell Aunt Rhody" will start on A, and "Minuet 1" will start on C if she's in an F-major mood.

And then last weekend she picked out the first phrase of the Twinkle obligato part on both violin and piano. She's never heard this separate from the theme as far as I know, and she's probably only heard it as a harmony a dozen times in the past year, mostly while she's participating in "playing along" on the theme part. She has so much music in her head!

Last night she sat up in bed and sang in her sleep. It was the sweetest thing.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, I feel the same way about Rhiannon, my 4th and last and 7 years after her brother...(who also is the only boy!)And Rhiannon has done the same thing - picking out her violin songs on the piano - all in C major though.


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