Sunday, February 03, 2008

Clickety click!

Last spring Fiona was very interested in musical note reading. We played a few music theory games and did a little work on pitch and rhythm reading. She enjoyed it but progress was slow. Some things she got easily (like rhythmic reading) but the pitch stuff was a bit of a struggle. As it has been with all my kids at first. The others started reading work later, and the pitch stuff only clicked with them around age 8. I had absolutely no expectations with Fiona. She was interested, so we did note-reading semi-regularly for a while, and then it sort of fell off the radar and neither of us missed it.

Last month, though, she mentioned wanting to get back to note-reading. She knows it's part of the path to joining the community orchestra, which she'd like to do when she's seven, if not before. And when her grandma mentioned at her lesson that it might be time to look at note-reading, as she's almost ready to start Suzuki Book 3, we decided that it was time to give it another whirl.

Within a couple of days her rhythmic reading skills had all come back. She was easily playing basic combinations of various note values in a variety of simple time signatures on open strings. Motored her way half way through the first "I Can Read Music" book in the space of less than a week. Pitch was another matter, though. She couldn't seem to get close enough to the music to see what she needed to make it work for her. Her studious concentration was almost painful to watch, but not terribly effective. She understood the concept, but hadn't formed the link between her excellent aural pitch skills and the rising and falling of the black blobs on the paper. She had to read and think through every note separately. It was hard work. Within a few days she was on Lesson 26 for rhythm, but stuck on Lesson 3 for pitch. Still, she was cheerful in her hard work, and not unduly frustrated. She could memorize the exercises with repeated use and give herself the illusion of mastery, and that was enough to keep her plugging away.

But between last night and tonight, something clicked. When I put up the same example tonight, she played through it easily. I figured she'd just memorized it. We moved to a fresh exercise in Lesson 4. Same result. Then Lesson 5. Finally I stopped her after two perfectly executed exercises from Lesson 6. It's good to stop when you're riding high on your success and wanting more.

Now, we're still talking very very basic note-reading. Four different pitches on the A-string, with no rhythm attached, just straight quarter-notes, up and down with occasional skips of a third or a fourth. But something significant has clicked now. That intuitive connection between the up and down march of the blobs on the page and the sounds they're associated with has formed. She can sight-sing, and sight-play those simplest exercises with no help and with total accuracy. And that's something she was nowhere near (or so it seemed) being able to do twenty-four hours ago. How amazing it is to be such an immediate witness to cognitive shifts like this. Learning is a fascinating thing.

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