Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Why Strings?

I wondered, and I guess many other parents with children at Steiner schools do too, “Why do they have to learn a stringed instrument?”

The music teacher at the big girl's school is not able to recite, with any confidence, a purely anthroposophical argument in favour of the compulsory study of a stringed instrument, but she has one particular observation, as a teacher, that stands out for her as a true indictment of the value of string playing for the young child.

The violin, viola, cello and double bass differ from the guitar and piano, for instance, in the absence of fixed notes. The frets of the guitar establish the pitch of the notes along the string and if you play the right fret on the right string and the guitar is in tune it will be the right note. If it’s out of tune you pull out your electronic tuner and retune the string. No worries! With the piano the notes are also fixed. If a note is out of tune it’s not your fault. Now where’s the number of that piano tuner?

The stringed instruments that the children play have only four notes that are “fixed” – the four open strings. Melodies are played, like on the guitar, by pressing on the fingerboard at the right place on the string and since the violin has no frets this at first seems like guess work.

Sometimes to help the students find the notes teachers put stickers on the fingerboard where the notes in first position can be found. But strangely the stickers don’t help. It still sounds so out of tune.

So the act of putting the fingers down in almost the right place is not enough to play the violin or cello in tune. There is something else needed – something else besides a good technique – and here comes the miracle. At some point the young string player begins to adjust his or her fingers to make an out of tune note in tune – or much closer to it. In the course of playing a melody it is a momentary thing that is not dwelt upon, though it is a profound “YES” moment. Now they are a musician.

An inner faculty of hearing is being awakened that was not there before. The student is able to internalise the music, hear it within herself. This faculty is also awakened with singing, but there is no other instrument better equipped to awaken and develop the musical ear than a violin, a viola, cello or double bass.


gardenmama said...

mmm...what a beautiful post.

S said...

Thank you Gardenmama - she plays quite beautifully too (tho she only knows two notes so far)

The Mama. said...

I always wanted to learn violin...