Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Musical Interlude

I write a lot about the power of the brain, about deep practice, and building strong neural circuitry that leads us to mastery, but here's something for which I have no scientific explanation at all; all I know is that it works.

I credit a long-ago violin teacher with putting the thought in my head. As I worked on shifting from first position to the higher positions, I always had difficulty nailing the note. This is something I worked very hard to master 30 years later when I worked toward becoming a Suzuki violin teacher. The goal is to take a leap up the fingerboard and know exactly where you will land. If you know you'll land on the mark every time, then you've got it.

Back to my long-ago violin teacher, Kristin Lindley at the University of Maine. She told me, "If you can hear the note in your head, you'll shift to the right place." It works. Every time. I told my daughter recently, when she was doing a tricky string-change that took her from the D-string straight over to the E (the first measure of Bourree, book 2, for those who know such things). She would nearly always crash into the intervening A string on her way over.

Before you make the string change, I told her, hear the note in your head. Then just go for it. As long as she did that, we never heard the A string.

I wondered how far we could take that idea. She and I were in the car yesterday, singing, and I was thinking about how to help her nail the note she needed every time. I told her, "Sing the note in your head, then sing it out loud." We played a game where I'd sing a note, she'd hear it in her head, then sing it. NAILED IT EVERY TIME. I promised her we'd work on her singing whenever we were in the car together (which is a lot; her ballet classes are 50 minutes from our home).

Why does it work? I like to think of it as just magic, but it's more likely that a person who has good pitch but can't always get her voice to cooperate just needs a moment to focus on the note before singing. I've been singing loud and long and in good pitch (if not the most becoming voice in the world) all my life. I love to sing, harmonize, play with songs, make up songs. I've had a lot of practice nailing the notes I sing, even if I don't always nail them on the violin. It just takes practice.

I think my daughter will be nailing those notes every time after a few car rides.


  1. Great comments Lisa. The trick is to get the kids singing early, from the very first lesson. Then it becomes a matter of course for them. Asking an adolescent to sing for the first time is just pointless.

    I also find when they are playing a note even remotely out of tune, they will sing it exactly in tune, play the note again they just played, hear that it is out of tune and adjust it. Getting the parents to listen to the CD as well so they are able to sing or hum the pieces is invaluable as well.
    Teri Einfeldt