|Photo by Glenda Quiring|
Listen. It was the only way I'd ever be able to learn pieces. In violin lessons I would muddle through the beginner's technique - how to stand, how to hold the bow, where to put my fingers - but when we got to the actual playing part of the lesson, I'd stop watching my teacher and just listen. Listen as he played the short, simple song first for me. Listen to how each note sounded. Listen as I started to try to replicate what my ears had just heard. Listen to the scratch of the bow sliding off the strings, to the note I was playing that wasn't quite right. Listen as I slid my finger slightly up the fingerboard and then, when that didn't correct the tone, as I moved it back down just below where it had been to begin with. The notes on the page meant nothing to me; they were just a pretty pattern. But the notes in my head, the notes my ears picked up, those actually meant something.
At home after my lesson, my mum would put on the Suzuki Book 1 cassette tape, and I'd listen to my song over and over again as I helped set the table for supper or dried the dishes after we ate. When I practiced, I had to think about my feet, then where on the strings my bow went, how to keep my bow hold loose and relaxed, if my fingers were exactly on the coloured dots covering my small fingerboard, which finger to put down to make which note, if I was supposed to be using an up bow or a down bow. But, while my bow went haywire and I seldom got the up bows and down bows right, I was learning the notes. I would listen to the song on the tape, then hit pause on my little purple tape recorder and try to mimic those notes. Slowly, slowly, I learned my song. The notes became clearer and more on tune. The bow still sometimes went back and forth in the wrong direction, but the song had become recognizable. The notes on the page still boggled my mind, but I didn't need them; I had the notes in my head. I didn't need to know how to read the music because in my brain the notes had been woven into lines, and the lines had joined to become an entire song.
When I played my song for my teacher at my next lesson he asked me how I'd learned it so well. "Oh," I replied, "I just listened."