Listening is the Best Way to Learn

December 16, 2009

As infants we all learned our native language through imitation - we heard our parents and older siblings speaking over and over again and we learned to imitate their sounds by ourselves. Word definitions, language semantics, and overall syntax happen after the individual has learned to vocalize on their own.

Suzuki Shin'ichi developed the so-called Suzuki Method after observing that all children taught themselves to speak by listening. He reasoned that if children could learn even difficult dialects by imitation of what they heard, that they could also learn music by listening and then imitating.

In my study of cello the first method book my teacher is using is a Suzuki book. There is an accompanying audio CD which contains all the pieces of music in the book in two forms: solo instrument with piano and piano accompaniment alone. Since the idea behind the method is not to initially teach the music language constructs (notes, staffs, clefs, et cetera) the student must listen to the CD in order to learn the tunes.

In my case, as an adult, I am  fully capable of learning what a quarter note is, or what the various notations on a piece of music indicate. However trying to take in all that information while playing is too much complexity for a beginner. Knowing the tune, the melody, from the CD allows me to focus more on play and far less on reading the music. Knowing the tune actually allows me to read the music, especially when I have the book open in front of my while listening to the piece.

And I am discovering that having heard the piece only a few times even allows me to recreate it in my head when I look at a piece I haven't yet played. In other words, some of the time now, I am able to audiate the written music - I'm able to hear it while reading the music. Kinda cool, actually.

Obviously at some point in my music instruction I will need to learn to read music, and be able to play along with my reading, even if I've never seen or heard the piece before. But for now, being able to make music with relatively little (apparent) effort feels absolutely fabulous.

Author's profile picture

Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.