Friends, who are parents of toddlers, ask me many times if their child is musical. The answer is, in fact, not as simple and unequivocal as many people presume. Many parameters figure into the musicality of a person. Yet, after observing and testing hundreds of kids, I can honestly say I have never come across a child who is completely lacking any musical inclination.
Music is an integral part of our existence, from the moment we are created. By the 14th week as embryos, our hearing is developed to the point of sensing sounds, much earlier than our sight, which only develops after four months out of the womb. The embryo senses his/her own heartbeats and the mother’s as well, along with other sounds which penetrate the shelter of the womb.
Moreover, both Oliver sachs in his book Musicophilia and Shinitzi Suzuki, the renowned violin and musical teacher, conclude that every person is musical and can play an instrument. Music has a special meaning for each of us, but many of us don’t get any training which can develop our musical potential.
Sachs describes in his book several of the rare people who don’t feel anything when listening to music, but perhaps the most famous unmusical person is Zigmund Freud, who was appreciative of many art forms, such as literature and sculpture, but could not observe the value and significance of music. The generations which followed him corrected this error in judgment.
Shinitzi Suzuki, one of the best violin teachers of the 20th century, claimed and proved that every child can learn to play the violin, depending mostly on the will of the child and his/her family. He showed the world that hundreds of children could play this instrument, which is considered difficult to master. Many teachers today carry on his legacy, whether by fully embracing his methods or by integrating some of his ideas into their own teaching.
This thinking conflicts with the general opinion, which claims that the violin, and all of its stringed relatives, require exceptional musical hearing for mastering them.
So is musical hearing really not necessary for playing an instrument? And if so, what is needed? My experience of teaching has shown me that students can learn to play well even without exceptional hearing. The hearing ability can be acquired and depends on the efforts of the student and his/her exposure to the materials.
A child who listens to music regularly, receives training and experiences playing on any instrument, is likely to develop a better musical hearing than a child who has not received these tools.
So here are several tools for developing musical hearing:
1. Expose your child to music as often as possible, the more the better. Listen with your child to music any chance you have. Share your critical thinking and opinions about music you like and dislike.
2. Ask your child which music he/she likes and dislikes and why. It is very important to help your child develop a musical taste.
3. If you like a certain kind of music which allows it, don’t hesitate to start dancing and let go. Enthusiasm is infectious.
4. When your child is ready, at age six or seven, let him/her try an instrument.
5. Don’t pressure your child to play, but create a natural musical environment at home, through Youtube, radio and TV channels and, of course, the music you own.
6. Take your child to a music store which has a large selection of classical music recordings and choose together the music which your child wants to listen to.
Here is a real story, to sum up:
In my work with Simphonette Raanana, I present and play in concerts for kids in grades 1-4. I am often asked at what age I started playing. When I reply that I started my musical career at age 6 by playing a recorder, the kids are surprised. When they hear that one of us started playing the violin at age 6, they are excited. It shows that they are not aware of the possibility of playing these instruments.