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Why Bother Learning by Ear?

I've mentioned many times before on this blog that music is a physical task.  The muscles must be trained to perform.  However, this must be balanced with musicality or artistry.  Learning exact mechanical detail with no emphasis in the art will lead to robot playing.  Focusing only on the art and not training the mechanical detail will hold back ability level.  Playing an instrument is a careful balance of both.

The Suzuki Method has become infamous for its use of ear training in the early stages.  The common misconception is that teachers are training their students to be imitative robots.  Play the piece exactly like the CD.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Any art development does require some imitation.  One of the best exercises a writer can do is examine a passage from their favorite author and try to recreate the style.  The goal is not to become another Steinbeck.  Even if you did manage to copy the style exactly all you would ever be is an imitation of another.  What the exercise does is make you work through how the author achieved a certain effect.

The same goes for music.  How was that piece played on the CD?  As the student matures so too will their observations of the details.  At first all a student will notice are the notes.  Then dynamics and, eventually, phrasing begins to pop out.

Learning by ear forces (for lack of a better word) this type of auditory training to take place.  We live in a very visual society.  If the ear isn't cultured from day one musicality becomes impossible to develop.  Without listening the only thing a student has left are the notes he sees before him on a page.  The notes are merely symbols for sounds.  The quality of sound produced is what makes a musician.

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