Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Music lessons, part 1

My other passion---besides languages---is classical music. I play the piano and sing on occasion, but I identify myself first and foremost as a violinist. Comparisons between music and language are legion, and with good reason; both are media for works of art which are created on top of some underlying structure. And while certain analogies can be taken too far, there is much to be gleaned from examining the mental processes associated with each, particularly in the way music and language are learned.

Over the last year I've acquired a wonderful violin teacher who is, as I am, extremely analytical in the way she approaches instrumental technique and music in general. By contrast, my young daughter studies Suzuki violin, which is based on the concept that children can learn music the same way they learn a native language. I've observed many parallels between the two ways of learning music and the two ways I've learned language. I'll share some of these observations in the next several posts.

For now, I wanted to relate a short but charming story. One of the signature exercises in Suzuki is playing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" in various rhythms, one of which is four sixteenth notes followed by two eighth notes. To help children grasp the pattern, teachers frequently use a spoken phrase that follows the rhythm, such as "pepperoni pizza". My daughter's teacher uses "Mississippi Stop Stop", and an acquaintance's daughter was taught "Charlie Brown and Snoopy", all things that are rather familiar to Americans. It's no surprise, therefore, that a fellow on the other side of the Atlantic was taught a phrase significant to his country: "Piccadilly Circus".

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