Header image courtesy of Hong Kong International School
The art of learning music brings not only the adroitness that comes with mastering the craft itself, but also a plethora of additional skills, along with rewarding experiences. Looking to learn the ropes to an instrument? Distinguished chamber musician, strings soloist, and beloved instructor Meidad Yehudayan opens the doors to the esteemed classrooms at HKIS to fill us in on the lesser-known benefits of learning string instruments from a young age.
Beloved by his students under the charming moniker of “Mr Y,” Yehudayan has been leading the in-demand upper primary strings programme of the Hong Kong International School curriculum starting from the third grade. Aside from becoming well-acquainted with the ins and outs of handling and becoming attuned to the potential of string instruments, Yehudayan tells us of what extra assets can be gleaned from the learning process.
As proposed and made famous by Malcolm Gladwell, the magic number to becoming adept at a complex skill is 10,000, referring to the number of training hours required, no matter the endeavour. With bowed spring instruments being one of the more difficult instrument varieties to grasp, scheduling in time for practice is a stringent and essential affair.
For students of the HKIS upper primary strings programme, this comes in the shape of a special form filled in by each young musician, chronicling their hours of practice, which is then measured up against the minimum monthly requirement of 400 minutes (approximately 6.5 hours). Each slip is evaluated by Yehudayan once a month.
Although different students may show different logged results, the goal of the practice sheets is to foster a strong sense of discipline amongst the students. By becoming responsible for their own practice time, they are primed to see the value of hard work and encouraged to take on a self-motivated role in dedicating time to their musical craft.
A big part of why string instruments are generally considered more difficult to manage is due to their need to be tuned daily. In turn, this necessitates a good command of pitch, in addition to sensitivity in being able to distinguish if the sounds being played are in tune.
What’s more, the learning curve in getting to this advanced stage also leverages students’ sensory memory, prompting them to familiarise their sense of touch with the instrument to be able to work the unmarked fingerboard with competence.
Understanding that the programme cohort is diverse, the curriculum splits off into a beginner-friendly level for those who need more time to understand their bow before diving into an arrangement, plus an advanced class for students that have been plucking away since toddlerhood. Regardless of skill level, the passion for the craft remains the same.
Left hand on the fingerboard. Right hand drawing the bow across the strings. Learning strings involves developing a deep familiarity with the various components of the instrument through the sense of touch. Having to move each hand in conflicting directions while synchronising the speed required in each musical arrangement, conquering the technicalities of bowed instruments is a sure-fire way of improving hand-eye coordination. It is an immensely versatile attribute that follows students into other realms of their studies and even hobbies, influencing their capabilities in sports, the arts, and more.
As they progress in playing, students can enrich their cognitive skills side-by-side as well. Although not necessarily perceptible, involving the other senses like hand-eye coordination and active listening invariably adds to the development of young brains, especially during crucial periods such as childhood and adolescence. Young strings musicians can, quite literally, get smarter across the board through the craft of musical training.
Considered the broadest family of instruments, there are up to 300 different instruments that fall under the strings category. Even within the classification of bowed string instruments, students are able to explore the sounds they are most drawn to.
Incorporating a bow allows for an expansive array of tones and timbre, lending to unique sounds that come close to replicating the human voice. Musicians sometimes refer to string instruments as “singing instruments,” showing the close connection between the experience of playing with the beauty of the instrument itself.
Every season, students at HKIS are given the opportunity to attend the high school concerts, soaking in the ambience and energy of a true orchestral experience. Acting as the conductor in full formalwear, Yehudayan hopes his younger cohort can look to the accomplished high school students for inspiration, and learn to deepen their enjoyment of music by feeling their seniors’ palpable enthusiasm.
Available as an after-school activity, the upper primary music curriculum offers options of learning an instrument in band or strings or picking up voice training with the school choir, both serving as foundations for the academic programme that’s to come in middle school and high school. Learning strings leads students down an undulating pathway of tenacity, spirit, and growth. Reflected in the learning opportunities, these are exactly the elements that form the foundation of the performing arts programme at HKIS.