When a violinist is learning a piece by ear, they are forced to become problem-solvers.
When faced with a difficult pattern of notes, students may have to listen to the passage dozens of times trying to hear what is being done.
What is that interval? How do I bow those notes to get the ‘swing’ in that ragtime tune? What are the notes in those chords? What fingers can I use to play that chord and still be able to hit the next note in time?
Ear-learning students are faced with many choices to make and problems to decode, and sounds to interpret in order to play the music. The repeated problem solving and decision-making requires strong executive functioning skills – working memory, cognitive flexibility and focus.
Like reading a map, reading notation offers its own set of problems to be solved. Following the fingering and bowing that is prescribed on sheet music is no easy task and develops its own unique set of skills.
But learning music by ear develops problem-solving and decision-making skills that are not required when reading notation.