Founder's Blog

Violinists who paint-by-numbers

I grew up with paint-by-numbers art books. I loved sitting down with my jumbo box of crayola crayons and a new book of pictures.

This artwork is not just for kids. There is a whole category of coloring books and incredibly detailed pieces designed for adult artists. In fact, the Smithsonian Museum of American History and Museum of Modern Art in New York both have paint-by-numbers art works in their collections.

The process of completing a paint-by-numbers art piece allows an artist to select colors while following directions that the picture’s designer prescribed. It is music notation for visual artists.

I became good at staying within the lines of the horses, people, landscapes, flowers, trees and countless other images I colored in. But I can’t draw a horse or person or anything besides the most basic tree or landscape. It is fair to say that my artwork — without the help of paint-by-numbers — fits alongside the average 10-year-old’s artwork.

Drawing from imagination, developing smooth lines, perspective, sizing of objects and countless details on a picture only comes from drawing many, many pictures.

A 13-year-student violinist in the Youth Symphony came to me for a lesson recently. She was losing interest in playing classical music and her mom felt that she needed to try something different. The lesson was spent on a beginner-level Scottish melody. She grew frustrated by her inability to play back basic phrases I was playing for her. By the end of the lesson, I could tell that she wouldn’t be back the next week.

Like paint-by-number artists, notation-taught violinists can become very adept at the execution of a written piece of music yet never develop the skills to play music without the notes in front of them.

When violinists wait too long to develop their ear-learning skills, they often lose the patience and confidence to ever develop playing anything that isn’t notated on paper.