Archive for category Suzuki Parenting

Go Tell Aunt Rhody: Live Performance

Earlier this week, I described our preparation for Go Tell Aunt Rhody. The above video shows the performance.

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Taking a Bite of the Aunt Rhody Sandwich

This weekend, wee-man is scheduled to play Go Tell Aunt Rhody for recital. Rhody seemed like a good choice since it’s a fair distance from his current piece (Long, Long Ago) and it’s been on review rotation every stinkin’ day since it was polished. But once it was selected as his recital piece, the boy suddenly stopped remembering bits. He began struggling with notes he’d been doing without effort. He started playing the piece out of tune and/or out of time. I was developing a Sam Kinisonesque internal-monolog, which is usually a sign that something needs to change.

Aunt Rhody is a Sandwich
We started by working in “sections”. Because Aunt Rhody has an A-B-A structure: it is like a sandwich. It has a slice of bread (a section*),  a piece of cheese (b section*) and another slice of bread (a Section*). It is also like a sandwich because it’s easier to eat if you cut it into smaller pieces and remove the crust (or have your mom do it). So we started playing the troubled section (namely the cheese) and expanding it to include the full song.

Being One with The Sandwich
The boy has inherited my hair-trigger frustration reflex and he was no happier than I about the lapse of memorization. We both started approaching our own breaking point from the tedium of section review. So I asked him to lie on his yoga mat and listen to the recording for a while. I told him to imagine himself playing the song just as it sounded in the recording. I can’t speak to the effectiveness of this as a visualization technique, but I’m certain having a moment of rest during practice lessened the chance of anyone getting hurt (physically or emotionally).

Aunt Rhody – “Triple Threat”
My son, being a typical five-year-old, is intrigued by anything that sounds sinister or violent, so I created the Aunt Rhody Triple Threat. Here’s the pitch: “Okay, now it’s time for the Aunt Rhody – TRIPLE THREAT! First we’ll play it together, then you’ll play it alone and finally you can play it with along with the recording…” The key to the Triple Threat’s effectiveness is this: there is *one* point of focus, and the focus is lost, we start over. But the winner of the Triple Threat wins BIG. It sounds hokey, I know, but it seems to work. He’s been playing the piece without baulking, and it sounds performance ready.

Here’s a Triple Threat Challenge for Suzuki Parents who might be channeling Sam Kinison in their thoughts: Break It Down, Mix It Up and Relax.

*Go Tell Aunt Rhody Sandwich Sections (A Section: C#, C#, B, A, A, B, B, C#, B, A – E, E, D, C#, C#, B, A, B, C#, A) – (B Section: C#, C#, D, E, E, F#, F#, E, D, C# – C#, C#, D, E, E, F#, F#, E)


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Landing Airplanes and Shooting Arrows | One Thing at a Time, Please

Song of The Wind & Arrows: Here’s The Set Up

    • “Song of The Wind.”
    • LOOP
    • ITEM 1: “Okay, find the fuzzy spot with your ring finger.” (bow hand).
    • “Keep you thumb bent.” (bow hand).
    • “Keep your eyes on the finger board, focus on your tapes.” (finger board).
    • “Rocket wrist… keep your violin hand nice and long. It looks like you’re trying to deliver a pizza.”
    • “Honey, we need to pick a tempo and stay with it.”
    • GO TO ITEM 1
    • END LOOP

        That’s an abbreviated version of my monologue during yesterday’s practice. For crying out loud, you’d think I was trying to land an airplane. The look in wee-man’s eye said he was ready to throw me into the nearest lion’s den. It’s no wonder so many of us “type A” parents want to start popping valium when we help our kids practice.

        I take copious notes at my son’s lessons, which is a blessing and a curse. It’s important because I would otherwise forget important points. (Are we supposed to be playing fast-fast-slow or slow-slow-fast? Was the thumb supposed to be pointing toward the first finger or the pinkie?) But it’s disastrous when I try to accomplish every point on my list simultaneously.

        Choose one arrow at a time, and make sure the target’s fairly close.” – Edmund Sprunger

        In his book, Helping Parents Practice: Ideas for Making It Easier, Suzuki teacher trainer Ed Sprunger explains that children can really only work on thing at a time.  He advises parents to stop and re-prioritize when they find themselves giving their child more than one thing to pay attention to. Sprunger points out that trying to “shoot more than one arrow at a time” will overwhelm the child and make the parent feel incompetent. (Or desperate for valium.)

        Ed’s book is brilliant, and I would recommend it to any Suzuki parent feeling a little lost, frustrated or overwhelmed with practice.


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        And Stretch; Two, Three, Four…

        A reminder to stretch before practice came to me at the chiropractor’s office, of all places. The boy and I get adjustments somewhat regularly and the chiropractor noticed tension in wee-man’s left shoulder during our most recent visit. I questioned whether it might be related to his violin practice. She thought playing violin might be the cause and suggested a little massage before and after each practice.

        Notice anything a little “off” in the image above?

        Upon further inspection, it seems my son’s left shoulder is a bit higher than the other. The fact he’s been using it to hold an instrument every morning for the past few years *might* have something to do with it. Well, we’re certainly not giving up our instruments over some tight muscles or a slightly raised shoulder, but the idea of taking care of our bodies just makes good sense.

        I turned to a book I purchased several years ago when my bow hand and wrist were in pain from a lot of practice and computer work: The Athletic Musician: A Guide to Playing Without Pain. While I don’t totally share Barbara Paull’s belief about weight training avoidance, she has a lot of good exercise and posture suggestions for preventing injuries. We’ve been using many of her stretches and warm ups before practice and I’m finding a noticeable improvement in our sound quality. In a perfect world, violin practice would follow an hour of yoga, a hot shower and a soy latte, but that routine’s going to have to wait for retirement.

        Stringed players of the world, what’s your warm up routine? Before you delve into your scales and etudes how to you prepare your *body* to play?

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        Twinkle with Harmony or Everyone Look Happy for the Camera

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        Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star with Harmony Take 1 (in 1 Take).

        Suzuki parents (and students) back me up here: listening to / playing the Twinkle Variations gets OLD. Sure they’re good for you, like Brussels Sprout, and you might even like eating them… the first 9,999 days. But, and I’m pretty sure there’s a book about this on my to-read list, after day 10,000 who wants to eat that again? It doesn’t even smell like something edible, let’s be honest. Finding creative ways to break up the monotony is your only hope. You add some melted cheese on those sprouts, or a Hollandaise sauce.

        That’s why I was so excited to get my copy of Trio Book: Suzuki Violin Arranged for Three Violins yesterday. It has harmony parts to the Suzuki Books 1-3 repertoire. Today the boy and I tried out the Twinkles and some Folk Songs. In the video above we tackle Twinkle Twinkle Little Star à la Mein Trio-Buch.

        I promise to read Suzuki Parent’s Diary: Or How I Survived My First 10,000 Twinkles and cook up some more fun things to try. In the meantime, what tips can you share for keeping things interesting in the early days of practice? Are you a 10,000 Twinkles survivor? I want to hear about it.

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        Violin Practice Goes Faster (54% Faster) When We Don’t Bicker


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        I’m Never Going to be Famous, and Other Musical Motivation

        Why do you (and/or your child(ren)) play a stringed instrument (or take any music education for that matter)?

        My reasons for playing an instrument have varied wildly; everything from enjoying the sound of beautiful music to simply not wanting to disappoint my teacher. Sometimes it’s the freedom of letting everything else go while I concentrate on a piece. Sometimes it’s the rush of adrenaline from performing. Other times its the comradeship of playing in groups. But sometimes my only motivation is not being a ‘quitter’. Even lackluster motivation like that will work (for very short periods). While I’ve had many motivational shifts and swings, fame has never entered into the equation. So hearing about it from my son this morning was as baffling as it was comical.

        Today my son’s practice started off as many of our less-than-pleasant practices do. There was his slog of a journey down the staircase after my third appeal. There was breath-holding and bobble-heading while I summarized our goals for the morning. There was the instrument power-struggle as we attempted Monkey Song on the D string. Finally, there was a kind of warp-speed galloping through review pieces. Somewhere between Go Tell Aunt Rhody and May Song, I made the mistake of mentioning our need to be at school in two minutes; putting both of us in full-scale panic mode. The result was a mell-of-a-hess-of-a-folk-song rushed, less than ideal piece of music.

        As I became aware of our growing unease, I tried to comfort and reassure my son with affection. It began an awkward sort of tug-of-war with his bow, but after a moment he acquiesced and let me hold him. Then he began to sob and out came the statement: “I’m never going to be famous.” (Huh?)

        His ambitions for *fame* never occurred me. I’d always considered his music lessons an educational pursuit; not something to bring notoriety. While I don’t want to squash my son’s ambition, the thought of having fame as our goal would make daily practice on folk songs feel a little like trying to climb Mt. Everest in Uggs and Spandex shorts.

        A plan to focus on the more immediate benefits of music education seems much more helpful. In fact, Carolyn Phillips of the Norwalk Youth Symphony has compiled a great list of them: The 12 Benefits of Music Education. Staying motivated is easier when purpose is clear… when we really *feel* why we’re doing something. So here’s a question for *parents* of string players – Why is your child(ren) are learning play a stringed instrument? Are the reasons yours, theirs or both and… are those reasons the same?


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