Archive for category Suzuki Violin Method

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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        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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        Playing Violin as an Adult – Part 2

        Somewhere between pregnancy and new motherhood, I managed to spend the years 2004 – 2007 *not* progressing past the first piece in Suzuki Book 5– the Bach Gavotte.

        It turns out that when 15 minutes is a “good practice day”, a sort of gradual regression in performance ability sets in. While a student in Book 1 could survive on 15 minutes of daily practice, (all the pieces in the book can be played in 20 minutes and even 5 minutes can go a long way toward working on something like Perpetual Motion) a student beginning Book 5 is lucky to get their bow rosined and their tonalization / shifting work done in that time frame.

        My focus shifted from trying to advance to the next piece to simple damage control. At a low-point in my practice, I spent lesson times discussing various technique books I purchased in hopes of becoming a good “Suzuki parent” for my son. My playing suffered, but I started to acquire some decent materials for our ‘music library’ which gave me some better perspective on things to come. Looking back at those times, it’s easy to be discouraged at how much progress I didn’t make, but I try to stay focused on the fact I didn’t give up. (It helps that I had an understanding violin teacher who was willing to stick with me.)

        As adults (who are not professional musicians), we have responsibilities that often conflict with learning to play our instrument: jobs, relationships, children, aged parents – the list goes on. Sometimes it *isn’t* possible to block out hour(s) of practice with regularity. When crises or opportunities happen, the choice can always be made: give up or ride it out. I’m very glad I chose the latter.

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