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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Monday Morning Check In: Stress & the SR Factor

Today is the first day of school for most of us in the United States. I wonder how many of us scrambled over the weekend to be ready for this morning. How many of us made last minute shopping trips to pick up school supplies or stayed up way too late to put the finishing touches on projects that had to be completed for today? I spent hours on Saturday making sure that my house had a fresh start for the fall and my budget was caught up, organized, and ready to go. Then I spent hours Sunday making sure that my university syllabus was ready to upload to the appropriate university channels and creating student and parent handbooks for my private teaching studio.

I am ready for the first day of school, but I wish I had been ready earlier and without the pressure of the deadline hounding me. I had thought of what I needed to get everything done, and fortunately I had all my ideas, documents, and supplies at hand when the time came to pull everything together. And I knew when the deadline was and how much time was available to me. So what was the problem? Why did I have to stay up  and "cram" for this "final exam"?

There are three quick reasons I can think of. One is that I am a creative person first and foremost, and I am easily distracted from the drudgery and the mundane by activities or ideas that have creative potential. In other words, I find it is more fun to think of new ideas and invent novel projects than it is to sit down and actually complete the work that the project demands. I want to be the idea person, and I need some assistants to do the work. Once upon a time, I worked with the perfect personal assistant, who was the best paralegal I ever worked with. She thought as I did and anticipated what I would need to have done. What a marvelous talent she had for organization and concentration. This reminds me that I should give her a call. She could probably tell me what I need to do to solve my overworked status.

Another reason I was not ready for school earlier is that I am a busy person (and I just returned from a "vacation" and a music festival out of state). After half a century, I still cannot figure out if I am busy because I have high energy and need constant stimulation, or if I just do not know how to say "no" in an effective way. I suspect that it is due to a combination of both.

Another reason is that I frequently underestimate the amount of time that I need to complete the tasks on my agenda. I believe that this is a pretty common occurrence for many folks. The Pareto Principle, or the 80-20 rule, probably explains this, that 20% of something is generally responsible for 80% of the results. Dr. Joseph Juran called it the principle of the "vital few and trivial many." The idea is that we would do better to focus on the vital 20% to produce our 80% results. I have a sinking feeling that I am spending time doing the 80% and producing only 20% of what I am capable of accomplishing.

Would it not be great to reduce life to a mathematical formula? Actually, doing this might help in many ways. For example, when I plan how much time to allow for me to get ready to leave for work in the morning, I assign times to certain categories:
  • 15 minutes: dogs out (I have 10 dogs in the house)
  • 30 minutes: ranch animals (10 alpacas, 4 donkeys, 3 chickens, 1 horse)
  • 15 minutes: feed dogs, out again
  • 30 minutes: shower and dress
  • ____?____: driving to destination
Wait! You know what? I am still rushing around to be on time. Fortunately, all my clocks are set ten minutes ahead to give me a ten minute cushion. I still rush anyway.

So now, I have added the "SR Factor," or the stress reduction factor. Just as we loosen our belts one notch to ease the pressure of a heavy meal, so the SR factor works to ease the pressure of a deadline or appointment. I set the value of my SR factor at 15 minutes generally, and I enlarge it on those days when I have an important meeting or event to attend or if I anticipate unpredictable traffic. The SR factor helps me account for those things I frequently forget, such as the time I need to walk to and from my car at either end of my journey, or the sociable greetings I need to return in the faculty mailbox room, or the unexpected phone call that delays me as I head out the door.

My suggestion for the future, in order to avoid similar weekends of open-ended and never ending projects, is to reduce them as much as possible to a finite time period and include an SR factor.

Wishing you a relaxed SR factor week! I am home in Texas once again, and I have good Internet and cell connections once again. I am eager to resume a regular writing schedule. Send your ideas and comments about topics!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Monday Morning Check In: Peace and Quiet

There is something to be said for turning off electronics and disconnecting. I do not practice this often enough; I realize that I probably should. Currently I am participating in a music festival in Central Oregon, and I have difficulty making Internet and cell phone connections. Although there have been times when this seemed like a terrible thing, I have found that there are some gifts that can come from it.

For example, my life is a lot quieter and simpler. I do not have to deal with email or text messages very often, because so few of them get through or go out. I do not have messages flashing across the screens of my various electronic devices, so I am not distracted. I find that I concentrate a bit more now that there is more room in my head to contemplate and focus on what I am doing.

And is that not what a vacation should be like? I use the word "vacation" quite loosely since I am actually working at this music festival and quite hard, I might add. Because of the idyllic setting and top quality level of the musicians at the festival, I sometimes forget that I am working and think that I am vacationing as well.

I do turn on my electronic devices throughout the day, but I sense that I have somehow cut the cord between us. I tell myself that this is a good thing. I can practice contemplation, reflection, and quietness a little easier because the silence has expanded.

The festival ends this week, and I will return home in time to begin teaching the fall semester at the university and the studio. That is several days away though, and I will think about that later. For now, I will sit beside an open window, feel the breeze of the cool evening Oregon air, and listen for the sound of distant coyotes.

I will turn everything back on at the end of the week. Have a great week!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Why Twinkle?

Recently a reader (thanks, Ann!) commented with this question:

"Why does the Suzuki method teach Twinkle with the various rhythms? Instead of just the Twinkle theme?

This is a great question, and I am sure we have all thought about this a time or two. Why did Dr. Suzuki write all those Twinkle Variations, and why did he put the variations before the theme? Here are some possible answers:
  • To awaken the student's rhythmic awareness
  • To awaken the student's visual, aural, and kinesthetic senses
  • To allow the student to play quickly and use faster movement of the muscles (student's love to play fast; this is so far distant from my first violin days of long, slow, tedious bows on the A string)
  • To stimulate the student's large muscle groups before later refining the use of small muscle groups (move from large to small muscle groups, beginning with the larger muscles required for the Twinkle variations)
  • To teach the student some of the most popular rhythmic and bowing combinations in the repertoire
All of the above reasons are important. It is my understanding that the first variation rhythm, "Mississippi Hot dog" (also  known as "Pepperoni Pizza" or "taka taka stop stop"),  stems from the opening of Bach's famous two violin concerto in d minor:

Bach's "double" violin concerto
The Vivaldi A minor violin concerto movements are examples of how many of these rhythmic units are found in the classical repertoire. Pretty much all of the rhythmic variations are found in this concerto.

Students enjoy coming up with new variations. We might make up a new pattern based on the rhythm of our names. For example, "Paula Bird" and "strawberry ice cream" would translate to:

"Paula Bird" and "Strawberry Ice Cream" rhythms
I make up my own Twinkle variations as I need them to practice difficult bowing passages in the orchestral repertoire. For example, the last movement of Beethoven's 8th symphony has a fast paced set of rhythms that can be awkward to bow quickly. So I turn the bowing pattern into a Twinkle variation. My colleagues are amused to hear me practice this way, but I do not have any difficulty playing the last movement of the symphony.

Just the other day I practiced several of the Twinkle variations with spiccato bowing (bouncing off the string and airborne). I am currently in Central Oregon playing in the Sunriver Music Festival, and the air is quite dry here. My bow bounces much differently here than it does in my humid home state of Texas. So I needed some extra practice to learn how my bow felt in this new climate. Again, I caught some amused looks from festival colleagues as they realized what melody I used to make bowing variations.

What are some reasons you believe that Dr. Suzuki taught the Twinkle variations? What are some different ways that you use them with your students or in your own practice?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Monday Morning Check In: Does Your Image Line up with Your Integrity?

"Image is what people think we are. Integrity is what we really are."

So says John Maxwell in The Maxwell Daily Reader, which you can find in my Teach Suzuki Resource store (look over in the right margin). These two statements raise the important question that I will discuss today: does your image line up with your integrity?

Integrity has many facets of definition, and I am captivated by the possibilities that these various definitions suggest. In medical terms, integrity refers to a sound, unimpaired, or perfect condition. Typically, the word "integrity" is defined as adhering to moral and ethical principles, exhibiting a sound moral character, and honesty. But there are other parts to the definition, and these other parts are what interest me, especially when considered alongside what Mr. Maxwell said above. Integrity also means the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished, and it is this other definition that I want to consider.

The problem with the typical definition of integrity is that people differ as to what are the correct moral and ethical principles that comprise a sound moral character. Therefore, defining integrity in this way may not serve a useful purpose for people, because we have different standards to determine what integrity looks like.

However, if we consider the integrity definition part that focuses on wholeness or consistency, then we have something worth discussing. This is what I believe that John Maxwell was referring to in his two statements that began this article. Does your image line up with your integrity?

We all have an image that we have cultivated over time to present to others. This is our public face, or our mask, as some like to call it. We like to think that we have lined up our public persona with our private one, but if we were to ask our children or our spouses or parents about it, we might be surprised to learn that we fool very few people with an image that is not consistent with our integrity.

My purpose in this article is not to address what I think a correct moral or ethical code is. Instead, I want to suggest that whatever you have determined your moral and ethical code to be should be in line with your public image.

So how do we line up our images with our integrity? There are some areas in our lives that we can consider:

  • Do you treat your family members with the same courtesy, kindness, and graciousness as you do other people outside of the family?
  • Do you give the same consideration to your family's needs as you do to the needs of others in your life?
  • Do you treat your family members the same at all times, or do you treat them differently when you are tired, stressed, or busy?

  • Are you consistent about how you work with others, or do you have moods that others have to recognize and deal with?
  • Do you make choices that benefit the group rather than you?
  • Do you look for ways to further someone else's effort or to help someone else improve?
  • Do you give credit to others for their contributions?

  • Are you open about your life or do you hide things from others?
  • Do you consider doing things or looking out for others, or do you go about your own personal business?
  • Are you consistent in the way you present yourself to the community as you present yourself to your family or at work?

This week, give some thought to whether your integrity and image line up. Consider how you behave in your family, work, and community settings and pinpoint any areas that do not coincide. Then work out a plan to address these deficient areas.

The next step would be to develop a personal moral or ethical code. A previous university instructor urged us to pen our own individual "bill of rights." The instructor suggested that we write a series of principles that we felt strongly about as being an important part of our character. For me, a bill of rights might include statements about honesty and loyalty, to name a few. What would your bill of rights include?

And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.
Psalm 78:72 (NIV)

Friday, August 10, 2012

How to Get Started After a Break

Let us face the truth: we all take a break now and then. Maybe we are resting up after a strenuous season of performing. Maybe we have just finished a grueling series of activities that demanded a great deal of our time and emotion. Maybe we just came back from a much deserved vacation. Whatever the reason, we needed a break and we took it. Now we have had our rest and we need to get started back up again with our practice routine. But how? What is the best way to get started up again? I suggest that you follow three steps:

  1. Evaluate Your Routine
  2. Start Small
  3. Build Your Plan

Step One: Evaluate Your Routine

First of all, I presume that you had a routine in the past. That would be good. If you did not have a routine or did not have much of a routine, this is a great chance for you to nail down this important point. As any music teacher will tell you, your child's music education and ability development will go much smoother and be much easier for you, the practice parent, if the child has a regular, structured practice routine. Your child's music teacher will be able to accomplish a great deal more in lessons. Your child's self esteem will grow as the child has more of a sense of accomplishment at lessons and in practices.

However, even if you had a regular, structured practice routine, this does not mean that you must remain tied to that routine. If you have taken a break, this would be a very good time to evaluate the effectiveness of your practice plan and routine. Is the practice plan still serving you and your family well? As you look ahead to the coming month, semester, or year, will your current routine fit well with whatever other demands there are on your time and energy?

Now would also be a good time to introduce any new elements that you planned to include in your home practices. Will you use a new recording system? Have you discovered a goal-planning form that you thought looked promising and useful? Do you have some new practice incentives or review plans? Have you learned of a new practice tip from another helpful parent?

Now is also a good time to do a little research about practicing or reviewing. I have a friend who recently published a book about reviewing. I would love to interview her for you, but in the meantime, you might look into her books now: Sue Hunt and her Music in Practice website.

Another useful website is Leslie Thackeray's The Practice Shoppe. You may find many interesting items here along with numerous practice charts in the site's free downloads section. I hope to bring you an interview from Leslie too one day.

Step Two: Start Small

As with any endeavor, it is better to start with a small step. For my pre-twinkle and early book 1 students, my "small step" is to go back to the very beginning. At first, the student's concentration and focus will need attention. If the student had enough ability to concentrate and focus for a 30 minute lesson previously, I may now find that the student's focus is merely strong enough for half that time. That is alright, because the student's focus will grow back to normal in as little as a week or a few days of concentrated effort.

I start with concentration games: staring contest, look-at-the-toy, peek-a-boo, and other "fascination" type games. I also go back to the basics in terms of posture. I notice that after a break, students seem to forget how to take a bow, stand in rest position, and get ready in playing position with the usual set up steps. So I go back to the beginning and work these initial set up steps again and again until students can once again do the set up steps routine without thinking. I may spend the entire first lesson working on this issue. I try to turn this into a fun game of "Suzuki Says," but my goal is to have my student and his or her parent go home with this issue well in hand. To read my previous article about set up steps, click here.

If there is any time left in the lesson (I would certainly hope so!), then I go to the next step. For pre-twinklers, my next step is to work through the pre-twinkle songs that we learn in lessons and group classes:
  • Flower Song (Marilyn O'Boyle)
  • Monkey Song (Marilyn O'Boyle)
  • Songs from Joanne Martin's "Magic Carpet for Violin" (e.g., Tango, Easter Island Monkey, Bow River Fiddling)
  • Songs from David Tasgal's "Strings Fun & Easy," such as:
    • Lullaby
    • Duck Song
    • Blast Off
    • I'm Number One
    • We also use many of these songs to learn to read music.
For my book 1 students, after I check the set up steps and posture issues, I begin with the Twinkle Variations. If the student and parent have taken a break, then the Twinkle Variations are exactly the place to start. Even though I am a professional performing musician for over 42 years, I still find the Twinkle Variations to be the best method of cleaning up any bad habits in my posture, my playing, or my sound. I begin with the Twinkle Variations for all of my students as well as for myself. From there I progress to songs that occur in later books.

For most of my young students, I find that it never hurts to review songs that the students previously learned; in fact, I highly recommend review as the best step to take to improve a student's learning. I may spend most of the first group class in the fall semester reviewing songs that we already should know. I want my students to review regularly, but I know that unless I check on this every week, it may be skipped in home practices.

Even my most advanced students benefit from a review of early songs. I have my favorites for checking various points: Perpetual Motion, Etude, Minuet 2 or 3, Musette, Waltz, Gavotte from "Mignon," Minuet in G, Becker's Gavotte, Bach's Two Gavottes (book 3), Bach's Bourrée (book 3), the Seitz Concertos, the outer movements of the Vivaldi A minor Concerto, and so forth. Still, all of the songs in the Suzuki repertoire serve an important purpose in advancing a student's skill development, so all of the songs are worth reviewing.

I focus very strongly on review after my students have taken a break. I find that this type of intense review may take a few days or at most a week, but if a parent approaches this review with the right focus, the Suzuki practice world will improve immensely.

Step Three: Build Your Plan

Once you have evaluated your previous practice routine and plan and done some intense review of the building blocks of posture and playing well, it is time to build your future plan. There are several important ingredients to a good practice plan no matter what the age or level of the student or musician. I include the following components when I build a practice plan for my students: listening, review, tonalization, technique building, interpretation time, and performance time.
  • Listening
I ask my students to listen every day to the repertoire they are studying. For example, if a student is in book 1, then I expect that student to listen to the book 1 songs daily. I ask parents to play the CD with a "background" volume and set it to repeat ("background" volume is a volume that allows you to talk without feeling a need to raise your voice to talk over the recording. When you set the volume appropriately, you will quickly forget that the music is playing, but the music plays and the listening magic happens). When appropriate, the student can add the book 2 CD, and so forth. I knew one mom who made a special recording of all ten of the Suzuki violin volumes and looped it through the house every day. I myself listen regularly to the repertoire that I study.

I have heard criticism about the listening program from non-Suzuki teachers that says listening will cause students to be robotic in their playing. I do not agree. As painters learn from studying and imitating the great masters in the Louvre, I believe that music students will learn with study to imitate the great performers that my students hear in good recordings. My advanced students do not automatically copy what they hear on a recording but instead bring a discussion to lessons about what they like and dislike in the recordings that my students heard. I encourage this sort of scholarship. This discerning evaluation all begins with a solid and consistent listening program.
  • Review
A practice plan should include review of previous material that the student learned. Everything in the Suzuki repertoire builds on previous material. It is simpler to introduce new skills by incorporating them into material that is familiar and therefore easy for students to play. I strongly recommend that parents develop a systematic plan that will review previously learned material. Whether this plan includes a review chart, a coffee can full of popsicle sticks, an envelope with slips of paper, or a creative game challenge, parents should develop a system that will keep the student's focus on this important part of skill development. I like to include review items in the beginning of a practice routine to warm up the student's muscles, mental processes, and memory.
  • Tonalization
Vocalists vocalize by practicing long tones to develop a beautiful sound or tone. Dr. Suzuki created the term "tonalization" to represent the similar study that other instruments do. Brass and woodwind players practice long tones. Dr. Suzuki thought that string players should also work on building tone through similar exercises. There are many possibilities to practice tonalization in the Suzuki repertoire; Dr. Suzuki included many such exercises throughout the Suzuki books. For more advanced students, a scale program or etude book might also serve as a place to develop a good tone and strong sound. Even pre-twinkle students may work on tonalization by playing open string songs or simple Twinkle rhythms on open strings. Every student of every level should incorporate tonalization of one kind or another in a practice plan. I like to include tonalization exercises early in the practice plan while the student is still warming up. Tonalization exercises provide a nice connection between warming up and technique building, the next area of my ideal practice plan.
  • Technique Building
This area of the practice plan would include any areas of new skill and ability development. Perhaps the student has several previews of new songs to practice, or the student is adding new skills to previously learned songs. I would include anything new in the student's practice plan in this area. For advanced students, this could also include scales and etudes. I like to add technique building items early in the practice plan while the student's energy and focus are still fresh.
  • Interpretation Time
This area is especially important for advanced students, but even younger or less advanced students can include this in the practice plan. I find that sometimes students and parents focus too easily on the technique building phase and neglect the expressive phase of music making. By focusing some time and attention on the skill of expression and interpretation, students learn how to build something larger than themselves. Students learn how to use music to connect with listeners and others, including fellow musicians.

Interpretation time includes attention to phrasing, dynamics, style, and musical expression. Here is a link to an article about artistic phrasing rules that was written by Leila Viss.
  • Performance Time
One of the best ways to get back into a practice routine is to set up a performance schedule. Look ahead and schedule any possible performances. Perhaps it is a monthly community performance. We have a local coffee shop that provides performance opportunities for young students on the first Thursday night of each month. Performance opportunities might also include school talent shows, church services, studio recitals, community Christmas programs, or book graduation recitals. Put these performance opportunities on the calendar and work backwards to figure out mini-goals to prepare for the performances.

When starting up after a break, remember to think and start small. Build slowly. Reevaluate what you have done before. Add the components of a good practice plan that I have listed above a few at a time. It may seem overwhelming at first, but the process of igniting the practice fire will actually take less time than one would imagine.

The tricks are simple:

Get started.

Start small.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Monday Morning Check In: Mini-Challenges

When we think about goal setting, we tend to envision a grand picture. Our goal assumes lofty proportions, right? Of course, we need lofty big picture goals, because these types of goals fuel our vision and our desire to make a large impact on the world. There are other types of goals, however, that will accomplish much in our lives. These are our what I refer to as our mini-challenges.

What is a mini-challenge? This is a short term goal and may even be a really, really short term goal. Generally, short term goals are goals that can be accomplished within a year. The mini goal or challenge, however, can be as short as one week, or even one day if that attracts you and suits your purpose.

The reason I use mini goals is to keep my focus and concentration on a linear progression, since I can be easily distracted by many things. I am a curious person and am fascinated to learn about many things. If I gave myself free rein, I would not accomplish much because I would be chasing rabbit trails all over the place. No, I am not ADD. I just like learning about many things. Mini-challenges keep my head in the place where it belongs. I maintain a schedule of learning, and there is logical sense to my efforts and therefore to my mini-challenges. This is also why I write so often about systems, logs, and other methods of record keeping. When we lend structure to the chaos that abounds in our lives, we provide ourselves with useful tools to manage the nonsense and the necessary.

Here is how I use mini-challenges and goals. I might choose one mini-challenge per week. For example, let us suppose that I noticed in my last orchestra concert that my shifting felt uncomfortable in the high positions. Maybe my shoulder rest needed adjustment. Maybe I sat on the outside of the orchestral music stand rather than the inside. Maybe I wore a shirt that was slippery for my violin hold. No matter what the reason might be, for the next week I will challenge myself to address this issue by framing one or two mini-challenges.

If it is a shifting exercise, I will focus my practice efforts on addressing shifting in general and perhaps one or two shifts in particular. Maybe there is a Twinkle variation that I can practice or turn into a special variation that will address my issue or problem.

Maybe I notice that my bow articulation is not as clean as I would wish it to be. I might devote the next week to fixing this by using a mini-challenge. I would play one or two of the Twinkle variations, or Etude (Suzuki Violin Volume 1) every day for a week and listen very closely to my execution and articulation.

Maybe I want to improve my vibrato speed or evenness. I will set up a mini-challenge to perform several vibrato exercises in the coming week.

Mini challenges are even more fun if you have a partner to work the challenge with you. For this purpose I often involve my students. We challenge each other, write the challenge on a small index card, and then we check off our efforts during the coming week. At the next lesson, we compare notes about how well we did. Maybe our goal was to perform a particular exercise daily for a week. Maybe our goal was to see who could do the most repetitions of a particular exercise or skill in a week.

Mini challenges work well with character development issues as well. In these cases though, I might not involve another  person, preferring to go it alone. For example, I have been very stressed lately due to performance commitments and a schedule that drew me out of town frequently. I do not do stress well. I get grouchy and irritable.

Knowing my own propensity for anger and grouchiness, I started wearing a black ponytail holder on my arm. The purpose of the ponytail holder is to remind me that I need to maintain a positive attitude, even if I am tired or grouchy. Patterned along the lines of the purple rubber wrist band for a complaint free world (read more about it), I have structured this week's mini-challenge to work on making myself more aware of any anger or crankiness. If I get through the day without altering my positive attitude, I get to keep the ponytail holder on one arm. If I slip up, I have to move it to the other arm. My goal is to go at least 3 weeks without having to move the pony tail holder to the other arm. So far I have not succeeded. Bummer!

What will be your mini-challenge this week?

Friday, August 3, 2012

Preparing for Etude

I wrote an earlier article about teaching Etude, but in my current timeline of discussing Suzuki Violin Volume One, this is the place where I would introduce an article about Etude. In the previous article I did not discuss those things that I would introduce to a student in order to prepare for Etude, so I will discuss these items now.

First of all, I discuss the meaning of Etude with my students. "Etude" is a French word meaning "exercise" or "study." I discuss with my student that there are many "etudes" in the violin repertoire, and that these pieces are generally shorter in length and designed to teach particular skills. These skills may include a rhythmic unit, a new finger pattern, or a particular bowing variation. Generally etudes focus on one bowing variation or rhythmic pattern, which makes etudes useful for learning a particular skill because they direct the student's focus to a smaller area of technique or skill set. In this case, Dr. Suzuki's Etude will teach a new finger pattern, focus on strengthening the student's ability to make string crossings, and teach the student how to articulate notes well on an up bow (beginnings of notes). Most of the string crossings occur on an up bow to a lower string.

In addition to the student's regular listening program, I urge parents to play the Etude recording an extra number of times. Etude can confuse both parent and student aurally, so more listening helps. I also have a copy of the song laid out phrase by phrase. I made the copy by cutting and pasting the song into its four phrase components and lining up the phrases underneath each other. In this manner the parent can view the song phrases in comparison and easily see the different endings or contrasting parts of the song.

Here are a few things I might introduce to a student as preparation for learning Etude:

  • G major scale, 1 octave: this scale is played with the G string as the starting note and uses the Twinkle Variations finger pattern on both the D and G strings. Sometimes we play the scale using one of the various Twinkle variations.

  • G & D String Songs: We transpose as many of the songs that the student has learned onto the lower strings, if possible. Most of the book 1 songs can be transposed down a string. There are some that do not work. For example, Allegretto is impossible to transpose to the G string since it already contains a note on the G string, although Allegretto is a good song to work on because it requires the student to play on both the G and D strings. The other earlier songs in book 1 usually work well for transposition to a lower string. If we join forces with viola or cello students, our ability to play on a lower string will mean that we can play together with these other instruments.
  • G Major Scale, 2 Octaves: This two-octave scale introduces a new finger pattern. The student builds on the one octave G major scale and adds another octave set of notes up to the E string with a different finger pattern.

    • The teaching point here is that the student will learn a different finger pattern on the A and E strings.
    • The two octave G major scale requires one set of finger patterns on the G and D strings and another set of finger patterns on the A and E string.

Additional Teaching Points: Once we learn the scale, we can add additional teaching points.

  • 30 Second Scale: This is a game I play to encourage students to practice the two-octave G scale. I set the timer for 30 seconds, and then we count the number of times the student can play the scale  during the 30 seconds. The record is five for students of the Etude book 1 level (I do not show off my or any of my more advanced students' abilities to break that record). We only count the scale if a student plays it correctly -- the appropriate finger patterns and all of the scale notes.
  • Fourth Finger Descending: Once a student has strengthened the ability to play the two-octave G scale, I introduce the pinkie fingering on the scale's descent. I stress the importance of leaving the index finger down in place while the student swings the left elbow under the finger board and sets the pinkie in place.

  • Bowing Variations: Here are a few possible variations for the G scale. There are many other possibilities, and all of these ideas are excellent points in a group class lesson plan:
    • slur two notes
    • slur four notes
    • 2 hooked staccato bows (up-up, down-down)
    • 4 hooked staccato bows (up-up-up-up, down-down-down-down)
    • combination of slurred and hooked bows (slur, up-up, slur, up-up)
    • combination of slurred and separate bows (slur, up-down, slur, down-up) 
  • Scale Patterns: We practice a little extra on the different combinations of scale patterns found within the G scale. This can be a fun thing to add to a group lesson plan. Here are a few examples:

  • Broken Thirds Scale: I teach the G scale as a series of "broken thirds." I find that when a student learns how to play a scale in broken thirds that much of the battle of learning how to "feel a key" is won. I happened on this discovery one day while helping a student to learn the Bb finger pattern in the middle section of Gavotte from "Mignon," which is the 9th song in violin volume 2. Just on a lark, I taught the student how to play the Bb scale in broken thirds, and I found out that when the student finally learned this skill, that she also really, really learned how to feel the Bb key. Since that day, I have tried to remember to teach my students how to play all their scales in broken thirds. Here is the G scale in broken thirds:

  • New Etude of Finger Patterns: We create our own "etude" by practicing a series of finger patterns that we developed based on note and finger patterns found within Etude. I use ideas that I learned from my personal study of Ševčik exercises to develop these exercises (here is the link to see my previous blog post about the Ševčik connection). We repeat these little fingering fragments several times:

And finally, the Suzuki violin revised volume one provides a full page of finger exercises just prior to the Etude song. These exercises are designed to strengthen the student's use of the pinkie.

Much of the Etude preparation work not only helps to pave the road for good teaching of Etude, but it also prepares the road for the songs that succeed Etude. As with all of the songs in the Suzuki repertoire, each song is connected and related to all the other songs in some way, whether great or small. The fun of teaching lies in the discovery of these connections and relations. With every student, I uncover new teaching points and therefore continue to grow as a teacher.

For my previous post about Etude, click here. Let me know of your ideas concerning how to teach Etude and how to prepare a student for Etude's teaching points.

Happy Etude-ing!