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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!

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