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Sunday, January 9, 2011

January 10, 2011: Monday Morning Check In

Monday morning again. Time to check in and see if we are on plan. For some of us, we need to check in and see if we even have a plan. If not, please see some of my earlier posts about goals, SMART goals, and practice challenges, and get busy!

Today I'd like to issue a few focus challenges for the week. Since it's January and the start of a new year, I thought it would be a good idea to start at the beginning. For me, a Suzuki teacher, that is the Twinkle, Twinkle Variations by Shinichi Suzuki. I highly recommend that every violinist learn and perfect these variations. They are chock full of technical skills, and whenever I find a student who is deficient in a particular technical area, it's a sure bet that the student's Twinkle variations have gotten sloppy.

So go back to the beginning of Suzuki Violin Volume 1, revised edition, and review the Twinkle Variations. Here are some things to focus on:

Twinkle Variations
  • Remember to play crisp staccato notes. There should be:
    • a solid "ping" at the beginning of the note
    • a stopped bow at the end of the note
    • a nice ringing tone to the middle of the note
  • Vary the amount of bow used depending on your level.
    • Book 1 students should use 1-3 inches of bow in the upper half of the bow at the spot where the right elbow bends the arm to form a "square."
    • Book 2 students should use 2-5 inches of bow and keeping the bow straight.
    • Book 3 students and above should be able to use increasing amounts of bow, always maintaining the crispness discussed above as well as a straight bow.
  • All the variations have short staccato notes except Variation D (eighth note triplets) and Variation E (16th notes).
  • Twinkle theme:
    • Less advanced students may use staccato bows (stopped short bows).
    • More advanced students may use the entire bow.
    • Remember the appropriate use of bow distribution: larger bows for the half notes, and shorter bows for the quarter notes.
    • Remember to vary the bow speed: slower bows for the half notes, and quicker bows for the quarter notes.
  • For students in book 4 and above, practice all the variations starting with a reversed bow. The variations should sound the same whether you start with an up bow or a down bow
Variations on the Variations
  • Practice the variations with varied tempos, from slow to fast.
  • Practice the variations with varied bowing, such as spiccato or sautillĂ©.
Other Focus Points
  • Check your posture
  • Check your bow hold. Is your thumb rounded outward and your pinkie curved?
  • Check your left hand positioning. Is it to low? The lifeline at the bottom of your left pinkie should line up with the E string when you are playing on the E string.
  • Is your elbow under the instrument or sticking out to the left like a chicken wing?
  • Is your right elbow at or slightly below the level of your right hand?
  • Are there bumps and kinks along the right arm (wrist too high or pinkie straight and hand pronated on the index finger) or is there a smooth pathway? 
  • Is there tension in your shoulder or back? Can you release that tension and send the released weight to your bow's contact point instead?
I think everyone should follow some sort of review program. I enjoy using the Suzuki materials as a general review because of the thorough skills presentation and progression.

So this week let's revisit our Twinkle skills and "tune up" anything about our playing that has gotten a little loose and sloppy.

Please leave me a comment about your own review discoveries. See you tomorrow for part 5 of How to Practice.

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