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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Study Points for Book 1

I've been discussing the information contained in the beginning of the Suzuki Violin Volume I revised edition. So far we've looked at the basic information for teachers, students, and parents. We've also looked at the philosophical principle that a child's destiny is in his parent's hands and that talent is not inborn. We've also looked closer at the five conditions for ability development. Today's discussion will be about the study points:
  • Nurturing superior musical sensitivity
  • Tonalization
  • Developing a balanced posture
  • Creating motivation
Nurturing superior musical sensitivity

The book suggests that the child listen to the recordings of the pieces to be studied in book 1. This is a parent's responsibility, not the child's responsibility. The parent is responsible for playing the recordings at every available opportunity so that the child has a chance to become familiar with the pieces that the child will be studying. Dr. Suzuki calls this process the development of "internal abilities" and suggests that this is the best way to foster motivation to learn.

As a teacher, I am very much aware when a student forgets to do their daily listening. I hear incorrect notes and rhythms or the child approaches their lessons with a seeming lack of confidence (which could also be due to not practicing enough at home). Even missing a listening assignment for two days will be obvious to me. I recall watching a friend's child play at institute and struggling to get through a tricky passage in the Vivaldi Concerto in A minor, first movement. This wasn't one of my students, but I knew the parent well, and she threw up her hands in frustration and asked me how she could get her child to learn that tricky, swampy section on the last page. I asked the mom how many times the child had listened to the piece. When the mom looked blankly at me, I knew that I had hit the problem on the head. I suggested that she play the piece for the child four or more times that night and see what happened. The next day, the mom looked excited and relieved. The child had made incredible progress that night after having heard the piece several times.

I myself have put this listening requirement to the test for my own practice. I am always amazed at the results. When I was preparing for my book 5 teacher training, I set a personal goal of memorizing all the pieces, just as I would expect my students to do, but I was unfamiliar with some of the pieces in book 5. I started out by playing the book 5 recording every day. After about 2 weeks, I was waiting on stage for a symphony concert to begin and I had nothing to do. I started fiddling around with one of the songs at the end of book 5. To my amazement, I played 1.5 pages of the piece before I came to a point that I couldn't remember the song! I had actually memorized the piece, fingerings and bowings, without having looked at the music, with just listening alone.

When I prepare for solo recital performances, I regularly listen to the pieces that I am studying. I sometimes make up a special listening CD with various recordings and different artists and study my music just by listening. I notice that when I am regularly listening to my repertoire, I am more confident in rehearsals and I learn my music quickly, even if I am unable to do a solid practice week. If I miss a few days, I lack confidence in my playing, even if I have practiced a lot! I've been sold on the listening process ever since.

When a student has a little difficulty learning a new piece, I often suggest that we do some "special listening" that week. I ask the parent to play the piece several extra times a day just for the next week, and we find that the learning problem is easily overcome. There are several songs in the beginning literature that sometimes need extra listening: Allegretto, Minuet 2 and 3, and Gossec Gavotte in book 1, and Musette, Two Grenadiers, Gavotte from Mignon or Minuet in G from book 2. Actually, anytime a student seems to be taking a little longer to process a new song, I heap on the extra listening requirement.

I've also caught parents slacking on the listening requirement as well, and I usually catch it within the first week, which amazes the parents that I can tell so quickly. I also make sure to point out to the parent how much easier the practice sessions will go if the daily listening is being done.

Reminder: the listening is the responsibility of the parent. The child cannot be expected to take responsibility for remembering to turn on the music! I am very clear with my studio parents that I expect them to take this responsibility on for themselves. After all, easier practice sessions benefit the parent, right?


Dr. Suzuki made up this word. Vocalists do something called "vocalization" where they work to develop beautiful refined vocal sounds through various exercises. Dr. Suzuki borrowed this pedagogical idea and coined the term "tonalization" to describe the exercises designed to develop a beautiful instrumental tone. The Suzuki literature is filled with instances of these tonalization exercises, which can be made part of the lessons or group classes. The repertoire itself has many opportunities to practice developing a strong, warm tone as well, starting with Twinkle Theme. I call the sustained tonalization songs "Long Bow Songs" or "Creamy Bow Songs." Here is a list of such songs:

From book 1: Twinkle theme, Lightly Row, Aunt Rhody, O Come Little Children, Long Long Ago

From book 2: Chorus from "Judas Maccabeus," Long Long Ago theme, Waltz, Minuet in G

Developing a balanced posture

The book directs us to work for accurate intonation, balanced posture, and natural bow hold. Developing balance in the students' posture is most of what I do as a teacher, especially with a young child who is constantly growing physically. I have been known to spend almost an entire lesson fiddling with the student's equipment to make sure that the shoulder rest fits the student's growing physique properly. I keep my eyes open to notice when a child is in the middle of a growth spurt and is twisting their feet in one direction and their torso in another. I have to show parents how to correct this evolving posture imbalance so that the child continues to play and hold the instrument correctly.

Creating motivation

How to create motivation to learn should probably be the subject of many blog posts. It is a tricky subject for parents, and I spend a great deal of time discussing this in my parent course. If a child isn't motivated to practice or play, then the entire musical experience will be exhausting for the parent and the child. Motivation cannot be created by telling the child to practice, nor by "scolding," as Dr. Suzuki liked to say. Fostering motivation to learn is definitely an art form, but there are ingredients that can help to make this a reality for Suzuki families. I will save the nitty gritty details for the future.

So far, I've just covered the first pages of Suzuki Violin Volume 1 Revised Edition through page 4, and I've discussed these pages in several blog posts.  I'm not even close to being finished. I have two more pages to cover, but that will have to wait until next time.


  1. Hello. I know the first variation of the Twinkles is Mississipi Hotdog, the second is Mr. Suzuki and Mrs. Suzuki, I can't think of the third. I know the fourth is Mississippi Alabama. Please provide via email Thank you so very much!

  2. To Anonymous above...

    There are lots of "names" for the various Twinkle variations... Here are a few I've heard

    Variation A - Mississipi Hotdog; Manitoba Hotdog (I'm in Canada); Taka Taka Stop Stop;

    Variation B - Mommy and Daddy; Popcorn and Candy; Down Bow and Up Bow

    Variation C - Run Doggy Run Doggy; Down Pony Up Pony

    Variation D - (Note - this variation existed in the 70's, was removed at some point, then returned in the latest edition out in 2006ish) During the between time when it was gone, variation E was called variation D - the words you gave for the "fourth" variation go with variation E.) Butterfly Butterfly; Canada Canada

    Variation E (was variation D - see note with variation D) Manitoba Manitoba; Wish I had a motorcycle

    There are lots more "names" to the variations - these are the ones commonly used here or that come to my mind.

    Hope those help!

  3. Here are some more:
    Var. A: Amarillo Cowboys, riding up the canyon, eating pokey cactus (this student's dad had fun making up this story to fit the variation rhythm!); Mississippi Stop Stop

    Var. B: Sunday and Monday (and Tuesday etc.; Sat. is two syllables); Dr. Suzuki says practice and practice and practice and practice and practice like crazy!

    Var. C: Pull Pony, Push Pony; Jack Rabbits eat Carrots; Blue Jello; Crocodile

    Var. D (current version): Strawberry, Blueberry; Roadrunner; Beautiful; Hamburger

    Var. E: Grandma rides a Motorcyle (wish I had a motorcycle, once I had a motorcycle, someone stole my motorcycle, now I have no motorcycle (this is my personal saga and a true story!)); Mississippi is a River; Peanut Butter; Alligator

    I think it's fun to make up new ones. At least I suggest that to my students. The Sanguine personalities jump at the opportunity! The Melancholies give me the frowning face. The Cholerics don't want to take the time (let's get this practice done!). The Phlegmatics think it's a great idea but probably will take too much work.

  4. Hi, this is what our teacher taught us:
    Var A: Mississippi Stop Stop
    Var B: Rosin "Hmm" Bow
    Var C: Strawberry Rasberry
    Var D: Tri-o-la
    Var E: Kuala Lumpur peanut butter

  5. Hi , Theses are all great. I have a few as well!
    In Arizona We used:
    A: Arizona Cac-tus
    B: Ice Cream "slurp" cone
    C: Down Kitty Up Kitty
    D: Merrily Merrily
    E: Peanut Butter Jelly Sandwich

    I now use a combination of: (the food ones are fun to pair together)

    A: Alligator Mon-Key
    A: Mississippi Stop Stop
    A: Pepperoni Pizza

    B:Sunday and Monday and Tuesday.. etc
    B: Ice Cream "Sh" Cone
    B: Dr. Suzuki says practice and practice and practice and practice until you go crazy and practice and practice and practice and practice.. etc.

    C: Hamburger, Cheeseburger
    C: Run Pony Run Pony

    D: strawberry, blueberry

    E:Peaunut Butter Jelly Sandwich
    E: motorcycle motorcycle
    E: Ballerina Ballerina

  6. WOW, these are all great! I like the ones that have a stopped consonant sound on the staccato notes. For example, Pepperoni Pizza or Mississippi Hotdog or Taka Taka Stop Stop.

  7. In South Africa we do:
    A: Little Little Quick Quick or Tiki Tiki Tak Tak
    B: Choc-late-mmm-cake
    C: Pineapple, pineapple
    D: Galloping rocking horse
    E: Fatter than a caterpillar

  8. Thanks, Beccy! I especially like the "fatter than a caterpillar." Kids will love that one! I have one little boy who uses "black olive, green olive" for variation D.

  9. I've done the Twinkle Variations in a few ways. eg. "Fruit Salad" (all are names of fruits), and another favourite of my little boy is "Racers":
    A: Ra-cing Cars go Fast Fast
    C: Zoom Pors-che, Zoom Pors-che
    D: Lam-bor-ghi-ni, Lam-bor-ghi-ni
    E: Fe-ra-ri, Fe-ra-ri

  10. Ha ha great idea for little boys (and little girls like cars)!

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


    1. Hi, Ann! Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. This is a great question, and the answer has many parts. You gave me a great idea for a blog post, so I'll get "write" on that! Stop by soon (or subscribe by email) and be sure to leave me a comment. Thanks! -- Paula Bird

    2. The variations give the students great exposure to and practice in bowings that will be used later on. Once the "tune" is learned, the student only needs to incorporate the bowing. It's a wonderful way to teach bowing & articulation styles.

    3. Hi, Pat! Sue Hunt's review book ( contains many examples of how to practice bowing variations with Twinkle and Perpetual Motion. We love to invent new Twinkle variations in class. My symphony colleagues think I'm hilarious because I practice a Twinkle variation that matches the bowing in Beethoven's Symphony #8, last movement. It goes so fast, and my Twinkle/Beethoven variation amuses my friends, but I'm the one who has little trouble playing the last movement.

      What's your favorite Twinkle invented rhythm?

  12. We Do (In New Zealand, but teacher is from Australia):
    A: Busy Busy Stop Stop
    B: Popcorn and Lollies
    C: Pineapple, pineapple
    D: Run rabbit, run rabbit
    E: Hungry little caterpillar

    1. Thanks for writing! I love hearing from our friends "down under." My husband was born in Australia.

    2. I remember doing "Sydney is a stop stop" and "I like an ice cream". Can't remember what we used for the others! No prizes for guessing where I grew up!!

      Just starting a beginner (in UK) and her mother remembered "Bread and butter pudding". We're going with that for the time being although I have pointed out the advantages of stop, stop!

  13. A: Pepperoni Pizza or Lolli-lolli-pop-pop
    B: Ice Cream Cone
    C: Popsicle, Popsicle
    D: Candy Bar, Candy Bar
    E: Wish I Had a Watermelon

    1. Thanks for the suggestions! I find it interesting that I can refer to a variation using a different name, and the students don't seem to know that it is the same song! For example, I'll say "Cat Kitty" and the student will look puzzled because they learned the song as "Pull Pony, Push Pony." Funny that!

  14. Motorcycle Stop Stop
    Twinkle Shhh Pop
    Zip Twinkle Zap Twinkle
    Twinkle little baby brother

  15. I have to add in my name for variation 2:

    Green Eggs & Ham

    When my young students begin this rhythm, they are assigned to read the Dr. Suess book with their parents. Their parent reads all the words, except every time Sam says "I don't like ......" the student says and claps "Green Eggs & Ham." My students always come back the next week with this rhythm firmly memorized. It's a really fun and productive way to get in many repetitions.

    1. Thanks, Laura! Isn't it fun to invent new words and activities? The kids love doing this!