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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Quick Practice Tip: 2 to 1!

When demonstrating a new skill, it's a good idea to follow the rule of thumb: demonstrate it two times, then let the student play it once. If you follow this general pattern of always playing it for the student (or helping the student to play it) two times for every one time the student performs it without assistance, then there is a greater possibility that the student will learn it correctly and quickly. So remember: show it two times, let them try it once. Then repeat.

Speaking of "showing" a student, I want to pass on another great tip I learned from watching Marilyn O'Boyle teach at a Suzuki Institute. When she taught a child a new song, such as "Flower Song," she did not tell the student how to play it. In fact she really didn't say much of anything about what notes or fingers to play. She just played the song slowly with great exaggerated motions so that the student couldn't miss her placement of the bow on a particular string or her use of a finger.

I've carried that forward just a little bit by asking questions. I'm a big believer in the use of open-ended questions. This probably comes from my legal training, my familiarity with the Socratic Method, and my mediation training. Anyway, I play Flower Song twice, a la O'Boyle, and then I ask the student a few questions to see what a good watcher they were. While I played, of course, I was giving as many visual cues as I could.

  • What string did my bow start on?
  • What string did my bow finish on?
  • Did I use any of my left fingers? Is so, which one?

Then I play it again. At that point, the student is hopping up and down with eagerness to try it.

"Flower Song" is the first concrete step to learning Variation A of the Twinkle Variations. The song is comprised of the second, third, and fourth notes of the Twinkle Variation followed by the bow movement back to the A string, which happens in the fifth note of the Twinkle Variation. Having said how "Flower Song" is related to Twinkle, I still find that my students won't make that connection even when I spell it out for them. By learning "Flower Song," my students become accustomed to the feeling of the proper muscle movements needed to play the Twinkle Variations.

The next step to learning Variation A is learning "Monkey Song" ( I play this in the same style as Marilyn O'Boyle -- play two exaggerated times. Here are my subsequent questions:

  • What string did my bow and fingers play on?
  • Was there any finger who did not get to play?
Remember the left hand pizzicato exercise? This exercise was designed to get the student accustomed to how the fingers will play "Monkey Song."

Happy Practicing!


  1. thanks for the quick practice tips. i played twinkle variation B for my daughter twice and let her play once. she seems to pick up, almost instantly. then i play twice again, she also like this better because when i play twice, she gets to take a short rest.. while watching me play..

  2. Good for you! I love reading your comments, reei! How old is your daughter?