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Saturday, August 27, 2011

I Love Etude!

I feel like writing about Etude today. Etude is the twelfth song in Suzuki Violin book 1. It is in G major and it is a never-ending series of eighth notes from the beginning until the end with a variation in 16th notes.

When preparing to teach any piece, I remember that Dr. Suzuki's mantra was: "Finger, Bow, Go!" To me this translates into left hand skills, right hand skills, and then creating ways to pull it all together. Here is my breakdown of the skills introduced by this Suzuki song.

Left Hand Skills:
  • Close 1-2 finger pattern on the A and E strings while continuing the close 2-3 finger pattern on the D and G strings.
  • G major 2-octave scale.
  • Reinforcement of the 1-3 spatial finger pattern learned in Song of the Wind (#2, book 1) (fig.1 below).
  • Expansion of the 1-3 spatial finger pattern across the strings; for example, in measure 8 (at the end of the 2nd phrase) (fig. 2), similar to the "jumping finger pattern" from Song of the Wind (#3, book 1):

    Right Hand Skills:
    • Clean string crossings with no dirty sound between the notes.
    • Playing a lower string with a good "catched" upbow; notice that most string crossings in Etude involve going to the D string on an up bow; except for the last D string of the song, every other D string is on an up bow.
    • Playing on four (of the 7 basic) string levels: G-D-A-E strings.
    • Good crisp beginnings to staccato notes.
    • Solid forearm motion in the square of the arm for the détaché bowing on the variation; in the variation, the "catched" bows on the lower string level will be on down bows throughout the piece.
    • Helping the student and parent to learn and memorize the piece.
    • Helping the student and parent to understand the form of the piece (A-A1-B-A2).
    • Coordinating the fingers and the bow on the string crossings.
    • Coordinating the fingers and the bow so that the bow does not "slurp" the fingers as they change pitches.

      My Silly Words:

      These words are a combination of things that I have heard over the years. There is a set of words out there that tells the story of a little girl named Henrietta Poppeletta, and that is where I heard the name. However, the words below are not the same as that other song. I did not have those words at the time I began teaching my first student how to play Etude, so I made something else up. At another time, a parent mentioned drawing a huge lake on a plastic picnic tablecloth, and that gave me the idea of coming up with a set of flashcards that guided the student in a large circle around an imaginary lake. The game seemed to interest enough students that it became my teaching method for Etude for those students for whom I actually have to teach the song.

      Henrietta Poppeletta goes around the lake
      1 time she goes, 2 times she goes, 3 times she goes around the lake
      3 step stones

      Henrietta Poppeletta goes around the lake
      1 time she goes, 2 times she goes, 3 times she goes around the lake
      the "3" bridge

      Little waterfall she walks beside
      the D bridge
      Bigger waterfall she walks beside
      3 step stones

      Henrietta Poppeletta goes around the lake
      but then she's tired and she goes home!

      How to Teach -- Previews:
      • I start with the 1-octave G scale beginning on the G string and build from there to the 2nd octave (figures 3 and 4):
      • I build facility on the G scale until the student is ultimately able to play four or five 2-octave G scales in a 30-second period of time. Boy do we have fun setting the timer for 30 seconds and then counting the number of times the student can play the entire G scale! I only count those G scales where the student plays the correct finger pattern on the A and E strings (close 1-2 finger pattern).
      • I ask that the parent play the recording of the piece extra times for listening.
      How I Teach Etude:
      • I teach the song in little units or chunks of material and match each chunk to a set of words I made up years ago.
        • I usually present the first four notes repeated one time as "Henrietta Poppeletta":
      Henrietta Poppeletta
        • "Goes around the lake": here I introduce the concept that I refer to as a "turnaround." This is a useful concept for the student to understand, especially when the student starts learning Handel's Bourree in book 2, which has a lot of "turnarounds" at the cadence points. This is an example of what I call a "reverse turnaround" because it immediately reverses direction. The turnarounds in Handel's Bourree in book 2 are what I refer to as basic turnarounds, where the notes go up a scale and then suddenly return to the starting note. Here is the Etude reverse turnaround:
        • "1 time she goes" and so on matches the sequence of notes in the next chunk. I matched my words to the number of times we go (3 times):
      1 time she goes, 2 times she goes, etc.
        • "Around the lake" is a pinkie scale down:
      pinkie scale down
        • "3 step stones" are the 3 notes that transition from part 1 to part 2 (and from part 3 to part 4) of the song:
          • I resisted trying other words that related to repeating the words used in the first part of the song, because the students tended to get confused about the number of times they were to play that 4-note phrase in between parts 1 and 2 (and 3 and 4).
          • The confusion problem I think stems from the fact that just counting the 4-note group three times does not fit the structure of the music, and intuitively the students understand that and become confused.
        • Part 2 is the same as part 1 with a "3 bridge" at the end (note how the 3rd finger "bridges" the first finger):
        3 bridge
        • I teach the waterfalls:
          • Little waterfall starts with 2nd finger on the E string and travels down the G scale until the 2nd finger on the D string.
      little waterfall
          • Big waterfall starts with 3rd finger on the E string and travels down the G scale until the 3rd finger on the D string:
      big waterfall
        • Part 4 starts similarly to parts 1 and 2 but finishes up with a descending scale in G major:
      Etude ending
      • We draw a series of flashcards that represent the various chunks of the song, and we lay the cards in a circle. The student walks around the circle and performs the various units of Etude at each station in the circle.
      • The hardest part of learning this song is the transition between the first and second parts. I labeled these parts "3 step stones" and "the 3 bridge." My student and I play a game where I throw a dice for even or odd numbers, and the student plays "3 step stones" for odd numbers or "3 bridge" for even numbers.
      • As the student improves, we add a new dimension to the circle walk. At each point where a new section begins, the student will switch to the variation for the next section and will continue alternating between the regular Etude and the variation until completing the song.
      • I find the suggestions on to be helpful regarding new words to learn this song. I might use this practice tool to teach the various units of the song similarly to the way I teach my present song units. I am eager to try this new set of words with my next Etude student!
      Review for Advanced Students:
      • We find opportunities to use third position.
      • We find places to shift to higher positions throughout the piece.
      • We practice spiccato.
      • We practice up bow or down bow staccato for 4 notes, then later 8 notes or the entire phrase.
      • We practice sautillé on the variation.
      Useful Advice (I hope):
      • I do not always have to teach a student how to play Etude. Sometimes the student figures the piece out without my help, and I do not have to use the "circle walk" exercise. Ask the student's parent to play the song many, many times extra during the week between lessons, because I think that this is key for students to have an easier time learning Etude.
      • I find it helpful to set the student up for success before even beginning the learning process steps. I drop hints during earlier songs about "how excited I am that you will be getting to learn Etude soon, since it is one of my favorite pieces and one that is so fun to play! And I just KNOW it is going to be your favorite too. I even think it will be your very best piece that you can play. Ooooh, I can't wait, can you?" Sometimes the parent helps this along by agreeing with me that it is their favorite song to listen to on the CD.
      • I xerox the song and cut it up into strips that match the actual parts of the song. Then I lay the strips in the appropriate order and xerox the finished product. Now the different parts of the song are very clear to see, and my parents understand what the song's format is.
      Group Class Ideas:
      • Set up a line of chairs or traffic cones or some other delineation on the floor across the center of the room (masking tape also works). As you walk around the room playing "Follow the Leader" and weave across and back over the line, change from the regular Etude into the variation depending on which side of the line you find yourself after crossing over the line.
      • Break the song up into chunks and take turns playing it down the line of students. When the students get really good at this game, make the chunks even smaller until ultimately the students can play the entire song by each playing one note apiece.
      • Stop playing suddenly and try to catch students who may not be watching.
      • Slow down (or speed up) while playing to see if the students can follow you.
      • Penguin game: this is a game I made up to help my students refrain from "rushing" or speeding up. We get down on our knees, and we "knee-walk" to each of the notes of the song. To an observer, the class looks very much like a rookery of penguins. This is actually hilarious to watch! FYI, adults do not enjoy participating in this game; it is too hard on our bony knees.
      • Play the hide-n-seek dynamics game: while one student is out of the room, hide a toy in the room; then when the student returns, direct the student to the hidden toy by using louder or softer dynamics to tell the searching student whether he or she is "hot" or "cold" in the direction the student is looking.
      • Advanced students may review the piece in group class by adding the advanced techniques suggested above.
      • Intermediate students might attempt making up an appropriate duet part. There is a Suzuki duet part that corresponds to Etude, but I have several students who have come up with their own accompaniment that matches better the rhythm of the original music.
      • A great review activity is to play the song with a down bow circle for every note. Adjust the tempo accordingly. This is a great activity for students as they progress in maturity because it allows you to note whether students are starting to put too much tension in their shoulders. [see my blog post about releasing tension in the shoulder].
      I think Etude is a wonderful piece, and I review it regularly with my students and for my own personal practice. There are many more advanced skill possibilities to talk about than I have taken the time to discuss here. I enjoy reviewing Etude for my own personal reasons, and I hope that you will enjoy learning and reviewing this song as much as I do.


      1. Thanks paula, we do etude for 2 weeks now and still cannot get the rhythm and notes memorized! I guess etude is the toughest song for Book 1 ... our teacher ask us to move on to minuet 1, dun stay too long on etude. So this week we have to work on 2 pieces!

      2. Lynn, Etude sometimes takes a while. I think there are a few tricks to help. (1) I ask my students to do extra listening, such as 3 times listen to the song before working on it. (2) I ask my students to separate out the parts and not try to run the entire song together at one time. Just concentrate on one part at a time (easier to remember). (3) We take the little troublesome parts and turn that into a game. I put colored tape over the little endings to parts 1 (blue) and 2 (purple) and then we throw a dice. If it comes up odd numbers, we play the blue tape part. If it comes up even numbers, we play the purple tape part. Later, when we play the song all parts together, I can just prompt them to remember which color comes when. Seems to help, but the best trick is the extra listening. If 3 times a day doesn't work, try 5 or 8. Come up with words to sing along. Go the and check out her cute worksheet with words to help learn Etude. Grab a 25 times chart while you're at it, and start plugging away. Let me know how it goes.

      3. Hi I have a question, what is the difficulty level for this song? Thanks!