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Friday, September 16, 2011

Quick Practice Tip: Working through Sections

When I start working on a piece, I identify the sections of the piece. For example, in a concerto movement such as Vivaldi's concerto in A minor (Suzuki violin book 4, #4), I will beginning identifying the sections starting from the beginning. I will label the first Tutti section as letter A, the first solo section as letter B, and so forth until I have reached the end of the piece.

As the teacher, I help my students to identify the most difficult section of the piece as the place to start working. My teacher training courses helped me to understand which sections need some preview work, but that is not my purpose here in this post, because we have probably been doing the previews for the particular piece before we ever began learning the piece.

After learning the previews, I then start my students on the new piece officially by beginning with the trickiest section of the piece or the section that might take the longest to learn. In the case of some of my youngest students, they may find it difficult to start somewhere other than the beginning of the piece. It is common for many students in book 4 to have difficulty playing if we do not allow them to rewind the "tape" in their heads back to the beginning each time they begin playing. I keep plugging at it, however, and eventually they develop more confidence about starting somewhere other than the beginning of the piece.

The benefit of working in sections is that the student focuses more on the goal of "mastery" rather than on just playing through something. We talk about the elements that need to be addressed, and I prefer a particular order because I believe that Dr. Suzuki identified this same order with his philosophy "Fingers, Bow, Go!"

  • Left Hand: notes, fingerings, shifts, hand position, note preparations
  • Right Hand: bowing, articulation, slurs, good bow catches
  • Memory: if the child is learning with music (as I expect my book 4 students to be doing, even if still at rudimentary levels), then memory would be the next step. Often times a student commits things to memory rather quickly; this is the Suzuki way.
  • Style: proper articulation, staccato versus legato, composer's or time period's style
  • Dynamics
  • Test Drive: we do a practice run through as a group class performance, a solo at group class, a performance at a nursing home, or as part of a family's home concert
  • Polished State: at this point the student is ready to perform this piece beautifully with all the appropriate elements in place as a solo on a recital or other performance
I use this sectional technique at all levels of my teaching, whether pre-Twinkle stage or university level. The sectional idea allows me to guide the student to develop adequate practice "think-throughs" to promote intelligent and efficient practice habits.

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