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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Teaching Lightly Row

Lightly Row is the first song in Suzuki violin book 1 that comes after the Twinkle variations, which are a tough act to follow. Therefore, Dr. Suzuki must have given this song special importance in his mind to have placed it in such a prominent place. Let us take a closer look at the treasures to be found in this song.

Left Hand Skills
  • "skipping" fingers: the new finger pattern employs the fingers alternately rather than consecutively
  • same finger pattern as in Twinkle variations (half step between 2-3 fingers)
  • A-A1-B-A1 form (1st part is similar to the 2nd part with a different ending; the 2nd and 4th parts are identical)
  • "walking fingers" at the end of part 1 resemble Twinkle variations but in reverse sequence from Twinkles
Right Hand Skills
  • If you teach this song with open E string (rather than 4th finger playing E on the A string), the student learns how to drop the bow arm to the E string level and get a good ringing tone
  • open E string teaches good string crossings
  • later as the student advances in ability, the teacher may introduce bow distribution (using longer, slower bows for longer, slower notes, and quicker bows for shorter, faster notes); e.g., quick, quick, slow for the opening quarter note, quarter note, half note at the onset of the song
  • teach the different endings to parts 1 and 2, measures 3 & 4 and 7 & 8
    • walking fingers: A-B-C#-D-E-E-E (measures 3 & 4)
    • skipping fingers: A-C#-E-E-C#-C#-C# (measures 7 & 8)
  • doorbells or cuckoos in measures 1 and 2:
    • E-C#-C# (measure 1)
    • D-B-B (measure 2)
  • expanded doorbells or cuckoos in measures 5 & 6:
    • E-C#-C#-C# (measure 5)
    • D-B-B-B (measure 6)
  • Once the student learns the different endings to the first and second parts of the song, we play the song together.
    • I play the beginning of the song (first two measures) on the student's violin and then quickly flip the violin around to place it under the student's chin.
    • the student plays the walking fingers section that ends the first line of the song.
    • I quickly grab the violin and then play the opening measures of the second line of the song.
    • I pass the violin to the student to play the skipping fingers ending of line two of the song.
    • We continue passing the violin back and forth with a sense of urgency so that together we partner playing the entire song.
  • As the student learns the doorbells or cuckoos, the student expands the number of notes that he or she plays when we play the song together.
  •  Third part of the song: I employ the student's aural and kinesthetic senses when we learn this part.
    • I play the first four notes of the third line (B-B-B-B of measure 9) and ask the student to imitate me. I do not tell the student how many notes B I play. I want the student to hear and repeat the same number back to me.
    • I ask the student to take a step to the side and then play B-C#-D (measure 10)
    • Once the student can play both measures 9 and 10, we play them together;
      • B-B-B-B
      • take a step to the side and play B-C#-D
    • I then teach the student measures 11 and 12 in the same way:
      • I play C#-C#-C#-C# (measure 11) and ask the student to imitate me
      • We take a step and then play C#-D-E (measure 12)
    • I carefully instruct the home practice partner (mom or dad) to reinforce the way I taught the song, with the various steps to new positions for each measure.
    • I am careful NOT to teach "play B five times then C#-D" of measures 9 and 10 because this does not reinforce the natural rhythm of the song.
Later Problems
  • The student forgets elements of the song:
    • walking versus skipping finger endings to parts 1 and 2
    • mixing up the doorbells and cuckoos between the beginnings of parts 1 and 2
    • forgetting the correct number of repeated notes in part 3
  • left hand falls down on the E string
    • the student tends to imitate the left hand motion with the right hand bow, dropping the left hand to mirror the dropping bow to the E string level
    • this is a good opportunity to teach independence between the right and left hands
    • some teachers prefer to have the student prepare the C# at the beginning of the song before playing the first E string note of the song to counteract this tendency
  • Bow use becomes messy
    • messy string crossings, sometimes due to a bow hold that becomes too loose and falls apart
Group Class Ideas
  • play the song as partners: divide the class into two parts, and each part of the class plays a different part of the song
  • students pluck E strings with left hand pinkies and bow the other notes
  • walk around the room or step to the song while playing
Advanced Students
  • use fourth fingers to replace open E string
  • bow distribution: longer, slower bows on half notes
  • use bigger bows as preparation for book 2 bowing skills
  • book 3 students learn duet part
  • as students learn higher positions, incorporate alternate fingerings
  • incorporate vibrato
I use Lightly Row to teach various skills, which I will expand upon in later songs. To summarize:
  • I begin working on ear training:
    • by asking the student to distinguish between notes a step apart and notes that skip an interval of a third
  • I use Lightly Row to develop the child's memory skills. Note that many string orchestra books include Lightly Row but that the version employs a simpler form (A-A-B-A). Dr. Suzuki's version requires the student to employ more mental energy to remember the slightly altered form. I prefer Dr. Suzuki's version.
  • I use Lightly Row to reinforce the different string levels with the bow between the A and E strings. Later I will ask the student to use fourth finger in the song as another opportunity to strengthen the pinkie.


  1. These are excellent posts! Thank you!

  2. does anyone know where I can find the color sheet for 30 Lightly Row boats?

    1. I wasn't sure what you were referring to? Is this a practice log of some kind?