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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

May Song

From a teacher's point of view, "May Song" may seem like a "dessert" song (see more about "dessert" songs). Students seem to learn this song quickly, and teachers find it easy to teach. The song is in ABA form like the Twinkle Variations. In fact, the song closely follows the same finger patterns of the Twinkle Variations and can be played simultaneously with the Twinkle Theme as a duet.

Left Hand Skills
  • Little is new for the left hand. Combined with "O Come Little Children," Dr. Suzuki uses these two songs to outline an ascending and descending A major arpeggio.
  • The song uses the same close 2-3 finger pattern as previous songs.
  • The song uses the "super glue" spatial pattern between first and third fingers on the E string, similar to that found in "Song of the Wind."
Right Hand Skills
  • The song introduces a dotted rhythmic pattern that involves various string crossings.
How I Teach the Song
  • If you have not read my earlier post about teaching rhythmic units, you might find it helpful to start there. In that earlier post, I used May Song as an example, and the examples I included in the earlier post follow exactly how I teach the song. (click here for rhythmic unit blog post). Here I will briefly outline my teaching steps, but the actual teaching points I use are contained in the earlier post.
  • Although I usually advocate beginning with left hand skills first in general, in the case of this song, I also introduce a right hand skill on open strings as part of a continuing ear training program. I play a "call and response" game with the student, where I play a series of open strings in a rhythmic pattern and ask the student to imitate what I played back to me.
    • I use the opening dotted rhythmic figure: dotted quarter note, eighth note, and two quarter notes:
    • I ask the student to use the above rhythm but play the following open strings: A - A - E - E. Note that this sequence of open strings matches the string crossing in measure one above.
    • I ask the student to use the rhythm again but play a different sequence of open strings: A - E - A - A. This sequence matches the string crossings in measure 3 below.
    • With this right hand and listening skills game, I now have the student practicing the song's string crossings without also having the confusion of the notes at the same time.
  • I introduce the first four notes of the song: A - C# - E - high A and ask the student to play these four notes several times until the student is easy with the combination. I help the student master the rhythmic units, as described in my earlier post.
  • The student usually figures out the next few notes by themselves.
    • I make sure that the student holds down the index finger (use "superglue" to hold the finger in place on the E string).
    • I ask the student to "toe tap" the 3rd finger while the index finger stays super glued in place on F#.
    • The student and I work through the next pattern of notes.
    • After the student has mastered the first line of the song, we work on the middle part. This part resembles the B part of Twinkle Theme, except for an altered rhythm that inserts an extra E string.

    Later Problems (or just later)

    • Although the rhythmic issue of the dotted quarter note and eighth note shows up right away, I am listing the problem here. What happens is that the student will play the song without the appropriate dotted rhythm, even though the student is conscientious about a listening program. Here is how I address this problem, and I would introduce this exercise whether or not the student has a rhythmic problem, because it is a great coordination exercise and leads to a later skill of using the human body as a human metronome.
      • I teach the student how to "step" to the song, i.e., to march (or step) to the beats of the song and to play the song at the same time.
      • I work on the first measure. I may have to break down the measure into teeny baby steps until the student "gets it." For example, stepping at the same time the student plays the first note may be all the baby step the student can grasp in the beginning. Then we add one note or one foot at a time until the first measure is done. Sometimes a student may take the assignment home to work on. Students do not seem to take longer than one week to figure it out.
      • Once the student figures out the first measure, marching to the rest of the song seems to fall into place.
      • This marching to the beat of the song is a great way to teach a student how to feel the rhythm with the body. It is also a useful tool for those passages when a student might "rush" the tempo. In the case of Perpetual Motion (book 1), it is even funnier if the teacher asks the students to "walk" on their knees in time to the notes. This is a hilarious group class activity, although adults do not enjoy it (hard floors and bony knees do not mix!). The kids look like penguins.
      • The superglue finger comes loose in measure 2 and needs a spot more glue to hold it in place on the F#.
      • The bowing and string crossings get a little messy.
      • Students can play May Song simultaneously with Twinkle Theme as a duet, which is a great ensemble skill builder in beginning group classes.
      I really like May Song, and my students do also. It is a bright, cheerful little thing. In the old books, there was a repeat sign so that the performer would play the entire song through twice. I am sorry that the revised edition took out the repeat. We really like playing May Song.

      Happy Teaching!

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