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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

O Come Little Children

This song is the fifth song in Suzuki Violin Volume 1 and part of the beginning songs and skills of volume 1. The song is a German Christmas carol and falls on the heels of “Go Tell Aunt Rhody,” the “dessert” song (see my previous post about Aunt Rhody and dessert songs here). The song introduces new concepts and reinforces previously learned skills.

Left Hand Skills

  • The song is in A major and follows the previously learned Twinkle finger pattern of close 2-3 fingers.
  • The song reinforces the independent use of the 2nd and 3rd fingers learned in Lightly Row and Song of the Wind.
  • The song “reviews” the spatial relationship between the 1st and 3rd fingers learned in Song of the Wind but in a different combination and order of fingers.
  • The song introduces a “pocket finger” and another opportunity to build independence between both sides of the student’s body. (see my previous post about pocket fingers here).

Right Hand Skills

  • The song contains a lot of string crossings in irregular and complex patterns.
  • The song introduces the up bow pickup note.
  • The song introduces the repeated up bow in a manner that allows for a thinking pause. The phrase ends with an up bow, and the new phrase begins with an up bow pickup note after a rest).

How I Teach the Song

  • I introduce the beginning of the song as part of my continuing ear training work. I have the student turn around and we play the “mystery song” game.
    • I play the E string once and ask the student to play it back. Then I play the E string twice and ask for the student to echo me. Then I play E-E-C#.
    • I do not worry whether the student starts up  bow or down bow for now because in a minute it will not matter.
    • I ask the student to play E-E-C# two times. (See why it does not matter? The student will now have practiced playing it down bow and up bow, just as it is in the song).
    • By this point the student is beginning to think they might know the song and have heard it before. So I let them explore it a little. They often figure out the next two or three notes by themselves. I mostly step in to help around the last three notes of the phrase.
  • Now that the student is able to play the first phrase of the song. I tell them that the first part happens twice.
  • I make sure to mark the student’s book so that the up bows are clearly indicated in the music. Sometimes the markings are unclear for the parents.
  • Now I introduce the song as an up bow song. I do not worry about where the student starts the up bow. I will refine this skill later. For now, I just stick to the “larger” skills required to play the song. We will refine things as we go. Many times students figure out a lot of what they need to do just by getting familiar with the song.
  • I usually do not need to do much to help a student remember how to play the first two phrases. I find that students will gradually add on a few notes to the song until finally they have figured it all out for themselves. I very seldom have to help students pick out the notes to the song at this point. All of our ear training work in Go Tell Aunt Rhody and in group classes has taken root. I just mark one or two “key” notes with a fingering and tell my student that the parent has my permission to give this fingering “hint” if my student needs it, but ONLY if my student needs it.
    • I mark the F# at the end of the 3rd phrase because students usually miss it and because I want parents to be ultra-vigilant here that my students keep their left hands up in the correct playing position and do not sag beneath the finger board.
    • I also mark the C# in the 4th phrase, because students try to play a D instead. I want to keep students from “practicing” this mistake by repeating it too many times.
Later Problems (or just later)
  • Students may tip the left hand over to the E string side when playing the pocket finger F# at the end of the 3rd phrase rather than holding the left hand upright while the bow dips down to the E string.
  • Students forget the up bow pickup note at the beginning of the song or at the beginnings of each phrase.
    • We practice this at group classes and involve parents. When we reach the end of the song, we recite, “up again!” to help us remember the up bows.
    • We also play a silly game at lessons. When we reach the rest at the end of each phrase, we stop and say, “I think I’ll take another up bow!” in the silliest, goofiest voice we can muster. We have a lot of fun trying to best each other with our crazy voices.
  • Students may forget the fingering in the 3rd and 4th phrases because they have double practice of the 1st (and 2nd) part every time they play the song. There are some weeks when I ask my students to play the 3rd and 4th parts 25 times each and fill out an extra incentive chart for an extra point on the studio wall chart.
  • bowings and why down bow versus up bow.
  • I use the song to reinforce the bow distribution skill. Play whole bows on quarter notes and half bows on eighth notes. My students like to label the frog end of the bow as their “home town.” Then we label the tip end of the bow as the neighboring town. When we play the song, we practice “driving from town to town.” This game seems to make it easier for the students to practice bow distribution.
  • Sometimes we play the song backwards and start with a down bow and do double down bows at the end of each phrase. This is more of an intellectual exercise than anything at this early stage of violin learning, but it is interesting.
  • Students who have been using the pinkie finger can substitute it for the E string in the song and avoid the string crossings, which could be part of a lesson plan about fingering choices.
  • The Suzuki duet part is lovely, and the song is popular in our studio in the fall because it is a Christmas song. We usually include it in any holiday performance we give.
Although O Come Little Children introduces many new skills and concepts, it still resembles a “dessert” song in a way (like Minuet 2). The students genuinely enjoy learning and performing this song. It is a lovely melody and interesting to play. The song may be tricky, but because the students love it so much, I have an easy and fun time teaching this song.


  1. Thank you Paula, I really needed to see this post! My daughter just started to learn 'oh come little children' on the weekend, but the practice at home had not been good. She usually forgot to start with the up bow, or she would play some wrong notes so the bow movement would be out-of-sync. And by the time she reached the two 'up bow' part, it becamse two 'down bows'. She was getting very very frustrated, so was I.
    Thank you so much for pointing out you "stick to the “larger” skills required to play the song" first. We stopped worrying whether she had the correct bow yesterday and just concentrating on playing the song and the practice was much much better!!

  2. Thanks, Anonymous!
    Sometimes with songs like O Come, when the bowing can be confusing, I opt to separate out the two hands, like the pianists do when learning a new piece. I can either have the student pluck the notes to the song and then do the bowing in the air until both are ready. Or, the student may opt to learn the notes first with the bow going whichever way, and we also practice the bowing to the song in the air as part of the practice routine. In this way, the student becomes more familiar with the bowing while they learn the song, but the pressure is off concerning the correct bowing at the same time as learning the left hand. I always worry about left hand first, then the right hand, then both together. Pianists, which do you prefer? Right, then left? Melody, then harmony?


    hi paula,

    can you please give some tips on how my daughter can improve this piece? she'll play this piece for the finals. thanks.

  4. She is playing Lightly Row, yes? I sent you a personal email. Hope this helps. Let me know how it goes.