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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Quick Practice Idea: Turtle Day

We all enjoy playing fast. Dr. Suzuki understood how much we enjoy movement, which is why the first thing a violin student learns is a quick rhythmic pattern: Mississippi Hot dog (or taka-taka-stop-stop), which is four 16th notes and two 8th notes. As a teacher I find, however, that students can take this exciting fast-playing over the edge. Telling them to play slower does not always work. Turning on a metronome or asking the students to step in time to the music does not always work either.

I know somewhere around the beginning of violin book one whether I have a speed demon on my hands. I know it when the student walks in and plays Song of the Wind or Go Tell Aunt Rhody at breakneck speed. Naturally the fingers and bow do not coordinate well, and the bow stroke is messy and bumps other strings.

That is where the idea of a turtle day was born. I found that I could get a student to slow down if I asked them to play the song at the speed that a turtle would play. Students automatically played slower -- a LOT slower. Then I could teach the student how to hear what he or she played.

Along the learning journey we discovered other benefits to playing our songs at "turtle speed." My older students strengthened their vibrato. Tone grew stronger as intonation locked in to the tonal pitch center. "Super ears" turned on and heard messy articulations -- beginnings and endings of notes. For those students who were working on memorization of a piece, working through the piece by memory at half and 3/4 speed was a true test of the student's knowledge and memory of the piece.

So I hereby declare today to be Turtle Day, and here are some suggestions as to what you can do.

  • Identify those passages or pieces that you want to work on today.
  • Figure out what your usual speed is. Many metronomes have a "tap in" feature that allows you to tap the tempo you like to play and then tells you what speed that is. I use several metronomes in the studio as well as the Tempo app on my iPhone, and they all have the tapping feature.
  • Set the metronome to half the speed you regularly play at. You may also play at 3/4 speed.
  • Decide what you will focus on:
    • intonation (highly recommended first!)
    • articulation
    • vibrato
    • shifting
    • whatever your student or the student's teacher has focused on during lessons
Do not plan to tackle everything on your practice list on a Turtle Day. Pick a few select areas that would benefit the most from this type of practice. You will be delighted to discover that what you work on in a Turtle Day will spillover into other pieces and areas on regular days.

You can do a Turtle Day once a week or do something come una tartarula (in turtle style) every day by working one passage daily at half or 3/4 speed. Be sure you have your particular focus set in your mind before you venture into turtle land.

Happy turtle-ing!

Here are some resource articles that may give you additional insight on your turtle journey:

Super Ears Article
Articulation: Mind Your T's and P's
Popcorn Day (staccato and martelé)
Articulation: Power of the Stopped Bow
Jamey Builds a Tower Rather Than Digs a Hole (the dangerous life of a speed demon)

1 comment:

  1. Perfect timing as always on this post! My oldest started playing "May Song" in fast forward this week, bumping other strings, generally driving me nuts. I declare tomorrow "turtle day." Thanks!