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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Andantino Warning: Elephants Sneeze and Frogs Ribbit

Andantino is one of my favorite songs and a cinch to teach. I foreshadow the song by telling my students how quickly they will learn the song, and I hint at the stories to come that will accompany the song. I have two stories: one story stems from the words to the song from the Suzuki Pre-twinkle Book, and the other story is simply one that I made up to provide drama for the fermata in the last phrase of the song.

I do not have to teach much of the song, perhaps giving the starting note and a little guidance here and there when the student gets confused. About this point in a student’s learning, the parents begin to take a back seat – not because the child is able to take more responsibility for learning the song or because I have asked the parent to relax, but because the parent begins to feel overwhelmed by all that the child learns and how quickly the child progresses (if the parent has set up the learning environment well).

I begin to monitor closely how involved the parent is at this point. The child still needs the parent’s help and guidance at home, and especially the parent’s encouragement and enthusiasm. The learning may seem more complicated now from the parent’s perspective, and often the parent’s tendency is to abdicate more and more responsibility to the child, which in turn lays more and more work at the feet of the teacher during lessons as a result.

The child, however, is not ready for the parent to disappear. So, I make an effort to keep the parent involved here, even if it is to keep an eye on the student’s physical form. This is also a good time in the child's learning and development to check in with the parent's habits concerning daily practice, the listening program, and taking notes at lessons. I make a point of checking in with the parent to see that everything is running smoothly at this point and that we address any problems the parent has during home practices.

I do not have a formal system for doing this. I try to be subtle about it. I check in with casual questions here and there, and I pay attention to the parent's and student's behavior and attitude during lessons. If there are any problems in home practice sessions, there will be a negative spillover at lessons too or in public generally.

Andantino is the last song in what I refer to as the “intermediate” section of Suzuki Violin Volume 1. Next to follow will be the new finger pattern of G major, which will continue throughout volumes 2 and 3 in various forms.

Left Hand Skills
  • The song is in D major and uses the same finger pattern as the Twinkle Variations.
  • The song’s format is A-A1-B-A1 (with fermata and ritard in the last phrase).
  • There is an opportunity here to teach the student a fingering habit:
    • In the first measure, the notes are mainly on the D string. If the student uses the pinkie in the first measure, then all of the notes will remain on the D string and therefore maintain an even string tone “color.” 
Pinkie Fingering
    • Then the student will use the open A string in the third measure, as the notes continue onto the A string.
Open String Fingering
  • The song uses similar finger patterns at the ends of the first, second, and fourth phrases, but on different strings.
Phrase 1
Phrases 2 and 4
Right Hand Skills

  • The rhythmic bowing pattern is the opposite of Twinkle Variation C (“Cat Kitty, Cat Kitty” or “Pull Pony, Push Pony”). The rhythm is “Kitty Cat, Kitty Cat.” No, I do not use this illustration in order to advocate that we sing words to songs. I realize that there are folks who disapprove of this method, and I understand Dr. Suzuki did not support words to the songs. However, using a shorthand rhythmic designation is helpful to get everyone on the same page immediately. Parents quickly understand "Kitty Cat" versus "Cat Kitty."
  • The bowing accents in Andantino are the opposite of those learned in the previous song Allegretto. Rather than an accent on the third note of the three-note grouping, as Allegretto requires, Andantino has the rhythmic accent weight on the first note of the three-note grouping.
  • The song brings back the fermata that the student learned in Allegro, 3 songs earlier. This provides another opportunity to reinforce what a fermata is and how to play a ritard, which follows the fermata. I have one young student who added an additional flair to the last four notes to make the ending even cuter to his listeners.
Previews (How I Teach it)

There really is not much to teach. I might have to suggest the starting note for the song if a student has not figured it out by now. Maybe I will suggest a few notes to begin the phrase. At some point I guide the student into choosing the pinkie or open A string fingering, and we will discuss why we choose one fingering over the other.

I talk about string tone color to illustrate fingering choices. This may seem like a complex subject for a little child to understand. but I assure you that we will revisit the subject in the second song of Suzuki Violin Volume 5 (the Vivaldi A minor Concerto, 2nd movement). For now, I introduce the fingering concept and ask the student to execute the finger pattern as I instruct. My purpose is to build a fingering habit. We talk about the fingering choice, but I realize that I will have to discuss this several times more in future lessons and in repertoire to come before the fingering concept will formally stick.

We talk about the string tone sound in terms of color. Although I do not hear colors of notes or tone (I have absolute pitch), I have discovered that most of my students claim that an E string sounds “green” or “yellow.” The A string has a warmer color sound, such as “orange.” Since my students seem to recognize tonal colors, I use that language in my discussion of fingering choices.

We talk about how we paint the walls of our homes or businesses with one color. Seldom would we blotch a different color in the middle. So it is with string tonal colors. If we are playing on the D string color, we would avoid blotching our sound with a one-note open A string in the middle of our phrase if we could keep the same tone color by using the pinkie instead.

Believe it or not, many students fail to recognize that the open A string and the pinkie on the D string represent the same note A in music. Sometimes students do not recognize this until book 3.

I mentioned two stories that I refer to in my teaching of the song. The first story contains the lovely words found in the Pre-twinkle Book about elephants sneezing. If you do not own this book, I highly recommend it. Yes, I know all about the controversy concerning whether students should recite words when learning new songs, but sometimes it is just plain fun to sing a song when we learn it. I have been singing since I was a wee child and grew my love of music in this way. I say, why not encourage a love of music and singing by introducing song words? You can find a link to the song book here in my Teaching Suzuki Resource Store: click here.

The frog story is just a story about a lazy frog who is sunning himself in the middle of a pond on a lily pad. A pesky fly repeatedly circles the frog's head and interrupts the frog's pleasant nap in the sunshine on the lily pad in the middle of the lily pond. Somewhere around phrase three, the frog sparks an idea of how to get rid of the pesky fly, which follows the slowing, introspective meanderings of the third phrase of the song. Finally at the time the student reaches the fermata in the fourth phrase, the frog lashes out with a quick dart of its tongue ("ribbit, ribbit"), and the pesky fly is no more. The last ritarded notes of the song represent the frog's self-satisfaction. Silly, I know, but young children are fascinated by such stories, and we teachers love to perform all the characters!

Later Problems (or Just Later)

Later problems seem to include memory of form. Students may remember the finger patterns but forget which string to play the pattern. Students may forget to use the pinkies where I have instructed to use them. Sometimes students forget the fermata or the ritard.

I enjoy using Andantino at group classes for teaching musical phrasing. We practice asking questions (the antecedent part of the phrase) and giving answers (the consequent part of the phrase). This translates to two- and four-measure phrases and teaches students “spillover” phrasing (sustaining the musical line to extend the phrasing from two to four notes). To read my article about spillover phrasing (and Frank Sinatra), click here.

Other problems include incorrect rhythmic weighting in the phrase. If we combine this song with Allegretto, the student can practice the different styles in both songs. When I discussed Allegretto, I gave the illustration of karate punches in horse (“ready”) stance to give emphasis to the rhythmic weighting. That same exercise would work here with Andantino's special rhythmic weighting. Students can also practice the different rhythmic weighting in the songs Allegretto and Andantino by playing a special Twinkle Allegretto Variation or Andantino Variation in place of Twinkle Variation C.

Allegretto Twinkle Variation Rhythm 
Andantino Twinkle Variation Rhythm
The Suzuki duet for Andantino is lovely, and the part adds so much harmony to the melodic line.

I hope that you fall in love with Andantino and teaching the song as much as I have. I think it is a terrific song and fun to play! I look forward to teaching it when it occurs in a student's musical journey.

(Ribbit, ribbit!)

Next Stop: Preparing for Etude.


  1. My 5-year-old just learned this piece. I was nervous but she learned it just as easily as you predicted! My daughter has been doing Suzuki violin for almost 2 years. I am a Suzuki harpist but previously I didn't know anything about the violin. Our situation has been such that, between moving and a teacher going into sudden retirement, we are on our third teacher. Your blog has been invaluable to us, especially when trying to keep up momentum between teachers. Thank you so much for your blog!

    1. Thanks, Laura! I really appreciate your taking the time to write a comment and giving me those encouraging words! Isn't the Suzuki journey fun? So unpredictable in its way. I hope you have a chance to listen to the podcast episodes and pass along the information to other parents and teachers. I'm trying to get as many resources out there in the hands of parents and teachers so that this journey can be ENJOYED and treasured! Thanks SOOO much for writing!

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