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Friday, July 13, 2012

Teaching Allegretto

Teaching this song is tricky if the student has not figured any of the notes on his or her own. I have not yet figured out what the secret is, although I strongly lean in favor of the need for more listening to the song’s recording. I have students who struggle to learn the notes and to recall the song’s structure, and then I have students who figure out all the notes and can even play the song beginning on a different string. As always when I encounter a learning struggle with a Suzuki repertoire song, I encourage the home practice partner to play the song’s recording many, many times at home so that the student’s environment is saturated with it.

Another teaching aid is to line up the song so that the song’s phrases begin together. For example, each one of Allegretto’s phrases begins with two eighth note pickups. I have a copy of the music where I pasted the four song phrases on a separate sheet of paper with the phrase pick up notes lined up. I made this study copy for the benefit of the parents, not the students. Most parents do not yet understand about phrases at this point, so I find that this special study copy is an easier visual representation of the music when it is in this form.

Along with this altered representation of the song, I have written another version that includes just the finger numbers. I am not a big fan of this method at all, although I know that there are many books out there with this style of fingering included. If I were to give this fingering rendition to a parent, I would have them take a vow that they would not allow their child to use it. On occasion though, I have allowed a student who was really, really struggling with the song to use it on condition that the student uses it for only one week. I confess that sometimes this is the only way for some students to figure this out. Allegretto is just such a tricky song for some students.[1]

If I have to teach the student to help the student learn Allegretto, these are the general steps that I follow:
  • I play the first few notes D-E-F# and have the student play the same notes back to me.
  • I play the next three notes F#-A (pinkie)–G.
  • I play G-B-A, A-G-F#.
  • I send the student home to practice just these 12 notes this week. The student also does some review work on the home practice assignment sheet.

From that point on, I watch to see what happens. I help tweak the amount of listening to the song that the student does, and help to guide the student to figure out the remaining notes of the first part of the song.

The song has four phrases and follows the form: A-A1-B-A1. Because the song phrases are so similar, and also so confusing, I recommend that the student only practice the first phrase of the song until the student has mastered that part. Of course, students will move ahead at home, but I find that when they return to their lesson, they are still confused between the two A section parts. That is the reason that I recommend focusing on one part at a time. When I do have a student who is trying to differentiate the two A section parts, I suggest to the student and parent that the homework assignment be limited to the first two phrases of the song.

Finally, the student is able to play both the first and second phrases. Then we work on the third phrase, which starts out with a skip and a step backwards.

We hop our first finger into the mud puddle on the G string, and then the finger jumps back out of the puddle to land on the D string.

I have listed a lot of detail here about teaching the song, but in actuality, I try not to teach very much of the song because it is so confusing to students. Sometimes a teacher’s or parent’s well-meant help actually distracts or confuses the student. The best thing that we teachers and parents can do is to play the recordings A LOT, and to allow the student the necessary room to experiment and figure out the notes without our assistance, our words, or our interference. That, and keep the learning segments short, sweet, and to the point. Whenever a student comes to lesson and is confused, I send the student home with an assignment that is shorter by half. If the student struggles with differentiating between the first two phrases, then I assign only the first phrase. If the student struggles with the first phrase, then I send the student home with the first 12 notes (half of the phrase).

Most of all, I just do not sweat it. No pressure on the student or the parent. The song will happen when the student is ready for it to happen. I think the hardest aspect of teaching this song is for the teacher and parent to be patient and wait for the student. I find as many opportunities as I can to work on aspects of the song outside of lessons. In group classes, we might have other students play the song. I might play the song recording while the student is getting his or her violin ready to play. I might play through the song myself for the student at the end of the student’s lesson. In other words, I reinforce the listening and the visual presentation for the student. Usually the learning issues clear up with the extra listening assignment at home.

Next stop will be Andantino, another dessert song! (It’s a piece of cake!).

[1] We also use this fingering style when trying to quickly learn songs for a Christmas performance. In the ideal situation, we would have plenty of time to learn how to play all of our songs by ear. However, in reality, often times we prepare for a show in a minimal amount of time, and some of the younger students really want to participate in more than one song, hence, the fingering shortcut idea to learn how to play Christmas songs. True to the Suzuki way, however, these same students quickly learn and then memorize the songs, so that these fingering study copies are rendered unnecessary after the students learn the songs.


  1. I love how you don't sweat it! As a parent, my teacher has taught me that as well. She knows it will come, when I sometimes get easily frustrated! Thank you for sharing!

    1. I think that parents have a hard time keeping their expectations in check when it comes to the parent's child in particular. We all want our kids to do well. I think I spend a lot of teaching time reminding parents that their children are young, and that a lot of repetition is needed in order to internalize the lessons and teaching points. This is much harder for parents, who have a tendency then to "drill" rather than make learning fun. I remind myself that when I'm feeling frustrated that I'm probably just a step away from reaching my goal. It's that last little frustrated moment before reaching the goal that teaches us perseverance and self-discipline. Just like climbing a mountain, there is a moment before you reach the summit when you are ready to give up and can't even see the top anyway. And then, there it is!

  2. pietra brady in renoSeptember 19, 2012 at 3:17 PM

    Hi Paula,

    I really enjoy teaching this song, maybe because the kids feel so much pride for learning it quickly and easily. Here's what I do, FWIW: First the student practices the bowing pattern on the open D string. Then I explain that I will teach the song in three-note units. Each new unit begins on the last note of the last unit (with the exceptions that show up in part B). Then I give them three color patterns: RED = step up three notes; BLUE = step down three notes; GREEN = first note, skip up, then step down. The trickiest part of the GREEN pattern is with the concept that G (D3) skips UP to B (A1), but I find that if I say "UP to B" it's less confusing than if I were to use finger numbers.
    The parent marks each unit in the book with its color, and at home can simply call out the color.

    1. I look forward to trying this idea! Thanks for sharing it. I love Allegretto myself, but I've noticed how quickly the song seems to fall apart when not reviewed regularly. So do you know my Reno friends Phil Ruder, Carol Laube, and Ruth Lenz?

    2. You're right about the confusion of skipping up from G to the B on the A string. I wonder if it would help things to not only teach the D scale but to teach it in broken thirds? I found that if I did this to the Bb scale when I taught Gavotte from "Mignon" that students learned how to play the scale better. Sometimes just playing a diatonic scale isn't enough to help the student "feel" the key. What is your experience? Anyone?

    3. pietra brady in renoOctober 1, 2012 at 3:08 PM

      Hi Paula, Yup - I know Phillip, Carol and Ruth. Small town, small world. :0)