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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Why Twinkle?

Recently a reader (thanks, Ann!) commented with this question:

"Why does the Suzuki method teach Twinkle with the various rhythms? Instead of just the Twinkle theme?

This is a great question, and I am sure we have all thought about this a time or two. Why did Dr. Suzuki write all those Twinkle Variations, and why did he put the variations before the theme? Here are some possible answers:
  • To awaken the student's rhythmic awareness
  • To awaken the student's visual, aural, and kinesthetic senses
  • To allow the student to play quickly and use faster movement of the muscles (student's love to play fast; this is so far distant from my first violin days of long, slow, tedious bows on the A string)
  • To stimulate the student's large muscle groups before later refining the use of small muscle groups (move from large to small muscle groups, beginning with the larger muscles required for the Twinkle variations)
  • To teach the student some of the most popular rhythmic and bowing combinations in the repertoire
All of the above reasons are important. It is my understanding that the first variation rhythm, "Mississippi Hot dog" (also  known as "Pepperoni Pizza" or "taka taka stop stop"),  stems from the opening of Bach's famous two violin concerto in d minor:

Bach's "double" violin concerto
The Vivaldi A minor violin concerto movements are examples of how many of these rhythmic units are found in the classical repertoire. Pretty much all of the rhythmic variations are found in this concerto.

Students enjoy coming up with new variations. We might make up a new pattern based on the rhythm of our names. For example, "Paula Bird" and "strawberry ice cream" would translate to:

"Paula Bird" and "Strawberry Ice Cream" rhythms
I make up my own Twinkle variations as I need them to practice difficult bowing passages in the orchestral repertoire. For example, the last movement of Beethoven's 8th symphony has a fast paced set of rhythms that can be awkward to bow quickly. So I turn the bowing pattern into a Twinkle variation. My colleagues are amused to hear me practice this way, but I do not have any difficulty playing the last movement of the symphony.

Just the other day I practiced several of the Twinkle variations with spiccato bowing (bouncing off the string and airborne). I am currently in Central Oregon playing in the Sunriver Music Festival, and the air is quite dry here. My bow bounces much differently here than it does in my humid home state of Texas. So I needed some extra practice to learn how my bow felt in this new climate. Again, I caught some amused looks from festival colleagues as they realized what melody I used to make bowing variations.

What are some reasons you believe that Dr. Suzuki taught the Twinkle variations? What are some different ways that you use them with your students or in your own practice?


  1. Thanks for this! I notice when I concentrate on twinkles with my daughter her technique on the piano is better.

  2. I thought twinkle, especially the 1st Variation is arranged as such so that very young learners who are not able to coordinate with long bowing at the start can work with nice short bowings instead? THa'ts what I read in Dr Suzuki's book.

  3. to Teacher Without a Class:

    I have been very diligent lately about playing Twinkles at least once or twice a month, and always at group classes. Sometimes I ask my university students to play them too. I notice a huge difference in what my students can accomplish. One parent today told me that playing Twinkles helps her child to focus. She discovered that her child "pulled it together" mentally, and that the rest of the book 1 review went smoother.

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