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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Quick Teaching Tip: Teacher Note Cards

written by Paula E. Bird, ©2013

I have been teaching a long time, and although I had definite lesson plans in my earlier years, now I find that I have to be more flexible in my teaching approach. Once students reach a certain point in the Suzuki literature, I need to approach each student individually. Sometimes I even play "catch-up," where the student moves so quickly that I am addressing teaching points after the fact rather than as previews.

That is alright, though. Every student is unique and comes from a different environment than another student. Every student has a differently developed ability depending on the environment, the routine, the parents, and any number of other factors. So I go with the flow during lessons. I do have one tip that I use when I teach, and that is the Teacher Note Cards. I have put together these Note Cards while I teach, and these cards mostly pertain to later repertoire, any time after book 2, but mainly from books 4 and above.

Many times during teaching I would think of ways to relate earlier literature to a student's current piece or technical difficulty. For example, in Suzuki Violin Volume 6, the last movement of the Handel D Major Sonata, I would discover that the student's ability to play a tight dotted eighth and sixteenth note rhythm had disappeared from book 2's Witches' Dance. So out we would trot a review of Witches' Dance. Perhaps a student would lose the Seitz Concerto No. 5, 1st movement (Seitz "2" in book 4) rhythm of the dotted quarter and eighth note learned in Chorus from Judas Maccabeus, so we would review that point from book 2 to fix measure 16 of the Seitz concerto.

These impromptu thoughts were the real gems of my teaching experience because they represented the years that I had developed my expertise. These impulsive thoughts were the little connections that I had made in my teaching study of the Suzuki repertoire. There were so many of them, because each student brought a unique discovery of new connections. Each spontaneous connection that I made seemed logical and brilliant at the same time and so often different from those thoughts I had with other students.

I began keeping Teacher Note Cards in order to capture these flashes of teaching insights. When such a thought occurred to me, I scribbled it down on a large index card (5" x 8") with one card per song. In the Seitz "2" example above, I included these notes about review:
  • Chorus from "Judas Maccabeus" for the dotted rhythm of measure 16
    measure 16
  • Variation C of Twinkles for the 16th note bowing pattern in measure 79
measure 79 bowing
  • Hunter's Chorus for the slur and bow lift section of the triplet slur and lift measures in measures 32 and 33
    measures 32 & 33
  • Bach's Bourreé from Book 3 for the high third finger in the E major section of the Seitz in measures 52 and following
measure 52
These are a few examples of the types of notes that I might include on my Teacher Note Cards. Not every student will need to review all of these items in particular when studying Seitz "2", but having generated a Teacher Note Card for the piece will bring ideas to the forefront of my mind, and the Note Card makes an excellent reminder for me of the piece's teaching points and relationship to earlier repertoire. So I find these notes helpful to pull up and review for me when a student begins to study the piece. I pass along the specific review songs that would help the student. If I discover something new while working with the student, I will add it to the card.

These Teacher Note Cards are my personal gems, as they represent my many years of teaching experience in the Suzuki repertoire. They resemble the teaching point and review cards that Sue Hunt provides in her book Review - Making it Fun, Gets the Job Done. If you are unfamiliar with Sue's work, here is the link to my interview with Sue: interview. She provides similar review cards for books 1-3 as well as reminders of teaching points and suggestions for fun review.

So my teaching tip today is to build your own set of Teacher Note Cards. This is a simple thing to construct. Buy a set of large index cards (or use a 3-ring notebook with plain notebook paper, one sheet per song), and begin capturing your own flashes of teaching brilliance. Many of my articles about book 1 and 2 contain examples of teaching points or review songs that could provide the foundation for your note cards. Have a look at Sue's books about review. You may find more information about Sue here and here.


  1. Thank you for this. I suppose I've vaguely thought about doing this but not started being systematic - and now I have a student in book 2 I think I should start paying attention to things as I think of them. (Also teaching my son at the end of book 4 so your comments about stuff for Seitz really resonates, discovered some of them myself but ...)

    1. After all the years I've been teaching, I am still amazed that I can discover anything new. A new student brings an entirely new perspective things, new ideas to unlock new puzzles, new teaching challenges that require new approaches. Teaching is so Wonderful and has done so much in my lifetime to improve my own playing. Thank you so much for writing and sharing your thoughts. I greatly appreciate it!