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Monday, April 11, 2016

Banana Peels, Jumping Horses, and Lint Picking

As a teacher I enjoy how there are different "seasons" for the skills that we learn and sharpen in our Suzuki repertoire. Today I wanted to write about three of my favorites: banana peels, jumping horses, and lint picking.

Banana Peels

I like the banana peel analogy for several reasons. First, most folks are familiar with what happens when someone steps on a banana peel. I think every child who has seen a cartoon or two has probably run across this phenomenon: step on a banana peel, and whoopsies! Slip and fall! Now I like to talk about Alfred Hitchcock, the master of cinematic suspense, and it is also fun because many of my little students have not yet watched any of Hitchcock's classic films. This will be an adventure for them at a later time, as it was for me when I was younger. For now though, students can understand the difference between a surprise and suspense.

Surprise is quick and sudden. Suspense is longer and involves a lot of anticipation. Surprise is when someone suddenly slips on a banana peel. Suspense, the way that Hitchcock would have shown it, is a man walking quickly down the street, a banana peel shown to the audience as lying in wait, back to the man striding quickly, cutaway to the banana peel, and so forth. The observers know what is going on but the actor does not. The audience leans forward trying to silently convey to the actor what lies ahead in his path, but of course, the actor is oblivious. That is suspense.

We use the banana peel suspense and surprise story to address the fermate in "Allegro" and "Andantino" in Suzuki violin book 1. We create stories and decide whether to portray suspense or surprise, and then we alter our playing accordingly to tell that part of the story. In the case of these two songs, my students usually opt to do a sudden stop ("surprise!") and then a short pause ("suspense!).

My favorite "banana peel" place is in the "Gavotte" from "Mignon" in Suzuki violin volume 2. There is a middle portion of the song that challenges our students to learn how to play correctly and in tune in the key of Bb (measures 35-46). Interspersed throughout these measures are some opportunities for students to imitate banana peel slips and surprises. Because the music continues without any stops or waits, these banana peels are surprises to imitate in the music.

During the rests in measures 35 and 39, the students lift up their bows in a follow through motion to imitate a "slip and fall" because of stepping on a banana peel. In measures 37-38 and 41-42, the bowing is articulated with dots and slurs, and here my students practice putting in lots of banana peel slips and falls:

banana peels, slips, & falls
Measures 35-43

Jumping Horses

The jumping horses place I refer to is in measures 25-26 and 29-30 in "Hunters' Chorus" by C. M. v Weber in Suzuki Violin book 2:

Hunters' Chorus Suzuki Book 2
Jumping Horses
Here my students and I try to imitate horses jumping over a fence. We lift our bows after playing each staccato A string. This exercise and the way that my students and I practice it will help us later to execute lifts in the Seitz concertos and in Veracini's "Gigue" in book 5. For now, we have fun jumping our horses "over the fence."

Lint Picking

For the lint picking exercise, I am working to strengthen my students' abilities to play collĂ©. This is a very useful bowing skill and adds a lot of character to the bowing articulation when we use it. We can use this bowing in many different songs, from the pickup notes of Martini's "Gavotte" in book 3 to Bach's unaccompanied Gavotte II and Veracini's "Gigue"  in book 5.

First we work to make sure that the fingers can properly execute "finger motion," which is a drawing into the hand of the pinkie and ring fingers. Many students think of finger motion as some sort of rolling of the bow stick within the thumb and fingers, but I prefer that the thumb be mostly inactive in this exercise (other than bending more). We often start with a pencil, which is lighter, and help to shape and guide the bow hand fingers to draw into the hand with the pencil. Here is a short video to illustrate the finger motion with a pencil:

Later as the student gets more comfortable with this exercise, we will graduate to trying it with the bow itself, holding the bow upright to lessen the pull of gravity and to lighten the feel of the bow within the bow hand. Here I am showing how to use the motion with the bow:

When we transfer this finger motion ability to use on the violin, we pretend that there is some lint stuck to the strings. We use our finger motion to draw the bow toward the lint as if we were trying to brush it off. Here I am showing how to brush lint off the violin with a flick of the finger motion:

I hope you enjoy the Banana Peels, Jumping Horses, and Lint Picking ideas that we use in our studio! Please leave me a comment and let me know your favorite games and ideas for these spots in the Suzuki songs or these bow skills.

Until next time,

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2016 by Paula E. Bird


  1. Your Jumping Horses = my Galloping. I have them imagine their backsides lifting out of the saddle (off the string). You have such great ideas!!

    1. I like your idea better, Brbl! Thanks for that!

  2. Wow, such great ideas, Paula!! Thanks for sharing!