In the beginning stages of playing the violin or viola, there are many things to consider: the posture, bow hold, and bowing motion for starters. But for beginners, simply placing the fingers in the correct shape on the fingerboard and using an appropriate amount of force vs. relaxation of the finger can be a challenge. Even more advanced students must work on improving finger action, for example, in using the fingers to articulate a series of notes under a slur. I like to use the following exercises to teach finger action.
The Ants Go Marching
In the pre-twinkle stage, I will draw the finger numbers on the tip of each left hand finger and we will sing “The Ants Go Marching” while doing “finger pops”. In finger pops, the finger and thumb make a circle, with the finger on its tip. This both helps to strengthen the arch shape of the fingers, and also reinforces the finger numbers, since we pop the first finger when singing “the ants go marching 1 by 1”, pop the second finger when singing “the ants go marching 2 by 2”, etc.Read More »
My “New Year’s” Resolution
For many teachers, September feels more the like the “new year” than January 1st. I love all the school supply sales and the sense of new beginnings. This time of the year, I like to also take time to reflect on how I can improve and streamline my teaching. My goal this year is very simple: to stay on time. This seems like a no-brainer, just end each lesson on time. But on days where I have 8 students back-to-back with no break, it can be a bit more difficult to start and end everyone on time. Throw into the mix students who are slow to put instruments away or parents with all those important beginning-of-semester questions and you can see why staying on time can be a challenge.
Creating a Game Plan
To make sure I stay on schedule, I wanted to get a more clear idea of how I wanted to structure each lesson, especially those shorter 30 minute lessons. I sketched out a pie chart in my bullet journal of how an ideal 30 minute lesson would go, assuming the student is playing twinkles or above in Book 1. Just an aside: I normally ask my Book 2 students to move up to a 45-minute lesson to accommodate more note reading and technique work, so the chart below would look a bit different for a more advanced student with a too-short lesson time.Read More »
It’s back-to-school time here in St. Louis, and I’m busy getting ready for the new year, but before things get too crazy, I want to share my experience at the American Suzuki Institute in Stevens Point Wisconsin. I spent the last two weeks of July this year in Stevens Point, taking some viola teacher training. I’ve been to other institutes in the past and always enjoyed the experience, but I have to say that ASI is the largest and most organized that I’ve attended. Read More »
My Favorite Scale Books
Last week, I talked about the importance of scale practice for young string students. This week, I thought I would go more into detail about how I introduce scales and some of the materials I use.Read More »
I have a confession to make: I love scales! There is nothing I like better than starting the day off right with a cup of coffee and some slow, mindful scale practice. I know that both students and professionals have differing opinions on scales, but love them or hate them, scales are an essential part of string technique. Here’s why I think they are so important.
7 Reasons All String Students Should Practice Scales
They Improve the Left Hand Frame
Scales are “multiple vitamins” for the left hand. Practicing scales strengthens the left hand frame, and reinforces the exact placement of half and whole steps used throughout western classical music.
They’re “Easy Wins”
When trying to form a new habit or improve in a certain area, productivity experts emphasize the importance of “easy wins”. Success breeds success and scales are short and sweet enough to give students an immediate sense of accomplishment, which gets the ball rolling on greater challenges.
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One of the wonderful things about teaching from the same repertoire year after year is you tend to develop “favorites”. One of my favorite pieces in Book 1 is Song of the Wind. It’s fun, energetic, and often a student favorite, and it’s fun to vary the tempo in group class so it becomes Song of the Gentle Breeze, or Song of the Tornado. Song of the Wind seems like a short, simple song, but there is so much to explore in just a few lines. One of the trickiest spots for beginning students occurs right at the beginning, in measures 3-4. There are several skills going on in that spot. There is a quick string crossing for both the left hand finger and the bow (more on that in a moment) and we have our first instance of a bow retake, also known as a a circle bow or circle set. But for any of this to work, the student also has to leave their first finger down, while moving the 3rd finger over to a different string.
I’ve created lyrics for this measure, which go like this (from the beginning of the song through measure 6):Read More »
Private teachers know that things are, well, a bit different during the summer. I believe that summer lessons are crucial to continued student success and Christine Goodner recently wrote a great article about the importance of summer lessons over at the Suzuki Triangle Blog. While the majority of my students do continue lessons over the summer, many are also doing camps or taking vacations and I’ve noticed that consistent practice habits can start to slip in the midst of all those competing activities. To keep motivation and interest up, my studio will be participating in a summer “review-a-thon”, focusing on Suzuki review pieces. As many students are in and out of lessons, a review-a-thon will be more appropriate to the pace of the summer, rather than a time-based challenge, like the Viola Hero or Practice Wars challenges that I have held during the academic year.Read More »
My Suzuki Journey
Prior to taking teacher training courses, my impressions of the Suzuki Method were mostly based on vague statements from other people who may or may not have had any knowledge of Suzuki teaching. Like a game of telephone, misinformation tends to spread unless corrected by a reliable source. I would like to address some common misconceptions about the method that I have heard over the years, both from teachers and parents, and share my own experience with the method.
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Even for a very well-prepared student, Minuet No. 2 in Book 1 can present some new hurdles. In this post, I will give some of my tricks for teaching this piece.
When first previewing Minuet 2, I start with two spots which are tricky for most students: measures 15-16 and 33-34. I call these “Pineapple #1” and “Pineapple #2”, which I will explain in a moment. There are several new skills presented in these measure. From a rhythm standpoint, this is the first time the student has played a triplet rhythm. It’s also the first time they have slurred three notes under one bow. The hooked up bows are not technically new, though there is a new string crossing aspect in this excerpt. So, what’s with the pineapples?Read More »
As you know, it’s recital season, and I’m in the home stretch of helping to prepare my students for their solo performances. A few years ago, I also started adding a viola ensemble performance at the end of the recital. At the time, it was just a fun opportunity to showcase a few more advanced viola students, but I’ve since made a viola ensemble piece a kind of Grand Finale at the end of each recital. Coordinating a group rehearsal requires more work and organization, but I’ve found that it is well worth it for several reasons. I’ve started making some of my arrangements available, and will be adding to the list as I get them cleaned up and uploaded (after this weekend’s recital!)
Here are just a few of the reasons I find viola ensembles to be so valuable in the private studio.Read More »