For the first time I am breaking my one long (very long last spring) recital into two shorter recitals. The downside is that not everyone will be able to hear each other play but the upside is more students are inviting people to come watch and there are no worries about picking a short enough piece we can fit everyone in.
I am excited to see how it works and how the different set up feels!
Right now everyone is busy practicing and I am busy putting the final touches on programs and other details . . . it’s always a lot of work for everyone but after each recital I’m reminded why I do this job.
It’s so fun to see how students have grown and matured in their playing and see a few students overcome big hurdles like making peace with being nervous and pulling off a good performance anyhow.
I currently have a whole crew of young violin students in the middle of Book One. I can see that I need to better communicate what will help these students succeed as they move ahead to the more complicated pieces coming up.
Below are some of my thoughts about what I want parents (home coaches) to know about how to keep the momentum going & what’s ahead. There is wonderful music coming that will not feel wonderful to learn without the right foundation.
Teachers: what else would you ad?
Parents who have been there . . . what do you wish you had know/done?
Basic Expectations for Success: Mid Book One
Practice 5-7 days each week
Listen to Suzuki Book One CD daily (other classical/violin music often too)
Know how to pack & unpack instrument and care for bow (tighten/ loosen)
Basic bow hold is easy – bow arm moves with ease
Violin is properly set on the shoulder and stays in position while playing
Left (violin) hand is relaxed, fingers land in tune and wrist stays relaxed away from the neck of the violin
Spend about half of practice time on review pieces (bringing them to Book Two playing level over time/by the end of the book)
Be able to play all pieces (Twinkle – Allegro) fluidly by memory. They are the foundation that allows us to play pieces later in the book.
Student can pull the bow across the string smoothly with a ringing tone (listen for extra noises)
Student can change strings easily with the bow and plays on one string at a time
Student can play both stopped bow strokes (with space between notes) and smooth legato bows
Some of the upcoming Skills we are preparing for:
Playing easily on the D string
Learning the G major scales and C natural (low 2)
All 4 strings in one song
Low and High 2nd fingers all in one song
More advanced Rhythmic patterns
Legato (smooth) and Stacatto back and forth in one piece
I recently returned from a great trip to Seattle to attend the Japan Seattle Suzuki Institute. It had been a few years since I attended an Institute to take training (I have gone to observe only lately).
It was such a motivating and re-energizing experience for me!
I had taken a few years off to take long term training with a teacher trainer in my home city and then was just busy with life, so it took a concerted effort to set aside the time and money to attend but it was so worth it.
As a teacher it is so easy to get into a routine of teaching everyday, running a studio, and the busyness of life and I know that after a while I tend to feel a little run down. This week of taking a class for myself was a great way to get a boost of fresh motivation and energy to pour back into my studio. I have fresh ideas, things I want to practice so I can teach them better/differently to my students, and items to research and learn more about as I continue to grow as a teacher.
Here are my favorite things about attending an institute as a teacher (and why it’s worth the time and expense to get there next year if you’re thinking about it).
– Fresh Teaching Ideas : taking a unit of training (even if it’s a refresher course) always gives me new ways to teach & the longer I teach the more I appreciate a fresh way to approach any challenge students may face while learning the violin.
– Meeting new teachers: because classes are filled with other teachers a lot like you, they are great places to meet new friends and colleagues and to share ideas about students, running a studio, and balancing life as a teacher.
– Observing!: Observing all the great faculty teaching masterclasses, technique classes, and group classes gives me endless ideas to take back with me to use in my own classes and I often identify with parts of each teacher’s approach and can use what I’ve seen to take things I am already doing one step farther.
–Motivation: seeing what’s possible and getting a week of training and observing in at Institute always makes me re-motivated to provide better information and communication to parents in my studio, to work with my students on technique and musicality, and to continue on in my training over the following year. I know I am a better teacher for going !
Teachers – what is your favorite part of attending institute? What has been holding you back from attending?
In my studio almost all of my middle & high school students participate in performance groups in addition to regular lessons & group classes. Some students are members of community orchestras, youth symphonies or their school orchestra. Others play as a soloist in their church or with their school’s choir . . .
As their teacher, I try to make sure I am preparing students to play in these groups by integrating sight reading and rhythmic studies into their lessons as soon as I can so they have a successful experience and can enjoy all the fun these activities offer.
I wanted to share the system that I use to progress students from a basic understanding of note values to being able to sight read complex rhythm patterns comfortably. Some of these ideas are my own and many others are tips and ideas that I’ve picked up from various workshops, institutes and teacher training courses. I am always looking for ways to improve my process, so if you have any tips you’d like to share, please leave them in the comments.
Step One: Note Values
I start introducing note values to my pre-twinklers as soon as they understand the concept of counting to 4. I have a set of rhythm sticks that students love to hit together while counting and that make this a fun part of lessons. I also made a set of rhythm cards with a large sharpie and 11 x 14 inch poster board that fits really nicely on a music stand.
I start by introducing quarter notes, then half notes and then slowly progress to whole notes, eighth notes, dotted half notes, rests, and finally 16th notes.
Here are the first 4 cards I use in lessons.
After introducing each note value I have 4 – 5 cards with various patterns that mix up the rhythms learned so far (like the last card pictured).
Just one tip I’d like to add for working with very young students . . . I assign a number value to each type of note “1” for quarter notes & “2” for half notes and we count each note as their own number value (so card number one would be counted 1-1-1-1). I have found when I didn’t simplify the rhythm this way and students practiced counting to 4 for four quarter notes, that when asked how many beats a quarter note has they would always answer “4” because that is what they were in the habit of counting up to with quarter notes. Now we just focus on using the value of each note when practicing rhythm cards and practice counting up to the number of beats per measure in step two. The transition works beautifully! (Older students will probably not need to worry about that at all).
Step Two: I Can Read Music by Joanne Martin
There are two volumes to this series that are great & the series is published for cello and viola (in addition to violin).
On the rhythm page for each lesson, students clap and count (out loud) each line before playing it on their instrument. Since they already understand the concept of note values, students can focus on the time signature, looking for bar lines/new measures and counting in their head while playing.
By the time the student finishes book two they should be able to sight read (with very accurate counting and rhythm) little melodies in first position with rhythms ranging from quarter notes to sixteenth notes.
Step Three: Rhythmic Training by Robert Starer
There are a few versions of this book out there – the one I use has a white cover (pictured below) and does not say “workbook” on the cover. The other books are a great introduction but this version goes more in depth.
Students practice this book without the instrument – they march to the beat & count out loud while keeping the beat with their left hand and performing the rhythm with their right. It is quite complex but if students can get through this whole book I am convinced they can read and play any rhythm on their instrument.
There you have it – that is my system for introducing rhythm!
Once students have finished the Robert Starer book they may still come across rhythms in their music that stumps them. When this happens we practice that section of the piece “rhythmic training style” (with one hand keeping the beat and one keeping the rhythm while counting out loud) and they almost always figure it out.
What materials do you use to teach rhythm ? I would love to hear everyone’s experiences!
In my studio, I teach many preschool & kindergarten students. My degree is in Early Childhood Education, and this is an age that I LOVE to work with. Working with these young students is never boring . . . you never know what will happen from week to week. What I can usually count on though, is fun stories from their week, lots of imagination (“Today I’m a Robot!” . . . complete with motions no less!) and I can almost always count on lots of enthusiasm for something fun & new. Parents in my studio may tell me I’m patient, but I am just working with their child for 30 minutes a week. . . they have the job of harnessing all that wonderful energy 24/7. So my hat is off to them!!
During home practice, parents should have a plan of what they want to accomplish & while some days practicing will go smoothly, other days require something extra to keep motivation up. Sometimes instead of “It’s time to practice!” it’s fun to say “Let’s Play a Game!” instead.
Below is a game that I put together for a “Music Camp for Young Musicians” where students came together for 3 hours a day (for one week). Part of the camp included playing our violins together & each student was somewhere in the process of learning the twinkles. With just a few supplies from the dollar store (office or teacher supply stores may have some of these materials too). I was able to quickly put together a game that kept playing fun.
*Parent’s note: This game can easily draw practice out to an hour (with many breaks to spin, move pieces etc) so it is great for a big stretch of time when your family is not rushed to get practice in. I would also suggest pulling it out once a week, or with enough space in between that it is something new and fun (rather than “Oh, this again . . . “).
2. Game Pieces I used a package of star erasers for my game pieces (also from the Dollar Tree). Be creative and use anything you’d like that fits on the squares of your game board.
3. Spinner or Dice
4. Index Cards Some of the spaces on my game board say “DRAW A CARD” For the students in my “Young Musicians” camp, I wrote each of the twinkle rhythms on a card. For older students review pieces or exercises your teacher has assigned can be written. The nice thing about using index cards is that you can modify the game as your child progresses by changing out the cards.
Here are some ideas of what to add to each square on the game board:
– Pluck each string and say its name
-Sing Twinkle and “air bow”
-Clap each twinkle rhythm
-DRAW A CARD – list review pieces or twinkles to be played on different cards
-Go Back 3 spaces
-Name all the parts of the bow (or violin)
The possibilities are endless . . . .
If you are practicing with one child, playing until their game piece makes it to the finish line can be the objective (or even playing for a set period of time). The goal is to make practice fun & still get to the goals your teacher has set for you.
If you’ve made your own version of a game like this I would love to hear about it! Share your game idea (or even a picture of it) in the comments.
Sometimes doing things totally unrelated to teaching gives me a new perspective and teaches me something new.
Our family recently joined a gym & as part of the joining package I have been able to work with a trainer, once a week, for the last month. The trainer I’m working with is a great fit for me, and has really challenged me to push myself to get better.
I have also seen parallels between working with my trainer, and the way I work with my students in my teaching.
Here are a few things I’ve learned:
1. Insist on good posture and form:
My trainer is a stickler for proper form. My reps only count if I have the proper form and boy can I feel the difference in my muscles vs. working out on my own! My goal is to get the form down, so I can get just as good of a workout on my own eventually.
This is also true when playing an instrument – your posture is your foundation. Everything else will work better if you insist on that one point. It may be annoying to hear it over and over but your teacher knows how important it is – so make it your mission to improve your posture!
2. You can do more than you think you can!
It is human nature to do what is comfortable – and we often don’t push ourselves when left to our own devices.
I have found that each week I get stronger and do more than I thought I could, because my trainer knows I can and pushes me. I feel so proud of myself once I accomplish something new that once felt impossible.
As a teacher I want to push my students just enough that they do more than they thought they could and get that same sense of accomplishment. I have started to try to find one thing that I can push my students to do better each week and have them leave each lesson feeling like they have made a new accomplishment (however small) on their instrument.
I believe this keeps momentum going and keeps students motivated to keep working hard.
3. Have a Goal
I have worked with a trainer before without much luck (I actually didn’t care for the experience) but am really getting much more out of working out with my current one. I was trying to think of why and I believe it is the working relationship that my trainer has established with me.
Rather than lecturing at me about her knowledge of exercise and then telling me what to do, she has helped me figure out my goals, listened to them and then each time we meet goes over what I need to do in order to meet them.
We are a team – she is the expert on exercise & I am the expert on me – when we work as a team I help her learn about me and she helps me exercise better. This really applies to working with my students. I don’t want to lecture them, I want to help them see how what I know will make them better at their instrument, or practicing, or memorizing – because it is their goal to get better.
Students without goals do not work as hard. Whether the goal is playing in a recital, a reward of some kind, or graduating from their current book – helping students set and then work toward their goals is far more motivating to them then having them practice because I said to, or because their parents said to. I am now making a concerted effort to make sure each of my students’ have a clear goal they are working toward and that each week we work together to reach it.
After the month is up I plan to continue on with my trainer. I can’t wait to see what else I will learn 🙂
Community Service Recitals are great ways for students to give back and use their musical talents to brighten someone else’s day. There are many possibilities for where and how you could do this. For example, later this month I am taking students to play at a local retirement community. Many communities have an activities director, who can help you get all the details set up. We will make a program to pass out for the residents and will take about 25 students to perform. I usually set something like this up twice a year, and it is a great experience for everyone, I would highly suggest it!
What other community service performances have you been involved with . . . I’d love to hear about it!
you want to become a better musician, you want to your child to learn music because of all of the life lessons they will learn along the way, you want to inspire your students and expand your skills as a teacher. Everyone has days when they feel discouraged, don’t feel like putting in the work, or wonder if it is worth it. Don’t let a bad day, week, or even month cause you to give up your bigger goals and dreams for yourself and your child (or students).