Ideas and experiences teaching Suzuki Piano Repertoire

James said: Aug 30, 2011
James Guerin
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
27 posts

I seek to exchange ideas and experiences in teaching the piano pieces as my students go through the books (I have students up to Book 4).

I like to ground myself in specific pieces as I do this. Perhaps someone knows of a place where this is already happening? Or, let the discussion begin!

Jim Guerin

Rachel Schott said: Aug 30, 2011
Rachel SchottViolin
Harrogate, TN
127 posts

Group ideas, or technique? Maybe tricks for the trickiest passages of each piece? Yes, I’m a violinisit, but let’s narrow the scope and see what happens.

Exactly what appeals to you most in the discussion arena?

And, welcome!

James said: Sep 3, 2011
James Guerin
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
27 posts

Hi Rachel,

Thanks for responding, and I’ve been busy (thank goodness) for a few days.

My goal in general is to have a bank of music teaching ideas that are specific to certain pieces or playing situations. When I teach a specific piece, I think “how would a another teacher approach this?” and I go to the repertoire bank. Or if I’m teaching a technique such as trills I go to the technique bank. Or to the motivation bank for approaches for antsy 5 year olds. I know this may be wishful thinking, but I start with the big idea and wonder if it sounds useful to you or others?

The search engine with all the techniques and approaches may exist, but I wish to access it because I am still a little green at Suzuki.

That said, I know I should just submit my own ideas instead of trolling, but I thought I’d start by asking….

Jim

Paula Bird said: Sep 4, 2011
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

should we start at the beginning? pre-twinkle stage? Just pick a piece and start chatting?

Paula E. Bird
TX State University
Wildflower Suzuki Studio
http://teachsuzuki.blogspot.com (blog)
http://teachsuzuki.com (podcast)

Ann Marie said: Sep 5, 2011
Ann Marie Novak
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
Stevens Point, WI
4 posts

We need a starting point, so here ‘goes! How do Suzuki Piano Teachers help young students achieve the coordination of rhythm(s) when teaching “London Bridge” hands together for the first time? As a starting point, here is what I do: I first review the rhythm of both hands separately. Then I demonstrate the combined rhythms by tapping on my legs and saying, “together left-right-together”. Once the student can comfortably do this, I move it to the piano (still vocalizing the “together left-right-together”)…at first using just a C-chord in each hand (in this way, they are still more focused on the rhythm than on the notes). Then, when that has become easy, I change the RH to the actual melody notes of the piece, but retain the C-chord in the LH on the quarter-note beats (still vocalizing). Lastly, I then change the LH to the Alberti Bass pattern of the C-chord, as it exists in the piece; once this is achieved, we drop the vocalizing of the rhythm. This may seem like a lot of effort to reach the end goal, but it has worked very well over many years for those students who need it. In fact, I have adopted it as my way of introducing the dotted rhythm to every student, and I find that there never is a question as to how the combined rhythm works. Other ideas?

Ann Marie

James said: Sep 5, 2011
James Guerin
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
27 posts

Ann Marie,

Very cool idea on preparing for dotted rhythms via chords as opposed to notes in each hand. Even more interesting since chords in the book aren’t introduced until the song that follows London Bridge. Mary Had a Little Lamb is easier in some ways….

I have been trying to approach this differently, but I need your technique as the other way. I emphasize not putting hands together and learning the patterns of many songs hands separate. The day I put hands together for London Bridge, I give the student the chance to play it by “knack”…show them the pattern, or clap the steady pattern and sing the dotted one, and then let them go, see if they can get the bicycle moving.

I feel this is not thoughtless, because much of the work in putting hands together is that of simultaneously letting each hand think on its own. But when it fails, we need to go to “together…left…right..together”. Which leaves the question: how to begin? By knack or your fool proof method? Thanks. Remember, I’m greenhorn here.

Laura said: Sep 6, 2011
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
358 posts

I also do the “together left right together” mostly, with or without a clapping/tapping step before, because that has been what has worked with the most students. But other approaches I’ve used include:

  • Learn the bar without the A (eighth note) first, then add it in. Sometimes, a micro step inbetween is necessary, in which the student adds in the A without the second G (getting used to playing the “orphaned A” first)

  • Learn in miniscule bites, adding literally a half-beat at a time, repeating a gazillion times each time

  • Learn with blocked/chord LH before “winging it” hands-together

It really depends on what seems to work with each student.

All of that is simply for the two-handed coordination of the dotted rhythm. Before that, though, I make sure in the hands-separate stage that the RH pinky technique is good (takes a tall stepl without flopping over sideways), and that the student masters the concept of the dotted note being “lighter” admist the stronger notes before/after. For that, I use the following steps:
1. Review Twinkle B & D with emphasis on technique for long singing sounds (big deep step into key, rise up tall)
2. Focus specifically on that technique with the 4th finger
3. Review bar 5 of Go Tell Aunt Rhody, which uses the same G/4 A/5 fingering as the first bar of London Bridge, exception that in Aunt Rhody, both the 4 and 5 are long and strong
4. Introduce that in bar 1 of London Bridge, the 4 walks the same way but 5 walks lightly. Start by lightly “brushing” (gradually changing to lightly playing) the pinky note while simultaneously holding down the long singing 4th finger note
5. Legato transition (without holding anything down) from a strong singing G/4 to a lighter A/5, and then back again.

After focusing on putting it all hands together, this RH technique often flies out the window, so we do the same approach all over again in the hands-together version (doesn’t take as long the second time around!)

Ann Marie said: Sep 7, 2011
Ann Marie Novak
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
Stevens Point, WI
4 posts

Jimmykeys,

I may have slightly misrepresented myself here…I do prepare the separate hands thoroughly before ever attempting this step…and the reason I use the chords is because I teach the blocked chords for Lightly Row and London Bridge before I teach the Alberti bass pattern ( I have always felt that it makes the most logical sense to me if I teach the chord before I teach the derivation of the chord). I know that this is doing things a bit “out of order” here, but it seems to work quite well.

As for which one comes first (the knack or the method)…long ago, I used this method only if the student couldn’t naturally feel the rhythmic combination, but gradually, I came to the conclusion for myself that, especially when it comes to rhythms, I want the student to feel it correctly, if possible, from the first time they play it. This helps to avoid 3-step learning (learning it the wrong way, then un-learning it, followed by re-learning it correctly). I think it makes the students a bit more confident, and I think it makes them a bit more solid rhythmically. These are just my thoughts and how they have changed over these many years. I offer them purely as food for thought.

Ann Marie

James said: Sep 7, 2011
James Guerin
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
27 posts

Dear Ann and Ms. Tulips,

Yes, this is what I need to hear. The important aspect of allowing a student to attempt dotted notes hands together by “knack” is to not use it as a solitary method. I must also teach them to break down the practice and put it back together. Above all, they must not make repeated trips and falls to learn it! (this is one thing I do get right).

The only defense I have for using the “knack” (meaning putting hands together and seeing if they can just get L Bridge) is that the student is not made to always learn incrementally. They must see that intuitive learning and learning leaps can be attempted.

Everyone is giving me lots of ideas. The block chords idea, Ann M, is very good. I imagine using it for older students. Ms. Tulips, I see the break down of skills for students who are younger, have insecurity in time and uneven touch, as very helpful.

A little on me: I attended my first Suzuki clinic this past summer for Level III. Before that I trained privately with a master teacher. I don’t have tons of examples and you help. I am actually a classically trained jazz pianist. My latest challenge is to teach the Bach Partita in Bb from Book 4 (even though I’m only level 3). More on that coming up!

Laura said: Sep 9, 2011
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
358 posts

It’s nice to have some good discussion over Suzuki piano teaching methology on this board!

I think that one of the wonderful things about Suzuki, as jimmykeys expressed, is that there really ought not to be one way of teaching something. It really depends on each child and what they need.

London Bridge seems to be one of those “special” pieces in which you need a whole bunch of tricks up your sleeve, depending on the student. This is specifically with the dotted notes, because the rest of the piece is much more of a no-brainer to most students. With some, I actually teach Mary Had a Little Lamb before London Bridge, and then go back and start London Bridge with chords like Ann Marie. With some I do this as early as Lightly Row, but not all. Others find it a real struggle to play three notes concurrently, such that they find Mary an extreme challenge even after mastering Alberti bass in the preceding pieces.

Back to London Bridge, I always test out the “knack” approach anyway, on the off-chance that they just get it. Sometimes it does work. But other times, the poor student gets so completely undone by the dotted rhythm that we do have to break it down into such miniscule steps. They tend to lack either the physical coordination, or the mental clarity of what is happening, so the micro-steps are really quite powerful in building the confidence and overall ability. A student of mine once spent about 6-7 months to learn Lightly Row hands together. He wasn’t that young (7-8, I believe), was quite intelligent, and he and his mom were doing everything correctly. It simply took his brain that long to develop the wiring for the new concept. Once that was over and done with, it was a total celebration—plus the bonus of all subsequent hands-together pieces taking only a few weeks each! Once he got to London Bridge, I knew in advance that he would need the micro-steps. But he did them and even though he was frustrated at first, he did get it within a highly respectable time frame.

Anyway, great input, everyone—thanks!

Nancy Brown said: Sep 16, 2011
Nancy Brown
Suzuki Association Member
Piano, Suzuki Early Childhood Education
Charlotte, NC
7 posts

HI,
This is my first time to post on the forum, and I am enjoying all the ways to teach London Bridge especially. I think I have probably used many of these ideas, but the one I like to use after teaching the melody first, later the blocked LH chords, Alberti bass separately for the chords used in several pieces, then putting it hands together as the piece is written. I have used tapping on legs—together, right, left, together, together, etc. first. Then, with stops in between, playing the section hands separately, then trying it hands together. This seems to work well for me. I will enjoy trying some of these other mentioned ideas too. Thanks for your posts!

Ronel Wishnuff said: Mar 7, 2012
Ronel Wishnuff
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
1 posts

I have just stumbled on this chat and I have one little suggestion to add to the clapping. Instead of saying together, I always use the word “both”. The formula B-L-R-B works like a charm, once they have that one down, add B-L-R-B-B. One can introduce the clapping formula, long before you get to teach London Bridge hands together. It is also good word to use when one teaches poly-rhythms.

Thank you for all the input.

Mary said: Mar 8, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
4 posts

Hi Everyone….Interesting discussion!

RE London Bridge…I stand behind my students and tap the tricky rhythm on their shoulders while singing the melody. Left hand on left shoulder, right hand on right shoulder. This gives them a feeling of the rhythm in their body. Then I play it in front of them in slow motion so they can see the rhythm played visually. Then I play their fingers so they can feel it with fingers without needing to make any decisions. Then I ask, “Did I play together or left or right? Then what?” Once they can answer those questions verbally, then I say, “Okay, you try.” Usually we get it within a few tries. If not, I use the STOP and PREPARE method for each beat.

I also block and break chords from the time we hit Cuckoo. I get them to notice the motion of the broken triad as a cartwheel and the Alberti Bass as “Bottom-Top-Middle-Top” I always sing it with the same notes as the chord so that they’ll hear those words in their heads. I usually teach Mary before London Bridge because most of the kids figure it out by themselves before we are actually there and I don’t want them to play it incorrectly. If the hand is still too small for the chord, we just use the root and third and then add the last note a bit later when the hand is stronger.

Mary

Lori Bolt said: Mar 8, 2012
Lori Bolt
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
San Clemente, CA
229 posts

What fun to share ideas on such a “simple” piece as London Bridge! I gained a few new ideas here—just in case my usuual approach does not work. My way of working on the dotted RH vs quarter notes LH is to (after learning each hand independently) demo the first RH, first 2 LH together. I want the student to get the long RH note, as they often hurry that and shorten it to get the eighth note in. After several successful reps., I show adding the eighth note A (so B L R), several good reps on this. Last step is to add the third beat together. After that we’re usually home free.

I will try letting them get the knack 1st. I used to do so, but found it tedious (my problem) and this seemed to work well. I think I learned this approach a Suzuki workshop or Institute.

Can’t wait for the discussion on that Bach Partita, Jimmy!

Lori Bolt

Lori Bolt said: Mar 9, 2012
Lori Bolt
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
San Clemente, CA
229 posts

Oops…in my third sentence I meant to say “demo the first RH, first 2 LH notes hands together.” It was late when I wrote that!

Lori Bolt

James said: Mar 9, 2012
James Guerin
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
27 posts

Here’s Jimmy come lately with some thoughts for Lori.

I feel wealthy in London Bridge pedagogy. And I feel a bit naughty in teaching the Bach Partita to two students so far without so much as a Book 4 Training behind me. I will call them Student #1 and #2.

These were the first pieces two of my ex-Koppelman students were going to prepare for me. So, they came to me ready to undertake something they were barely ready for (they had a hiatus after the passing of their teacher), and received teaching from someone who was doing it for the first time. So this is less a sharing of teaching ideas than of an experience.

I learned the Minuets and Gigue myself first to experience the technical points of learning. Should have taken a lesson or two but I didn’t. It is always good to demonstrate to students if you lack the broader observational experience to tell them exactly what to do.

My focus at first was on even touch and fingerings, which I felt were crucial with Bach. I noticed many things I wanted to correct in the positioning of hands and arms as they played. I wanted to correct these issues heads on but hoped to correct them as we went along because of the thicket of passages we needed to learn.

MINUET ONE: Moving the arms and torso smoothly for new positions in Minuet One was a priority. Once the student showed proper preparation and position on the keys in the difficult passages, I was able to assign 4-8 measure passages to present with firm, even touch. I would demo a passage to illustrate proper touch and firm left hand. I inevitably found that practicing the LH alone never automatically transferred to hands together…the LH sounded weak unless we addressed it specifically. So far, I consider the LH tone to be the key to performing Minuet One.

MINUET TWO: I likened connecting the voices of this chorale to playing a game of Twister in that we hold one finger while another gets to its spot. The students were old enough to “get” the metaphor didn’t mean to “twist” the hand. The reward for careful practice is the ringing of bells in a church as each voice sounds over into the next. I am merciless in pointing out gaps in tones for each hand. Fingerings needed adjusting at times. I’d like pointers on this, but overall I feel they enjoyed gradually improving it.

GIGUE: Student #1 just raced through his gigue and then got his fingers all tied up in a group performance. I emphasized practicing at varied tempos, and of feeling relaxed and at ease with faster tempos, light and ready for each leap. I did a better job of training Student #2. Instead of musical expression advice (phrasing, dynamics), I skipped the pedal entirely for the first month and focused on a slowly played accumulation of 3-4 lines a week. We do not spend an entire week on hands separate but integrate hands separate and together practice. I don’t know if this is taboo amongst other teachers. After this month, we are adding pedal and increasing tempo, and his grounding appears to be solid.

Well, that’s all for now. I have a LOT to learn about teaching the Bach, but at least I can demonstrate it, and that’s the key for a lot of my teaching at this early stage.

Lori Bolt said: Mar 10, 2012
Lori Bolt
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
San Clemente, CA
229 posts

Thanks Jimmy ~ we all probably have a lot to learn about teaching Bach, at least I do! Somewhere along the way I picked up something to use on the Gigue: isolate the melody notes by practicing the LH alone. In this way, the melody becomes the focal point auditorally for the student and doesn’t get lost among the triplets. I have coordinated the pedal with the melody too. This has the added benefit of lots of practice moving the LH from high to low and back up again.

Maybe one day we’ll meet at a so. CA workshop or Institute since we are almost neighbors!

God bless!

Lori Bolt

March said: May 20, 2012
 2 posts

Can you share more about starting and working on Gigue? I have a student just barely starting it and I would LOVE your insight—what was helpful for you as you taught this piece! Thanks so much!!

Ann Marie said: May 23, 2012
Ann Marie Novak
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
Stevens Point, WI
4 posts

There are many ways to successfully approach this piece. Below is the main method I currently use:

We work on only the A section first. I start by tackling the LH, and usually I separate that into the 2 voices (upper and lower). Once the two separate voices are learned, then I re-join them and the students begins crossing over the midline.

Then we block the RH notes (6th, 5th, etc.) but reduce it to one per measure since the RH harmony changes only once per measure. In this way, the student focuses on what the harmonies are and what the succession of harmonies is. The next step for my students is to break the RH as written, while tapping the beat with the LH on the lap.

After that is all secure, then we put hands together.

Then we repeat these steps for the B section.

One of the most difficult aspects of this piece is reading it…it is so confusing on paper, so I help the students by ear as much as possible, especially with the LH.

As I said, this is but one of many ways to approach this piece…

Ann Marie Novak

Ann Marie Novak
Instructional Specialist in Suzuki Piano
Aber Suzuki Center
University of Wisconsin Stevens Point
(715) 346-4889
Fax: (715) 346-3858

Mary Anne Polk O'Meara said: May 24, 2012
Mary Anne Polk O’Meara
Suzuki Association Member
16 posts

The Bigler-Lloyd Watts book, Studying Suzuki Piano: More Than Music, has some good ideas for this (and most other pieces for that matter). I’ve found the Scramble Game, which is described earlier in the book, very helpful fo this piece. I always first teachng m. 25 (plus pickup) through m. 37. This section seems to be universally the most difficult for students. Once they have conquered them, the rest flows more smoothly, and if they know these measures first, they don’t slow down every time they get to them when they play.
Some outline of the theory involved can help, also. Even if they just see that for measures 33-41,everything goes down by half steps except for a whole step at m. 40.

March said: May 25, 2012
 2 posts

Thanks for mentioning this book. I did hear about this book once briefly quite some time ago and wanted to look for it. After that I forgot all about it until now. I am excited to order this book and read it! Thanks for bringing it up. I LOVE getting good ideas specific to the pieces. that’s why this site is wonderful!

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