Formality of Starting a New Song

Laura said: Aug 7, 2014
Suzuki Association Member
Stanton, MN
25 posts

I am struggling with a clever, enthusiastic 8 year old who learns extremely quickly by ear, is highly interested in note reading, but struggles to refine the details. This winter, learning Gossic Gavotte, I had assigned her a very specific passage in the 2nd section. She came back the next week without that work polished, but having spent time note reading the 3rd and 4th sections, and saying she knew the entire piece. It looked to me like she was strongly supported by her parent in doing this. Her mother realized in subsequent lessons why learning all of the piece in advance was not a good idea. I thought we had set this issue to rest. A focus for this spring was detailed learning—polishing all her book 1 songs for her book 1 recital was great for teaching her this. She has come a long way.

This student just came back from institute, learning how to further hone her skill of working in a very detailed way on one small section. I love the instruction she received in her master class! I piggy backed on this, asking her to focus on 2 small passages in Judas M (the piece she is completing) in the same manner she did at camp. My intention was to use the focus sections to highlight a technique that I wanted her to apply to Musette as she learned this new piece. She came to lesson this past week, not having done her section practice, but so excited (and Mom too) to play all of Musette for me—pretty well learned, not perfectly, and not with the technical focuses learned that I want to teach her.

I am realizing that she would benefit greatly from my studio establishing a tradition of starting a new song. Something that students look forward to, anticipate, but some exciting milestone that they cannot attain until I grant it. It’s easy starting a new book. I tell families they can listen to any CD they want, but they cannot open the new books until I officially graduate the student. I need a fun way to apply this same concept to starting a new song. Any ideas?

Fabio Dos Santos said: Aug 8, 2014
Fabio Dos Santos
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Campinas, SP, Brazil
11 posts

Hi Laura,

I have come to enjoy very much the idea that 90% of the time in the lesson is spent on review – with new and added refinements every week. I like this for several reasons:

Fist, I want parents and students to have very clear that everything they need for the next piece in the work they know how to play, and not in the work they are struggling with. This, of course, reinforces the idea that I want students to review every week. This is not done for remembering notes, but for perfecting those skills. (Which will obviously show up in the next piece, a little different).

I DO want my students to “take the lead” on the new material. To me, that means that the parents and the students go as far as they can on their own – so long as its not damaging their posture, tone, intonation, technique, etc… Doing this does not mean that they “know the piece”, and I make sure everybody knows that there are lots of things to add to what they can do on their own. Of course, I also make it clear that there are “go ahead” moments, and “don’t go ahead yet, because I have something to show you first” moments. So far, this has been very effective. Parents and students are diligent about not crossing lines when they feel that all they have worked could be “endangered” by bad practice.

Last, but not least, I like to remind them that most of the time, when playing for someone, you will play things you know, not things you “kind-of-know”, so knowing the notes and the bowing are just the first step in a piece. “Playing well” means much more than just “knowing the notes and bowings”.

So really, I’m do not permit “the new piece” to have any symbolical meaning. I’m using the proportion of the lesson to concrete the ideas that: 1) playing well is more than knowing the notes and the bowing. Anyone can know the notes and bowings and do it badly! 2) Showing skills in pieces you know how to play is the way move forward. 3) You can go ahead learning the new piece, if you want. I don’t care for it, if you can’t show me your skills in the pieces you know how to play!

I hope these 2 cents help!
All the best!

Rhonda said: Aug 8, 2014
Suzuki Association Member
Edmonton, AB
12 posts

You are describing a student who is demonstrating independence due to many factors, one of which is her well developed ear. She is showing pride in her abilities and seems very motivated. This seems like an ideal student!

Yes, when students work ahead they sometimes make mistakes. But is this really a bad thing? If she had to wait for your “blessing” before beginning a new piece, it might result in taking away her independence and pride in playing the instrument. Shall I compare this to reading—imagine if you had to get approval from the librarian before you could begin reading a different book?

Of course, you want her to learn and practice certain techniques. If you consistently focus on them at the lesson and ask her to practice them at home, she will eventually learn them. You can do this without making her feel that she’s not allowed to work ahead.

I feel hesitant to restrict students from playing what they would like to play at home. Playing music is their activity and they should have some freedom to try to play anything they’d like. That’s one reason the Suzuki Method is so great—the students develop this great ear and then they can use it for the rest of their lives.

Carol Gwen said: Aug 9, 2014
Carol Gwen Kiefer
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Washington Crossing, PA
75 posts

I have tried letting Book one students pizzicato the next piece guitar style. No bow. They must follow the fingering in the book and have the piece memorized. In the meanwhile we continue to work on the piece at hand.

When they have finished memorizing the fingers pizz. guitar style I listen to the piece immediately to prevent a wrong note or fingering from “sticking.” So far this routine has reduced moving-forward mistakes and allowed enthusiastic children (and their parents) with good ears to feel they have accomplished something. Just about every student.

Towards the middle of Book 2 this routine isn’t as necessary. Students are working on Book 1 graduation concurrently with Book 2 Hot Spots, or bowings, or tempo, or one thing that needs attention.

I like it when they want to play. Find something they can play and get out of their way!

Heather Reichgott said: Aug 9, 2014
Heather ReichgottPiano
South Hadley, MA
95 posts

This kid sounds like me in book 2. My teacher had quite a job to follow behind me and sweep up the broken pieces of all the material I was learning, but I’m so glad she never crushed my interest in learning a lot of material. We polished review pieces and worked on working pieces both. I think she had me work on a review piece and a working piece in the same lesson when there were similar issues in both. Also she gave me some extracurricular books for sight-reading (duet parts and a Christmas carol book are the ones I remember best) which may have been so that I’d have a lot to work on but wouldn’t get over my head in the Suzuki books. I’m sure she and my mother were careful to avoid letting book 3 enter the house prematurely.

Celia Jones said: Aug 12, 2014
72 posts

I’ve seen some teachers put special stickers in the children’s books, that’s one simple way to give the go ahead for the new piece. Or write with a sparkly pen the start date and finish date. You really need something that copes with the range of timescales as some children whiz through each piece and its teaching points in a couple of weeks, while others take months.

It sounds like you need to emphasise what is the practise assignment and give the child (and parent) credit for completing the assignment every week, while keeping the long-term goal in sight.

Remember that there may be external influences at work, with other adults commenting to the child on their violin practise and the child may be more influenced by grandpa or aunty asking what fun new piece they are working on. Most non-musical people have no clue whether a piece is played well or badly, but they can tell if it is Twinkle for the 20 thousandth time.

Laura Burgess said: Aug 13, 2014
Laura Burgess
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
32 posts

I am a little late to the conversation but my teacher trainer does a star to show the student where they are and encourage review. She draws an open star. As the student progresses, she colors it in, in pencil. Each leg of the star is a component. The piece is polished when the star is colored in. However, if the student cannot play it up to standard down the road, she reserves the right to erase the correlating portion of the star. This makes the value of review more concrete.

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