Why Play Piano Chord When Students Bow?

Anna said: Jun 15, 2015
 Violin
20 posts

I’ve seen a number of videos of Suzuki students (esp. violin) performing where the pianist/teacher plays a chord on the piano to signal that it is time for the students to bow. When I learned to play the violin my teachers never did that, so I haven’t done it with my students. My concern would be that the students would get so used to that bowing “crutch”, learning something that they will not be using in professional performances as an adult. But I am certain that the teachers who do it have excellent reasons, so I thought I’d ask! So I’m just curious—why do some teachers chose to use a piano chord to signal for a bow? Thank you!

Mengwei said: Jun 16, 2015
Mengwei Shen
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Cello
Jersey City, NJ
119 posts

I don’t know about the history of the tradition but I know that in a group situation, my young violin students are not necessarily watching the leader all the time to see visual instructions or sometimes I’m at the piano and they might not be able to see me. In any case, an aural cue helps to get them to bow together, which is a better visual presentation. In a solo performance, they know (or learn) to bow themselves (often cued or accompanied by applause anyway), and for the ones who forget because it’s their first time, they remember when a chord prompts them. They are also learning the sound of an A major chord or after early book 1, I use the same key signature as the actual piece.

Most adults don’t play in unison group style and bow together. In a chamber group or orchestra, you watch and follow the leader (or perhaps only the conductor and soloist bow). You don’t need the cute songs and games of how to set up your feet, set up your bow hold, move from rest position to playing position, etc. but as a child that may be part of your learning process. If a child gets finger tapes and bow tapes to help with intonation and bow distribution, surely those will be going away long before the professional level. I even suggest that non-musician parents use a tuner, app, etc. and over time develop the ear for tuning (or the child will and the tuning responsibility is transitioned). And so on.

Jennifer Visick said: Jun 22, 2015
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
998 posts

Yes, it’s like finger tapes but for timing for groups. Easier to bow together if there is an aural cue.

I like using a V-I or a V7-I in the key of the piece being played: the first chord means get ready and the second chord is the cue to bow. I’ve met some teachers who like to use a chord progression of three chords (maybe I-V-I or something) along the lines of ‘ready, down, up’ to cue students how long to bow.

Once a group of children can bow together, a good short group class activity is to see if they can do it without the chord and still be together.

Mengwei said: Jun 24, 2015
Mengwei Shen
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Cello
Jersey City, NJ
119 posts

Sometimes I play I-IV-I at the end of a performance, but since I forget to rehearse extra bows in group, what actually happens is they get confused…

Jennifer Visick said: Jun 27, 2015
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
998 posts

Well, yes, you do have to rehearse it so the students know what the aural cues mean

Eric Davenport said: Jul 1, 2015
Eric Davenport
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
14 posts

Great topic! I have a new accompanist who started doing it and its sort of crept into everything. I think it sounds a bit hokey and I wonder about that “crutch” aspect too! I may have to make an effort to get rid of it!

Ali said: Jul 2, 2015
Ali Kang
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Queens, NY
1 posts

Bowing in a professional manner is expected of high level performers, so I like teaching the little ones with these helpful aural cues.

When without a pianist at lessons I pluck I-V7-I, with rest on the first chord, bow on the second, and back up on the last. I tell the kids I’m practicing my chords, and when there’s a group, it looks great when they bow all together. I see it as an easy way to practice ensemble without even picking up the instrument.

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