Teaching Twinkle Rhythms in Chinese

Megan Huber said: Apr 18, 2017
 1 posts

Hello all,

I have a new student who just moved from China. She is 6 and only speaks Mandarin. I realize when trying to teach her the twinkle variation rhythms that the words I use have no meaning to her and its harder for her to remember them. I have been taking Mandarin for a year but it is not sufficient for me to create my own word rhythms. I want to use cute or relatable expression words like I do with my English speaking students (peanut butter crackers, popcorn and candy, Mississippi alligator etc.) but am at a loss and can’t seem to find Mandarin ones anywhere online. Anyone else have any experience teaching in Mandarin or know of word rhythms I can use for my student?


Carole said: Apr 20, 2017
Carole KaneViolin
Buford, GA
7 posts

Remember, Dr. Suzuki used the syllables “taka-taka” for the Twinkle rhythms and I never heard those had any meaning in Japanese. I think your student will learn the English terms faster than you realize. Perhaps you could try to dramatize the English words for her by actually bringing in peanut butter, crackers, popcorn, etc to the lesson. Make the words come alive and let her sample the treats as a reward! This time next year she should be fluent in English!

Mengwei Shen said: Apr 20, 2017
Mengwei Shen
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Cello
Jersey City, NJ
162 posts

Wow, interesting question! I speak Mandarin but teach in English. My first thought: all Chinese words/characters are one syllable, so stringing 6 or 8 syllables together really means coming up with a sentence with the desired beat emphasis and syllable spacing. Perhaps someone has done it who will chime in, but it might also be easier to use non language syllables—taka taka stop stop (learning one English word here), tika tika ti ti, etc. (I assume she will also go to school, so even learning some English from you could be useful in general, and as she picks up English from school, that will help her communicate with you.)

Twinkle B: yi4 qi3, zai4 yi4 qi3… “together” (and at the end you have one more—that’s why in English I use “ice cream, more ice cream…)

Twinkle C:
xiao3 mao mi, zhua lao3 shu3—”little cat, chases/grabs mouse”
You can make your own following the format: 1-word adjective, 2-word subject noun, 1-word verb, 2-word object

xiao3 lao3 shu3, shang4 deng tai2—little mouse, goes up a lampstand
HOWEVER, there is a children’s song about the mouse climbing the lampstand and the rhythm is: ti-ti ta, ti-ti ta (sing so so mi, so so mi). If she knows that song, you wouldn’t want to change the rhythm to force ta ti-ti, ta ti-ti.

I can think of another children’s song that does start with the Twinkle C rhythm but I forgot the words. The melody goes like this:
d d-d m m-r | d d s (where “|” is a bar line and last 3 notes are quarter notes)
-r m m-r d r-m | d d d (the first “re” is a pick up note that in standard notation would be written in the previous measure/line)

Mengwei Shen said: Apr 20, 2017
Mengwei Shen
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Cello
Jersey City, NJ
162 posts

As I was thinking about the mouse song, I realized that the last line of the verse is very close to Twinkle A rhythm. Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MWnfC4hjuUQ

gi li gu lu, gun3 xia4 (xia4 is sung as two syllables and lai2 is not part of “Mississippi stop stop”)
gi li gu lu is onomatopoeia—the sound of the mouse rolling (falling?) down the lampstand
gu lu is also the sound for a pigeon

Consider why we use English words for Twinkle rhythms—it’s to use a known thing to learn a new or different thing. I’m not confident on making up arbitrary phrases to match Twinkle rhythms, but if I needed Chinese words, I would first look for usable material in known folk songs (Kodaly method inspiration). Otherwise, I might try onomatopoeia because they are “Chinese” and yet not quite language (and if possible I would pay attention to articulation of consonants and “length” of vowel sounds).

Keep in mind that sometimes we use English words that are unfamiliar to English-speaking children. (Some young ones might not have learned about “Mississippi” the state or river, they might not have a concept of pepperoni pizza or cantaloupe if they don’t eat it, etc. My little sister told me as an adult that when she was a kid, she didn’t understand “jack rabbit eat carrot” meant and was only copying the sound.) It’s nice that you can mix and match right now although maybe you wouldn’t jump straight in with new vocabulary for five rhythms. Even if she learns some by rote first (”brute force repetition”) or some by Chinese helper words, I think you could gradually transition to your preferred English words that you use with your other students.

(As a side note, the song in the video right after the mouse song is a version of Lightly Row, right here is Go Tell Aunt Rhody: https://youtu.be/HFxmG8vGlrI?t=37m1s and there are other songs in that video where you’ll recognize the melody. I don’t know how common these songs are now since they are from over 20 years ago and maybe kids in this generation aren’t singing them anymore.)

Joycelyn Choo said: Sep 29, 2017
Joycelyn Choo
Suzuki Association Member
Walnut, CA
1 posts

I know I’m a little late coming to this forum, but I have had two students who I have had to teach completely in mandarin. One of them eventually switched over to English after being exposed to the language at school. But the other kid just came over recently as well. I’m second generation Chinese and Mandarin is my secondary language. Violin lessons are kind of a mix between learning violin and ESL. I want the kids to know the English versions of the rhythms so that they would know what was going on in group class, so I directly translated some of the rhythms that I used. On some other variations, I just used the English words. Here are some good ideas!

Twinkle C: “Run, Puppy, Run Puppy” or “pao, xiao goh, pao xiao goh” We would do it first in Chinese on the shoulder and then in English.

Twinkle B: “My Name (Rest) is (Two syllable name)” “Wo ming, shi (Two syllable name)”

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