How to keep up reviewing old songs? (schedules, ideas, etc.)

Claire Devries said: Aug 10, 2019
 34 posts

Dear Group,

We just came back from our first Suzuki Institute and what I realized is that we did not do enough review. It’s sad to see my son struggled to play songs that he worked so, SO hard last year, while his peers in the institute could pick it up in a moment’s notice—all because we did not review the song enough. Although our teacher only does review during group classes (every other week.. last year I counted we only have 16 group lessons in the year, that means we only reviewed old songs 16 times, and not all of them), I want to be more proactive about it.

My questions: how do you keep up with reviewing old songs, especially now that the songs are getting longer? My son is nearing book 3 now, so I need to find a way to keep the old songs in polished performance shape. Do you have a review schedule? A review check list? An example? Especially looking to hear from upper books as well (5+) when each songs get really long.

Also, once a certain song is polished, our teacher tend to “shelf” it and almost never asked my son to play it again in lesson. In general, how many times should we repeat this newly polished song to have all the technique in it solidified? Teachers, do you listen to students’ review song from time to time? I have asked our teacher about this in the past, she would mention something along the line of “Oh, you can just review that by yourself at home.. ” without any specific instructions. Our teacher almost NEVER hear or assign review songs in lessons (45 mins)—so I take it that the teacher has other priorities besides review during lesson time. While I acknowledge that it is my responsibility at home to do reviews, it does help to know teacher’s expectations and various ways to help us accomplish the reviewing at home (including providing some accountability for review).

Grateful for your thoughts and ideas,

P.S. Just to clarify, my son plays the violin instrument (but I would imagine, this applies to other instruments as well).

Joanne Shannon said: Aug 10, 2019
Joanne Shannon
Suzuki Association Member
Los Angeles, CA
140 posts

All of my students are required to play a daily “concert” each day. We call it the dinner concert…played while mom or dad fixes dinner. In book one this concert consists of all the polished pieces….this gets them ready for the book 1 concert they will, in the future, play for me on their own piano, and the book 1 concert they will play for our group lesson…it takes about 10 minutes. In book 2 each polished piece replaces the first two pieces in book 1, etc. Near the end of book 2 their concert should be about 10—15 minutes long. Book 3 we try to keep it at 15 minutes, slowly replacing the book 2 pieces. The rule of these concerts is no parent intervention. Pieces that aren’t doing too well can be addressed at practice one at a time. I hear everyone’s dinner concert on the 1st lesson the month. Sometimes I sit near the piano and watch, giving them a point or two for improvement as they go along. Sometimes I sit back on the sofa and write a note about each piece and give the notes to them to take home & hopefully correct.

My latest proof of this method is my oldest student who had to audition for a scholarship for college. He played a book 6 Mozart that he had been playing for a couple of years in his dinner concert (he could probably play it in his sleep). They gave him two scholarships!

Tamara Glassburg said: Aug 10, 2019
2 posts

Thank you Joanne Shannon! This is incredibly helpful. I’ve been giving my students lists but they find it overwhelming and review is a difficult topic for me w/my students/parents. I raised my two kids through Suzuki Violin and Piano and pretty much kept them reviewing but I am also a teacher.
Thanks again,
Tamara Glassburg

Sue Hunt said: Aug 11, 2019
Sue HuntViola, Violin
403 posts

You might find REVIEW – MAKING IT FUN, GETS THE JOB DONE useful. It is aimed at those who want to review books 1—3 with more purpose, but the principals hold true for all the books.

Mengwei Shen said: Aug 11, 2019
Mengwei Shen
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Cello
Jersey City, NJ
220 posts

Here is a review structure that I picked up in violin teacher training: For book 2+ (book 1 students should play all their known pieces each practice), write the names of review pieces on individual cards. Keep track of two piles—”active” and “finished” pieces. For 10 min each practice, play through from the top of the active pile. If there are no issues, put the card in the finished pile. Otherwise, play the piece twice with the book and put the card at the bottom of the active pile. (If you can’t get it back by reading, perhaps listen 4 times or mom prompts with finger numbers or note names?)

All the book 1 & 2 pieces should pass through within two weeks, then the troublesome ones come back into the rotation first. Once you have converted the entire active pile to finished, you start over with all pieces as active.

This approach is reviewing for memory/notes and is intended to accompany another structure of reviewing for technique. Also, you may have seen institute group classes do silly or distracting things while playing review pieces; the point is to know them so well that you can engage in another task simultaneously. Reviewing for technique is for concentrating on a skill and of course reviewing for memory is so that you have repertoire for these purposes.

In lessons, we do the review for technique but I don’t specifically check the cards/memory. Maybe I should, if I want it to be done!

Claire Devries said: Aug 11, 2019
 34 posts

Thank you all for your generous advice and ideas!! I’m inspired already and my son now are playing all book 1 and all book 2 songs (violin) everyday from now until the end of summer break (we won’t have lessons until September). Thank you!!

Meng Wei, your post is most useful for me and I will follow the card deck suggestion. Also, when a student is polished on his/her latest piece, would that piece then go to the “active” review pile, or is the newest song get repeated several times before it goes to the review pile?

The reason I asked is because I saw some of the students in institute whose teachers made them repeat the newly polished song for a number of time before it becomes a review song (e.g. a girl showed me a sticker chart for when she did her newly polished time 30x before it became a review song, namely once a day for a month)—much like what Dr. Suzuki did when he used to send out the congratulatory note to anyone who finished Gossec Gavotte (500x in book 1, then another 500x during book 2—something that we probably don’t do in the U.S. for sure!)

Thank you again for the generosity and ideas of this group. Please keep suggestions coming, also with your philosophy/reasons for reviewing, etc. Thank you!

Jennifer Taylor said: Aug 11, 2019
Suzuki Association Member
Durham, NC
15 posts

I was wondering if Mengwei could give some more detail about the review for technique. Is it choosing a few review pieces to focus on something like improved bow hold or a new technique? I assume it’s not to do all the review pieces again each focusing on a different technique?

Mengwei Shen said: Aug 12, 2019
Mengwei Shen
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Cello
Jersey City, NJ
220 posts

My students audio or video record their polished pieces (also another idea from teacher training), so a piece enters the review list once it’s recorded. Recording piece is around 3 pieces behind the newest piece. What constitutes “polished” will vary among teachers: notes and bowings? articulation and style? dynamics and phrasing? how much stopping and starting? how much (or not) of prompting to remember certain teaching points? An early book 1 polishing level will be different from a late book 1, mid book 2, etc.

At a Suzuki workshop a few weeks ago, a particular student (not mine) saw what the master class teacher worked on with another student on the same piece and for his turn, immediately tried to do it. What fantastic attentiveness and initiative for late book 1! The piece was surely polished for master class presentation but he had trouble just dropping the new idea into it. Always do a new thing using an old piece first (or open strings or 1 or 2 notes).

Mengwei Shen said: Aug 12, 2019
Mengwei Shen
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Cello
Jersey City, NJ
220 posts

(1) Reviewing for technique is in fact going through pieces separately from the cards, focusing on a specific technique, often a remedial aspect. Among my students, this is most likely to be bow hold (not locked thumb, not locked pinky, index finger not grabbing, etc.). Few of them are actually doing the workout properly outside of once a week with me (not enough!), but for the ones who are, it works.

- First, decide how long: start with 3 min and gradually increase with age and development of concentration. Play review pieces in order from Twinkle, and the parent and child both watch for the bow hold (or whatever is being worked on).
- During the piece, the child needs to be paying attention and stop/correct the problem. If the child doesn’t catch it “within 3 notes”, the parent, who was also paying attention, should say stop, then the piece has to be started over. Key points: child maintains a good attitude and parent ignores all other faults.
- A piece needs to get all the way through before it’s passed. At 3 to 10 min per day, with having to start pieces over, it will take a while. Key points: intense concentration and expectations for 3 to 10 min AND for the rest of the day’s practice, parent does not stop the child in the middle of a piece for the same issue.

No one likes to be hounded about the same thing over and over, nor too many things at once, so this structure is intended to address that. By the time you have gotten through each review piece without being stopped, the technique or habit can easily carry forward into the newer pieces.

(2) Examples of another form of review: Play Twinkle with a new rhythm or bowing pattern or change of key, play old pieces using 4th finger, play all pieces that have up bow phrases, circle bows (down bow phrases), play Perpetual Motion and Etude with Long Long Ago variation bowing, play all pieces that have bow lifts like in Gavotte from Mignon (or other bowing techniques), play all pieces that have the high 3 D# (or other finger patterns).

I tell my students that music is patterns. The more and better your review pieces, the more patterns you hear and do (and eventually see) and the more you will be able to recognize and use them in future pieces!

Lori Bolt said: Aug 12, 2019
Lori BoltPiano
San Clemente, CA
262 posts

I just ordered a set of review cards from Meredith Strings link for Suzuki piano. I’m sure there were sets for violin. They’re colorful and engaging, and would work well with Mengwei’s system. The Practice Shoppe sells review dice for Suzuki too.

Lori Bolt

Claire Devries said: Aug 12, 2019
 34 posts

Meng Wei, thank you again for your detailed explanation of review technique and polished piece! I truly appreciate this. I will actually use the technique review on my son starting tomorrow. He has still problem with thumb gripping the neck of the violin (since forever..) and pinky on the bow hand, and we’ll use the book 1 pieces to do this so he develops more awareness to correct his own posture (I think he is now aware only if I correct him).

Thanks so much!!

Alan Duncan said: Aug 14, 2019
Suzuki Association Member
81 posts

I will tell you what we have done. I call it “evidence-based review.”

Here’s my take on review: if the memory is secure and the techniques that the piece embodies are as developed as you’d expect for the child’s level of progress, why mindlessly review?

The “evidence-based review” process relies on auditioning every piece they’ve learned and assigning it a score, say “A”, “B”, “C”, where “A” is recital level quality, etc. Having scored each piece, assign a repetition frequency to groups “A,B, C” based on how much time you have available. Early book 1 “A” pieces might be every 4 weeks. B pieces more frequently, and so forth.

Also, if you are actively listening to the repertoire every day, memory will not be the biggest concern. In my opinion, it is a mistake to play through every review piece from start to finish every time. What seems to happen is that the easy parts stay easy and the hard parts stay hard. In review, focus on the hard parts and the parts that exemplify the technique the teacher is trying to convey through that piece. It may just be a measure or two, or a phrase, or a section. Ivan Galamian wrote that: “By practicing as a routine things that do not need any more practice , one is wasting time.”

Now if the memory is not secure, then my recommendation is to ramp up the listening and return to playing through the pieces in question from start-to-finish.

Claire Devries said: Aug 26, 2019
 34 posts

Alan, thank you so much! I love this meta-analysis-style grading of “evidence-based” review! And it does makes sense. Our teacher often assigned a section of each piece that is the hardest and thus need frequent brush up, maybe I’ll just do those and also start grading each songs. Also, I agree.. often memory is not part of the issue, at least for my son. Thank you again, this review method makes sense to me!

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