Playing duets with beginning students


Connie Sunday said: Mar 5, 2010
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

Do other teachers feel that there’s usually not enough time, even in an hour lesson, to do all the things they think would help the student? It’s particularly difficult if an adult student only wants a 1/2 hour lesson; they really need an hour, but some of them don’t have the budget. I also wish I could enforce a mandatory one hour group lesson a week, but I have had very poor luck doing that (which of course reveals that I’m not adhering to Suzuki practice, though I have in the past: currently, the largest percentage of my students are advanced or adults).

How much time do you spend playing duets with your students, and what is some of the literature you use for that? I have the duets (and quartets) that go with the Suzuki books.


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Barb said: Mar 5, 2010
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
678 posts

Yes! My first year teaching I suggested 30 minute lessons for all as all were beginners, but found that my adult student’s lesson especially usually went over. In contrast, with two of my young boys I could tell when we had gone 20 minutes—that was about their limit.

This year I have more adult beginner students and when I offered 30, 45 or 60 minute lessons they all chose 45 minute lessons, which still tend to go overtime and I can’t get to everything! (I scheduled some down time between lessons since I don’t have a waiting area where they can unpack their cellos and tune up during the previous lesson.) I also suggested a younger girl take 45 minute lessons because she had the attention span and I felt it would be beneficial. The boys for whom 30 minutes was almost too long last year are now 7 and 8 and sometimes I have to leave them wanting more after 30 minutes—which is not always a bad thing!

I don’t think I will offer a 30 minute lesson for adults or teens in the future. My rates are pretty low, anyway, since I’m not formally trained as a teacher yet.

On the duets… I mostly use the Suzuki cello ensembles materials, and there are duets in the Cello Time series (OUP—they also have a Fiddle Time series—but it’s not fiddle music per se). I found some duets on line for absolute beginners where the student only plays open strings: A couple free things here: And one of my students with previous musical background even arranged a duet for us to play last year.

I think it is important for students to learn to play in ensemble and with accompaniment, as well as enjoyable, so we duet quite a bit once their piece has a good start, since I don’t play the piano. The down side is that I can’t concentrate as well on watching what they are doing as I don’t have all the harmony parts memorized, and their tone isn’t as exposed. So I make sure to have them play alone as well. I played harmony along with one little fellow on Twinkle for the first time not long ago—it’s so rewarding to see their faces light up!

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Ruth Brons said: Mar 7, 2010
Ruth Brons
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Livingston, NJ
148 posts

Time management is indeed a really an important issue.
A technique I use to manage time in EACH LESSON is a practice record book I provide to each student at the beginning of the year. While the student is unpacking I can flip the book open to see in an instant what I asked to have practiced, and what the student actually practiced. I can also see if I marked a practice item with a star, which tells me that I didn’t get to that item at the last lesson and I should hear it first, or near first, this week. This way I can get to just about everything that was assigned over every two weeks.

It is hard to cover all desired curriculum areas within each lesson. But it becomes easier if you also recognize there can be various periods within the SCHOOL YEAR, where the lesson emphasis can change slightly. Of course there are the pre-solo recital lessons which may devote more time to piece polishing; there are the pre-audition lessons which may devote more time to scales; the beginning of each semester where we might need to spend more time on orchestra/ensemble music; and in my studio we have the pre-ASTA CAP exam lessons which focus heavily on basic techniques and memory. I have come to look for the other times of the year as opportunities to race through new repertoire, to sight-read, to read duets, to indulge in student-selected music.

Even so, I know I still need to work to find some time during the year to touch on theory and improvisation more than I do!

Ruth Brons
Inventor of Bow Hold Buddies[tm] and
CelloPhant[tm] Instant Bow Hold bow accessories

Martha said: Mar 7, 2010
Martha Brons
Suzuki Association Member
12 posts

Yes, I keep a duet sequence going from very early days of my cello students. I spend a few minutes of each lesson, probably no more than 5 minutes, on this material. I use the First Duos for Violoncello, De’ak, Elkan-Vogel with students as young as 4 in Book 1. This is usually finished when they are in Book 3. The first half of the book is open strings, so the main problem for the student is counting.
There will be a cello ensemble session at the Minneapolis confernce in May, which includes duets.
Martha Brons
Inventer of the CelloPhant [tm] bow accessory

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