Help supporting little ones with harder songs

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said: Aug 12, 2008
 2 posts

My son is moving into the longer songs in book 1 (cello). He is starting Allegretto, and the songs definitely get much longer after that.

I’d love some hints about helping him learn them without getting mixed up, as it’s a lot to remember. One teacher at our institute suggested making up words to the songs, which is great. Any other ideas?


mommy to my loving, 5yo cellist!

Laura said: Aug 13, 2008
Suzuki Association Member
358 posts

I am sure there are many opinions regarding putting words to the music. For myself, I believe that as the pieces get longer and more complicated, it’s a bad idea to rely on words. Here are my reasons:

  1. It’s harder to find words to fit as the pieces get more complicated.

  2. As the student progresses, it’s more important that he get further away from external cues and “crutches”, and adopt the language of the music more directly in his mind. Or to put it another way, if he were learning, say, Spanish: you’d hope that he can eventually “think in Spanish”, as opposed to translating himself all the time from English to Spanish in his mind before speaking. Using words for the first few folk songs in Suzuki Book 1 may really help put the music into a context that the beginner’s mind can grasp. But ultimately, you want to be moving away from this sort of assistance, instead of adding on more of it. (It’s just like how you will eventually lose the fingering tapes, rather than fill up the whole fingerboard full of them once you start learning shifting.)

If you’re worried about him getting lost, here are some suggestions:

  1. Listening to the Suzuki recording. Lots. And then some. This will help him absorb very intuitively how the pieces go.

  2. Assigning names and labels to sections of the piece, to help familiarize him with the structure and layout of the piece. Note that this isn’t the same as assigning words to match the melody (which I do not support). What I’m talking about is similar to how some teachers introduce Twinkle Variations or Allegro with the idea of a “sandwich” structure: bread, filling, and bread.

Meg said: Aug 14, 2008
Meg Lanfear
Suzuki Association Member
Oak Park, IL
36 posts

Well said. I agree with Purple Tulips. As Dr. Suzuki has been known to say, “Listen, Listen, Listen.” :D

said: Aug 14, 2008
 2 posts

Thanks so much, folks. We’ve been listening and singing tons, so I think that will serve us well. I guess I’ll just trust the process and know it will happen.

I also did find, at least with Allegretto, that when I really studied the song I found that the first part is repeated two other times, so there are really only two distinct parts to learn. Figuring that out cuts down on how “big” the song can seem, at least for me.

mommy to my loving, 5yo cellist!

Deirdre Motherway said: Nov 12, 2013
 Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
5 posts

My little boy is 5 and we’re just moving on to Happy Farmer. I find words really helpful when learning the longer songs. Once he has the tune/bowing/phrasing clear in his head, he relies less on the words.
He also finds it a lot of fun to make up crazy words, crucial when teaching any child.

Phankao said: Nov 17, 2013
 128 posts

The next piece in Suzuki Vol.1 is Gossec Gavotte—I’ve not heard of lyrics for that? ;D

We worked with lyrics for the earlier suzuki vol.1 songs (I think before Minuets), but as the songs became longer, we worked by Splitting up the piece to parts. Eg, I think for Gossec Gavotte, we worked only on the 1st line first, then after that followed by the rest of what we called Part A, then later Part B. I think Gossec Gavotte ended up having Parts A,B,C,D for us. And Part A had Part A1 & A2, so I would tell my son which parts to repeat to. My boy just turned 5yo and we just finished doing Becker Gavotte in Vol.3

Sue Hunt said: Nov 18, 2013
Sue HuntViola, Violin
403 posts

I think the best way to learn Gossec is to learn the sections as separate pieces, starting with the last section. This way, a performance doesn’t tail off, but gets better as it becomes more difficult.

I wouldn’t rely on words to learn it, but, just for fun, here are some lyrics from England. You need to repeat verses 1, 3, 4 & 5:

Percy was a penguin at the London Zoo
Very fond of eating and he grew and grew.
Every night for supper he ate loads of stew.
This may seem strange but it’s all quite true.

While the other penguins, they adored fresh fish,
Percy shook his flippers when he saw his dish.
Spoonfuls from the stew pot were his dearest wish
And as Percy swallowed them his tail went swish!

One day Percy met his heart’s desire.
Sweet and charming, she was so disarming, not a bit alarming.
Pru was entrancing, loved ballroom dancing.
Poor old Percy got really, awfully hot.

Pru said to Percy kindly, “Perce you’re sweet.
But you’re a little heavy on your feet.”
This started him on slimming,
Fish, exercise and swimming.
Soon, Percy had a figure trim and neat.

Percy’s still a penguin at the London Zoo.
Very fond of dancing with his darling Pru.
Every night fish suppers and a dance or two.
This may seem strange but it’s all quite true.

Like the other penguins he adores fresh fish.
Mackerel and salmon are his favourite dish.
Keeping Prudence happy is his dearest wish.
As they waltz together see their tails go swish!

Phankao said: Nov 18, 2013
 128 posts

I don’t think I could memorise those words! haha!

The learning as sections worked for us. I guided my boy in his learning of that piece on our own bc he had a break from lessons at that time. I found listening very important. He would already have internalised the tune, so playing it on the violin wasn’t so difficult. It was playing it well that we had to work on.

Cathy Hargrave said: Nov 18, 2013
 Teacher Trainer
Suzuki Association Member
Rowlett, TX
51 posts

Words to songs and even letting students make up words to songs is fun, entertaining and sometimes helpful, but if students are having to rely on memorizing words in order to remember pieces, they probably aren’t hearing the recording nearly enough. I would suggest checking how much time each day the students are passively hearing the recordings. Like language, the more you hear it, the easier and more naturally you learn it. People will often say there isn’t enough time to hear the recordings hours and hours each day. However, there are plenty of hours because the listening is passive listening while doing other activities-including while asleep. If volume is soft, it doesn’t disturb their sleep. Other reasons may be not enough repetition of small sections, skill set from previous pieces not secure yet so newer pieces are too hard, or inconsistent practice. I would be willing to bet that if the recording is played as passive, quiet, background music at least 4 hours a day, memory problems would be practically non-existent.

Sue Hunt said: Nov 19, 2013
Sue HuntViola, Violin
403 posts

Cathy has hit the nail on the head. Lyrics are only sometimes useful. Listening is the magic ingredient that really teaches us to speak a language. All you need to do is to set the volume low and to press the “On” button.

Heather Reichgott said: Nov 19, 2013
Heather ReichgottPiano
South Hadley, MA
102 posts

Lyrics are useful for me at first with young students who have trouble grasping rhythms or order of sections on their first few pieces. But once they can understand that a piece has sections that go in a certain order, we phase out the use of lyrics. I agree that they can get in the way of musical memory… and I’ve seen some sets of lyrics for Suzuki piano pieces that have the accents on the wrong syllables, or break the phrases in places that don’t match the musical phrases.

Michelle Duersch said: Feb 27, 2016
 1 posts

My son, 6, always wants lyrics with each cello song. We are almost done with Suzuki Book 1. I could not find any songs (or ones that I thought worked well) for Rigadoon or Minuet in C, so I made up lyrics myself. Here they are!

Rigadoon (Cello, Suzuki book 1)
Marching 1-2-3, we’re marching with the ar-my,
Marching 1-2-3, we’re marching through the trees.
Hurry up, hurry up, here they come
the bad guy team;
Hurry up, hurry up, here they come
they’re rea-lly mean.
Battle is on, get your guns,
battle is coming quick-ly,
Battle is on, and they run, the scard-y team.
Marching 1-2-3, we’re marching with the ar-my,
Marching 1-2-3, we’re marching through the trees.

My son loved army at the time, so this kid-friendly non-violent version did the trick. Sorry to use the word “scardy” as in “scardy cat”, but it gets frequent use in our house. ;)

Minuet in C (Bach, song 16 in Cello Suzuki Book 1)
Time to go di-ving for pearls, we will be rich as soon as we’re through.
One-two-three jump off the boat and in-to the water blue. (repeat)

Kick your fins, look, there’s a fish, so ma-ny co-lors to see;
I found a clam shell over here I think there’s a pearl.

Yes, there’s a pearl right inside, I will swim quickly with the tide;
Can’t wait to get my pearl home,
Swimming through the water blue. (repeat)

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