Advice for beginning of book 2—piano repertoire

said: May 19, 2011
 63 posts

The first three pieces in the Suzuki repertoire—piano—have ALWAYS been problematic for all of my students. By the end of book 1, with 22 pieces of folk music, my students have gotten used to learning pieces within a certain timeframe—often a month per new piece, at the most. They they hit book two and POW! Three times as long to learn each new piece—and for the first three pieces in the book!!

Remind me again why it’s this way? Fantastic students have been on the verge of tears during this phase and feel completely incompetent. The sudden change in timeframe for learning pieces always hits them with a feeling of incompetence and hurts to the core—I’ve even had parents in tears!

Does anyone else go through this in their studio? And has it been considered when rearranging the books? It’s all I can do to keep any student from quitting before they get to Minuet 2!!

Laura said: May 19, 2011
Suzuki Association Member
358 posts

You are correct—Book 1 doesn’t transition easily into Book 2, nor Book 2 into Book 3 for that matter. The main difference between Books 1 and 2, in my opinion, are in the complexity of what is required of the hands and fingers—nothing stays in that safe five-finger pattern or consistent chordal accompaniment anymore. The main difference between Books 2 and 3 are not in technical skills, but in “stringing it all together” into longer, larger-structured pieces.

In both transitions, we are dealing with longer pieces. I have managed it in a variety of ways, some more successful than others. Currently, this seems to be what is working the best between Book 1 and 2 such that I haven’t tweaked it in quite some time:

Starting from mid-Book 1 (Little Playmates onwards, when out of the unison and easy Alberti-bass pieces), I really prioritize good learning and practice habits in a way that both parent and student can understand. I enforce a very step-by-step approach involving previewing new concepts, dividing pieces up into logical segments (to be learned and put together sequentially), and enforcing complete mastery of one step (including pushing the envelope on fluency, playing speed, etc.) before moving onto the next. Ideally, this would have been introduced to the parent right from Twinkles, but from Little Playmates onwards, I start presenting it in a language that the student understands.
When doing review of well-known Book 1 pieces, I start referencing them in terms of their sections, so that the student realizes that pieces are made of parts, each of which can be learned and played as stand-alone units. Sometimes I even teach the sections out of order for no reason at all other than to reinforce this concept.

If parent, child, or both of them struggle with doing Book 1 this way, then I explain that Book 2 will be very difficult unless they become accustomed to this type of practice approach. I give lots of fair warning—they have the second half of Book 1, plus preparation for the full Book 1 recital, to adjust their practice habits. Between the middle and
end of Book 1, I start introducing formal technical exercises (scales, triads, arpeggios), and note reading.

With all of this going on before they start Book 2, Ecossaise usually isn’t too intimidating once I explain that while it may sound more complicated, it’s really only a few new things that the fingers need to learn. It is essentially only two sentences of new music, with everything else being repeats. For each sentence there is a specific shopping list of steps for right hand, left hand, and hands together, to be accomplished in the proper order. Usually when students follow this approach and practice properly, they take somewhere between 2-6 weeks to learn it to fluency at a slower speed, and then we work on increasing to performance speed when this piece has been moved to review status.

A Short Story is essntially only three sections, and it is a perfect opportunity to present it as a real story with three chapters. I always teach the second chapter first, because it is the most complicated, and learning the remaining two make it seem easier to finish up.

Happy Farmer, being rather segmented and repetitive, is like a more complicated version of Ecossaise: lots of new technical challenges, but really quite a simple piece of music overall. With the right preview/presentation of the piece plus following the step-by-step approach to learning it, I find that this piece is the true “test” of how well the student/parent home practice team is working. If all is well at this point, I find that the rest of Book 2 goes by quite smoothly.

In summary, I believe that the key is to enforce the skill of proper practicing early enough in Book 1. Students who are accustomed to this line of thinking don’t, in my experience, have too rough a time starting off Book 2, given the right encouragement each week during lessons. Those who struggle with estalishing a logical, systematic approach to practice are the ones to tend to get more overwhelmed and can take as long as 6 months per piece. Sadly, these are the situations that are often out of our hands as teachers (you can lead a horse to water, but…)

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