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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Help Support the Teach Suzuki Blog & Podcast!

Are you a regular reader of the Teach Suzuki blog?

Do you listen to the Teach Suzuki Podcast on iTunes or Google?

Do you want to support the blog and the podcast?

You can! It's actually pretty easy to do.

I'm Paula Bird, and I write the blog articles and produce and record the podcast. I am a Suzuki teacher in Central Texas, and I am a HUGE fan of the Suzuki Method and philosophy (as if you couldn't tell already).

I am writing an appeal today to you to see if you are willing to offer your support. I spend many hours each week reading, researching, writing, and producing articles for the blog and podcast. I spend even more time contemplating possible photos and resources to suggest for my readers and listeners to find further information. This all takes a great amount of time.

If you've noticed, I've been a bit absent this past month. I was participating in the National Novel Writing Month, which I try to do each year. I have reached my 50,000 words at this point, but I had to sacrifice my blog article posting schedule in order to make the time to participate.

As this holiday season approaches, it would help me if you would consider visiting my resources store and purchasing any Suzuki teaching or music or studio related items through the links on my site or in the resource store. I do not receive a large benefit, but I do receive something, and everything adds up. There is no additional cost to you, and of course you are under no obligation to purchase anything.

Visit my Teaching Resources store over to the right of the blog, or click here.

I truly appreciate your support, and I enjoy hearing from you directly. Please feel free to contact me!

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2016 by Paula E. Bird

Saturday, November 26, 2016

10 Rules for Success for Suzuki Parents

Everyone likes to follow a prescription for success. The message is so promising: follow this 10-step plan and success will be yours.

In truth, there are simple steps that Suzuki parents can follow that will lead to successful practices in the Suzuki home. Here is a list of my ten favorite rules for success:

Arm in Cast Bow Practice
Practice Every Day! Teachers like to quote Dr. Suzuki: "You don't have to practice every day, only on the days that you eat." This advice takes care of the issue of illness. Even if students have an injury, they can still practice with some accommodation. Practicing every day keeps the memory alive, the muscles warm, and the motivation inspired. I have a student at the university who has practiced every day since she was five years old, even when she was in the hospital.

Listen Every Day! This rule seems so simple to me that I am surprised to discover a parent who forgets to do it. The magic of daily listening is incredible. Learning seems effortless. What parent does not want that?

Attend Lessons. When students and parents attend lessons regularly, there is little opportunity to pick up bad habits or overlook incorrectly learned material. Go to lessons, even if you or your child may not be feeling 100%. If you must miss a lesson, send a video recording of the child playing through the lesson material. I have counseled many students in this manner when we were unable to see each other in person due to illness. I could identify immediately any incorrect habits or other practice issues before the student had gone too far down the learning path.

Attend Group Classes. Children love to learn with other children. When parents complain to me that they are having a hard time at home trying to motivate their children to practice, I ask whether the parents and students come to group class. Group classes are fun and great motivators for home practice. The smart parent will use group classes as a way to encourage, inspire, and motivate the student to practice at home. Group classes are also a great way for teachers to address one point to a large group all at once. If parents miss group classes, parents may miss out on important announcements or that terrific, fun activity that can only happen in a group setting.

Take Notes at Lessons. Parents can mold home practices much easier if they have information available to them from the lesson. The best way to do this is for the parents to take notes at the lesson. If the teacher has to do this, then the teacher is taking up teaching time to do it. Also, the teacher may be rushed for time or unable to remember all that occurred during the lesson, so the teacher may not be as thorough at noting what needs to be practiced based on what occurred at the lesson as the parent would be. Taking notes is as simple as just writing a narrative of what occurred at the lesson. Write these notes as bullet points. Parents will be surprised to discover how much information will be revealed through the simple act of taking notes at lessons.

Take Notes at Institutes, Workshops, and Group Classes. Yes, you can take notes in other settings besides lessons, and parents will gather much useful information. Why wait until your child has a sagging left hand or crooked bow, when you can see that useful information in another child's lesson or in a group class? Start a parent notebook today. You will treasure this notebook later as a collection of memories of your child's Suzuki journey.

Learn About the Suzuki Method. Read one of Dr. Suzuki's books:


(These are affiliate links, which mean that they are no additional cost to you, but if you use these links, then I will receive a small benefit for the work of writing the blog. You are never under any obligation to purchase anything, but if you do, please consider using these links or the links provided in my resources store.)

I think we all should educate ourselves as much as we can about the Suzuki Method and Dr. Suzuki's work concerning talent education so that we can share his message with confidence and knowledge. We are ambassadors to the world about this fabulous journey.

Mentor A New Parent. If you are a seasoned parent in the Suzuki world, pass on that knowledge to another parent who may be new to the studio or the Suzuki method. When we teach, we learn twice, as my blog states at the top of the page. Share your knowledge with another parent. Be a mentor for someone and accept the advice and assistance of a parent who has blazed the trail before you.

Practice With Your Child. I am dismayed to witness the large number of parents who seem almost eager to pass up the opportunity to spend time with their children in lessons, group classes, and practices. Rather than sit close and observe what the child learns, these parents drift away to another room and a different activity. Even if the child has matured enough to practice independently, the parent can still maintain a close connection with the work the child does in practices. Listen to the child play, involve the student in conversations about the learning and the practice work, and most of all, stay connected. Show interest. Be interested. Children grow up too fast. Capture as many moments and memories of this time as you can today before this time passes by. Put your phone away and watch your child amaze you.

Make the Suzuki Journey a Part of Your Entire Life. Suzuki music lessons are not something to be turned on and off once a day during practices or once a week at lessons and group classes. The Suzuki method is a philosophy for life and learning. Look for ways to use the knowledge of Dr. Suzuki in other aspects of your life, such as structuring a home environment of chores, service, learning, and cooperation as a family with others in the work place, at school, or in the community. Spread the word about the wealth and beauty of the method through your actions as a parent and family within your larger world and community.

I guarantee that if Suzuki parents were to follow these 10 basic rules for success, their children would have smiling faces and happy practices!

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2016 by Paula E. Bird

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

ISTEX 8th Annual Conference in Remscheid, Germany!

Remscheid, Germany, ISTEX
A Walk Through the Woods
What do foot charts, floating feathers, Kreutzer etudes, the Bell Tone Song, and the Hot Canary have to do with each other? Normally, not much, but in Remscheid, Germany the last weekend of October 2016, quite a lot!

The 8th Annual Conference of the International Suzuki Teacher Exchange met in Remscheid, Germany. Participants from 14 countries joined together for a memorable weekend of information, entertainment, and teacher training. There were 130 teachers who took the introductory course.
violin bow demonstration
Kerstin Wartburg

130 teachers from 14 countries traveled to Remscheid to stay in a small retreat center. We ate meals in a small dining area that encouraged pockets of conversation. Whether we spoke German or English or a combination of both, there were opportunities to sit down and share thoughts. I made it a practice to sit down with anyone sitting alone. "Deutsch oder Englisch?" I would ask, and depending on the answer, we would continue our conversation -- at times stilted and halting. If all else failed, I would pull out the pictures on my phone and share a laugh or two about my silly animals at home (Dachshunds and donkeys).
ISTEX Germany conference
Remscheid Beauty

One particularly amusing exchange occurred when I explained to a German teacher that I had 9 very lovely dogs, but one of them was very, um, I could not remember the German word for "stubborn" (stur?), and the lady helped me out: "Dummkopf!" (fool!). Well, OK, that worked too, and we shared a good laugh. The conversation went on to other questions about student problems, and we shared many photos and advice. I treasure that memory!

It was not only that we shared ideas, we shared the important knowledge that we all believed in a common mission and philosophy, begun so many years ago by Dr. Suzuki. This common goal was perhaps the most important part of my trip. When times are difficult in my teaching studio -- as things have been recently during the troublesome election cycle in the US -- I cling to the hope that the Suzuki philosophy offers and I go to bed at night with the calm assurance that the world will indeed be a better place because so many of us teachers believe in the same overall mission: that we are helping to create good citizens for tomorrow, shaping a better future by nurturing families and students, and providing a sense of belonging to a movement that is so much more than one individual can create.
Unique Mushroom Beauty

This is the beautiful knowledge and assurance that I came away with from the conference, that the work we do as teachers does matter, is important, and will have a lasting impact of the highest kind on the rest of the world. Perhaps it will be one student or one child at a time, but that impact will spread out in ripples to touch many others -- families, classrooms, other teachers, communities, and the rest of the world eventually.

Just think! Teachers from 14 countries shared this time together! How wonderful this is!

I gave two presentations during the conference along with so many other wonderful presentations, classes, workshops, and performances. I learned something from every presentation I attended. I thoroughly enjoyed the recital that Brian Lewis gave. As always, his performances are exemplary and exciting! We were treated to a special encore as well.

I made expanded podcast episodes of the two presentation topics I gave, and if you are interested in listening to those episodes, here are the links:

Episode 032 Common Student Problems

Episode 033 How Big is Your Why

I also recorded an expanded discussion about my Remscheid conference experience, and that episode will air on Sunday, November 20, 2016. You can catch up on the podcast episodes at

I want to publicly thank Kerstin Wartberg, David Andruss, Brian Lewis, Heidi Curatolo, and Charles Krigbaum, and all the fantastic teachers and workshop presenters for all that they did to make this conference so informative, friendly, and memorable. The event was well organized and a wonderful experience.

The 9th International Suzuki Teachers Exchange Conference will take place on October 27-30, 2017. Consider being a part of this inspirational event!

Knowledge is Not Skill
Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Smashing Tomatoes (Teaching Tip)

Smashing tomatoes? No we are not going to talk about a crazy rock band, a newfangled way of making tomato sauce, or a technique to dice tomatoes. I share with you a teaching tip that I gleaned from one of my favorite conductors many years ago.

Craig Hella Johnson, the music director of the Conspirare choir, once related an image to the orchestra. Imagine a line of tomatoes, evenly spaced apart, that stretches before you. Now imagine that you are on a pogo stick, and your mission is to land smack dab in the center of each tomato in the line. Off you go.

For me, this tomato and pogo stick image is one of the best ways to describe "vertical" playing. What I mean by vertical playing is that the musician places every single note "vertically" on a music score. In other words, each note is set exactly dead center of the beat or beat subdivision. Of course we can create this same sensation through the use of a metronome set to beat subdivisions, but many young students lack the ability to use the metronome in this manner effectively.

The pogo stick and tomato image works very well for these types of students. I ask them what would happen if they did not hit the tomatoes dead center, and I get such responses as, "I would squirt tomato juice all over myself," or "I would make a mess!"  Yes, exactly so. And then when I ask the students to play the particular passage in question again as if they were on a pogo stick smacking the tomatoes dead center, I hear an entirely different result from my students. I hear very exact rhythmic placement.

I think of this vertical playing as a default position, which means that I strive for this sort of rhythmic precision and perfection in everything that I learn to play. However, I understand that there will be times when I or a conductor wish the illusion to be that I am playing more horizontally, in that I may be leaning forward in my tempo and rhythmic playing and weighting things perhaps a little differently rhythmically to create that horizontal illusion.

However, I find that most students seem to have this innate ability already, and the vertical precision is what is more difficult.

Next time your students play with a little less precision then you wish, give the smashing tomatoes image a try.

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2016 by Paula E. Bird

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Martini's Rainbow

Recently one of my early book 3 students told me of her clever way to remember all the parts of Martini's Gavotte. My student Kori uses a rainbow to remember the music sections in between the main "A" theme. I wanted to share this idea with you.
  • "A" theme
  • Red: B theme
  • "A" theme
  • Orange: C theme
  • "A" theme
  • Yellow: D theme
  • "A" theme
  • Green (orange): E theme; my student has a streak of Orange running through the green swath to remind her of the similarities between the green and orange themes
  • "A" theme
  • Blue: F theme
  • "A" theme
Here is a picture of Kori's rainbow rendition. The clouds represent the "A" theme.

Kori's Martini Gavotte Rainbow
Remembering the parts of Martini's Gavotte can be tricky for many students. I hope that Kori's rainbow idea will help other students to conquer this repertoire piece.

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2016 by Paula E. Bird

Friday, September 23, 2016

Hidden Scales

Scales are an important part of a musician's diet. We need to do them every day, and we never quite perfect them. When we are familiar with scales and their finger patterns, we read music easier, we perform musical passages more adroitly, and we can memorize structure easier.

I have long puzzled over why students struggle with certain passages in the Bach's book 1 Minuets, or even other pieces in the repertoire, such as Bach's Bourree or Martini's Gavotte in Book 3 or Vivaldi's Concerto in A Minor in book 4. Then one day it hit me that students struggled with learning and memorization in these pieces because they tripped over the hidden scales.

Let me take a classic example in Bach's Bourrée from book 3, the last song in the book. In measures 5 and 6, students take a while to figure out the notes here until I dissect them. Here is the passage:

hidden scales Bach's Bourree
Bach's Bourrée (Violin Book 3)

 Here is what I teach them. First, I show them how to play these two notes:

Bourrée 2-note snippet

This is not difficult for the students at this point, because we encountered and worked over this spot in the grace notes of Gossec's Gavotte at the end of book 1. We play this little passage of two-note combinations a few times until the student is "easy" with it.

Then I ask the students to play these two notes (during the rests) while I play these other notes in between:
Bourrée's Hidden Scale
When we do the two parts together, we get the original passage. My next step is to teach the student to play the hidden scale passage that I played, and we then switch parts.

After the student is able to play this last step, then the student seems to have no problems putting both snippets together and playing the passage as written. This same hidden scale passage appears later on the A and D strings as well.

There are many instances of hidden scales throughout the Suzuki repertoire, and if the teacher and student were to spend a few moments studying it, these passages would be easier to remember and memorize. Here are a few more examples.

Vivaldi Concerto in A Minor, Movement I (Violin Book 4)

In Vivaldi's Concerto in A Minor, first movement, there is a great example of a hidden scale on the second page:

Vivaldi Concerto in A Minor (Violin Book 4)

When we dissect this passage to find the hidden scale, we find this:

Vivaldi Concerto's Hidden Scale

There are many more hidden scale examples in this concerto, and finding all of them may help a student lock in the notes in the student's memory.

Martini Gavotte (Violin Book 3)

In Martini's Gavotte in the beginning of violin book 3, we find this passage right before the last recapitulation of the theme:

Martini Gavotte (Violin Book 3)

When we dissect this passage to find the hidden scales, we find all of these scales:

1st scale

2nd scale

3rd scale
4th scale
Here is the entire hidden scale passage:

Martini's Hidden Scales

There are many such scale passages throughout the repertoire, and these hidden scales make a great quest for students to find throughout the music. This assignment could also be the subject of specific review requests ("find the hidden scales in this review song").

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2016 by Paula E. Bird

Monday, September 12, 2016

G Major Twinkle Workout

Give Your Students a Pinkie, Vibrato, and 3rd Position Challenge!

Most teachers and Suzuki students are quite familiar with the theme of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star." Suzuki Teachers are even familiar with teaching the Twinkle theme in the key of Bb to prepare students for the Bb scale and finger pattern in violin book 2.

I also regularly use Twinkle Theme in the last third of violin book 1 during Etude and the Minuets. When I teach students how to play the theme in G major, students improve the necessary skills found in the last songs of book 1.

I teach my students the two-octave G major scale and the new close 1-2 finger pattern on the A and E strings to prepare for learning how to play Etude. As the students progress on this scale, I add the pinkie fingering on the scale's descent. 

When the student is comfortable with this new finger pattern and the long G major scale (one of my students calls this the "super duper G scale"), I introduce a new way to play Twinkle theme. Because this is "new," I find that it is easier to get students to play Twinkle again if they have slacked off on their review program.

Twinkle in G major 1st position
Twinkle Theme in G Major

The students get a little extra practice with the new G major finger pattern, and the pinkie and third finger combination gets a little extra attention as well, which helps the part of the first Minuet that has the difficult stretch from third finger to the pinkie that spans across from the D string to the A string, as shown below.

third finger to pinkie stretch across from D to A string
Minuet 1 Pinkie Stretch
In book 2, I introduce students to third position. I usually do this when students are working on their vibrato skill. As students are able to play notes with vibrato, we translate the vibrato exercises into the Suzuki repertoire. At first, the students add vibrato on longer third finger notes, such as the dotted half notes at the ends of the Minuets' phrases. Then we add vibrato to the long third finger notes in Chorus from Judas Maccabeus and at the end of Musette. Later we will be able to add vibrato to Long, Long Ago from book 2.

Somewhere during all of this, I might have introduced third position with a G major scale:

1 octave G scale in 3rd position on D and A strings
G Major Scale in 3rd Position
Now students can practice vibrato on this scale. The next step might be to introduce Twinkle Theme in third position, using the same Twinkle in G major that we had learned at the end of book 1 and now playing it in third position.

I have found that a new Twinkle helps me to stay focused as well as my students. G major adds an element of fun to our review.

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2016 by Paula E. Bird