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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Influences of my Suzuki Method training in my Orchestra Classroom

One of the best things I have done to improve my teaching was to complete teacher training in the Suzuki method.  I love the Suzuki pedagogy and was able to teach private students for 7 years before returning to teach orchestra in the public schools.  Every time I attend a workshop or conference, I can see many elements of Suzuki method in the presentations that are offered by excellent teachers.  I often think, why wasn't study of the Suzuki method part of my study at college?  I feel it is so helpful when teaching beginners and I wish I would have learned it sooner!

Here are a few elements I have taken from the Suzuki method that work well in a classroom:


When Suzuki students are learning their instruments, they are constantly given small little exercises that help prepare them for what they will soon be learning.  I call these little exercises 'previews.'  Previews could be a new rhythm coming up in a piece, a new finger pattern, a tricky bowing...anything that is new.  Suzuki students practice new concepts like this...away from the music so that they can focus on the skill.  Each skill is broken down step by step so that students learn accurately and effectively.

I do previews all the time in all of my classes and I feel it helps my students progress more rapidly.  After daily bow games, I always do a warm-up and that is where I teach the next skill that students will need.


We are just starting to learn slurs in our method book, but I really began teaching slurs 3 or 4 weeks ago through very simple exercises in my warm-up routine.  Now, the slurs in the book are quickly learned and easily understood.  These are the warm-ups I use for slurs:

a.  Bow Games - have students move the bow Down, Down then Up, Up
b. While playing scales, students use the bowing Down, Down, Up, Up
c.  Students experiement and see how many notes they can fix in one bow direction (we just repeat 2 notes over and over again...D E D E D E etc..)
d.  During warm-up, we slur from D to E while rocking our bodies with the bow direction.  On a down bow, students rock to the right..on an up bow, students rock to the left.  This gets the whole class moving and they easily get the bow direction.
e.  Slur 2 notes at a time on the D scale while rocking with the bow direction

We learned the hooked bowing today (slurs with the dots) and I told students to think of the dots as little stop signs.  They were immediately able to stop their bows for the hooked bowing.

C natural and F natural

Even though we have not learned C naturals in the method book, I have already introduced them in our warm-up.  Students have been doing well with this new note.  Here's how I introduce naturals:

a.  I tell students that something terrible has happened and that I have bad news.  I act very serious and sad and they all get very quiet.  I then tell them that Mary had a little lamb, and she was walking to school with it one day, and they lamb ran into the road and it got run over!  It's so sad. We have to play the song a new way because it's so sad.  We then play Mary Had A Little Lamb on the A string and I teach them how to make the song 'sad' by playing a low 2.

b.  We turn to the front of the method book and make songs sad.  It is very effective to learn low 2's with tunes that the students already know and can already play.  Students get a kick out of the way the naturals make the tunes sound so different.  We rename Ode to Joy to be Ode to Depression and change all the F sharps and C sharps to low 2's.

c.  Introduce key signature and how to recognize when to play F# or F natural, C# or C natural.   I don't get into all the theory quite yet.  I really  simplfy things for my beginners and tell them that the first sharp is for the D string and the sharp means to keep it 'happy' - as in F#.  The second sharp is for the A string and it means to keep the C# happy.  If there is no 2nd sharp in the key signature, they must make the A string 'sad.'  If there are no sharps, the A and D string must be made 'sad.'

d.  Write 3 different key signatures on the board - 2 sharps, 1 sharp, 0 sharps.  Students play the D scale, but change the fingering based on the key signature.  We use only the D scale because they have not learned the notes on the other strings, yet.


I print and use rhythm cards with any rhythms I need my class to master.  We work on new rhythms using rhythms cards before students see the rhythm in printed music.  It is very simple.. I hold up a card with a rhythm and the students clap and say the counting.  When doing this every day, students begin easily recognizing rhythms.


Review is a huge part of the Suzuki method.  Many Suzuki teachers expect students to play everything they know every day.  I am always reviewing in our method book after our warm-ups to reinforce previous notes and skills.

3.  LISTENING - all the time!

Students must listen to the music they are playing!  It helps them learn so must faster.  I use SmartMusic quite frequently during rehearsals as a tool to help students listen as they practice their parts.  It really helps students play better in tune and they pick up on rhythms more quickly.  Modeling and having students echo what you play is also a great tool to help students develop skills for good intonation.

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