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Saturday, November 14, 2015

Yea for C natural! Tips for teaching C to beginning strings

Last week, I taught my beginners how to play C natural.  This is one of my favorite skills to teach because it is so fun!  After demonstrating where  and how to play the note, we play our first tune using C natural.  I tell the class that something terrible has happened to Mary's little lamb.  It was trying to cross the road and it got hit by a car.  Mary feels terribly sad, so we have to change her song.  We play 'Mary Had A Little Lamb' with the notes C natural, B, and A.  Students are amazed at how the song is transformed by only changing one note.  We then try some other easy rote tunes and make them sound sad.  My students like to call out tunes to see if I can play them 'sad' by using naturals.

The next day, students need to drill the new note, but also review C# to make sure it stays where it needs to go.  There are so many intonation issues that can be fixed if students can develop solid finger placement from naturals to sharps.  Stories work well to demonstrate this point.  One time, I needed to head to the grocery store and my 2 youngest children wanted to come.  Because I was in a hurry, I told them they couldn't come.  As I drove away,  noticed my children weeping and wailing at the end of my driveway because they wanted to come so badly.  I tell students that they must be firm with C# and even D.  Sometimes, when we play a C natural, the C# and D notes want to come down, too...but you can't let them!

I don't know if you've ever heard of a 'Yea/Boo story,' but my dad used to tell these stories when I was little and I thought they were great fun.  This is a story that requires audience participation as the plot unfolds.  The story teller develops a story one line at a time.  After each line, the audience says, "Yea!" if the story is happy, and "Boo!" if anything bad happens.  This is how I drilled A, B, C sharp, and A, B, C natural with my students.  I told a story - and if my story was happy - students played A, B, C#.  They played A, B, C natural when anything bad happened in the story.   Here's an example:

     "Guess what!?  I get to take my high school orchestra to Disneyland!"
    Class is happy and plays A, B, C sharp.

     "And we get to ride on a fancy bus with built in TV's!"

     Class plays A, B, C sharp.

     "But the bus gets a flat tire and we have to stop."

     Class plays A, B, C natural

     "And we get stuck in the middle of nowhere!"

    Class plays A, B, C natural

Etc. etc.  --

I just made this up as I went.  I ended up telling my students about a tour experience they could have at a Disney studio once they reach High School.  After the story, many students said, "Wow!  I'm staying in orchestra for sure!"  What a great little retention strategy - and we drilled our new note.

At this stage, students really enjoy trying to play double stops.  Another fun drill is to have them play the A string notes with open D - fiddle style.

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