Saturday, August 19, 2017

Practice Tips for the 1st Section of Bouree in Suzuki Book 2

       One of the beautiful aspects of Suzuki Book 2 is the greater variety of dynamics and moods in the pieces. You don't just want to play notes, you want to make music, be expressive and put passion in your playing. That's how you want to practice.

Of course, when you first start a piece of music you have to focus on the fingerings and bowings but don't just stop there.

In Bouree by George Friedrich Handel, there's a beautiful crescendo in the first section fits so well with the notes. Here are some quick tips to consider when you are working on a passage with a long crescendo:

1. More Bow.

Don't focus on the pressure of the bow, but the amount of bow.  It is easy to push the bow down harder, but that leads to squeaks and crunchy sounds. Put your attention on using more and more bow throughout that line.

2. Open Strings. 

Strip everything down in the passage so you can just focus on the the bow playing the crescendo. Play each open string in 4 bow stroke sets growing the amount of the bow every set.

Here's what I mean: play four times on an open string, stop, do it again with a little more bow, stop, again with more bow, etc. Make sense?

3. Stop Prepare. 

After playing on open strings it becomes easy to play a crescendo it's time to get back to our passage. The next step is to play the second line of the piece with stops in between every four notes, by stopping you will have time to prepare yourself to use more bow. Do this several times starting slow and gradually accelerando (speed up) until there are no more stops.

Check out my video that walks you through and demonstrates these tips here

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Monday, August 14, 2017

Two Year Olds Can Learn a Musical Instrument

I just finished with my two year old son our 5 minute violin lesson playing Twinkle rhythms together.  This was the longest lesson we had together and it was very rewarding.

Many parents wonder when to start music lessons with their children. They think, "When are they ready? When are they old enough? What do I have to know? What is required of as a parent?"

These are good questions to ask yourself as a parent as you think about music lessons for your children.

Here are some points to help you determine if your child is old enough and ready for lessons:


This is an obvious question but you need to answer it for yourself and your child so that you can find the right kind of lessons.

Fun and Exploration. 

For example, you may want to just do music for fun and exploration. You can fulfill this without private lessons. You can do this at home singing songs together, dancing to music, looking at books of instruments, listening to instruments online and going to free concerts. Another option is to enroll in early music education classes where they will explore music in a group setting.

This is a good way to start, because it brings the culture of music in your family.

Maybe your child is showing interest in an instrument, like the violin, and you want to fan the flame of their excitement for the instrument. You can look into Suzuki lessons with teachers that specialize in teaching the age of your child and agrees with that approach to lessons.


Other parents see music as fundamental to life, as music is everywhere, so they want their children to learn more about the beauty and importance of music. They all see the advantage that music lessons bring to other areas of life develop their fine motor skills, learn to read music, grow in patience, discipline, attention span, etc. There are teachers, like me, that approach music lessons in this way.

Are You Ready?

The "why?" of music lessons will also lead you to think how much you are willing to be involved with music lessons. Some parents think that they have to wait for their children to express interest in a musical instrument before pursuing lessons. But it is important to keep in mind that our children imitate us from infancy so they will value what we value.

So the real question is, "Are you excited about music being a part of your family's life?" When you are interested in music and share the interest with your children they will start being curious about music with you. Children tend be naturally curious, want to learn, ready to explore and are not as self-conscious as older children.

Why do you want music lessons for your children? Are you ready to make music a focus in your family?

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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Tips for Happy Farmer, Suzuki Violin Book 1

It seemed like it would take forever, like we would never finish, but finally here we are. Two more songs and you will graduate Suzuki Violin Book 1. This is a big accomplishment for those of us that have started the journey of learning the violin. 

Happy Farmer was originally written by Robert Schumann for piano in his Album for the Young (Album fur die Jugend), Op. 68. The great german composer of the 1800s cared about beginning piano students to learn some beautiful music.

Here are some tips as you tackle this piece:

Happy Famer is in the key of G Major like Etude and all three Minuets by J.S. Bach. This means that we will be using a low 2nd finger on the A and E string, and high 2nd finger on D and G string. 

You can think of the piece in 3 parts: part 1 (m.1–4), part 1 (m. 5–8), part 2 (m. 9–10), part 3 (m. 11–14), part 2 (m. 15–16), part 3 (m. 17-end). Understanding the structure will make it easier to learn and perform.

Long-Short Hook Bow. In Minuet №1, Minuet №2, and Minuet №3 we learned that hook bows are played up-up or down-down with a stop between the notes. 
This bowing is indicated by a curved line over or under two or more notes with dots above or below them. 

Now we will play hook bow with a dotted-quarter-eighth-note combination. Remember that a dotted-quarter note gets 1.5 beats and the eighth note 1/2 a beat. For younger children these number of beats is still new and they may not understand very much how it applies to playing the notes. Don’t let that bother you, the important point for them to remember is that the dotted-quarter note is longer and the eighth note shorter. Also, put a stop between the notes like the other hook bow rhythm. As the child grows so will his understanding of counting the beats.

Allegro giocoso. We have learned that Allegro means “fast”, “lively”, “happy.” Now we add giocoso which means “playful”, “humorous”, and “with energy”.


1. Play long-short hook bows on open strings with different combinations.

2. Play the A, D and G scale with long-short hook bow slowly at first, then faster and faster.

3. Play through the piece with no hook bows or slurs, just focusing on the fingering and rhythm.

4. Isolate and play only the hook bow measures slowly until it is easy to play them. 

5. Play Twinkle, Perpetual Motion, and other songs that you like with long-short hook bow. 

6. Prepare for your Book 1 Recital by playing through all the pieces at different speeds adding dynamics and good tone.

Thanks for reading! Please leave a comment and any questions that you have and subscribe for more.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

How to Practice Violin with a Healing Collarbone

     I had a mother of a young boy come to me the other day very concerned because her son had broken his left collarbone while on vacation and the doctor said that it would take months to heal. She is concerned about her son starting to play the violin while the bone heals.

It is easy to take a break from practicing an instrument but a lot harder to start back up again.  If learning music is something that you want to be a part of your education than avoid breaks.  

These kind of situations are great to build an attitude of perseverance and creativity because it is easy to just stop, take the easy way out.

So here are some tips that will help you keep practicing during the healing process:

1. Theory: flash cards are a good option to review and master the terms that a part of the pieces of music you are studying.  I recommend 2-3 minutes per practice. 

2. Sing: sing the fingerings or note names of the song. You may not think you have a good voice so it is uncomfortable to sing.  The important point to remember is that trying to sing will build intonation, rhythm, and tempo. 

Note to parents: your attitude to sing along with your child is crucial here, let them see you try to sing along with them. Your child may wait to hear you sing through the song before even attempting.

3. Sing & Clap: after singing through the song, add clapping.  Sing and clap the notes of the songs.

4. Violin with No Bow: finger the notes (play the violin without the bow) as you say the fingers or note names.  You may want to first play the violin like a guitar in rest position, pluck the strings over the fingerboard.  

6. Playing Position: go from rest position to playing position 3 times, gently placing the violin on the shoulder. You may want to get a small towel to place on the shoulder to cushion the violin along with the shoulder rest.

7. Bow Exercises: do bow exercises without the violin to work on the violin hand.  Here are some bow exercises to get you started if you do not have a list yet.

8. Bowing: play songs with just the bow, no violin, saying the fingerings or notes to improve your bow skills.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Practice Tips for The Two Grenadiers Suzuki Violin Book 2

     The Two Grenadiers by Robert Schumann. This is our second piece by Robert Schumann as we also played The Happy Farmer in Book 1. This is the first piece that is in a minor key, sounding sad, and where we use low first finger on the A and E string, it is a big step in our violin playing.

Here are some practice tips as you work through The Two Grenadiers:

The Two Grenadiers is in the key of D Minor for the first half of the piece, which means that it has 1 flat - Bb. For violinists this means we play a low 2nd finger on all the strings and low 1st finger the A and E string, except for the notes that have accidentals. The last half of the piece is in D Major which has two sharps, which we have in Musette. There is a switch to 1st finger on the tape, a regular first finger. 

This piece can be broken up in two big sections, the D minor section and D Major section.  Within those two sections we can also break the piece up in smaller chunks. 

Grenadiers. This is the word for soldier.

Più Mosso. Even more movement, which means that this part of the piece is faster than other sections.

Long-Short Hook Bows. Play a two-note hook with the first being longer and the second shorter.  You will see this with a dotted-quarter-eighth combination and a dotted-eighth-sixteenth note combination. 

1. Practice the long-short hook bow (dotted-quarter-eighth) on open strings.

2. Learn and play Finger Exercise No. 5A 7 times every you practice, to get comfortable sliding your first finger back for a low first finger.

3. Practice the D minor scale with long-short hook bow slow, medium and fast.

4. Listen to the c.d. or a YouTube video of the piece as you follow the notes. Listen to how the dynamics and bowings are performed.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Handel's Concerto Grossi

      Handel is known for his oratorios, but they were not at first that popular.  In 1739, to get the public to come to his operas, Handel started having special instrumental pieces in the intermission. This led Handel to start composing Concerti Grossi. Handel was inspired and wished to compose at the level of Corelli's Concerti Grossi and these are a part of the high point of Baroque orchestral literature.

These pieces are very exciting to listen to as Handel has the soloists going back and forth with the orchestra. You can hear great fugues, aria-like, dance, mournful, and vigorous movements keeps the joy coming as you listen.

Here is the Concerto grosso in D major, op. 6, no. 5, HWV 323 performed by Il Giardino Armonico conducted by Giovanni Antonini.

Practice Tips for Bouree in Suzuki Book 2

            Congratulations on getting half way through book 2. Here we have the second piece in the book by G.F. Handel.  This piece brings together bow technique that we have been learning since the first piece in Book 2.

Here are some practice tips as you work through Bouree and prepare for your half Book 2 recital:

Bouree is in the key of G Major, which means that it has 1 sharp - F#. For violinists it means that we play a low 2nd finger on the A and E string. Did you notice that numbers 1, 3, 4, and 5 all have one sharp in the key signature?    

This piece is comprised of three main sections, having an ABA1 form. A is line 1 and 2,  B is lines 3 and 4 and A1 starts with a pick up into line 4 going all the way to the end of the piece.

Until now we have played the Minuet, Gavotte, and Waltz. The Bouree is a lively French dance in an even time signature from the Baroque period. Below we will discuss how knowing this will impact our playing of the piece.

The Grand Detache.
One of the reasons that Bouree is the sixth piece in Book 2 is to practice what some people call the "Grand Detache." There are probably other names for this bow stroke, so do not be surprised when you encounter them. In the second line of the piece, there is a gradual crescendo from piano to about a forte. 

Listen to the great Suzuki teacher, William Starr, as he describes what we need to do: "Suzuki asks the student to lengthen the bow strokes gradually, raising the elbow as the bow moves to the frog on the up-bows" (To Learn with Love, p. 110).

So, the Grand Detache is the bow technique of playing with lots of bow quickly, in this case eighth notes (Check below for tips on how to practice this technique).

Very Soft. In Hunter's Chorus, we encountered ff (very loud) where we strived to play with as much bow as possible. Now, we have the opportunity to play pp (very soft) and crescendo up to forte. Remember that playing very quietly means to use small bow but still keeping the bow pressing into the string.

Long Crescendos
In part 1 and part 3 there is a big crescendo, giving us the opportunity to learn to use more and more bow over the course of an entire line. More specifically, pick-up to measure 21 starts with a pp then a gradual crescendo all the way to forte in measure 23. This is by far the biggest crescendo that we have worked on.

1. Practice the bow exercises with whole bow, tip and frog.

2. Practice the shifting exercises on page 29 with smooth slurs.

3. Learn and play Finger Exercise No. 5A 7 times every you practice, to get comfortable sliding your first finger back for a low first finger.

4. Listen to the c.d. or a YouTube video of the piece as you follow the notes. Listen to how the dynamics and bowing are performed.

5. Play the piece with no slurs to be consistent in the rhythm, since it is easy to rush the eighth notes.

6. For the big crescendo in part 1 and part 3 practice playing on all the open strings 4 notes 4 times. Play the first 4 notes quiet, louder the next 4 notes, and so on. Now, do the same thing for measures 5-7 and 21 - 23. Each group of four notes should get more bow so that the crescendo is clearer. You can use the same strategy for the measures with decrescendo.

7. Study what the Bouree dance was all about so that you can start understanding the style of the piece. One aspect of playing a baroque dance is to keep the song lively and not aggressive. We want people to dance to the piece.

8. You are ready for the Half Book 2 recital. Get your teacher, family and some friends together to perform for them 1-6. The more you perform the better you will be able to play the pieces.

More tips on Bouree here