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Karen Allendoerfer

More school music

September 21, 2007 at 10:57 AM

My 3rd grade daughter and her best friend went to the instrument and method-book-getting session at their school yesterday afternoon. Her friend's mother took them because I was still at work.

I asked if they could size my daughter's half-size violin to see if it still fit her or if she needed a new one. She just turned 8, and is very tall (not because of me, because of my 6'4" husband). Many people who first meet her think she is older than she is, 9 or 10. The teacher said that if her arm grows another half-inch, she will need a 3/4 size. (I didn't get a 3/4 size until I was around 10, and then got a full size when I was around 13.) So I'll probably be renting another one soon. Her friend is about 4 inches shorter than she is, and got a viola that is almost exactly the same size as her half-size violin.

They are using a book called "Essential Elements 2000 for strings." It has two DVD's that include the Smart Music software. From looking through it, I think my daughter has seen a lot of it before in Suzuki, but there's more music reading than she had with Suzuki, and there are also more exercises written out that I can help her with at home.

I always had the problem with her Suzuki lessons two years ago that I had to remember myself (and/or write down myself) her exercises, and I wasn't always able to remember them from one week to the next. And then, she was very dependent on me during the week to provide her with practicing structure, which could get hairy. I'd tell her "your teacher said to do this" and she'd argue with me and balk.

So I like the fact that this book has diagrams labeled "bow builder" with good, detailed pictures, and other exercises like "scale warm-ups". Not just pieces like "Lightly Row" (although they have lightly row). I think she won't be as likely to try to avoid or talk her way out of the warm-ups and exercises and there will be less of an opportunity for power struggles and whining around those.

It also looks like they are going to be moving her to the "real" bow hold, away from the hold she learned in Suzuki where she puts her thumb on the bottom of the frog near the ferrule (just learned that word; it's in the bow diagram in the book).

When they got home, her friend and her mother had a number of basic questions, like how to loosen and tighten the bow, and how to put on the shoulder rest. Her mother played the flute in school, but never had anything to do with a stringed instrument. I'm noticing that with a many of the parents in the school: that they seem a little intimidated by the whole process of getting started with a stringed instrument. There's such a range of experience and understanding among the parents; it helps me put the attitude of my own parents--who were even more intimidated than my daughter's friend's mother, and were never involved in my practicing or lessons--in perspective. The string teacher seems to be handling it pretty well, especially with all the kids she's got to work with.

Her friend seems pretty motivated to learn the viola, and we parents are both hoping that the two of them will enjoy playing together for a long time to come.

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on September 21, 2007 at 4:47 PM
Essential Elements is used in the public schools here, too. I like it because it tells the student why they're playing a certain exercise and because it has a lot of little songs that students like to play, such as Can Can and When the Saints Come Marching In. I haven't seen the DVD, but I have heard the CD and I don't like it. My students are divided on this issue. There is an orchestral backup to each song so that the student can play along. It'd quite different from the Suzuki CDs, in which you can listen to a violinist play the tunes over and over. For the Essential Elements CD, some students find the orchestral backup confusing, and some find it helpful and fun. I find it confusing, and I can't stand the musicality of the backup.

You are so right about the importance of parental involvement and support, whether they play an instrument or not. I give each of my students a homework sheet with the names of the pieces they're supposed to practice and goals for each one. I keep the goals simple, i.e., "low 2 on A and D strings" or "slurs."

I can understand your excitement about this new step in your daughter's life. The father of one of my students brought a camera to the first lesson and photographed his son learning to play with me. The father plays guitar, and he now accompanies his son when the boy learns a piece. It's great for teaching rhythm, and the two of them have a lot of fun together with music.

I hope that your daughter will do well in her new class and that it will inspire her to keep playing and enjoying the violin.

From Albert Justice
Posted on September 21, 2007 at 6:36 PM
I like the fact that the 'why' is explained--and agree that is missing in
Suzuki.

For this reason alone, I take any phrase (getting ready for v4) that I do not get well and get back to basics with it--and sometimes there's a lot of basics to consider(quick f4 in detaches landing from f1 on E, calling for accent, probably vibrato etc.)

Also, it isn't only the "Essential" that has a bad backup cd--not talking about Suzuki, but other play along things.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on September 21, 2007 at 6:43 PM
Pauline, do you think that the students benefit from playing along with the backup CD? That is, for the ones who like the way it sounds, does it motivate them to practice longer? And when they do practice with it, does it help them with rhythm, intonation, etc? And for the ones who don't like it, what do they have to do instead?
From Pauline Lerner
Posted on September 22, 2007 at 4:43 AM
Karen, those who like the Essential Elements CD say that it helps with rhythm and intonation. I often suggest that my students bring a tape recorder, if they have one, to their lessons, and they can record me playing the pieces. Those who do find it helpful.
From Patricia Baser
Posted on September 22, 2007 at 11:56 AM
My students like playing with the accompaniment tracks. I don't use them often in class, but when I do, it is so I can force them to try everything in tempo. The tracks are cheesy because unfortunately, kids like cheesey music. That doesn't mean that they can't listen to high quality music as well.

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