The Swan (Le Cygne) by Saint-Saëns – Violin Solo

Le Cygne (The Swan) by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns, originally scored for cello and two pianos, is from The Carnival of the Animals (Le carnaval des animaux) composed in 1886. Due to its attractive and entrancing melody, Le Cygne was soon transcribed and arranged for other instruments, including violin, as it spread far and wide in the musical world. Not bad for something Saint-Saëns himself regarded as a piece of fun!

Swan

Photo by Igor Kaliush

A great little solo for a student concert, The Swan is a perfect choice to follow a concerto or any other quick piece. It’s easy to learn for students at Suzuki Volume 4 or 5 and beyond, and has an attractive piano accompaniment.

Both scores can be downloaded by TSV Gold members from the Solo Scores section of the Gold Scores page.

A Few Study Points

Time Signature and Entry

The 6/4 time signature sets a question for students, initially just to get a feel for the rhythm of the music. Should we count six crotchets (quarter notes), three minims (half notes) or what? A closer look (and listen) reveals an underlying structure of two dotted minims – groups of three crotchets – although putting too much weight on these two beats can upset the flow of melody, which is intended, quite obviously, to be swanlike.

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Romance in F Major by Beethoven – Violin Solo

When one of our violin students asked for advice about audition pieces for a university music course, I suggested Beethoven’s Romance in F Major (Op. 50). She became, as I had years before, entranced with its soaring melodies, mesmerized by the unmistakable sense of rightness of the phrases and harmonies, and awed by the perfection of Beethoven’s creation.

Photo by Annie Spratt

Romance in F Major flows along at the slower tempo of Adagio Cantabile. As you know, slow pieces are not necessarily easier. They require confidence, calm nerves and a steady bow. Nonetheless, knowing her deep love of the Romance I suggested she play it first at the audition, despite having spent a lot of time working up a dazzling quicker work. Afterwards, hearing that the panel didn’t ask to hear another piece, I knew the audition was successful.

In my opinion, of the two Romances Beethoven wrote for violin and orchestra, No. 1 in G Major and No. 2 in F Major, the second is more appealing for a student solo by virtue of the beautiful melody lines. They resound in your head and follow you into your dreams at night.

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Group Class Success – Goal Setting

One of my biggest interests in the arts of teaching and learning is the power of the group to get things done and get skills learned. I would even go as far as saying that individual learning leaves most students in an unmotivated no man’s land where not enough learning happens. In Suzuki group classes, it’s great to see children (and parents) learning from each other. It looks like the child is thinking, You can do it, so I must be able to do it too. And bang! They work it out.

And one of the best things I have seen was a child at the end of Book 1 as she sat entranced, watching some Book 4 players. At the same time she had her violin half way up attempting to follow the fingering. I was very impressed by how close she came.

Another time I noticed a four year old student intensely watching some advanced students rehearsing a piece for concert. The group session for the younger students had finished and her mother desperately wanted to go home, but the little girl dug in her heels and absolutely refused to go. This little violin player turned herself into a very quick learner and was more in control of the learning process than her mother could fathom.

The group has what I call an enormous unseen learning effect on the individual.

Goal Setting

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Sicilienne attributed to Maria von Paradis – Violin Solo

Violinists around the world love the Sicilienne in E Flat, a short solo for violin or cello, perfect to calm a concert audience after a fiery concerto. Sicilienne was attributed to the blind Austrian composer-musician Maria Theresia von Paradis, when in fact it comes from Carl Maria von Weber’s violin sonata Op. 10 No. 1 – a pity in some ways, since  Maria von Paradis’s story is wonderfully fascinating.

Dancing flamingos

Photo courtesy of Simon Matzinger

Sicilienne is popular with audiences too. Cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason played it at the Royal Wedding on May 19, 2018 and as you can see from the videos below, Sicilienne has found a place as an attractive stand alone solo and concert encore. Members can now download and print the score from the TSV Gold main scores page.

The Main Points

Tempo

It’s fascinating to hear how differently musicians perform the tempo of Sicilienne. As with Mozart’s Sonata in E Minor, the speed affects everything, profoundly influencing our experience of the music, especially when we feel pushed along too quickly or held back unnecessarily. After teaching this piece for many years my preferred tempo is on the slower side, using glissando on some of the shifts, for example in bars 19-20. Read More →

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Group Class Success – Building Memory for Successful Learning

A significant moment arrived in our violin school when we decided to create a fast incubator for violin progress and practice – without the pressure. Our students were doing quite well and some very well, however we believed everyone could go much quicker and learn new music easier. We wanted better results, greater success and faster progress for all students. Ultimately, it worked. How did we do it and what did we achieve?

Photo courtesy of David Becker

How to Build a Powerful Memory

One of our initial steps was to focus on how to build memory. To work successfully with their children, parents need to understand how memory works, how it is built. This topic formed the basis of several talks I gave at our group classes. The Talk came after a short break following the second session, where everyone – parents and children of all ages including the three year old students – came together to listen and participate in the discussion. I aimed to keep the talk short. To my amazement even the youngest students would listen and sometimes have great answers to my questions about how to study violin at home.

Previous teaching experience had taught me how to wait until everyone was quiet before starting. It is quite reassuring and fun in such a mixed group to watch the calm tide of quiet go through the room as people and children realise you are ready to start.

At group classes we illustrated clear learning pathways for parents to understand how their child could consistently master and retain new steps. This pattern meant that children could progress through the pieces in the Suzuki books much faster than usual. Once children had mastered Twinkles and all the early learning needed to get to Twinkles, we came to expect two books a year as normal progress. Beginners were able to learn Twinkles in about three months.

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Sonata for Violin and Piano in E Minor, K. 304 – W.A. Mozart

Mozart composed the Sonata for Violin and Piano in E minor, K.304 in 1778 while he was in Paris, during the same period when his mother, Anna Maria Mozart, died. The mood and intensity of this piece clearly reflects the emotions of this time of his life. The sonata is the only instrumental work he wrote whose home key is E minor.

Memorial plaque to Mozart's Mother

Sonata in E minor is a relatively easy recital piece for students at Suzuki Volume 7 level and beyond, and provides an especially good opportunity for advanced piano students to partner them in performance.

Both instruments play the opening theme in unison, to continue in a heartfelt expressive partnership of poignant beauty and drama, returning often to darker and softer emotional colours. The sonata is another of Mozart’s creative wonders, with his unique colours of light and dark, matchless melodic invention within a harmonic landscape that is somehow both seamless and unexpected.

TSV Gold members can now download and print the scores from the Gold Resources page.

The Main Study Points

Tempo

Due to the Allegro marking, we’re tempted to begin the first movement too quickly, which I think can lessen some of its dramatic power. In measure 8, for example, the strong contrast between the rather plaintive voice of the opening theme and the ascending staccato line following sounds better at a slightly slower tempo. Try it and see what you think.

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Group Class Success – Session 3 The Talk

From the activities and enjoyment of the Play Through and Teaching Session 2, the group class is now buzzing with energy and enthusiasm. Parents and students are chatting with each other, exchanging ideas and discussing points from the sessions. It’s a good time for the teachers to take advantage of the heightened concentration to share their knowledge and experience about important areas of learning to play the violin. It’s Session 3: Welcome to The Talk!

Allie presents the Talk

A relatively short session of about 5 to 15 minutes, The Talk is an opportunity to engage and educate parents and students about topics such as how to implement morning and afternoon practice in order to learn new pieces quickly, infallible techniques to securely memorise the music and how to create fluent musical ability.

In the video below in this post I present my talk on the keys to daily practice. It’s particularly interesting to see how the students themselves contribute to the discussion.

Within our violin school The Talk also grew into a kind of interactive forum about how to work together successfully.

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Group Class Success – What do parents do?

What do parents do at lessons? Everything! And how does that work?

Group class

We’ve all heard it before: Parents are the key to their children’s success. And it’s true. If a child has lost motivation or is not moving through the pieces, the missing link is parent involvement. But parents need to know what to do. I’ve experienced Suzuki Violin first hand as a parent and as an educator. My role as a parent was far more challenging, every day at home with my children grappling with ways to ‘get’ them to play their pieces.

At the heart of the problem is the western tuition model’s narrow focus on the child and the student in the lesson. I too sat silently, a parent at the back of the room while the teacher expertly taught my children one-to-one. Occasionally during the lesson, the teacher nodded over at me to make sure I had made a note for home practice. Despite my diligence, I felt disconnected and superfluous. Being the parent at your child’s lesson can be an excruciating experience and it is no surprise some mothers and fathers wonder why they have to be there.

Problems of the Parent Disconnect

I’ve watched classes where parents bring magazines to read during the lesson, or slip outside for long conversations on their mobiles, and see they were going to be quite unable to work with their child during the week. I imagined they’d go home, tell their child to practice and wonder why there is so much resistance. In the very early stages of violin playing, young children need an enormous amount of home teaching. Violin is a very challenging instrument to learn. We’ve all heard a parent say, “I don’t think my child is suited to violin, they have lost interest, we are thinking of giving up.” In other words the parent is giving up.

My own experiences and observations of the parent disconnect in the lesson made me think about how it could be different. I began with the lesson structure, what the ideal outcomes should be, and how parents could communicate and work in depth with their children about the study points in question.

What I saw at the Summer School

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Meditation by Massenet – Violin Solo

Within French composer Jules Massenet’s opera “Thaïs” is the beautiful Meditation, a short intermezzo melody soon adopted by violinists everywhere as an attractive concert encore. The violin floats in above the gentler sounds of the harp and is joined by the rising glow of the orchestra strings, lifting and transporting us upward to the passionate emotions beyond. Welcome to the new TSV Violin Solo Series!

Jules Massenet

Jules Massenet

Meditation is a real gift for violin students on their journeys to the heights, a technically easy short violin solo of about six minutes with unlimited possibilities for personal interpretation and creative expression. Because of its lasting popularity, there are numerous performances by famous violinists available, providing some wonderful examples to admire and emulate.

TSV Gold members can now download the score from the solos section on the Scores Main Page.

Some points of interest for study

  • Research and practise the technical difficulties.

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Group Class Success – Teaching the Points

In this post on Group Class Success Series we look at the second teaching session, which focuses on violin pieces and points within the levels. For violin programs based on Suzuki’s principles, Session Two is the mainstay of group work, violin workshops and summer schools.

Photo courtesy of Michel Catalisano

In many areas of violin studies, especially for achieving big advances in playing style, tone control, performance presentation and musicality, these classes are more effective than one-to-one lessons. Students learn skills about the quality of their playing and sound from watching and studying with other players, and the persuasive social proof principle comes into effect, creating the sense and conviction, if the others can do it, I can too!

How to choose the main study point

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