Vol 1

Violin Beginners – Week 3

Two weeks of daily practice and listening to recordings, two studio lessons and two group classes. That’s what’s already happened as Week 3 arrives for our new violin beginner.

Beginners week 3

Photo courtesy of Aaron Burden

The bowhold and violin hold, two essential foundations for learning to play the violin, are starting to feel natural and easier to do. These two skills need to be habitual for our new student to focus attention on the next major advance – learning to play the Twinkle rhythms!

In the first instance, learning to play the rhythms is a physical skill, and as you’ll see below, teaching a new student to play each Twinkle rhythm involves giving them the experience and feeling of the correct bow arm motion.

We’ll show how the teacher helps the student’s bow arm produce the rhythm and as it is refined and improved, listening and making a good sound takes over as the basis for bow control.

Our aim, even at this early stage, is to extend the beginner’s awareness from the up and down of the bow arm to encompass the quality of the sound they are creating. The search for beauty and good tone quality begins at the very outset of the new player’s violin journey.

Main Teaching Point for Week 3 – Learning to Play Two Rhythms on E String

What To Teach in Week 3

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Violin Beginners – Week 2

By the time Week 2 arrives for new violin beginners, the parent and child have become part of the community of violin musicians and are setting the daily activities in motion from Group Class and their individual lesson. Every day they listen to good recordings of the music they’ll soon be learning. At home they’re practising the bowhold together and having fun clapping the Twinkle rhythms. What’s next?


Photo by Madison Nickel

From taking part in the group class and watching other individual lessons, parents and beginners see how students work and conduct themselves. Parents have started reading Suzuki’s insights about how to create musical ability.

Beginners actually make the fastest progress in the group classes, mainly from watching, listening, joining in what others are doing and setting goals for the week with other parents and children.

They emulate the advanced players and respond quickly to the environment and energy of the class. We often see young beginners learn skills in an hour or so that would otherwise take a week or more of practice.

This is the time to take advantage of the flood of enthusiasm to start building the expectation and habit of quick progress.

Main Teaching Point for Week 2 – the Violin Hold

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Twinkle Twinkle Little Star – Revisited

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, The Alphabet Song and Baa Baa Black Sheep are all derivations of the 18th century French children’s melody “Ah! vous dirai-je, maman” – which W.A. Mozart used as the theme for his Twelve Variations.

Shinichi Suzuki, recognising the potential of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’s structure for learning the first skills on the violin, chose the melody for the first piece to start teaching young children to play.

Why was Twinkle was such a good choice?

The violin skills that can be learned from this song come down to rhythm, bowing, string crossings, fingering and good intonation, a pretty good list for such a simple piece!

Get Rhythm

Girl dancing

Photo courtesy of Hanna Morris

Concentrating on the open E string, students learn to bow five key musical rhythms before starting on fingered notes. The focus on the physical side of violin playing in these crucial first stages creates a robust foundation for building other skills.

Suzuki’s early emphasis on rhythmic development contrasts with methods which start with longer bow strokes with slower and simpler rhythms.

Starting with the rhythms and and achieving a good level of fluency kick-starts rapid progress through the pieces, mainly because mastery of the bow arm is the primary means of producing and controlling tone.

In principle every art form works this way: physical proficiency is the key prerequisite for developing refined artistic expression.

Just how well should the rhythms be played before it’s time to start on the notes?

This question relates to every skill and sets the pattern for future learning.

Starting with the iconic first rhythm, variously named Ta-ka-Ta-ka-Ta-Ka, Busy-Busy-Stop, Stop and so on – the words and syllables reflect détaché and staccato qualities in the rhythm – and learning the others one or two at time at lessons, students should aim to get up to the tempo of the Suzuki Violin recording by the time all the Twinkle variations are completed.

Don’t be daunted by this speed goal. Practiced correctly, even very young students manage to do it.

The musical qualities of the rhythms emerge from the physical skills, which are the result of repeated practice. The arm motion should be smooth, strong and automatic.

See Five Easy Rhythms

Bowing and Scraping

Suzuki’s tone, tone, tone mantra may seem premature when applied to beginners, yet I am always amazed at young children’s astute perceptions about sound quality. They comment about their tone with disarming frankness. “That was totally yukky!” said 3 year old Lily one day, after playing a slightly scratchy rhythm, as we all laughed in agreement.

A good tone teaching strategy is to pose simple questions or to create choices.

The teacher, for example, plays a segment twice and asks, “Which sounds better, No. 1 or 2?” – gradually reducing the contrast between the two.

Another good approach is “What’s wrong with the sound of my playing?” and “How can I make it sound better?” These simple queries can lead to hilarious replies, providing good opportunities for light-hearted teaching points.

Photo courtesy of Uriel Soberanes

Clever Crossings

The violin has four very different strings, yet good players are able to produce seamless streams of melody which sound as if they are playing on a single string. It comes down to exquisite tone control and superb string crossing. Introducing quick, economical and clean string crossing in the lead-up to learning Twinkle begins building this pivotal skill.

Photo by Jiunn Kang Too

See Seamless String Crossing

Finely Formed Fingers

Although every person’s hands and fingers differ in length, width, shape and flexibility, the optimum form for the neck and fingerboard is essentially the same for all players. Getting it right from the beginning enables quick, accurate fingering and sets up the hand and fingers for great vibrato, shifting and elegant, stress free playing.

Placing 1st, 2nd and 3rd correctly on A string at B, C# and D (with tiny fingers, 4th comes a little later) for Twinkle, helps to create and maintain the best shape for the left hand.

See The Violinist’s Left Hand.

Intonation for the In Tune Nation

Like good tone quality, learning to play the violin with accurate intonation commences in the earliest stages, because it stems from listening, discriminating and adjusting against an inner gold standard of pitch. Training the link between finger and pitch starts from the day fingered notes begin – and the listening habit should continue for a lifetime.

The Twinkle melody starts with a perfect fifth, the most fundamental and natural interval in music after the octave. As long as the violin is accurately tuned, this cardinal harmony establishes a clear foundation for F# and the other fingered notes to be played in tune.

Children’s hearing is spectacularly sensitive and acute, especially up to the age of about eight, when the sense of good intonation should be well established.

Ingrained poor intonation can be repaired with careful guidance. I saw a striking example in St. Petersburg, unambiguously clear despite my lack of Russian, where the teacher patiently corrected a 10 year old violinist in subtle pitch details over a long lesson, singing intervals to illustrate her points and tirelessly refining the student’s understanding of intonation.

Greater Glider, Victoria – a great listener!

See How to Teach Good Intonation.

One Skill at a Time

Unavoidably, students have to work on several areas during any stage of their studies, nonetheless practice must be singularly focused on one skill at a time for a long enough periods to make real progress. In this way instrumental abilities are built up sequentially, each on secure foundations with a minimum of backtracking. Twinkle is the perfect piece for building these beautiful abilities – one by one.

Practice sessions that attempt to cover all bases slow things down and waste time.

Two of our most conscientious students accidentally fell into this mistake. Their diligent parents unwittingly created a practice regime clogged with too many bits and pieces and no clear headway was made in the most important physical skills. By the time we woke up to what was happening, habits were laid down requiring some laborious repairs. All was well in the end, but it wasn’t easy or particularly enjoyable.

The idea of extended practice on one skill is out of favour in some education circles. Part of the teacher’s job is to inspire confidence in their students about their ability to learn. Seeing the sense of achievement they experience is one of the great joys of teaching,

It doesn’t mean being a pontificating perfectionist or a discipline dragon, just sticking at it, a smile on your face and a joke or two to lighten the load!



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Suzuki’s Etude is different from the other little gems he composed. An affable little piece, it rarely features as a student concert solo! Yes, Etude is a musical exercise, essential for establishing the new finger position for C♮ on A string and G♮ on E string – 2nd placed next to 1st. After all the hard work to establish securely accurate finger positions in the earlier pieces, these new notes are a big step for students. Speed-signEtude introduces the important key of G major in preparation for the Bach minuets and beyond. (Etude is French and German for study or exercise.)


Etude uses the same short detached bow strokes as Perpetual Motion and the repeated string crossings of the theme provide an extra workout for this foundation skill. Keep the right elbow relaxed and stable while crossing from A to D string. A flexible bowhold allows economical string crossing – finger motion without arm flapping. (See Seamless String Crossing.) Read More →

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Long, Long Ago – A Suzuki Violin Evergreen

When little beginner students reach Long, Long Ago, this most evergreen of Suzuki songs, teachers get a smile out of them and their parents with a weak joke, “You know, the nickname for this piece is Long, Long A-Bow.” Suzuki included the song, written by English songwriter and dramatist, Thomas Haynes Bayly (1797-1839), mainly to teach long bow strokes. And it works well for this purpose, if you do it right.



In the weeks before starting on this piece, students learn to play the rhythm on the A string at a slow tempo, using whole bow strokes for the crotchets (¼ notes). In contrast to Aunt Rhody, in which quavers (⅛ notes) are played in the upper half, Long Long Ago’s quavers are played at both ends of the bow. Use the semiquaver (1/16th) Twinkle Variation near the heel to help develop this skill. In next step, the rhythm is played on an open string with the recording.

The melody is so simple and compelling that most students are able to learn it in one session, but it takes time to use all of the bow correctly with ease. Use well-known older pieces such as Twinkle theme and O Come Little Children as well to work on whole bows.  Ask students to watch the point where the bow contacts the string and to relax the right arm as they play. Watch for straight bows.

Keep Fingers Down For Accuracy

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May Song

After teaching and playing May Song for some time here in Australia, the penny finally dropped. Uh, it’s a spring song! Later I began to understand the spirit of this folk song first hand, after spending a few years in the northern hemisphere. The evergreen forests and mild winters of my homeland in the south blur the distinctions between the seasons. In Japan and Europe it was delightful to experience four unequivocal seasons: spring with exuberant new growth, hot luxuriant summers, the astounding colours of autumn and winter in the beautiful silent snow.

Matsumoto Castle in Spring

Matsumoto Castle in Spring

May Song has the simple ABBA structure common to many songs for children. (Yes, for a moment I wondered that too. In fact, Swedish pop ABBA took their name from the acronym of Agnetha, Benny, Björn and Anni-Frid.) The first four notes form the A major arpeggio – the notes of the A major chord played in succession – A C# E A. (Armenian Cardsharps Enjoy Apples? Mmm. Send in your acronym in Comments.)

Bowing and Rhythm

This is the first piece in the Suzuki repertoire with a dotted rhythm – a dotted crotchet (¼ note) that lasts for a beat and a half, followed by a quaver (⅛ note) for half a beat, giving the melody a bouncy, happy feeling. Playing the rhythm of May Song on open strings is a good way to focus on this skill without having to think about fingers and crossing strings.

Listen for the arrival of the second beat within the first note, A. I found by singing May Song and clapping the 4/4 beat together in the class, it’s easy to understand the time value of the dotted crotchet and show it is not just a longer note.

If you want to get a little more technical, the length of the dotted note can be more accurately measured by dividing up the bar into 8 quaver beats. (You can even set the metronome to tap out the beats.) Play A for a count of 3 beats, C# for one beat and the other two notes for 2 beats each. It is a useful model for reading and playing  dotted notes, especially for when students reach The Two Grenadiers and Witches Dance, where dotted notes must have correct value for the rhythm to sound right. Read More →

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Allegro by Suzuki

Suzuki wrote Allegro to teach staccato bowing and rapid finger motion, and this lively piece quickly became a favourite with young violinists – it’s fun to play and easy to learn. Along with his Twinkle Variations, it has developed into a signature Suzuki piece and a kind of international hit. Meryl Streep even learned to play it for the film, “Music of the Heart,” the inspiring story of Suzuki violin teacher Roberta Guaspari’s East Harlem Violin Program.

Meryl Streep

Her stance and posture looks pretty good in this pic, don’t you think? Ok, maybe the right arm is too high, the bow contact point is too far towards the fingerboard, her bowhold looks too tight – but her violin is held up beautifully, the bow is parallel to the bridge, the bowhold is at least a nice shape and her left arm is under the violin. I don’t know what her 1st finger is pointing to, but hey, the left wrist is fairly straight. 🙂

Allegro is an accelerator piece, set in the rapid progress section of Volume 1 that runs from Twinkle through to Andantino. With just two easy phrases to memorise, it can be learned at home in only one or two sessions.

A Quick Look at the Bowing

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Gavotte by F.J. Gossec

Gavotte by F.J. Gossec, the last piece in Volume 1, is also Suzuki’s first level graduation piece, a significant milestone of a student’s progress in the repertoire with new technical challenges that must be mastered for the graduation recording.

Recording a piece for a graduation level is extremely beneficial: as well as showing up the parts that require the most work, it reveals those little glitches and errors that usually escape notice. Listening back to the initial recordings, it’s possible to pick up things like non-musical noises, inaccurate intonation, uneven rhythms, inappropriate dynamics and unintended breaks in phrases, details that are less apparent during the performance. In live recitals audiences (and players themselves) are more forgiving of small imperfections or even the occasional little stumble.

François-Joseph Gossec (1734 – 1829) was a major French composer of operas, string quartets, 30 symphonies, and choral works. Gavottes, originally French folk dances, were often included in the instrumental dance suites of the Baroque composers.

There’s two technical challenges to content with in the Gavotte: staccato bow strokes and eight quick notes, with a twist – in bar 20.

Staccato Bows

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Minuet 3, by C. Petzold (previously attributed to J.S. Bach)

J.S. Bach is credited with the third minuet in Suzuki Violin Volume 1, Minuet No. 3, but researchers have known since 1970 that Christian Petzold (1677-1733) was the composer of this well-known piece. A famous organist in his time, Petzold also composed church music at St. Sophia in Dresden, Germany. This lovely Gothic church where he worked no longer exists. Bombed during in wartime, it was demolished by the party and government of the GDR in 1962. Thankfully, Petzold left us this indestructible piece of music to help us celebrate the survival of the human spirit beyond such catastrophes. It is known as Minuet in G (BWV Anh 114) from the 1725 Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach.


The minuet is a popular melody that composers have borrowed freely, arranging it for a variety of instruments (see the links below) and a number of popular songs. For young violinists, Minuet No. 3 is a great opportunity to improve their understanding and playing of slurs – if they learn them correctly the first time! The key is G major, reinforcing the use of the 2nd finger position for C♮ and G♮.

Technical Study Points

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Minuet No. 1 by J.S. Bach

Originally written for keyboard by J.S. Bach, Minuet No. 1 is the ideal introduction to playing the music of this great baroque composer for young violinists. (Suite in G Minor for clavier, BWV 822.) What’s new? Slurs – indicating two or more notes played on the same bow stroke – appear for the first time in the Suzuki repertoire, and a 3/4 time signature.

Two or four beat rhythms are much more common than those with three, perhaps because some of our repetitive physical actions are unconsciously underpinned by duple rhythms. For example, as a result of being bipedal, walking and running keep to a two beat rhythm, one leg leading a little more than the other. You can test this by mentally adopting a triple beat while you walk. It’s easy to do, but feels unnatural – you have to count. This is why many young players take a little time to feel triple beats such as the 3/4 in Minuet 1, the first piece in the repertoire without a duple or quadruple time signature.


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