Vol 2

Minuet by Boccherini – an Italian in Spain

Prolific Italian composer and cellist Luigi Boccherini (1743 – 1805) lived for the most part in Spain. His music, like this famous Minuet and Trio from the String Quintet in E, Op. 11, No. 5, shows the unmistakable influence of the Spanish and Mediterranean style.


Italian flavour

Main Study Points

For our teaching and study purposes, the distinctive features of the minuet are syncopation – accents off the beat; trills, with turns – ornamental notes that embellish the trill; bowing technique that changes frequently between legato to staccato. And there are musical and interpretive points that create the graceful and lively dance-like character of this piece, such as the use of dynamics (changes in volume) and accents. Read More →

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How to Teach Long, Long Ago in G major

A.H. Bayly’s Long, Long Ago gets a new life in Volume 2 in a different key – G major, plus an interesting variation to teach an important new technique – upbow staccato bowing. It continues Volume 2’s theme of refining and consolidating the skill of playing in G major, one of the violin’s most common and important keys.


Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

Shakespeare appears later…

Chorus from Judas Maccabaeus was Suzuki’s favourite tone study piece. He taught us the valuable habit of spending time at the start of a lesson or practice session to work on tone before all else. Virtually every one of his lessons began with this piece. He told us that he used a tonalization arpeggio exercise for this purpose for many years, but eventually recognised that students found it rather boring. So he changed over to Chorus.

Needless to say, several years of Chorus had the same effect. I use other Volume 2 pieces for tonalization and Long, Long Ago in particular. It has the added advantage of refining staccato tone as well as legato.

(Click here for Long, Long Ago in Volume 1.)

A Few Finer Points…

Having studied Long, Long Ago in Volume 1, students learn the G major melody in minutes, providing a good opportunity to look at some finer points. One is to check the intonation of the opening G visually as well as by listening. When G is exactly in tune, they can see the open G vibrate while playing the stopped note and find the precise point for maximum effect.

As with the Volume 1 version, crotchets (¼ notes) and minims (½ notes) are played with whole bows with smooth legato strokes, connecting the melody within the phrases.

B or Not B, that is the question. (Thanks and apologies to Shakespeare.)

Long, Long Ago in G major is a convenient stage to talk with students and parents about the small differences between the same notes in different keys – where they have different functions.

The note B (1st finger on A string) is played slightly sharper in G major than the B in some other keys – such as A major – due to its position in the key and scale. Without getting too technical, explain how it is a defining note in the major scale.

You can show the difference between the two Bs with the following exercise. First, make sure the violin is perfectly tuned!

  • To find the B to use in the key of G major, play it together with a open E string, adjusting 1st finger until you hear the pure sound of a perfect 4th interval.
  • For the ‘other’ B, first find the B as above. Without moving 1st finger, now try playing it with the open D string. Surprise! The major 6th interval sounds off – it is slightly too wide. Now flatten this B a little until it makes a sweet harmony with the D string. This B sounds better for keys such as A and D major.

B in G major

The Variation

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How to Teach Gavotte from Mignon

Gavotte from Mignon is a big Suzuki Volume 2 piece that contains an important technical challenge for young violinists. In this post you can read about the simple practice method that many violin teachers use to help their students learn it.

Ambroise Thomas

A. Thomas, portrait by Flandrin

The music comes from the opera “Mignon” written by the French composer Ambroise Thomas in 1866. A graceful, happy and elegant piece, Gavotte reinforces finger patterns from The Two Grenadiers and Witches’ Dance, prepares for the trills coming up in Lully’s Gavotte and features more pizzicato.

From the Top…

The Gavotte begins with staccato quavers (⅛ notes), played with short resonant strokes in the lower half of the bow. After each stroke the bow stops lightly on the string for ringing resonance. We make a circle retake to play the dancing semiquavers (1/16th notes) – also in the lower half of the bow. 1st finger stays down when playing the trill-like sections in measures 5 and 6.

Gavotte from Mignon Ex A

The repeated notes in measures 24 through 27 are easy enough to play, except that it’s just as easy to get lost! We all have a laugh as A and B♭s go on and on trying to figure out when to end. A good solution is to assign numbers, words or contrasting dynamics – p  p – to the segments.

Gavotte from Mignon Ex B

And the Major Technical Challenge is…

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Gavotte by Lully

This Gavotte was originally attributed to *Jean-Baptiste Lully, the French composer of Italian birth who worked in the court of Louis XIV, le Roi-Soleil (the Sun King). It’s tempting to joke that Lully was instrumental in the take up of the small conductor’s baton, owing to the manner of his demise. He died from gangrene after wounding himself in the foot with a long conducting staff during a performance of his Te Deum. Ouch!

Versailles Palace Gate

Versailles Palace Gate

The Gavotte is the first piece in the Suzuki violin repertoire set wholly in a minor key – A minor. It requires some new techniques, such as an extended 4th finger – and features the thrill of our first real trill.

Main Study Points

The opening two notes are played with vigorous bow strokes that allow A and E strings to resonate freely. To create resonance on the first note (A), cross immediately to E at the end of the stroke. The effect is easier to achieve on the second note (E) by lifting the bow off after the stroke, allowing it to ring out before playing the following E.

Lully Gavotte beginning strokes
The dotted rhythms and slurs in the 3rd phrase take a little more work to memorize because of the rhythms, even if students are familiar with the recording. In contrast with the opening melody, it is played with more legato.

Gavotte Lully phrase 3

The time signature is alla breve – two minim (1/2 note) beats in the bar. Subdivide to 1 & 2 & for counting the crotchets (¼ notes).

Counting beats and subdivisions is a useful way of determining how long to hold notes of different durations, but it can become unnecessarily complicated.

Teaching Beat and Rhythm

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Bourrée by Handel, a Dance from France

The traditional dances of Europe have been a rich source of inspiration for generations of composers. They had some time-honoured ones to work with. Just consider Spain’s Fandango, the Tarantella from Italy, Hungary’s Csárdás, Poland’s Mazurka and from Austria, the romantic Viennese Waltz:  dances that are infused with the unique flavour of each culture’s spirit. The old French dances – such as the Bourrée, Gavotte and Minuet have all found their way into classical music. The Bourrée and Gavotte became part of the instrumental suites of the great baroque composers. G.F. Handel wrote this Bourrée for oboe in his Sonata in F Major, Op. 1, No. 5, HWV 363b, later transposed to G Major for flute and harpsichord. Typically, this dance starts with an anacrusis (upbeat) on the last beat.


Bow Distribution

G.F. Handel’s Bourrée is an excellent piece for students to improve their bow division skills – how much bow to use and where to begin bow strokes. Good bow distribution requires some planning ahead. For example, by starting the first upbow in the middle of the bow, it enables us to play the following two notes from the heel with a long downbow lasting for two beats – with the right weight. Read More →

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Witches’ Dance by Paganini, the Violin Magician

Franz Xaver Süssmayr wrote the melody on which Niccolò Paganini, the most famous violin virtuoso of all time, based his set of variations called Le Streghe, or The Witches. The Witches’ Dance is a simple version of the theme.



Born in Genoa, Italy, Paganini (1782 – 1840) was an unprecedented musical phenomenon – violin virtuoso, violist, guitarist and composer, whose musical athleticism, showmanship and self-cultivated mystique transfixed concert audiences in 19th century Europe. His famous Caprice No. 24 in A minor is a stunning example of his technical accomplishments and compositional mastery. Take a look at this classic performance by Heifitz of the Caprice on Youtube:

Witches’ Dance builds on the dotted rhythm skills studied in The Two Grenadiers and features the triplet (3 notes in the same duration as 2). The score is available for download in Resources.

Main Study Points

The Dotted Rhythm
This bowing pattern uses quick long bows for the dotted quavers (8th notes). Play the first dotted quaver F# and stop. Then continue down with the short semiquaver E and follow immediately with the long upbow on D and stop. Then continue with the short C# and downbow on D. This pattern is sometimes called the hook stroke. The most common error is making the dotted quavers too short. Read More →

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Musette by Bach, strolling in fields of green

J.S. Bach’s Musette (Gavotte II from English Suite No. 3 in G minor – BWV 808) is based on a French pastoral dance. This style of music is often played on the bagpipes, with an accompanying drone and remaining in one key for the whole piece. Musette is marked andante pastorale, which immediately brings to mind the image of a piper walking in the fields. And reminds me of the old joke: Why do bagpipers walk when playing? They are trying to get away from the noise. 🙂

Strolling in the Fields


Main Study Points

This music is in the key of D major, with 2nd finger moving between two positions – close to 3rd for C# on A string; and close to 1st for G♮ on E string. Despite this being a fairly simple skill, 2nd finger tends to land inaccurately when students first begin playing in D major. There’s a Fingerboard Chart download in Resources that parents and students can use to check, if necessary. Read More →

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Chorus from Judas Maccabaeus

1685 was a particularly good year for music. As well as Handel, two other great composers came into the world – J.S. Bach and Scarlatti. George Frideric Handel earned the nickname of the ‘English Bach’ after moving to London permanently in 1712 and producing a galaxy of eternal masterpieces, including Messiah.

Chorus is, well, the chorus, See, the Conqu’ring Hero Comes! from Handel’s oratorio, Judas Maccabaeus. Oratorios are concert pieces for orchestra, choir and soloists – like operas without theatre, dramatic interplay and sets. The full ensemble of soprano, alto, tenor and bass with orchestra perform this famous chorus in a grand majestic style. There’s a fine performance here on Youtube. When teaching students about tone and projection, I like to imagine it sung by a Pavarotti-type tenor. (I have fun trying to sing it for them, but I suspect they have fun too, watching me making a fool of myself.) Read More →

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Brahms Waltz – Visions of Vienna

Next door to my residential college was the university music library, where I spent many evenings listening to the extensive collection of recordings. Here I came across more of the great classical music and artists I love to listen to, but two other kinds of music also captivated me: John Cage’s compositions and field recordings of sub-Saharan African drums. akan-drumThe complex cross-rhythms of the drummers were mesmerising, and to my western ears, mostly incomprehensible. Until that point my attention had been focused on melody and harmony – two great foundations of European music. Hearing those extraordinary drummers made me aware of rhythm and beat as never before.

Logically, beat structures and musical time signatures have only two divisions: even and odd – typically groups of 2 or 3 in western classical music. The predominance of even times (e.g. 4/4, 2/4, 2/2) indicates that they are more natural, related to the rhythms of physical activities like walking. The effect is even in signatures such as 6/8 and 12/8 as well, with two and four groups of three quavers (8ths). Less common times, such as 5/4 and 7/4, can be felt in combinations of evens and odds. Instinctively we listen for rhythmic patterns, in particular the cornerstone of the repeated first beat. The 3/4 of the waltz has a unique appeal, revolving on beat No. 1. It conjures up images like the Viennese Waltz, Blue Danube… and these days, Andre Rieu.

Brahms Waltz is from his Opus 39 set of 16 waltzes for piano four hands, originally A or A♭major. As well as getting a feel for the 3/4 dance, it is a good piece for students to learn equal bow strokes of unequal duration – in this case down for two beats, followed by a one beat up with the same length bow stroke. Read More →

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The Two Grenadiers – A French Drama

A well-loved solo piece in the Suzuki repertoire, Schumann’s Two Grenadiers contains some of La Marseillaise, the rousing French national anthem. When it comes to great food and national anthems, you have to admit France leads the field. (Then there’s the world’s most beautiful cities, but we’ll go there another time.)

Within the dramatic setting of this music, young violinists will discover the emotional appeal of dotted rhythms and two new notes for 1st finger – F♮ and B♭ – along the way.

Main Study Points

Sound vs Position. There’s an important intonation principle to consider when learning the new notes, F♮ and B♭. Read More →

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