Vol 5

Gavotte by J.S. Bach

J.S. Bach’s Gavotte in Suzuki Violin Volume 5 – actually two gavottes from the Cello Suite No. 6 in D major BWV 1012 – was originally written for cello, although some scholars believe this suite was composed specifically for a five-stringed violoncello piccolo. In either case, when we listen to it played on the cello, there’s no mistaking Bach’s original intent. And as with a lot of his music for other instruments, it sounds great played on the violin.


Many times students have asked me, Why is there so much music by J.S. Bach in the Suzuki violin repertoire? His compositions are included in 7 of the 10 books. (Volume 6 is the exception. Nos. 9 and 10 are Mozart violin concertos.)

My completely inadequate answers were usually like this: Because it’s such wonderful music. No composer teaches us more about the heart and soul of music than Bach. There’s a lot more that could easily have been included, as you’ll discover soon enough. Then I’d rattle on about violin treasures such as the Solo Sonatas and Partitas. It’s hard to imagine the musical world without Bach. His music is as deep and broad as the ocean. You can discover new meanings in his pieces you’ve been playing for years.

When students are learning to play the Gavotte it helps to hear it performed on the cello. My favourite version is from the legendary Mstislav Rostropovich. Listen to him below on YouTube, playing it with impeccable musical authenticity, passion and noblesse. The violin transcription can’t match the chordal richness and intensity of the cello, but we can play the melody line a little nimbler and clearer in the higher register.


The Main Points

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German Dance by CD von Dittersdorf

German Dance was written by Austrian composer and violinist Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf (1739 – 99). His prodigious output includes more than 120 symphonies, 21 violin concertos, and a wealth of chamber music. Not only did he have an illustrious and delightful name, he played first violin in quartets with contemporaries Haydn and Mozart. Standing in the shadow of these two musical giants, his music is less frequently performed than theirs. He should have chosen to be born in a different era!

CD von Dittersdorf

The inclusion of this rather easy piece in the repertoire by Suzuki serves three main purposes.

First, to provide more playing and shifting experience in the 3 flat key of E♭ major, following on from the C minor passages in the Vivaldi G minor concerto.

Second, as a way of introducing, in an easy setting, the bowing pattern for the next piece, Veracini Gigue.

And third, to give students an encouraging sense of progress after the relative difficulty of the previous pieces: a wise and insightful choice by Suzuki to boost confidence. After all, mountain climbing is easier in some places than others.

From the Top

German Dance begins with a shift into 3rd position, practised in three steps.

  • Shift on 1st finger B♭ to D, checking the pitch of D with the open string. Remember to lift and release, slide up very lightly and audibly to the destination D; and drop 1st finger. Now place 2nd finger on E♭ and play;
  • Slide to D with 1st finger to D and drop on to E♭ with 2nd, omitting 1st’s drop on D;
  • Slide lightly and audibly with 2nd finger to E♭ and drop. Gradually reduce the aural evidence of the slide as the shift becomes fluent.

German Dance Ex A

You’ll notice that many of the upward shifts in German Dance involve a light slide on the upper finger. This is called a romantic shift, used by violinists to make audible connections between notes to express drama or emotional colour. The speed, shape, volume and extent of the shift – and what you make audible – is a matter of interpretation. Does it communicate the phrase or passage more musically, or not? Read More →

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Country Dance by von Weber

A visiting teacher gave a memorable performance of Carl Maria von Weber’s Country Dance for Suzuki at one of the small daily masterclasses during Summer School in Matsumoto. She did a fine job, playing with great verve and flamboyance. Perhaps because of a few nerves from playing in front of her peers, the rhythm, and hence the beat, were a little irregular in some places – especially in the long staccato runs. True to form, Suzuki congratulated her with, “Very good, except for the weak point.” We all knew, including our dear colleague, what he was hinting at. How would he explain it to her? What he did was surprisingly simple. On his way over to where she stood on stage, he began to dance, humming the music aloud, every now and then stumbling and lurching in mimicry of the irregular rhythms. Soon all of us – including the teacher – were laughing at his good-natured joke.

Suzuki’s wordless lesson illustrates a key point of this piece: it is above all a dance. As we teach, study and play Country Dance, a good sense of the beat is the main element that creates rhythmic momentum and movement in the music.

Upbow Staccato

Country Dance’s main technical study point is the long runs of staccato quavers (1/8th notes). Suzuki taught us repeatedly, “Staccato determines quality of tone,” or words to that effect, referring to the crucial start of the bow stroke: how cleanly and deeply the hair “enters” the string – to produce good tone. This is most evident when we play staccato: does the bow skim and slip across the string or conversely, catch noisily with a little crunch or scrape? Suzuki gave us a simple exercise to practise 10,000 times to develop the ability of making a clean entry. It consisted of a circular movement of the whole bow arm, bouncing the bow in parallel motion off the E string, aiming for a clear resonant tone with every stroke. It was transformative, improving staccato and giving me confidence to produce good tone from the moment the bow touched the string.

Staccato technique builds through the repertoire from the very beginning in Volume 1, starting with Twinkle variations 1, 2 and 3, continuing with Song of the Wind, Allegro, Perpetual Motion, Etude, Minuet No. 2 and Gossec Gavotte. Slurred upbow staccato arrives in Volume 2’s Long, Long Ago variation and features in Beethoven’s Minuet in G and Volume 3’s Gavotte by Becker.

As well as reviewing these pieces, I use exercises to teach good staccato in the studio, including these Perpetual Motion bowing variations that you can download in Resources: Upbow Staccato Exercises


A few key places in the melody have shifts that require careful study: in bar 13 (repeated in bars 21, 62 and 70) and in bars 24 – 32 (repeated in bars 41 – 49).

1. For the ascending shift to 5th position in Bar 13, teach students to slide 1st finger audibly from A up to C# – a major 3rd interval – before placing 4th finger on F#. Leave 1st down for F#, E, D and C#, if you use the fingering I suggest. Students can check the E’s intonation with the harmonic – lifting 1st finger. Descending is simpler: a whole tone for both shifts. Read More →

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Vivaldi Concerto in A Minor, 2nd Movement

Antonio Vivaldi (1678 – 1741) is recognized as one of the greatest baroque composers. His music is performed and recorded all over the world. I’ve heard Spring from Le quattro stagioni on planes, telephones, department stores and even over the public address system at a remote train station in rural Japan. He was well known all over Europe in his lifetime, but his popularity had declined until relatively recently. Amazingly, his compositions were almost unknown to the public before 1950. You can read the fascinating story of their rediscovery here. Vivaldi had an enormous influence on the development and supremacy of the concerto form, especially for string soloists. Bach and Telemann freely imitated Vivaldi’s concertos.

The Baroque Era (about 1600 to 1750) produced an extraordinary outpouring of music, developing forms and structures that still dominate today’s musical genres. Popular Western music, for example, is based almost entirely on tonality, the key centred system created and refined during these fertile 150 or so years. (A good site for those interested in more reading about baroque music is www.baroquemusic.org.)

The typical baroque concerto for a solo instrument and orchestra has three movements – quick, slow, quick. This lovely slow 2nd movement is the third part of Vivaldi’s A Minor Concerto, performed between the quick 1st and 3rd movements from Suzuki’s Volume IV. 

The Main Study Points

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