How to Teach and Play Rameau Gavotte

In a previous post I mentioned how I’ve reassured students who are struggling to master a point by saying something like, “Real musicians are happy when they discover the hard parts in the piece of music they are learning to play.” There’s a bit of tongue in cheek when I say this because it’s not always true. I’m encouraging them to keep at the task, giving them heart to persist and improve their playing. I’ve been through it enough myself.


Musicians do love the challenge of learning to play something difficult, and the prime attraction is the music itself. I think we’d all agree that Bach’s monumental Chacconne, for example, is very difficult to play well and we are urged on by its beauty and magnificence to the challenge of mastering it.

This is such an important element of the Suzuki repertoire for young children – the allure of music they want to play and the satisfaction derived from the achievement of learning how to do it. Hearing the music performed – live or in a recording – sparks the fires of interest.

Rameau Gavotte (actually a pair of contrasting gavottes) from Volume 6 is one of these pieces: attractive in an 18th century diatonic way, with a nice balance of technical challenges to keep students moving upward in their skills. Jean-Philippe Rameau, a French composer similar in stature to Couperin and predecessor Lully, was a Suzuki type student long before Suzuki’s time: he learned music before he could read or write.

What are the main points and key skills in the Gavotte?

Upbow staccato is the primary bowing pattern Rameau uses to create the sprightly sanguine character of the music. The slower paced Gavotte No. 1 features evenly balanced upbow staccato strokes paired to longer bows of slurred quavers (8ths). Gavotte No. 2 moves into D minor and the pace quickens, with the introduction of triplets and descending runs of four upbow staccato notes. Students can prepare for the staccato by practising earlier pieces such as G major Long, Long Ago variation and Minuet in G, both in Volume 2, and there’s a PDF of upbow staccato exercises for download in Resources.

Point by Point

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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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