Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Our First Suzuki Institute

AM, AE and I attended our first Suzuki institute. It was a wonderful experience, and the girls learned SO much! They both had a master class, group class and a play-in every day. AE also had preparatory orchestra, and AM had music mind games class.

First of all, I think the biggest benefit for us, was teaching me how to work with them. All the instructors were fabulous, and I learned so much. My biggest takeaway was the 1-point lesson. I have read about it before, of course, but I think this was the first time I actually saw it in practice. AM really struggles with stretching her fingers on the cello for example. It is in part because the cello is a bit big for her (1/8th), but also because she can't see her fingers when she plays, so she forgets to spread them out. Her instructor tried quite a few tricks to get her to do that correctly, but ultimately, what worked best was telling her that she gets an "x" every time she looses concentration, and her fingers get scrunched up. The thing he didn't do (what I normally do when I practice with her) is yell out other instructions like "keep your elbow up" or "watch your bow hold!".

AE loved being in the orchestra. This was her first orchestra experience, and she requested to be signed up for one when we go home :) The class (Preparatory Orchestra) was very cute: it was more about following the conductor then playing music. The first piece they played was an improvisation piece, and they were supposed to play what the conductor showed them. The second piece was "Simple Square Dance". They had 3 violin parts (AE was first violin, but I don't think that was based on anything other than where they were sitting on the first day). It was cool, because all the kids actually did sound really good together! (Proud mommy moment :) )

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Progress Tuesday

Learning: Happy Farmer
Working Piece: Minuet 2
Struggle: Bowing in Happy Farmer.
Looking forward to: Having Learned the Happy Farmer :)
Favorite Piece to Play: She is quite enjoying Minuet 2, when she remembers all the repeats.

Learning: Lightly Row
Working Piece: Twinkles & French Folk Song
Struggles: Bow distribution
Looking forward to: Playing lightly Row with the bow.
Favorite Piece to Play: French Folk Song

Struggle: Not getting angry. The girls both like to chit chat, and it takes so much time during practice! And they they get over-tired, since we practice at night and start wining and I get angry... Fun times
Looking Forward to: I am getting a piano tomorrow! I am looking forward to learning some of the accompaniment parts.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Progress Tuesday

Learning: Nothing at this point -- a bunch of technical things
Working Piece: Minuet 2
Struggle: Right elbow and pinkey. The pinky flies up whenever she plays on A or E strings.
Looking forward to: Learning Happy Farmer
Favorite Piece to Play: This week it is May Song :)

Learning: Started Lightly Row
Working Piece: Twinkles & French Folk Song
Struggles: Keeping her left elbow up and her right elbow down!
Looking forward to: Learning all the pieces!
Favorite Piece to Play: French Folk Song
This is her last week of violin, and she cannot wait to return it and just do cello.

Struggle: Making time for everything. Altogether I practice with the girls for close to 2 hours! i will be very happy when at least AM doesn't have to do violin
Looking Forward to: K starting piano! She is still only 2.5, but I am hoping to get her started a year from now.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Progress Tuesday

Learning: Finishing up Minuet 2
Working Piece: Minuet 2
Struggle: Playing with a bow straight 
Looking forward to: Learning Happy Farmer. (She might be able to skip Minuet 3 for now, since Happy Farmer is a part of our institute repertoire, and then go back to it.)
Favorite Piece to Play: Unsurprisingly Minuet 2 :) She is in general happy to play whatever it is that she is learning currently.

Learning: French Folk Song.
Working Piece: Twinkles
Struggles: Using very little bow! She got her cello stickers of where she is supposed to play, and it is very little bow!
Looking forward to: Playing Twinkle and French Folk Song with the bow. She is plucking those for now, until she gets a bit better with the bow.
Favorite Piece to Play: Ant Song (cello plucking song where she plucks each string 4 times).

Struggle: Making time for everything. Altogether I practice with the girls for close to 2 hours!
Looking Forward to: AM playing more songs on the cello. I love the sound of it so much!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Progress Tuesday

Learning: Minuet 2 Part B
Working Piece: Minuet 2 Part A
Struggle: Looking at her bow while she plays.
Looking forward to: Playing all of Minuet 2. She is genuinely excited and is just so into it when she plays it! I think she loves in particular the beginning part.

Learning: On Violin she is learning Minuet 2. This will be the last piece she learns before she switches to cello completely. On cello we are doing a lot of left hand exercises, starting a bit of French Folk Song.
Working Piece: Minuet 1
Struggles: Violin. She just can't get herself to focus on the violin, because she is so excited for a cello.
Looking forward to: Playing with a bow on the cello. The songs she is playing now are all in pizzicato. We supposedly will start playing with the bow at the next lesson.

Struggle:  Getting all of the practice items in in the limited time. AM currently has no time to do any sort of review, since she has to keep playing Etude, since that's her recital piece, Minuet 1, as well as learning pieces from Minuet 2.
Looking Forward to: Gavotte! I love Minuets, and I am glad the girls are finally playing those! They just sound so pretty! But Gavotte, there is just something fun about it!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Progress Tuesday

Learning: Minuet 2
Working Piece: Minuet 1
Struggle: She knows Minuet 1 well at this point, but she confuses a few C/C#s, and she has a hard time going back and working on specific passages.
Looking forward to: Playing all of Minuet 2. She is generally content with where she is though :)

Learning: Cello. We had the first real lesson and we have quite a few exercises to do
Working Piece: Etude/Minuet 1 on violin
Struggles: Review Pieces on violin. All of a sudden with less time to do review she has forgotten Perpetual Motion/Allegretto/Andantino...
Looking forward to: MORE CELLO!! Seriously I have never seen this kid so excited about a musical instrument!

Struggle: Etude! The girls can't seem to remember it! We practice it over and over many times, and still!
Looking Forward to: Seeing the girls in the recital! 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Progress Tuesday

Learning: Minuet 2
Working Piece: Minuet 1 (This is her recital piece in 2.5 weeks)
Struggle: Fast passage in Minuet 1, keeping 3rd finger down, when she puts 4th down
Looking forward to: the recital

Learning: Cello! Posture......... Violin: Also started Minuet 2, and finishing up Minuet 1 line 3.
Working Piece: Etude singles and doubles (That's the recital piece)
Struggles: Proper bow hold for each instrument. Without fail she does violin bow hold when practicing cello and vice versa.
Looking forward to: cello cello cello cello!!!!

Struggle: Not enough time! I really need to work on having more effective practices.
Looking Forward to: Minuets! I love them all, and I will be very happy to be "done" with Etude, until AM gets to it again on the cello

Enter Cello

Recently AM decided that violin is overrated. Not really, but she did decide that she LOOOOOOVES the cello. How did she come to that conclusion? Well my brother plays the cello, and he is so awesome and cool (11 years old), and the girls look up to him. That's where she got the idea. Plus you can sit while you play cello! She decided it is hard to stand for an hour... Can't blame her honestly.

We discussed with the school. Apparently they encourage siblings to pursue different instruments. Who knew? When I was registering, they didn't tell me, I just registered for 2 violins. Well it has gotten to the point where they were comparing which MEASURE of Etude/Minuet they were learning... At which point I decided I have had enough, so we gently encouraged AM to consider cello.

AE loves her violin. She loves playing it, and enjoys the music. She also works really hard to fix mistakes/fix posture, etc. AM -- not so much. She prefers to play through songs without being interrupted and be done. She is not great at working on small passages (not that cello would fix that). But it seemed like an easy way to let AE do her thing and encourage AM to switch. (Then I tried to dissuade her, but her mind was made up at that point).

So last week I picked up a tiny 1/8 size cello from a local rental place. We started lessons a couple of days ago. She will continue with violin until the recital at the end of the term, and as of summer she will be doing cello exclusively. In fact I switched her to cello for the summer institute too. She seems very excited, and I hope she continues being excited.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Progress Tuesday

Learning: Minuet 1!
Working Piece: Etude singles and doubles
Struggle: Remembering to do correct bow hold
Looking forward to: starting to color Minuet 1 boxes!

Learning: Minuet 1
Working Piece: Etude singles and doubles
Struggles: Left hand thumb, it has gotten better over last week, but we still need lots of reminders
Looking forward to: Next reading lesson

Struggle: Posture. I feel like I have to tell the girls over and over again to keep their posture.
Looking Forward to: Hearing a lot more Minuets!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Violin Left Hand Thumb

We have been struggling with this for both girls, so I figured I'd write a post about what worked for us. AM in particular has been having major issues, and her teacher has been on her case to fix it before she can move on.

I have discovered that for us, the problem has stemmed from the fact that AM has been using her hand to actually hold up the violin instead of her chin, so as a result, she was actually using the thumb for support. So once I figure that out, we did a few exercises every day to work on the proper hold.

Exercise 1: Thumb taps.
The idea is to put a finger down on E/A string, and then tap with the thumb on the neck 10/20/40 times. This is hard to do if you use the thumb to hold a violin up.

Exercise 2: No thumb playing.
This was harder to do, but more effective. We did this with scales. The idea is to remove the thumb from the neck of the violin completely and hold it about an inch away, then proceed to play the scale/twinkle. AM needed some help with this, I helped her hold the scroll up, but mostly she managed :)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Progress Tuesday

I skipped one, but honestly not much has changed.

Learning: slurred and "minuet" bows
Working Piece: Etude singles and doubles
Struggle: Remembering to use staccato...
Looking forward to: starting Minuet 1.

Learning: To keep her thumb of the left hand in place
Working Piece: Etude singles and doubles
Struggles: Left hand thumb, it keeps bending while she plays, and sometime even wraps around onto the G string
Looking forward to: Finally starting Minuets!

Struggle: Fixing AM's thumb. I don't know what else I can do for that thumb! We have tried virtually everything! It just won't stay straight!
Looking Forward to: Spring :) This is not Suzuki related, but I am just so done with Winter! We had snow yesterday. Enough is enough!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Progress Tuesday

Learning: Still Etude, she knows the whole thing now, so it is just a matter of playing it over and over.
Working Piece: Etude :)
Struggle: Looking at her bow when she plays. The number of times I have to say "look at your violin" during one practice session is astounding.
Looking forward to: starting Minuet 1.

Learning: Etude, finally!
Working Piece: Etude
Struggles: With the bow hold with the thumb inside, she keeps tilting the bow towards herself and we need to keep reminding her to tilt it away!
Looking forward to: learning the rest of Etude.

Struggle: Memorizing the Etude. I typically can commit a piece to memory while the girls are learning it, but not Etude... I think I just need to practice it myself!
Looking Forward to: Summer Institute! We are going in June and I am SO excited I cannot wait!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Progress Tracking Tuesday

It has been a while, so a lot has changed :) Both girls learned Andantino and Allegretto, and are very excited to start working on Etude.
Learning: Etude
Working Piece: Allegretto
Struggle:Bow hold. She keeps gripping it too hard or else her fingers slide up on the bow. She corrects it if you remind her, but her goal is to keep it herself. Minuets is when Ms J moved their students' thumbs on the inside, but she won't move AE's thumb until she keeps her bow hold well.
Looking forward to: knowing the whole Etude (sh is learning it backwards).

Learning: To keep her 3rd finger of left hand curved when she puts it down
Working Piece: Allegretto/Andantino, Etude excercises
Struggles: She plays way way way too fast! (Same as before, we still struggle!) She looses her posture when she plays too fast. Next Saturday she has to play May Song through Allegretto/Andantino for her teacher to "graduate", so we are working on polishing.
Looking forward to: learning Etude.

Struggle: Keeping up! the girls are quickly surpassing my violin abilities, and I struggle to remember exactly all of the finger positions that the teacher demonstrates. I think I need to start taking pictures during lessons.
Looking Forward to: 45 minute lessons! We decided to up the lessons to 45 min starting this summer. I am quite excited about this, because I feel so rushed during lessons now. The girls are still quite young though, so we will see how it goes.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A Word on Practice

When I mention to anyone that each girl practices close to an hour each day, everyone seems very surprised. After all, the recommended practice time for a beginner is ~15 min per day. I found though that in order to get anything accomplished, a longer practice is necessary.

The 3 of us thrive on accomplishment. AM and AE are always very happy to show off the newest song they learned to anyone. We found that in order to progress through songs faster, we need to put in the work. My rule of thumb when we are learning a new piece, is to play it 5 times with no mistakes and me not helping in a row. The girls certainly seem motivated by that, and are very good at keeping track :) When learning a particularly tricky piece, this takes time. Take Perpetual Motion for example. My increment was 2 measures (16 notes) that they had to play with no mistakes. Now that both of them put the piece together, the trickiest thing for them is to keep track which part they are on. I consider that a good accomplishment.

Oh and reading with a metronome is my most dreaded part of the practice. It can sometimes easily take us 30 min to get through one lesson in the I Can Read Music book. I do try to get them to play the line with a metronome correctly at least once. And perhaps that is not the right approach to take. After all, Rome was not built in a day, so maybe I should give it time. AM seems to struggle with this more than AE.

Here is our usual breakdown of practice:
Warm Up (5 min): A&D Major scales, 5 Twinkle variations
Review (15-30 min): All the songs starting at Twinkle Theme and up to our working piece. We play each somg 1-5 times, depending on particular concepts we are working on, and what needs attention.
Reading (10-30 min): We don't do this every day. Usually we work on learning new songs towards the beginning of the week, and reading towards the end.
New Piece (10-40 min): Again depending on what we want to accomplish this can take longer. Since this is in the end of practice, everyone is usually tired too which doesn't help :)

Lately, the shortest practice we had was 45 min, the longest was AE's practice last Sunday, she practiced for 2 hours!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Progress Tracking Tuesday

I am not very good at memes, so let's see if I stick this one out. I will post on Tuesdays what we are currently working on, what we are struggling with and what we are looking forward to.

Learning: Perpetual Motion Variation
Working Piece: Perpetual Motion
Struggle: Keeping the violin up on her shoulder. Ms J suggested that she remember her "snobby nose". She loved the analogy, so we will implement that during practice, and hopefully it will help.
Looking forward to: Learning Allegretto

Learning: Allegretto, slowly oh so VERY slowly
Working Pieces: Twinkle-Allegro on D String
Struggle: Playing SLOWLY so that she can play well
Looking forward to: Showing off all that she has learned during the break to Ms V.

Struggle: I am struggling with the metronome. I hate the darn thing! When I was a child, I played piano for quite a few years, and I HATED the metronome, refused to play it, so consequently never learned how to play with it. I am struggling to teach the girls how to use it, because I dislike it so much! They both have reading homework and they have to use the metronome with it. I despise that section of practice the most, and sometimes delegate it to my husband. 
Looking forward to: Minuets! I am so very much looking forward to tackling those. Etude scares me quite frankly, so I will be very happy when we move past it.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Welcome to my Blog

I am a mother of 5-year-old twin girls who started Suzuki Violin 5 months ago. I hope to use this blog to document our journey through the world of Suzuki training, and I hope to share some of our experiences as well as post videos of the girls playing their instruments.

Cast of Characters:
AE - 5 years old, loves cats, teddy bears, dancing art, and gymnastics. Favorite song to play right now is Allegro
AM - 5 years old, loves reading, rainbow looms, legos, and gymnastics. Favorite song to play right now id Perpetual Motion "ribbit" variation.
Ms V - AM's teacher
Ms J - AE's teacher
Ms A - AE's former teacher, and group class teacher
C - supportive dad
K - baby sister (turned 2 in November), loves humming Twinkle Theme, and singing "The Wheels on the Bus"
E - that would be me :) Suzuki mother extraordinaire ...