Strings – Violin, Viola, Cello, and Guitar
One aspect of the Ready-Set-Play! class is a pre-Suzuki experience where children learn the beginning rhythms used in Suzuki string study. We play rhythms and give each other “secret messages” with the drums and bells, and we use rhythm sticks to play along with the beginning Suzuki repertoire. For violin/viola and cello, children learn to shape a beginning bow hold using the rhythm sticks, and we do bow games and bow exercises before introducing the real cello and violin bows. For guitar, student begin simple finger-picking. Children learn the correct positioning with the instruments and develop a real comfort in holding and handling the instruments over time. Small instruments (1/10 and 1/8 sizes) fit the children’s hands and bodies and are surprisingly easy for children to play, increasing their competence and confidence. Dr. Suzuki’s famous motto, “For the happiness of children” is of huge importance. Children are encouraged and supported in all of their efforts at learning and discovery with the instruments.
The piano is introduced through a discovery of the patterns of black and white keys and an exploration of the register of the instrument (low, middle, high). Children then begin to name the keys and move up and down by steps and skips.
We play short pieces with two and three notes, first using one finger and then multiple fingers. The children enjoy exploring the black keys in the “Black Note Song” where we improvise together on the black keys in the different registers of the instrument. Older children (4’s or 5’s) use beginning piano method books to play pieces on the black and then white keys with both hands.
The piano is also used in our multi-instrument group activities. One child may play the rhythm of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” on piano keys, while another child plays the bells and another child moves to the beats and half notes in the piece.
Breath control is one aspect of flute-playing that is introduced early. Students practice forming the flute embouchure by blowing puff balls, windmills, and bubbles, working on sustaining steady air and a focused aperture. Students learn “flute sign-language” by practicing the finger positions first without the instrument, then using our pvc flutes, then eventually graduating to the nuvo toot and curved headjoint flutes. Children learn the parts of the instrument, the correct hand position, and begin to develop an understanding of how to produce a sound on the flute. Suzuki flute repertoire is incorporated into the class through listening and movement activities and through games, giving children a familiarity with the early pieces they might learn if they continue in private study.
Improvisation is an important part of every class. We use drums, bells, other percussion instruments, and the piano in our explorations of the elements of music. One of the children’s favorite activities is making and playing the “Drum Flower” and “Drum Tree”. We put differently pitched drums into a flower shape and have turns around the circle playing the drums in any order and with any rhythm to create a group “piece”. The children learn to listen to each other and play off of and imitate each other. They develop the confidence and the ability to explore dynamics, tempo, and color through playing together in this improvisatory way.