Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Excellent Supplemental Books for Suzuki Violin and Viola Students

As a Suzuki Violin and Viola Teacher, I love using Suzuki's methods, philosophy, and books when teaching lessons. However, there are many other books I use to supplement lessons. These books can help students learn to read music and provide fun solos for special occasions like Christmas. Supplementing lessons can keep students engaged and help them develop and review their skills.

1. Solos for Young Violinists and Solos for Young Violists by Barbara Barber. 

These books are designed to complement the Suzuki Violin/Viola series. The author, Barbara Barber, is a famous violin teacher and Suzuki teacher trainer. In addition to the enjoyable solo pieces, Barber includes a scale in the key of the piece before each solo. This is a great introduction to regular scale practice, a valuable part of a young musician's development. The pieces can supplement Suzuki books from book one up to book four or five.


 2. Duets for Violins by Dr. Suzuki and Ensembles for Viola by Elizabeth Stuen-Walker. 

These excellent books are a necessity for any violin and viola teacher. I find that playing duets with my students dramatically increases their ensemble skills, intonation, and rhythm. Playing with another person develops their relative pitch and teaches how to listen for pure musical intervals. They learn to follow my lead first, then I teach them to lead the ensemble themselves. Because the parts work together rhythmically, students learn to keep a steady beat and play with accurate rhythm for them to work. These duets also allow me to play with my students on their recitals. While having a piano accompaniment is lovely, often accompanists have only limited rehearsal time. I dislike having students perform when they have not had a chance to regularly rehearse with a pianist. With the duets, I can rehearse with students in their lessons, which helps them feel more prepared for their performances. Furthermore, when other members of the family are learning violin as well, duet music gives family members a chance to play together. I have a father and son who are both taking lessons from me, and they love playing duets together!

3. Violin Note Speller and Viola Note Speller by Edward Janowsky.

This book is very useful for teaching students to read music. As I've mentioned before, some people have a misconception that Suzuki students do not learn to read music. The truth is that when I first begin a new student, my primary focus is on teaching beautiful posture and technique. Once a student is ready, I introduce note-reading using a supplemental book such as the Violin Note Speller. Once a student has learned to read notes, a fun app like Flashclass helps students practice their skills.

4. Easy Popular Movie Instrumental Solos for Strings (Violin and Viola Editions). 

One of my students had this book when they came to me, and I was delighted by the solos it had. They're fun for students from middle school to adults, and a refreshing change of pace for me. In particular, I love "In Dreams," which has some of the major musical themes of The Lord of the Rings movies. Be forewarned though, even the level one book has some very challenging sections (changing keys, flats) so I think this book is better for students in Suzuki Book 2 or higher.

5. I Can Read Music (Violin and Viola Editions) by Joanne Martin. 

While the Note Speller books do an excellent job of teaching beginning notation, the I Can Read Music books are excellent for practicing sight reading and rhythmic notation. In particular, they are very valuable for Suzuki students who often play by ear so easily that it can be hard to tell if they are actually reading music, or have only just figured out how to play a piece based on how it sounds. The pieces in this book are non-musical, which is actually a great benefit since students can't "cheat" by using their ear-training.

6. My Very Best Christmas (Violin and Viola Editions) by Karen Khanagov. 

While many of my students use the Christmas Time for Violin books, I couldn't find a viola edition for it, so instead I had my viola students get My Very Best Christmas. I was very impressed this book. Instead of only having a piano accompaniment, it has a duet part as well (see the entry for Duets for Violins about why playing duets with my students is so valuable). It also comes with a play-along CD, which can help students practice at home.

7. Disney Solos (Violin and Viola Editions). 

I actually originally bought this book for myself--I got a request for some Disney songs at a wedding I performed at, so I found this book. Since then, many of my students have enjoyed playing the solos too. I've found this book better for students who are in Suzuki Book 2 or at least the second half of Book 1, so don't introduce it before they are ready. These pieces can be an excellent way to inspire or motivate students who are reluctant to practice, or to give students a fun, relaxing piece to play after they've been working on a really intense classical piece. Of course, you never know when a bride might want "Can You Feel The Love Tonight" at her wedding, so they can come in handy for professional musicians and teachers.

Related articles on Suzuki Method and Violin/Viola teaching or performing:

Pascale Method for Violin--A Review

Persistence--The Most Important Aspect of Talent

Seven Ways to Develop Listening and Aural Skills in Music Students

Music Lessons for Children with Disabilities 

Suzuki Method for Adult Students

Suzuki Method--a Violin Teacher's Perspective

Suzuki Philosophy: Every Child Has Talent

Suzuki Techniques--Listening is the key

Violin Life Lessons

Inspiring Practice

Practicing Violin Effectively

Great Apps for Musicians

Inspiring, Helpful Books for Violin and Viola Teachers

For Parents: How to Support Your Child's Music Practice and Development

Overcoming Performance Anxiety: How to Help Music Students Prepare for Recitals, Auditions, and other Performances

More Apps for Musicians and Music Students

Classical Music Isn't Dying--It's in a Recession

Friday, January 25, 2013

Knitting Toys--An Elephant and a Frog (Updated: Newly finished Kitty)

Update: I recently finished a new knit toy--an adorable cat! I love that it looks like a totoro. As with my other knit toys, I used a pattern from Knitted Toy Tales. I used black, white and gray yarn since I read that babies are attracted to black and white toys. The cat's green eyes are based on a recommendation from the book, and I love how they turned out.

I recently found a book called Knitted Toy Tales in Half Price Books, and I've had a great time knitting some of the toys from the book. I've found the patterns easy to follow, and the results are adorable.

For anyone who enjoys knitting and would like to try making their own knitted toys, I'd strongly recommend these patterns. So far I've made the elephant and the frog, and I'm planning on making several more. I'll post updates as I finish more toys!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Chapter Four from James Joyce's "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man"

Just as Stephen Dedalus's sexual ecstasy declines into lechery in Chapter Three, his religious fervor quickly devolves into narrow-minded zealotry. He devotes himself to religious contemplation, laying out "his daily devotional areas" and practicing supererogation. Yet, although Stephen imagines himself growing closer to eternity, his base motives and rigid methodology undermine his chance at true spiritual growth. Like the "businesslike priest" from "Grace", Stephen transforms spirituality into a crude transaction. He even imagines his "soul in devotion pressing like fingers the keyboard of a great cash register" until "the amount of his purchase" ends up in heaven.

Despite his efforts to pray constantly and mortify his flesh, Stephen discovers that he has less patience and compassion for others than he had before. He becomes angry at his poor mother when she sneezes, or at his other family members when they "disturb his devotions." If his spirituality does not make him a more loving, kind person, what does that say about the practices of the Catholic church? To his discouragement, Stephen remembers his Jesuit masters displaying similar signs of trivial anger--"twitching mouths, closeshut lips and flushed cheeks." This lack of patience reflects the unbalanced lives both the priests and Stephen lead; their excessive devotion to the spirit leads them to neglect or even abuse their bodies and their emotional lives. Ultimately, Stephen finds himself stuck in another rut, this time one of "spiritual dryness" and desolation. Though he confessed his sins and received absolution, he still feels guilty.

Stephen's intense piety does not go unobserved. The director of his college invites him to his office to ask Stephen if he has a vocation (a calling to join the priesthood). Yet even in the beginning of their meeting, Stephen's mind wanders as he remembers all the naive and romantic beliefs of his youth. In particular, he remembers his disillusionment when he discovered the brittle texture of women's stockings, when he had imagined them to be as soft as rose petals. These musings foreshadow Stephen's growing disillusionment with the church. He feels fond of his masters, but has gradually realized how deeply their religious beliefs have limited their intellectual capabilities. He's embarrassed when he remembers how one of his Jesuit masters insisted that Victor Hugo became a lesser writer after he gave up Catholicism. Throughout the chapter, Stephen gradually recognizes that his own unbalanced spiritual devotion will inhibit his intellectual and emotional development, as it has inhibited his masters.

Belvedere College, Dublin

The school director nonetheless does an excellent job of appealing to Stephen, despite his many doubts. The old priest cleverly appeals to Stephen's pride by telling him that a vocation for the priesthood is the highest honor God can bestow upon a man, and that "no angel or archangel in heaven, no saint, not even the Virgin herself has the power of a priest of God." Indeed, Stephen briefly fantasizes about his life as a priest, imagining the pomp and circumstance and his own preening humility as he embraces the priestly role.

But the second he steps outside Belvedere College, Stephen sees the energy, freedom, and passion of the outside world embodied in four joyful young men, who are singing and half dancing down the street. In contrast, the director's face shows only "a mirthless reflection of the sunken day." As he considers the "grave and ordered and passionless life" that awaits him as a priest, Stephen feels a "feverish quickening of his pulses" and deep unrest. When he thinks about who he'd become as a priest, he sees his face "eyeless and sourfavored and devout, shot with pink tinges of suffocated anger."

As Stephen realizes that he will never become a priest, the separation he feels from his family and fellow men fades away. Instead of feeling impatience with his family, he smiles at "this disorder, the misrule and confusion of his father's house." Still, even his new found sense of camaraderie does not prepare him for the news that the family must move again because their landlord is kicking them out. Stephen listens "with pain of spirit to the overtone of weariness behind their fresh innocent voices." His brooding melancholy reminds him of Newman and Virgil, perhaps foreshadowing his budding desire to become a poet.
In the next section of the chapter, Joyce reveals the new direction in Stephen's life: attending university. Instead of a dull, passionless life, he seeks a new adventure. As if to emphasize the contrast between his new life and the priest's life he successful avoided, Stephen sees a troop of Christian Brothers, looking humble and plain. Despite recognizing their goodness and humble piety, Stephen feels nothing but shame and commiseration for them. But a beautiful poetic phrase quickly pulls him out of his dull bitterness, and once again Stephen feels alive with the beauty and poetry all around him.

As he walks through Dublin, some of his friends call out to him while they swim on the beach. But Stephen does not reply to their calls, instead heeding the "lust of wandering in his feet" as he vows to "create proudly out of the freedom and power of his soul." As he wonders, he encounters the bird-girl, a young woman who's wading in the stream. Stephen is enchanted by the girl's beauty, to him she "seemed like one whom magic had changed into the likeness of a strange and beautiful seabird." He is so effected by her that he believes that her "image had passed into his soul for ever [although] no word had broken the holy silence of his ecstasy." Stephen wonders on, feeling the wild call of the creative life, enjoying his youth and freedom in a joyful world.

Other blogs for A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Five

Blogs for James Joyce's Dubliners:

"The Sisters" and "An Encounter"

"After the Race" and "Two Gallants"

"A Little Cloud" and "Counterparts"

"Clay" and "A Painful Case"

"Ivy Day in the Committee Room"

"A Mother"


"The Dead"

Blogs for James Joyce's Ulysses: