Saturday, December 7, 2013

Pascale Method for Violin--A Review

While I consider myself a Suzuki violin teacher, I do think it's valuable for all teachers to explore different methods and approaches to teaching. After all, no two students are the same, so the teaching methods that work well for one student might not work for another. I think this is consistent with Suzuki's philosophy of musical education for all children, including those who prefer to learn in a different way.

With that in mind, I decided to keep an open mind when the head of the music school I teach at recommended trying the Pascale Method book for our beginning violin students. I'm very glad I did. For one thing, I think that the method actually blends very well with Suzuki Method--in fact, it's an excellent "pre-twinkle" book, similar to the Step by Step books by Kerstin Wartberg. The twelve lessons in the Pascale Method lead up to students playing Twinkle Variation A, so they segue nicely into the first Suzuki Book.

The best part of the Pascale Method is really the extras-- the DVD (which is included in the book), and the sticker pack, which is sold separately. All of the students loved using the stickers (it never ceases to amaze me how much stickers can motivate kids). The stickers kept students engaged and helped them enjoy their lessons. I used the stickers in place of M&Ms in focus exercises, as prizes for doing enough repetitions, and as markers for finger placement on the violin and the bow.

The DVD was incredibly useful as well. One of my biggest problems is getting young children to practice at home. Often, parents don't have the time to help them much, or they don't feel they understand the violin well enough to help their children. As any music teacher can tell you, practice is essential to learning an instrument, and young children need their parents to help them. Thankfully, the DVD had clear instructions and good demonstrations, so it helped inspire the children to practice. It also gave the parents more confidence that they could help their children, since the DVD reminded them of what the children learned in their lessons.

As for the content and order of the lessons themselves, it was overall pretty good. I thought that the steps to holding the violin were a bit long, but they were also fool proof. The "elevator on the violin: exercise was so effective at developing a straight bow that I started using it on many of my more advanced students as well (To be fair, I don't think this exercise is unique to the Pascale Method, as I've seen similar exercises before, but this one is particularly clear and the DVD demonstration very useful). Likewise, the "four string airplane" and other open string exercises were valuable. However, I did not care for their method for shaping the bow hand--it seemed needlessly complicated and was not introduced fast enough. I ended up skipping most of their videos and suggestions for bow hand and teaching it the way I prefer.

I also found the note-reading sections of the books frustrating to use. They introduced concepts so fast that many of the younger students couldn't keep up, and they didn't reinforce concepts enough throughout the book. For example, in the early lessons, the books have activities for learning the musical staff and finding the open string notes. But for a young child to understand the musical staff and find notes reliably, they need to practice over and over again. Personally, I think it would be better for them to leave out the note-reading and focus on violin techniques, or at least go slower. However, I did like that the books taught rhythms using Kodaly syllables. That was very helpful, since many children had already learned ta or ti-ti from their elementary music classes. It gave students a way to connect what they learned at school with their violin, and I find Kodaly syllables helpful for students who struggle with rhythm.

Overall, I'd recommend the Pascale Method for Violin as a pre-twinkle book. The DVD and the stickers encourage children to practice at home, and the lessons have some good content.

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

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