A very kind commenter asked where I’ve been and said nice things about the blog, so I at least wanted to post a short explanation.

Readers know that my daughter and I really struggled with practice. As it turns out, those struggles defeated me (at least for the moment), and we stopped doing Suzuki guitar at the end of the spring semester.

I am sad about this; sometimes, unspeakably so. I feel like I did so many things wrong. I also still find it hard to fathom; M was in Book 3 and her playing sounded great. It’s hard for me to get my head around the fact that I couldn’t keep her going. Also, I worry about discouraging my handful of readers. I do believe, despite my experience so far, that the Suzuki experience is incredibly powerful and valuable, even with the struggle it entails. But even saying that, I feel like a bit of a fraud—after all, I couldn’t make it work, so who am I to talk?

I appreciate my readers, and I wish you the best. I will try to post some more as I get my thoughts together and have something helpful to say.

I posted instructions about how to modify a $70 SKB Baby Taylor case to fit a fractional guitar. Check it out!

I’ve always seen the guitar as a doorway to musicianship for my daughter, rather than an end in itself. I certainly hope that she’ll love playing guitar some day, but I recognize that she didn’t pick it, and that she may someday quit playing.

Because of my desire to help my daughter become a musician, rather than specifically a guitarist, I’m often introducing other instruments into our practices. At various times, we’ve played the ukulele; the pennywhistle; the harmonica; and various percussion instruments (the djembe, the snare drum, the claves). (Note: I can’t really play any of these instruments. But I enjoy trying.) I use them to help develop sightreading skills, rhythm awareness, and music theory.

Recently, I’ve gotten obsessed with the bass. Specifically, I’m obsessed with the Kala Ubass. It’s a baritone ukulele body equipped with special polyurethane strings, and, when amplified, it sounds almost exactly like an upright bass. I haven’t bought one because it’s around $400, but it’s a tossup between whether I want it or an iPad more.

My daughter is not obsessed with the bass, but she did ask to play upright bass in her enrichment class last year at the Colorado Suzuki Institute. More recently, at this year’s institute (at the MacPhail Center for Music), she played the bass part in a guitar-quartet piece, and since then she has continued to play the part on her own during any small breaks in our home practices (much to my annoyance). I’ve actually never seen something stick in her head like this bass part. Mind you, we practiced it a ton during the institute, but it got me wondering whether I could keep her enthusiasm about that bass part alive by starting to teach her bass.

So that’s what I’ve started doing, using her guitar. Since the lowest four strings of the guitar are tuned the same as a bass (just an octave up), you can learn bass-clef reading and the fretboard geography of the electric bass (or the Ubass) using an ordinary guitar.

So I picked up David Overthrow’s Beginning Electric Bass, and two days ago M and I started sight-reading a scale-like warmup exercise in the beginning of the book. I taught her the lines (GBDFA) and the spaces (ACEG) of the bass clef and the associated mnemonics (Good Boys Do Fine Always and All Cows Eat Grass). Then we read the music off the instrument, just saying the note names, and then moved to saying and playing the notes. Since this particular exercise is all stepwise movement, it was pretty doable. Today (our second day on the piece), I added a fun twist: one of us read the notes as if they were on the treble clef while the other read them on the bass clef. Thus put us in harmony a sixth apart, which sounded pretty good. We traded off doing it each way.

We probably can’t do this every day, but I think its worthwhile for any musician to have a working familiarity with the bass clef. (Having played the piano for a couple of years, I can read it, but not nearly as easily as the treble clef.) And if I ever get a Kala Ubass, M will have a head start on learning how to play it. I love the idea of her being able to play both the guitar and the electric bass.

I updated the children’s guitar page to reflect two new recommended guitars:

  1. The 48-cm Hopf-Hellweg Bronco from Thomann.de, which I bought this March.
  2. The 52-cm Aranjuez from leihinstrumente.de, which a commenter bought recently and recommends.
Also, I found that an SKB Baby Taylor hard case ($70 from Amazon), with some fairly simple modifications, worked well for my 48 cm-guitar and would likely work (again, with modifications) for any guitar from 44 cm up to about 57.8 cm (the scale length of an actual Baby Taylor).

This post is a little bit retro, so bear with me. In the Suzuki-guitar Facebook group, a teacher asked for suggestions to give to a parent whose child has a hard time learning the song names in Book 1.

This was hard for me and M, and I came up with a unique solution that I thought I’d share. For each song, I figured out some singable, distinctive piece of the melody, then I recorded very short snippets of myself singing the song’s name to that melody. Next, I burned a custom audio CD of the Book 1 songs featuring my singing before each song. Thus, for instance, before the actual Song of the Wind, you would hear me singing, ‘Ba-da-ba-ba, Ba-da-ba-ba, So-ong of the Wind.”

Some disclaimers:

  • I sang the name of “Rigadoon” as “Rigadon” (i.e., “on” not “oon”) because the CD jacket or the book (I forget which) has it spelled that way. But I later learned that everyone says “Rigadoon.”
  • Ideally, the volume on these should be a hair lower to balance better with the songs. But we lived with it. You could reduce the volume yourself in an audio editor like Audacity.
  • I recorded the singing in Audacity with a crummy headset mike, and I’m not the world’s best singer, so these song intros are not high art. But I can keep a tune, and after hearing these intros many times, everyone in the family (including my wife, who is not the Suzuki parent) knows the names of the Book 1 songs.

I’ve put the audio files below in a browser-based player. To listen to or download an individual file:

  1. Click a song’s name in the playlist.
  2. The song will load in the player and will soon start playing. You should see the words “Download MP3″ under the song name.
  3. Right-click “Download MP3″ and save the file to your computer.
Alternatively, you can download this ZIP file (3.7 MB) that contains all of them:

The Suzuki Association of America has just posted a very nice 11-minute video titled The Sound of Success: Suzuki Method for Guitar. It’s a general overview, aimed at potential students and teachers. It includes brief interviews with some of the country’s best-known Suzuki-guitar teachers (Mary Lou Roberts; David Madsen, who put the video together; Andrea Cannon; Bill Kossler; and others).

Portions of the video were shot at the Suzuki Association’s national convention in 2010. At the time, the producers actually took some video of M for potential use in the video. I think she played Lightly Row. She was about 5 at the time, and had been playing for about six months. Alas, her scene was left on the cutting-room floor (for you youngsters who don’t know what film is, that means “her scene isn’t in the final video”).

But it’s a nice video, even without her.

This post has little to do with Suzuki guitar. Okay, nothing to do with Suzuki guitar. But this is my blog; I’m pissed at Hertz; so I’m blogging about it here.

On Friday March 16, I made arrangements to travel to LA the next day to visit a dying friend. My hotel (a Radisson) referred me to Hertz for a “deal” on car rental. I already had an offer from Alamo, but I figured I’d give Hertz a shot.

On the phone, Hertz quotes me $330 for a week’s rental. I say it’s too high because Alamo quoted me $270. The Hertz rep asks me if I have any major credit cards that might get me a discount. I propose two, a USAA card and a Chase card. She checks. The USAA discount would get me to $260, and the Chase discount is even better: $230 and change. “Great,” I say, “book it.” The agent takes all my info, tells me I’m all set, and gives me a confirmation number.

As she gave me the confirmation number, I specifically thought to myself, “Should I write this down? Nah, there’s really no need. They’ve got my name in the system.”

So I arrive at LAX Friday night and get to the Hertz counter at 11 pm. I give my name.

Agent: “Sorry, we don’t have a reservation for you. Do you have a confirmation number? No? Well, the best rate I’m showing is $430 [or thereabouts].”

Me: “Whoa, that’s way too high. Let me talk to the manager.”

Hertz: “Okay, but it’s spring break. We can’t just give you the lower rate without some proof it was quoted to you.”

The manager comes out. He wants a confirmation number. I wake up my wife and ask her to look on my desk in case I wrote it down on my page with travel notes, but I didn’t. The manager and his agent see me do this and hear me talking to her.

So I tell my story again, and I’m visibly distraught: I’m visiting a dying friend; I made a reservation on the phone by referral from Radisson; I was quoted $330, then $260, then $230. I ask: “Why would I make this up? You want proof that I got the quote — your proof is that I’m standing here at the Hertz counter telling you this story. Why would I show up here?”

Manager: “Do you know the name of the person you spoke with?”

Me: “No. I saw no reason to ask her name. You are telling me you can’t help me because you don’t believe me?”

Manager: “We can get you a car, sir.”

Me: “I know you can get me a car. But I expect a car at the rate I was quoted, $230.”

Manager: “We can’t do that.”

Muttering obscenities, I ask for my ID and credit-card back and leave Hertz. I ask the Hertz shuttle guy to take me back to the airport because I am going to use a different rental-car company. He offers to drop me at Avis or Budget, which are on the way back to the airport. (This is the only thoughtful thing a Hertz employee did for me.)

He drops me at Avis. I tell my story. They give me a car for $260. (I think they should have done better on the price, but the person I dealt with was totally courteous, and I needed a damn car.)

So Hertz, if you’re listening:

You suck. You treated me like crap, and you showed yourselves to be utter morons. Even if your counter people genuinely thought I was lying—which only a moron would think (why, why, why do you think a person would show up at your counter at 11 pm and invent a story—and cry—and wake his wife up—just to get a lower rate on a car—a rate that is in spitting distance of your competitor’s advertised rates?)—a sane manager would have just given me what I wanted to avoid the possibility that I was telling the truth and would publicize your horridness on social media. Which I am doing now.

Hertz is the world’s worst car-rental company.

A parent admired my daughter’s stool at this weekend’s Suzuki Association of Minnesota graduation event, so I’ve updated my gear page by adding more info about chairs and stools. I also added some more info about tuners. Check it out!

(And yes, I know the blog has seemed moribund. But do not despair! I plan to return to regular posting soon.)

I updated my page about children’s guitars. Mostly, I added various additional models of guitars from German sellers. There’s a good chance I’ll take a chance on a 48-cm Hopf-Hellweg Bronco this spring.

Before describing today’s practice, some background. I see that in my last post, from a week ago, I was congratulating myself on handling M’s tantrum by telling her to go to her room until she calmed down. Well, the very next day, she was getting frustrated and acting uncooperative, and she said, “Aren’t you going to send me to my room?” “No,” I said (because it was late and because I was onto her game).

M: “But I want to go play in my room!”

So the whole “go to your room until you’re ready to practice” might not be sustainable.

Then a few days ago, I did something a little insane. M was being incredibly hostile and contrary, resisting all my instructions. We were working on Suzuki’s Allegro, I think, and she kept making the same mistake. I told her to slow down; she didn’t want to. I said she needed to play the section with no mistakes. (It was a part she knows.) She started to play at her too-fast tempo, and I said, “That’s too fast.” “No it’s not,” she replied.

Instead of arguing, I said, “Okay. I think that’s too fast. But you can play that fast if you want. If you make a mistake at that tempo, though, I’m going to charge you a dollar.”

Smoldering gaze. She plays at the too-fast tempo. She makes a mistake, stops, looks at me, and starts bawling.  “Now you’re going to charge me a dollar. That’s not fair!”

Was it fair? Probably not. But I explained two things to her. First, I said that she had made a choice: Play at the tempo of her choosing, and risk losing a dollar if she made a mistake, or play at a slower tempo set by me, with no risk of losing a dollar. She chose to take the risk. Second, I explained that I would give her the chance to earn the dollar back during another lesson, and I was sure she could. She eventually calmed down, and we practiced some more.

Fast forward to today. I decided to work on the B section of Carcassi’s Andante, her newest working piece. We started with me reading another chapter in Practiceopedia, then we read the sheet music for Andante. The B section has some tricky fingering — a hammer-on, followed by an m-i-a plucking pattern — and I wanted to preview it. After we looked at the sheet music, I had her do the right-hand fingering for the first phrase in the air.

Then we started in on the first four notes: an A in the bass, followed by A-G#-A (hammer-on). She didn’t do a great job paying attention as she got ready, so she was playing wrong notes because of wrong hand placement. I did a little Karate Kid action (drop the jacket; pick it up; hang it up; drop it; pick it up; etc.), asking her to drop her hands, then prepare; drop hands, prepare; etc. She played along and was pretty cheerful.

Then I set her the goal of playing those four notes correctly 10 times in a row. She managed it, but it took probably 15 minutes, because she’d do a couple right, then muff it by not paying attention. Still, she stayed positive, partly because she was just in a good mood, but partly (I think) because she could see that this was a clearly achievable task — she did achieve it, and it was only four notes!

Once she did that part right ten times in a row, we moved to the next few notes, which are a little harder (there’s a dotted eight and sixteenth, and you have to use the a finger). And here, I asked her to get it right 10 times, but not necessarily in a row. She asked to earn money for the repetitions, and I agreed, as a way for her to earn back the $1 I had charged her a few days ago. We decided on 10 cents per repetition for the first six, then we renegotiated, and she had to do the last 4 in a row correct to get 10 cents for each of them; otherwise, each would be worth 1 cent. She earned her dollar back.

From start to finish (including reading Practiceopedia), we spent almost an hour, and we practiced a total of one bar of music. But M was cheerful and cooperative, and we did a heck of a job with that one bar. Every day can’t be like this, but it was a pretty good day overall. She wrote this in her Breakthrough Diary (which we have not regularly been maintaining):

2011 December 19 - Breakthrough Diary - Andante B section

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