Learning song names in Book 1

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:

Lots of music theory

Monday: We got started around 6:30 and did music stuff until 8:00. I say “music stuff” because we spent very little time with hands on the guitar. In fact, we started out with the D harmonica, which I used as an ear-training/music theory tool. I took a piece of dry-erase paper with a staff and drew 20 boxes (2 rows of 10) to correspond to the blow and draw notes of the D harmonica. Then I had M fill in the box with each note, which I would play on the harmonica and then have her find on the guitar. Because the first 9 blow notes on a diatonic harmonica are the I chord of the harmonica’s key (here, D-F#-A) repeated in 3 octaves, I had occasion to reinforce the formula for building a major chord (1-3-5).

Once we got the boxes filled out, we worked on Skip to My Lou on the harmonica. M found it a little frustrating, understandably — it’s can be hard to get a clean note on a harmonica, both because it’s hard to pucker your lips right, and because it’s easy to bend some of the notes by a half-step or more. But we stuck with it for a while.

Next, we worked on coming up with a cadenza for M to play in Suzuki’s Allegro. This is something her teacher worked on both in group class on Saturday and in M’s private lesson. M generally doesn’t do well coming up with a cadenza because she simply plays notes without having any idea of what, musically, she’s trying to do. So instead of sounding like a musical idea, her cadenzas just sound like random notes. Her teacher asked M to sing her cadenza on Saturday, saying that if you can sing it, you can play. To which I would add: If you can’t sing it (assuming you transpose it into your range), then you can’t play it, because it doesn’t have any genuine musical shape.

So I started out by having M sing on “la” while I played a simple I-IV-V chord progression. After doing that for a while, I gave M an A to start, and had her sing a little musical fragment for her cadenza. The fragment was unreliable at first; that is, she wasn’t singing it consistently the same. But she finally settled on a little two-bar tunelet. Our next step was to figure out the tune itself, which we did by having M sing and try to pick out the notes on her guitar. As we did that, I had M write the notes down on a page of dry-erase staff paper.  Eventually, what we wrote down turned out to be basically two bars of Aunt Rhody, in the key of A. But that’s okay!

After all of that, all we did on the guitar was work on Suzuki’s Allegro for a while, focusing on right-hand technique. M got frustrated because I was setting demanding standards — I insisted on proper alternating fingers, and I tried to get her to place her fingers more and more carefully as we worked through it. But she calmed herself down, and she sounded okay by the time we stopped practicing.

Tuesday: It’s dance day on Tuesdays, so we only had about 15 minutes to practice. To increase the instructional time, we talked music theory at dinner: how to build a major scale (whole-whole-half-whole-whole-whole-half), how to build a major chord, what the typical chord progression of rock, folk, blues, and country music is (I-IV-V). Then to illustrate the chord-progression info, and just for fun, we started our actual practice with me playing and singing — with M joining in — Sugarland’s Stuck Like Glue, which has been in heavy rotation around here since M watched Pentatonix’s performance of it on The Sing-Off.

Then, I asked M to play Perpetual Motion, since she’ll be recording it pretty soon for the Suzuki graduation that happens in March. It was better than I expected. She missed quite a few notes when she played it at about 60 bpm = 1/8 notes ((I’m guessing; I let her choose the tempo and wasn’t using a metronome), but that was mostly because she was staring into space. When I set the metronome to 100 bpm = 8th notes and reminded her to watch her left hand, she played it much better.

Then she did a few repetitions of the A section of Suzuki’s Allegro. She’s still a little unreliable in her alternating, and she doesn’t reliably play with her nails, but she very gamely did several repetitions, and she got better every time. Overall, she’s making progress on the song and on her technique.

Lice! (and Pentatonix!)

Posting’s been even lighter than usual because for the past several days, I’ve been spending a ton of time inspecting M’s and her mom’s heads for lice and nits (and being inspected in turn). After four solid days, M was entirely louse-free.

What a way to spend the Thanksgiving weekend!

But on an unrelated note, Pentatonix triumphed in the Sing-Off, showing that sometimes talent is rewarded.

And speaking of singing harmony, I had a surprise from M today: She was watching Wild Kratts as I inspected her head again (clean), and she sang along with the theme song in harmony. It was only for two notes, but still — it appeared to me that she was making up the harmony on her own. The one time we tried singing a round, it didn’t work out — M got pulled off of her part onto mine. But apparently she is learning harmony by osmosis.

Meadow Minuet, with accompaniment

Monday: M had her private lesson today. As we walked to the car, she said, “Yay, we don’t have to practice today.” Sigh.

At her lesson, M played Meadow Minuet all the way through with her teacher playing the accompaniment. Man, that’s a busy accompaniment! I had a hard time hearing M’s part. But M soldiered through, playing a number of repetitions and improving each time. [Later, I will post some audio.]

Musically, her teacher taught M to introduce a ritard plus a fermata, and then a return a tempo, in the middle of the D section, leading up to the C# on the 9th fret of string 1. M did a nice job.

Her teacher suggested we work on the closed A scale to get ready for book 2. (We have already worked on this scale in the past.)

On the non-guitar-related front, I have decided to more actively develop both M’s voice and my own in the following ways:

  • For M, I recently bought Voice Lessons to Go for Kids. We listened to the CD this weekend, on the way to the beach, and the whole family (me, M, and S) sang along. My first impression: the instructional content is solid, but the presentation is pretty dry. M was game for it the first time I played it, but since then, she has said she doesn’t want to listen to the CD.
  • For me, I recently bought Harmony Singing By Ear by Susan Anders. I am loving this! The instructor proceeds in sensible steps, her presentation is clear, the production is good, and the songs are lovely. I’ve listened and sang along a few times with M in the car, and I could hear her sometimes singing along from the back seat. I can’t think of a better way to introduce basic chord-building theory than using these CDs. I will probably review them more thoroughly later. You need a reasonably good ear and ability to match pitches to use the CDs, but you don’t otherwise need a lot of singing ability.

Group class — musicianship exercises

Excercises in today’s group class:

  • The G-scale knocking exercise. The teacher again asked the kids to shout the note names — inside their heads.
  • A listening/note geography exercise with the G scale on the G string. While the kids’ eyes were closed, the teacher played a portion of the G scale and stopped, then asked a student what note he just played, on what fret. Then he made it harder by getting more and more melodic. The kids did better than I would have.
  • Note geography: The teacher showed off the “five-fret” rule, i.e., the fact that 4 of 5 strings sound like the next-highest string at the 5th fret. The kids are supposed to learn the name and location of the notes on the first 5 frets.
    • Coincidentally, the flash cards I ordered from Andrea Cannon arrived Saturday, and this note geography is precisely what they cover.
    • I went over the note geography at lunch time with M by drawing a diagram of the neck on an index card and working out with her what note was found on each fret. She bought into it so much that she made sure we showed our drawing to her studio teacher at our lesson after lunch.
  • Scale construction: The teacher took the kids to the piano to give them another look at whole steps and half steps and how a scale is constructed. (They’ve been building it in terms of frets — 2-2-1-2-2-2-1 — rather than whole and half steps.) He used a mnemonic that was new to me:
    • Babies Cry = only a half step between the notes B and C
    • Elephants Fly = only a half step between the notes E and F
      • M later came up with her own mnemonic for this: Ernie Feather.
  • Radio on/radio off: He asked a student to be the radio switch for “radio on/radio off” Perpetual Motion. In radio on/off, the students play while the switch (the leader’s arm) is up, and stop playing — but keep the tune going in their heads — while the switch is down. It’s a great listening exercise. But the student ignored the teacher’s instruction to turn on or off at the end of phrases, not in the middle of phrases, and thus it was too hard for the kids who were playing to stay with the music.

Continue reading Group class — musicianship exercises

Lesson recap: singing and playing, continued

M was a little hyper after dinner. As we were heading toward our practice room, I said, “You seem a little all over the place. You’ll need to settle down, otherwise things aren’t going to go well.” (I think I said this mostly like an observation, not a threat. I really try to avoid threats — or, as M has called them, “threatens.”)

In fact, she did settle down, and we had a nice lesson. Afterwards we had some ice cream, and I said, “You did a nice job cooperating today. Thanks.” She responded, “I heard what you said.” Meaning (as I confirmed) that she took heed of my direction at the start of our lesson to settle down. This may have been an explanation in hindsight rather than a reflection of her thought process earlier, but I’ll take it!

Today, we sang and played each song that we practiced. We also went over the song structure before playing. We did: Continue reading Lesson recap: singing and playing, continued