As most of you know, beginners in the Suzuki method start off learning how to play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. This is a very simple and well known children’s song, so chances are, the student can already sing the melody. Because the first set of pieces learned in the Suzuki method are variations on this song, we call our beginners, Twinklers. Our Twinklers can learn their first scale by singing it and I often sing it to the following words, (one syllable for each note in the scale):
“The little train goes up the hill. The little train comes down again.”
(The first sentence is the scale going up and the second is the scale coming back down – one octave.) I will play the scale for them, first pizzicato (i.e. plucking the notes rather than bowing) then the student does the same and practices this at home. Then we can bow a fun rhythm and it can become a monkey song – a good activity to insert between the focused learning tasks.
On the violin the first scales we learn are A major, D major and G major, while on viola it is D major, G major and C major. The student may start his or her scales in pizzicato (this removes the challenge of using the bow correctly, so we can just focus on the notes of the scale in the beginning). Then I have the student go up the scale naming each note as he or she goes, for example:
“A, B, C#, D, E, F#, G#, A”
And they turn around and go back down again.
When they know the names of the notes on their instrument, they are ready to name the notes on the staff and effectively to begin reading music. This is where I recommend using I Can Read Music: A Note Reading Book for Violin Students (Volume 1). (Also available: I Can Read Music: For Viola Volume 1 and I Can Read Music: For Cello, Volume I). I use this book for various activities. When the book is open to lesson one, the Pitch page is on the left and the Rhythm page is on the right. For the Pitch page, the student names the notes and then plays them, one line at a time. For the Rhythm page, the student claps and counts and then plays and counts, one line at a time.
By the middle of the Suzuki Book 1, I have the students put the book on the stand and point to the notes as they listen to the recording and then practice. This is the daily routine.