Monday, December 10, 2007

Free Online Resources - Portnoi's book

I'm sure this one has been floating around for a while, but I just found out about it this weekend, thanks to LHoward's post on the TalkBass Forums.

It's a pdf version of Henry Portnoi's "Creative Double Bass Method", which I heard about years ago, but have never before seen. He starts the book with a section on bowing practice and styles, then moves on to "the fingerboard". Oh, and just what we need: yet another position-numbering system. He starts the player in what he calls "V" position (which would correspond to Simandl's "III" position), relying on the "tuning" harmonics to get the student in the right position.

This seems to be a very well thought-out and thorough method, and Portnoi seems to have gone to great pains to explain the "how" and "why" of all the technique very thoroughly.

To find the book, follow this link, click on "technique books" at the bottom of the page, then you can select the Portnoi book to download in .pdf format. I've already printed the whole thing out and will certainly be giving it a closer look (I don't think I can stand another trip through the Simandl at this point . . . )

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Virginia Dixon Interviewed on Contrabass Conversations

Jason Heath just released a wonderful interview with bassist and pedagogue Virginia Dixon on his "Contrabass Conversations" podcast. In this interview, Virginia had a chance to speak a little about her own experiences as a performer and teacher, as well as her views on teaching bass to the very young. She and Jason are both doing great work, and I hope bassists and teachers take the opportunity to listen!

If you'd like to read some of the previous articles I wrote earlier this year about Virginia or the Suzuki Bass Method, please follow the links below.

About Virginia Dixon
Interview with Virginia Dixon

How I became involved with the Suzuki Bass Program
How to Become a Suzuki Bass Instructor
Resources for Suzuki Bass Teachers and Students
Materials for Beginning Suzuki Bass Students and Teachers

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Answering search query: intonation for beginning orchestras

I spy on my readers: I love checking "my Statcounter" to see who's reading the blog, and what they're looking for when they get there. People often stumble on this site because they were searching for how to install a power outlet or strip paint using a heat gun. I always think that's pretty funny, and I love the idea that there's actually someone idiotic enough to take home improvement advice from my blog. They deserve the electrocution and subsequent house fire I'm sure they ended up receiving.

Here's an interesting search field that brought someone here recently, though: "intonation for beginning orchestra". That's something I've gotten much better at teaching over the last year or two, and I'm starting to hear some good results from students who couldn't previously play in tune.

If you're am elementary string teacher, I advocate for a multi-sensory approach to teaching intonation. Activate their visual sense with reference points on the fingerboard. Encourage them to "feel" the placement of their arm/wrist/fingers as they play the note in tune. Get them to listen to themselves and the sounds around them. I refrain from the taste and smell exercises recommended elsewhere (my students aren't allowed to lick their instrument. It's a rule: they have to join band if they want to do that stuff).

The Visual - Yes, lines or stickers on the fingerboard can help alot; I tend to avoid them for as long as possible, though. I don't like the effect on the student's posture when they start to stare at the marks on their fingerboard: all the visual learners (constituting most of the population, from my experience) want to stare at the stickers or marks as soon as they get them, and are likely to forget all of the good playing habits they've learned. When students do that, I make them close their eyes and play slowly. At first, they seem to think they won't put the right finger down if they can't see it. They are usually pleasantly surprised to find out they can play the right notes to a major scale or "twinkle" with their eyes closed. Then they start actually listening to themselves. If you do this, it's a good opportunity to gain control of the pace off the lesson, reminding the student of all of the elements of good performance posture ("head into the violin", "wrist hanging down", "relax the shoulder" or what have you).

The Tactile - I try to get the kids to remember the feeling of their hands when in the right position. I don't know any tricks for doing this: I just tell them to close their eyes (if they are one of the very visually focused kids) and "feel" their hand. I always feel like Yoda when I do this. As an intersting side note, there is a professional orchestral mallet player who is totally deaf, but can play correct pitches by feel. There is probably a way to incorporate "feeling" the correct pitches into elementary string lessons, but I haven't gotten there yet.

The Aural - It seems obvious, but I think most young students need to be trained to listen to themselves when playing. They can do it given time and effort. It seems to work best when they're playing in unison with someone else (their section or lesson group, for example, but it's better if they can play in unison with an experienced player who will model good intonation for them). Encourage them to "sit on" fingered notes for a long time to really start to hear the "in tune" or "out of tune" quality of the notes. For years, I only had beginning string sections play long notes in unison on open strings (as a bowing exercise): I'm starting to see the value of playing long, sustained, stopped notes in unison as soon as possible. Have them play open d, sustained for the length of a few bows, then challenge them to "step up" and stop the e on the d string. Some of them will adjust their pitch right away, some will require encouragement and time. Tell them individually if they need to go higher or lower. Compliment them when they get more in tune. They do get it, given time.

One thing I've found is that it's a good exercise to play another instrument when playing in unison with students while focusing on intonation. If I play cello, bass, or piano (or sing, for that matter) with an upper string student, they spend less effort trying to copy my technique and listen more closely to the notes and phrases. Obviously, one should model playing technique for them initially, but then the result can be surprising when you let them go off on their own.

A caveat: This stuff only works effectively with the bow. I know there are many school orchestra teachers out there who start the kids off playing only pizzicato: in my opinion, there is no way the students will develop any idea of tone or intonation doing this. They have to use the bow from day one.

There are lots more interesting things that can be done with second or third year students (or beyond): they can develop more independence through playing rounds or harmonized parts, for example. However, this will work best if they've already developed a good strong foundation in playing "in tune".

Thursday, November 1, 2007

El SIstema: Nationalized music education?

Dudamel (conductor of the Los Angeles Phil) was profiled in the New York Times magazine last weekend, and it got me thinking about "El Sistema". He's a product of the Venezuelan music education program, which claims to provide an instrument, lessons, and a seat in the youth orchestra for every interested Venezuelan child, regardless of background or ability to pay. It's a system I'd like to learn more about: if anyone stumbles across this who can refer me to good info regarding "El Sistema", please let me know. There must be lots of alum from the "Sistema" program floating around.

Monday, October 8, 2007


I'm trying this one out to see how it works -

About the same time I started this blog, I also started searching for the "best" subscription music service. I've used several, and for a while I was happy using Rhapsody. Recently, I found that the links I spent time building were no longer active - I also felt they were searching for different customers than I could refer as an affiliate.

Let's see how Emusic works out. Here's an example - If you want to hear these collected symphonies of Mendelssohn, click the "buy" button on the bottom. You should be referred to a "free trial" of Emusic. You should then be able to search for other selections for download.

Yes, I receive a commission every time someone does this, and yes, I am very greedy.

If anyone tries this out, please let me know how it works via comment (button below post) or email

I'm hoping this service works out well: they seem to have a good catalogue, and I'm tired of shopping for subscription services. I will, by the way, be trying the service out myself, and I am, as always, a skeptic.

MENDELSSOHN: Complete String Symphonies Nos. 1-12

MENDELSSOHN: Complete String Symphonies Nos. 1-12

MENDELSSOHN: Complete String Symphonies Nos. 1-12

Friday, September 28, 2007

Music Education and Performance

This post is in response to Jason Heath's recent "You can't teach professionally and perform professionally" article.

The article expresses Jason's dismay at being told by a professor of music education that students should choose between an education major and a performance major, rather than pursue a double major.

A few things immediately struck me about this article. The first is the context of the statement: Jason described it as a "certification course", which I can only take to mean an education-specific course offered as part of a degree in education. The state of Illinois may or may not have the same requirements I'm familiar with: here in New York, and in Rhode Island (where I did my initial coursework in music education), certified teachers are required to have a bachelor's degree, a minimum amount of undergraduate coursework in education (usually including observational work), and accepted student teaching experience. For full certification after the first few years of teaching, the candidate is required to obtain a masters degree within a set time frame. There are other states with looser requirements, but the trend nationally is to require at least this much of the incoming teacher. Please correct me if you're a teacher in another state who knows more about this.

Just to continue with the context of the statement: if you're talking about becoming a "certified" teacher, and you're not talking about getting a doctorate, then I can only assume you're talking about becoming a "schoolteacher", k-12, full time, hand in your planbook and do what you're told within union regulations kind of teacher. The kind who doesn't get to choose which kids or families to work with, or not work with. The kind who has to become an early riser whether they want to or not (that seems to be more of a problem for me than for Jason, who wakes up at 4:45 to blog. Wow.) This is in stark contrast to "studio teaching" or "college music department teaching", which are both entirely different animals.

Within certain limits, I think the professor in question was right, though he (it sonds like it was a "he", anyway) probably said it in a way which was bound to get a mature and accomplished player like Jason a little worked up.

Let's look at it this way: Everyone with any experience in "the business" knows how much of a commitment it takes to scrape by as a musician. Jason himself has documented this better than anyone in his "Road Warrior" series of articles. It doesn't matter if you're an opera singer, orchestral bassist, rock guitarist, or itinerant shofahar-blower: if you're going to make a living, you've got to spend some serious time traveling to keep the gigs rolling in. You have to be available, and you simply won't be as available when you're working a teacher's schedule.

You can, and should, continue to play at a professional level. Some of the most horribly ineffective and unhappy teachers I've met are "music teachers who don't play music". This is a fate worse than death, and should be avoided at all costs.

However, you simply won't be able to keep building that complicated jigsaw puzzle a freelance player needs to be building in order to maintain their status as a "professional musician". You can try it for a while, but I've yet to see it work. This is one of the things which kept me out of the teaching profession for so long. When I was younger, I was just dead set on keeping my playing schedule up. Less than five nights working per week was unacceptable, and I wasn't ready to try to give that up until other things happened in my life to push me away from trying to be a full-time player.

This tradeoff isn't all bad, though: it is very common for teachers to play on a professional level in regional orchestras, jazz groups, as singer-songwriters, whatever floats your boat: and they don't have to desperately scramble for money while doing it. I no longer have to take the cut-rate theater gigs I always hated doing, nor do I have to fill up my schedule with "music store teaching" or any of the other "musician jobs" I used to have to deal with on a regular basis if I wanted to pay rent. I can "work cheap" on projects that are of genuine interest to me, as time allows, and that's a good thing. When you have a salaried teaching job and the per-session orchestra with the psychopathic section member two states away calls you, you're allowed to say "gee, I'm sorry, I can't do it". Even better, you don't have to worry whether that contractor will ever call you again.

I have to assume that the prof in question was working at a "teacher's college". Generally speaking, the young musicians who attend these colleges do not have a whole lot of real-world playing experience, so they may have no idea what it takes to survive as a musician. I also have to assume that if someone's got a good, solid playing job as a studio musician (do they still make those?) or a full-time orchestra player, that they will not be going to the teacher's college to get certification to teach in the public schools. In my humble opinion, the prof was right on this one, and doing a service to the younger students in the class, who may need to get their priorities in order before they can prepare to go into the classroom or onto the audition circuit. Either one of these things will be an all-consuming task.

I don't think he was really telling you you can't play as a professional, Jason. I think he was telling a young cohort of students: "It's time to get serious."

There is no question in my mind about this: no one should enter a career in education lightly. It is a profession which requires a lot of serious preparation. There are many different children from many different families who have many different needs, and they don't care about the trip you will have to take to Seattle, or Albany, or Houston, or wherever you need to haul your bass to play excerpts for a committee. They will care if they have a professional teacher who is equipped to deal with their child's educational issues. Or, to give you another tired cliche, you are not just teaching music, you are teaching children.

We need teachers who are willing to commit to this obligation. There are more than enough people trying to "dabble" in the field, then walking out in their first years, only to find out it's too challenging for them.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Thought I'd pass this on - Kozol's online resources

I just finished reading Jonathan Kozol's latest release, "Letters to a Young Teacher". I have to say, any criticisms I've had of his views in the past have all been addressed in this book. He's at his best here, giving real advice to real teachers "on the front lines" rather than addressing large, intractable systematic and societal problems. This seems a stark contrast to his previous works, which have always given me the impression that he's a great critical writer who is very good at seeing existing problems, but not as effective at offering workable solutions.

I was wrong. Read the book.

At the end, there is a series of afterwards. One of them has some contact information for his educational reform movement, Education Action!

After sending an email to the address listed there, I received a very prompt reply giving me links to some recently established resources. Here they are, go check them out if you are interested in Educational reform in the U.S.:

(quoted from ed-action email)
Our website is up and running (, and I want to encourage you to visit it so you can see the many things we have to offer. Some important features include:

Discussion Board

Jonathan's Suggested Revisions for NCLB
(we encourage all of our network members to "weigh in" on NCLB, whether it be writing to or phoning their Congressional representatives, or some other way of voicing their opinion)

Join Our Network

Find Education & Social Justice Oriented Organizations
In case anyone else is interested, here is the email address to Mr. Kozol's Ed Action! organization:

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Links to Resources for Suzuki Bassists

These resources are being published as part of an informational series about the Suzuki Bass Program.

If you have any other links you'd like included here, please comment to this post by clicking the word "comment" below, or email me.

books, CDs, and accompaniment parts for Suzuki bass teachers and students

Shinichi Suzuki's Nurtured by Love
Article: Suzuki Violin vs. Traditional Violin
Great article about S. Suzuki. Includes 25 hours of video footage of his teaching!

For more about the Suzuki Bass Program and Virginia Dixon, follow these links:

About Virginia Dixon
Interview with Virginia Dixon

How I became involved with the Suzuki Bass Program
How to Become a Suzuki Bass Instructor

Materials for Beginning Suzuki Bass Students and Teachers

Interview with Virginia Dixon

This interview with bassist/Suzuki teacher/teacher trainer Virginia Dixon is being published as part of a series of informational articles about the Suzuki Bass School.

Please refer to the bottom of the page for links to related articles

Q: What could you tell us about your own early training?

VA: I have two performance degrees from Indiana University. But things really came together for me when I was a Fellow with the Bach Aria Festival and followed that with doctoral work with Julius Levine at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. The wholeness of his approach, his deep understanding of expressive playing, and his incredible personal kindness became the basis for my teaching today.

Q: How did you initially get involved with the program?

VA: I wanted my own three children to have an early start. There was a parallel with the way my own parents raised me to be around water and to swim. Though I am not a professional swimmer, I do it with great ease, and it has greatly enriched my whole life. Though only one of my kids has become a professional musician, it has worked the same for them. Their lives are much richer for it.

I still remember the first time I attended their violin repertoire class. A group of extremely young children sweetly playing "Twinkle" together was so startlingly beautiful that I wept. I was hooked!

Q: How old was the youngest student you ever taught?

VA: I have taught a series of three-year-olds. One still had the corner of a diaper appearing out below his shirt, and today as a high school student he is a very successful jazz player.

Q: How do you approach positioning the instrument, or teaching a beginner
how to position it?

VA: We move. Through the exploration of movement the child learns not to be intimidated by the size of the instrument and to use his/her body naturally for deep, rich sound.

Q: Could you describe how bow control is developed in the early stages?

VA: The Suzuki Method starts with controlling little pieces of bow and then increases the amount used. The muscle training that comes from this is what is responsible for the big, free sound.

Q: How do you encourage intonation to improve?

VA: Most problems are solved through physical balance and ease and through ear training with the use of open strings and sympathetic vibration.

Q: Is it possible for adults to relearn how to play using techniques designed to
teach young beginners?

VA: Definitely! I did.

Q: One of Dr. Suzuki's basic tenets was that we are not only training children to be good musicians, but good people. How do you feel about that?

VA: Music can be a very noble art. It can inspire many things including collaboration, inner discipline, a feeling of fulfillment, and deep peace. We have too precious little of these things in this warring world of ours.

Q: Do you think that involvement with "Suzuki" can increase a teacher's
marketability or earnings?

VA: Definitely! The system of registering book courses that the Suzuki Association of the Americas as it is set up is very resume -building, both for the classroom and studio teacher. In addition, the people who go through my training courses take a good look at their own playing and teaching thus becoming better performers and better teachers.

Q: The books are designed as a progressive method, where each playing skill is
built up individually through the study of a piece focusing on that skill. Could
you talk a little about how you are determining which pieces belong in the
book, and in which order?

VA: Much of it is through experimentation with the children. Shinichi Suzuki spent several decades figuring out which pieces and in what order. As we create new instrument areas we have done the same, though by following his original example we have taken less time. Even more fortunate are the new methods of publishing that allow changes with every printing of the volumes. It is an evolving method, and that is what Suzuki envisioned.

Q: What do you think about other published methods (Vance, Simandl,
Rabbath, or others) and are they compatible with a Suzuki curriculum?

VA: Each teacher must teach in his/her own way to fit the needs of the individual student. These works can be extremely helpful in supplementing what we have in the method already. The most important reasons for having a nice sequential series like the Suzuki Method are:

1) The children can play their common literature together even when they come from different parts of the world

2) It makes teaching so much more effortless and efficient.

Q: Many players criticize Suzuki methodology because it doesn't teach reading
skills, making it hard to learn reading later. Could you address that?

VA: When the Suzuki Method first came to America I think that the early teachers were so impressed and excited that a small child could play difficult works with such ease that we forgot to teach reading until it was too late. This has now been remedied. Good Suzuki teachers now teach children to read when they are ready, generally about the time that they begin to read at school. We still like the children to learn their core repertoire by ear to develop their musical skills in the same way they develop verbal skills.

Q: Could you describe how you use games to teach skills in the early stages?

VA: When did the English language acquire two meanings for the word "play"? Play is a child's work. Humor and games are a big part of this. I work to make each conscious skill they learn a game, or at least playful.

Q: What are some of your favorite "bass games".

VA: My very favorite is "Bow Game" where you use the bow without the bass to do all manner of pointing and carrying light objects. The reason for this is to build strength and dexterity that brings the kind of control to the bow as if it were an extension to our whole arm. If we did it with the spoon in the high chair to put food into our mouth as a baby we can now do it with our bow to urge sound from the string.

Q: Could you talk about how older players can learn to break bad playing

VA: People tend to overplay. The process of finding just the right amount of energy for a task is like peeling away the layers of an onion, one layer of tension at a time. I am still working on the tension in my playing.

Q: When you worked with Gary Karr to record the performances on the Suzuki
Bass CDs, how did you prepare? Was there any communication beforehand?

VA: Our Bass Committee Chair, Dan Swaim, went to British Columbia and worked with Gary in his home studio. I was not a part of that.

Q: What are some things that you'd like to see taking place in Suzuki bass in
the future?

VA: When the Suzuki Method came to America the level of violin, viola, and cello playing increased by leaps and bounds. Today our rosters of soloists, our chamber ensembles, and our symphony orchestras at all levels are filled with people who got their start with Suzuki. Though it is a byproduct and not the main goal of what we do, a young Suzuki musician can easily mainstream into the conservatories and become a professional. The early start does give him/her a definite edge. I hope that we can do this with bass as well. It is high time!

For more about the Suzuki Bass Program and Virginia Dixon, follow these links:

About Virginia Dixon
How I became involved with the Suzuki Bass Program
Resources for Suzuki Bass Teachers and Students
How to Become a Suzuki Bass Instructor

Materials for Beginning Suzuki Bass Students and Teachers

About Virginia Dixon

As part of an ongoing series of articles related to the Suzuki Bass Program, an interview with Virginia Dixon (Suzuki bass teacher and teacher trainer) is about to be published. For those who have never heard of her, here's some background information:

Virginia Dixon teaches double bass at Wheaton and Elmhurst Colleges and the Suzuki School of Elgin as well as in her home studio. Summers find her teaching at Suzuki institutes which this year included Beaver Creek, CO, New Orleans, and Stevens Point, WI. A former Board Member of the International Society of Bassists, she still edits their journal's Child's Play Column. In 2005, she received the ISB Special Achievement Award as their Young Bassist Ambassador. As a member of the Suzuki Bass Committee she is collaborating on creating materials for the Suzuki Bass Method and is one of two Teacher Trainers for the Suzuki Association of the Americas actively training teachers from the United States and abroad. She holds two performance degrees from Indiana University and has studied with Julius Levine, Murray Grodner, and Georg Hortnagel. Her performances have taken her throughout the United States as well as Europe and Japan.

In her spare time she loves to travel the world with her husband Mark Harbold and is a student of Japanese and Hindi. She is also an avid camper and hiker.

For more about the Suzuki Bass Program and Virginia Dixon, follow these links:

Interview with Virginia Dixon

How I became involved with the Suzuki Bass Program
Resources for Suzuki Bass Teachers and Students
How to Become a Suzuki Bass Instructor

Materials for Beginning Suzuki Bass Students and Teachers

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Early Book (1-3) Suzuki Bass Materials

Each of the first three volumes of the Suzuki Bass program consist of a bass part (containing the written solos), a CD (with all songs performed by Gary Karr and Harmon Lewis), and a piano accompaniment part (a must for studio teachers and recital performances).

All the materials listed here are the newest revised edition as of 2007, sold through Sheet Music Plus, which is where I bought them myself.

Book one materials are all available here:

Suzuki Bass School Bass Part, Volume 1 For String Bass. String - Bass (Suzuki). The Suzuki Method Core Materials. 0. Book. 24 pages. Published by Alfred Publishing. (0370S)
See more info...

Suzuki Bass School CD, Volume 1 Gary Karr. For String Bass. String - Bass (Suzuki). The Suzuki Method Core Materials. 0. CD. 1 pages. Published by Alfred Publishing. (0369)
See more info...

Suzuki Bass School Piano Acc., Volume 1 - sheet music at

Suzuki Bass School Piano Acc., Volume 1 For String Bass. String - Bass (Suzuki). The Suzuki Method Core Materials. 0. Book. 24 pages. Published by Alfred Publishing. (0372S)
See more info...

Book 2 materials are available here:

Suzuki Bass School Bass Part, Volume 2 - sheet music at

Suzuki Bass School Bass Part, Volume 2
For String Bass. String - Bass (Suzuki). The Suzuki Method Core Materials. 0. Book. 20 pages. Published by Alfred Publishing. (0371S)
See more info...
Suzuki Bass School CD, Volume 2 Gary Karr. For String Bass. String - Bass (Suzuki). The Suzuki Method Core Materials. 0. CD. 1 pages. Published by Alfred Publishing. (0379)
See more info...

Look inside this title
Suzuki Bass School Piano Acc., Volume 2 - sheet music at
Suzuki Bass School Piano Acc., Volume 2 For String Bass. String - Bass (Suzuki). The Suzuki Method Core Materials. 0. Book. 20 pages. Published by Alfred Publishing. (0374S)
See more info...
Book 3 materials are here:

Suzuki Bass School Bass Part, Volume 3 - sheet music at www.sheetmusicplus.comSuzuki Bass School Bass Part, Volume 3 For String Bass. String - Bass (Suzuki). The Suzuki Method Core Materials. 0. Book. 24 pages. Published by Alfred Publishing. (0376S)
See more info...

Suzuki Bass School CD, Volume 3 - sheet music at www.sheetmusicplus.comSuzuki Bass School CD, Volume 3 Gary Karr. For String Bass. String - Bass (Suzuki). The Suzuki Method Core Materials. 0. CD. 1 pages. Published by Alfred Publishing. (0380)
See more info...

Suzuki Bass School Piano Acc., Volume 3 - sheet music at www.sheetmusicplus.comSuzuki Bass School Piano Acc., Volume 3 For String Bass. String - Bass (Suzuki). The Suzuki Method Core Materials. 0. Book. Published by Alfred Publishing. (0377S)
See more info...

About Virginia Dixon
Interview with Virginia Dixon

How I became involved with the Suzuki Bass Program
Resources for Suzuki Bass Teachers and Students
How to Become a Suzuki Bass Instructor

Saturday, August 11, 2007

String orchestra programs: k-12, nuts and bolts

It's very tempting to turn this blog into a place for goofing off. I'm going to make an attempt at seriousness for a moment now, and see if I can make any headway.

After about two weeks, school will be in full swing again. I will be taking in a new group of students who have never touched a stringed instrument, and doing my best to get them familiar with their instruments, familiar with the repertoire they will be playing, and familiar with the countless skills they will be exercising while playing in an ensemble under a conductor.

Over the years, I've determined that it takes much more than being a proficient instrumentalist to be an effective instrumental music teacher. I would like to become more effective, and run a "very good" string program, as opposed to a "good enough" program. My goal is honestly not to create virtuoso players (though I feel the kids should have the opportunity to pursue that path if they are so inclined), but to have a program which serves the community well. More on that later.

Over the past year or so, I've been compiling this outline of what I think a "very good" string program needs to be capable of providing if it's to be of any benefit to the community over the long term. It's meant to be a dynamic document, so, please, in all seriousness, I would greatly appreciate any additions, suggestions, input or criticism anyone would like to offer. Email Me

I know this document is not incredibly reader-friendly. It is a work in progress, and I hope to update this post as my thoughts on the topic become more clear, and therefore easier to put into words. If this outline makes any sense to you, again, please help me add to it or edit it . Email Me.

Here goes:

Recommendations for building a "very good" school string program
(rough outline as of August, 2008)

I. Facility
A. Storage of instruments
B. Rehearsal space
C. performance space

II. Materials and Equipment
A. Books
1. Leveled instrument-specific methods
2. Leveled ensemble materials
B. Instruments (of appropriate size and playability)
1. acquisition
2. regular maintenance
C. Listening materials (to provide "aural model")

III. Staffing (ensure equity across schools and continuity of instruction)
A. Availability of string specialist
B. Presence of well-run, successful general music curriculum, ensuring consistent practice of musical skills away from main instrument

IV. Scheduling
A. in – school lesson time
1. group (sectional as well as full ensemble)
2. individual (or small group, instrument-specific)
B. outside programs
(community playing opportunities increase visibility and importance of program)
C. ensemble rehearsal
D. in-school performances and assemblies

V. Feeder Programs/ Previous experience (e.g. Suzuki studios)(can we create or encourage such programs? In school, through the school system, or independent?)

VI. Tracking/Leveling of groups
A. resources and opportunities for Advanced Students
B. resources for slow learners
C. solid foundation for beginners

VII. Support
A. Administrative (through scheduling, transportation, funding, availability of resources . . .)
B. Teacher (collaborative efforts, esp. important in elementary school)
C. Parental
D. Peer (program must be a positive social experience to retain membership, create environment of healthy competition, pride, . . .)

VIII. Continuity of instruction K-12
A. Methods used (method book series)
B. Expectations as related to NYSSMA leveling, national arts standards, and ASTA recommendations
C. Retention of low-performing students
D. Opportunities for advancing students
E. Expectations of department as opposed to expectations of individual teacher

IX. Essential questions

A. Why is the string program important?
B. How does it help the community, students, and schools?
C. Who is the program for? (inclusion of at-risk population vs. honors or select groups)

Email Me

Tuesday, July 31, 2007


I just started watching these videos through Jason Heath's Bass Blog:

Paul Ellison talks about career choices

It's nice to hear a performer speak so respectfully about education as a career. It seems like many players look at the field as a last-ditch career choice.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Steps to Suzuki Training for Bassists

Note: Although I am a member of the Suzuki Association, and a registered Suzuki Bass teacher, I am not an official representative of the Suzuki Association or any of its affiliates. The following article is posted only to share my experiences, and to help any other bass players who may be interested in the program or its methodology.

A couple of years ago, I became interested in Suzuki methodology, and wanted to learn about it and apply it in my career as a music educator. When I went looking for information, I found that much of it was hard to find if you didn’t know where to look. Luckily, a friendly member of TalkBass referred me to Virginia Dixon, one of the few Suzuki Bass teacher trainers in the U.S., who helped me get started along the path.

At the time when I started, I would have benefited greatly if someone told me exactly what I would have to do, step by step. So, on the chance that there are other bass players who stumble onto this post who are interested in becoming involved in the Suzuki program, here’s what you’ll have to do to get started on the path to being a Suzuki teacher. This information is specific to double bassists, but much of it also applies for other instrumentalists. It only applies to teachers who want to receive training in North or South America. Europe and Asia have their own, different rules.

Step one Do some reading on Suzuki methodology. A good book to start with is Nurtured by Love by S. Suzuki: It is basically an autobiographical memoir and gives some insight into Dr. Suzuki’s reasoning and experiences that influenced his philosophy. If you spend any time with children, or are at all interested in pedagogy, I believe you can benefit from his thoughts on how young people learn and socialize. Before you consider any teacher training, you should have an idea of what “Suzuki” teaching means. Be prepared to find out that everybody thinks they have the correct interpretation, and few will agree with yours.

Step two Find out when an “Every Child Can” (ECC) class is occurring in your area. You will pay between $50-$150 to attend a six hour class. The price varies pretty widely between locations and scheduled times, so plan in advance to save money and aggravation. This course is considered a prerequisite for any further coursework registered with the Suzuki Association of the Americas (SAA), the certificating body which maintains standards for teacher preparation. They also list the locations and dates of upcoming classes on their website. Click here to find upcoming ECC classes.

In this class, students participate in a lot of interactive examples and games designed to give you an idea of how teaching and learning take place in a “Suzuki” setting. I think the content varies widely depending on who is leading the class. I had lots of fun in mine, and went home pretty excited, with new ideas about teaching and practicing. I honestly think I became a more “aware” player for having participated, and got new teaching ideas immediately. I still use many of these ideas in the classroom, in private and group lessons, and in my own practice. I’ve heard of other classes where the students were pretty bored, or don’t remember the class at all. That’s unfortunate, but this class is a hoop you must jump through if your plan is to attend Suzuki teacher training. You will meet many pianists and violinists here, from undergraduate students to middle-aged music teachers or freelance musicians. At the end of the class, the teacher will sign a ticket which you should keep until you attend your first Book 1 teacher training course. Your book 1 teacher trainer will want to see it, and is required to check for proof of ECC attendance.

Step three If you are going to register your training course with the SAA, which basically “certifies” you, or if you’re doing the coursework for credit either through a college program or a school district, you’re going to have to become a member of the Suzuki Association, and apply to the SAA to be accepted for teacher training, books 1-4. They will need an audition video tape of you playing book 4 level material. For bassists right now, this is a touchy situation as book 4 is not yet published. When I applied in 2005, I was instructed to play “the Elephant” by Saint-Saens. This is actually a book 3 piece, so I wouldn’t be surprised if this tune becomes unacceptable at some point. Another good piece which will be in book 4 is “Tempo di Polacca”, from Simandl’s 30 etudes. Check with the SAA for specific requirements. There is also a form that must be submitted, and an application fee (I believe it was something like $30, and the annual membership in the association is something like $60. Check the site.)

At this point, you may want to start preparing to apply for scholarships. The SAA offers scholarships annually, and individual teaching institutes also have scholarships offered. They will want videos of your playing. There will be paperwork, small application fees, and deadlines, so make sure you find out all of the specifics well in advance. Deadlines seem to happen around the end of February, but don’t trust me – I had to overnight my applications during a blizzard last year to get them there on time.

Step four You are now ready to find and register for a book I teacher training class. The only ones I have any experience with are at Suzuki Summer Institutes, where families come to bring their kids to “Suzuki camp”. There are large numbers of students of varying age and musical development, from the five-year-old “prodigies” to elderly adult beginners. There are also lots of teachers of various instruments (mainly pianists, violinists, and cellists). As one colleague said to me, piano, violin, and cello are Suzuki’s “bread and butter”; Dr. Suzuki was a violinist, and his methods were adapted very early on for piano and cello instruction. Many other instrumental programs are basically “in the works”, including bass.

Unfortunately, this course (book 1) is the most expensive, time consuming, and labor intensive of all the coursework. The specific requirements are all stated clearly on the SAA’s website, but I can share with you the approximate amount of time I worked in my book I class: there is a segregated class of teacher “trainees” and the teacher “trainer” (they will all be bassists if you're doing bass teacher training), and an experienced Suzuki teacher who is certified by the SAA to train other teachers. Daily class time lasted something like 4-5 hours per day for six days, where you might be playing your instrument in a group lesson format, having discussions, being given assignments or feedback on previous assignments, and the like. It felt very similar to some of the graduate coursework I did as an education major. You will also do something like 3-4 hours per day of observation (with note taking) of group lessons, master classes, or ensemble rehearsals. You should be familiar with the repertoire in Suzuki Bass Book 1 (revised edition) to be prepared for the course. Ideally, to be prepared for this experience, you should have the tunes in the book memorized – this first book basically emphasizes the skill of shifting between first and fourth positions (I use Simandl positioning, and so do the Suzuki books – I believe that’s first and second position if you use the Vance/Nanny positioning, but I could easily be wrong about that) and the application of simple bow strokes applied to simple D Major melodies. You should also listen to the examples as played by Gary Karr with Harmon Lewis (conveniently sold through a link to the right of this page), so you have an idea of the nature of the tunes beyond what’s written on the page. Suzuki students, after all, learn primarily by ear and example in the early stages. I also suggest you get familiar with some of the violin, cello, viola, or piano repertoire - there are lots of good teachers working with those instruments who you can observe.

Step five (last step) After the class is over, there will be another little form your teacher signs for you. You can send that form in with another small fee ($10, I think) to “register” your coursework with the SAA. They send you a certificate which is eerily similar to a state-issued teaching certificate, and you are officially a Suzuki teacher.

After teachers complete book one and two, they can study at any level, non-consecutively.

In a later post, I will outline some of the standard repertoire which is expected to be included in upcoming bass books.

For more about the Suzuki Bass Program and Virginia Dixon, follow these links:

About Virginia Dixon
Interview with Virginia Dixon

How I became involved with the Suzuki Bass Program
Resources for Suzuki Bass Teachers and Students
Materials for Beginning Suzuki Bass Students and Teachers