Mix it Up Review
Suzuki kids and parents know they’re supposed to review, but how do we make this a reality day-in and day-out? How do we keep the pieces fresh, avoiding mindless repetition and sloppily speeding through our old songs as quickly as possible? Follow Dr. Timothy Durbin’s advice: “Don’t Review; Renew!” This year, I started focusing on “Mix it Up” review as a way to help keep my students engaged with the repertoire and continuing to learn! Check out William Starr’s 77 variations for a ton of mix-it-up ideas!
If you feel like your brain is turning inside-out, great! You’re reaching a deeper level of understanding of the music you play!
Here are just a few ways to get you started with Mix it Up Review!
Mix up the Notes
Change the mode: Switching a piece from major to minor (or vice versa) is a great way to encourage our students to engage with music theory, to think on their feet as they play, and to help them look at music a new way! Just a simple switch of mode is enough to get students laughing at how different the songs sound! Getting too advanced for a simple major-minor mode switch? How about using what you’ve learned about the three different types of minor (natural, harmonic, and melodic) to see how they change the sound of the piece? Even more advanced: time to learn the other modes!
Change the finger patterns: Learning a new finger pattern? Apply it to your review to help yourself think of the review songs in a new way become more comfortable with that new finger pattern!
Change the position: A student who is learning third position can revisit their book 1 songs and work their brain a whole new way if they have to play their pieces in that position!
Apply your more advanced left hand techniques: Left hand pizz, false harmonics, chords, double stops—octaves, thirds, sixths, tenths—these are all great skills to practice on your easy songs. All of the sudden, Lightly Row can be preparation for Paganini caprices!
Transpose the key: The Suzuki books include Perpetual Motion in several new keys along the way as students advance, as an example of this. You can transpose any piece to help train your ear to hear and find intervals quickly on the instrument, developing flexibility for future improvisation.
Learn a duet part: I totally count learning a duet part as that day’s review of the piece!
Improvise your own duet part: Turn on the CD and experiment with finding harmonies to play along with the pieces you already know! This is great training for by-ear improvisation!
Mix up the Rhythms
Change the meter: changing a piece from 4/4 to ¾, 6/8, or 5/4 is a rewarding challenge! Messing with the meter of a piece helps students to develop both flexibility and a deeper understanding of meter.
Change the rhythm: try “swinging” your eighth notes, or playing your dotted rhythms backwards!
Mix up the Bowings
Apply a new bowstroke: bariolage, up-bow staccato, whole bows, slurring and other bowing patterns are great to apply to old songs!
Try new articulations: learning to play with thumb accents, portato, or other new articulations? Add them to earlier songs!
Backward articulations: play all staccato as legato and all legato as staccato! This is sure to bring more awareness of articulations as it brings a ton of smiles and laughter!
Exercise your Musicality
Surprise Dynamics: play the piece in a way it’s never been heard before! The results may sound ridiculous but will keep your student’s brain engaged!
Add beautiful, sensitive dynamics and phrasing to pieces that may have been learned at a more basic level initially. You should certainly make your pieces more beautiful as your musical skills grow!
Backwards dynamics: this is another variation that sounds and feels silly, but sneakily helps your student to hear what “works” and what doesn’t!
Visualize your phrasing: move to one side of the room as you get louder, and the other side as you get softer. You’re not allowed to stay in the same spot—force yourself to always be coming or going! This will help you develop beautiful musicality as you realize that music should always be in motion! Another variation if you need a quad workout that day: squat lower as you get quieter and rise higher as you get louder!
Exaggerate your body movement: To move musically, sometimes we must first feel like we choreograph and exaggerate the body movements. Experiment with playing with ridiculously musical body movements.
Exercise your mind and/or body
Distraction games: the tried-and-true old distraction games are a great way to build your student’s focus as you both have a ton of fun! I ask parents to think of visual, auditory, and sensory distractions and try to distract each sense individually until your student can handle the distraction—then start mixing them up! One student brought me a picture-strip of photos her mom took in a distracting “photo shoot” during one of their practices—so much fun to see the student’s smiles as she was working on her focus!
Multitask playing the piece: stand on one foot while you play. Take a step on beat one of every measure. I saw a video of a colleague’s student riding her hoverboard in circles while playing! A horn playing friend of mine used to play his long tones while watching sports games. Another friend has taught herself to read while playing. I frequently have to carry on a conversation while playing—these are skills that must be developed for most of us, as our brains don’t naturally know how to do both at once.
Dance like Lindsey Stirling/Hillary Klug/Lord of the Dance: It’s harder than it looks and is guaranteed to bring laughter! Just make sure you have enough room to move without kicking anything over! This is a fun way to build coordination.
Build your mental focus: leave out a certain note every time it comes in a piece. Displace the octave on specified notes. Include a body motion for every bow circle. Stick your tongue out every time you play a slur. Play the whole piece, leaving out the last note.
Challenge yourself to build a chain: the first note of the next piece you review must start on the last note of the piece before. How long can your review chain last? This will help build quick recall of your pieces and starting notes. Transposition is allowed!
Play all the “like” pieces: how many Minuets can you play? Pieces by Schumann? Pieces in a minor key? Pieces written in the Baroque era? Folk songs? Categorizing your pieces helps you to contextualize them in music history, apply the appropriate style, or think about them in a new way.
Should we Mix It Up all the time? Of course not! Playing with consistency is admirable and necessary, especially as we work toward a recital or other performance. But playing review pieces the same way every time could lead to boredom, burnout, and the sense that our time could be better spent elsewhere. Avoid that review rut by allowing your review to work for you to develop your musical, technical, and mental skills as you look at music from multiple angles, thus deepening your understanding of how it works.
These are just a few of the infinite ways to renew your old pieces. Share your Mix it Up review ideas in the comments!