Under the shady maple, parents and teachers talked about the fast-changing world of multi-media technology and how it can be used to advantage by Suzuki families. Here are some of the topics and links that were mentioned:

The Suzuki Practicing App

  • The myongaku app is currently available for violin Book 1, with releases for Books 2-4 expected in the upcoming months. It’s essentially a multi-faceted walk-through of all the exercises and repertoire in the Suzuki repertoire books, with videos linked to the written page. A design award-winner that can help with repertoire learning at home so that lesson time can be more efficiently spent on posture, tone and musicality

Listening:

  • All Suzuki recordings for stringed instruments, books 1-8, are currently available for purchase on iTunes. You can either purchase track by track ($0.99 each) or by the album (~$9.99)
  • Inexpensive or hand-me-down MP3 players can be purchased for as little as $15-20, and can be loaded with just a play-list of Suzuki repertoire.
  • MP3 players or iPods can be easily played through headphones, docks placed in common living spaces or on a child’s bedside table, and through any car stereo with an input jack or Bluetooth compatibility
  • You can make custom playlists for MP3 players, iPods or to run on laptop or desktop computers which span various Suzuki books, emphasize particular pieces, or include supplementary repertoire
  • repetitive listening to a particular focus piece or playlist is easy with the repeat function on most devices
  • some families encourage all computer play to have the Suzuki listening tracks playing in the background
  • even if your child is older and has their own smartphone or many-featured iPod Touch, you can encourage him or her to create a playlist of classical repertoire to have handy for listening

Practicing

  • MusicJournal is an app (iPad and iPhone/iPodTouch) which tracks practice time and allows you to create folders of repertoire (eg. “Book 3 Suzuki violin” or “Scales and Technique”), logging practice time for each entry. Notes can also be kept for each entry. It creates graphs and charts which allow you to see which pieces have been neglected for a while. It has a built-in metronome and will alternatively track progress towards tempo goals for passages. Free for the trial version (allows only 6 pieces) or $6.99 for the Pro version (no limit).
  • Various metronome apps exist (Miranda uses Subdivide Metronome, Rob likes Metro Timer) for free or almost free for various operating systems and devices. Often phones’ speakers are too quiet on their own for play-along use, but paired with a dock they can be much louder and easier to use than even manufactured metronomes.
  • Tuner apps. Sometimes tuners are bundled with metronome apps but there are stand-alone ones as well. They provide visual feedback for accuracy of tuning the instrument strings. Some play a reference tone like open A-string aloud. “Chromatic” tuners typically sense which note you are closest to, will name it for you and give you visual feedback, so they could, for example, help a student work note by note for very accurate intonation in a slow g minor melodic scale. Rob recommended Cleartune which is highly rated.

Music Reading

  • For rhythm reading, the Rhythm Sight Reading Trainer (iPad, iPhone/iPodTouch, $2.99) is excellent. It can take a student from reading basic quarter notes and eighth-notes to complex tied triplets and syncopated sixteenth-note patterns in compound time. The approach incorporates Suzuki-like listening and repetition, and gives excellent feedback about accuracy of reading (a little early, a little late, missed notes, etc.).
  • For pitch reading, NoteHitter (iPad, iPhone/iPodTouch, $1.99) is pretty good. You can set the clef (treble, alto, bass) and the instrument that your device will be listening for through its microphone (everything from violin and voice to saxophone). Then you choose what range the pitches will be drawn from (1-octave D-Major arpeggio, 2-octave F-Major scale, for example) and at what speed they’ll be displayed. The app displays the notes on the staff and if you play them quickly and accurately enough you accumulate points. It’s not overly “gamified,” but it works well.
  • General music theory: a flashcard app that is highly rated is Music Reading Essentials. It covers symbols, intervals, pitches and rhythms. It’s not a sight-reading app, just a quiz app, and it is somewhat piano-oriented but does include alto clef notes as well. Rob recommended Tenuto for music theory.
  • The Speedy Note series of apps (iOS, Android, and a similar product for OSx) are simple but effective note-naming flashcard systems that are available clef by clef (treble, alto, tenor and bass).  
  • For ear training, Right Note is unique in that it leverages your device’s microphone and allows you to play or sing intervals and melodies.

Lesson Tech Tips

  • Laptop or mobile apps like Evernote or Paperdesk are great for parents taking lesson notes. Sarah recommended keeping cumulative repertoire-specific notes that are edited at each lesson. Media files (audio and images) demonstrated by the teacher can be embedded directly in the notes for reference at home. Both programs allow sharing (so that both teacher and student have access the same notes). Paperdesk allows the easy use of drawings and diagrams. Evernote has the ability to embed audio and video samples.
  • Sharing e-notes with a tech-savvy tween or teen via messaging, email or cloud storage is an immediate way of getting that information to the student without needing to sync and print
  • Use a smartphone or iPad to take photos and videos of posture and technique points. Similarly audio files of exercises captured at the lesson can help ensure accuracy.
  • Setting up a template for lesson notes can help organize note-taking.
  • If you cannot attend a lesson with your child, sending along a video-recording device can assist with note-taking and with guiding your child through the subsequent week. (Miranda adds that this has been useful for co-parenting families who alternate their Suzuki parenting duties week by week.)

Other on-line resources

  • Sheet music e-printing (digital downloads from commercial providers) is becoming increasingly available. SheetMusicPlus.com offers many newer ensemble publications via e-print, and self-publishing arrangers are doing the same.
  • Unreal Book is a storage and access app for pdf files of music scores on an iPad. It can reduce the bulk and weight of piles of music scores and books, and it is a boon when reading music in low-light conditions. For people who read music off a tablet regularly, it can be paired with a bluetooth device called an AirTurn, a foot-pedal for page-turns while playing.
  • IMSLP.org (Internet Music Scores Library Project) is a top-notch resource for the sharing, downloading and printing of close to a hundred thousand music scores that are “out of copyright” in Canada and other countries. If you are looking for the Bruch violin concerto, parts for a Hadyn string trio movement, the piano part for the Fiocco Allegro or an ‘urtext’ version of the Bach Prelude from the solo cello Suite in G, you’ll find it here for free.
  • YouTube. YouTube is of course full of performances of Suzuki students playing various pieces from the repertoire, but it also has some great (and some not-so-great) tutorials on specific repertoire and techniques. Always takes these with a grain of salt, and discuss with your teacher, of course, but they can prove very helpful if you’re caught mid-week with a question about bowings, or how to break down a passage that has proved unexpected troublesome
  • Suzuki Violin Pieces in their Original Form. This is a website that is a repository of links and information about the sources of the pieces in the Suzuki repertoire. If you are wondering what the original Witches’ Dance is, and what you need to search to find a recording of it, this website is a great starting point.
  • GarageBand. This is bundled with OSx for Macs and is free on iOS for the iPhone/iPodTouch and iPad. There’s a bit of a learning curve, but most tweens will quickly figure out how to lay down rhythm and melody tracks, how to edit pitches and rhythms, and how to play acoustic instrument input into the mix for home-made digital music production.
  • iAnnotate PDF for iPad is a robust app for adding multi-faceted layers of annotations to pdf files of all sorts, including scanned sheet music. You can use a purple pen for bowings, orange pop-up notes for notes about interpretation, and red splotches to mark notes in need of intonation attention, and put each in a separate layer. Then, when practicing, you can hide all the layers except the ones you want to focus on for that portion of your practicing.

Distance Learning

  • Skype or Facetime (internet-mediated) video lessons are not optimal, but can be a lot better than nothing for students in remote locations or for occasions when you cannot visit your teacher in person due to weather, family illness or vacation/travel
  • Typically they are booked and paid for just like a real lesson would be
  • Catherine felt that in her experience it was best to have an in-person lesson at least once a month if possible
  • video lessons are more successful once basic posture has been well-learned through the first couple of years of lessons
  • bandwidth constraints can be a problem resulting in lagginess or dropped connections; time of day is a contributing factor, with early mornings being much better than late afternoons or evenings
  • the little details of lesson communication need to work differently for both parties; students need to write annotations in their own sheet music, and bar numbering is very important since the teacher can’t point to the student’s music.
  • Lighting and positioning are very important. A laptop or iPad is usually preferable to a desktop computer. An adjustable positioning device is helpful: eg. a webcam duct-taped to a tripod, or an iPad placed securely on a solid Manhasset-style music stand.

~ notes by Miranda