So you can be a better “home teacher” we have parents take classes with the teacher who will work with you and your child. In these classes, you will learn how to play “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”, get some helpful ideas about how to practice at home, and learn how to set your child up for success with music.
The following material will help you guide you through your parent education sessions, as well as your child’s first lessons. We also have videos on the student log-in page of our website to help get you started! The password for the student log-in page is ccg1212.
The basic premise of this document is to break Twinkle into simple steps, so the child can succeed right away. It also offers some ideas on how to get some great practicing done at home!
The Suzuki Method
For young students at The California Conservatory of Guitar, we have found great success with “The Suzuki Method”. Also known as the mother-tongue approach, the method uses the fundamental principles of language acquisition in the learning of music. Parental involvement, positive encouragement, and repetition are a few of these attributes.
The Suzuki Association of the Americas breaks this approach down further:
Just as parents are involved when a child learns to talk, parents are also involved in the musical learning of their child. They attend lessons with the child and serve as “home teachers” during the week. One parent often learns to play before the child, so that s/he understands what the child is expected to do. Parents work with the teacher to create an enjoyable learning environment.
The early years are crucial for developing mental processes and muscle coordination. Listening to music should begin at birth; formal training may begin at age three or four, but it is never too late to begin.
Children learn words after hearing them spoken hundreds of times by others. Listening to music every day is crucial. Listening to the pieces in the Suzuki repertoire is helpful for the child so that they know the pieces immediately.
Constant repetition is essential in learning to play an instrument. Learning music is just like learning a language. Children do not learn a word and then discard it, but instead they add it to their vocabulary. Learning pieces is just like learning new words, adding each new piece to their repertoire. Through repetition a child’s repertoire gradually grows becoming more sophisticated over time. Children do not learn a word or piece of music and then discard it. They add it to their vocabulary or repertoire, gradually using it in new and more sophisticated ways.
As with language, the child’s effort to learn an instrument should be met with sincere praise and encouragement. Each child learns at his/her own rate, building on small steps so that each one can be mastered. Children are also encouraged to support each other’s efforts, fostering an attitude of generosity and cooperation.
Learning with Other Children
In addition to private lessons, children participate in regular group lessons and performances. From these collaborative environments children learn from and are motivated by each other.
(All students are able to participate in group once they have developed some facility with the instrument. All are also welcome to participate in our recitals and other performances.)
Children do not practice exercises to learn to talk, but use language for its natural purpose of communication and self-expression. Pieces in the Suzuki repertoire are designed to present challenging technical skills in the context of the music, instead of learning (rather than) through dry technical exercises.
Children learn to read after their ability to talk has been well established. In the same way, children should develop basic technical competence on their instruments before being taught to read music.
The Bow Triangle and the Steps
The above image shows the basic set-up of the “bow triangle”. Standing in the “bow triangle” the student takes a bow. Its fun for the kids to say a long word such as “hippopotamusic”, or whatever the teacher suggests, while the student bows. This helps to make sure they do not rush through the bow.
“The Steps” (without guitar)
After taking a bow, the student stands directly in front of the chair, then moves their left foot just to the right of the footstool.
The student sits down in the stool with a straight back and a tall head. Their arms should hang relaxed at their sides.
The student places their left foot on to the footstool. You can also call this “foot on the gas”
Once the student can take a bow and go through the steps while maintaining great posture, you can add the guitar and step four - don't rush to this!
Why do this?
The bow and simple step by step set-up helps children develop a powerful mind-clearing habit. It also helps them develop a confidence with the guitar right away, as it is not too difficult for them to do correctly.
“The Steps” (with guitar)
When taking the bow, hold the guitar with the right hand close to where the neck and body meet.
The first step is the same, except now the child is holding the guitar.
When the child sits down, the lower part of the guitar rests on their right leg. The neck of the guitar should stick straight up and the face of the guitar should face out to the right.
Just as before, the foot goes on to the footstool (same as before). Now the student “closes the door”. They lift their right elbow and rotate the guitar so the face of the guitar faces straight ahead. Next they “lock the door” by bringing the guitar to rest on their left leg.
The right hand now goes to the upper curve on the guitar and rests. This is called ready position. There is a good picture of ready position at the beginning of the first Suzuki book.
Have your child do the steps without the guitar. When they are sitting on their stool with a tall back and arms hanging to their sides relaxed, place a small toy or item on top of their head. See if they can balance it there and count to ten. Once they can do the steps with the guitar, repeat with the guitar.
The Twinkle Rhythms
As you will hear on the recording of the Suzuki guitar pieces, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” is learned with a few different rhythms. The students should practice clapping these rhythms in the lessons and while at home. We also have some names for each one that help the kids (internalize and) remember them!
Variation A - Charlie Brown and Snoopy
Clap right hand on right leg and left hand on left leg and then hands together.
Variation B - Ice Cream Cone
Clap right leg, then clap hands together and then clap left leg.
Variation C - Grasshopper
Clap hands together, then clap right leg and then clap left leg.
Variation D - Strawberry
Clap right leg, then hands together and then left leg
Variation E - Watermelon
Clap right leg and then left in even alternation.
Its a great idea to break down learning Twinkle into small, achievable steps. One of the first activities kids do to play the guitar is called “Tabletop.” There is an image for reference below so you know the string names, but remember the plucking is done over the sound hole!
The child places the guitar on their lap with the strings and top of guitar facing upwards. Make sure the neck of the guitar is to the left of the child.
The student makes a soft fist with their right hand and places it on top of their head. They then bring their hand down to the strings. The thumb rests lightly on the A string - the index and middle fingers (i and m) rest on the d-string. Make sure the thumb is slightly in front of the forefingers. The index then strikes the g-string and falls back into place on to the d-string. Once the child is comfortable you can try this with your middle finger.
In tabletop position practice plucking the ‘g’ string with perfect alternation between i and m. The student should also practice playing the twinkle rhythms with i and m on the g-string. These are explained below.
Practice changing strings. Set-up the thumb up on the a-string and rest the index and middle fingers (i and m) on the d-string. Pluck i and then m on the g-string. Next the index reaches to the b-string as the thumb moves to rest on the d-string. Pluck the b-string with “i” and then bring “m” over to pluck the b-string as well.
- Pluck the strings lightly, and try to not squeeze the strings with the thumb and forefinger.
- Keep a straight wrist!
- Always maintain a good posture - Do it with your eyes closed!
The Left Hand
Lets make sure we know the left hand finger numbers first. The index is ‘1’, the middle ‘2’, the ring finger ‘3’ and the pinky ‘4’. The right hand fingers are pictured below as well. The thumb is ‘p’ for pulgar, the index ‘i’ for indice, the middle ‘m’ for medio and the ring ‘a’ for anular. (The names are Spanish.)
Its also a good time to discuss the frets. The frets are the metal bars that run up and down the neck. When your teacher says, “place your third finger on the third fret,” it means you place your ring finger slightly to the left of the third fret. If you put it on top of it, you wont get a clean sound.
Getting the left hand ready for "Twinkle"
Just as we isolated the right hand in preparation for “Twinkle”, we also isolate the left hand. Start doing this by practicing finding where your left hand fingers go on the fretboard. This should done while sitting in “ready position” with a tall back. It’s ideal for the student to be able to do this without having to look! Students often lean forward and loose a good posture when relying too heavily on their eye sight! Be sure to master finding you three before moving on! This helps center the hand!
Finding your “Three”
The first step to getting the left hand ready is called “finding your three”. Sit in ready position (as learned from the “four-steps”) with your left hand hanging to the side, you should slightly curl your left hand fingers. Then raise your thumb to the back of the neck, and place your third finger on the ‘b’ string at the third fret. If you need more stability you can place your second and third finger down together. (This is really helpful for very young students!) Make sure your finger is curled, and you are directly on the tip of your finger, not on the finger pad. Your left wrist should be as straight as possible.
Finding your “Two”
Start out sitting in ready position with your left hand hanging down at your side. Curl your fingers in slightly and raise your thumb to the back of the neck. Now place your ‘2’ finger just behind the 2nd fret of the ‘g’ string. Make sure the finger is directly on the tip and not on the pad!
Finding your “One”
Again start in ready position with your left hand hanging down at your side. Now place your one finger right behind the 1st fret of the ‘b’ string. Make sure it is directly on the tip and a little bit to the left hand side.
Ideal Environments for Home Lesson and Practice
Successful students practice everyday with their parent! We have a couple systems in place that incentivizes the students to practice daily such as our “point system” and also our medals and trophies for kids who have practiced everyday for a certain amount of time.
Its crucial that the students listen to the recordings of the songs everyday consistently! The songs are all set up in the same keys with similar fingerings. If you do this and practice consistently you will be amazed to see your child start playing songs they have not yet been taught!
Process not Product
All students will move at different rates, the only thing we have control over is how we practice. Its of the outmost importance to be patient with your children in their practice. We need repetition to really learn all the fine motor movements associated with learning an instrument.
“Roll a die”
You can buy some dice or ask your smart phone to roll a die for you. The student then needs to practice the specific task you’re working on that many times. This can be used in concourse with another game.
“Tic Tac Toe” Etc.
Any game that is “move” oriented will work. Once your child successfully completes a task, they get a move in the game. There are so many simple apps available that one can use for these as well.
Slow, Slow, Slower!
Take out your stopwatch on your phone, and time your child playing a section or doing a task. If it took them 5 seconds, challenge them to do it in 10 seconds or more. This helps to get them to slow down.
When you are helping your kid practice at home always make sure to compliment them before you try to fix something that you and your teacher have been working on. Its always great to say, “your tone was so great (positive compliment), and I bet if you sit up straight, it would be even better!” Try to avoid saying the word “but”!
Before you start playing Twinkle make sure your child can:
- Take a bow!
- Do the steps without the guitar and sit up with a straight back
- Do the “Focus Game”
- Sing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”
- Clap the “Twinkle Rhythms"
- Name the finger names and string names
- Play the “Twinkle Rhythms” on an open string in “Tabletop”
- Find their ‘3’, ‘2’ and ‘1’ fingers
- Do the steps with the guitar and sit in “ready position”
Putting it Together
Its time to learn Twinkle
Sitting in ‘ready position”, the student should bring their ‘p’ to the ‘a’ string, while ‘i’ and ‘m’ rest on the ‘d’ string. Now practice changing strings just like you did in “table top”. Its ideal to be able to do this with eyes closed. Note: this could take an entire week of practice to do well.
Once you can do “Step 1”. Sit in ready position and find your ‘3’ finger. Can you do it without looking? Once your 3 finger is in place repeat “step 1”. Play ‘g’,’g’,’3’,’3’,’e’,’e’,’3’. You just played the first notes of Twinkle!
Find your ‘2’. Set-up the right hand and play ‘2’, ‘2’, ‘g’ with i,m,i. You just played “what you are”.
Find your ‘2’. Set-up the right hand with the thumb resting on the ‘d’ string and i and m on the ‘g’ string. Now play ‘b’,’b’,’2’,’2’,’g’. Make sure you can keep the ‘2’ down while playing the b string. You just played “wonder what you are”
Find your ‘1’ now practice switching between ‘1’ and ‘2’ without plucking. Once you can do this, play ‘1’,’1’, and then places your ‘2’ down, and then play ‘b’,’b’,’2’,’2’, ‘g’. You just played “how I wonder what you are”.
You can now connect step 2 and step 5. You have now played the first section of “Twinkle”.
The middle section.
Up above the world so high. Like a diamond in the sky. This part is fingered: 3, 3, 1, 1, b, b, 2 (make sure the 2 is sustained - think of the lyrics), and then again 3, 3 , 1, 1, b, b, 2.
You now know all the notes to Twinkle!
One Last Note
Please do not rush through all of this with your child. Learning to play “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” can take some students who are very young almost an entire year! Focus on the process, do good practice and listen to the CD. Make sure the practice at home is full of positive encouragement and games!