The Pre- Twinkle Book:
Check Points prior to teaching:
Place of Practice: -Atmosphere (quiet, still)
Parents: -Discipline, Routine
Parents/ Teacher: -Using the cello AND music
Teacher: -Giving good example (posture, sound)
Parents/ Child: -Observation
Child: -listening to CD
Three elements: -Individual Lesson
Important aspects: -Coordination
-Breathing (incorporate singing)
-From big motion to small motion (body, cello, bow)
The student should start off with brief warm-up exercises to free up any tensions in their body (standing up with feet apart (balanced like in tennis), lifting arms up and down, to the side and across, then diagonally, stretch your back by bending down and coming up slowly (cat stretch). Then “swing into your chair”.
Student should sit on his / her bones, the feet placed flat on the floor, evenly balanced (teacher can place coins or stickers under feet, which the child can keep as a treat, should it manage to keep the feet successfully flat on ground.). Ensure the height of the chair is such that the legs can be placed in a 90 degree angle when bent.
Legs and arms / hands should be soft, tummy should be toned: “Breath in and sit tall” (never say: “Sit up” as it causes an arched back)
When teaching very young children it is best to place the cello for them and put your hand on their back to make them aware of the difference between slouching and sitting correctly (very young children usually don’t curve their spine).
Other ways to make the child aware of the posture are: Teacher: “How old are you?”, child: “I am four”, teacher: “We need a four year tall tummy”);
Practise tummy muscles: breath in: arms up, then arms down : now child knows what tummy muscles are! (Keep reminding child all the time)
Identify the height of the spike: you can mark it with a pen or nail vanish:
“Cello rests on chest and the knees keep the cello from falling off.”
Due to the weight of a cello, which is placed on a child’s chest, the child has a tendency to tens up or worse, to slouch backwards. Also be aware of any twisting, which may be caused by the pegs in the neck.
The child has to be relaxed but toned, soft in hands, balanced and breathing comfortably.
Sit down with cello: touch bridge with left hand then touch saddle (rainbow!)
Practise putting the cello down (holding it by the neck and on the C bout).
Make sure when sitting down with the cello in order to play, the child’s left hand is on side of cello (as long as they don’t play with the left hand)
Starting to play:
Start off singing nursery rhymes (or other songs) while clapping along (or using body percussion). The clapping (-position) always indicates whether it is a higher string or a lower string; clap from shoulder: “Everybody down, up”; clap in circle- movements as you sing along.
Then sing the same songs while plucking along open strings. Encourage the child to invent it’s own songs. Practise the pizzicato with whole arm (circles!) as it improves the sound.
(Pizzicato is the same as playing with bow: pizz with index= down- bow, pizz with thumb= up- bow).
Teacher can put sticker on the finger board, so child knows where the right thumb goes while plucking the string).
Introduce harmonics: play every song with harmonics. (especially ‘Ants’)
Practise songs with the help of a little ball: put ball on floor, sing the song and move the ball with your fingers along on the floor in relation to the phrase of the song. You can also use a cloth or shawl: one child holds one end, the other child the other end: now pull in one direction for one phrase and in the other direction for the next phrase.
(Examples for songs:
- “Hickory Dickory Dock”: Play “tick, tock” on D and A string
- “ Pop Goes the Weasel”: Play A, D, G, C on “pop goes the weasel”
- “Incy Wincy Spider”: accompany with open strings (includes A, D, G string; more advanced as changes are difficult)
- “Bobby Shaftoe”: A, D string
- “Rain falls down, rain falls down, fill the puddle, molecule muddle, rain falls down, rain falls down”
- “Rain falls up, gravity defying, rain is flying, rain falls up”)
Try to dwell on those exercises by including lots of games.
Practise without bow for up to six weeks, depending on progress of child.
Introducing the bow:
Do not introduce the bow until the child is completely comfortable with the previous exercises!
Teacher holds bow horizontally with hair pointing towards himself: child practises putting the hand on the bow, leave it there for a moment, then take it off again. You can practise that with the help of following story:
Explain: “The middle finger is the king and sits on the throne (silver bit on frog of bow), the queen sits next to him but not too close as the king doesn’t like the queen so much, the prince sits on the other side of the king, also with distance, the baby sits next to the queen but is not allowed to sit on her lap! And the old crooked man sits at the back in the uncomfortable chair with a bent back.” Then remove the child’s hand from bow again. It’s too early to actually hold the bow.
-Explain: “Hug your thumb, then slightly open, keeping the thumb between ring and middle finger” “you can practise that as you walk down the street!”
Practise the bow hold with a thick marker pen. Start to move around, holding the pen: “Here comes the helicopter!” Describe circles in the air, the tip of the pen pointing straight up! Practise: “Everybody down, up!” or “Up like a Rocket”. (Practise daily until book 6)
- Child puts both hands behind back. Teacher asks: “What is your bow hand?” or “What is your cello hand?”
- Sing: “Up like a rocket” with bow movements
- Take bow: hold it with your right (on frog) and your left hand (on stick), then go in circle (horizontally)
- Hold bow vertically with tip up and move in circles.
- Put Hoola Hoop on tip of bow, hold up right, then eat it.
- Teacher leads: holding bow and moving it about, everybody follows, then child leads.
- Climbing up the bow (with fingers moving up the stick), then down again.
Once a good bow hold is achieved, start introducing the up coming rhythms of the Twinkle Variations: i.e. “Little bows and slow bows”, “Run Rabbit” etc. This can be practised away from the cello.
Once the child is ready to make the transition to the cello and play those rhythms on the cello, the rhythms have to be played in the lower half, close to the frog in short bows. The child has to keep the elbow low and close to the side of the cello. In order to establish a good contact to the string, the shoulder has to be relaxed.
Make sure the arm is relaxed and the child does not hold or press the bow against the string.
The teacher can practise the bowing without the bow: the teacher links his fingers with the child’s fingers. Then they pull each other’s arms according to the rhythm (still keeping arms low!).
Sing as you hold the bow on string but don’t play.
“Lift right arm and drop on knee: it hurts! : go with the same weight onto the string!”
Piccadilly Circus: swing of arm! Keep to frog.
“Chase the Butterfly”- game: (put a sticker on the side of the cello, now the arm has to chase it, meaning: the arm has to touch the side of the cello on the up- bow.
The child should be familiar with the harmonics before using the left hand for proper stops. The hand of a child is small and week and the muscles need to be built up slowly. Introduce the left hand with the “Hopping Exercise”: Lift fingers up and put them down again on the string= it is a “hopping” between the thumb and the fingers. It is best to start off putting all four fingers down on the string and most important to never use the word “pressing” the string down. We are “leaning into the string” and are putting weight into our fingertips. A soft and relaxed thumb on the cello’s neck is vital.
Once the child plays with the left and the right hand, ensure the child is not “pinching” the bow at the same time!
Exercise the position of your hand and arm by putting your hand on the finger board, thumb in thumb position, fingers in between the A and D string. Then move up and down the finger board, covering the whole range of the cello (always keep thumb on finger board, also in the first position as the transition from behind the neck to finger board would be too difficult). This exercise will force the left arm being in the right position (elbow up!). You can then do the same exercise, putting the thumb into its position behind the neck and moving only from first to the fourth position.
It is important for the child to learn the principal of preparing the fingers of the left hand before playing the next note (put finger on string, play, instantly put next finger down, play, etc.)
Knowing the Repertoire:
Before the child starts to play any of the Book 1 pieces, it has to know the pieces by heart and must be able to sing them. Sound, tempo and character of each piece have to be internalized. That requires listening to the CD every day.
I would not recommend plucking the songs on the cello before using the bow as plucking requires even stronger fingers of the left hand.
Additional Exercises and Games:
- Some teachers find the use of toys and props very useful.
- Singing is an important part of the lesson. It helps educating the ear.
- Repetition is the key to ability
- Accomplishing the perfect bow hold
- Movement and dance, body percussion
- Use the child’s imagination = character and atmosphere of piece
- Use visual aids (i.e. sandwich or colours for structure)