Tips - Vamoosh String Book 1

1. Willow Waltz

Having played games to help pupils remember the names of the strings, this is a simple piece that can be used in the very first lesson.  It is worth returning to this piece once the pupils have been introduced to the bow.  I suggest using all down-bows, all up-bows, or down up followed by a rest.  Actions like knee-bends add a level of interest.

 

2. Jig

I teach this piece initially by singing it, either to Doh and Soh with hand signs, or to note names with other actions like standing and sitting.  I rarely show the music, instead relying on their aural memory.  You can also ask them to guess which string plays the high note if they start on D.  This encourages them to use their ears and to differentiate between the strings.  This is a piece I return to once the bow has been introduced.

 

3. St. Anthony Chorale

This serves as an introduction to note reading.  Following a brief explanation of the staff, and a reference to the ‘Useful Things to Know’ page at the front of the book, I get pupils to read through this piece without backing or accompaniment.  They read at their own pace which is often slow at first.  I resist helping them and only intervene if a member of the group is not joining in.  They then sing along to the accompaniment, and only then attempt to play along.

 

4. Manhattan Blues

I tend to teach this piece by rote and only show the notes once the tune is well learnt.  Some teachers like to include movement in the rests, like ‘windscreen wipers’ for example.  Others prefer that the players leave their bow on the string and relax their hold, getting used to not making sound while the bow rests on the string.  In the improvisation sections I allow for optimum freedom, encouraging them to explore the instrument with no time constraints.  I only insist on a good bow hold.  Time limitations I introduce later once they have gained a little confidence.  One approach is to suggest a musical ‘conversation’ with questions and answers.  This helps to frame their improvisation into handy two bar phrases.

 

5. Sailing Home

Visualising a boat sailing across calm waters is one way to encourage a relaxed and gentle bowing action when playing this piece.  I prefer to teach it by rote allowing the pupils to focus all their attention on their bowing.  Visualising the bow itself as a boat, travelling from one end to the other is also helpful.  Simple swaying, left to right makes for good visuals from the audience’s perspective as well as helping to relax the bow arm.  I also ask them to play louder in the Da Capo.

 

6. At the Ballet

Having learnt several pieces by rote up to now, I like to use this as a note-reading piece.  Cellists will need to learn how to play E in fourth position.  Actions in the rests can liven up lessons, especially if you follow the ballet theme.

 

7. On Top of Old Smokey

The backing track for this goes at quite a lick, so it is important to sing this through several times before any attempt is made to play it with the backing track.  The backing track plays three times, so I like to have the pupils sing the second time instead of play.  The original words suffice, but kids enjoy very much this alternative:

On top of Spaghetti
all covered in cheese,
I lost my poor meat ball
When somebody sneezed.

It rolled off the table
and onto the floor,
and then my poor meatball
rolled out of the door.

 

8. Clown Dance

The melody to this piece appears in book 2 so it can make for a nice number in an end of term concert with more advanced players.  A drum accompaniment in this case is sufficient, so no need for the backing CD or piano accompaniment.

 

9. Circle Madness

I encourage my pupils to think about the circles they are drawing with their elbows when they play this piece.  In bar 4 and 5 I ask them to make big circles with the arms as they retake their bows.  I like them to exaggerate the accents on these down-bows to release lots of energy.  I always encourage movement and dancing in the introduction and interlude of this piece.

 

10. Can Can

I first teach lines 3 and 4 of this piece, as they are the easiest to remember/copy.  I play or sing the piano part while they answer.  The rhythm is different the fourth time, so I like to turn this into a game, trying to catch people out.  I then teach the Chorus, asking them to stand and sit instead of playing the notes.  This helps to focus and release energy at the same time.  Lastly I teach the first two lines, showing them how to hold the bow and pluck at the same time, though it can also be fun to see them grab for their bows in the bar rest.  The icing on the cake is asking them to count out loud the eight beat link into the chorus, then the same only silently for the return to the beginning.  I think of it as a sort of introduction to counting bar rests.  The melody for this piece is in book 3.  Colleagues of mine made up words to the chorus that the kids love to sing:

My cat cannot do the Can-can better than my dog can
And my goldfish finds it very difficult so
Now my cat is doing Can-can lessons and my
Goldfish gave it up instead he’s doing tap!

 

11. Airport!

This piece serves as a cure for the most undisciplined bow hold.  I ask the pupils to place the tip of the bow on the G string (‘G runway’) and wait for clearance that is signalled in the introduction.  They then start the up-bow slowly, gaining in volume over four beats until they launch the bow into the air with an almighty roar before quickly replacing the bow at the tip on the string.  For the middle section I encourage a lighter (‘airborne’) quality with not too much bow.  The final G in this section is one long down-bow that lasts for two bars where they will find themselves at the tip ready for the reprieve.  This encourages them to lean into the string and relax their grip on the bow.  Placing the final ‘ggg G’ can be a little hard to synchronise, but this I find adds to the dramatic effect.  Reference to the piano part will help to understand how this piece works.

 

12. Morning Sunshine and 13. Afternoon Rain

I find it easiest to teach Afternoon Rain vocally so as to learn the melody and fingering simultaneously.  Teachers who use Solfa may prefer a different approach.  When I teach from the piano I like to play the piece on all strings.  Afternoon rain offers an alternative accompaniment that may help them to relax.  I use these pieces as a warm up for many weeks.

 

14. Flapping Around

This piece is a little harder than it looks, and I often come back to it when I’ve covered other pieces in the book.  There are several places where physical actions can liven things up.  For example: Chicken-dance style flaps at the end of the first section and/or full spins during the bar rest on the second page.

 

15. Under the Coconut Tree

This is the piece where fingered notes are first notated.  A convenient bar rest breaks up the note changes, allowing more time to think.  These breaks are also useful for teachers who like to shout fingerings out where necessary.

 

16. Grand Old Duke of York

I like to have kids marching on the spot during the introduction to this piece.  For the retake at the end of each line I ask for a big circle in the air.  This piece also contains a variety of note-values that I like to test pupils on.

 

17. Hokey Cokey

The toughest decision to be made when teaching this piece is the extent to which mayhem is permitted when singing.  I like to strike a deal whereby as long as the first note on the repeat is perfectly in tune they are allowed to go wild.

 

18. Dark Horse

This is a good time to introduce note naming rather than fingerings if you haven’t already done so.  I start by asking them to guess what note one finger on A makes.  This helps to distinguish between 1 on A and 1 on D when calling out notes/fingerings.  I encourage more creative and disciplined improvisations when using this piece, thinking of it more as a chance to show off their good technique than anything else.

 

19. Twinkle Twinkle

Often I like to start this piece by giving them the first note and asking them to work out the rest.  I am quite happy for mayhem to ensue so long a I can see a determined effort being made by the majority of the group.  It may however be more practical in other instances to play it and ask them to copy.  The idea is to encourage them to explore the tonal layout of the instrument.

 

20. Footprints in the Snow

You may wish to change the name of this piece to Footprints in the Sand as it rarely seems to come round at Christmas time.  This doesn’t seem to bother children much however.

 

21. Old MacDonald

This old favourite is useful for strengthening the 3rd (4th) finger.

 

22. Walk on Mars!

It is best not to demonstrate the sliding in this piece until all the notes are learnt.  This spares you having to listen to them slide around when they should be paying attention.  The second half proves quite challenging, and I like to emphasise the piano quality, creating the illusion of a space walk, light and floaty.  The following slides should be harmonic slides to encourage stress-free movement of the left hand.  It also makes for a nicer and quieter sound, so fewer confused faces in the audience.  Once all is learnt I ask them to slide up and down during the introduction as loudly as they can, stopping abruptly when the ostinato begins.  This I describe as the sound of the space rocket landing on Mars.

 

23. ‘A String’ Hoe Down

This is a good note-reading piece because of its simplicity.  By now pupils should be able to work out for themselves what all the notes are.  Sometimes I divide them into groups where they work them out in two-bar sections, adding a degree of competition that usually fires them up.  The last line I teach by rote, adding foot-stamps or ‘yee-ha’s in the rests.

 

24. Rolling Hills

Both legato bowing and dynamic contrast are explored in this piece.  It is sometimes nice to repeat the last line as it works with the backing track.

 

25. Fiery Fiddler

Though this piece is technically quite challenging, it is simple to understand and for that reason quite popular.  The repeated open strings help to tune the fingered notes, and performances often sound more impressive than they deserve to.  The other advantage is that the piece works fine with no accompaniment, giving the player a little more freedom with regard to tempo.  Initially I ask the pupils to sing the fingered notes, omitting the repeated As.  I then ask them to identify the fingered notes on the second page as a descending scale.  As a carrot I offer a free book 2 to any pupil who can perform the piece well, funds permitting.

 

26. Ode to Joy

No better way to celebrate completing the book.