American pedagogue Mimi Zweig explains how she engages new pupils


Once a student understands some basic theory (what a staff, measure, bar–line, time signature, treble clef and bass clef are), knows the note values with the Kodály syllables, has learnt about eight or nine pieces, and can use all four fingers (the equivalent of Suzuki’s Perpetual Motion), the following sequence of tasks will ensure good music-reading abilities. The student should master each task before going on to the next. This is not difficult to accomplish if (and this is the important part) the task is practised daily.

  • Learn the names of the notes on the A string by answering the question, ‘What are the names of the notes under the first, second and third fingers?’ Ask the student to play the note and say its name
  • Continue the above process with the names of the notes under the fingers on the E, D and then G strings — one string per week
  • Make flash cards for the A-string notes. Show a card and ask the student to name and play it. Explain that notes live on spaces or lines, and when the notes go up, the pitch goes up
  • Make flash cards for the E, D and G strings. Again, one string per week
  • Return to past repertoire and begin writing out the names of the notes with the student. Continue identifying notes for all the pieces a student has learnt
  • Prepare note-drilling pages if more drilling is necessary

This process may take two months, but is well worth the careful effort. From this point on, new pieces are learnt with the music, but are always memorised.

This article was published as part of Mimi Zweig's larger feature on 'First Lessons' in The Strad's March 2013 issue