Call and response is a great way to get students connecting their instruments to what they hear. It’s also a safe way to lead them through styles beyond classical music.
This video clip runs from basic phrases for my young students, all the way to licks that challenge my most advanced ones. To get started, get your instrument ready and play along with the video, and remember you can always substitute what I play with your own response from the notes on the screen.
Once you have the hang of it, you can try leading it in lessons. I like to break it down at first the way I do in the video, saying “I play” before I go and “you play” before they do.
Here’s a list of ideas to focus on while leading with the backing track linked at the bottom of this post. Try thinking of a category or objective before you play it to stay a step ahead. (Note: the backing track linked is in e minor, so E G A B D of the pentatonic scale and/or staying in e minor are your safe zones)
RHYTHM--can keep the left hand simple by focusing on open strings or easy fingerings
Play four quarter notes
Play two half notes
PITCH--can keep the rhythm simple
Open strings (Use this as much as you want, younger ones especially love repeating something they’re good at)
Add 1st finger, then gradually add more as you go
If they struggled with a response, you can try it again
If needed, you can play the phrase again to adjust what you want to hear. “Listen to the first finger” “Ringing tone!” "Curved fingers!"
If their rhythm gets behind, I’ll gently interrupt with “my turn” and come in on the downbeat to reinforce playing in time and give them another shot
Sometimes I’ll sneak in a quote from other pieces in their Suzuki Book. For example, in the e minor backing track provided, violinists can take a quote from The Happy Farmer, Gossec Gavotte, or Etude and have them play it back in time
Any Twinkle on the D string works too!
Note: Some of these quotations go outside of the e minor pentatonic safe zone outlined in the video, but if that's not the main focus of your session, it can be a worthwhile idea
As we play, I adjust the difficulty as we go. We can add things like dynamics, articulation, slurs, double stops, shifts, and vibrato as they’re ready.
Backing track link: https://youtu.be/HTgkRFoPk Let us know how it worked out for you, and if you discovered anything about call and response with students please share!
Any thoughts or ideas? I'd love to know what you think! *FYI, this post originally appeared as an educational unit in the Creative String Players Facebook Group. If you enjoyed reading this, you'll love it there.
Neil Fong Gilfillan is a Suzuki cello teacher in Frisco Texas. He and his wife Rachel Samson on viola/violin run Chili Dog Strings, the only string studio in Frisco named after a dog. To see more of his teaching techniques and music, check their YouTube channel, Facebook page, and Instagram.