Updated: Mar 2, 2021
Whichever part of the Suzuki Triangle you are (parent, child or teacher), there will have been a early point in which you thought it: "what's with the twinkles?!"
In fact this is probably a thought anyone outside of Suzuki would also question. It's a good and very valid question!
Regardless of instrument, Suzuki Book 1 is all about learning the skills of how to play the instrument. The Twinkles themselves are the foundations. You have to have solid foundations, otherwise you can't build the skills on top. There's no way of bypassing them - and why would you want to? These 'simple' variations can save hours spent of Hanon and Clementi!
With rhythms on the familiar melody of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, the child subconsciously develops finger technique with which they can make a variety of beautiful tones when they play. This notion of disguised repetition is of particular importance to the method. There is no limit to how many repetitions of any skill are required to get something right (though Suzuki famously said 10,000).
I'm going to lift the hood on the Piano Twinkles now - this is what I'm listening and looking for. And the point is that each of these variations makes a different sound, and parent, child and teacher simultaneously need to hear and register the sound that is being made.
Variation A: "Pepperoni Pizza"
This quick rhythm needs to be strong and assertive. The fingers move quickly with the thumb tucked in. With repetition the fingers get used to pulling and catching the notes - not hitting the key (very simply this looks like making a line and not a dot).
Variation B: "pop-LONG-pop"
As well as there being a clear dynamic contracts between the long and the pop sound, the way the fingers strike the key is different. In making the sonorous 'Long' sound, the finger needs to rise up in preparation for pulling the key - quite like it would if you wanted to clap your hands loudly. Once the key has been struck or taken (some describe the action like grabbing), the wrist moves forward so the finger is standing almost on its tip to remove any hand tension.
The 'pop' introduces the idea of 'up sounds' the pop is a quick light movement, and on the final pop the finger has to catch the key before it fully rises.
Variation C: "Run Mummy, run Daddy"
Similar to the light pop 'up' technique of Variation B, this variation is a light and rhythmic staccato - great preparation for quick passages. I often use a juggling scarf to help demonstrate how this should feel to pick up the key. Or you can visualise jelly fish and their tentacles hanging down!
The finale features lovely long bell like notes that were established in the 'long' of variation B. Care needs to be taken that there are no gaps between notes, and that the fingers catch the repeated notes before the key of the piano returns to its original position. It's a slow and yet quick movement - quite challenging, but so clear and satisfying when it's achieved.
And that's it! Once the child has established good technique on the Twinkle variations, they have solid foundations on which to begin learning new repertoire/skills. The pieces in the Suzuki repertoire are in a very specific order so that each piece presents something new, or builds on a previous idea, say finger catches, an alberti bass, new chord etc. all of which go back to Twinkles.
Final thought: Practice is always a challenge, but with good quality daily practice a child will develop more quickly than one who engages in practice less frequently. At the very least playing through the Twinkle variations daily is keeping those essential skills in check. And - of course- keeping the CD playing while going about daily activities so you're always listening!
If you're interested in learning more - or perhaps being shown how the Twinkles develop technique, please do contact us!