Cuckoo is the first piece in the Suzuki repertoire where right and left hands play independently rather than in unison. Because this is a difficult skill to master, most students take more time to learn Cuckoo than the previous songs. I have noticed that sometimes students who have previously been thriving may become discouraged at this point, so it is important for teachers and parents to take many opportunities to encourage students to persevere.
Make sure that the students understand that taking time to learn a piece is completely normal and to be expected. Patience is required for the student as well as showing oneself grace during the learning process. As usual, students are taught the right-hand melody first, followed by the left-hand accompaniment. After mastering hands separately, students are ready to begin putting hands together. It is important along the way to ensure that the student is maintaining familiarity with the tune of the piece by listening to the recording as well as playing the opposite hand with the teacher when they have mastered each hand.
After the student has mastered the right hand, I will first play both hands myself, while the student plays the right hand. After that, I will play only my left hand while the student plays the right; and vice versa when the student begins to master the left hand. This gives the student an idea of how the hands interact together, as well as the melody and accompaniment. When beginning hands together, the student must be taught to distinguish between playing “together” vs. playing one hand at a time. Once they can tell the difference, I am able to remind them with the verbal cues “together,” “left” or “right.”
A crucial skill that Cuckoo teaches, besides hands playing independently, is how to maintain left hand legato while right hand plays repeated note legato. Repeated note legato requires the student to lift the hand/finger of the right hand to produce multiple sounds of the same note (see measures 9 and 11). Failure to lift will result in failure to produce multiple sounds. The difficulty is when the right hand lifts, the left hand is often tempted to lift as well, resulting in loss of legato. To help students master this technique, I have them play both hands together, holding the left-hand pinky while lifting the right hand. Students are able to feel their hands off balance (left hand holding and right hand in the air) before the right hand comes back down to play again. The student then adds the ability to land the right-hand index finger on the same note while the left hand switches from the pinky to middle finger without lifting, maintaining legato. Drilling may be required for this exercise, having the student play those two notes for many repetitions until they have mastered this skill before moving on to finish the remainder of the piece.
As I am writing this technique post, I am struck by the difficulty in using words to describe these techniques and am appreciative of the modeling nature of the Suzuki method. Rather than bore the children with long explanations, I am able to simply execute the technique for the student to watch and then imitate. Sometimes I use hand-over-hand technique for those who benefit from kinesthetic learning (I learned the term “hand over hand” from my time working with children with autism, meaning I control the movement of the student’s hands with my hands to help them complete a movement.)
Cuckoo is also a great starting point for learning chords and cadences. For scales, I teach the circle of fifths, beginning with a C scale, and the C cadence is familiar to students because of the left hand of Cuckoo. Cuckoo left hand contains both a broken C chord as well as a broken G chord (1st inversion).
In summary, Cuckoo teaches the following:
- Independence of the hands
- Left hand legato
- Broken C and G chords