Stringbabies for Viola

I’ll start by introducing myself and confessing straight away that  I am a cellist with some viola playing experience! My name is Kay Tucker and these days I work full time teaching cello, adjudicating at music festivals, writing music, articles, the occasional performing gig and mostly on a rather time consuming project called Stringbabies. More about Stringbabies below.

Where the viola fits in. I learnt to play the viola during my year of teacher training following studies at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. I had to choose another stringed instrument to learn and I chose viola, but being a little enthusiastic, I went to the violin and bass lectures as well. Being endowed with huge hands, I found the viola and I got along rather well and I was lucky enough to be having lessons with Stephen Tees at Middlesex Polytechnic. I do love the unique sound colours of the viola and am very keen to promote the idea that you can start the viola as a first musical experience rather than converting from the violin. I hope my new book will help here.

Stringbabies is a holistic framework for teaching strings and general musicianship primarily to very young children. From the very first lesson, students learn to compose and read music at the same time as learning to play and developing their aural skills. The system draws on a simplified notation system which develops step by step into conventional notation and on a bank of very short and simple fun songs using just 2 notes in the first instance.

Stringbabies started life 10 years ago as ‘Cellobabies’. I created it with the 3 to 6 year age range in mind initially and such was its success with my own students, a few colleagues began to take an interest in my work and start to try out my ideas for themselves.

Naturally, a book followed. I published ‘Cellobabies’ myself in 2006 having tried unsuccessfully to find a publisher and to my joy I found that there was significant interest in my work from the string teaching world. Shortly after requests came in for a violin and viola version of ‘Cellobabies’ so I set to work on producing these two adaptations.

A very interesting development was the increasing number of reports I received from colleagues who started using the books not just with very young children, but with older students who had difficulty reading music, adult beginners and children with special needs. It seemed clear to me that  the little system I had created was developing a life of its own and growing out of the box I had put it in. Also, reports were coming on that pupils were scoring much higher in the sight reading and aural components of their exams when they started using my approach, confirming that it wasn’t just happening to my students.

In 2008 I started organising short courses for teachers wanting to find out more about ‘Cellobabies’, ‘Violinbabies’ and ‘Violababies’ and started a membership system for teachers wishing to advertise themselves as exponents of this system. A huge development came in late 2010 when Surrey Arts became the first music service in the UK to offer lessons to their youngest students using my work. I then decided that ‘Stringbabies’ was a much neater way of collectively describing the 3 publications and over the following years another 5 schools and music services came on board.

As the partnership with Surrey Arts developed, I was asked for a CD of piano accompaniments and this led to a rebranding of Stringbabies as a whole. The books were now being produced by an outside company, although I was still the publisher and the decision was taken to dispense with the images of little children on the covers and go for an all age friendly design. This was quite an expensive process and we decided that it was best to go for the violin and cello books first. Since the launch of the new style Stringbabies books, things have moved on a pace.

We were delighted to be short listed for 2 years running, for the Rhinegold Music teacher Awards for excellence in 2013 and 2014 and so our profile is very much higher than it was.

Which brings me to the latest reformat. Stringbabies for Viola is now being republished! The covers were designed at the same time as the cello and violin books and it just needed the CD recording. As it so happens, I have a lot of friends who are excellent violists and I was delighted when one of them, Richard Williamson (Manchester Camerata) was free to pop down South and record for it.

We are in the exciting stage of tweaking everything for a print run and I hope that all will be ready for a July launch. A launch event is planned but at the time of writing has not been finalised.

Please do tell all your Viola teaching friends about Stringbabies’ for Viola! More news and updates will be sent through to BVS and you can also look on the website


Kay Tucker