French Folk Song using Straws!

Usually we don’t put anything in the violin, but there was an exception last week at MusicLaunch. All 4 violin students and I opened straws up together and I demonstrated on my violin where to put the straws. I asked one high school student, “Why are we putting straws in our violins?” and she thought for a while, and then said, “To keep the bow here?” and pointed between the bridge and the straw goal posts. She was right on the dot.

As we began playing our “Twinkle, Twinkle” variations warm-up, they maintained a much straighter bow direction with the straws guiding their bow. We also practiced using different amounts of bow. For instance, I might say, “Let’s play ‘alligator alligator’ using only an inch of bow” or “Now let’s try ‘zoo zoo’ and use the whole bow.” Then each student made their own rhythm we would follow. In this lesson we also had a 3-minute practice time where I went around helping each student  individually on our new tune, French Folk Song. I think when a student is a beginner, it can be helpful to have them hold the bow but assist by moving it by the wooden stick. They get the feeling of how it should sound and more importantly, how it feels before they have all the “technique” to get that sound on their own. If a student is having trouble using more bow, moving the bow faster with them can help them realize the violin won’t squeak if more bow is used. After practicing moving the bow with her for a minute, I then move to work with another student. Another student may not have any hesitation to use more bow, but needs help with having a straighter bow when the hand moves further away from her. The straws already help with this but since this student is 9, I told her to look at the shapes her right arm makes when she is at a different place in the bow. We have a square at the middle, tiny triangle at the frog, and a trapezoid (it looks like a strange rectangle and triangle put together) at the point of the bow.

Over this spring break I observed many classes at the Conservatory Lab Charter School (CLCS), and was very inspired by their school philosophy and everything! They formulated similar vocabulary every teacher uses from K-1 to middle school! Also I found it fascinating that the same warm-ups the students do in elementary school are still used 7 years later to warm the orchestra up. I am thinking of implementing their warm-ups into my teaching as well. After play open strings in a simple rhythm, they play tetrachords on every string to learn the beginnings of major/minor and whole tone scales. They also learn songs in a really great way. The teacher used a white board to write out the songs’ rhythm and note names. First he clapped, and asked the students what was special about the rhythm of the whole song. (the answer: it is the same rhythm 3 times.) If they didn’t hear it, they could visually see this. Then they spoke the note names in rhythm. Some even sang it. Then he had one brave student volunteer themselves to play it. After that he had each section of the orchestra play it and the other sections sing and do the fingerings on their instruments. When they all joined together the sound was incredible. Observing the school that day made me so excited to teach. The students at MusicLaunch have all the potential and joy in the world, and I am looking forward to sharing their development!

Transforming My Cello Studio-Conclusion

Now that my internship is done, I realize that it is definitely not over.  The work that I have put into improving and expanding my teaching this semester has been deeply beneficial to my students and has been exceptionally invigorating and inspiring to me.

Over the course of the internship, I had to adjust some of my goals to fit the reality of my teaching situation.  While using vocal modeling wasn’t as practical to pursue, I found that using the voice as a resource became an amazingly useful tool, even for students that don’t feel particularly comfortable singing.

By consciously adding new approaches and assessing those approaches, I’ve not only grown as a teacher but feel like my teaching is more grounded in ideals that I believe are important to become a more complete musician.  Now, I have even more strength behind my teaching because of setting specific goals, assessing the impact that my teaching has on my students and creating an environment that encourages feedback and reflection in my students.  By incorporating concepts from the Contemporary Improvisation Department, String Pedagogy and Music-In-Education, I am building on my intuitive teaching experiences with a more informed musical, pedagogical and reflective approach.

I’ve collected surveys from my students regarding the new concepts I’ve introduced during and have collected reflections, videos, observations and documents on the studio transformation process.  You can view it all in my MIE portfolio here.  Take a look and let me know what you think!

Transforming My Private Cello Studio-Blog #3

My internship is wrapping up and it has been a truly amazing experience! I wanted to transform aspects of my private lesson studio so that it utilizes the new resources that I have as a teacher and expand on the ideals that I believe are important for training students to be more aware and complete musicians (regardless of their level of  ability, experience, and commitment.)
The Practice Technique Toolbox assignment has been going well and the exercise of articulating what passages are obstacles, how to approach those obstacles and what the results are of using different practice strategies has been eye-opening.  I think it is helpful for my students to have a vehicle to really look at how they practice and to collect data for themselves to see what works and doesn’t.  It seems to be leading my students towards developing the ability to better judge what is accurate in their playing and what isn’t.  It seems like it is encouraging a level of awareness in my students that will be a great resource to them as they develop as musicians.

I’ve been using the triple entry journal format for my students to document their practice technique assignment and reflect on their data.  Below is an example of how I modified the existing MIE TEJ Template to make it represent the questions I was asking my students.


I’ve mostly being making handwritten charts for my students which look a little more like this:


Here is a list of practice techniques that one of my student’s has been using.


This process of documentation and reflection has been the catalyst for many of my students to look at what is/isn’t working when they practice and I’m noticing that they are starting to have questions that are now guiding what and how I am teaching them.  I had a student ask me why they noticed improvement in cleaning up their sound during a passage but still couldn’t consistently play it without hitting neighboring strings.  Rather than telling a student to move their bow away from the fingerboard to stop hitting neighboring strings because it is the “correct” thing to do, I had an opportunity to reinforce a challenging technique for this student as a solution to a problem that they articulated.  I think there is real power in teaching that can provide an answer to a question the student discovers.  My next step with this student would be ask them to find the answer  to these kinds of questions when their cello knowledge is a little more substantial.
One of my goals was to incorporate Multiple Resources for my students.  Rather than just using the same books/exercise I usually use, I wanted to expand my materials in order to address my students’ needs from many different angles.  I focused on using Viva Vibrato! by G. Fischbach and R. Frost as a supplement to the traditional vibrato exercises that I learned from my teachers.

     The two exercises that I focused on from Viva Vibrato were the “Wave Duet” and the “Chicken Wing Vibrato” exercise.  The  “Wave Duet” allows the student to focus specifically on the motion of the arm and a consistent and even movement without having to also maintain pitch.  This allows the student to concentrate on the elbow and arm motion of vibrato.  “The Wave Duet” is also a great assessment exercise.  If a student could do the exercise successfully, I knew that they were ready to focus on other approaches to vibrato.  This is the first time I’ve ever used an exercise as an assessment tool rather than just a teaching tool!

Here is a video of my student, Anya, and I practicing a variation on the “Wave Duet”.

   For students who need more work on developing a good relationship to the general motion of vibrato, I used the “Chicken Wing Vibrato” exercise.  This exercise has students place their fingers on the front of their shoulder and make a vibrato-like motion (a combination of flapping and rotating) with their arm.   This exercise has been exceptionally effective for students new to vibrato.  By combining these exercises with exercises I was previously using I have the ability to better assess my students’ physical intuition
provide them with many different ways to approach learning a sometimes challenging physical concept.
In order to collect Reflections from my students, I created a survey asking them about what they’ve experienced/noticed with the changes in my approach to teaching.  It has been exciting to get so much feedback and to have reflection be a larger part of my experience as a teacher and as a part of my students’ experience.  I look forward to sharing insights from those surveys in my internship portfolio.
Stay tuned for a link to my portfolio as the semester finishes.

Transforming My Private Cello Studio

Editor’s Note: This post is the first in a series of three by MIE student Valerie Thompson, a cellist studying Contemporary Improvisation at NEC.

The focus of my Music-in-Education internship is to transform my pre-existing private cello studio to incorporate new ideas that I have been exposed to while studying at New England Conservatory.  These ideas come mainly from my explorations in the Contemporary Improvisation Department, Intro to Music-in-Education/Seminar in Music-in-Education and Magdalena Richter’s String Pedagogy Course.
I am currently teaching about 15 cello students ranging in age from 7-50+.  Some of my students have been studying with me for as little as a month and some have been studying with me for over 8 years.  Some have had previous musical and cello experience before studying with me and some are complete beginners.  It really runs the gamut.

One big thing that I wanted to get started with all of my students is a vocal connection to the instrument.  This mirrors much of the work that I am personally digging into and I find it really intriguing and challenging and potentially transforming to attempt to model my playing after the human voice.  This has proved to be a little challenging for a few reasons.

  1. I will be hosting a studio recital for my students on March 11th and as such many of my lessons as of late have been primarily focused on preparing their concert pieces.
  2. My students are at many different levels, though mostly beginner/intermediate and as such this approach hasn’t yet felt right for some of my students’ ability on the instrument.
  3. I teach the cello from a mainly classical standpoint (at least in the beginning and in regards to technique) and I want to use vocal models that connect to my students personally and many of my students just do not listen to traditional classical vocalists.  (It is interesting that in classical music the instrumental and vocal traditions do not sound as similar as in other genres, such as blues or jazz.  I have more ideas on this for my future posts that will include transcript of a discussion with Hankus Netsky on this subject.)
  4. Redirecting How to Use the Voice to Connect with the Cello

    With those examples of how my ideas for vocal modeling haven’t been as an ideal a part of my lessons as I had desired, I’ve started to reformulate how to approach the vocal connection in a way that might meet the student where they are and their interests lie.  I’ve found that asking my students to use their voices in lessons to sing back problematic phrases has become a way to get students to slow down and listen for good intonation.  I’ve also had students sing or even imagine singing passages that they’ve often had a hard time playing with the metronome in order to help them connect to the tempo of a piece.  I find that when students’ sing their parts they start to focus more on the sound of what they are playing rather than the mechanics of what they are playing.  This seems to be a great balancing tool as I’ve found many of my students lean on the mechanics of the playing experience in order to know whether or not they’ve played a passage correctly.  I have started to ask students to pick a vocal song that they’d like to learn on the instrument and even if an in-depth vocal modeling project may not be what the song will turn into, I believe that learning vocal melodies will help students with ear-training , learning by ear and developing observational skills and hopefully be another way to connect music that they enjoy listening to an instrument they enjoy playing.

    The Approach I Had Hoped For

    One student’s (Noah, 17) interest in “Habanera” from Bizet’s Carmen was like a dream come true, however.  He asked me about the piece of his own accord and was excited that I just happened to have it on hand in one of my anthologies of cello pieces.  I saw it as the perfect, organic opportunity to introduce the idea of vocal modeling to him.  I entrusted him with the task of finding 3 youtube performances of Habanera that he enjoyed.  He came up with a few that he seemed tepid about and then I introduced him to an old-school classic, Maria Callas.  He was taken with how expressive and fiery she was while barely moving during the performance.  We found the lyrics online to compare to the written rhythms we had and then we immediately started reshaping the written melody that we had to take into consideration the many slides, accents, rhythmic variations and ornaments that Callas used to make such an intriguing performance.  We still have much exploration to do on this piece but I’ve found that his sound and vibrato are already starting to be more expressive and interesting by using the Callas model than by me prodding him with descriptive phrases or asking him to imitate my cello sound.  In addition to developing a new sound, I’ve found that he is taking an active part in figuring out how to do vocal modeling.  We’ve many had discussions about the challenges of this and the process of identifying what you are hearing and translating that to the cello.

    Follow this link to see Maria Callas at Covent Garden performing “Habanera” from Bizet’s Carmen.
    Callas’ performance begins at 2:50.

    Another goal of my internship is to get my students improvising or composing in some manner as a way to develop personal connection to the instrument.  I have used my Rainstorm Brainstorm Project as the main vehicle for this exercise.  The group improvisation of The Rainstorm will happen both at the MIE Concert on March 7th and as the finale of my studio recital on March 11th.  After the recital, I will need to access my students’ experience with it.  I am curious to see what composition/improvisation assignments might be of use with a focus more on the individual, rather than this large group project post-recital.

    Go to this link for a collection of Rainstorm sound ideas that some of my students’ have come up with.

    I feel that the focus of my studio recital has thrown off course some of the other goals that I had for my teaching such as using more resources to teach a concept and I may need to continue to adjust some of my goals to better meet the abilities and interests of my students.  I need to better document some of the feedback that I am getting from students but I’ve found that just having the goal of assessment in the back of my mind is causing me to ask more questions of my students in order to assess their take on their experiences.  I think this means there are definitely some post-recital surveys to be created and passed out to my students on March 11th!

String Pedagogy Update & Portfolio Link

I can’t believe this internship has flown by so quickly! This semester seemed to begin yesterday!

Yet, as I compile my portfolio (which can be found online:, I also can’t believe how much I’ve discovered and learned – better becoming an artist, scholar, and teacher. My string pedagogy class supplied me with just enough information to make me want to dive in more through observation of fellow teachers and reading Galamian, Simon Fisher, and other pedagogy books. I have learned through reading Leopold Mozart’s A Treatise on the Fundamental Principles of Violin Playing, the importance of teaching students the history of music, particularly concerning our rich violin history.

My teaching has been high energy (keeping a four-year-old motivated and engaged) this semester, but slower paced than I thought, as my student doesn’t have much time to practice with the family’s demanding schedule. Certain technical aspects have been hard for him, but just over the past three weeks, we have progressed leaps and bounds. His bow is now straighter, bow hold more consistently excellent, and his fingers more exact in placement. This came with a bit of struggle!

Two weeks ago during our lesson, we were able to end on a joyful note, but he broke down in tears during our first “Pennies Game”. Four pennies on my side of the stand, and four pennies on his side, each time he didn’t reach his goal, I got one of his pennies, but each time he nailed his goal, he got one of mine! The purpose of the game is to have the student focus while doing repetitions, with his/her goal obviously being to get all the pennies in his pile.

His goal was to keep his two and three fingers on the bow for an entire down bow, which I knew had been an emotional experience during practice with his mom. Trying to work through why he had broken down, I asked him if he was missing his mom, as an emergency had come up and she had suddenly needed to leave. He said it wasn’t that, so I asked him if he didn’t like the game. He still shook his head no. He finally was able, between his sobs, to express that, “I never, ever want to lose”! It was so incredibly sweet and honest, seemingly not only about the game, but also really concerning a fear that he couldn’t play the violin. After having a long talk, he was able to fair and square win the game, realizing that keeping his fingers on the bow was actually not impossible and could be fun! At the end of the lesson, he grew tired of me helping him guide the bow, placing the fingers…I backed off…he did it perfectly!!! Success!

With the close of this story, here ends my first wonderful MIE and NEC internship!

String Pedagogy Teaching Internship

Editor’s Note: Meet Katheryn Naler, an MIE student/Violin major in her 3rd year and doing her first MIE Guided Internship! Katheryn’s internship this semester is tied in with the String Pedagogy course taught through the NEC Strings Dept.

This last summer, I created my own internship to equip me for something I absolutely love: pre-college teaching. This last month has been full of learning pedagogical skills by writing lesson plans, teaching lessons, and subsequently, writing responses about the experiences in lesson. In addition to these activities, I also observe lessons at NEC: college level as well as pre-college, with varying teachers. The more I learn, the more I realize how little I know! To parallel my internship in concentration, I am taking the String Pedagogy class. It has been such a wonderful asset as I continue gathering up methods of teaching.

My darling student, an unexpectedly smart young boy in Newton, is learning the violin. Because of teaching a four-year-old, I am in the process of learning the skill of keeping his attention and interest. Magdalena Richter suggests having multiple areas of education, and switching back and forth quickly before the child can loose interest. I keep thinking on this as I begin to seek out my style in teaching. I am learning to, as Benjamin Zander implements, automatically give him an A, treating him as such a student. Over the weeks, the more I think on this idea, the more focused, positive, and productive our lessons have been.

String Pedagogy Internship Proposal

Editor’s Note: Meet Katheryn Naler, an MIE student/Violin major in her 3rd year and doing her first MIE Guided Internship! Katheryn’s internship this semester is tied in with the String Pedagogy course taught through the NEC Strings Dept.

When I was a young girl, I wanted to be a violin teacher and performer. Even during the years when performing was at the top of my gratification list (even if it meant playing on a balcony, pretending it to be the Carnegie Hall stage), when I got home to the privacy of my room, I would teach imaginary students how to learn the concepts I myself practiced. At the age of 11, I began teaching three brothers, but soon my “studio”, as I excitedly called it, doubled as my first students spread the word. As I turned 12, I began teaching an 11 year old who then stayed with me until I moved away, right before he began preparing for college auditions. He now is playing repertoire that I haven’t even approached, an experience I hope to always cherish.

As I enter this internship, I have much to learn! I wonder how to approach a four year old and impart the desire for learning that I had when I was young – to truly engage them in the excitement of learning music. I want to learn how to not play information down so much that a small child doesn’t see the wonderful value of music and the joy it can bring. I want to learn how to convey not only musical knowledge, but intertwine insight that has been important to my growth, developing a deeper connection with the student in the long term. I want to learn different methods of which to teach and how to avoid pain and injury. To accomplish these goals for my internship, I would like to teach one four-year-old student, focusing on his learning style. Each lesson plan, as well as new ideas I have, will be documented before the lesson. After each lesson, I will journal the strengths and weaknesses of the lesson as well as new information/insights I’ve gathered in response. I will also be observing at least four other teacher’s lessons with their students during the semester, taking notes throughout the lesson, as well as writing a response journal entry afterward, regarding what I learned. During the semester, I will write at least three times on the MIE blog, mirroring what I’m acquiring as well as thoughts I’ve had in response to my new ideas. At the completion of the semester, I will turn in a portfolio of all the lesson plans, response/journal entries, MIE blog entries, as well as a video of one of the first lessons and the last lesson before the internship has come to a close. The video will demonstrate my progression as a teacher as well as the progression my student has had throughout our months together.

To cultivate the experience for the student and myself, I have registered for the String Pedagogy class. Although this class directly connects with my desire to teach pre-college students in a studio atmosphere, I have also taken Performing Artists in Schools and Performing Artists in Community. These classes will aid my experience greatly as I learned better how to grasp young children’s attention as an artist in schools (emulating Bernstein in his Young People’s concerts), and how each person is important, a small part of a community, and how music can create community. I have also taken Music, Brain, and Child Development with Lyle Davidson. This class relates to my internship in that we studied the brain’s development in relation to music and how children mature even from conception. We learned how music, whether a nursery rhyme or the widely recognized Mozart, is so very intertwined in a child’s developing brain. Having this knowledge will help me understand how to more creatively engage the four-year-old student.

This internship will help me prepare for my career as a violin teacher, but more importantly prepare me to be a teacher forever learning. It will increase the opportunity for me to focus on the aspects of a successful teacher as well as hone my own. I will hopefully broaden my perspectives while I inevitably learn new techniques entirely. I will begin to learn what is essential for me to begin understanding before I leave NEC: What does it mean to be a successful teacher? How do I engage a student while effectively communicating? How do I set up a beginner’s technique in a clear, concise way in order for it to stick in their minds and be understandable for their own practice?