Choosing a Teacher

Photo credit: Baher Khairy

Before you try to choose a teacher, stop, take a big breath, allow yourself time to consider what you want in a teacher.

There are all kinds of people in the world and that includes teachers, parents and kids who are the potential recipients of the music lessons. A few of the questions you might ask yourself could include (and please be honest for your and your child’s sake! There are no right or wrong answers. You are you and that is who you are supposed to be. Just be as honest as you possibly can!):

  • How much time each week am I willing to devote to helping my child with this project? The child probably needs help clearing out time as well as other details to meet the time demands of learning an instrument.
  • Am I willing to sit through the lesson with the teacher and child and ask about what I don’t understand so that I can work with my child at home? This is important for the parent to think through so that he/she can then seek a teacher who is willing to work with parent and child or one who would rather have the child dropped off and picked up at the end of the lesson.
  • Do I want my child to experience a caring teacher who has a plan of action and result-oriented goals around building technique on the instrument as well as fundamental music theory so that my child advances systematically and can handle Royal Conservatory of Music exams in Canada or in the American String Teachers Certificate Advancement exams in the US?
  • Do I want my child to be able to understand and perform at the level of the Youth Orchestra he/she may join? Do I want a teacher who is willing to answer questions and help with specific orchestra playing needs?
  • Would I rather have a teacher who is nice and fun no matter what happens at home or at the lesson and never places expectations on the child?
  • Would I rather have my child do a little of all kinds of activities or stick with one or two things and get good at what they are doing? This question deserves a well thought out answer.

So far the ideas under discussion have been about parental attitudes. It’s time to give attention to the child’s ideas:

  • Does this child enjoy music?
  • Does he/she enjoy learning new activities, ideas, skills?
  • Has he/she attended any concerts, orchestral, chamber music, church choir, youth orchestra or (good thought!) a student recital of a prospective teacher.

All of these experiences could help a youngster see himself/herself in these settings and come up with a meaningful reaction.

After considering these questions, you want to find a music teacher who is a match for your own preferences. Asking yourself these questions helps you get clear on what you want (and on what you and your child are motivated to do). Write down what is important for you and your child and go and meet with a few prospective teachers to ask meaningful questions and determine if you are a good match.

May you be blessed in your considerations and decisions!

Check out the related post on new students materials checklist.


After 40+ years of teaching violin lessons, I am retiring this summer. It has been a pleasure watching children of all ages grow and develop their music skills and talent. I feel grateful to have enjoyed such a rewarding career.

I will be moving to Arvada to be closer to family. For the next few months, I won’t be writing much, but I plan to get back to blogging in full force in 2017. I hope you will return to join me at that time.

Have a great summer!

Mindset and the Suzuki Method

I have been digesting a paragraph from Dr. Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, (page 41).

“For them, [people with the growth mindset] even geniuses have to work hard for their achievements. And what’s so heroic, they would say, about having a gift? They may appreciate endowment, but they admire effort, for no matter what your ability is, effort is what ignites that ability and turns it into accomplishment.”

Photo by Nimajs (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by Nimajs (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I think Dr. Suzuki would be whole heart and soul into that statement. I think that is the thinking behind the way he broke down tasks for the young children to be able to move from one small accomplishment to the next. Some parents embrace this idea and they and their children succeed at this endeavor.

Parents who appreciate the value of effort give their children an example of what effort can do for us in our daily life. It’s the way they face their lives. The children in this environment embrace effort naturally and see their parents appreciate their efforts and accomplishments.

Improvisation and the Suzuki Method

I have been asked before

“How do you get started doing improvisation with the Suzuki Method?”

Well, I answer by explaining the steps I take with each student.
I have my young students learn to play the one octave A major, D major and G major scales, first in pizzicato, and then using rhythmic bow strokes. We sing a little song to learn the scale:

The little train goes up the hill. The little train comes down again.

Singing the notes of the scale to the words above, is quite easy and once they can sing it, they can play it. Once they play it on the violin, I tell them that they have just played the A major scale.

While they are learning the book 1 pieces, I have them use only the notes of one of these scales (they pick which one) to make up a little tune. I like to take advantage of the time and effort they are putting into playing the little folk tunes from the first half of the Suzuki Violin School Book 1. During this time, they are listening to the book 1 CD, also singing words to the tunes and then reproducing the tunes on the violin. I think that is a good time to let them start to make up their own tunes also. When we begin to improvise, we start by mixing up the notes of the scale we have chosen to make one phrase of music. There is only one rule:

“Start on the key note – the first note of the scale you have chosen – and end on the same note. Do whatever you want to in between.”

We keep doing that until it is easy. Then we add meter and when the student is ready, we can use the metronome for the beat.

Then as they learn the arpeggios, we can ease into the use of chords that fit under a tune, i.e. Twinkle. I plan to address these concepts a bit further in my next post.

Below is a another video of brothers Tristan and Zane, playing a fiddle arrangement found in a collection by Carol Ann Wheeler of the folk tune, Go Tell Aunt Rhody, plus improvisation around that tune.

Fiddle Arrangement

Here is a fiddle arrangement of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, played by brothers Zane and Tristan. Older brother Tristan is playing an improvisation on the melody and I am accompanying them both on guitar. I like to get siblings playing together if they are interested in that. It adds interest for them and in these two boys instance, they are practicing something they really like doing. Tristan is very interested in improvisation. Sometimes I call it “applied theory”. You have to get acquainted with the chords and how they move to be able to fit into what is going on. Variations come as one gets comfy with simple harmonization that fits.

String Pedagogy Talk at Colorado State University

In November, 2012 I was asked to speak, as a Suzuki Teacher Trainer in violin to the String Pedagogy class at Colorado State University, here in Fort Collins. The talk I gave was about the progression and development of the skills necessary to successfully fulfill the requirements of the Suzuki Violin School Books 1 through 4.
These core ideas I covered during my presentation were:

  • Developing good intonation;
  • Developing successful and pleasing use of the bow;
  • Developing successful note reading skills;
  • An overview of the desired level of achievement for the repertoire.

In the coming weeks, I’ll publish some of these core ideas to my blog to share with any readers who may be interested. Stay tuned!

Congratulations Chad!

Congratulations to Chad on all his hard work! He started teacher training with Elaine in 2008. He was honored at the 2012 Employee of the Year Banquet by the Poudre School District:
Chad Fisher awarded by Poudre School District at ACE Banquet

“Chad Fisher, coordinator of enrichment/violin tutor at Laurel Elementary School of Arts and Technology, is credited with growing a unique, school violin arts-based program that is recognized across the district. Since he began teaching violin at Laurel in 2008, the program has grown from 50 to 175 students. Chad, who teaches 40 small group violin classes weekly, also took the initiative to start a Mandolin club, Fiddle Club and Blue Grass Club, which meet either before or after school. He is eager to do whatever is necessary to create a successful experience for his students, including adapting a violin for a special needs student so that he could play from his wheelchair.
“Chad truly enjoys working with children and teaching them to play violin and mandolin. He continually seeks ways to improve the program and teaching. During the summer of 2010 Chad attended a national Suzuki training and learned that Laurel’s program is unique and may be the only violin program in the nation that serves K-5 students during the school day at no cost,” said Tommie Sue Cox, Laurel principal. “He is an ambassador in the Fort Collins community, promoting arts in Poudre School District.”

– Poudre School District