How Collaborating Helps us Thrive

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Sometimes private music teaching can be lonely. Unless a teacher is part of music school there are often many hours spent working alone, planning alone, and running events alone and it can be a bit isolating.

I taught in a music school for 10 years and then about 6 years ago left to start my own studio. There are many things I love about running my own program, but I do miss the people.

When I spend too much time teaching in isolation I find my creativity goes down. I find myself getting burnt out more easily.

I recently read Jeff Goins new book Real Artists Don’t Starve: Timeless Strategies for Thriving in the New Creative Age (which officially comes out today – get your copy here!). As an aside I think that it should be called “Real Artists Don’t Have to Starve” but once I put aside arguing with the title in my head, it was a fantastic book about thriving while doing creative work, and I highly recommend it.



A few chapters of the book that stood out to me as a musician, writer and teacher but my favorite one was on the importance of collaboration.

Mostly because I have seen first-hand what a difference this makes.

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Why Every Studio Needs Parent Teacher Conferences

For the past three years I have been doing parent teacher conferences in my studio. I had thought about doing this for years but kept putting it off.

Partly I was a little nervous about the process. I also didn’t know where to start. I wondered if the parents in my studio and find it valuable.

Then a few years ago I heard Alice Joy Lewis give a talk to teachers up in Ellensburg, Washington. During the talk she emphasized how valuable these conferences are to her and even shared a few resources with us to get us started. I believe a few of my colleagues and I left that day excited to start conferences in our studios.

A few months later I held my first round of conferences and I so wish I had started doing them earlier. I can’t say enough about how valuable they have been.

Here are a few ways they have helped in my studio:

Conferences get parents and teachers on the same page – by the end of each conference, if they are done well, we come away with a plan to help the student be more successful and it’s clear to both the parent and I that we are both working towards the best interest of the student. This lays the foundation for future conversations and emails throughout the year because we both trust each other to be working with the students success in mind. I have noticed far better (and more open) communication with parents all year long. 

Honest conversations can be had without the student present – without the student at the conference both parent and teacher can address any difficult issues that might hurt a child’s feelings or embarrass them and shouldn’t be brought up in the lesson. Sometimes I hear about a medical issue that the family is facing or a behavior issue that is going on at home or at school and affecting things. This information really helps me teach better with the whole child in mind – but often there isn’t any other time it would come up. [ side note: I do have conferences in person with my high school students – more on that next week]

We are able to talk through frustrations and big picture topics that there isn’t time for in a lesson – One example of this is that I want my families with students in late grade school to know that I recommend they find some sort of orchestra or chamber group for their student sometime in the middle school years. I have found students who have this type of peer group are far more likely to keep playing their instrument through the teen years. Bringing this up as something to keep in mind for the future has been a big topic at conferences so far this year.

Sometimes I find out I could be doing something better suited to a child’s style of learning or we can talk through ways to practice that fit with a student’s personality style. It’s a great time to have honest conversations and problem solve together. 

Goal setting for the coming months and year: I always like to hear what the parents goals are for their students over the next year and what goals the students have (if any). We also discuss any goals I have for the student over the next year. The first year I did conferences I got a lot of responses like “Oh, I’ve never thought of that before!” Having goals is a great way to stay focused throughout the year and I think this is an important piece for everyone involved. Now, three years later I notice everyone has a goal for their child – which is great!

How have you incorporated conferences into your studio? Or, How does your teacher do them?

If you don’t have them, I would suggest starting my making goals for the next year – you might be able to ask your teacher if they would be open to having a conference with you in place of a lesson.

I am happy to share the form I use for parent conferences if you are just getting started with this idea- just send me an email at and I will send it off to you! I would love to hear from you if you get started with conferences in your studio . . . I think it’s an amazing way to positively impact the whole studio.



Why Short-Term Commitments to Music Don’t Work

why-short-term-comittments-to-music-dont-workI get many calls for prospective violin & viola students from parents requesting more information. I always explain my program and direct them to my website for more information.

A phrase I hear some parents use when they describe why they want to start lessons is: my child seems interested in music (or the violin) and we want to try it out to see if they will like it.

As a parent I completely understand that this is the approach we take for many things we sign our children up for. We often sign them up for many different types of activities in order to expose them to a wide variety of things and to see what they enjoy.

A word of caution though.

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Easy Ideas for Making Practice Convenient

Suzuki Practice & Convenience

When my daughters were young and it was time to practice, for some un-explainable reason the hardest part was getting the instrument out of the case. It really took about 2 minutes but some days it would seem like such a daunting task! We learned that keeping the instrument out of the case (and also out of reach so it stayed safe) made it more convenient to get started right away.

There are many little things like this that we can do to make it easier to get practice and listening done.

It’s human nature to do what is convenient and avoid what is inconvenient and it’s a great idea to look at our practice routines and to see if there is any way to make them more convenient so we’re more likely to follow through.

“People often ask me, “What surprised you most about habits?” One thing that continually astonished me is the degree to which we’re influenced by sheer convenience. The amount of effort, time, or decision making required by an action has a huge influence on habit formation. To a truly remarkable extent, we’re more likely to do something if it’s convenient, and less likely if it’s not.”

~ Gretchen Rubin Better than Before

This is 2nd in a series about Gretchen Rubin’s book Better than Before, a fantastic book about making and break habits. It gives great insights, on habit formation, that can be used when studying & teaching music as well as forming any other type of habit.

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Why do we Review?

To make hard skills easy

To have music ready to play with others

For mastery

To build confidence

 To build technique


In our culture we tend to value novelty and consider anything new to be exciting. Especially as adults, many of us love variety and newness.

In the Suzuki method we emphasize mastery and review.  Sometimes, that can create a tension between this desire for newness and what you are being asked to do in practice with your child. However, it is this repetition that helps young players build skills on their instrument and connections in the brain.

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Life Lens: Seeing Your Children in Color [Author Interview]

Life Lens
I have never been a one size fits all teacher – I’m always trying to figure out what makes each student light up, learn more easily and be more receptive to my teaching.
In my experience, the Suzuki Triangle works best when everyone makes an effort to understand and respect each other’s point of view. Because this is an important part of my teaching, I was very excited to hear about Michele Monahan Horner ‘s new Book Life Lens: Seeing Your Children in Color.

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Practice Spot Cards & Repetition

I’m always thrilled when a parent asks me for advice about how to practice better at home! I try to make it clear in parent education that this is something I like to help with & that parents need not struggle through alone. It’s always great when someone takes me up on the offer to problem solve together. Often I have ideas that I’ve come up with, that I’ve heard from wonderful colleagues or we try out new ideas together.IMG_2802


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It’s so easy to make comparisons between our children and other students in the studio, at workshops, and institutes.

We see other children that can seem like they have endless concentration, know all their pieces easily, or don’t struggle in any way.

What we may not know is that the book 3 student we see easily playing everything in front of us, may have spent the first two years of lessons rolling around on the floor and having all sorts of attention issues. In fact, it took endless patience and a lot of work from both the teacher and parent to keep things going at all.

Or that Book 4 student you see who is always polite and well prepared for recitals . . . what we cannot see is that for a few years the student and his mother fought in practice . . . everyday.

They were miserable and wondered if they should quit because the whole thing was so stressful. (This is a true story – one that has a great ending because when this came out the parent and teacher were able to talk about how to practice differently and the parent put in a huge amount of work changing the dynamic during practice . . . things are so much better now!)

The truth is that we can often compare OUR worst moments with the best moments of other students and feel discouraged.

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My studio has it’s fall recitals this weekend.

For the first time I am breaking my one long (very long last spring) recital into two shorter recitals. The downside is that not everyone will be able to hear each other play but the upside is more students are inviting people to come watch and there are no worries about picking a short enough piece we can fit everyone in.
I am excited to see how it works and how the different set up feels!

Right now everyone is busy practicing and I am busy putting the final touches on programs and other details . . . it’s always a lot of work for everyone but after each recital I’m reminded why I do this job.

It’s so fun to see how students have grown and matured in their playing and see a few students overcome big hurdles like making peace with being nervous and pulling off a good performance anyhow.

Do you have any good recital stories to tell?

~ Christine

Basic Expectations for Success: Mid Book One

I currently have a whole crew of young violin students in the middle of Book One.  I can see that I need to better communicate what will help these students succeed as they move ahead to the more complicated pieces coming up.

Below are some of my thoughts about what I want parents (home coaches) to know about how to keep the momentum going & what’s ahead.  There is wonderful music coming that will not feel wonderful to learn without the right foundation.

Teachers:  what else would you ad?

Parents who have been there . . . what do you wish you had know/done?

 Basic Expectations for Success: Mid Book One


  • Practice 5-7 days each week
  • Listen to Suzuki Book One CD daily (other classical/violin music often too)
  • Know how to pack & unpack instrument and care for bow (tighten/ loosen)


  • Basic bow hold is easy – bow arm moves with ease
  • Violin is properly set on the shoulder and stays in position while playing
  • Left (violin) hand is relaxed, fingers land in tune and wrist stays relaxed away from the neck of the violin


  • Spend about half of practice time on review pieces (bringing them to Book Two playing level over time/by the end of the book)
  • Be able to play all pieces (Twinkle – Allegro) fluidly by memory.   They are the foundation that allows us to play pieces later in the book.


  • Student can pull the bow across the string smoothly with a ringing tone (listen for extra noises)
  • Student can change strings easily with the bow and plays on one string at a time
  • Student can play both stopped bow strokes (with space between notes) and smooth legato bows

Some of the upcoming Skills we are preparing for:

  • Playing easily on the D string
  • Learning the G major scales and C natural (low 2)
  • All 4 strings in one song
  • Low and High 2nd fingers all in one song
  • More advanced Rhythmic patterns
  • Legato (smooth) and Stacatto back and forth in one piece