mozart had to start somewhere (a.k.a. rhythm composition in lessons)

File May 18, 9 30 14 AMIt is known that starting music at an early age can bring about some powerful things in a person’s life (thank you mom!) and Mozart is one of those examples of a student who grew up in a musical house and this complex thing of learning an instrument became a game and pastime for him and his father. Now, we aren’t trying to create “prodigies” here, but even simple musical games played during a person’s childhood can form some powerful connections.

So let’s get down to what is really important – rhythm. Instead of trying to approach things academically with a three year-old, I find it best to approach it from a composition game angle. With this I use two powerful tools: composition card
and a drum beat app.

File May 18, 9 30 38 AMThe lovely pianist who runs the website pianimation has created fantastic tools for rhythmic composition (and you can find her explanation of them here.) Each 4/4 measure is the size of half of a sheet of regular 8.5×11 paper, so it makes composing measures easy for kids! I have a few different sizes of colored paper that represent the types of measures I am asking them to create to give them a road map to then be creative. I love this as it is not just drilling flashcards or etudes, but giving the student autonomy over their learning.

This alone is great for learning rhythms, but in order to get that internal pulse going I have added the use of my favorite drum app called Drum Beats +. By adding a fun beat at the tempo the student can handle we can explore and create lots of music that fuels their internal pulse. Music is the only subject that if you don’t come up with the right answer at the right time then you are wrong – adding drum beats shows students this and propels them forward.

The magic combination of composition cards and a drum track has been trans-formative for my studio. And anytime I can use a funk beat to get my point across, then I’m happy 🙂

Download the rhythm composition HERE!iTunesArtwork


sometimes you need puppets

Bow hold.

Two words every string player hates to hear, yet knows is coming.

HandmpuppetThe fact that a cello bow hold is meant to be natural yet due to our bodies feeling insecure, worried that we will drop this delicate (and expensive) bow we overcompensate. We add weird angles. And unhealthy tension.

Enter: hand puppets.

By drawing two simple dots by the 1st finger’s base knuckle and making a fist (with the thumb loosely inside) we now have a fun new partner that encourages us to open up our bow hold, add flexibility to all parts of the hand, and naturally lift the base knuckles which can be in danger of caving and causing the dreaded steak knife bow hold.

I assign students homework of having puppet conversations with their practice parent. Usually they love this, but if for some reason they feel too silly I will ask them questions that require one word answers or even begin by having the puppet blow air kisses.

When I thought about trying this technique I thought it would be good for thumb position only, but the more I use it the more benefits it gives ALL of my student’s bow holds, even advance students have improved their flexibility with their little buddy.

Have you heard of any other funny little games to play with students to work on the dreaded bow hold?

reimagining items

I have a new (and unusual) list of items I need to secure for my cello studio:

Finger puppets20140705-200258-72178425.jpg
Paint swatches
Double sided tape
Binder clips
Hackey sacks
Play dough
Measuring tape
Rubber bounces balls


Are there any unconventional items you have seen used for music teaching?