halloween studio fun

img_1641Motivation comes in many forms, and one of the whimsical ways it currently shows itself is the “Ninja Hunt” in the studio.

Each week ninjas show up in random (and hidden) places and the students get a chance to look for them at the end of the lesson – if they didn’t locate them already. Sometimes it is easy, other days is hard. The fascinating thing is that the older students are equally invested in the fun (maybe even helping the ninjas hide some weeks.)

These “Practice Ninjas” look at the students from all angles, checking the bow hold, bow path, posture, and those hidden thumbs that students can conceal if you aren’t careful.


With recitals this Friday, it has been helpful to inject a bit of posture-oriented-fun into the lesson without having to be the teacher that is the enforcer 🙂 Enjoy the day everyone, and Ms. Ella Fitzgerald (or Lobster Fitzgerald) wishes you a happy and safe all- hallow’s eve!



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?

one of my helpers

I don’t care how old you are, the PotatoHead family and Legos are things you don’t outgrow. Cowboy potato

In studio when students come in and have no energy or apparent internal motivation I will pull out my helper Mr. PotatoHead. For each “challenge” I set forth they get to blindly draw a body part to put on Mr. PotatoHead.


The amount of times Mr. PotatoHead has helped a lesson where a tired 3-year-old (“I don’t wanna play cello today!”) walks into my studio into a “But it can’t be the end of the lesson – he still doesn’t have arms! One more song!” is astounding. Seriously magical.


Do you have any other games that motivate your students to play?

Rain & Rainbows Board Game

I have used the snakes and ladders board game in my studio for quite some time. I have a set of paper dice and even plastic ones that have different notes and rhythms on it for students to add up and count how many spaces they get to move and it is a game that works for all ages. Image

But I found a better one!

Mr. Printables has this beautiful FREE printed version of Rain & Rainbows that is beyond cute to play. You would still need to secure some blank dice from a teaching store and mark on it with a Sharpie but it is worth it for this game. I highly suggest you print it on cardstock for durability.


Keeping them on their toes

ImageI love to find new motivators in my studio (and life in general.) Sometimes you just need to leave things up to chance and revel in the excitement of not knowing what is coming next, and the “paper fortune teller” is a great way to enjoy that mystery.

This origami-esque paper game allows the student to choose their fate without knowing the consequence. I have used this in my studio this week to help choose our warm-ups and to loosen up not just our bodies but our brains and creativity as well! A beautiful blog of I Still Love You created two to use: one for chores and everyday life, and a blank one to use for your music practice, choosing who gets to sit in the front seat, or what to eat for a snack!

I love the fact that you get to choose, yet the final choice is out of your control. Click HERE to visit Melissa Esplin’s page and download the paper fortune teller.

Does anyone else have a great way to get through the tough choices of our daily practice?

cello busy bee (board) game

busy bee logoPracticing should be fun.

It really shouldn’t be work until we are old, and even then why shackle ourselves to something that we dread?

except the irs. we can’t seem to shake those guys.

So when my students get a little, um, what’s the word…BORED with the day-to-day practice, I find it helps to not only lay out exactly what we are doing for the day but make it into a board game. (my husband would be so proud.)

Here is my version of a practice board game titled Busy Bee Cello Game, and I included sheets for pre-twinkle and up to book 3. This is obviously customized to specific exercises I use for my kiddos, but you can customize them for your own use!


(if you have any questions about content, please comment below and I can assist)Image

games for the littles

Sometimes little cellist need a break from the constant routine of practicing:

  • scales
  • bowing
  • trouble/preview spots
  • review
  • polish piece
(Don’t get me wrong – that is a pretty good way to organize your sessions.)


When you need those odd pick-me-ups, here are a few websites that have music and cello-related games for kids to explore their creativity:

NY PHIL has a little bit of everything related to a symphony

SF Symphony games for all ages

Hearing Games pitch matching 

Steven Isserlis has a few puzzles and word games (looks odd but links work)
and the mother of all theory sites for kids:

Make Music Fun has online games, worksheets, and supplementary music ideas

In my studio I will be rolling out a few in-house games over the summer, and I will post them online once I introduce them in person. 

Happy Practicing!