Viewing entries tagged
music lessons

 Our May 2012 Newsletter is out! It contains information about the upcoming recitals.
PAES in Gresham on Wednesday, May 30th
At our West side Sylvan location on Thursday June 7th
And at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center ballroom on Saturday June 9th at 11am.

We also have information about our summer lesson schedule and our two weeks of summer camp at the Catlin Gabel School July 9-13 and August 6-10.

Current students should also receive this newsletter by snail-mail, so please do let us know if you don't see a hard copy in your mailbox.

As always, we'd love to answer any questions you might have. 503.308.8863 or .

Musically yours!
-Dr. Miriam English Ward

Off and running!

My son Toby started taking piano lessons a few months ago. He's 6 years old and we have seen him start to really show an interest in music this year. We'll probably start Isaac with violin any day now and then I'll have two guinea pigs. Despite being the younger brother, Isaac's a very persistent 3 (almost 4) year old and reminds us often that he has wanted to start lessons "since he was a little boy".

I have been looking forward to starting them for some very selfish reasons. As a teacher, a large part of my job is helping parents and students find ways to make practice a habit at home. What better way to improve my teaching than to experience the daily task first-hand?

In my studio I've seen most families have a honeymoon period with their new instrument, lasting anywhere between 6 to 18 months. With Toby, we are definitely in the honeymoon period. He loves practicing so far. His challenges involve focusing on the task in front of him. He is only good for maybe 20 minutes in a row, so I've been trying to fit one or two of those in a day rather than trying to force him to sit longer. This helps us both keep it productive & engaging.

Through Toby, I've been confirming my belief that more practice sessions per week begets more enjoyment of the instrument. This in turn makes him more likely to practice. Kind of a no-brainer, but still it's nice to have your own kids confirm your methods. The more interesting revelation, though, is that I've also confirmed that this is an impossible concept to transmit to him by anything but his own direct experience. In other words, telling him over and over that he'll like it more the more he puts in regular practice time will not actually help him "get it". We do use a written practice log and lots of stickers. We choose rewards together, and I try to sprinkle them throughout the practice rather than having them be a reward for completing it. We have already had him "perform" several songs for friends, grandparents and babysitters and he is particularly proud when they affirm all his hard work. We've looked for ways to show him other children playing the instrument either online or in person.

One small note about that practice log. At this point, it's at least as much for me as it is for him. If I don't have it in my schedule, in writing, it is very easy for all those little interruptions that make up life to put it right out of my mind.

Toby is still at the very beginning of his studies but he doesn't really register that fact. He looks at piano like all of the subjects he's working on. His job is to focus and improve. My job is to help him learn how to do that job.

James Ehnes' violin

I've been thinking lately about better ways to teach kids how to care for their instruments, something I have begun to see as a gap in my method. Lately I've noticed many of my students need reminders about not swinging the bow or violin around, poking the tip of the bow into their foot, the ground, the stand, etc. It's a problem, especially because I know that when they are free from the lesson room and the harping of the teacher they will revert to their own whims and habits. As the parent of two preschool boys, I know well that I have to both discipline the behavior and approach the heart of the child in order to aim at changing their motivation.

It's my job to help them want to change. In the spirit of full disclosure, I'll admit I'm particularly sensitive about the bow tip as I just spent $500 getting the ivory on mine replaced after it had what looked like an everyday crack to me. It also scared me a bit that it had gotten bad enough to need more than a quick fix because I know how crucial the mechanism of the tip is to the proper function of my lovely bow. I should have taken care of it much more quickly when I saw the first sliver of a crack. Lesson learned.

Yung Chin,
bow whisperer & pernambuco conservator

In last night's Oregon Symphony program I particularly enjoyed this part of the interview with violinist James Ehnes about the privilege of playing his instrument:

You've played your Stradivarius for 11 years. Describe the relationship you have with something that is your constant travel companion and, I would assume, your most precious item.

One of the more interesting things about violins is that they're works of art that help create works of art. It's as if you had a Rembrandt that could paint a Rembrandt. It's a very unusual thing. I feel fortunate that the people I was around from a very young age instilled in me feelings about these instruments. I mean, my first violin was probably worth $150. But that just seemed like an unbelievable amount of money to me. It was more money than I could process. And then as I got a violin that was worth $500 or $1000, and these figures.. I think they put me in this reverential respect for instruments so that as the stakes got higher, I'm not sure my attitude towards the instrument changed.
I remember one of my old violins dated from the early 1800s. It was just a three-quarter violin, but I could tell that this instrument had been through a lot of hands. When my dad bought it for me, he explained to me that the only reason I have this is because generations of other lucky young people loved it and took care of it and made sure that I would be able to have it someday. And certainly when you get to an instrument like a Strad, you're just upping the ante there. Because it would be really a tragedy if something happens to one of these violins. The only reason that there are any left at all is because people appreciated them enough to take care of them.
(emphasis added)

So there's my task as a teacher. I want to instill in our students a respect for their instruments that encompasses not only the instrument as a tool of expression, but also the art involved in creating them and the longevity of the creative lives of stringed instruments. This thinking can be presented to students in a way that includes respect for their bodies & brains as creative tools as well, tools which need time to learn, many repetitions to remember, and good maintenance to perform at the top of their potential for their young owner/operators.

This soup of responsibility & reward is one of my favorite things about kids learning music. I love the many opportunities this discipline gives them to explore and demonstrate these truths themselves, and even enjoy the steep challenge inherent in getting to those rewards.

Here's a video from youtube with audio of Mr. Ehnes speaking about the Stradivarius "Sassoon" violin and playing Kreisler in a deliciously beautiful way. Keep it playing, and around 3:20 you're rewarded with video of him playing. Note to my students: You may keep your violin thumb that high when you are as tall & free of tension as this accomplished dude. That is all, enjoy!

April 2010 Newsletter

Hello all!
Our April Newsletter has all the latest on our Spring recitals, RCMA discounts for Summer Camp Registration, and our newest group offerings including the Rhythm Roots class from 5:30-6 pm on Tuesdays at Northwest Childrens Theater in downtown Portland. Rhythm Roots is going to be a really fun and useful class for young musicians and for RCMA families we're offering 8 weeks of classes for just $50! (And it's a great deal at only $100 for everybody else, so why not join with a friend for a musical playdate?)

Parents, we also mention some great ways for you to join in the expressive fun by taking lessons yourself! You can add 15 minutes to your child's time, take lessons with a friend, join our intensive classes from 8-9 am or 4-5 pm during camp (Monday through Friday July 12-16th), or jump right in and sign up for private lessons. Over the years I've had the privilege of teaching many adult beginners, some of whom have gone on to join local amateur ensembles. Don't forget to challenge yourself with classes and opportunities like this- it's worth your time!

Click below to download or print the Newsletter.

Newsletter April 2010