About My Blog

A few years ago, I started a blog to document my experience creating and directing in-school violin programs in Southwest Virginia, for Franklin County and Salem public schools. My goal was to conceive a curriculum that would combine a solid, traditional technical foundation (heavily based on the Rolland and Suzuki approaches) with the native repertoire of the Appalachian region, in a way that would resonate with students, families, schools, and sponsors. A series of posts that address the genesis, curriculum, and philosophy of the program can be found here, arranged chronologically from the bottom.

In addition, other blog entries include abstracts for my scholarly documents, posts on Classical and film music, some of my own original compositions, as well as rare and out of print miniatures for violin and piano found while perusing my hometown’s picturesque Tristan Narvaja open market (or "feria"). If something is of interest to me, I'll make sure to share my findings. 

My DMA Dissertation (2019): Part Three

August 20, 2020



It was common for Beethoven to serve an “apprenticeship” for whatever medium he was composing at the time. The early String Trios, Opp. 3, 8, and 9 informed his influential String Quartets, Op. 18, while surviving sketches for an unfinished Symphonie Concertante in D predate his Triple Concerto, Op. 56, and a projected piano concerto in E-Flat (WoO 4) paved the

way for his five completed essays in the genre. In the case of his only Violin Concerto, Op. 61, we have his two Romances for Violin and Orchestra (Op. 40 and 50), and his “Kreutzer” Sonata for Pianoforte and Violin, Op. 47 (“written in a concertante style, almost like a concerto”), all staples of the solo violinist’s repertoire. In addition, and unbeknownst to many, Beethoven also started but apparently never finished a projected violin concerto in C Major between 1790-92, during his last years in Bonn, dedicated to his friend and patron, Gerhard von Breuning. 

We do have a surviving completed fragment of 259 measures (comprising the first orchestral tutti, the solo exposition, and the beginning of the solo development section) of an Allegro con brio in 4/4 time for solo violin and orchestra. Although Beethoven was just starting to develop as a composer, this “torso” is notable as an early example of the composer’s intention to reconcile symphonic development with traditional concerto form, a trait he would consolidate by way of his seven complete concertos, written decades later. While sadly abandoned as he was getting ready to move to Vienna and embark on a multitude of more substantial projects, several musicologists have praised the striking parallels between WoO 5 and Op. 61, in its lyrical use of  the violin’s higher register, its declamatory power in the musically substantial brilliant passagework, and the boldness of some harmonic choices.

Many scholars believe that the autograph manuscript of WoO 5 (now residing in the library of the Geselsschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna) was once a finished movement, due to its state of completion (all parts being written out in full, including rests), the fact that it is a relatively “clean” manuscript for Beethovenian standards, and the existence of sketches for a piano cadenza in G Major based on thematic material. All of this suggests that there may have been, at one point, missing pages completing the work, and that possibly one or both of Beethoven’s Romances in G and F may have been originally intended as a slow movement for this concerto.

We now have at least four partially successful reconstructions from different eras and provenances that provide completed versions of WoO5, their merits and shortcomings to be explored in a comparative study. When the manuscript first came to light, circa 1870, it was Austrian violinist, conductor, composer, and pedagogue Joseph Hellmesberger Sr. (1828-1893) who first completed the movement for publication, albeit with a rather inflated and heavily romanticized approach. Then came a second version, written in 1933 and published a decade later, by Spanish violinist Juan Manén (1883-1971). Despite Manén’s claim that he based his completion on a systematic study of Beethoven’s oeuvre from the 1790s, this rendition was criticized for the same reasons as Hellmesberger’s.

Things arguably took a turn for the better in 1961, when famed Beethoven historian Willy Hess (1906-1997) published a reliable and scholarly edition of the WoO5 fragment. This led to scholar Wilfried Fischer’s more faithful reconstruction, one which does not alter Beethoven’s music and instrumentation, and derives almost the entirety of the new material from the exposition. Finally, we also have a more contemporary version by Dutch composer and Beethoven scholar Cees Nieuwenhuizen (2005), who manages to complete the work rather stylistically, yet also makes some original choices and interpretations based on Beethoven’s compositional process.

Needless to say, due to the incomplete nature of the fragment and its subsequent problematic reconstructions, Beethoven’s violin concerto fragment is not represented extensively through commercial recordings, nor has it effectively established itself in the core repertoire for solo violin. Regardless, based on its historical significance, musical relevance in regards to Opp. 50 and 61, I find it necessary to explore and analyze the surviving versions available of a promising yet neglected work in Beethoven’s concerto oeuvre. 

My DMA Dissertation (2019): Part Two

August 18, 2020



Mozart’s five youthful violin concertos, along with his masterful Symphonie concertante K. 364, are standard entries in the repertoire for solo violin and orchestra. They are also unequivocally Mozart’s. In addition to them, there are also two lesser known and seldom performed concertos: K. 268 in E-Flat Major (“no. 6”) and K. 271a in D Major (“no. 7”). These works were relatively popular during the 19th and early 20th centuries, as evidenced by at least four different editions for each, and their place in the concert hall and the conservatory teaching curriculum. As Mozart scholarship evolved, they have been unanimously dismissed by musicologists as little more than unworthy pastiches, and all but disappeared from the modern day soloist’s repertoire and recording catalogues.

This document will initially analyze the origins and sources for K. 268, in an informed attempt to ascertain how much of this work is “pure” Mozart, and how much was completed by other hands. This will be based on a comparative study of Mozart’s writing for solo violin, the violin concertos of C.F. Eck to whom the concerto is attributed, as well as a revealing and

anonymous 18th century transcription for clarinet.

Finally, I will then evaluate K. 268’s intrinsic musical and pedagogical value, since, regardless of provenance, this concerto constitutes, in my opinion, an important yet neglected entry in the transition from the Viennese to the Franco-Belgian school of violin playing and concerto writing of the late 18th century. 

My DMA Dissertation (2019): Part One

August 16, 2020



In Classical period concertos, cadenzas were largely improvised in situ. However, as documented by important performance practice treatises by Johann Joachim Quantz (1697-1773), Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770), Daniel Gottlob Türk (1756-1813) and others, the practice of writing out cadenzas became established early on, in order to systematize virtuosity, provide

more definite contents for less inspired soloists, and for pedagogical purposes. In the case of Mozart, the composer left us several cadenzas to half of his piano concertos, so as to provide guidelines for his students, as well as amateurs. Unfortunately, with the exception of his Sinfonia concertante for violin and viola, K. 364, Mozart left no cadenzas for his violin concertos, which has been an issue for violinists since.

Most conservatories, competitions, and professional orchestra auditions either require, or at least expect, the de facto cadenzas by Romantic virtuosos such as Joseph Joachim, Eugène Ysaÿe, and Sam Franko. For all their intrinsic musical, technical, and pedagogic value, these cadenzas are highly idiosyncratic examples, representative of specific artists and a performance style that succeeded Mozart by several decades. As a result, they do not reflect what was

expected in Mozart’s time.

By relying on the aforementioned sources, the first part of my document will define and differentiate typical 18th century instrumental cadenzas, from the shorter eingaengen (or “lead-ins,” derived from the operatic tradition), that can be found mostly in the slow movements and finales of Mozart’s violin concertos. I will also be referencing a number of valuable “manuals,” or stylistic templates aimed at violinists, by minor Classical masters such as Luigi Borghi, Ferdinand Kauer, and Ignaz Schweigl. Needless to say, Mozart’s own cadenzas to half of his piano concertos will also be covered, in order to provide an essential abstract and schematic for a typical Mozartian cadenza.

I will then evaluate a considerable number of cadenzas currently available for study and performance. The prefaces to these published editions of their cadenzas also provide insight to their compositional processes and adherence to a more authentic musical discourse.

The final portion of this essay will attempt to provide four different solutions to the lack of authentic Mozartian cadenzas. These include: 1) modifying existing cadenzas to better suit the style of Mozart’s time; 2) making informed choices on the vast repertoire available; 3) using historical and contemporary manuals and templates to create effective and historically informed cadenzas; 4) creating original cadenzas true to Mozart’s style.

Ultimately, by crafting and presenting my own historically informed cadenzas based on my research, it is my hope that I will inspire my fellow musicians, regardless of instrument, to create satisfying and stylistically appropriate Classical period-style cadenzas suitable for both study and performance. 

My DMA Dissertation (2019): Abstract

August 14, 2020

Teaching the stylistic aspects of Classical era violin literature in a systematic way is a relatively recent endeavor in drastic need for readily accessible material. One of the goals of this document is to propose applicable and historically informed solutions to Classical era concertos that lack written-out cadenzas by the composer. Two problematic works --a speculative violin concerto attributed to Mozart, and an authentic and fully-orchestrated

fragment of a projected violin concerto by Beethoven--work effectively as sources for stylistic information and preparation for the authentic concertante works by these composers. They also provide adventuresome violinists with fresh opportunities to craft original cadenzas.

The document’s three studies address issues of style, performance, and authorship present in authentic, spurious, and incomplete works for solo violin and orchestra of the late Classical era (ca. 1780-1800). The first essay presents different solutions available for composing, selecting, and modifying existing cadenzas for Mozart’s authentic violin concertos (K. 207, 211, 216, 218, and 219). Since Mozart did not write out his own cadenzas for these works, and the art of in situ improvisation in the Classical style has virtually disappeared from the concert stage, most soloists perform lengthy, virtuosic cadenzas by renowned late Romantic virtuosos and pedagogues such as Joseph Joachim, Leopold Auer, and Sam Franko, who do not always follow a stylistically appropriate approach.

The second essay explores the origins, authorship claims, and inherent musical value of Mozart’s Violin Concerto in E-Flat, K. 268, a problematic work almost unanimously dismissed by scholars. Commonly attributed to Mannheim-born violinist and composer Johann Friedrich Eck (ca. 1766-1810), Mozart’s “sixth” concerto, for all its obvious deficiencies in its current form and lack of autograph sources, nevertheless constitutes a rare and effective example of late eighteenth-century violin concerto writing in the tradition of the Franco-Belgian school led by Viotti and Rode, and as such a precursor to the violin concertos of Ludwig Spohr (1784-1859). K. 268 ultimately helps bridge the stylistic gap between Mozart’s authentic masterworks and Beethoven’s monumental Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61 (1806).

The third study compares four different attempts to finish a youthful fragment (259 bars) of a projected violin concerto composed by Beethoven prior to his departure for Vienna. The composer did leave us a “torso” that includes the full exposition and part of the development of a sonata form concertante movement in C major. We now have four completed versions, by one of Beethoven’s acquaintances (the German violinist and composer Joseph Hellmesberger), early twentieth-century Spanish violinist Juan Manen, noted Beethoven scholar Wilfried Fischer, and Dutch composer Cees Nieuwenhuizen, a specialist in completing unfinished works by Beethoven. They all provide apt and wonderfully inventive solutions, thus enabling violinists to perform a work that can help prepare students for Beethoven’s completed concerto. 

More Gems from the Tristan Narvaja Market

August 10, 2020

Another trip home, another batch of little-known encores to dust off. Here are two more selections by Luis Sambucetti, a Berceuse, entitled "Dors mon enfant," and a Burlesque:

Next is the self-explanatory Tango-Cancion, by Jaures Lamarque Pons (1917-1982). Much like the more famous Astor Piazzolla, he was a classically-trained composer with folk (tango, milonga, candombe) interests. Lamarque Pons wrote much music for films and theatre, and was a staple of many local TV variety shows in the 60’s and 70’s!

The violin part was illegible, so I had to transcribe it on Finale.

Last but not least, here are two pieces by Cesar Cortinas (1892-1918). Admitted into the Hohe Schule in Berlin, he was the only South American student of Max Bruch’s. Cortinas also studied briefly in Brussels, but his frail health had him return to Montevideo, where he continued his studies with Sambucetti, until his early death at the age of 26.

They’re not technically demanding, but are definitely fun to play and add a nice touch of Uruguayana to any recital.

Hidden Gems from the Tristan Narvaja Market

August 8, 2020

One of my favorite things to do when I visit my family in Uruguay is going to the old Tristan Narvaja Market on a Sunday morning. I have fond memories of my grandfather taking me when I was a kid, in search of elusive sheet music for his favorite tangos, which I would diligently learn and play for him that same afternoon, after a rich homemade Italian meal.

I love the “thrill of the hunt”, as you can find just about anything: rare books, magazines, comic books, action figures, trinkets, sheet music, cd’s, old records, obscure movies and cartoons… You name it. There’s this old vendor who to this day puts out his violin sheet music stock just for me as soon as he sees me walking his way.

During one of my latest trips I was lucky to find two little gems that I wanted to share. They’re both out of print and they make really nice additions to any violinist’s encore album. The first one is a Serenade by little-known Uruguayan (or was he Argentinian?) composer Ernesto Donato. It says it was published in 1947, but unfortunately I couldn’t find any information on him. He is not to be confused with tango band leader Edgardo Donato, although they very well may have been related. It’s a charming little piece.

  • Donato Serenade

Next is another bonbon by Luis Sambucetti (b. 1860). He was a violinist and studied in Paris with renowned pedagogues Hubert Leonard and Theodore Dubois. Essentially, "local boy did good” and then returned home, where he composed operettas (one was recently premiered by the Banda Sinfonica de Montevideo), orchestra works, and some concert pieces for violin. “A Toi!” (love that ornate cover page!) was published in 1930 and is a delightfully idiomatic miniature, pure Romantic salon goodness. People love it when they hear it.

  • Sambucetti A Toi

Some Original "Compositions," c. 2003-05

August 06, 2020

After doing some much-needed spring cleaning I found these three brief compositions from my college student days. I remember being somewhat pleased with them at the time, so I printed them out and had some students read them for the first time in years. Not too bad!

I’ve since used the short Two-Part Invention as a warm-up for small ensembles (E-Flat Major is not an easy key for young students), whereas the Character Piece and the Duet for Violin & Cello are compact introductions to atonal and 12-tone languages that students may not be used to hearing. Teenagers in particular respond to the pervading murkiness and often say it’s “horror movie music”. The greatest compliment ever!

The Sonatas for Violin and Keyboard by J.S. Bach

August 3, 2020

During the second year of my Master’s at the UNC School of the Arts (2006-07), I took a year-long symposium on the life and works of J.S. Bach, taught by Dr. Michael Dodds. I spent a good chunk of time, in between hardcore practicing, recitals, gigs, listening to every single Haydn string quartet on vinyl, and marathon Japanese horror movie sessions. researching and putting together this paper. Good times. Here's the introduction:

J.S. Bach’s Sonatas for Violin and Cembalo and the Development of the Duo Sonata

The aim of this thesis is to investigate J.S. Bach’s sonatas for violin and cembalo and their legacy.

The first part analyzes the different stylistic traits found in French and Italian instrumental music of the time. Bach’s musical language masterfully synthesizes the best of both, while adding his own unique innovations.

The thesis then provides an in-depth analysis on the origins, background, and Bach’s compositional approach to the sonatas. No less than six different contemporary sources are considered, where the role of the violin is alternately described as concertato, obbligato, or the sonatas even titled as “Trios”.

In a detailed central section, the thesis reviews Bach’s influences (particularly the German school of violinist-composers, as well as Couperin’s keyboard writing), and analyzes the composer’s use of ornamentation, the relationship between tonality and affects, the different compositional techniques employed, and the classification of movements by structure and texture. Special attention is given to the three different versions of Sonata BWV 1019 in G Major, as a case study of balance between the movements.

In conclusion, the thesis sheds light on the lasting importance of these works. J.S. Bach was the first composer to apply true trio sonata texture to duo sonatas, and made no distinction between the roles of the two instruments. The resulting works are technically challenging, yet surprisingly idiomatic. The thesis also argues that Bach’s polyphonic style ultimately proved to be the chosen mode of speech for chamber music in the Classical period, anticipating the duo sonatas and piano trios by Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven, as well as the more concertante elements found in the Mannheim School. Lastly and from a pedagogical point of view, the thesis also mentions how Bach’s violin and keyboard sonatas were an integral part of Ferdinand David’s Hohe Schule des Violinspiels (“The High School of Violin Playing”, 1867). David, along with Felix Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann, and their circle, played a key role in reigniting a new-found appreciation for J.S. Bach’s towering contributions to Western music.

For anyone interested, HERE is the full, single-spaced document. I should probably revise at some point and I'd like to think my writing has improved since then, but I’m still pretty proud of it.

On (the lack of) Mozart's Cadenzas for his Violin Concertos

August 01, 2020

I think it’s quite fitting that my first non-teaching post is about Mozart. Quite simply, he was the reason I decided to become a musician and dedicate my life to the instrument. I remember, at twelve years old, becoming obsessed with an old cassette tape (remember those?) that included the Rondo of his “Haffner” Serenade in D, K. 250. To my young, impressionable ears, this piece had it all: virtuosity, exuberance, humor, elegance, heroism, pathos… All packed in just under eight minutes! It was also my first exposure to the concept of a cadenza, that staple of the Classical concerto where all of a sudden the orchestra drops and it is YOUR turn to improvise and show off based on the musical present Wolfie has just given you.

To this day I haven’t figured out who the soloist in the recording was, as it was an old “record of the month”-type collection available in Spain and South America called “Musicalia”, with minimal credits available. I remember it being a top-notch German or Austrian orchestra, where, in true Classical fashion of the soloist being a primus inter pares, the concertmaster performed the solo part. While the longer cadenza at the end of the movement, I learned later, was a modified version of Fritz Kreisler’s derived from his popular arrangement for violin and piano, there was definitely an inherent Viennese charm to the eingängen, or “lead-ins” between sections that this anonymous soloist had concocted (it is, after all, a rondo).

So, when it was time for me to move on to the study of the concertos, it was disheartening to see the limited choices I had available (especially in my native Uruguay). Sure, we had the standard Franko, Joachim, Flesch, and Auer cadenzas, but to me they were not only way too technically demanding (harder than anything Mozart would have written at the time!), but also too long, Romantic, self-indulgent, and, most importantly, not always idiomatic and consistent with Mozart’s writing. Even in my early teens I was way too concerned with what could or could not be considered “historically informed”, years before I became familiar with the term!

Over time I grew to understand and appreciate these cadenzas in their historical context (the soloist’s more heroic role in a Romantic concerto), and for their musical and pedagogical value, but to me they were still too tied in character to their originators…

It wasn’t until I bought my very first CD, a box set of Mozart’s complete violin concertos by Gidon Kremer, that I finally heard cadenzas that “sounded right” to me. Upon devouring the liner notes I found out that these had been commissioned to musicologist, author, and keyboard artist Robert D. Levin, who actually studied and used Mozart’s cadenzas to his own piano concertos as a template. About ten years later, I finally found these cadenzas (published by Universal) in a music shop in Madrid one fateful summer while touring with my college string quartet. Much to my surprise, what Mr. Kremer had recorded was just the tip of the iceberg. In printed form, these cadenzas give the performer the unique chance to combine different musical possibilities for a more personalized version of what Dr. Levin had devised. I liken it to a 1770’s musical version of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” book series (children of the 80’s will understand that reference…).

While writing my own original cadenzas to Mozart’s Concertos had always been on my bucket list, it wasn’t until I did Suzuki teacher training for Books 9 and 10 with Doris Preucil that the fire was rekindled. One of our assignments was to craft short “lead-ins” for the last movements of K. 218 and K. 219. Needless to say, I took it waaaaaaay too seriously…

By that time I had already become acquainted with an increasingly number of idiomatic cadenzas by Franz Beyer, Ernst Hess (included in the Baerenreiter edition) and Canadian violinist James Ehnes (available for download HERE), as well as other examples by Andrew Manze, Roland Jones, and Emanuel Borok.* Once I started teaching these great works, my goal then became to apply what I learned from all these great examples and write cadenzas that are artistically and stylistically pleasing, suitable for advanced students, not terribly long or hard, and do not distract from the concertos in question. While still works-in-progress, I did include my own original cadenzas and lead-ins for the fifth concerto (K. 219) in my Doctoral dissertation. With cadenzas for K. 218 already completed and the ones for the first three concertos on the horizon, it is my ultimate dream to eventually publish them as part of a projected "manual" for how to compose Classical-style cadenzas and lead-ins for instrumental concertos.

* This particular set, published by Editions Orphee, is probably one of the most unique ones in terms of compositional approach. Cadenzas for the finale of K. 211 and the slow movement of K. 218 feature a duet with the oboe, while the "Turkish" Rondo of K. 219 suggests an exaggerated parody of an opera buffa terzetto, with the principal bass and the concertmaster joining in on the fun. I really think Mozart would have approved!

On Starting an In-School Violin Program, Part 6

July 28, 2020

For my last post in this series, I will provide parents and educators with a pragmatic list of the benefits of music education, as evidenced by a child’s behavior in class and at home.

Behavioral Effects

Music instruction can play an important role in a child’s behavior. Some parents ask, “Is my child’s behavior good enough for lessons?” However, a more important question might be, “How will my child’s behavior be improved BY lessons?”

Studies of young children experiencing early instruction in instrumental education indicate a remarkable increase in their ability to socialize, self-express, release energy and pay attention. It has also been shown to affect mood, tension, and mental clarity.

a) Attention & Focus. Learning to play a musical instrument helps children develop focused attention. The experience hones their ability to pay attention by focusing on the parts of the music they are learning, and then to re-create it using physical gestures, both large and small.

b) Energy Release. Music brings forward emotions in all human beings and this includes small children. A simple rhythm or melody can evoke a range of emotions, different from person to person. When children are asked to recreate music, the associated emotions are able to be released. Young children often have difficulty expressing and releasing what they feel inside, and a musical instrument provides an outlet for this to occur.

c) Socialization. Group instruction allows for interaction between young musicians. Playing beautiful music in an ensemble setting teaches children to collaborate with others and also to develop leadership skills.

d) Respect. Music teachers help to instill respect in a variety of ways. These include: respect for the teacher, the audience, the instrument, the composer, and most importantly, for oneself.

e) Self-Expression. Children use their imagination to make up songs or make changes to an existing one. These natural tendencies are ways of expressing oneself. Playing a musical instrument provides a healthy opportunity for self-expression. Sharing a musical talent with others cultivates a generous spirit.

f) Emotional Security. Exposure to music helps children develop social and emotional skills in a safe and healthy environment. These emotional skills often translate into self-confidence, cooperation, self-regulation and good listening skills. All of these attributes are associated with well-behaved, successful children.

g) Mood & Attitude. Studies have investigated the impact of different types of music on tension, mood, and mental clarity. One study took 144 subjects who completed a psychological profile before and after listening to 15 minutes of music. With grunge rock music, significant increases were found in hostility, sadness, tension, and fatigue, and significant reductions were observed in caring, relaxation, mental clarity, and vigor. In contrast, after listening to music designed to have specific effects on the listener, the opposite results were obtained. This suggest that music may be useful in the treatment of tension, mental distraction, and negative moods.

External Links

Can Music Instruction Affect Children’s Cognitive Development

Sounds of Learning: The Impact of Music Education

The Extra-Musical Effects of Music Lessons on Preschoolers

The Effects of Different Types of Music on Mood, Tension, and Mental Clarity


In the world of education, we often tend to speak of children as vessels into which we pour information and skill sets. More important than the information we impart, however, is the ability and ease with which a child expresses the ideas and concepts already within.

Creative expression is the only way to ensure full engagement of the learner, and should be at the center of a child’s education experience. As opposed to moving down a straight set of tasks and regulations (like working out an equation), creative expression allows one to take complete ownership of their craft, and to share their unique creations with others. Lessons provide students with the tools, techniques, and confidence needed to create something special. Music students add to their “creativity toolbox” concepts like pitch, rhythm, tone, volume, melody, harmony, and stage presence. With these tools, even when playing a common song, a child is empowered to create a performance that is wholly theirs and theirs alone.

Our most successful leaders and innovators are those who have the tools and confidence to make something bold and unique, and who can realize that vision with thoughtful and focused effort. Instead of becoming drones that follow orders, we must prize the inner potential of every child to express, lead and innovate.

The study of a musical instrument, then, should really be the heart of music education and become an absolutely integral part of every child’s academic life. We wouldn’t think of teaching math appreciation or science appreciation. We teach kids how to do math, how to do science, for themselves, from a very early age. I wholeheartedly believe in the importance of teaching kids how to make music, right from the start. These creative skills, learned while young, are an investment in the future and will manifest themselves over and over again decades later.

On Starting an In-School Violin Program, Part 5: Research on the Lifelong Benefits of Early Music Education

July 26, 2020

“This is Your Brain on Music”: Brain Development Studies

In 1997, a team of researchers set out to determine whether or not “music training causes long-term enhancement of children’s spatial-temporal reasoning” (Rauscher, Shaw, Levine, Wright, Dennis, Newcomb, “Neurological Research,” Volume 19, No. 1, February 1997). A study was conducted in which 78 children were divided into four groups. One received singing lessons, a second computer lessons, a third had free play, and the fourth had lessons on a musical instrument.

It was a tightly controlled experiment that went of for 6 months, with each group receiving 20 minutes of individualized instruction per day. A spacial-temporal test was administered at the beginning of the study and one at the end. The results were stunning to all involved. While the first three groups exhibited the normal projected increase that comes with age over time, the instrument group had a 46% increase in their raw spacial-temporal IQ scores.

These attributes were tested for long term effect and were considered by memory researcher standards to in fact be long-term in nature. The study concludes by saying, “We suggest that an improvement of this magnitude may enhance the learning of standard school curricula that draw heavily upon spatial-temporal reasoning abilities, such as mathematics and science.”

Since then, scientists and psychologists have gone on to researching in more detail the ways in which the study of a musical instrument has an effect on verbal ability and analytical reasoning skills, as well as a whole host of other areas such as mood, tension, and mental clarity (see the list of studies at the end).

Why did this happen? How the Brain Works

The brain stores information by receiving a sensory input, which sends an electrical impulse to a neuron, which travels through to what we call a synapse, or a place where the end of one neuron (the axon) connects with the end (or dendrite) of another. If this happens enough times in the early years, that neural connection happens so frequently that the axon and dendrite makes a permanent connection. In other words, you have created capacity to store that information in your brain.

There are three ways information gets stored in the brain. One is through intensity, another through frequency, and still a third through duration. The brain is an amazing thing, incredibly complex and inter connected in such a way that there are billions of neurons that make connections with each other. This is how we think. Connecting neurons creates capacity, and capacity facilitates high intelligence.

85% of all the neural connections you will make in your life happen in the first 6 years, and only another 10% over the next 6 years or so. So by the time you’re 12, your brain has developed or made connections with as many neurons as it’s possibly going to make. Life after 12 primarily involves using the connections that you developed during that earlier window of opportunity, with relatively little additional neural growth. These connections determine a person’s ability to think, compute, and reason. A person who has more neurons connected is more likely to be able to understand larger and more complex concepts better later on in life.

Instrumental Studies = The Ultimate Multi-Sensory Experience

Playing a musical instrument is the only thing that stimulates multi-sensory information at the same time with the same set of perfectly ordered information. There are no exceptions to the laws of music like there are in English. Music is mathematical and thus, perfect.  If you play a concert A on the violin, that pitch will vibrate at 440 Hz per second. If you play the next A up one octave (8 notes higher), it vibrates at 880 Hz per second. 

When you play a musical instrument, you’re doing a lot more than just creating sound. You’re seeing a set of organized information when you read the notes on a page or look at the instrument itself (or both). You’re hearing that same set of organized information, and you’re feeling it, tactilely and kinesthetically. You’re getting all three of the major sensory input pathways to the brain stimulated simultaneously, with the same set of perfectly ordered information.

What this does is create a rich neural network, because neurons are connecting in complex, sophisticated ways. Practicing a musical instrument is like boosting the RAM on your computer. You literally, neurologically, are growing your brain. And so it makes sense why studies have shown that it’s the single most important thing you can do to help a child develop their capacity to be a more intelligent human being.

Organization is very important in the neurological life of a child. Learning and playing music is the only activity that engages all three senses using perfectly organized sets of information. Therefore, when it’s time to practice, it’s really time to grow your child’s brain.

Whether a child continues on with their instrument into teenage or adult years doesn’t matter at all, because whatever you do when they are young is what establishes the neural network that they will live with for the rest of their lives. Chances are, if you wait to see if your child shows an interest or demonstrates innate talent, you’re going to miss the window of opportunity. It benefits them most to get the earliest possible experience. My goal is to make this experience a fun and enjoyable one, so they keep coming back for more.

Links to the Research:

Music Training Causes Long-Term Enhancement of Preschool Children’s Spatial-Temporal Reasoning

First Evidence That Musical Training Affects Brain Development In Young Children

Playing a Musical Instrument Helps Brain

Practicing a Musical Instrument in Childhood is Associated with Enhanced Verbal Ability and Nonverbal Reasoning

Effects of Music Instruction on Developing Cognitive Systems at the Foundations of Math and Science

A Grand Unified Theory of Music

Music Benefits the Brain, Research Reveals

On Starting an In-School Violin Program, Part 4

July 24, 2020

The Integrated Way

I believe in an integrated approach to music education, where instrumental lessons are not just an asterisk in a student’s life, or something to be crammed in between karate and soccer. Violin lessons are a natural part of the student’s life in three distinct ways:

1) Academic Life. Lessons are integrated into a student’s academic life as they are both part of their school day and part of their school program. Every child should be able to study a musical instrument as an integral part of their native learning environment from the start. Children perceive in-school instrument study with an entirely different attitude than they do if studied in the evenings or on weekends. They treat it just like one of their other school subjects, so their success with the instrument is dramatically improved, as are the parent’s attempts at getting them to practice at home.

2) Social Life. Lessons are not held with a group of almost strangers that students only see once a week, but with their natural friends and peers in school. This has a profound effect on their approach to studying the instrument, their self-image, and their behavioral development. Instead of socially identifying based on what they LIKE, students identify based on what they DO. As young musicians among peers, their self-confidence is greatly enhanced.

3) Family Life. Families aren’t just passive observers in the FCVP learning experience, but are active participants in the process and journey of their child’s music education. This takes form in helping to facilitate at-home practicing, mini-recitals for family and friends, and putting together fundraisers. The instructor communicates regularly with parents to keep them fully connected to the experience, empowering them to practice with their child at home. Parents are not required to attend lessons, but are welcome and encouraged to do so if possible.

Educating “The Whole Person”

“What is man’s ultimate direction in life? It is to look for love, truth, virtue, and beauty.”

 – Dr. S. Suzuki

FCVP lessons are about far more than teaching technique, growing brains, and making kids happy. True success is only achieved if students are imparted the most important experience of all: beauty. By teaching them how to create a beautiful tone and play beautiful melodies on their instrument, they are not just taught a musical and technical skill, but an intuition and a perception. It’s something that stays with them their entire life, no matter how long they decide to continue studying the instrument.

This experience reaches well beyond early childhood education. The arts are more than an academic study or a history lesson; they are an expression of the human spirit. This kind of comprehensive education is important for the flourishing of society itself. While modern experience may show us otherwise, educators for centuries have understood this, reaching back as far as Plato, who, in his discussion of politics and the civic life in The Republic, said this:

“Musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul…and with a true taste, while he praises and rejoices over and receives into his soul the good, and becomes noble and good, he will justly blame and hate the bad, now in the days of his youth, even before he is able to know the reason why; and when reason comes he will recognize and salute the friend with whom his education has made him long familiar.”

At the core of the FCVP’s mission, then, is the belief that beauty is not a luxury, but a human necessity; and that our kids need to be shown the life-changing experience of how to create beauty for themselves. This, in turn, will empower them with the perception of what is good, true, and beautiful. In other words, the life of a FCVP student will be one that is enriched in ways that reach beyond even my own expertise as a music educator.

To quote Dr. Suzuki again: “If children hear fine music from the day of their birth and learn to play it, they develop sensitivity, discipline and endurance. They get a beautiful heart… Music exists for the purpose of growing an admirable heart.”

On Starting an In-School Violin Program, Part 3

July 21, 2020

After establishing the logistics and structure of the program, I then proceed to share my teaching philosophy and expectations with parents and educators. The next few posts will deal with how I approach teaching elementary school children in this particular setting.

“Following the Child”

My teaching philosophy is inspired by different pedagogical approaches and ideas, yet all centered on the student. One of my favorite ideas is encapsulated in the words of the late, great Dr. Sininchi Suzuki, Founder of the the Suzuki Method of instruction: “I am mentally preparing myself for the five-year-old mind. I want to come down to their physical limitations and up to their sense of wonder and awe.” I believe that the only proper approach to educating children begins and ends with an understanding of and a respect for the remarkable learning capacity of the child. As a result, I approach every child from where they are, not where we, as adults, think they should be.

This approach emphasizes the advantages of youthful learning and tries not to turn kids into adults too fast. Another idea of Dr. Suzuki states that kids are like sponges, based on what he called the “mother tongue approach.” It places the focus on mindful repetition and imitation as the key to mastery. Children are wired to learn their native language during their first few years, and are similarly tuned to quickly learn (and love) the language of music. It is a great opportunity for impacting a child’s brain development.

By identifying which of the three primary learning channels (auditory, visual, and kinesthetic) is most dominant for a particular child, a more effective approach can be refined. This doesn’t neglect the more analytical aspects of music instruction, such as note reading and theory. These are introduced as soon as the child demonstrates they’re ready. Instead of teaching children that music is an abstract page on a music stand, I help them first understand that music is born from within. 

Another Suzuki-inspired idea I hold dear is the importance of starting children on a musical instrument at a young age, when they won’t remember a time when they didn’t have it under their chin, and the instrument becomes a part of them. An early start paves the way for schools looking to develop robust orchestra programs, where students have a facility and mastery of their instrument before they even join them, so there’s nothing standing in their way or frustrating their full participation. It also prepares children to be active in the regional music community in later grades.

Another foundational Suzuki concept is the idea that love—for the instrument and for music, for the process of learning, for beauty, and for each other—is what should drive and motivate the teaching. Dr. Suzuki recognized that he was doing something far deeper than just creating young musicians: “Teaching music is not my main purpose. I want to make good citizens… Beautiful tone, beautiful heart.” The two are interconnected and they have a profound effect on what can be achieved with the students.

As revolutionary and inspiring as the Suzuki method has been and continues to be, by design the FCVP differs from a strict Suzuki approach in various ways:

  • Parents are not required to attend every single lesson, although it is always encouraged. A big part of the FCVP’s mission is to reach more kids than would normally receive this opportunity. In fact, most parents wouldn’t have sought out this kind of instrumental instruction on account of how busy they are.
  • The use of teaching technology to provide parents with handy resources like YouTube tutorials, email progress reports, guides to the basics of music, and other parent resources. I do everything in my power to make sure that nothing gets lost in translation by taking parents where they are as well.
  • A strong level of commitment is needed to help facilitate at-home practicing (which is fulfilled by filling out practice charts), but parents do NOT need to be the fictional, 110% available, non-working, ever-present parent, to participate. Being a “Tiger Mom” is not a prerequisite to enrollment.

That being said, parents own the precious responsibility of creating an environment that fosters their child’s development of talent, skill, discipline, expressiveness, and joy. As part of a three-pronged team, the instructor will assist the parent in this endeavor.

The lesson environment is very different from that of the private studio, one that fosters increased student responsibility on account of it. Instead of viewing lessons as something that Mom or Dad roped them into, FCVP students quickly take personal ownership and pride of the experience.

On Starting an In-School Violin Program, Part 2

July 20, 2020

c) Daytime Scheduling: The optimal time for learning!

Lesson times are coordinated with the school administration so as to take place during one of the more flexible periods of the students’ schedule, where other academic pursuits will not be disrupted. This is not done simply as a matter of convenience, but as an innovative approach to truly enhance their lesson experience.

 Top 5 Benefits of Daytime Lessons:

1. Because the study of a musical instrument is like other academic subjects in that it involves a significant amount of mental energy while also being a physical exercise, daytime lessons find children during their mental and physical peak. Playing a musical instrument is like playing soccer while doing mathematical computations in your head at the same time, so kids need this kind of peak focus. They enjoy their work with the instrument all the more on account of this. And because they are not leaving instruction, but simply moving to a different classroom in another area of the building, the children remain energized and already “marching to the rhythm of learning.” My goal is to prepare the child to reenter the classroom with the same mindset with which they left.

2. This approach adheres to my deeply held maxim of “following the child” in that, psychologically, it doesn’t interfere with the “down-time” of their before or after school day. It respects the time parameters that every child has for this type of learning, and harnesses the momentum for learning that the child exhibits when they are in their familiar learning environment and time.

3. Since lessons that happen during the school day do not often involve the parent being present (unlike the traditional private lesson environment), the child takes greater responsibility for what they are doing. They play their instrument in a freer way than when parents are present, and it unleashes the innate power in every child for curiosity and ownership of their knowledge. Parents then fully engage in their child’s experience at home.

4. Especially as the child grows older, they start to see lessons on the same grounds as any other school subject. Consequently, they tend to treat the at-home practice as part of their normal homework routine.

5. This feature of the program is also a huge benefit to parents because, in most cases, there is no way they would be able to offer this type of instrumental instruction to their children otherwise. Over-packed schedules, limited transportation, and after school activities that are more appropriate after a long day at school are widely cited as the most common reasons. The study of a musical instrument should not have to compete with these activities, it belongs as a part of the academic day.

d) Recitals:

The recital is a special experience for parents and students. It simultaneously marks a culmination of months of diligent work, combined with a new beginning, and a surge of self-confidence.

Music is an inherently social experience, and students are most fulfilled when their art is shared. A recital is not a test, performance, or competition, but an opportunity to share. Every student participates in the recital, whether they are sharing “Boil’em Cabbage Down” or a more advanced piece. My goal is to ensure that it becomes a positive experience for everyone involved.

Preparation begins months in advance. Students learn how to walk on stage, share their music, take a bow, and respect their audience. A recital is normally preceded by several in-home “mini-recitals” that parents may host for small groups of family members or friends. Students get to see their name on the printed program, and often receptions with refreshments are held. It is a great communal experience, and an opportunity to invite grandparents, extended family, and friends to see what the student has been working on.

e) Instrument Rentals

A number of instruments is provided free of cost by the Education Foundation for families with financial difficulties. In addition, quality instrument rentals with insurance are arranged in collaboration with local violin shops at the beginning of the school year. 

Instruments need to be of the highest quality and tested by the instructor. The violin is sized precisely for the student and delivered at the first parent meeting of the year. When it’s time to move up to a larger size, it will be swapped at no additional cost.

Insurance is included on each instrument. If an instrument needs a string replaced, a bridge reset, a bow re-haired, or more extensive work due to an accident at home, it will be taken care of, by either being repaired or replaced right away.

The following are included with each instrument rental:

  • Instrument and Bow
  • Rosin
  • Sturdy case with padded inner lining
  • Shoulder straps for easy carrying

 f) Summer Session

A separate series of summer lessons are made available. Near the end of the school year, the instructor and the school administration will announce a number of summer dates during which lessons will be held on-site at the school. Instead of the consistent week-to-week schedule that students experience during the school year, summers are more flexible.

If a young musician takes a three month break from an active study of their instrument, some of the recent skills, pieces, and good habits they’ve learned may need to be re-learned. Summer sessions help students get the year-long consistency they need in order to keep moving forward.

On Starting an In-School Violin Program, Part 1

July 18, 2020

In order to start a violin program (or any program, really) there are lots of people you need to approach to get their support. Parents, teachers, school administration, and potential donors and sponsors need to understand the importance and uniqueness of your program so you can have them for the long haul. The information contained in the next series of posts comes from brochures, PTO meetings and other documents that I used when promoting the program to a new school system. For the sake of unity, I’m sticking with “The Franklin County Violin Program”, since this is where it all started.

Mission & Philosophy

The Franklin County Violin Program (FCVP) exists to enrich and improve student development by bringing musical instrument education programs into the local school environment. As its founder and director, I passionately believe that the study of a musical instrument should be an integral part of every child’s learning experience, right from the start.

My belief is confirmed by research which shows that the study of a musical instrument during childhood is the single most powerful way to promote neurological brain development. It has also been shown to enhance verbal ability, mathematical reasoning, and improve mood and self-esteem.

My teaching method is designed to foster creativity and analytical skills in elementary school students. I believe in an Integrated Approach to music education, where lessons are a natural part of a student’s Academic Life, Social Life, and Family Life. By unlocking the innate expressive potential of each child, the FCVP plays a vital role in their academic development.

The FCVP is guided by the philosophy that the exposure to and appreciation of beauty is not a luxury but a human necessity. The key to successful music education lies not only in technical excellence but in the ability of teachers to instill and cultivate a love of music in their students.

a) Weekly Lessons

The heart of the FCVP is weekly on-site lessons, where the child learns that the key to a lifetime of fun and enjoyment making music relies on the mastery of their instrument. The student learns to become completely comfortable with the instrument and how to produce a beautiful tone. One develops the technical skills that are necessary for successfully making music with others.

On the first lesson, students do not need to bring any knowledge of music or theory along with them. I start from the beginning: teaching them how to recognize and imitate pitch, rhythm, and melodies with their bodies and with their instrument. Instruction is always age-appropriate, engaging students exactly where they are.

The program runs the full length of the academic year and is divided into two semesters. Students receive approximately 30 weekly lessons. During the summer break, a separate session with flexible scheduling is available, depending on funding.

Lessons take place in a small group setting of 3-6 students. This particular approach to teaching the instrument allows the instructor to unlock all the benefits of “partner learning,” where students learn not only from the teacher but from each other. Students are inspired to progress together, while still maintaining a high level of individualized instruction. This format of instruction works extraordinarily well and keeps the cost of the program affordable within the crucial public school budget.

b) Group Classes

When students gather in this setting, unique and important things happen:

  • Musicians learn to play their pieces together in an ensemble
  • Advanced students gain practice performing solos in front of small, relatable, and supportive audiences
  • Fun group-based music games and activities
  • Parents are invited to observe, chat, share experiences, and participate in class
  • Musical performances by the instructor and special guests (Blue Ridge String Quartet, Virginia Virtuosi, After Jack, etc.)
  • Students receive positive affirmation and constructive feedback from their peers
  • Preparation for upcoming recitals

Some classes are designed specifically for a mix of different ages and skill levels. This is not out of convenience, but by choice. When more advanced students have the opportunity to demonstrate and help the more beginning students, they learn leadership skills and the joy of sharing their knowledge. By following this “El Sistema” -inspired principle, beginning students look up to the more advanced players, are motivated to achieve what they observe in others, and receive the social support and self-esteem they need as they initiate their musical journey.

If work and family schedules allow, parents and guardians are invited to attend lessons as often as possible. It gives them a helpful perspective on the student and specific bits of knowledge that can be taken home to support the young musician. Attending parents are often involved in some of the group games and usually have a few minutes to talk to the teacher in-person. It is an important way to keep parents connected with the student’s experience.

Creating the Curriculum, Part 7: List of Resources and Teaching Materials 

July 15, 2020

For the final entry in this series, I wanted to share my resource list. Kind of like Oprah’s “Favorite Things” but for music geeks : ) I am also providing links to purchase these items when available.


Barber, Barbara. Violin Fingerboard Geography: An Intonation, Note-Reading, Theory, Shifting                                   System. Van Nuys, California: Alfred Publishing Co., Inc., 2008.

Cooper, Pete. American Old Time Fiddle Tunes: 98 Traditional Pieces for Violin. London: Schott                             Music Ltd., 2009.

Cridge, Lisa. Bow Games and Goals: An Activity Workbook for Beginning Violinists and Violists.                         Copyright 2004, Lisa Cridge. Out of print.

Deneff, Peter (arr.). Hal Leonard Violin Play-Along, Vols. 29 and 30: Disney Hits. Milwaukee, WI:                                     Hal Leonard Corporation, 2012.

Fischer, Simon. Basics. London: Peters Edition Ltd., 1997.

                          Practice. London: Peters Edition Ltd., 2004.

                         Scales. London: Peters Edition Ltd., 2012.

                          The Violin Lesson. London: Peters Edition Ltd., 2013.

                          Warming Up. London: Fitzroy Music Press, 2011.

Hall, Charles A. The Fairfield Fiddle Farm for Violin and Piano, Books 1 and 2. Fairfield Fiddle                                  Farm Publishing, 2003.

Latham, Lynne. Simply Scales (and Arpeggios) for Violin. Latham Music, 2010.

Latham, Lynne with Gayley Hautzenroeder and Thom Sharp. Developing Virtuosity: A                                                         Supplemental Method for Teaching Strings, Vols. 1-3. Latham Music, 2012.

Martin, Joanne. Festive Strings and More Festive Strings for Solo Violin and Violin Ensemble.                                Van Nuys, California: Alfred Publishing Co., Inc., 1998.

Martin, Joanne. Magic Carpet for Violin: Concert Pieces for the Youngest Beginner. Van Nuys,                                  California: Alfred Publishing Co., Inc., 2007.

O’Connor, Mark. O’Connor Violin Method: Violin Books, Vols. 1-3. New York, NY: Mark O’Connor                                  Musik International, 2009 and 2011.

Rolland, Paul. Action Studies: Developmental and Remedial Techniques. Urbana, Illinois: Boosey                         & Hawkes, Inc. 1974.

                       Basic Principles of Violin Playing. Bloomington, Indiana: T.I.S. Inc., 2000.

                       The Teaching of Action in String Playing: Developmental and Remedial Techniques.                                                                                      Urbana, Illinois: Boosey & Hawkes, Inc. 2000.

Shore, Howard. The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy Instrumental Solos for Violin                                and Piano. Arranged by Tod Edmondson, Ethan Neuburg, and Bill Galliford. Van                                Nuys, California: Alfred Publishing Co., Inc., 2004.

Starr, William. Rounds and Canons for Reading, Recreation, and Performance for Violin                                         Ensemble. Van Nuys, California: Alfred Publishing Co., Inc., 1996.

Sutton, Elizabeth. The Music Alphabet Scale Book for Violin. Copyright, Elizabeth Sutton, 1992.

Williams, John. The Very Best of John Williams Instrumental Solos for Violin and Piano.                                          Arranged by Bill Galliford, Ethan Neuburg, and Tod Edmondson. Van Nuys,                                        California: Alfred Publishing Co., Inc., 2004.

Wilson, Joe. A Guide to the Crooked Road, Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail. Winston-Salem, North                       Carolina: John F. Blair Publisher, 2006.

Teaching Aids:

  • Foamalins (foam violins with hairless bows and foam bridges) and Twinklemats (foot charts). 
  • Bow Hold Buddies (to assist in proper bow hold). Available at: www.things4strings.com
  • Bow Stoppers (lock shaped rubber clips that stop the bow). Available at: www.sharmusic.com
  • Bow Huggers (animal shaped moveable rubber clips). Previously available at: www.performersmusicchicago.com
  • Musician’s Practice Planner: A Weekly Lesson Planner for Music Students. (Molto Music Publishing Company. Available at: www.sharmusic.com
  • “Music Mind Games” Puppy Packet and Instructional Book, by Michiko Yurko. Dozens of music theory-related games and activities. Available at: www.musicmindgames.com

Creating the Curriculum, Part 6: More Complementary Repertoire and Technique

July 12, 2020

c) Canons:

Canons, or “rounds”, have been favored by composers for centuries in different settings, and can be used for ensemble playing at the early stages. Since they only require one part to be learned, they provide a great alternative for the monophonic repertoire that is covered during the year. They force the students to know their parts “inside and out”, think harmonically (“vertically”, in addition to “horizontally”), and solidify rhythmic stability, listening skills, and intonation. These are all vital skills that need to be developed and honed at an early age, in preparation for ensemble playing of any level.

“Canons & Rounds” by William Starr (Summy Birchard, 1996) contains 80 examples by major and anonymous composers, in different keys, and of varying degrees of difficulty. They can be played in 2, 3 and 4 parts, and range from 4 measure-long tonalization exercises to fully realized two-page pieces. This book is a great resource for this repertoire, and I have selected and organized a good number of them in a progressive, sequential order. These can be used for ensemble practice and performance.

d) Film Music:

Film composers like John Williams and Danny Elfman often draw inspiration from the European masters, and young students relate particularly well to this repertoire. Programming this repertoire has proven especially timely when a new entry in the canonical Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Marvel or Harry Potter film series is around the corner.

This repertoire is mostly saved for advanced students in years 5-6 who feel at home in different keys that require finger pattern changes, a wide variety of bowings and rhythms, solid intonation, and tight ensemble skills.

  • Star Wars Theme, and Imperial March
  • Hedwig’s Theme, from "Harry Potter"
  • In Dreams, from "The Lord of the Rings"

Songs from classic and contemporary Disney films:

  • Little April Shower, from "Bambi"
  • When You Wish Upon a Star, from "Pinocchio"
  • Whistle While You Work, from "Snow White and the 7 Dwarves"
  • Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah, from "Song of the South"
  • When She Loved Me, from "Toy Story 2"
  • Beauty and the Beast Theme
  • Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo and A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes, from "Cinderella"
  • A Whole New World, from "Aladdin"

e) Scales and Technical Exercises:

Regardless of the repertoire and methodology chosen, fluency in scales and arpeggios is instrumental in mastering any musical language. Scales and arpeggios in the key(s) of the assigned piece should be covered at home and in class. Rhythmic and bowing variations that are related to the repertoire being covered should always be assigned.

While basic scales and arpeggios can be notated by the Instructor, I often use two scale books that are manageable and easy to use by students of elementary and middle school age: “The Music Alphabet Scale Book for Violin” by Elizabeth Sutton (1992) and “Simply Scales (and Arpeggios)” by Lynne Latham (Latham Music, 2010). The Latham book covers scales and arpeggios in 1, 2, and 3 octaves (in addition to a few non-traditional scales). Most importantly, instead of providing predetermined fingerings and bowings, it is essentially a blueprint for the Instructor to “fill it out”.

In order to make the building blocks of scale practice more approachable, I also use Barbara Barber’s color-coded finger pattern chart found in “Fingerboard Geography” (Alfred Publishing, 2008). Her system breaks down scales into 1-4 tetrachords on the fingerboard, so that when new keys are introduced, students can relate the spacing between the fingers to the colors shown through the 12 basic patterns.

In addition to scale and arpeggio practice, I try to incorporate more traditional exercises and excerpts from the standard violin pedagogy literature. There are countless adaptable nuggets of wisdom to be discovered in many of Simon Fischer’s comprehensive volumes listed below, as well as in more academic treatises by Ysaye (his string crossing exercise is a daily staple of mine), Flesch, Schradieck, and Sevcik, to name a few.

Creating the Curriculum, Part 5: Complementary Repertoire

July 09, 2020

Additional Teaching Material

These “bonus” pieces may be incorporated at the discretion of the instructor based on skill level, time available, and school year term.

a) Alternate fiddle and folk tunes:

These tunes are suggested as either more regional options, or additional repertoire to reinforce technical and musical concepts covered in class, and to be used at the discretion of the Instructor:

  • Polly Wolly Doodle (variation on Golden Slippers)
  • First Two Ladies
  • Yellow Rose of Texas (lower strings, dotted quarters)
  • Red River Valley (syncopations, chromatic runs);
  • Kiss Me Waltz (dotted rhythms, bow speed concepts covered in Amazing Grace, optional drones, slides, and ornaments).
  • Down Yonder (chromaticism, fast syncopations),
  • Alabama Jubilee (same as Down Yonder, lots of accidentals/fast finger pattern adjustments)
  • Missouri Waltz: dotted rhythms with separate bows, legato passages with complex rhythms (keep bow steady!), high C as a 4th finger extension.
  • “Hall” Cabbage Variation: fast passagework with drones and double stops, double shuffle with possible ricochet)
  • Ragtime Annie: fast alternations of “straight” passages with double stops, syncopations, and bowing patterns, extreme differences in bow speed with a smooth sound (three beats vs. one beat).
  • Wake Up Susie Reel
  • Paddy on the Turnpike (reel)

b) Holiday Songs:

Beginning in Year 2 and every December, the Franklin County Violin Program students prepare a Holiday Recital. Since celebrating America’s richly heterogeneous multi-cultural heritage is at the core of the method, Holiday songs provide not only great teaching material to reinforce musical and technical concepts, but also fun repertoire to be performed for various seasonal events.

“Festive Strings” and “More Festive Strings” by Joanne Martin (Summy-Birchard, 1998) contain many traditional Carols and Hanukah songs of varying degrees of difficulty, with tasteful suggestions for developing the students’ dynamic range and phrasing skills. While I mainly use the violin and piano arrangement, as students become more advanced and fluent in playing multi-part compositions, I divide classes and favor her arrangements for multiple violins.

Here is an outline of a sequential progression that I use:

Years 2-3:

  • Jolly Old St. Nicholas. Staccato quarter notes, optional slurs and retakes.
  • Chanukah. Middle strings, promotes clean string crossings. Great for enforcing retakes and staccato.
  • Jingle Bells (in A major). A very flexible song, great for developing rhythmic bowing. Younger students play the chorus only, without printed bowings (“as it comes”), while more advanced students play the verse. Great song to come back to when teaching hooked bowings.

Years 3-4:

  • Angels We Have Heard on High. Detache and legato playing. Dotted rhythms and moveable 2nd finger.
  • We Three Kings. Portato bowing, bow distribution, subdivision, moveable 2nd finger.
  • God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen. Slurs across strings, moveable 2nd finger, dynamic contrasts.
  • Silent Night (in D major). Sicilienne pattern, cantabile playing, moveable 2nd finger.
  • Good King Wenceslas. Martele stroke, hooked quarters, retakes.

Years 5-6:

  • Away in a Manger. Legato, cantabile playing, dynamic contrasts, moveable 2nd finger.
  • O Christmas Tree. Cantabile playing, complex rhythms, different bow speeds, strengthens 4th finger.
  • Joy to the World. Held notes, complex rhythms, bowings and articulation.
  • We Wish You a Merry Christmas. Tutti plays Chorus, verses played as solos. Waltz feel with hooked bowings and slurred-detache combinations.
  • O Come, All Ye Faithful. Legato playing on middle strings, moveable 2nd finger.
  • Dreydl. Martele stroke, syncopations, dotted rhythms, string skips, moveable 2nd finger.
  • Greensleeves. Cantabile playing, similar to “Silent Night”. Accidentals, introduces half position.

Year 4 and above students may learn and/or review some of these songs as violin duets, trios, and quartets. Of course this is just a template, as many hymns, Carols, and Kwanzaa songs from all over the world can also be appropriately arranged.

Creating the Curriculum, Part 4 : Years 5-6

July 07, 2020

The last two years see the students tackle advanced repertoire, review old songs with complex variations, and learn selections by major composers like Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, and Joplin.

Year 5:

  • Rubber Dolly Rag (ragtime by Danish-born composer, former concertmaster of the Minneapolis Symphony). Used for showcasing individual students (treat each variation as a solo, tutti accelerando on last variation). Var. ideas: Introduce double shuffling (rhythmic and bowing patterns). Great as a template to let students write their own variations (guide and discuss concepts of the correct harmony and rhythms to be used)
  • Shenandoah (Missouri River Sea Shanty). Introduces E major (review scale and transpose Cabbage). Lyrical playing on lower strings. Bow distribution/changing bow speeds.
  • Off She Goes (British-Canadian jig). Introduces 6/8 meter. “Long-short long-short” bowing pattern (review scales and Cabbage variation). Discuss evolution from French/Italian Gigue/Giga. Show Baroque examples by Bach, Corelli, Vivaldi, etc. Var. idea: only play and sustain the first note of each beat (may also be played this way as a duet)
  • Over the Hills (British lament). Alternates moving lines with sustained, lyrical playing. Introduction to grace notes.
  • Red Wing (Native American-themed song adapted from Schumann’s “Happy Farmer”). Great for strengthening the 4th finger, introduces high 3rd finger. Discuss and learn the original tune.

Year 6:

  • Stepp Down Hoedown (combination of African-American playing and Irish-Scottish reels, inspiration for Copland’s “Hoedown” from “Rodeo”). Rhythmic playing, great for tightening ensemble, fast passagework, quick string crossings (bariolage), and double-stops.
  • From the New World (Two Selections). Slow movement.: same as Shenandoah. Introduces double sharps. Fast movement: introduction to A minor (review key and transpose pieces in A major to make them “sadder”). Great for crisp articulation, awkward finger patterns, and tight ensemble work. Discuss Dvorak’s relationship with American music (Negro and Indian melodies as the foundation for a true American musical language). Great example of cultural cross-pollination and Classical-Folk synergy.
  • Cielito Lindo (Mexican Mariachi serenade/waltz inspired by a Spanish carol). Introduction to F major (review scale and transpose Cabbage). Syncopations, combines rhythmic bowing with cantabile playing. Var. idea: play in straight quarters for strong subdivision.
  • El Rancho Grande (Mexican Ranchera, favorite of Bing Crosby and Elvis Presley). 8th rests followed by upbows. Sustained double-stops with diminuendo. Good for polishing ensemble skills. Discuss formation of Mariachi bands (3 different guitars, 3 violins, and 2 trumpets).
  • Florida Blues (Tennessee blues). Introduction to blues as a style (explain significance in American music) and pentatonic scale. Swung 8ths, slides and pitch bends, syncopations, chromaticism.
  • Over the Waves (Mexican Waltz). Lyrical playing on all 4 strings, complex bowing and rhythmic patterns, chromaticism (finger exercises), double-stops.
  • Dill Pickle Rag (Joplin ragtime). Introduces swung eights (think/feel in a 6/8 meter). Some syncopations and chromaticism. Good for strengthening the 4th finger. Listen to rags by Joplin and others.
  • Deep River (Tennessee spiritual). Long, sustained, lyrical playing on all 4 strings. Different bow speeds, shape cadences (more decay on last notes), slurred double stops. Practice without grace notes and drones first.
  • Ripple Water Jig (Canadian Jig). Review Jig concepts and conventions, two-octave A major scale. Practice without grace notes first. Identify new rhythmic and bowing patterns and apply to scales and Cabbage. Polish string skips

Creating the Curriculum, Part 3 : Years 2-4

July 05, 2020

Here is a sequential list of the repertoire to be covered in years 2-4, which will be found in the resource list coming up in a few posts. Each bullet point lists the teaching points to be covered for each piece, as well as its origins, and some variation suggestions for the Instructor to incorporate at a later date (summer camp?) after the piece has been mastered.

Year 2:

  • Boil em’ Cabbage Down (African-American origins). This tune will become the foundation for more complex ones that introduce new technical and musical concepts, much like the Suzuki approach with “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”. Among other things, this tune is very effective at developing rhythmic bowing and easy to transpose to other strings. Students can already create simple variations with rests, pizz., etc. A staple of early plantation life, music-making was one of the few shared pastimes between masters and slaves. 
  • Buffalo Gals (minstrel song). Introduces AA-BB structure, pickups/upbeats, “whipped” syncopated rhythm. The name of the tune can be easily adapted, as many other examples (Boston/Charleston/Round Town Gals) exist. Variation idea: in straight 8th-notes (promotes subdivision).
  • Oh! Susanna (minstrel song). Introduction of dotted rhythms and 1st and 2nd endings. More complex rhythmic combinations (eighths, quarters, dotted quarters, half notes). Adapt bow length and speed to note values. Variation idea: in dotted rhythms.
  • Amazing Grace (hymn). Introduces slurs/ties, long held values over the barline. Great for developing bow speed changes and beautiful singing tone. Variation idea: transpose to G and D strings, play in straight quarters for correct subdivision on long notes.
  • When the Saints Go Marching In (spiritual). Var. ideas: play it slowly and solemnly first, repeat in a fast, upbeat, Dixieland style (to mirror a New Orleans funeral procession). Play in straight quarters for correct subdivision on long notes.

Year 3:

  • Cripple Creek. Introduces triplets. Apply legato stroke from "Chinese Lullaby." To be reviewed later with more advanced variation (open strings, hooked bowings)
  • Skip to my Lou. Adjust bow length and speed to different note values; introduction to low 4th finger.
  • Old Joe Clark. Introduction to low 2nd finger and dotted 8th-notes.
  • Little Brown Jug. Reinforces low 2nd finger and introduction to divisi.
  • Boogie Woogie (classic Rock progression). Introduces Blues scale (alternates high-low 2nd finger). Playing on all strings, quick 2nd finger changes across the strings, 8th rests followed by hooked bows, syncopated double stops. Introduce and explain “DC al Coda” road map. For advanced students: create melody or tune using the Blues scale.
  • Orange Blossom Special: "Graduation Piece." Left hand pizzicato, drones in 5ths w/slides (“train whistle”), shuffle in double stops, fast string crossings in doubles (practice in 8th notes first) without brushing open strings. This piece may be broken down into sections, so that less advanced students can play the easier ones.

Year 4:

  • Appalachian Waltz (by Mark O’Connor). Lyrical playing. Explain waltz feel and bitonality. Introduces crescendos and diminuendos, and ritardando. Discuss evolution from the French Minuet into the Viennese Waltz. Variation idea: add the higher open string as a drone without brushing it with fingers.
  • Golden Slippers (minstrel song). 8th-note upbeats, quick 2nd finger changes across the strings, introduces dotted half notes and slurred dotted quarter-eight bowing pattern. Compare with "Hall" version (see resource list), use as template for other songs.
  • Bonaparte’s Retreat (Scottish-Irish bagpipe tune). First tune mostly on the D string. Dotted quarters. Introduces slurred 8th-notes (explain concept of playing strong beats on downbows), coming off tied notes with 8ths (review and apply subdivision exercises). Explain concept of "problem spot" and how to address it with mindful, goal-oriented repetition.
  • Fiddler’s Dream (Scottish-Irish reel, a favorite of William Jefferson’s and Patrick Henry's!). Introduces covered 5ths with 1st finger. First double-stops. Variation ideas: 2 slurred + 2 separate, add drones.
  • Arkansas Traveler (reel, a favorite of Davy Crockett). Covers all 4 strings, drones on lower strings. Var. idea: add bowings, in different combinations, and accent the syncopations.
  • Sweet Betsy from Pike (California miner’s song). Waltz in C major. “Minuet-pattern” bowing. Moveable 2 on G and D. 
  • Soldier’s Joy (Civil War reel of Scandinavian, British, Newfoundland, Irish and French Alps origins). Great for efficient elbow levels. Var. idea: “3 slurred + 1 separate” bowing.

Creating the Curriculum, Part 2-B: Year 1 (Spring Term)

July 03, 2020


The repertoire covered from here on is meant to introduce technical and musical concepts in a sequential, logical, and progressive manner, and can be adapted to the musical heritage of the region. Much like entire generations of young violinists “learned the ropes” with the Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star theme and variations, my approach uses Boil em’ Cabbage Down as the springboard for increasingly complex variations, in preparation for more challenging repertoire. As favored in Mark O’Connor’s Method, when a new piece introduces a technical difficulty, students will be asked to find a solution to the problem, by resorting to or creating a “Cabbage” variation that targets it. This has been the pedagogical principle behind dozens of etude books in traditional violin pedagogy for centuries.

This tune is also a great “musical canvas” for more advanced students to experiment with the art of improvisation, so they can come up with their own variations, based on the musical language and conventions of their native region.

While one of the principles of this approach is to expose students to all the major American styles, the Instructor may choose to add more tunes or pieces that best exemplify the musical heritage of the region, AND STILL cover the same technical concepts.

Since many of these pieces have come to us mainly through the oral tradition, one may find different examples of the same basic tunes with a different title. Fiddler’s Dream is also know as Devil’s Reel, Amazing Grace has been transcribed as Let the Circle be Unbroken, and The Golden Slippers can also be found as Polly Wolly Doodle, just to name a few. The Instructor may choose to change the title, or even encourage the students to come up with their own, in order to make the songs more engaging and better reflect the local musical heritage. For instance, Buffalo Gals is now know as Rocky Mount Gals around Franklin County!

Second Term: 

  • Review set-up and repertoire covered in previous term (preferably memorized).
  • Boil ‘em Cabbage Down: learn the notes first, then incorporate the bowing variations from the open string pieces covered in the previous term.
  • Mary Had a Little Lamb, Old McDonald & Camptown Races: learn and memorize songs first. Explain basic phrase structure, and elements of music reading (range, register, note lengths, repeat signs, etc.).
  • Use these simple tunes as templates for very basic ornamentation and improvisation, by applying bowing variations learned so far. Incorporate “the shuffle” (aka Twinkle Variation C) on open strings and turn them into country versions. The Instructor may apply conventions and specific bowings and rhythms of other styles: blues, reels, jigs, etc.. Transpose to other strings. Add a “tag ending” (aka "Shave and a Haircut").
  • Introduction to legato playing: Chinese Lullaby (Rolland). Adapt name, if desired.
  • Walking fingers exercise (found in Suzuki’s Quint Etudes book) for string crossings and left hand coordination.

As new styles and genres are introduced (reels, waltzes, marches, ragtimes, jubilees, etc.), the proper musical conventions and historical/geographical backgrounds should be discussed in class and/or as assignments. This will provide the students with a more thoroughly understanding of each musical language and culture.

It is also important that new musical terms be defined with the traditional Italian, French and German nomenclature that students will find in traditional, non-folk sheet music later on.

Creafting the Curriculum, Part 2-A: Year 1 (Fall Term)

July 02, 2020

For this post, I will focus on the crucial first year of instruction. This is by far the most heavily Suzuki and Rolland-based period, as these approaches provide a solid foundation for everything else that follows. While I don’t elaborate on some of the exercises for space reasons (and most of them may be well-known to colleagues), I’m happy to explain further in the comment section.

First Term:

  • Introduction: parts of the violin; demonstration; instrument care
  • Establishing good posture: “Numbers Game” with Foamalin (LINK) for going from rest to playing position. Use Twinkle Mats (unfortunately discontinued) or trace feet positions on a manila folder.
  • Balancing the violin and proper left hand position: use shoulder rests or sponges. Balance a ping-pong ball or marble between the D & G strings. Facilitate the space between the neck of the violin and the crook of the hand (“mouse hole”) with a cork. Cup a small Play-Doh ball in left hand, if needed. Nose should be pointing at the scroll and shoulders leveled. When the student is ready to “graduate” from the Foamalin and transition to a real violin, allow ample time to get used to the difference in weight and feel.
  • Bow hold: practice “bunny heads” on pencils, straws or chopsticks. Illustrate curved fingers and overall hand shape by wrapping student's right hand around an 8 oz. soda can. Keep thumb curved by using “beginner’s bow hold” with thumb on clip of bow. If needed, use Bow Hold Buddies (LINK) to establish the spacing between fingers, curved shape, and placing the pinky on the stick. Always check for the hand to be hanging from the wrist and a relatively low elbow. Shoulders should be leveled at all times.
  • Throughout the first year and beyond, proper bow hold will be reviewed by using exercises from Lisa Cridge’s “Bow Games and Goals I” book (unfortunately out of print), adapted to each student’s level and needs.
  • Placement of the bow on the E string: discuss the concept of sounding points as “lanes” and place two straws on f-holes, for straight bowing. Demonstrate and mark the balance point of the bow with colored tape as a starting point. Use and adjust Bow Stopper (LINK) as a visual (and physical) aid for how much bow to be used.
  • First strokes: strive for beauty of sound, straight bowing, and balance between weight, length and speed of the bow. Use flat hair from middle to tip. Discuss “B-A-C-H” variables (Bow speed-Arm weight-Contact point-Hair angle) for healthy tone production, if appropriate to student’s age.
  • First basic bowing variations: on all strings (adjust elbow level and contact point accordingly). Use open string songs from “Magic Carpet for Violin”, by Joanne Martin (Summy Birchard, 2007): Carnival in Rio (E string, Var. 1), Bow River Fiddling (E string, Var. 2), and Honolulu Hula Dancer (E string, Var. 3).
  • Introduction to left hand fingering action: place finger tape or stickers for 1st and 3rd fingers. Number fingers on nails with erasable markers, if needed. Point out how spacing between the fingers of the left hand should mirror the spacing found in the bow hand. Teach "Magic Carpet" pieces that establish scale-like patterns: Athabasca Monkey (on A), Easter Island Monkey (on E), Machu Picchu Mountain (on A and E)
  • Fingers should be curved at all times and shouldn’t collapse. Focus on hand shape as a whole (“like a muffin top or a turtle”) and make sure the thumb is not tight, squeezing the violin or too high (“wiggle the turtle’s head”). Nails should be pointing away from the face, diagonally. Do silent finger tapping exercises to avoid lifting too high from the strings.
  • Introduction of dynamics and basic note reading (clef, staff, note lengths, fingering). Color code each string on the music from the brightest color (highest string) to the darkest one (lowest string). For example: mark all notes on the E string in orange, A string in blue, D string in green, and G string in purple.

Creating the Curriculum, Part 1

July 01, 2020

In order to make my violin program more relevant to parents, students, educators, and the community, I decided to incorporate the rich musical heritage of Southwest Virginia into my teaching methodology. My desire is that my syllabus inspires fellow teachers to explore beyond the confines of the standard violin methods and adapt the native music of their region to craft a curriculum that is musically and culturally valuable and unique


There is relatively little research available that focuses on the relevance and application of folk music in early music education. By making my curriculum widely available, it is my goal to fill this void in what is a rather unexplored area in the often neglected field of American public school music education.

The following syllabus applies to a standard 12-14 week term, with weekly 30 minute lessons. The curriculum is structured and based on a 6 year-long program (beginning in 3rd grade), but can be adjusted according to the number and duration of lessons offered throughout the school year, the possibility of doing summer lessons, and class sizes. Time permitting, this approach is flexible enough to allow for additional pieces to reinforce the outlined teaching points. The Instructor is always encouraged to research alternate songs that may better reflect the musical heritage of the area.

The first year of instruction is crucial in developing healthy playing habits and lifelong musical skills. As a result, most of the lesson time is dedicated to establishing proper set-up, tone production, and the basic mechanics of violin playing. These “foundation guidelines” should be followed much more closely than in later years, when the Instructor will have more leeway in crafting a curriculum from the repertoire selected, as well as in contributing with their more personalized repertoire selections. That being said, fundamental aspects of violin playing that are introduced from the start, such as proper violin and bow hold, tone production, intonation, and rhythmic and ensemble skills should be monitored at all levels.

This curriculum was crafted after combining years of teaching in-school violin programs for Franklin County and Salem City public schools in Southwest Virginia, with private instruction in Roanoke, Blacksburg, Lynchburg, and out-of-state summer festivals. Based on the experience and knowledge that I acquire over time and from various sources, this syllabus is and will always be a work in progress, constantly adapting to the limitations and circumstances that vary from year to year, and from school to school. To put things in perspective, yet avoiding any kind of comparison, Dr. Suzuki spent ten years preparing the first volume of his revolutionary Violin School.  

Sources are listed at the end of the curriculum. 95% percent of the repertoire is comprised of public domain tunes, and the Instructor is encouraged to tailor them to their specific teaching needs. The maxim of becoming a “lifelong learner” applies to the Instructor as much as it does to the student. There are many fine arrangements and original compositions of value to be found in the first three volumes of Mark O’Connor’s ongoing Violin Method. Some of the pieces in Volume 3 might need to be reworked and simplified based on the skill level of the students, but still remain great music. Most of these traditional tunes will reappear under different titles, guises, and styles, depending on the region where they were collected. As a result, it is important that the Instructor exposes the students to as many different versions of these tunes, as well as discuss its origins, background, and musical and cultural significance.

Pete Cooper’s “American Old Time Fiddle Tunes” (Schott, 2009) is also an invaluable resource, although it does not come with a realized piano part and some tunes ask for scordatura (that is, the tuning of the violins in intervals other than the traditional open fifths, E-A-D-G). Again, much like the source musicians who inspired this program, the Instructor is expected to arrange, adapt, and re-think the repertoire according to their own personalized curriculum. While the pieces are important in themselves, it is the technical and musical skills to be learned from them that are essential.

Although the core of the curriculum is based mainly on fiddle and folk tunes, the repertoire is also complemented by a number of Holiday songs from all cultures, canons and rounds of various origins, and arrangements of popular films, cartoons, and TV shows. This adds variety and dynamism to the syllabus, while still remaining true to the foundation of surveying American music in all forms

Introduction and Welcome

July 01, 2020

So, after years of percolation and being a silent follower of other people's blogs, I finally decided to start my own. Most people who know me well can attest to my general apathy and discomfort with social networking. But I also love writing and sharing information with a select group of friends, colleagues, mentors, and students who appreciate what I do. Therefore, I figured it would be time to do “something” on a unified platform.

So here it is. The blog will be divided into different categories, so hopefully there will be something for everyone. Submitted for your approval will be original compositions (cadenzas, arrangements, pedagogical material), YouTube clips of recent performances, scholarly posts and works-in-progress to be published in the future, program notes, articles on music and musicians, and useful links to other sites of interest. On the less dry side of things, I may occasionally indulge in my love of classic cartoons from the Golden Age of animation, horror movies, silent film, or vintage action figures. We will see...

In order to make it more personal and distinguish it from countless other blogs, I would also like to share and document my ongoing experience as violin and viola instructor of students of all ages and backgrounds. Public school music educators might get something out of my work directing the Franklin County Violin Program. Developing an in-school strings program from scratch in an underserved area is filled with unique trials, tribulations, and rewards. As a result, I would like to share my teaching approach, curriculum, repertoire, resources, and fundraising ideas.

This will be a labor of love fueled by my seemingly never ending passion for learning. I hope you enjoy my posts, comment, and check back often. To quote Batman artist extraordinaire Neal Adams, “there are no real teachers, only learners”.