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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. 

I nstruments 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:
  • Bow Stoppers (lock shaped rubber clips that stop the bow). Available at:
  • Bow Huggers (animal shaped moveable rubber clips). Previously available at:
  • Musician’s Practice Planner: A Weekly Lesson Planner for Music Students . (Molto Music Publishing Company. Available at:
  • “Music Mind Games” Puppy Packet and Instructional Book, by Michiko Yurko . Dozens of music theory-related games and activities. Available at: