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Music & Myth: Women & Trees

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Music & Myth: Women & Trees

There are a large number of pieces written for solo flute that are inspired by myths, legends, and spiritual practices. This performance combines storytelling, movement, and concert performance to follow one mythological theme over many cultures and geographical areas.

With thanks to The Thousand Faces Festival for the opportunity to workshop the first performances of this program.


Syrinx by Claude Debussy


This piece is the invocation to the beginning of the concert. It was originally written as incidental music to the dramatic poem Psyché by Gabriel Mourey. I use lines from the original poem to invite the listener to listen with joy to what follows.


Doen Daphne d’over schoone Maeght variations by Jacob van Eyck


Daphne was the daughter of the river god. Apollo, the god of the sun, fell in love with her, but she did not return his affection. According to the ancient Greek myth, this is because Cupid shot Apollo with a love-arrow but used an arrow with the opposite effect on Daphne, in order to enact revenge upon Apollo. When Apollo pursued Daphne through the forest she cried for help to her father, the river, and he turned her into a laurel tree. Apollo loved the tree, and took branches to fashion a laurel wreath for his head. To this day, the laurel wreath is used as an image for victorious generals and athletes, and the term “laureate” designates poets and other artists and creative people who have accomplished big things. Maybe Daphne would have preferred to meet a bear in the woods rather than Apollo.


Pan by Anita Perry


The story of Pan and Syrinx also inspired the opening piece of this program. Syrinx was the daughter of the river god, and Pan fell in love with her. Pan pursued her through the forest, and Syrinx cried for help to her father who turned her into a bunch of reeds. Pan loved the reeds, and cut them to fashion a flute from the hollow stems – a “pan-pipe” or “syrinx”.


Yuhwa, Goddess of the Willow Trees by Adolphus Hailstork


Yuhwa was also the daughter of the river god. The sun god, Hae Mo-su fell in love with her, and approached her and her sisters when they were bathing in the river. When they fled from him, Hae Mo-su built a beautiful palace in the forest and invited Yuhwa and her sisters to a great feast. Interestingly, according to some sources this in one of the earliest times that becoming intoxicated with an alcoholic beverage is mentioned in any ancient story. So after they all became drunk after the feast, Hae Mo-su was able to kidnap Yuhwa, but her sisters escaped. Their father, the river god, was angry and challenged Hae Mo-su to a duel of transformations, changing into various animals to fight with each other. After losing this duel, the river god conceded that the sun god was the more powerful deity, and approved of the marriage between Hae Mo-su and Yuhwa. After the wedding feast, Yuhwa and Hae Mo-su were sewn together into a bag, prepared to ascend to heaven. But Hae Mo-su picked apart the seams of the bag with Yuhwa’s hair pin and fled to heaven by himself, leaving Yuhwa in disgrace. Her father exiled her to a pond under the willow trees, and stretched her lips until she could not speak. When she was was found, her lips were cut so that she could talk again, and she gave birth to the first ruler of a Korean dynasty of kings.

Impressions of the International Teacher Trainer Conference in Matsumoto

Matsumoto, October 2023

Playing my recorder

at the feet of Suzuki sensei,

outside the Talent Education

Research Institute building

in Matsumoto.

See this article as printed in the January 2024 International Suzuki Association Journal here: https://internationalsuzuki.org/journal/ISA-Journal-20-2.pdf

Ever since I started Suzuki Teacher training (over 20 years ago!), I kept hearing about the Talent Education Research Institute in Matsumoto, the school founded by Shinichi Suzuki. Everyone who had been there said it was a wonderful experience it was to go there and study with Suzuki sensei and the other Japanese master teachers, at a school that was completely immersed in the implementation of his philosophy. So I was very excited when the the opportunity came to attend the International Suzuki Teacher Trainers Conference in Matsumoto!

The first thing I did after arriving in Matsumoto, was to make a pilgrimage to the Shinichi Suzuki Memorial Hall, his former house which is now a museum. I sat in the room where he taught his students, and in his office where he listened to all of the graduation recordings, and thought about the origins of the Suzuki movement. Suzuki’s goal was not to train professional musicians, but to develop character through the study of music. Developing the skill of self-expression by playing a musical instrument developed other other fine personal qualities that Suzuki termed a “noble spirit”. The approach that he developed to foster this goal also enables students to develop very high level of ability at a young age. Sometimes, the striving for this high level of playing becomes the primary focus, and overshadows the original goal of character development. 

So now I was ready to attend the conference. The main topics of discussion were:

  • International equivalency of training credentials
  • The importance of the beginning stages for a young student
  • Graduation protocols

The graduation discussions were the most inspiring. We had the opportunity to hear Suzuki’s own recorded comments from former students’s graduation recordings, which are archived at the Talent Education Research Institute. All his comments to the students were about the nobility of character, kindness, respect, and love that he could perceive through their playing. Any technical issues about any student’s playing were addressed to their teacher, not to the student. There was also discussion about how graduation recordings and events were handled by different Suzuki organizations around the world. So many different ways to inspire and encourage students to set goals and celebrate success! I came home inspired to revise my own studio and program graduation to meet the needs of the students in my community in a more flexible manner.

The discussions about the foundations of the Suzuki philosophy, especially in starting students at the youngest possible age, were not as clearly focussed as the graduation discussion. I learned that the implementation of the Suzuki Early Childhood  Education program was not as uniform between countries as the approach to instrumental instruction. Interesting questions came up regarding the cultural relevance of the curriculum, and age-appropriate activities for both early childhood and early instrument instruction. What impressed me about these discussions was how everyone wanted to know more about what everyone else was doing, so they could have more resources to do what is best for the children. I returned home with a sheaf of new resource material and many creative ideas for implementation. I think that as long as the teachers keep the needs of the children first, and keep the foundational tenets of the Suzuki philosophy in their work, variations in approach can only enrich our global community. 

When it came to discussing the potential creation of an internationally accepted standard of teacher training, that is when I learned the importance of good communication. There were lots of good intentions, but not everyone had the same experience or information. Presentations were made about the training programs in different regions before the discussions began, but each region presented slightly different information, so the people who did not have direct experience with working in different regions (European Suzuki Association (ESA), Suzuki Association of the Americas (SAA), Pan Pacific Suzuki Association (PPSA), etc …) were still unclear on the differences in training programs between regions. So most of the discussions I participated in were filling in gaps in knowledge, rather than actually comparing systems and looking for differences and commonalities. There was a resolution passed at the conference to make sure that the lines of communication would be more open on this issue, especially for teachers who move between regions, so everyone knows what training will be accepted and what training will have to be added in the system that they are moving into. 

I realized, as people were exchanging information and filling in the blanks for each other, that most of the training systems cover the same material, just packaged into different course formats. The big difference is in the entry requirements for the teachers. It ranged from needing a music degree and an audition of upper level material to begin (ESA) to taking the course with no prerequisite, but playing an exit exam to show understanding of the material (SAA – Latin America). So I wonder to myself, what is the best way of helping teachers realize the benefits of implementing the Suzuki philosophy in their teaching, so that the maximum number of students can have the opportunity to develop their character and their musical ability? This is the question I took back to my fellow Suzuki Recorder teacher trainers. Our group of ESA and SAA registered teacher trainers are looking at ways we could potentially use the flexibility of our smaller community to merge training systems. 

As a flute, recorder, and Suzuki Early Childhood teacher, I appreciate being part of a smaller community. Most of the teachers and trainers know each other, and I have witnessed many innovative and flexible collaborations and solutions in small classes at Institutes and Conferences. But at the end of the conference, when you find yourself in a small room in the basement with the guitar, double bass, harp, and trumpet people, you wonder if there is a way to make the instruments with smaller student and teacher populations feel that their ideas are valued as much as the violins, cellos, and pianos.

The recorder teachers performed for the Talent Education Research Institute event that followed the conference, to demonstrate an instrument that was not part of the TERI offerings. Some of the European teachers who were there asked why there were not more recorder teachers and students? But the ESA presentation during the teacher trainer discussions stated that they were aiming for quality over quantity. So this took me back to my thoughts when I was sitting in Suzuki sensei’s living room, now a museum honouring his humanitarian goal of developing noble hearts through music. If all of us in the Suzuki community are all striving to develop noble hearts, do we need to segregate ourselves into geographic or instrument specific groups? Is there a way that we can promote and strengthen our mutual commitment to the Suzuki philosophy, and still be flexible to accommodate the variety of needs that are unique to the instruments we play and the countries where we work? I do not have an answer to this question, but I do know that continuing the conversation, both on-line and in person  at more international conferences will lead to more collaboration. I am hoping to be at the next one and  be part of this work. 

Flute or Recorder?

I play both flute and recorder – that includes antique wooden flutes and modern electric recorders.

They are similar, yet different.

So if you want to take lessons, which instrument shall you choose?

Listen to lots of recordings. They will often play the same music, especially music from the Baroque period, but the timbre of the two instruments is different. Here are some examples to get you started:

Land Acknowledgement

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I respectfully acknowledge that I live and work on Treaty Six territory, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

amiskwaciywâskahikan is the traditional gathering place of the many indigenous peoples whose histories, languages and cultures are part of our community. 

I acknowledge that the traditions of meeting and sharing at this place, and caring for this land for the purpose of art, livelihood, and spirituality, originated with the indigenous people. 

I honour and respect my role as a participant in Treaty Six and reaffirm my responsibilities as a Treaty Six person. 

You may be signing in to my website from other parts of the world. Some of you are on land that is part of a Treaty, others are on unceded territory, and some are included in modern land agreements and purchases. 

Please take a moment to reflect on your relationship with the land in your region and its original inhabitants. 

Personally, I did not have an opportunity to grow up with a strong relationship to the land. As the child of a nomadic military family who were in turn descendants of refugees, my history was one of constant relocation. I am grateful to have finally found a welcoming place to develop personal and artistic roots, and to connect with family and community, both in this place and in our global Suzuki movement. 

It is my hope that we can all play a role in making sure that there is room for everyone in our musical community, and welcome people of all ages, genders, races, cultural, and economic backgrounds to participate in our programs. In the words of Dr. Suzuki, “I ask you to please work with me, and all together, everybody awake and walk together, then every child can be educated, I believe then you can save the world.”

On Being an Adult Suzuki Student

On Being an Adult Suzuki Student

guest post from my student Andrea MacDonald

True musical joy could never have been possible for me without the Suzuki method. After over 15 years of playing recorder in duets and large and small ensembles, I started over agin at the beginning. But maybe I should back up a bit.

I have always been musical. Growing up I sang in choirs, in musical theatre, and in pop bands. I joined a Balinese gamelan where we learned entire concerts by heart. I memorized very quickly and retained very well. My ear was my superpower. I was the first person “off book” in choir and my friends delighted in my ability to name any popular song in the first note or two. But I could not read music.

It wasn’t that I hadn’t tried. I’d taken piano and sight-singing lessons but these ended in frustration. When my husband, a professional musician, suggested I try a “one line” instrument I took up the recorder and fell in love with it. I was already a huge fan of Baroque music and it seemed like a natural fit.

With only one stave to deal with, things improved somewhat. I joined a quartet and a large ensemble. My good ear served me well but I quickly hit a sight-reading wall. Despite having help “on tap” with my husband and years of faithful practice, things never got easier. I was frustrated and ashamed. It was emotionally difficult to practice and I felt stuck, always learning the notes and never getting a chance to work on the actual music.

Finally, at 52, I got some psycho-educational testing done and was diagnosed with ADHD and something called a “severe visual processing disorder”. My fears were confirmed; sight reading would never get easier for me. I needed a different approach. 

I didn’t think anyone would be willing to teach the Suzuki method to an adult but I found a wonderful teacher, Kathleen Schoen, in Alberta. We started lessons at the beginning of June and I burned through Level One on alto in about two weeks, easily learning two to three songs per day. We added the soprano book to my to-do list and I began working in both voices on Level Two. 

Here I received my first shock:  one of the pieces (Handel Water Music Bourée) was something I had just played with my large consort. How on earth could this be only Level Two? Of course the music got harder in Level Two but unlike before, I was not frustrated. I did not feel defeated.

I’m a teacher myself. I teach seniors how to use technology like iPads and iPhones and I spend quite a bit of time building good foundations before moving on to higher concepts. I was extremely impressed with the layout and progression of the Suzuki method, which had clearly been very carefully designed for a logical and gentle progression through the music. 

Kathleen then suggested I purchase the music for the remaining levels as inspiration and in Level Six I found a movement of Vivaldi’s Oboe Concerto, a particular favourite, that I had long dreamed of playing (in fact I had memorized the entire thing) but never imagined I would ever be able to play. Now it’s on my long-term to-do list!

The Suzuki method changed everything for me. I no longer had to drag myself to the practice room and endure frustration and tears while trying to stay focussed for a scant 30 minutes. I was now forcing myself to stop after an hour to save my hands and arms from strain. My self-esteem soared! I was no longer dreaming of a future where I might one day be able to work on  music that I loved. I was already doing it! As I no longer had to work at interpreting musical text, I had the brain-space left to instead focus on interpreting the music. 

It’s fall now and I have about four songs to go in each of the soprano and alto books. Music is no longer an impenetrable wall but rather a puzzle to be solved and I know that with time and attention I will “solve” it. I would highly recommend the Suzuki method to any adult interesting in learning music. If I had one wish it would be for a place for adult Suzuki students to chat. Just like the kids, we need peers to accompany us on the journey.

Why I believe the Suzuki method is excellent for adults:

  • Very little time spent working on “kids’ songs” before moving to more engaging music
  • Much faster progression to more advanced pieces than traditional method
  • No written music to “scare” the student who may jump to conclusions with fears like:  it’s too low/high, I don’t know that time/key signature, I can’t do trills, etc.
  • No music books to “forget” so as long as you have your instrument with you, you can practice
  • The ability to practice without your instrument by listening, meaning you can be practicing almost always
  • Without needing to read/interpret musical text, the student can focus on the physicality of playing and the sounds they produce

Seasons Greetings 2020

So I made a little video to commemorate 2020. We have done so much online this year, that I chose to use the Zoom and Cyborg Llama platforms to do the videos, complete with slightly out of sync video and audio tracks (slightly out of sync, like so much else we have done this year!). It also features an old transverse flute that is new to me as of December 2020 – an antique Thibouville ainé from the second half of the 1800’s. This is a simple system flute with 6 keys – I am still getting used to the different fingering system on this recording.

Students, if you want to play along by ear, the piece is in the key of C, and begins with the same interval as the beginning of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. If you want to play along on the harmony or double parts, the score is here:

Clearly typeset modern edition:


Original first edition of 1737:


And if you would like to record another part along with me in the multi tracked part of the video, the project is available on Cyborg Llama. Just send me an email at flutesrus@gmail.com and let me know you would like to record, and I will give you access.

Thank you for your commitment and mutual support as we navigated our way through the strangest year ever. I hope you all have a safe and restful holiday, and stay healthy so we are ready for the creative challenges of 2021!

Kathleen Schoen




COVID – 19 info (so far)

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*Edit 2023.01.11*  New information about indoor air quality:


The new studio build is underway! Looking forward to being able to use a space that has better ventilation than my in-house basement studio.

So I have been doing as much research as possible over the last few months, trying to stay up to date on the latest research on COVID-19 to understand what the best practices for flute and recorder lessons might be for staying safe and healthy during this pandemic.

I am now going to try to write a bit of a summary of what I have found out (so far) to the best of my understanding, acknowledging that as research continues things will probably change.

*Edit 2021.08.24* Hooray for vaccinations! Fully vaccinated individuals are less likely to become infected when exposed to COVID-19, and if they do become ill, they will probably have less severe symptoms. That means you might end up with a prolonged nasty case of bronchitis, but you won’t have to be hospitalized. This, combined with the fact that vaccinations are not available to the majority of school age students (yet) means that we still need to understand the need for exposure reduction protocols (masks) and ventilation, as described below.

There are two questions that need to be answered before we really know how to stay safe:

  1. How much of the virus do you need to be exposed to before you become ill?
  2. How do droplets and aerosols that may contain the virus travel through the air?

The general idea at the moment, is that the longer you are exposed to the virus, or the higher concentration of virus you are exposed to, increases the risk of serious illness. This is why outdoors is much safer than indoors. Indoors, especially in poorly ventilated spaces, there are opportunities for the amount of virus to build up over time. So the best practice is to limit the length of time and the number of  people you are in contact with when you are indoors. And because the virus will build up over time if a series of people use the same space one after the other, we have to think of total usage, not just the few moments that one person is in the space.

The virus is in the water droplets and aerosols (very small vapour particles) that are emitted by people when they breathe, talk, sing, or play wind instruments.  Interestingly enough, recent research as of August 22/20 (see links to U.Cincinnati and the Speaking / Singing study links below) seem to be showing that there is not much difference in aerosol emission between instruments and speech when all are at the same volume, but when anything gets louder, that’s when the aerosol emissions go up. So talking loudly to a large group may be of as much concern as playing a wind instrument. There are also individuals who are “super-emitters” and produce more aerosols than average – many of these studies are using fairly small test groups or individuals, so if any one person is such a “super-emitter” it will skew the results.

We don’t know how much virus is carried by what size of droplet, and we don’t know how much virus is needed to cause illness. To further complicate things, as the aerosols hang in the air the water evaporates from them, potentially making the concentration of virus higher as the droplet shrinks. Large droplets fall to the ground after about 2 metres, which is why that is the recommended social distance, but the aerosols can hang out much longer and travel farther, as they behave more like a gas. A good image is to think of a smoker, and how the smoke travels after it is blown from their mouth. This image also demonstrates why masks are recommended, and plastic face shields are not recommended as PPE without also using a mask (and shows how ineffective a plexiglass shield on its own is as protection against aerosol spread) .

So a music teacher, who normally sees a series of students in their home studio or school classroom over the course of several hours, is not just considering the contact with one student in one lesson, but the accumulated contact over time from many students and parents. This accumulated contact can build up a high concentration of potentially infectious aerosols in the air of the teachers’ studio, no matter what “safe” distance they remain apart.  And in the case of a home studio, the teacher also lives in the house, and continues to breathe that air after the lessons are done for the day.

Most homes and classrooms are not equipped with high volume HVAC systems that can provide complete fresh air exchange quickly enough to control this situation. Some recommendations have been made regarding leaving rooms empty for a specified time between users, but in most homes and schools (especially in the winter) this would just recirculate the air, not exchange it for fresh. Open windows help a lot, but again, there are limitations to this practice during severe winter weather! A music teacher, who has a limited number of hours of the day available for lessons, will not find it economically feasible to take  30 min between each lesson for air exchange, even if air exchange was possible in their teaching space.

*Edit 2020.11.13* Here is a great article with an infographic that explains the effect of ventilation on virus spread in a variety of indoor environments really well:


*Edit 2021.08.24* Here is an article supporting the use of portable HEPA filters to reduce particulate spread in aerosols in indoor environments, which supports the use of the HEPA filters in the Cincinnati study cited below:


*Edit 2020.11.05* I have seen a lot of crazy ideas on social media recently about instrument covers and masks with holes in them (!?) to make playing wind instruments “safer”. Let’s get one thing straight: aerosols are emitted from holes. Making a hole in a mask is like not wearing a mask at all. Period. As for instrument covers – the problem there is that these concentrate aerosol levels within the cover, so you end up releasing more virus at one time into the air when you take the cover off than you would if you were playing with an uncovered instrument IN A WELL VENTILATED SPACE. Since severity of COVID-19 symptoms seem to be linked to the concentration of virus one is exposed to, I would not recommend anything that would concentrate virus particles .

This is just the ventilation question. There is also the cleaning of high touch surfaces between students, as we can also be exposed to the virus by touch. Even if you don’t touch a surface, you can leave behind potential infection when the aforementioned aerosols settle onto surfaces. Even when everyone has their own instrument, stand, music, and other supplies, we still need to consider cleaning doorknobs, railings, and consider either not permitting student use of the bathroom (toilets produce a considerable aerosol mist when flushed!) or allowing time to clean all these surface between each student. Again, not economically feasible given the amount of potential teaching time that would get used up doing this housecleaning.

Given the limitations of our physical teaching situations, and the fact that there is no information yet regarding the length or concentration of virus exposure that leads to illness, most music teachers are continuing to teach remotely for their personal safety and the safety of their students.

Personally, I am exploring these options to speed up the return to in person lessons:

  1. There have been some encouraging results in some studies regarding the use of portable HEPA filters with UVC sterilizing lights to reduce aerosols. I am following this thread with interest, as putting such a filter into my studio space would be quite feasible (if it does prove to reduce aerosols enough for safety).
  2. The detached garage in my back yard has been slated for demolition and replacement for some time. I am exploring options for turning the replacement garage into a separate teaching studio, and rebuilding with these ventilation concerns in mind.
  3. While the weather is mild, I want to try some outdoor lessons.

If you want to follow up on the science behind my summary, here are some links to recent studies. I also want to thank Sasha Garver and Adam Schwalje, for using their connections in the medical  community to inform the musical community about the most recent research. Adam was also involved in assisting with the Preucil School of Music COVID-19 protocols  and the U of Iowa music department COVID-19 protocols (click on the link for examples using HEPA filters, UVC lights, and 30 – 60m ventilation periods between room usage, along with upgraded ventilation systems to make this a practical solution).

Before citing these links, please double check any of this information! Remember that many of these studies are (at time of posting) very recent and not peer-reviewed. There is lots of ongoing research, and this is the information that I have been able to glean in my own reading.  Please do not take this as a comprehensive or up to date date list (although I will add to it when I can). However, since beginning this page, I have been surprised to notice how far behind some of our government guidelines are when compared to the most recent information.


Fall 2020 lesson scheduling and start-up


Most years, I will just have all my students continue in their same lesson time as the previous year unless they require a change.

This year, I have a change that will require a revision of my teaching schedule.

The Augustana campus of U of A, where I teach sessionally, has revised its B.Mus degree to focus on applied pedagogy and studio teaching. As part of this, they have asked me to start a program that can provide Suzuki method teacher training and demonstration classes. This is very good news for the future of Suzuki music education in Alberta, but it does mean that I will have to change my university teaching day to Wednesday instead of Tuesday the way it has been previously.

Rather than just asking all my Wednesday people to switch to Tuesdays, I would like revise my entire teaching schedule, and give everyone a change to change their lesson time to one that might be more convenient, while things are up in the air. To this end, I will be asking everyone to give me three different times when they could come for a lesson, in order of preference. I will collect these times and try to create a schedule that is the most convenient for everyone. In order to see all the times in one place and make sure I haven’t missed anyone, I will be asking you to fill out a Google form with this information. Here is the link: https://forms.gle/QBj9xKFeNf2pUY9q9

Summer duet project:

In our last lessons in June, I was telling all of you that I wanted to try and set up some opportunities to meet outside and play duets, since we had not really seen each other in person since we all went to on line lessons mid March. Since I am now writing this at the beginning of August, it is pretty obvious that I haven’t done this yet. Unfortunately, life caught up to me  – my husband, who had been on the waiting list for open heart surgery when the pandemic closed everything except emergency services at the hospitals, received a call at the end of June when things opened up, telling him to be ready for surgery mid-July. So everything came to a halt while we dealt with this. I am grateful that if it had to be done so suddenly, it did happen in the summer when our schedules were less busy. I would have had to take several weeks off had it happened during the lesson term.

I still want to do a duet project as part of our lesson start-up at the end of August, and get together outdoors before the weather gets too cold. Here’s the plan:

  1. Have our first lesson the week of August 31, and organize our duet assignment.
  2. Work with a recording of the second part the following week.
  3. Meet in person outdoors week of September 14, weather permitting.
Developing independence:

I have always considered one of my most important goals as a teacher is to help my students learn to work independently. In order for this to happen, a student needs these skills:

  • be able to learn by ear (hear pitch and key relationships, rhythm and meter, articulation, phrasing, dynamics, and other nuances )
  • be able to listen to themselves objectively
  • be able to self assess and make corrections without prompting
  • be able to recognize previously learned patterns in new contexts
  • be able to recognize when you don’t know something, and know where to go to find out.
  • eventually, be able to read music

One of the best tools for developing the objective listening and self assessment is making recordings of your playing and listening to them. This is why we do this as a very important part of the graduation program. Back in January, I was drawing up a plan for having my students do more of this kind of work. And then COVID-19 came along, and we were all on line.  To make up for the shortcomings of sound quality with lessons over the internet, I had many of you experiment with sending me recordings, and put a large amount of material up as on line resources, but it was all done in a hurry and not as well organized as I would have liked. Now I would like to take a deep breath and approach this in a more organized way.

So here’s the plan:

  • There will be the occasional week where our lesson does not involve meeting at the same time.
  • Instead, you will send me a recording of a specific practice project.
  • I will send you written feedback and/or a demonstration recording.
  • You will send me a second recording, showing changes based on the feedback received.
  • We will review that recording together as part of your next regularly scheduled lesson.

Unlike an in-person lesson, where all playing and feedback is immediate, this asynchronous lesson will allow you to listen to yourself after you record, think about whether  you are really accomplishing your goals in playing the piece, and make another attempt (or two or three, over several days) until you are satisfied enough to send it to me.

Scheduling asynchronous lessons for the weeks when there are statutory holidays will also help us to keep our momentum going over breaks without needing to reschedule lessons. I will still have extra lesson days as usual! Asynchronous lessons will be in addition to, not instead of, extra lesson days.



Music is a Language – Listening is Important

If I was talking to you, and I suddenly paused in mid sentence, you would probably be able to anticipate the next ________ I was going to say.

This is because you know the language well, and you recognize common phrases and patterns instantly.

If I sang, “Happy birthday, to you, Happy birthday to you …..” you would probably be able to finish the song for me.

You learned this song the same way you learned your language. By hearing it often in the same context, you began to expect to hear it again in similar situations, and could predict when people would probably sing it. When it was sung, you always heard the entire melody, so you knew when it would begin, when it would end, and the special place in the middle that was always different depending on whose birthday it was. And it felt good to sing it, because it was in an environment of happy celebration (which often included cake!)

But why stop with just “Happy Birthday to You”?

You can learn any music the same way that you learned “Happy Birthday.”

You can understand where it begins, where it ends, and the special places in the middle where something different happens. You can start without being prompted, and pick it up at any point to finish it. You can do this with a simple folk song or with a piece of complex classical music.

All you need to do is listen to it.

In the same way that as a baby you listened to your parents talking and absorbed your native language easily and accurately, you can listen to music and absorb the vocabulary and grammar of the language of music.

Every person can.

All you need to do is listen.

But you have to listen more than just once. Just like babies hear words many, many times before they begin to imitate the sounds, you need to listen to music repeatedly, until you can anticipate the next sound as easily as you can anticipate my next _______.

Then you will recognize the same patterns in other pieces of music, and anticipate when they will happen.
And you will be pleasantly surprised if a composer does something slightly different from what you are expecting, and show you something new! In this way you will learn more patterns, the same way that we learn the meaning of a new word from its context in a sentence.

Congratulations! You can now speak the language of music.

Effortlessly, the same way that you understand what you are now reading.

OK, I get it. Now how do I do it?

Your teacher will have many resources for helping you organize your listening. Approaches will vary depending on the needs of individual students. Here are some strategies to make learning easy by setting yourself up with a comprehensive listening program.

Get your playback devices organized

Download your assigned playlist on to the device you will actually use to listen to it. Yes, download. Do not rely on streaming services. If your computer is in an office where you never listen to music, put it on your phone or tablet. Parents, make sure you both have all the music on both your phones. so it is instantly available at all times. If your child has their own device, make sure they have access to the music on it, but do not expect them to be responsible for doing all their listening unsupervised. Use decent external speakers or headphones – do not rely on the tinny internal speaker on most mobile devices. If you use CDs, burn several copies – one for the car, one for the stereo, one for backup when one gets lost or damaged.

Listen repeatedly

Set your device to play the same track or playlist on repeat. You need to hear the same tune many times before you can confidently anticipate what comes next. Set a goal – listening to a piece 100 times before trying to play it yourself is not unreasonable.

Listen ahead

Don’t just listen to the piece you are working on right now. Alternate between listening to your current working piece and listening to the entire playlist. This allows you to look forward to the pieces you will be learning soon, reviews your memory of past pieces, and avoids listening fatigue from too much constant repetition of just one thing. Listen to other pieces for your instrument as well, not just the assigned repertoire.

Consider your listening environment

Listening in the car is super convenient. It is a wonderful way to seize an opportunity, so do take advantage of it. But remember that inside a vehicle is a noisy environment – engine noise, traffic noise, etc. will mask many of of the expressive elements of the music. This is fine if all you want to do is get to know the pitches and rhythm. But if you also want to anticipate dynamic variations, articulations, vibrato, and other nuances of phrasing that are not always written in the score, you need to listen in an environment where it is quiet enough to hear them. I recommend having a quiet time at home when you make a habit of listening to music.

Use both passive and active listening

Let the music play in the background during quiet activities and meals, and when you are sitting in the car. This is passive listening. Active listening is when you engage with the music as it is playing. For a beginner, this can be as simple as beating time with feet or hands while listening, or moving freely to the music. More advanced students can alternate playing a section of the piece with listening to a section of the piece, or play along with the whole thing to feel how the melody fits with the accompaniment.

Listen to a variety of versions of the same piece

Listening to different recordings of the same piece will draw your attention to the variety of nuances used by individual performers. Imitating these different ways of playing the same passage help you make your own artistic decisions about how to play it yourself.

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Review in practice: why and how.

Review in practice: why and how.

Reviewing previously learned material in practice:

When you are a beginner, you don’t know many things yet, and all of them are new. 

So when you practice, you practice everything. It doesn’t take very much time.

Then you get to a point where you know more than you have time to play in one practice session. This is when you need to organize your material on a rotation, for constant review.

There are two categories of review: patterns & pieces


These are the building blocks of music. Scales, triads, and other patterns recur in different contexts in every piece of music. 

We extract these patterns from the pieces and isolate them for individual practice. This is a very methodical and efficient way of practice to develop facility on the instrument and to train the ear and fingers to expect typical pitch and fingering combinations. 


Patterns, however, are meaningless unless placed in the context of an expressive melody. So we also need to review our pieces. 

You know how  sometimes you meet someone in the grocery store, and you feel you ought to know them, but can’t remember who they are? It may be someone you know from work, but in a different location you can’t recall  their name. (And feel slightly embarrassed.)

In the same way, you may meet a pattern that you already know in a new piece, but you don’t recognize it and need to learn it all over again because the new context makes it feel very unfamiliar. 

This is why we need to review all our known pieces, so that we can become familiar with all the different contexts where we have to be able to recognize a pattern. 

And we need to review them in different settings and venues: practice, lesson, concert, group, festival, exam … so that we can recognize these things in any setting, and not draw a blank like you did with your acquaintance in the grocery store. 


If we review both patterns and pieces, we become very good at recognizing known patterns in a variety of contexts. This makes it easier to learn new pieces quickly.

If we don’t review, learning new pieces takes a very long time, as you have to do everything as if it was for the very first time. 

OK, I get it. Now how do I do it?

Your teacher will have many resources for  helping you organize your practice time. Approaches will vary depending on the needs of individual students.

Here’s the  basic idea:

  • Take all the pieces and exercises you know
  • Divide them into groups based on the main technical point required to play them
        • e.g. high register, low register, fast scale passages, sustained tone, specific keys, etc..
  • Play a different one from each group every day
  • In this way, you will play everything you know over the course of a few days, while reviewing all your technical abilities every day.  

Some pieces may exercise more than one technical point. These ones can get swapped around between groups or become a group on their own.

Newer pieces can be in a group that gets played very day, until they are as familiar as the older ones. Then you can put them in a group where they get played after a longer interval.

If you find a piece that you feel that you have forgotten, you can add it to the every day group until it is back to being familiar again. 

You can combine groups into bigger categories and review pieces after a longer interval. This will exercise your long term recall. If you find yourself having to re-learn pieces after a long interval, make your categories smaller so the pieces rotate more often. 

I find this system to be a good indicator of when a student is ready to go on to something new. If the review of the known scale patterns and pieces is completed quickly and confidently, there will be time left in the lesson or practice to start a new project. If the review takes a long time, and spots need to be re-learned, that will use all the available time. And that is OK, because that is what that student needs to be doing before going on to new things.

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