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Exploring New Sounds and Incentives in our Rock and Improv Class

Rock and Improv Strings

Photo Credit: Keli Cardoso de Melo

Just a few days ago, we had our first Rock and Improv workshop in Texas!

We had quite a few of these at our old studio in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This was the first time that our Texas students got together to have a non-classical jam session, and marks the beginning of a project to expand students' skills in a new direction.

They did call and response of modern rhythms by ear, learned some percussive techniques to throw into their playing, did their first songwriting as a group, and got to experiment with some electronic gear to see how crazy these stringed instruments can sound.

If you ever visit any of the social spots online where teachers and parents share ideas (Christine Wilson Goodner's Suzuki Triangle Community on Facebook come to mind, check it out!), you'll see a lot of talk about what kind of incentives or prizes teachers can offer to students. I think that can be a great way to give a boost to motivation, and is an excellent alternative to having students grind at their music with no reward in sight.

On to the next level, I'm sure most of us can agree that the best reward is being able to actually play the instrument, and to develop stronger problem solving skills by overcoming the challenges in their music. Parents understand this idea, especially after spending hard earned money on the instrument and tuition--but kids don't always get it when they're so focused on outside expectations from teachers and family.

My favorite part of last week's Rock and Improv class was seeing the kids excited about playing and being creative together, with no need for any extra tricks or fancy rewards beyond our musical exploration. When it was time to take a break in the middle of the session, the kids weren't interested in stopping! We kept it going until it was time to perform at the end.

The really exciting thing is that we're just getting started. I can't wait to see how they'll do as we advance to the next steps of songwriting and improvising. My experience in watching cellists grow tells me that as they get more confident in this style of creative playing, they'll discover even more rewards by applying their personal character and artistry into their work.

Update: If you want to see the kind of fun our students have while rocking out, check out this video :)


Cello Teacher Frisco

Neil Fong Gilfillan is a Suzuki cello teacher in Frisco Texas. He and his wife Rachel Samson on viola/violin run Chili Dog Strings, the only string studio in Frisco named after a dog. To see more of his teaching tricks and performances, check his studio Facebook page, YouTube channel and Instagram!

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