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What it's All About - Thoughts on the 'Why' of Long Distance Lessons

Yesterday one of my online students had his best lesson of the year. He moved recently, and when he said he wanted to keep taking lessons with me, I was really excited--there's a special connection there, and his progress has been solid even though all our work together has been remote. Moving can be tough for a 7th grader, and having his music world stay consistent has showed to have really positive effects for him.

Coordination with Allegretto was the big thing he was facing, and it was obvious that some repetitions would be needed to make it smooth. I try to keep that exciting in lessons, whether I'm moving around, using a little sand timer, being able to move closer or farther or use body language for encouragement. It's a little tricky over the phone screen, sitting there static on the tripod.

Today's idea was nothing new, but super effective online. I really wanted to see those repititions, so I told him I had a plan and to get ready. It wasn't pre-planned, but it happened like this...

1) Watch me while I play the phrase! (I'm watching to make sure he's watching and listening--check) 2) Keep your eyes on the score while I play (we're boosting note reading right now so that was perfect) 3) Shadowbow while he listens to me play (he loves shadowbowing and we needed coordination work, plus another chance to listen...focus stayed strong) 4) Pizz along while I play. The pizz didn't interfere with his mic, so we could do it at the same time and build confidence. 5) "Do you feel ready to do it on your own, or should we do that again?" On pizz he nailed it. Adding the bow was no problem.

I usually don't use pizz as a primer for the bow, but we adapted and it worked--with a few tweaks, we had 75% of the piece down, and both of us were happy to see improvement. He wasn't too excited about Allegretto before, but I could tell he saw the value now.

After that, he was super excited to show me The Night Before Christmas. Sure, it sounded like a nice way to wind down the lesson. This version had narration, and he told the story about Santa's adventures, with little musical interludes. There are days when cello playing can feel harder than others, but seeing him take ownership of his progress, and follow it up by flexing his creativity and telling a story with his music...that really brought it back to what music is all about.

You never know when a regularly scheduled part of your week can turn into something deep and meaningful.

fyi, these thoughts on teaching were originally posted on our Facebook page ;)


Neil Fong Gilfillan is a Suzuki cello teacher in Frisco Texas. He and his wife Rachel Samson on viola and violin run Chili Dog Strings, the only string studio in Frisco named after a dog.

To see his newest teaching techniques and performances, check their YouTube channel and Instagram!

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