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The Importance of Music Theory

There is never enough time to get everything done in a music lesson.  And even if there is enough time, it doesn't necessarily mean that the student is mentally on board.  All your grandiose plans can easily go out the window the moment the student walks in sobbing (for something totally unrelated to music, of course).

So it's always a balancing act.  As a musician and teacher you feel a need to pass on all of this knowledge floating around in your head.  As a business person you are also cognizant of the fact that the parent sitting in the room with you is paying for violin lessons and not spending every week discussing counterpoint.

The moment I first took on private students I was pretty adamant about spending at least some time teaching each student some sight reading.  It was something that none of my own private teachers ever spent much time on and, as an adult, I always felt was a resulting weakness of mine.  While I could read music on a basic level, things like key si…
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Music educator Richard Gill argues the case for igniting the imagination through music and for making our own music. In this talk, he leads the TEDxSydney audience through some surprising illustrations of the relationship between music and our imagination.

Richard Gill has been Music Director of the Victorian Opera Company since its inception in 2006. He has also been Artistic Director of OzOpera, Artistic Director/Chief Conductor of the Canberra Symphony Orchestra and Adviser for the Musica Viva in Schools Program.

Currently the Artistic Director of the Sydney Symphony's Education Program, Richard has frequently conducted for Opera Australia and OzOpera, Meet the Music (SSO), Discovery concerts (Sydney Sinfonia); Ears Wide Open (MSO), and Canberra, Queensland and Tasmanian symphony orchestras.

Richard's many accolades include an Order of Australia Medal, the Bernard Heinze Award, an Honorary Doctorate from the Edith Cowan University of Western Australia, Hon. Doc. (ACU), and t…

Like Throwing A Punch

The concept of "tone" is difficult.  It's especially difficult for young musicians because it is not only intangible but also hinges on the notion of quality.  At the ripe old age of six, the difference between a good quality meal and a bad quality meal usually boils down to whether or not dessert was included.  In other words, a student may rush through a piece with terrible tone but still views the playing experience as a good one for reasons the adult may not agree with.  Playing "as fast as possible" is more important than playing "beautifully."

So developing beautiful tone is an ongoing process.  It's also not something that's going to happen overnight.  It's a balance of physical expertise and musical maturity.  It's also a bit like trying to explain what color is to someone who's never seen color before.  How do you describe the difference between a "rich" purple hue and a "faded" purple if the person has…

Tone Starts with the Legs

Something I've been working on with my students of late is "using the legs to create tone."  No, this doesn't mean holding the bow with the legs!

It's more along the lines of lifting a heavy object.  While it's easy to focus on just the arms, lifting something heavy is a full-body activity.  The same goes for an instrument.  It's easy to think of music as "just" an intellectual past time.  But that's the trap!

So if we approach the instrument with the same mentality as we would approach any other physical activity then focusing on the legs makes perfect sense.  Using the legs and core muscles promote good posture and breathing.  Good posture and breathing allows all muscles to function more efficiently and fatigue at a slower rate.

This increased efficiency allows us to create a more relaxed, powerful sound on our instrument.  Almost all of the weird sounds that happen on a string instrument (and, I'm sure, any instrument) are the result…

A Healthy Obsession

I'm always fascinated by the process of learning a new piece.  As a music teacher it's what keeps the job interesting for me.  Each time you teach a piece you become better at teaching it.  The more pitfalls you see students fall into the better you become at helping them to avoid those traps.

When a student becomes advanced enough, learning the notes to a new piece becomes easy.  You no longer have to spend the entire lesson helping him learn how to "extend his third finger."  It is during this magical time that the focus of the lesson shifts away from mechanical details and more toward art details.

Appreciating the art behind a piece is a completely separate challenge from just playing the notes.  Students will sometimes reach a point where they can kinda play through everything but fall just short of being comfortable.  It's at this point that I often have to have the conversation with my students about developing a "healthy obsession" with their pi…

Being Busy Kills Creativity

I've been busier than usual of late.  My husband and I bought our first house together and, naturally, this had to coincide with the San Diego Suzuki Institute's inaugural year.  Because heaven forbid these big life events are comfortably spaced apart.

With both of these things going on at the same time it has led to a marked change in my day-to-day activities.  Time that I normally spend doing things like practice or writing have been consumed by paperwork and scheduling.  Coincidentally, I stumbled upon an article the other day that talks about how being busy kills creativity.

It's so true!  Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining.  I'm happy that we were able to get this institute off the ground and I'm thrilled that we were finally able to get a house.  But it has made me realize how easy it is to become "addicted" to busy.  Being busy is almost comforting in a way because you always know what you should be doing next.  It involves very little…