Having Anything You Want versus Having Everything You Want

December 5, 2008

I was inspired by a recent blog entry on “getting rich slowly”, which said, “You can have anything you want – but you can’t have everything you want.” At this holiday season, and especially at this moment in history, the truth in these words resonate for me. It’s one of the lessons I believe is essential to teach our children, and is inherent in learning to live happily.

One of the common questions I am asked by parents both in my program and considering enrollment in this program is how to “balance” sports, music, academics, community service, and other extracurricular activities for their children over time. The answer I typically give is that the experience of committing to any activity in a serious way, early in life, lays the foundation for the child to eventually make that commitment to anything they choose. However, the truth is that you can do anything, but not everything. Read the rest of this entry »


Recordings…How, When, Why

September 24, 2008

Using audio recordings during practice is a commonly discussed and debated topic among musicians and music teachers throughout the world. “Suzuki method” teaching has been criticized for its over-reliance on recordings to teach students to learn by rote memory or imitation, thereby limiting the student’s motivation to learn to read musical notation. It is also said that students who learn purely by imitation of sound never learn to form their own interpretation of the music. These have some basis in reality as I look at results of various teaching approaches.

HOWEVER, why is it that so many “traditionally” trained violin students have trouble playing in tune, or playing with good tone quality on their instruments? And if music is all about the sound, isn’t a good model of sound required for students during development?

When I am trying to get a student to discriminate the difference between their sound and the “goal sound”, a recording is often the only way to transmit what happened in my studio to the child’s practice sessions at home.

Recordings – how and when to use them, and why they are sometimes necessary and at other times contraindicated – have been a constant source of thought and challenge for me as a teacher. I’ve used them, I’ve recommended them, and I’ve also worked hard to discourage them at times throughout my teaching experience so far. Here are some random thoughts inspired by my students on the subject of recordings.

HOW and WHEN to use (and not to use) recordings: Read the rest of this entry »

Training is training

March 20, 2008

I recently had a conversation with a drummer who is a true “pop music” insider, and told him I didn’t know anything about pop music, since I was classically trained. His reply? “Music is music.”

Well, here is an article about Olympic swimming hopeful Ryan Lochte’s training techniques, illustrating that “Training is training,” whether it’s athletics, music, or anything that requires mind and muscle coordination, memory, and fitness.

These highlights include many reminders I tell my own students about practicing violin:

  • Even though Lochte (age 23) has been swimming since he was 9, he has not yet perfected his strokes. “I spend more time on stroke mechanics now than I ever have,” he said. In other words, it takes years, and there is always something more to work on.
  • He also spends part of each practice slowing things way down. “The only way to really work on technique is to swim very slowly and really think about every little thing that you’re doing,” he said. Practice slowly. Sound familiar?
  • Using a buoy, Troy said, can be useful for swimmers, because “you start to feel proper body positioning, then you replicate that” without the buoy. Violinists: this is like using a wrist guide, tapes on the fingerboard, or lying on the floor to play!
  • “I love competition, ” Lochte said. “I always have. That’s my idea of fun, to compete against your teammates, to compete in races, to compete against yourself. Every day in practice I like to see if I can maybe kick an extra meter farther underwater than I did yesterday or beat something that I did before.” Today was good, but tomorrow must be better.
  • He also advises setting attainable goals, perhaps one of the more overlooked elements of a fitness regimen. Work on mastering simple things before adding on.

Topics from today’s repertoire class

September 22, 2007

In the 9:45AM class I will be reviewing certain key fundamentals with parents at each repertoire class during first semester. Here are the points from today’s topics. 


Feet go together in rest position. When playing, the feet must always come apart to the same stance, shoulder width apart so that the body weight can be balanced. This width will also allow in the future the natural transfer of weight between the two feet during playing.

Make sure the right foot does not go behind the body. If you look at the toes, they will be pointed approximately at 45 degrees and the left foot will be SLIGHTLY ahead of the right foot but not by much.

The belly button always faces forward (the audience).


At the frog: triangle (bow arm makes two short sides of the triangle)

In the middle: square

At the point: triangle (bow arm makes one long side of the triangle)

Tool: play while lying on ground and turned to right side. Nose, scroll and left shoulder point toward ceiling. Parent makes sure the left shoulder stays in this position during playing. Child makes sure the bow does not touch the bow guide.

Dr. Chu’s Recommended List of Performances

September 10, 2007

Several of my students have already had the privilege of hearing Itzhak Perlman, Joshua Bell, Midori, and other professional artists perform live in the Bay Area.

As part of my ongoing message that my students seek out great examples and listen closely, here is my list of 2007-2008 performances in the Bay Area that may be of interest to my students and/or their parents. The performances were selected on the basis of their timing (not too late on a school night!), the venue, and the relevance to a young person with a fascination for great violin playing in particular and the electricity of great performance in general. Read the rest of this entry »

Inspiration for the new school year

August 22, 2007

As we start a new school year next week, let’s consider the following idea:

Each minute we live is a new and unique moment of the universe; therefore, let us teach our children to understand that when they see someone of ability, they see a person who has been carefully taught, and who has worked hard to realize their unlimited potential. – Betty Haag-Kuhnke

When you see hundreds of students performing volumes of beautiful music in unison at Orchestra Hall, do you see an amazing pool of talent or do you see an amazing pool of commitment and hard work? What will you choose to teach your children to see?

Tips for summer practicing

June 11, 2007

With the summer sun and fun upon us, it’s an extra challenge to stay motivated and keep on a practice routine. Even teachers need to mix things up a little to stay inspired! As I’ve thought about each of my students’ goals for the summer, here are a few tips to keep in mind: Read the rest of this entry »