The Power of Rhythm and Hollywood

Our ideas come from really strange places.

Lord knows some of my students regularly think: "Here she goes again with her weird left-field metaphor!" But sometimes those left-field connections actually turn into magic...

Watch the idea of this teacher (referencing a Hollywood movie) transform this kiddo's life permanently in the video below. What I loved most about this is watching Musharaf ride the wave of rhythm. It was as if it caught him and carried him with his words. 

Music is magical. 

Get your tissues ready... 

British School Boy Musharaf has had a stammer from a very young age. With the help of his teachers, he is eventually able to over come it in time for an English speaking exam. Copyright: Channel 4's "Educating Yorkshire." This video is not monetized.

Quote of the Week: "I did it myself."

Sometimes we get bogged down in the "can'ts" and "shouldn'ts" of art & music.

There are days it feels like such a luxury to learn and create. and there are days that the mountain of things to create and learn is so overwhelming.

But then there are days of necessity. Necessity that causes every bone in your body to ache for that learning and creating. 

Pushing through the "no's" and the overwhelming feelings we encounter in our artistic process makes the learning and creating that much more meaningful...

because in the end? You did it yourself.

  "I am thankful to all those who said 'no' to me. It's because of them I did it myself." - Albert Einstein

 "I am thankful to all those who said 'no' to me. It's because of them I did it myself." - Albert Einstein

[note: whether Albert Einstein actually said the quote above is often debated.]

The Benefits of Interleaving Practice Time

Is fluency a measure of learning? Should you practice the same thing over and over again for a certain amount of time? How much time? Are you a good judge of whether you've learned something or not? 

The Benefits of Interleaving Practice

From "One of the dilemmas facing a learner is the seductive nature of blocked practice. Performance improves fast and learning seems to be optimal - which is the reason why in many areas the idea of blocked practice - or focusing on one thing at a time - is so dominant. However, research has shown that the long-term effects of a more variable approach, where multiple things are practiced mixed together, are much more beneficial than blocked practice."

Watch Dr. Robert Bjork explain this further in the video below...

Quote of the Week

When you're learning something new, remember to be tender (brave) and loving (daring). Not only do we need more of these qualities in the world, but those are the qualities of really effective learning. How? They require that you listen. Listen really closely... 

  "The bravest are the tenderest -- the loving are the daring." - Baynard Taylor

 "The bravest are the tenderest -- the loving are the daring." - Baynard Taylor

Tacoma, WA: How Arts Education Supports a Community

Tacoma, WA is a city that I have adopted as a home. A real live(ly) home with people and ideas that are really  creative and inspiring. One thing Tacoma does pretty stinkin' well is supporting the Arts. (and it's growing too! Yay!)

I'm honored to be a witness to the love that Tacoma shares and in how the community supports each other. Because I'm a musician I've seen this act of supporting the Tacoma community up close and personal. Yes, I'm biased and reporting this from the trenches, but the fact remains true. Supporting your community by supporting the Arts is worth it.  

I don't care from where you're reading these words today. If you have the chance to support the Arts in your area, DO IT.   And on behalf of those who work with those who benefit from your support. Thank you. The world is truly a better place for it. Truly.

Below you'll get a few more comments and points of view on this topic in a mini-documentary funded by the Laird Norton Family Foundation. and shh... You might  even see a brief cameo of yours truly! ;-)

10 Time-Saving Practice Tips for Cello (or any instrument)

We all have days when we need to make our practice really count more than other days. You may be racing the clock and have to pick up the kids from school, need to make dinner, respond to all those emails... The list goes on and on.

Believe me I've heard it all and know my own list of excuses like the back of my bow hold. Here are a few tips and tricks I've learned from my own practice sessions. (Now, to follow my own advice...) ;)

  1. Write down your top 3 goals. Seriously, get a pencil and write down specific and measurable goals for just this one practice session. Do you want to play through that tough spot 10 times "successfully?" Zone in on that Ab major scale? Master that one booger of a shift? Write it down.

  2. Set an alarm. You'll be able to devote more focus and less worry. How much time do you have to dedicate to practice today? 10 minutes? 20 minutes? 30 minutes? 45? By setting an alarm, you'll be eliminating the distraction of feeling the need to check your clock (or your phone - which seeing those notifications could derail the whole practice session!)

  3. Warm up & stretch out. This ensures that our body is really ready to get to work. Go through scales. Play slow open strings while really focusing on the way it feels to play your instrument today. Some of my students have even reported that it helps to walk around their block.

  4. Take a deep breath. Really sense the air filling your lungs and release all the excess tension and stress you've built up (probably due to a lack of time!) Rest easy that you've carved out and made the following amount of time sacred. Leave worry outside of this period of time. Let yourself worry about it once you're done practicing.

  5. Turn off all ringers/beeps and distractions. There is no such thing as a facebook emerency. Twitter can wait. So can your emails. I've even been known to totally turn off my phone and computer, so there's no chance of an easy and quick way out of practicing.

  6. Use your pencil! You guys! If you don't write it down, your brain feels responsible for retaining that information. Every time! If you're always missing that one shift, notate it. If you forget that it's a 2nd finger, not 3rd finger during that one measure, notate it. If you forget the bowings, NOTATE IT! Writing it down takes less time than you think and it truly helps.

  7. Take a break & check in with yourself. When you "get into the zone," sometimes we forget to ask our hands how they're doing. Are you curling your toes? Is your back straight? Take another deep breath. Take a sip of water. Do you need to go to the bathroom? Need a granola bar? Check in with yourself and give yourself the gift of space.

  8. SLOW first. This is a tough one, especially if we feel our practice time is running out. But everything you play during a power-practice session should be played slowly at first and mindfully always. Take my word for it: the slower, the better. You can always play it fast later.

  9. Set your timer. Pick a phrase that needs a medium amount of work. Set your timer to 2-5 minutes. Repeat the designated phrase as many times as you can until the time runs out. Most of my students are always shocked by how many times they can play it!

  10. Cool down & stretch. This is a great way to ramp down from an intense practice session. It gets our mind adjusted to the outside world again. Prepare yourself to encounter all those emails. Relish in the notion that you really did accomplish something productive today. Did you reach the goals you set for yourself at the beginning of the practice session? I think you'll be surprised.

Do you have any other time-saving practice tips to share? Any personal experiences with the ones I've already listed?

Happy Practicing!

The Music Instinct: Science and Sound

With the magnificent Steven Wilbur gracing us with his presence this Saturday, March 16th, I thought I'd share this lovely documentary (2 hours long!) on the Science of Sound and Song to prep us all for some math and science... Watch the full thing for FREE below!

The Music Instinct: Science & Sound by Elena Mannes

What stuck out to you? How do you notice your own response to the science of music moving your soul? 

Working With What You've Got (& That's A Lot!)

Let's go all the way back to square one for this one, which is often needed when we're working on posture related cello technique. I believe ALL my students (and in fact anyone) has what it takes to be a beautiful musician and cellist. This may sound hoakey but it's true and it comes out in the very tiny ways I approach my instrument and the ways I want my students to approach their instrument.

My students are capable and resourceful.

When it comes to the cello, they most certainly aren't handicapped, victims, or bullies. They already have what it takes to become the kind of cellist they want to become.

From my experience both playing and teaching the cello, when it comes to inefficient cello technique, there is often a tie to the ever-popular and definitely not innovative "scarcity mindset." 

Pictures Speak a Thousand Words

As with most other methods of communication, body language speaks volumes. This is the reason why I don't just aim to fix someone's bow hold. I aim to improve the way they think about how their body interacts with the cello. Doing this empowers a student to improve their bow hold on their own in the future, without me.


When I see what some teachers might call a "bad bow hold" I'm also seeing that this student is working with the resources they believe they are currently in possession of.  For example, when I see the bow hold on the left, I don't see a really difficult future-sautille. [Product-oriented] I see that this student is placing their body's momentum behind the bow, instead of towards/inside of the bow. [Process-oriented] This student is not exploiting the strengths they already have!

Don't fight it.

Working against what you have is also a way that scarcity eeks its way into body language. It's almost like saying, "What I've got isn't enough, so I'm going make it work, if it's the last thing I do!"

 (This is the same two fingers, I just mirrored the photo on the right for comparison. Notice how much farther you can stretch if you allow your body to do what it is meant to do!)

(This is the same two fingers, I just mirrored the photo on the right for comparison. Notice how much farther you can stretch if you allow your body to do what it is meant to do!)

Overlooking strengths and therefore using inefficient cello techniques make it easy to fall prey to a victim mentality, whether a student knows they're doing it or not. Especially as a beginner cellist, it's easy to practice with phrases like "Here goes nothing." or "I'm gonna make this hand/cello do this."

Those are fine and good places to start, but how is your body underlining that kind of mentality on a daily basis? And ultimately, do you want to re-enforce (daily) the idea that you weren't enough or too much to begin with? or that you're too short, too tall, too young/old, too ______, to play the cello? I should hope not.

I'm totally guilty these inefficient mindsets on a lot of levels throughout my personal life and within my approach of the cello. I'm way too familiar with them to ignore the signs. I can spot it anywhere. (Like I can spot a homeschooler a mile away!) and who knows, maybe I'm just unprofessionally projecting myself onto my students... (umm... self-judge much?) Woah. See how it snuck its way back in there?! It's wily. and it dies hard.

A teacher/coach who can help you discover what you already possess and plan the right way to act upon this dynamic potential? I've been lucky and blessed to have several. I would be honored to be considered one of them and share the wealth like they did. 

Because it's not about getting a bigger slice of the pie, it's about making the pie bigger so everyone gets a bigger slice. 

Am I right? or am I right? ;-)

Left Hand Make-Over!

This last week Marissa and I did a little make-over to her left hand. Both of us noticed a huge improvement to the comfort level of her hand while she was playing.

Notice that by bringing your knuckles closer to the cello's finger board and bringing your wrist and elbow just a hair forward, the 1st and 4th fingers immediately get way longer!

I took photos of the "before" and "after" hand positions. Check it out below...


Video: The Scientific Power of Thought

Just a quick reminder that you don't need your cello in your hands to practice effectively! See the video below...

Brain Stuff - Pt. 3: Rex Jung on Neuroscience of Creativity

In today's feature of To The Best Of Our Knowledge's series on The Creative Brain, we're looking at novelty and creativity where interviewee, Rex Jung, describes brain imaging studies of creativity in action. Listening to this interview I'm reminded of just how magical the brain still is to all of science. We still don't know that much about it. 

The interview also briefly mentions the "Ah Ha!" moment phenomenon. It is a beautiful thing. These moments happen at seemingly random times and can be really really powerful life-changers, but only if we have the capacity to listen to them and act upon them. 

In my musical practices, the "Ah Ha!" moment seems to occur when I assume the objective stance of a scientist of my cello playing. Often the emotional stances I see myself and my students take ("I'll never be able to do this!" "I'm such an idiot." "Why didn't I practice more this week?" etc.) are enough brain-noise to distract us from listening to what our "Ah Ha" moments are trying to teach us.

Our self-listening occurs when we can leave all brain-noise at the door in the name of science or self-observation.

In my experience, the emotional and communicative aspects of my performances are best seen by the audience when I allow my scientific-self to purify the sound/song objectively. After that purification is complete, the infusion of emotions and the message of the song, is so clear. Those are the performances that have the most impact.

Here's a great little video where Dr. Rex Jung becomes a Neuro-Myth Buster...

Brain Stuff - Pt. 2: Charles Limb on Neuroscience


Charles Limb, I've heard speak via a TEDtalk on hearing and listening (see below.)  Dr. Limb has been researching what improvisation and musical creativity does to your brain. What a cool subject matter! TTBOOK interviewed him and the jazz musician, Mike Pope, in their series on The Creative Brain. 

[Listen to the TTBOOK interview... Click here.]

I can totally relate to what Charles and Mike are saying here. Having done significant improvsation in the folk/pop/rock world, the parts of my brain required to move (I can feel it!) have become almost innate and totally natural. I can be thinking about non-musical things and at the same time be creating music I've never created before.

A couple weeks ago, I improvised (live! yikes.) to my friend, Shenandoah Davis' beautiful music. And although her songs fit in the genre of singer/songwriter, they do not fit in the genre of folk/pop, well, at least not on an improvisational level. This is part of why I love her music so much. After the show was over, I mentioned to her how much I enjoyed playing with her so much - I could literally feel my brain doing something differently. It's a pretty cool... and kind of a bizarre sensation.