Handbook

Parent Information

So your child has expressed an interest in playing the viola – or maybe you’re just looking to know more before signing up. This is the right place to be!

Studio Policies

First and foremost: Especially for first-year students, and any student of elementary (or younger!) age, it is essential that the parent(s) be a part of the lesson and the learning process. Children progress more rapidly, have a greater understanding of what they’re learning, and enjoy playing more when at least one parent is as involved as they are. After all, in the early days I see your child once or maybe twice a week, while you will work with him/her every day. Therefore, students must be accompanied by a parent for their lessons. It is preferable if it is the same parent each week, and that that same parent practices with the child at home, but tag-teaming works well for some families as long as there is adequate communication of that week’s goals.

Public School Program vs. Private Students

Most of my policies are the same whether you study through the Wellesley Extension Program or privately with me at my home. The most obvious differences are the tuition rate and scheduling process; for details, please contact me. I will be happy to clarify.

Absences

  1. Any absence by me will be made up at the earliest possible opportunity.
  2. Absences due to school cancellations will be made up – for those with the capability, I may teach Skype lessons during the student’s regular time on a snow day, for example.
  3. Student absences will not be made up. A “swap list,” including students’ names and contact information, will be provided each semester. This information should be used to facilitate trading lessons with another family if a lesson conflict arises (make sure your swap partner has the same lesson length). If your child is ill, please do NOT come to your lesson – a sick child is one missed lesson, but a sick teacher could be thirty. If a child does not go to school, then even if they are feeling better by the lesson time, they should stay home. I keep a running list of who has missed for illness. Unexpected openings sometimes occur, and I will offer that spot to someone on that list – if the student is able to come, that will make up for the “sick day”. These are not guaranteed, but I will do what I can.

If you know that your child will miss a lesson, please let me know as soon as you know. However, if it is the day of the lesson, please send a text message or email (not voicemail), as I do not answer the phone while teaching (nor is there consistent reception at the middle school).

Lesson length

The youngest beginners start with 30-minute lessons. For older students, 45- and 60-minute lessons are necessary to cover all of the concepts and materials they need. The following is a guideline to help you understand appropriate lesson lengths when studying a stringed instrument:

  • K – 2nd grade: 30-minute lessons. Especially in the younger years, the attention span rarely can handle longer lessons. Students above 2nd grade will not have 30-minute lessons, as the older they are when they start, they more they can handle and the more they need the extra time to “catch up” to earlier beginners.
  • 3rd – 5th: 45-minute lessons. At this age, transitioning the student to the longer lesson time is ideal. These are the elementary orchestra years and there will be much more material to cover in each lesson. In addition, the student will likely begin to ask more questions regarding their learning and the additional time will allow for this, not to mention the increased length of the pieces a child is studying – a Book 1 piece may take 30 seconds to play through, while a Book 3 piece may take 5, 8, or even 10 minutes!
  • 4th – 12th: 60 minutes if needed. For some students, the 45-minute lesson length remains the perfect fit even into high school, while others require more time – it all depends on a student’s learning style and playing level. With a longer lesson time, all concepts can fully be addressed (technique, musicality, auditions, rhythm, sight-reading, etc). Also, as a student ages, more outside opportunities arise which means auditions must be prepared. With a 60-minute lesson, there is more time to fully address the student’s needs; in extraordinary cases, 90 minutes may be offered.

Lesson length is highly individual. It is best to discuss this with me if you have questions so that we can find the most appropriate length for your child. Summer (see below) can be a great time to “test” a longer length, as we’re not locked into a full semester; lengthening a lesson mid-year is possible in some cases, but may be prevented by schedule constraints. As always, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.

Tardiness

In order to get the greatest amount accomplished in the time we have, on-time arrival is crucial. If you know you are running late, please send a text message or email to let me know. Generally, I will wait 1/3 of a lesson’s length for a tardy student to arrive (i.e. 10 minutes for a 30-minute lesson, 15 minutes for a 45-minute lesson, and 20 minutes for a one hour lesson). After that time, I will assume you are not coming and may use the time to make photocopies, prepare lesson plans for upcoming events, or other things that may take me away from the lesson room. So again, if you know you will be late but you are planning to attend, do let me know or I may not be there when you finally arrive.

Recitals

Two recitals will be held each year, one in each semester (usually, these take place in November and March). Students will perform a minimum of three recitals during their first two years of study. Beginning with the third year of study, students may choose to play either the fall or spring recital but they are not required to play both. All students are expected to perform at least once a year. If, through some concatenation of circumstances, a student misses both recitals in one year, they are expected to perform at both the following year. This is an extremely important aspect of all musical studies. At these recitals, all solos will be performed from memory (with the possible exception of sonatas) and with piano accompaniment.

Update for Fall 2013 and after – Now that the ASTA-CAP program is well-established in Massachusetts and the students have had quite a bit of success at it these past two years, the performance policy for 3rd years and up will be one recital AND one exam per year.  These may be in the same or opposite semesters.

Regarding injuries

Kids are kids. Sometimes they get hurt. If your child is injured, whether it’s a broken arm or a sprained ankle, please give me a heads-up, but come to your lesson anyway. If the injury is to the legs/feet, the student may sit during their lesson. If the injury prevents playing (sprained shoulder, broken wrist, etc.), we’ll do theory, or history, or work with the other arm, depending on the age of the student and the current topic of study.

Regarding additional instruments

If your child really gets into the whole music thing and wants to add an additional instrument, great! – I will always recommend piano, and vocal training never hurt anyone either. Other instruments are up to the individual taste of the student. However, I do not recommend starting a new instrument until the student already has two years of experience on their first, whether the first is viola, piano, or anything else (except recorder – we won’t count that one, since it’s required in music class!).

Regarding metronomes

Metronomes are used frequently in lessons; to gain maximum benefit, older students should also have one at home. A fairly recent model that has both a metronome and a tuner (both of which can be used simultaneously) is made by Korg; it is silver-colored and rather squarish. If you don’t have a metronome, many early exercises can be practiced with a loudly-ticking clock, which is equivalent to quarter note = 60. We begin using a metronome in lessons even with kindergartners, but most children are not quite ready to practice independently with a metronome at that age. By 3rd grade, however, students should have one at home to reinforce skills from the lessons and to make sure they can maintain a steady pulse; among other things, this gets them ready for orchestra, where they will have to take a tempo from the conductor and hold it while playing with others.

Sports “vs.” music

We all know that team sports are an important part of many kids’ lives. When possible, I try to make alterations to the schedule to accommodate team practices. However, there has to be a reasonable balance between the two. If a student’s lesson was scheduled first (i.e. in September or January) and a sports conflict arises later that cannot be solved by swapping lessons, I expect the prior commitment to be honored. Recitals, group classes, and dress rehearsals must take priority over sports practices; however, if their team is in the championship, then I would expect them to play the game! Lessons missed due to sports activities will not be made up. Parents are important moderators in these situations; especially with elementary children, it can be very difficult to choose which of two desired activities to attend. Please make every effort when requesting lesson times to anticipate future schedule needs; this can really help cut down on these conflicts.

End of the school year/summer

Nearly all students will finish their regularly scheduled thirty lessons (two semesters of fifteen lessons each) well before school lets out for the summer. (Monday lesson times tend to be the exception as most of the state holidays throughout the year cancel school – and therefore lessons – on Mondays.) The opportunity to continue study through June is always offered; I also teach all the way through the summer in various locations. It is important to keep up some routine with the instrument over the months of summer vacation; if we get to September and the instrument has been living in its case all summer, the student will discover to their dismay that they don’t play nearly as well as they did when we left off in June! This is very frustrating for both student and teacher, so when your family is in town, please sign up for lessons – even one or two can make a big difference. This pertains especially to students who:

  1. are starting middle school – the minimum competency expected in the school orchestra goes up quite a bit from the elementary level
  2. participate in outside youth orchestras – seating auditions are typically held early in the school year
  3. are going into 7th grade and up and are planning on auditioning for either the Jr. or Sr. Eastern District Music Festival – even if we don’t yet know what the assigned piece is, nailing down those scales gives an important leg up, as well as helping to stay in shape!
Special Activities

Group Class

Group Class counts as a lesson and is typically held three times per semester. All elementary students who have not yet joined their school orchestra (ASTA Level F – 2) are required to attend (unless in the Advanced Group Class {q.v.}). Group Class focuses on a number of skills that can not be gained in the private lesson – namely, how to play together as a group, how to act in such a group, concert skills like bowing and soloing, and the social aspects of music. There are usually musical games, different ways of playing familiar pieces, challenges, concert order run-throughs, and sometimes snacks (especially if it is close to a holiday or student’s birthday).

Advanced Group Class

Depending on enrollment, there will be an intermediate group, designed especially for students who are ASTA Level 2-3. For students in grades 3 – 6 or 7 who have outgrown the original group class and may already be in orchestra, but are not yet ready for Viola Choir, this will be focused more on building ensemble skills, reading activities, learning simple pieces both by rote and from notation, and increasing confidence in playing in front of peers. Like Viola Choir, it will be run through the chamber music program and is a fee-based group with 12 meetings per year, approximately every other week. Ideally, there should be at least 6 participants for students to gain the most benefit, but more would be even better! There will be a spring performance split with the Viola Choir if all goes well.

Viola Choir

Viola Choir is for more advanced students – primarily middle and high school students with a minimum ASTA Level 3 (elementary students may be admitted if they are Level 4 and up); students are also expected to be able to read well and be able to tune their own instrument. It is strongly recommended for any student not currently in their school orchestra – as it is an additional ensemble run through the chamber music program and is therefore a fee-based group, I cannot require it for these students; but I would if I could. Music to be studied is drawn from across the spectrum of classical, folk and popular music; both arrangements and original works are used, and most pieces have 3 or 4 parts. There will be a spring performance (hopefully split with the Advanced Group Class).

If there are not enough students to run both upper-level groups, I will combine them. There is plenty of repertoire where the parts are of various levels of difficulty, and all the requisite ensemble skills can still be learned.

Extras

There is also a Viola Holiday Party held sometime in December, which consists of sight-reading 2-, 3-, and 4-part arrangements of seasonal favourites topped off by hot cider and cookies. It’s a fun evening to hang out and de-stress with familiar tunes and is open to all students who are at a minimum ASTA Level 2 for playing, and their friends/family members/whoever who want to listen and/or sing along!

And then there’s the Spring Reading Party, where you may find anything from Star Wars to the Beatles to Renaissance motets on the stands – this party comes complete with a giant jug of my famous basil lemonade (okay, technically my friend Emily created it and she’s a violinist), and is held in the last few weeks of school as a no-pressure get-together with the same playing level requirements as the holiday party. 

Don’t forget that forming chamber groups with other string players (and/or winds, and/or piano) is always a possibility too – as far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing better than a string quartet, but trios or quintets in many combinations exist, all of which I am more than happy to coach.  Because of the degree of autonomy required, it is recommended that students be at least ASTA Level 4.

Scheduling of Classes

I do not yet know what day/time these activities will be, because I don’t know when I’ll have a room large enough for them. In fact, I’m taking requests for preferred times based on the level of each student (if you don’t remember what ASTA Level your child is, take a peek at their most recent practice chart!). Ideally the Advanced Group Class and Viola Choir will meet from October to April on alternate weeks in the same time slot; Group Class meets twice a semester alone and once with other instruments.

Audition Prep Class(es)

For students taking either the Junior or Senior District Festival auditions, I try to have a class or two a few weeks prior to the audition date to help prepare the students as much as possible. These consist of activities such as scale drills, group play-throughs, mock auditions where students play for each other and score each other (constructively), and sight-reading coaching and practice. All students planning to take the audition(s) should plan to attend.

Catch-all (or, things that didn’t fit in the above topics)

  1. Please make sure your child has clean hands and trimmed fingernails when they arrive for their lesson. It doesn’t bother me if they’ve got chocolate on their faces or dirt and grass on their knees, but hands must be taken care of before arrival.
  2. If your child has been diagnosed with a condition that may affect their ability to learn (dyslexia, ADHD, Asperger’s, anything), please let me know. I will use this information only to help me understand their unique learning style and how to best adapt my teaching methods to it to help them as much as I can.
  3. Those of you who have studied with me for a few years now have probably realized that I really enjoy what I do and am very fond of my students. Asking for payment is already awkward enough – please don’t make me send multiple reminders!
  4. I really, honestly, completely don’t mind random phone calls, emails, or texts from small children with strange viola questions. Seriously. Or bigger children, for that matter. I’ve had everything from an 8-year-old who’d forgotten where C# was over Winter Break, to a 10-year-old who was very thrilled about her new 12” viola and wanted to tell me all about it, to a 13-year-old who couldn’t remember how many sharps were in B major. I’m okay with it. Ask.

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