Category Archives: Motivation

Summer ’20 Week 2: So Much To Do!

Hello West County Strings students and families!

As this second week of our Summer ’20 Semester has gone by, I’ve been struck in every single students’ lesson by just how fast the lesson time flies by.  I always arrive at the end of each lesson feeling like there was so much more I still wanted to get to, but I think this is good in several ways:

  1. It means that we’re learning, progressing, and charting new territory every lesson.  In many, many lessons this week, a student has demonstrated progress that has literally “made my week!”
  2. It keeps the lesson fast-paced, energetic, and with a sense of anticipation for what’s yet to come, and…
  3. It forces me to really think through what’s most crucial for each student to get to in each week’s lesson, knowing that we can’t possibly cover literally everything I might want to get to each week.

All that said, I think there’s a few things that we can do to make sure that we’re making the most of our time together in lessons each week:

  1. Sign into Zoom a few minutes before your scheduled lesson time, and have your instrument and materials ready to go right at your scheduled start time.
  2. Have your instrument tuned to the best of your ability before your lesson.  I know several of you are in the stages of learning to tune – and making tons of progress as self-tuners as a result of this quarantine – and we can certainly check your tuning together.  But in general, tuning ahead of time will buy us a lot of time.
  3. LISTEN to your Suzuki CDs or other non-Suzuki recordings as applicable as much as possible throughout the week.  The more the pitches, rhythms, dynamics, mood, and tone of a piece are internalized through listening, the less we have to slowly chip away at learning in lessons and the more we can work on how to produce the things you’ve internalized through listening.
  4. And this one goes without saying, but practice, practice, practice!  I was struck this week by a quote from Dr. Suzuki found in the beginning of Suzuki Violin Book 3: a

“I consider the following practices and conditions to be the basis of achievement in people who excel: (1) to study daily without exception; (2) to study with proper focus on key points, and not to practice wastefully; (3) to strive daily to produce excellent tone; (4) to attend to one’s posture with proper care; (5) to practice daily according to a set schedule, and to gradually increase one’s practice time; (6) to practice pieces already learned so as to continually improve one’s performance.  This is one effective method to cultivate ability; (7) not to rush ahead but to dedicate oneself to attaining excellent tone; (8) To be able to play any piece well, no matter how long ago one has learned it; and (9) to listen frequently to superior models.”

As I write those things out, it strikes me that they deserve their own post, or posts.  So, I’ll plan to break those down in more detail in future updates, because there’s so, so much wisdom in those principles.

Suffice it to say for now that there’s plenty to do, and it feels good to be doing so much with each and every student.  So, keep up the listening, keep up the practicing, keep up the good work, and we’ll see you again next week!

– Brad

Free from Fear, Learning from Mistakes!

With our oldest doing “distance learning” from home for well over a month now, Kirby and I have increasingly stepped into the role of teacher not just with our violin and viola students, but with our own son in his school curriculum.  Quotes like this have helped me, not to be perfect, but to do a better job of creating an environment in which my son is able to learn.  Kirby and I certainly hope that fear has no place in our studio and our lessons, and that our students learn to “welcome” their mistakes and learn from them!


Plato on Music

Known as one of the greatest thinkers in the history of the Western world, Plato is known for his foundational contributions in logic, debate, ethics, mathematics, and science.  So, I love that he, of all people, ascribed this worth to music:



This morning I was feeling like I could do anything.  We started our day with Brad doing school at home with Calder in the studio space and I was outside with Adeladie.  Adelaide and I were spreading wildflower seeds in the patch of dirt we prepared yesterday and I watched her little hands flinging seeds with glee.  We had an abundance of seeds, so she could really go crazy with them. I love the way the dirt looks when it’s freshly turned and slightly wetted from the spray of the hose.  She and I moved on to the container plants we were planning, and I couldn’t help but pull Calder out of his school time. The temperature was that perfect mix of cool with just enough sunshine to be warmed.  As we transferred the dirt from last year’s containers to deeper pots this year, I marveled at how my children were working together and building each other up. Carrot seeds were planted and watered. I couldn’t help but notice a side of the house that rarely gets attention was full of all kinds of weeds and undesirable plants, but as we pushed our wheelbarrow full of compost past it I thought to myself, “we’ll get to it later”.  

When we bought our home, the outside area was a complete mess.  We spent countless hours on three sides of the beds weeding, planting, mixing richer soil, taking out rock that made it impossible to shovel and again, more weeding.  All that effort has made it so each year, while there is still lots to do, most of what we do in the garden is maintenance.  

Maintenance.  This looks different for us depending on the season.  There is planting to do in the Spring and leaves to rake in the fall.  It wouldn’t make sense to mow the grass in the winter, that’s a summer thing.  These seasons, I believe, are easier to identify than some of our life seasons.  Oftentimes when I’m in a season of life, I forget there is most likely going to be an end to it.  What does this have to do with the violin?  

There are going to be seasons of development where we really spend lots of time developing a certain technique.  This part can be tedious, and even potentially frustrating. We will also come into seasons in which we can’t get enough playing and performing.  Maybe during this season or another we spend copious amounts of time enjoying pieces we previously toiled over. These seasons can be long or short.  Sure, we do some of each of these things during our daily or weekly practice, but it is okay for one to dominate more of the scene than another, depending on where we are.  

I don’t know how many of the hundreds of seeds we planted will come up.  However, I know the process of planting them, watering them daily and watching them grow will be life changing for me.  The persistence I will pursue with my garden is not unlike the persistence we need in all endeavors – artistic and otherwise.  Carry on!

MFMC Camp Scholarship Competition Winners!

Today, Ms. Kirby and I are very proud to share with you that Kaya McNurlen, Alan Song, Aaron Wolz, and Nathan Zhou have all been announced as winners in the Missouri Federation of Music Clubs “Virtuoso Club” Camp Scholarship Competition.  The competition had its largest field of participants to date, and is awarding a total of $5,000 to the 10 overall winners.  We are thrilled to have 4 of those 10 students be from West County Strings, and for them to be able to use those funds to further their music education this summer!


Kaya McNurlen (8th grade) performed Concerto No. 1 in A Minor by J.B. Accolay.


Alan Song (9th Grade) performed the 1st Movement of Concerto No. 2 in G Major by J. Haydn.


Aaron Wolz (9th grade) performed Spinning Wheel by N. Rubenstein and the Courante from Suite No. 1 in G Major by J.S. Bach.


Nathan Zhou (9th grade) performed Concerto No. 1 in A Minor by J.B. Accolay.

Kaya, Alan, Aaron, and Nathan each worked exceptionally diligently for months to prepare for this single opportunity, and we are so thrilled that their hard work earned them each a victory.  But even more importantly, the competition served as a goal, and that goal fueled focused learning and growth that I don’t think we could’ve accomplished without something concrete to look forward to on the horizon.  This competition is open to anyone grades 7-12, and we would love to have even more of you participate in it next year!

But for now, make sure you congratulate Kaya, Alan, Aaron, and Nathan next time you see them.  They’ve earned it!

Review: Good for Your Brain, and for Your Soul!

I baked a loaf of bread today.  I love to let my two year old Adelaide climb up on the stool next to me, mix the flour, yeast, salt and water.  My heart grows every time her face lights up when she sees how much the dough has grown the next morning. We punch down the bread in the morning, preheat the oven and let the smell of what I’m sure heaven must smell like fill our home.  The crunch of the crust and chewy, moist center with a slather of butter and honey on top are irresistable. I am not describing a complex meal to prepare. Just a loaf of bread.  

As I cut into the bread today, I thought about the generations that came before me baking bread for their little ones and loved ones.  I thought about the long tradition that spans past my lifetime and will continue into the future. I also thought of how profound that loaf of bread is for sustenance, community and joy.  

Why does this matter for our violin practicing?  We, as teachers, often tell you about the importance of playing all your violin songs every day or week.  We tell you about how in order to build your ability, you must do it with pieces you are comfortable with.  You can probably even hear our voices spout scientific research. However, one thing I would suggest is that review goes beyond that research and data and goes well into something we cannot ever fully comprehend.  Review is good for your soul. Just as a humble loaf of bread can nourish your body and soul to make them feel full, so can review.  

Let me explain further.  I used to travel quite often.  I met people on planes, trains and buses who were interested in that funny shaped case on my back.  So often, I heard their stories about their time as a child playing an instrument. I felt the pang in my chest when they expressed they “just weren’t any good,” or when they said, “I wish I had stuck with it.”  Sometimes the thoughts in my head about how they might’ve just needed a no-fail, positive environment, or how they could take it up again if they really spent the time came out of my lips and sometimes I just smiled and listened.  

Our review repertoire is such a gift to us.  The Suzuki literature is beautiful, timeless literature that lives on and on.  Depending on our stage of development, we all have a wealth of literature and countless pieces that we can pull out in a moment’s notice. 

These days, I am spending more time on social media than usual.  I am seeing women playing violas from balconies in Italy, cellists setting up driveway concerts for neighbors who are standing six feet apart, old friends who haven’t touched their instruments in years tune them up and explore and so much more music than I’ve seen in a long time.  It feels like the beauty in this world is striving to wipe away the darkness and scariness some of us have been tempted to pay too much attention to – and it’s working.  

While we do need sustenance from our food, our souls need much more than that.  We all have been given the incredible gift of expression. Those of us that are privileged enough to have the skills to share that expression through a musical instrument have a gift beyond what the majority of people in this world will ever experience.  As with our humble loaf of bread, let’s not take that for granted. Let’s take delight in our review buckets this week, share that joyful gift with others through whatever medium we choose, and let our hearts soar with the beauty of hard work, perseverance, timelessness, exceptional repertoire and more simply put:  music.  

– Kirby


Character Building

Kirby, Calder, Adelaide, and I took a long walk around the neighborhood in between rain showers to get out, get some fresh air, and stretch our legs, and along the way we saw beautiful spring flowers beginning to emerge all around, one of which is pictured below.  When we returned home, this quote from Duane Hodgin was sitting atop an old teacher resource packet.  It seemed fitting for today.

“Stay tuned” for a tutorial on how to tune your instrument at home coming soon!