7 Teachers Offer Insight on a Successful College-Level String-Study Experience


quoteThe transition from high school to college can be challenging as students get used to being away from home, dorm life, and new teachers. A teenage musician’s life is full of performance deadlines, which can really fuel early development. However, as a freshman at college, he or she will find there are often subtle but profound changes that need to be made (whether technical or musical) that will set the stage for success and a long-term, injury-free career. My advice to students entering college is to try to be patient and keep an open mind about how to measure progress. Sometimes ‘slow and steady’ really does win the race!

—Rosemary Elliott, assistant professor of cello at the Eastman School of Music


quoteI believe the most successful partnership between student and teacher occurs when the impetus for growth comes from the student. As a teacher, I can then provide guidance, information, ideas, and support. So for the student:

  • Develop a vision for your playing. Listen to music, go to concerts, gain a conscious concept of sound, musicianship, and style that you want to create.
  • Have an expectation of what you want to accomplish each day, week, and year, including thoughtful practice and methodical preparation for each lesson.
  • Take notes and ask for guidance on things you need help with: frustrations, questions, etc.
  • Believe in yourself and invest 100 percent!

—Victoria Chiang, viola faculty at the Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University


quoteI tell all my new students that they need to be totally prepared before bringing new material into their lessons. If they know how to practice efficiently, they will have a much easier time of it. My job is to help them develop their own unique voice and gain the technical control that will enable them to sing and express their own musicality. A regimen of scales, études and caprices, and Bach will help their technical reliability. Playing Mozart, Beethoven, and chamber music will help them become better musicians.

—Glenn Dicterow, Robert Mann Chair in strings and chamber music at the USC Thornton School of Music


quoteI think it is important for students to accept and understand that being prepared is reliant on an inextricable connection between the mind, body, and spirit. With an open, curious, and focused mind, we can connect with the body, enabling the body to channel the energy of the spirit. Supporting the mind with knowledge and mindfulness, while attending to the body with balanced exercise and a nutritional plan, can pave the way for a healthy spiritual journey. And be ready to work hard! With this tripod of support, one can thrive and find joy within any rigorous musical curriculum.

—Catherine Cho, violin and chamber-music division at the Juilliard School


quoteAs my duties at Colburn are twofold, I will answer for both violin lessons and chamber-music coachings. One can surely assume in either case that proper preparation through regular and organized practice or rehearsal is a given. A lesson or a coaching is an interactive environment. As a teacher, I thrive on discussions with my students. I see great value in asking questions that encourage them to explore their music making and their technical proficiency in a deeper and more meaningful way.

A very important way that a student can enhance their learning experience is by coming in with a thorough knowledge of the work that they are studying. This includes:

  • Familiarity with the musical score (the piano part, orchestral score, or other instruments in the case of chamber music)
  • Knowledge of a composer’s style and musical language as well as that of his or her contemporaries
  • Awareness of historical events during the time of composition in the composer’s country and elsewhere
  • This contributes greatly to a student’s view of a work and provides inspiration in formulating an interpretation. Therefore, a lesson or coaching can ‘hit the ground running’ with discussion rather than a one-sided delivery of information.

—Martin Beaver, violin and chamber-music faculty at the Colburn School



quoteIt’s not so difficult to play the instrument proficiently. With good training and strong work habits, technical facility is within the grasp of many instrumentalists. However, in order to make a difference in the lives of those who look to music as a way of experiencing profound emotions, it is imperative that young players become good musicians. Here are four suggestions, which I believe are important in achieving the artistry we all seek.

First, one needs to be able to hear the music in as meaningful a way as possible. Imagine how you would like to hear it if this were the last chance you [would] ever [have to] experience that piece. You need to have this in mind before you practice the first note of the piece. Otherwise, you will be ingraining poor, meaningless playing.

Second, critical thinking will enable you to translate those artistic visions into a strategic plan of shaping sound and phrasing on your instrument. This involves intense listening as well as a disciplined approach to assessing and correcting mistakes. There is no shame in making mistakes. There is only shame in not learning from them.

Having an open mind combined with a consuming curiosity are the last two keys that will help ensure a joyful process of growing both technically and musically on your instrument. Just because something is unfamiliar or seemingly difficult to grasp, don’t give up on it or take the easy way out. The more one finds enjoyment in the discovery of new and challenging ideas, the better one’s attitude will be toward criticism and overall learning. This curiosity will enable each student to find his or her own individual voice, which should be everyone’s goal.

—Steven Tenenbom, professor of chamber music and chamber-music coordinator at the Curtis Institute of Music


quoteTime machine! That’s what I want for my birthday. It doesn’t have to be fancy, as long as it works. Where would I go?

My first destination would be a time long, long ago—the summer after high school before I entered college. What would I do? That’s easy!—I would find my younger self, sit him down for a good cup of coffee and, after catching up, I would explain to my little self where the wrinkles and gray hair came from, and then delve into the reason I came: 

quote2I came to talk to you about school and more specifically how to prepare for it. Here are a few tips.

You only go to school once, so take advantage of it! The most important thing you have is time. You only get a limited amount, so use it well. What should I do with that time, you ask? Well, that’s an easy one. Three things:


1. Practice 2. Practice 3. Practice!

Practice often and practice wisely. Better in short, highly concentrated doses than in long boring ones. In music, ‘you are what you practice’— so practice slowly and mindfully and you will reap the benefits once you go onstage.

Time management: Learn to manage your time well. Prepare a daily and weekly schedule, and try to follow it.

Your lessons are more important than you think. Prepare for them as for performances. Instead of waiting for your teacher to tell you what to do, come up with your own ideas. Be creative and inspire your teacher.

You spend dozens of hours each week just you and your instrument, but you only have one hour with your teacher. Don’t waste precious time. Do it yourself with practice—become your own best teacher.

Your body is your instrument—keep it in tune. Exercise regularly and stretch before you play.


Listen! Listening is one of the most important skills you will need—in music as well as in life. To become a sensitive musician, you have to become a great listener. If you listen carefully, people will not only enjoy your company, they will want to play chamber music with you!

Play chamber music as often as you can. Organize chamber-music parties, and learn string-quartet repertoire.

When learning new repertoire, avoid listening to a recording. Instead, listen to recordings of the composer’s other works. In order to become an imaginative and interesting musician, you will want to develop your own original interpretation.

Learn from everyone. Attend voice and piano concerts as well as master classes.

Learn from other instruments. Don’t limit yourself to your own instrument—become a well-rounded musician. 

Now I could go on and on and would love to stay longer, but I must return to my own present time—I need to practice!

—Amir Eldan, associate professor of cello and director of the string division at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music