Meet the Players: Hilary Hahn

Does your instrument case tweet? Our String Player of the Week has a very active violin case that posts social media updates from around the world! Hilary Hahn is only 38 years old but as of this writing has played 1594 concerts. She has also won three Grammy awards and she regularly performs with major orchestras.

Hilary Hahn began playing the violin shortly before her fourth birthday. Starting in a Suzuki program in Baltimore, Maryland, the young Hilary Hahn started on a “box violin” (a cardboard box with a ruler taped to it). By age 11, she was soloing with major orchestras. In the popular imagination, child prodigies and superstar players are often depicted as antisocial, totally absorbed in their art and unable to identify with regular people. However, Hahn bucks the stereotypes. She has appeared on Sesame Street and Mister Rogers Neighborhood and you can follow her violin case on Instagram and Twitter! In fact, through social media, Hahn recorded herself daily practicing for 100 days in a row under the #100Days hashtag.

Although performing and recording keeps Hahn very busy, she has made time to pursue other interests, attending summer language immersion programs at the Middlebury Institute in German, French, and Japanese. Even for an accomplished concert violinist, there is always more to learn.


Hilary Hahn, violinabout_bioHI2

Born: Lexington, Virginia, USA, 1979






“Things get in the way. You do your best as an artist regardless of the circumstances and you just keep moving forward.” – Hilary Hahn


Watch Hilary Hahn play on NPR’s “Tiny Desk” Concert Series

Fun Fact: Hilary Hahn plays on an 1864 violin which was copied after Paganini’s violin.


Fun Exercises to Teach Finger Action

Violin: Fun exercises to teach finger action on the violin or viola.

In the beginning stages of playing the violin or viola, there are many things to consider: the posture, bow hold, and bowing motion for starters. But for beginners, simply placing the fingers in the correct shape on the fingerboard and using an appropriate amount of force vs. relaxation of the finger can be a challenge. Even more advanced students must work on improving finger action, for example, in using the fingers to articulate a series of notes under a slur. I like to use the following exercises to teach finger action.

The Ants Go Marching

In the pre-twinkle stage, I will draw the finger numbers on the tip of each left hand finger and we will sing “The Ants Go Marching” while doing “finger pops”. In finger pops, the finger and thumb make a circle, with the finger on its tip. This both helps to strengthen the arch shape of the fingers, and also reinforces the finger numbers, since we pop the first finger when singing “the ants go marching 1 by 1”, pop the second finger when singing “the ants go marching 2 by 2”, etc. Continue reading “Fun Exercises to Teach Finger Action”


Staying On Time With 30-minute Lessons

picture of violin and fall leaves

My “New Year’s” Resolution

For many teachers, September feels more the like the “new year” than January 1st. I love all the school supply sales and the sense of new beginnings. This time of the year, I like to also take time to reflect on how I can improve and streamline my teaching. My goal this year is very simple: to stay on time. This seems like a no-brainer, just end each lesson on time. But on days where I have 8 students back-to-back with no break, it can be a bit more difficult to start and end everyone on time. Throw into the mix students who are slow to put instruments away or parents with all those important beginning-of-semester questions and you can see why staying on time can be a challenge.


Creating a Game Plan

To make sure I stay on schedule, I wanted to get a more clear idea of how I wanted to structure each lesson, especially those shorter 30 minute lessons. I sketched out a pie chart in my bullet journal of how an ideal 30 minute lesson would go, assuming the student is playing twinkles or above in Book 1. Just an aside: I normally ask my Book 2 students to move up to a 45-minute lesson to accommodate more note reading and technique work, so the chart below would look a bit different for a more advanced student with a too-short lesson time. Continue reading “Staying On Time With 30-minute Lessons”


Summer Institute Magic: My ASI Experience

My American Suzuki Institute Experience

It’s back-to-school time here in St. Louis, and I’m busy getting ready for the new year, but before things get too crazy, I want to share my experience at the American Suzuki Institute in Stevens Point Wisconsin. I spent the last two weeks of July this year in Stevens Point, taking some viola teacher training. I’ve been to other institutes in the past and always enjoyed the experience, but I have to say that ASI is the largest and most organized that I’ve attended. Continue reading “Summer Institute Magic: My ASI Experience”


What I’m Reading Now: Beyond the Music Lesson

Beyond the Music Lesson-Habits of Successful Suzuki Families

Summer is a great time to catch up on on some reading. I’m off to Wisconsin soon and will be gone for a few weeks, so I was excited to get a new book in the mail with just enough time to read it before I left town. The book is called “Beyond the Music Lesson: Habits of Successful Suzuki Families”  by Christine E. Goodner, a Suzuki teacher and parent. I’ve enjoyed reading the author’s blog, The Suzuki Triangle, so when I found out she was publishing a book, I knew I wanted to check it out.

“Beyond the Music Lesson” is the reading equivalent of taking a knowledgeable, friendly music teacher out for coffee and picking their brain about how to help your child succeed in music lessons. When I got the book in the mail, I’ll admit I was a bit surprised that it’s on the shorter side at just 141 pages. But as I read on, I realized that the shorter length is an asset. There are many wonderful books about practicing and teaching which are much longer and focus on lots of little details. They are great resources, but this book has the real advantage in that it is easy to read small chunks at a time without getting lost. The format of the book means that even the busiest parent could read a couple of paragraphs when they have a moment throughout the day and still get a lot of helpful information.

Before my Suzuki students begin lessons, their parents are required to attend a series of orientation sessions which include information on Suzuki philosophy as well as practical help in how to practice with their child. These sessions are invaluable in getting parents and students get off to the right start, but parent education should be a continuing process so that families continue to experience success in lessons and feel confident at home. As time goes on, new issues can arise such as what to do if a child being resistant or argumentative about practice, how to structure review practice, or just the daily grind of other activities crowding out practice time. There’s a lot to talk about! “Beyond the Music Lesson” addresses these common practice issues and more, in a simple, down-to-earth format that is accessible to non-musicians. It is written from a Suzuki perspective and for Suzuki parents, though there are some tips that would also apply to parents whose children are in traditional lessons as well. Although the author is a violinist and violist, the advice in the book is not instrument specific.

This book is not a comprehensive encyclopedia on efficient music practice. For a more detailed, nuts-and-bolts guide to practice, I would recommend “The Practice Revolution” by Philip Johnston, which is aimed more at music teachers rather than parents. Noa Kageyama over at the Bulletproof Musician Blog also has a list of recommended books that deal with learning and performance optimization. “Beyond the Music Lesson” is aimed more at big picture and practical issues such as how parents can find time for practice, how to create a daily listening habit, and why repetition is important. Just writing about it, I realize that for Suzuki teachers, these may seem like no-brainers, but it’s so important to keep coming back to basics, especially when working with families who are new to lessons. The book also cites research to back up ideas about practice and character development and provides resources for further reading.

For teachers, the last two chapters about mastery (including a long discussion on review) and on looking at the big picture are especially valuable.  I found it enlightening to reflect on ideas such as how I can help to create a positive musical environment in the studio, thinking of long-term goals to get through short-term frustrations, and helping students to cultivate a growth mindset. As all music teachers know, you can never really get too much of revisiting the basics. I’m glad to have added this book to my own library, and I’m hoping that my studio families will find it helpful as well.

What’s on your summer reading list?

Book Review-Beyond the Music Lesson


Teaching Scales: What I Teach and When

Pin Teaching Scales to Suzuki Students.

My Favorite Scale Books

Last week, I talked about the importance of scale practice for young string students. This week, I thought I would go more into detail about how I introduce scales and some of the materials I use. Continue reading “Teaching Scales: What I Teach and When”


Using “Glue Hops” to Teach Song of the Wind

Using Glue Hops to Teach Song of the Wind

One of the wonderful things about teaching from the same repertoire year after year is you tend to develop “favorites”. One of my favorite pieces in Book 1 is Song of the Wind. It’s fun, energetic, and often a student favorite, and it’s fun to vary the tempo in group class so it becomes Song of the Gentle Breeze, or Song of the Tornado. Song of the Wind seems like a short, simple song, but there is so much to explore in just a few lines. One of the trickiest spots for beginning students occurs right at the beginning, in measures 3-4. There are several skills going on in that spot. There is a quick string crossing for both the left hand finger and the bow (more on that in a moment) and we have our first instance of a bow retake, also known as a a circle bow or circle set. But for any of this to work, the student also has to leave their first finger down, while moving the 3rd finger over to a different string. 

I’ve created lyrics for this measure, which go like this (from the beginning of the song through measure 6): Continue reading “Using “Glue Hops” to Teach Song of the Wind”