Studio IV

Violin and viola instruction in Brooklyn, NY.

Studio IV is the violin and viola teaching studio of Erin Ellis in Brooklyn, NY.

SAA Conference This Week

I've been terrible about blogging lately, but am planning to make up for it by covering the Suzuki Association of the Americas Conference each day. I'm really gonna try!

I set aside an hour today to plan my session schedule. What a joke! It took me almost three hours. I'm so excited attending so many of the sessions. There are so many that look interesting and applicable. In addition to topics about the violin and pedagogy, I'm particularly interested in learning more about the Suzuki Early Childhood Education program.

I look forward to seeing old friends, making new ones, learning, and listening to beautiful music. Stay tuned!

Attending My First SAA Conference

In just a few short weeks I'll be attending my first Suzuki conference in Minneapolis. I was not sure as to whether or not I should go, given that my budget allows for either the conference or another teacher training this year, but I decided that I'd really like to see what it's all about. I'll continue my training next year. I wasn't feeling completely solid in my choice until I read this post on the SAA blog. Upon finishing this article, I knew I'd made the right decision.

I've mentioned before that I don't believe one methodology is necessarily better than another. Different approaches to learning work better for different people. However, I know that the Suzuki approach is the right one for me. In particular, I embrace the community aspect - teachers supporting each other; sharing ideas, forming groups, meeting together for coffee. I've never felt more welcomed into a musical community. I love that someone took the time to post a blog about what it's like to attend a conference, and recommended that we all make an effort to reach out to one another.

I'm looking forward to the presentations, concerts, seminars, and teaching points I'm sure to learn in Minneapolis. Most of all, I look forward to reconnecting with people I've met in my Suzuki journey, and meeting some new folks with whom to share ideas.


The Importance of Review

Growing up, I was the queen of starting projects and never finishing them. Art projects, music projects, sewing projects, cleaning projects (especially cleaning projects); you name it, I started it. Somehow I got away with this, even in my violin lessons, until college. (If any of my former teachers are reading this I am so sorry! I can see that I must have been a frustrating student!) Now the beauty of learning music is you’re never really finished, but what I’m getting at here is learning all the notes in each movement in a musical way.

I didn’t grow up as a Suzuki kid. While I thoroughly enjoyed the way I studied violin, as a member of the community now I sometimes find myself getting a bit jealous of the teachers who grew up in Suzuki studios. They have this common body of repertoire that seems to magically come back to them when we are all playing together in our teaching seminars. Obviously there’s nothing magic about it – these musicians studied the pieces just like anyone else would. However, given the importance of review pieces in the Suzuki methodology, these pieces stay fresh in their minds; as life goes on, you grow as a musician and person, and you bring new knowledge and life experience to music you previously learned, and play it in different ways. I’m slowly but surely catching up on the repertoire, and enjoying my teaching courses more and more as I integrate into this community.

As I progress through my Suzuki registered teaching courses, I’m excited by the way I am improving my ability to memorize. Working through pieces in small bits really helps me memorize them, just as it helps my students to memorize their pieces. I’m setting a better example now that I’m really practicing what I preach. Each week I add another Suzuki piece, choose a few review pieces from previous books studied, and go back and work on finishing pieces I studied as a teen. I’ve delighted in reading notes from teachers with whom I studied, remembering important points I gathered from all of them. Not only does the review bring me back to lessons on technique and music, but memories from many different times in my life. It’s also been fun thinking about things my teachers have said in the past that perhaps didn’t make as much sense to me then as they do now, given the context and my aggregate experience. It’s a fun trip down memory lane

In the past two years, I’ve finished 2 quilts, memorized Suzuki Books 1-3 (and am making good progress on Book 4), and completed my first full Bach Sonata.  I’m so excited to experience the joy of really learning a piece; having it fully in your memory allows you to truly experience the music as you play, and brings a depth to the music that I feel very fortunate to play. That closet cleaning project of mine may never be finished, and that’s OK with me.  This year, I’ll concentrate on the music!

A Day in the Life - Thursday, March 27, 2014

I thought it might be fun to write about a day in my week - there is definitely no "typical" day!

Last week, Thursday, March 27th was a super busy day. I didn't have any students on Thursday, but that didn't stop me from having a full day of music. 

I woke up and did some lesson planning, and then headed to Manhattan to rehearse chamber music with my friend and her sister (who is now also a friend). We had a blast! My friend and I have been working on the Bach Double Violin Concerto. Her sister is an accomplished pianist, so we met for a few hours to work on it as a trio. It completely changed the vibe of the music and added to the fun we've been having with it. We are planning to get together this week and polish it up.

I headed back home and did a bit more studio work; lesson plans, paperwork, and basic day-to-day things necessary for running a studio. It felt good to catch up.

Around 6:30 PM I headed back into Manhattan to rehearse with The Doctors Orchestral Society of New York. This orchestra was founded in 1938 by physicians who were also musicians and wanted to play orchestral music. (FYI - I'm not hiding a secret MD, they've opened the group to other members!) The program is a really fun one to play, and is called "A Celebration of American Composers." The pieces are An Outdoor Overture by Aaron Copland, A Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin, and Symphony No. 2 in D-flat Major, Opus 30, W45, “Romantic” by Howard Hansen. The piano soloist for the Gershwin is a high school student here in NYC.

It was a really fun and productive day practicing by myself, with a few friends, and lastly with 60+ other people. I came home around 11 PM completely exhausted but extremely satisfied with the way my time was spent. I'll post about a day of teaching soon!

Reflections on Book 3 Training

I fully intended to post a blog from Dallas, but was so excited about practicing and making notes on what I learned last week that I had to wait until I had some time to soak it in!

Book 3 Training was a massive success. As expected, I learned so much and learned even more about what I need to learn! It was great seeing our teacher trainer, Judy, again, and I loved seeing some of the friends I'd made at my Book 2 training and meeting the people I hadn't yet met.

This class moved QUICKLY. We were at a real advantage in that we had all studied with our trainer for a previous unit, so we knew how she presents the material and we were able to jump right in. We played together, learned and discussed ideas for teaching the repertoire, and had the great privilege to watch Judy teach. It's really incredible and inspiring to see the passion she has for not only for teaching, but also for the teachers she mentors. I came back feeling refreshed and ready to try out some new ideas with my students.

While in Dallas, I was also lucky enough to attend this concert at the beautiful Eismann Center in Richarson, TX. A cello student from the Suzuki Music Institute of Dallas was one of the competition winners, and it was neat to see support of the  Suzuki community from which she is a a part. She played beautifully. As an aside, her mother was a violinist in my Unit 2 training course!

I had a wonderful time in Dallas* and learned so much from our trainer and my colleagues, and am looking forward to my next Suzuki Teacher Training experience. I highly recommend training for anyone teaching from the Suzuki repertoire.

*And for all those following up from my last post, with the exception of one rainstorm, the weather was amazing! 

Headed Back to Dallas

I'm about to set off to Dallas again for my Book 3 Suzuki Teacher Training. I'm looking forward to it for a number of reasons, in no specific order:

1- The Teacher: I took my Book 2 training with Judy Bossuat-Gallic and am thrilled to have the opportunity to study with her again. She teaches in a way that really works with my learning style. I'm a better teacher and a better player because of the time i've had with her.  I've loved all my teacher trainings so far, they've all been incredible experiences.

2-The Camaraderie: One of the many things that constantly excites me about the Suzuki Method is the support system that comes along with it. Teachers are supportive and collaborative with each other. I've gotten so many great ideas from other course participants, and have connected with people that I hope to keep in my network throughout my career, professionally and personally. It looks like some of the people I met in Book 2 Training will also be in this class - I look forward to seeing them again and meeting those people I haven't yet met.

3-The Repertoire: I've really enjoyed going through the Suzuki repertoire with the teacher trainers. They know so much about why each piece was chosen and in what order, and have great ideas and suggestions for how to teach them. 

And now to the silly stuff:

1. A bathtub! I live in a WONDERFUL but tiny NY apartment. A bathtub for an entire week is pretty much the definition of luxury to me.

2. A car! There aren't tons of places for me to go, and I plan to be very busy practicing, but it will be fun to drive again!

3. Pay per view! Perhaps I'll even have a little time to watch a few of those Oscar-nominated movies I never saw. (And I never saw any of them...)

4. Slightly warmer weather! The weather in Dallas is much like that of my hometown of Atlanta, GA. Not yet balmy, but warmer than it is here. I'll take it.

Stay tuned for updates from the road!

ACMP Chamber Music Play-In Weekend

This weekend, March 1-2, 2014 is the annual ACMP Worldwide Chamber Music Play-In.  This is an informal event that happens yearly the first weekend in March. Musicians get together in their homes, in event spaces, in hotel lobbies, anywhere they can think of, and read chamber music together for fun. 

I'll miss it this year as I'll be soaking up some rays in Miami to escape this never-ending winter, so I decided to meet with my friend Barbara (also a violinist) and play some duets today. We read through and practiced all three movements of the Bach Double in preparation for playing with his sister, a pianist in a few weeks.

I love playing chamber music. There's something really fun about being so exposed and really listening to yourself and the other players. I always learn so much every time I'm lucky enough to have good people with whom to play.

I encourage everyone to find a group and give some music a read through this weekend. And while this weekend I'll be soaking up some much needed Vitamin D, I'll plan on joining you next year!


People who have known me throughout my musical life likely know that I LOVE orchestra.  My love affair with the violin began in the second grade in school orchestra, and has been a constant for me ever since. I’ve played in school orchestras, orchestra festivals, college orchestras, professional orchestras, community orchestras, all with concerts in the US, Europe, and Central America. To me, there’s nothing like the magic that comes from being one violin or viola in a group of 70 people, knowing that it wouldn’t be the same if every person weren’t there. It’s an amazing feeling. Playing in orchestras has opened so many doors for me and has introduced me to so many wonderful people.

Due to scheduling issues, I’ve not been able to play in the last few concerts with the Brooklyn Symphony. I’ve missed it so much! I start back with rehearsals on Monday and just can’t wait. 

Taking Lessons

As a teacher, I feel it's imperative to practice regularly and keep my skills up in order to set the best example for my students, as well as for my own enjoyment.

This past Monday, I was fortunate to have a lesson via Skype with an instructor I greatly respect and admire. I completed my Unit 2 Suzuki Violin instruction class with her, and will be studying Unit 3 with her in just a few weeks.

It was such an eye-opening experience! We worked together for an hour, mostly on my left hand position, but also on my bow arm. It's truly incredible what just one lesson can do. While I feel I do a good job adjusting my studentss' positions, I hadn't been paying close enough attention to some bad (and painful!) habits I'd let myself get into in my own playing. By the end of that hour, my left elbow no longer hurt, my intonation was better and and my left hand felt relaxed. I have another lesson in a few weeks and can't wait to see what comes from it.

Lifelong Learning

One of the things I love the most about playing an instrument is the fact that one never stops learning. I can go back and play pieces that I learned in high school and now incorporate new technique, new feelings, and new experiences that shape the way I play. It’s a lifelong learning process, and I feel it’s such a gift to have this.

I can’t stress enough how much I’ve enjoyed the Suzuki training I have pursued this year. I didn’t grow up in the Suzuki method, and I believe there are many wonderful and diverse ways to learn how to play an instrument. I’m really inspired by the community aspect of the Suzuki method and the support system I’ve acquired in the past year.  I also feel this method has been wonderful for my students.

Through these seminars, not only have I learned how to be a better teacher, but also a better player. It’s wonderful to be in a supportive learning environment with your peers, each of whom are from different backgrounds, and we teach to and learn from each other.

I’m greatly looking forward to my next trip to Dallas in March to study Unit 3.

More on the training in the next post!

Practice Methods & Focus

A friend of mine posted this article from on Facebook a while ago: (

I’d read it a few months ago myself, but not as closely as I read it this time. It’s a great article for anyone who wants to be better at anything, and in a nutshell, stresses being present and mindful in your practice. Read it if you have time! It’s short and well-written.

I too am a violinist. I saw a lot of my own habits in the article, both the good and the bad, and agree with most of what was said.

I’m currently setting weekly goals for my violin and viola practice. This week I focused on left hand dexterity by using my metronome to play passages faster and more accurately. I found that the more thought and deliberation I put into each passage at their slowest metronome marking, the more accurate my intonation and rhythm were once I got to my goal tempo. In contrast, when practicing the etudes at their slowest markings while daydreaming about what was in my crock pot and trying to remember where I’d put some batteries I recently bought, I made nowhere near the progress I’d made earlier when I was truly focusing.

This coming week I’m going to continue working on my left hand dexterity in my violin and viola practice. However, I’m going to practice nothing but focus when it comes to composition. I hope to have something decent to share next week!

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