Menu

Teaching Background & Philosophy

Background
My interest in teaching began during the six years I studied with Steven Doane at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York (1997–2003). As I worked with Professor Doane and observed my classmates—some of whom were already world-class players, even as undergraduates—I became fascinated by the fundamental principles that are the basis for the ease and power of great playing. When I made the decision to stay at Eastman for my Master’s degree, I had the good fortune to serve as Mr. Doane’s Teaching Assistant, allowing me to explore my pedagogical interest more deeply. I haven’t stopped teaching since. In the years following my initial college level teaching I’ve worked with a very broad range of students—from age 5 to adults and from beginners to more advanced players bound for music school.
 

Philosophy
I believe passionately in the power of serious music study to develop grit, deeply rooted self-confidence, and integration of our senses, emotions, and reason.

Our culture is one in which we encounter few if any challenges that demand truly systematic and sustained application over an extended period. Information is available at the click of a mouse. Music-based computer games and apps make a mockery of true instrumental mastery. Attention spans are eroded by constant, shallow connectivity. Little or no time is left for activities that require extended periods of intense, deep, solitary focus. In young people, the development of grit and the determination to succeed is undermined by low expectations and torrents of well-meaning praise.

Learning to play the cello is precisely the kind of challenge that runs counter to all of these trends. There are simply no shortcuts to mastering the craft and developing deep musicianship. Approached with dedication, this is an immensely rewarding journey that promises to challenge and reward you physically, intellectually, and emotionally for a lifetime.

In the words of the great piano pedagogue, Seymour Bernstein, learning to play an instrument "is a process that promotes self-integration" and "puts you in touch with an all-pervasive order—an order that creates a total synthesis of your emotions, reason, sensory perceptions, and physical coordination. The result is an integration that builds your self-confidence and affirms the unification of you and your talent. Through it you can achieve a wholeness that affects everything you do.” It is my hope that through dedication and hard work my students will experience this internal integration and self-mastery, and develop important transferable skills such as self-discipline, self-confidence and long-term goal attainment.

My Approach to Teaching
I teach a traditional classical cello technique. I believe this is the best, most tested approach to developing a fine technique, and ultimately the freedom to play whatever and however you want to play.

My approach differs from many traditional approaches in several ways:

Common Traditional Approaches and their Associated Weaknesses My Approach

Many traditional approaches fail to teach the overall layout of the cello fingerboard and its fingering principles. Instead, cello students are often taught to play exclusively in the lower positions, often just first position, for an extended period. Higher positions are typically introduced gradually, with the highest ones (the three-finger and thumb positions) often taught much later. The result is often confusion, frustration, poor intonation, and anxiety about the higher positions.

Using my own Master Your Fingerboard method, my students learn the overall layout of the fingerboard from the outset. They begin very early on to explore a variety of positions. They learn how the fingerboard divides into three areas, each of which is subject to specific fingering principles. The underlying left-hand finger spacings or "blocks", from which all music is built, are explained and mastered by learning a series of simple Block Foundation Melodies that are played in all positions. From this understanding comes a curiosity and confidence about discovering and playing in the higher positions. My approach emphasizes listening, forging a strong connection between the aural and tactile senses—the key to all good string playing. 

Another consequence of the failure of many traditional approaches to teach the overall layout of the fingerboard and fingering principles is that many cello students remain confused about the fingerboard and fingering rules, and find it difficult or impossible to independently derive fingerings for unfamiliar music.

By working through my Master Your Fingerboard method, students become skilled at identifying the appropriate positions and fingerings when confronted by new or unfamiliar music.

Many instrumental music teachers enter the field as a last resort. Often their original dream of performing for a living didn't work out. Such teachers often inflict considerable psychological harm on their students through their frustration, impatience, and their need to be recognized through the achievements of their students. Because teaching isn't an essential aspect of their relationship with their instrument, teaching remains a source of resentment rather than fulfillment for them, something that ultimately also shows in the nature and quality of their relationships with their students.

Teaching is truly a priority for me. When I was a student at Eastman my teacher once introduced me to a colleague as "a deep thinker about the cello". As he recognized, my relationship with the cello is deliberative and analytical. I am driven to understand how the instrument works at its most essential level. For me, teaching—having to explain and impart this knowledge—is at the heart of my own relationship with the cello. Whatever the level of the student, I am always pushed toward a deeper understanding. For me, teaching is essential. From the frequent positive feedback I get from my students and their families, I hope my sincere commitment to teaching is apparent.

Many approaches fail to systematically teach the underlying building blocks from which all music is constructed, instead emphasizing the learning of pieces or "songs" as the primary metric of progress. Lacking a systematic method for learning music, and failing to understand the underlying principles and structures that underpin strong technique, progress is often slow, a solid technique never emerges, and musical independence remains illusive.

In a nutshell, I aim to teach my students how to play the cello, not just how to play specific pieces of music! Of course, we study great music together, but the emphasis is always on achieving a deeper understanding of underlying principles. I want my students to learn how to learn—to acquire a system that will ultimately enable them to independently and efficiently learn new music.

I emphasize fundamental principles of great playing, including:

  • A thorough understanding of the overall layout of the fingerboard and fingering principles using my own method, Master Your Fingerboard
  • Balanced posture that enables optimal and healthy use of the body
  • Relaxed and optimal use of the bow arm and hand for ease and power in tone production
  • A consistent, balanced, and relaxed left hand structure for optimal facility and intonation
  • Essential principles of coordination and timing between the hands

I aim to share my love of the cello and the cello world, and to develop students’ appreciation for the great players, the major repertoire, and the depth and richness of the culture.

I aim to develop students’ understanding of fundamental aspects of music theory and music history.

 

Technology-Enhanced Learning
I believe one key weakness of traditional teaching is that the teacher is not present between lessons to provide clarification and guidance for each student every time they practice. I call this the “contact gap” and this is where I see modern tech-based tools playing an important role. I believe that lack of clarity and support during students’ practice time—the majority of the time any student will spend with their instrument—is a key reason for poor progress. I actively explore the use of tech-based tools to help close this “contact gap” and to provide as much support and clarity as possible between lessons. Used correctly, I believe these new tools hold considerable promise for students learning to play musical instruments.

 

Student Expectations: Every Student Striving Toward their Potential

While I recognize that the majority of my students likely will not go on to pursue the cello professionally, I want every student to approach the cello with dedication, and have a deep and transformative experience with the instrument. To support this goal I have developed a number of questions for me and my students to continually reflect on as we work together. Details are on the Student Expectations page.