I have been a evening practicer since I graduated from my MM program and joined the real world again. I work two to three jobs during the day and have two children of my own to love and spend time with. This has meant that my prime, and only, practice time has been from 8pm (when my kids go to bed) to 10pm (when I can no longer focus). 

The problem with my evening practice is that by the time I got to around 9:15pm my mind would wander more frequently and I would find myself practicing the same sections over and over until 10pm when I would finally throw in the towel. If we had company over then practice was out of the question for that night.

3 weeks ago I decided to flip my day and practice before work every day. With the help of a practice mute, I have been able to get in an hour of practice or more every morning. This is a very productive and intense practice session. I am able to focus solely on the goal of the day with a focus I just can't muster after 9pm.

Studies have shown that attention is a finite resource that can be recharged with rest. Instead of fighting to stay focused with all of my might, I wake up recharged and ready for deep practice with an intense focus.

It is such a great way to start the day, and I can't see myself switching back anytime soon.

Removing Stop Signs

Months and months ago I heard about a dutch traffic engineer who was proposing something totally counter intuitive to make roads and neighborhoods more safe; the removal of stop signs, cross walks, and other road signs we are familiar with. 

Why would he propose this? How would less signs make us more safe and not more...dead?

When these signs are gone and we can't rely on them to keep us from crashing into another car or that biker riding on the side of the road, we are forced to pay better attention and to make eye contact with everyone else we are sharing the road with.

If you have ever driven around a "round-a-bout" you know exactly what I am talking about. Drivers enter and exit the traffic circle in a much more cautious way, making eye contact with the other drivers, finding enough room, and sliding into traffic. 

What does this have to do with music? 

I have a HUGE pet peeve when it comes to students making marks in their music, and that is when students mark every single note in a phrase, section, or sometimes on an entire page of music. With all of those markings on the page it becomes impossible for them to look up from the music and make connections with other musicians, their conductor, and almost all musical ideas. 

These students are not even reading music at all. 

I believe that as we remove these crutches and point out the patterns in the music that will allow them to remember that fingering or those note names our students become more musical and attentive. A fingering here or there as a "landmark" is often necessary (and allowed) as long as it is in recognition of a pattern. 

Students need a chance to address the things they don't know and to stretch their understanding of concepts everyday. We want them to force their brains to recall what that note is, or to raise their hands and ask or ask a neighbor. If they don't have to work for it, they definitely will not remember it. 

Remove the signs, and help students notice the patterns, and make the connections.

Fix The Scale

This is a very simple use of the Note Name Cards to teach and reinforce a scale and can be used in a private lesson or in a classroom setting. This would be a great start to a lesson or an entry task. 

Time: 10-15min

Materials: OMG Deck, Bell (optional)

No. of Players: Single Student or Group Activity

Purpose: Use this activity to have discussions about Major and Minor Scales, Accidentals, Major and Minor Arpeggios.  

Preparation: Pull out the 7 Note Name Cards and the relevant Scale Card from the OMG Deck. Lay out the Note Name Cards spelling out the scale, but purposely make a few errors. Students will be correcting those errors.

(Below is my "G Major Scale" )

A# B C D# E# F G

Activity: Tell the students which scale they will be checking. In this case, they will be checking this against their knowledge of the G Major Scale.  With or without the Scale Card (depending on their knowledge), have the student(s) fix the scale. Give them a time limit and a countdown for extra drama. When time is up, have the student(s) check their scale against the Scale Card.  



Team Match - With more sets of the Note Name Cards, have students compete in teams to see who can fix the scale first. Go through the various scales they know, or introduce new ones. Have students hit a bell when they think the scale has been fixed.!

Bonus Arpeggio - Have students slide the cards for the tonic arpeggio up. If they are correct, give them extra points! The tonic arpeggio is outlined in each scale card

N.B. When I play this game in groups, I make sure that I give the Scale Card to a student that is really struggling with this specific scale or concept. It gives them a way to contribute to the game while also going over the right notes multiple times. 

Here is a link to the PDF of this lesson plan: Fix The Scale

Growth Midset

This summer has been a trial run for so many great things that will change the way I live and teach. My wife and I took a chance with a daily workout routine that we weren't to sure about but ended up loving. We loved it so much in fact, that we decided to start all over once we finished the three months it is scheduled for. Exercise has become something we schedule in for the family everyday now ( and boy do we feel it if we miss a day).

At YAMA, the El Sistema inspired Yakima Music en Accion, we piloted a system in which the struggle that takes place when real learning is happening was celebrated. As teachers and parents, we are always quick to tell a child how smart they are or how great the concert went. How often do we recognize students for trying, failing, and trying again? 

This video is from Kahn Academy, an online learning site where you can learn just about anything. The site keeps track of all the lessons you have attempted, all of the videos you have watched, and can recommend problems and videos to help you increase your knowledge at your own speed. Whatever that speed is. 

At YAMA, students are given an Action Sheet, where the student and Teaching Artists can keep track of their progress. They have what each teacher is looking for when we come by and are checking for position, or intonation, etc. 

They see what the building blocks are for a good musician and how those building blocks fit together. There is a heavy emphasis on "the basics" and a level-by-level guide to learning any new piece of music. We help coach our students through these levels so that they learn these vital practice techniques and can use them outside of rehearsal times. 

The Action Sheets are very low-tech, a sheet inside a clear sheet protector, and are updated with wet-erase markers. But that visual is such a great motivator for the students and teachers. At YAMA we are lucky to have many teachers at each rehearsal, walking around and checking in on all of our students, which is so helpful when we are trying to assess a students understanding of a concept and giving students direct and timely instructions and feedback.

Let's see what happens when we try to use it with the whole group this year. 

Stay tuned.




YAMA Travels

The YAMA team recently had the opportunity to travel to Cincinnati and Chicago to take a look at two El Sistema inspired programs that have been around for a little longer than YAMA has been. 

A memeber of the YOURS Project percussion section focused on the music. 

A memeber of the YOURS Project percussion section focused on the music. 

Our first stop was in Chicago with the People's Music School Youth Orchestras, which is a branch of the People's Music School. The People's Music School, founded by Dr. Rita Simo in 1975 with $625 and a donated piano, has been providing Chicago youth with free music lessons for over 30 years.  

They just finished their sixth year and operates in a school of over 1800 children. There are over 100 students participating in the program, which makes them much larger than the YAMA orchestra at the moment.


The younger youth orchestra rehearses Tchaikovsky. 

The younger youth orchestra rehearses Tchaikovsky. 


We walked into the largest elementary school I have ever been, into a scene of students quietly (in most cases) retrieving their instruments and heading off to various sections of the school to participate in sectionals and group rehearsals. It was great to see such a large number of students being self directed and getting to where they needed to be without a lot of hand holding. We were able to to watch a few instrument groups work together including the brass section, which was working on an ensemble piece.  It was obvious in all of our time there that the expectations for the students were high and the students were striving to meet those expectations. 

We found that The People's Music School Youth Orchestras face many of the same issues we face in Yakima. An issue that we have become quite creative about is space...there is never enough! As YAMA grows and we add in more instrument families, this issue will only increase. In Chicago they are dealing with the (soon to be) loss of their wonderful storage closet/operations headquarters as it will be turned into a gym. 


We also got to see some advantages they have due to living in a much larger city. Access to highly trained volunteers. With a number of universities and university students living in the city, they may never run out of musician volunteers. With Central Washington University 40min away, we have found it hard to attract CWU music students to come and get involved in our movement. 

The music produced by PMSYO was incredible and that level of musicianship is something we will strive for as our young orchestra grows up. It was a very inspiring and engaging program. The audience and younger orchestra, which joined us after their performance, were so energized that there were applause after every movement and a standing ovation at the end!   

During our tour and in our attendance of their final rehearsals and end of the year concert, we saw something we see in Yakima at all of the YAMA events. Students who are engaged and hungry for great music, a community that comes out to show their support, and proud parents and families ready to cheer their students on. 


After Chicago we all piled in to our rental car and made the five-hour drive to Cincinnati to meet up with the Music for Youth in Cincinnati (MyCincinnati) to help out with their end of the year rehearsals and concert which would be a collaboration with the Cincinnati Opera held at the Cincinnati Zoo. 

MyCincinnati working out those difficult rhythms. 

MyCincinnati working out those difficult rhythms. 

MyCincinnati operates out of their own building, independent of a school...which kind of blew my mind. Having their own space allows them to make the space their own, post things on the walls, and really set the tone for what is expected and what can be accomplished there. A YAMA music building would be the best.

Eager musicians

On day one with MC we observed a bucket drumming/musicianship class where students worked on rhythms and sang intervals. We saw the youngest group engaged and attempting to gain stars for various pieces of music by playing and counting out loud or playing and singing their parts. There were sticker boards everywhere charting everything from rhythms to scales and arpeggios. 

The YAMA team had much more hands on roles with this group so we got to know some of the students a little better here. Josh and I took the bus with the older group and helped with student management as the musicians prepared to play with members of the Opera company. 

MyCincinnati performs at the Cincinnati Zoo

MyCincinnati performs at the Cincinnati Zoo

The concert was great and the kids were focused and well prepared for the standing room only crowd. Teachers, parents, and musicians should all be proud of how well they performed. 

It was a great opportunity to visit other programs and reflect on what we do at YAMA. We brought back a bunch of new ideas from both sites and can't wait to get the kids excited about them. We also came back, more sure than ever, that we have something special going on in Yakima. 

Seeing is Believing

As everyone is gearing up for the school year, and all of the performances that comes with that, I wanted to post this interesting study done by a Harvard graduate.

Harvard Grad student Chia-Jung Tsay

Harvard Grad student Chia-Jung Tsay

In a study by Chia-Jung Tsay, who last year earned a Ph.D. in organizational behavior with a secondary Ph.D. field in music, nearly all participants — including highly trained musicians — were better able to identify the winners of competitions by watching silent video clips than by listening to audio recordings. 

When you play in a master class or for your teacher, you may get comments about how you look while you play. Do you make faces when you make a mistake? Does it seem as though you didn't breath throughout the entire performance? Were you stiff and mechanical? Were you fluid in your movements and smiling?

While we all would love to believe that all that matters is the music, this study dismisses that for an all inclusive approach to music making. A performance is as much visual as it is auditory; even for the classically trained musicians in the audience.  

So when you get up on stage and are preparing to perform, project the feelings you want your audience to pick up on. Project confidence...and breathe.



Welcome and thank you for visiting my site (and blog)! For all of my current students and families, I want to say a big thank you for your support through the years. I have such a great time sharing my love for music with you all.

Why do you have a website?

My intention for the website is to use this site and blog to keep everyone in the loop about when I am in your city, when concerts are happening, and when recitals and rehearsals are scheduled (all in the Schedule and Events section).  

Various PDFs such as practice logs, theory worksheets, and technical studies will be available for download.  

I also wanted my lesson policy and information about taking private lessons from me easily available for both families of my current students as well as perspective students.

What is all this about coaching? 

I love coaching cello sections and chamber groups and intend to grow this part of my personal business. I will be offering my services as a section coach to Youth Symphonies and School Orchestras alike. 

What else will you be posting here?

I will be posting helpful advice on practicing and the craft of cello playing as well as helpful articles from around the net. 

Photos and commentaries from recitals will be posted here, along with the program from that recital so that students can track their progression easily. 

With a central hub, everyone can benefit from and share  resources and advice with one another. So please feel free to comment, give advice, or send a helpful link and I'll be sure everyone hears about it. 

Thank you again for visiting and come back soon.