5 Reasons for 5 strings

I teach beginning orchestra with a 5 string violin

I am a cellist, but I teach beginning orchestra with a 5 string violin every day. I absolutely love having my instrument daily. Here are 5 reasons why.

  1. Modelling for your students. Kids need an example regularly.
  2. This instrument is mine. No students touch it, I don’t have to borrow a small kid’s instrument and contract their germs. That’s gross
  3. I can accompany my kids. Having an understanding of chords and how they work on an orchestral string instrument is an invaluable skill to have. You don’t always have time to use the method book CD. Accompany them yourself!
  4. We don’t wait in silence! We start our kids in 5th grade. They take the Jr. High bus in the morning, and we bus them from the Jr. High to the Intermediate school. Instead of just waiting for the bus, I always play tunes. Fiddle tunes, movie tunes, excerpts from the high school’s music… you name it!
  5. E A D G C: I have all 5 strings that my students have.

When I play violin, I play a Snow 5 string with a flower in the pegbox and a friendship bracelet around the scroll. I got it from Paige’s Music in Indianapolis (I’d recommend them in a heartbeat) The strings are a little close together and if I were to take private lessons, I would pursue a 4 string violin or viola, especially for shifting on the D, G, and C strings. Again, I am primarily a cellist unless I’m playing folk music, where I love playing cello AND fiddle.


Christmas in July

Ordering new music for the school year was like Christmas in July.

I am so so excited to really dive into this music with my students this year. Our library has been lacking in some upper level (grade 3-5) pieces, so this year I was able to help fill that hole in our library. I sat down with a glass of a good tasting liquid and a light snack and camped out on my couch. I spent time listening to so many pieces, reflected upon and reviewed lists from sight reading sessions at the state music education association’s sight reading sessions and the ASTA national conference sight reading sessions, then came up with the pieces below.

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Let’s say, this is one happy camper of an orchestra director, and a bunch of kids are super excited after hearing their fall concert rep. I played recordings of their fall concert music the first week of school, and multiple students came to say how excited they were because the enjoyed listening so much. Each orchestra has a cinematic-ish piece, a classical piece, and a different genre piece

Concert Orchestra (lower level High School): Fingal’s Rock, Pioneer Sky, (3rd. piece possibly Bavarian Rhapsody)

Symphony Orchestra (upper HS, Strings only this trimester): Allegro Moderato-from Saint Saëns Sympony 3, Loonacy, Jazzed Up and High Strung.

Do you have a harpist in your orchestra? I’m working with one, soon to be two. What pieces have you programmed?

Braiding Hair: An Attempt to Face Performance Anxiety

Setting: Students are filled with different energies in preparation for the afternoon’s concert. This is their first concert as a young orchestra. Instruments are being tuned, sounds plucked strings, bow exercises fill the air. Reminders to help emerging bow holds, and growing posture with instruments of all sizes are given, and the small rumble of young voices talking.

Student: I’m so nervous!!!

Other Students chime in: Me too! I don’t want to perform for people! I’m so nervous!

Inside the teacher brain: Oh your A is out of tune… wait why is it so loud in here? (listens to conversation…) How are we already facing performance anxiety? These kids have never played for an audience. My nervous kiddos got a STORY TIME!


STORY TIME: I spent a few months living with a host family, student teaching and traveling in Scotland between graduating and beginning my teaching job in the USA. It was my birthday weekend, so I took myself on a trip to a music festival in Glasgow, Scotland called Celtic Connections. I went specifically for a weekend workshop called the Fiddle Village. The workshop is taught by Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas.

As I made my way into my hotel, I saw a friend and she told me to come back down after I put my stuff away. I came back down to a seat and a drink waiting for me. The people at the table were all musicians whom I admire, as well as some of their family members.

We got on the topic of anxiety, as people asked me what I was going to do when I got home. I had no clue, after applying for jobs. I just graduated from university at the time. A woman at the table looked me in the eyes and this conversation ensued.

  • Woman: What are you good at?
  • Me: (I would normally say I’m pretty good at playing the cello… but one of my cello heroes is at the table so…maybe not) Well, I’m pretty decent at public speaking…
  • Cello Hero: That’s Lame! She’s really good at braiding hair.
  • Woman: That’s cool! Braiding Hair? What do you think about when you braid hair?
  • Me: I have no idea, I just know what to do to make it look good and make it work.
  • Woman: EXACTLY! When you braid hair, you know what you need to do, you don’t think about an audience, you just get the job done and apparently you do it well. When you are anxious about anything, take that same approach. Do what makes you nervous, as if you were braiding hair.
  • Me: (…whoa. Sounds silly, but this may be some of the best advice I have heard in a long time.

If I’m anxious I say that I’m “braiding hair”, and it calms me down. That conversation stuck with me. I hope that story was impactful to my students.

Beginners or Bust!

On July 10th my orchestra team embarked on our annual beginning orchestra summer classes. I want to call it a summer camp, but it’s never been called that here. When I say orchestra camp, I get SUPER confused looks. Summer Orchestra, Beginning Orchestra, Orchestra Camp…it’s all the same if it’s provided by your school.

Now that I have that out, I have to say that our beginners are super awesome this year. I may end up saying that every year, but this year’s beginning class is filled with self sufficient, exploratory learners who listen well, and practice. (My sarcastic/realistic brain is asking me, “how long will that last?”) Most beginners have this desire to learn that is so so great, and the excitement of opening your case for the first time, and getting your bows. It’s like a 5-year-old on Christmas.

Here are some of our tricks

  • We actually take the bows out of their cases on the first day. The students will earn them back as soon as their bow holds are solid.
  • use the “Shaka” hand sign to help measure your cello end pin height. (Thumb to pinky from the base of your end pin towards the tip of the end pin. Other words, two pinky to thumb lengths.)IMG_1976
  • “tattoos” for bow placement in the fingersIMG_1984
  • Smoothie straw bow holds!
    • a smoothie straw has about the same diameter as a bow.
    • they are easy to smush, but if you have a good bow hold, you won’t smush your straw. Watch out for tension
  • Bow-robics
    • “aerobics” routine for your bow hold.
  • Reading music process
    • point and say rhythm (Point to learn how to keep your eyes tracking the music. Rhythm first because you can play every note in tune, but if it isn’t at the right time because of rhythmic issues, it will always be wrong.)
    • point and say notes (I always sing them and the kids follow suit. Ear training…it’s always important)
    • pizz. notes
    • say/ air bow the bow directions (super helpful connection step, especially for new players and dyslexic students)
    • bow piece (if it’s meant to be bowed)
  • Rhythm reading ASAP
    • with a metronome or funky backbeat
    • pulse eighth notes/quavers with your voice. 1, 2, 3, 4 sounds wo-uhn, two-oo, three-ee, fo-ur (please use whichever counting system makes your heart happy, just keep it consistent from start through 12th grade so they have a firm grasp)
    • rests are just as important as pitches. (rests have feelings too you know)
    • rhythm. rhythm. rhythm. (kids don’t always have that…)
  • Zip Zap Zoom for Violins and Violas (This came from my assistant director, and I loved it!)
    • Start on the shoulder Day 1
    • Zip is the “Statue of Liberty stance”
    • Zap is the table top/ upward motion which allows you to bring the instrument down on the right spot on your shoulder.
    • Zoom is the motion bringing your violin/viola down to your shoulder. The word “Zoom” can be slowed down so we aren’t just plopping our instruments on our shoulders. The “mmm” sounds also help us keep our mouths closed when we play. We don’t want tension, but we don’t want our mouths wide open either.
  • Listen
    • give kids listening in class, or as they walk in. Let them hear Classical music, pop covers, fiddle music, free improv! (Expose them to everything)
    • YOU. Listen to them, and play for them too. (In college, they preached Model, Model, Model. Yes, show your kids what to do, but take a step back too! You need to hear their progress or challenges in order to diagnose problems.)
  • Bass Demo first
    • If you are not a bass player, it is easy to forget that their instruments are INSANELY DIFFERENT! I try to demonstrate, or accommodate basses before cellos, in a low strings class so that I don’t forget them. We have 2 basses and 12 cellos. I’m a cellist.
  •  Accompaniment
    • Steady tempi are coming from accompaniment right now. ESPECIALLY when we pizz pieces.

New Harmony Music Festival 2017

Have a little slice of Utopia. It’s not forbidden, it’s not out of reach, it will challenge your musicianship if you allow it, and you will meet people that will become friends for a lifetime.

For the past 6 years, I have been attending, volunteering for, and teaching at the New Harmony Music Festival in some capacity. I saw a sign in the hallway of practice rooms when I was avoiding practicing Popper Etudes in college, and decided this sounded fun. I didn’t expect to fall back in love with my cello, I didn’t know that I would meet some lifelong friends, but I did know I was in for a musical treat.


NHMF&S is a festival held in New Harmony, Indiana. If you aren’t familiar with the history of New Harmony, please look into it. (New Harmony’s History) The town is a failed utopian society. It is filled with beautiful little gardens, historic homes, architectural gems, lovers of art, and lovers of music. The festival is a totally acoustic festival that uses the unique spaces, provided by the town, to teach, share, and create music. This festival presents a blend of traditional musics intertwined with classical music, presenting concerts that show mutual respect for all musical kinds. Students of the festival school are able to attend three elective classes of their choice, a group class called Group Therapy, faculty concerts, a called dance, and jam sessions.

This year, I was honored with the opportunity to teach Group Therapy Class. This class is an opportunity to allow teachers and students to share their unique talents. Students can perform and get meaningful feedback, teachers can share a small dose of what they teach, and community members can be invited to share their art (visual, musical, textile, written, dance). It was fun to facilitate this gathering. I have immense respect for the students and artists who come to New Harmony.  Teaching this kind of class is very different than standing in front of an ensemble conducting. It is more organization, and creating a safe space. Safe spaces are so important for the developing musician.

I would love for you to join this class one summer!

Check out the New Harmony Music Festival!

Fiddle Camp!

In June, I spent 12 days in California. Part of that was simply exploring San Fransisco, but most of it was spent in a little slice of heaven called Sierra Fiddle Camp held on the grounds of Shady Creek Camp on the San Juan Ridge, outside of Nevada City, California. This year’s faculty was a fun filled group of traditional musicians from all over the place. Every day you wake up, have breakfast, and the rest of the day looks like this (for the most part…)

  • tunes class
  • 20 minute break
  • tunes class
  • elective class (CELLO CLASS!)
  • lunch
  • open forum (generally about the music from various artists’ cultures/area of study)
  • tunes class
  • break
  • elective class (CELLO CLASS again!!!)
  • student performances
  • dinner
  • evening event (jams, dances, pool parties…)
  • sleep

I learned so many tunes. So many tunes. More importantly, I worked on the things that make these tunes unique to their styles. Some people will call this ornaments, nuances, haggis, style, feel, groove, something else… It’s always a goal not to just play the notes of the tune, but to make it authentic to it’s place of origin while allowing you to play it in your own light. I probably will never say that I’ve mastered all of this, but I am starting to enjoy my own sound.

After camp (or any fiddle music thing), I feel like I’ve been bitten by this bug of really fun music to play. It invites you into a community that fosters traditions new and old. I want to keep learning so I can share more!

Check out Sierra Fiddle Camp at http://www.sierrafiddlecamp.org

I am also so appreciative of the post fiddle camp excursion that allowed us to extend our camp vibes and ease back into the “real world”. Some of us hung out around the area after camp, then a friend and I stayed with another family from camp as we explored San Fransisco for a couple of days. Our personal tour guides were al friends from camp, and spending time with them was so lovely.

(Photo Credits to Amy Luper)


I think I’ll Go to Boston!

School had been out for a week and a half, and nothing screams summer more than “getting out of Dodge” For around $200 I spent 5 nights in Boston. I took a tiny backpack and a purse and went on my way.

Southwest Airlines is pretty good about customer service. About a year ago, I took a flight somewhere and with delays connection issues, they asked if anyone was willing to give up their seat for a later flight. I had time so I gave up my seat. My 45 minute layover turned to a 4 hour layover and I had a voucher for $100 .

Saving #1: my flight cost me $30 round trip because of that voucher.

A wise friend told me that it is best to see the world through the eyes of locals. That way you really get to experience a place. Couch surf and you will always have a tour guide (or very good directions to local places of interest)

Saving #2: I stayed the first two nights with this wise friend, and the later three at the house of my guru and her partner. I am so thankful for these women and their hospitality, and I would host them at my house any time.

How many free things can you find to do in one place?

Saving #3: A lot, if you are willing to figure them out. Here’s a few things that I did.

My trip was a blast. I loved being in a city with solid public transportation. I enjoyed seeing places that I didn’t appreciate as well when I first went to Boston in Middle School. Lastly, I got to spend some time with people that I know from four or five very different moments in my life. It was cool to see these different worlds collide. Many of those worlds collided around a concert at Club Passim, which is a great concert venue for folk music. Funny thing…music pulled it all together!

This is what I packed (I’m just really proud of how little I took with me.)

  • My favorite purse that reminds me of Hermionie’s never ending bag from the last of the Harry Potter series because of it’s large capacity for _ _ _ _ and useful things.
    • wallet, reusable grocery bag, small tablet, phone, charging brick, earbuds, moleskine journal, pens (in a little plastic baggie so they don’t explode…)
  • Dora the Explorer Backpack-or small backpack from IKEA
    • medium packing cube: 3 dresses, 1 pair of leggings, and 2 shirts, very very thin raincoat
    • small packing cube: ample underwear and 2 bras, 1 pair of shorts
    • carnival cosmetic case (shout out to my cousins, creators of the Blush Label, for something I don’t travel anywhere without)
    • personal first aid kit (you never know what you’ll need and when!)
    • super comfy flats
    • tablet charger/phone charger went in the front pocket of the backpack
    • water bottle




I’m Katie. I teach 5th through 12th grade public school orchestra. I play the cello and the fiddle (cannot claim classical violin, but have immense respect for it). I love playing fiddle jams and learning tunes from all over the world. I conduct because I love to teach, and I teach because the best things in life aren’t meant to be kept to yourself, they are to be shared. Traveling is a part of my life, my family is a part of my life, adventures are a part of my life, music often pulls it all together and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The idea of this blog came about when friends of mine started commenting on my summer travels. Many people have asked, “how are you doing this?” or “Are you teaching, learning, observing, or getting professional development?” Hopefully this will help answer some of those questions, and will allow me to share the results of some of my crazy ideas.