A! Magazine for the Arts

Kellie Brown (left) says students who study privately win top seats in ensembles and at competitions like All-State.

Kellie Brown (left) says students who study privately win top seats in ensembles and at competitions like All-State.

Other Private String Instruction

March 27, 2012

Several musicians who play in Symphony of the Mountains (SOTM) also teach string instruments and encourage their students to play in SOTM's Youth Orchestras. They include Cherylonda Fitzgerald and Kellie Brown.

Fitzgerald started playing in a middle school orchestra program. Today she is a member of The Paramount Chamber Players and other ensembles and teaches music at Milligan College and East Tennessee State University.

She teaches privately to ages 4 through adult, with about 25 percent home-schooled middle and high school students. She sometimes teaches gifted/disadvantaged children at a reduced rate or on full scholarship. "Unfortunately, the trend is to cut school music programs," she notes. "For example, the school orchestras that I participated in as a student in Louisville, Ky., no longer exist. They have been cut due to lack of funding."

Fitzgerald has Suzuki training, but considers herself a traditional teacher. "I use a variety of method books and try to match the method to the learning style of the individual student," she says. "It is very difficult for a school orchestra director to give each student the individual attention that a private instructor can give in a one-on-one lesson. I strive to reinforce what the student is currently learning in school and preview new techniques they haven't gotten to yet. If a student is having problems with orchestra music, I don't mind spending part of the lesson on it. In many cases the school orchestra is the primary reason the student is taking lessons in the first place, and it is important to be a successful participant. The school orchestra experience also provides opportunities to participate in competitions like Junior and Senior Clinic, for example. I feel it is important for private teachers to support student participation by helping them to prepare for such events."

She continues, "An important part of my job is to make sure students are successful at every lesson. A young student who has resisted reading music because she plays so well by ear overcame her resistance and decided to embrace reading. Another student has developed so much confidence in his abilities that he consistently asked for the hardest challenge when I gave him his choice. A third learned to relax her vibrato enough to create a lush beautiful sound; it's not consistent yet, but she heard the change in quality and knows now that she is capable of producing it. And the last student of the day learned how to put grace and joy into her playing of the simplest of orchestra accompaniments. The rewards for successes like these aren't trophies or prizes, but increased self-esteem and the value of knowing that hard and consistent work leads to worthwhile results."

For private students, Fitzgerald says, "Parents must be available to drive students to and from their lessons. If the students are very young, parents should sit in on the lessons to take notes so they can assist in home practice. Many of my private students use cellos borrowed from school, while others rent and some own their instruments."

Brown is Chair of Music and Associate Professor of Music at Milligan College. Ninety-five percent of her privately instructed students (advanced violin and viola) are homeschoolers of middle and high school age. In the summers, she directs an Arts Academy at Milligan College which provides string instruction for high school students. She also helps the Johnson City Public Schools program by being a guest conductor/clinician on a regular basis with the Science Hill High School Orchestra.

"Private instruction is an essential component for string students who want to excel. The students who win top seats in their ensemble and at competitions like All-State study privately," says Brown, whose students have won numerous competitions and honors over the years and consistently make the top chairs in orchestra auditions.

Regarding the cost of private lessons, Brown says, "It is prohibitive for a lot of students. They can participate in the public school programs, which either don't require students to participate in trips that are expensive, and/or have a special fund to help students who can't afford trips. However, there are expenses for uniforms and instrument maintenance. Usually each cello/bass student has two instruments (one to play at school and one to leave at home). Violin and viola students are expected to either rent or purchase their instruments."

- Youth Orchestra Awards