Holiday Gift Guide for Your Kid’s Music Teacher

I get asked about 50 times a year by my non-musician friends and family members what an appropriate gift would be for their child’s violin/piano/clarinet teacher, so I thought I would post a few ideas.  You will notice one entire category that is missing from this list, and that is: ANYTHING that has music notes, treble clefs, or any music joke on it  (Like a magnetic fridge pad that says “Chopin Liszt”).  As I said to one disappointed friend who had sent me a link to a website dedicated to such atrocities: You’re an accountant; would you be psyched to get a pair of cheap mini-calculator earrings? No? Well, there you have it.  Just remember, when the piano teacher in your life isn’t patiently teaching kids how to find inner discipline, listen critically and build the character skills necessary to bring about world peace, they are actually perfectly normal people.  And please remember, as always, it is truly the thought that counts.  It’s nice to mark this mid-point of the year with a show of appreciation and as a way to reflect on accomplishments thus far.  That can be in the form of a heartfelt note and a hand drawn picture from the student, or it can be a purchased gift.   Below, I have compiled a list that covers a large range of price points, and of course, gift cards are always adjustable according to one’s budget.  Hope it helps, and please feel free to pass it around!

1. A Starbucks Gift Card





Seriously-I know it feels like a cheap and easy way out, but most music teachers will have a very long day of lessons with no time to run to the kitchen/staff room to make a fresh pot of coffee.  These are like gold.

2. A box of delicious homemade treats (cookies, fudge, whatever your specialty is!)

Holiday treats

I mean, yummmmm.  My mom used to make about 8 different kinds of cookies and would hand out tins of them to our teachers and coaches.  Voilá!

3. A nice bottle of wine or bubbly.  


Something that they can open and really enjoy on that first night that they didn’t have to spend 8 hours in a row listening to excuses of why their students didn’t practice that week!

4. A gift card to a music store like Johnson Strings or Shar Music


Because those post-lesson stickers get pricey!


5. A pretty dish to hold clips, mutes, stickers, etc.



6. A gift card towards a massage or mani-pedi. 


Because they deserve a little pampering.

7. If you know they celebrate the holidays with a Christmas Tree, a beautiful ornament that represents your family’s culture.

Mexican ornament

8. A plant that can add a little bit of life to their studio space.

xmas cactus

Like this pretty Christmas Cactus.  The lack of light in most teaching studios will help it bloom longer!

9. A good book like this, or this, or this


10. Cool looking desk accessories like this:

Desk accessories

Happy Shopping, Everyone!



The $100 Bill

What would you do if I handed you a $100 bill?  

I once had a student who started cello lessons with me when he was 5 years old, and he LOVED the cello.  He loved playing the cello, he loved practicing the cello (as soon as he woke up-at 5am! Much to his parents’ dismay).  But he had this weird thing he did–He only used about 3 inches of bow–ever (probably due to the fact that he was trying not to wake his parents up!).  And every week he would come into his lesson, sad about his lack of tone, and I would say “Use your whole bow!  Use more arm weight! Yes!!!! Just like that! Do it again!  Terrific!  Okay.  Practice this piece like that, with big bows, and you’ll always sound like that”.  And he would leave his lesson super excited about knowing exactly what to do to get that great big cello sound he was after.  And then he would come in a week later, using only 3 inches of bow, and sad that he sounded so wimpy.  And we would repeat the cycle.


Finally, one day I used this story to highlight my point:

“Let’s say you came to me and were upset because you needed some money.  There was something that you really, really wanted, but it cost $100, and you didn’t have $100.  And I said to you ‘well, there is a $100 bill on that piano over there–right by the door.  You can have it.  Just take it with you on your way out.’ And you were so excited.  ‘thank you, thank you, Kate!  I can finally have this thing that I want so badly!’  And then you finish your lesson, you pack up, and I say, ‘don’t forget to take that $100 bill with you’, and you say ‘okay!’ and then you walk out of the room, leaving the $100 bill on the piano.  And then the next week, you come to me with the same problem.  There is this thing that you want soooo badly, and you need $100 to get it.  And I ask you why you didn’t take the $100 bill that was there waiting for you, and you can’t answer me.  You’re not sure.  You wanted it, and you knew it was there, and that it was yours for the taking.  You knew it would solve your problem and allow you to have what you wanted, but you couldn’t seem to take it.  You just kept leaving it there.”

“So, you want to play with a bigger sound, and you know exactly what you need to do to get that bigger sound, and you have demonstrated time and time again that you are more than capable of doing exactly what you need to do to get that bigger sound, and yet, you simply do not do it.  I could grab both you and that $100 bill and force you into the store to buy that thing you want, and I could stand next to you every time you play and forcibly move your arm for you, but I am not going to do either.  You have to do it on your own.”

I have never seen eyes that big. 

He did eventually “take the $100” and ended up developing a most epic, gorgeous, lush sound.  Which is good, because after my $100 bill story, I was out of ideas!

This happens so often in our lives, doesn’t it?  As musicians, certainly. This boy was not the only student I have had to use the $100 bill story on.  But it’s true in other areas as well.  Maybe we want to lose a few pounds.  we know that in order to do that, we need to exercise a few days a week, and eat foods from list A and avoid foods from list B.  It’s really not that difficult.  And yet…here we are, snacking on list B foods, while List A foods rot in the fridge.  We’re staring at our running shoes collecting dust in the corner, complaining about how we (still) need to lose some weight.  Or the person who wants to save some money.  They know that they should automatically put some of their paycheck into a savings account and then use what is left to pay their bills and budget their food and entertainment for the month.  And yet…they go to the movie instead, they buy a new sweater because it’s on sale, and the savings account remains empty.


I can’t think of a single area in my life that I could improve upon, where I don’t already know EXACTLY what I should do to fix it (or at least know exactly which resources to use to find out).  We are capable of doing anything as long as we have the right information, and we are certainly not lacking for that-it is EVERYWHERE.  Facebook, Podcasts, Blogs, Magazines.  Every. Where.  Of course, it is not that information that improves a situation, but acting on that information. Which leads me to the question, what is keeping us from taking proper action?

For my students, this is the all-important question.  I have students that practice, and students that don’t.  Some who practice well, and some who don’t.  But if you asked them all how one should practice if they wanted to improve, they would give you the right answer.  100% of them. They could tell you in great detail how they should listen to their pieces, break them down into small sections and then practice them slowly without any mistakes and slowly build them into larger pieces, how to work on intonation, phrasing, rhythm, color, vibrato, etc. etc.  but do they do it?


What would it look like if we all took the $100 bills that were being presented to us?  What if we grabbed them and did what we needed to do.  We’d all be financial wizards and super fit and healthy and we’d all be incredible at what we did.  Businesses would be more productive and creative, artists more prolific, musicians would be playing at a higher level, and we’d all be saving the world.

Where are you resisting proper action? What could you do with that $100 bill?




Remember that little trip to Chicago I took in October?  It was just last week, but it feels like it was a gazillion years ago!  It was exciting, exhausting, exhilarating, and everything you would expect.  Overall, my experiment of going to a city and playing as many concerts as I could for as many different groups of people as possible worked.  I learned a hella lotta stuff about the whole process of sending press releases, booking concerts and venues and more importantly, I learned a lot about myself and what I need in terms of concert prep. Continue reading

Happy October!

Happy October! Month of fall foliage, Halloween costumes, apple picking and pumpkin spice lattes.  I will have none of those things in Bermuda; here, October means hurricanes, getting the garden planted (and then losing it all to the afore-mentioned hurricanes) and finding lightweight clothing in fall colors.  Bermudians love their Fall Fashion, even though it’s 85 degrees and sunny!  Bless them.  But don’t worry, I’ll be spending a lovely 9 days in Chicago playing concerts and working with various student groups.  I’m so excited for all of that, but I’m also excited to take a few walks around Lake Michigan, oohi-ng and ahh-ing over the changing leaves, and I will probably bribe my nephews to hit-up starbucks with me once or twice a day for a PSL fix.



After an awesomely productive and enlightening September, I’m excited to move onto my next 30-Day Project.  September was “Health” and if you are curious, you can read about it here and here.  October is going to be…….drumroll, please….. “Career”.  Specifically, my performance career.  (Spoiler alert: the “Teaching” and “Youth Orchestra” aspects of my career will each have their own month).  I’m looking forward to booking some more concerts for this year and next (and the next—I’m already booking concerts for the 2019-2020 season!) cleaning up and updating my website, maybe getting some new headshots done, and learning how to write and send a good press-release, amongother things. I’m looking forward to ending the month with new kinds of content and a lot more of it to choose from.  Obviously I’ll be practicing a ton gearing up for my week of concerts in Chicago, and I’m curious to see how playing so many recitals in 1 week will feel.  I’m starting things off with my brand new business cards that the mother of one of my students designed.  Didn’t she do an incredible job?

business cards

designed by @mercedesigns

business cards

designed by @mercedesigns

Again, the name of the game here is to make a little bit of progress in this area each day.  Make necessary investments and read whatever I can find on the subject.  If you have any ideas, please send them along in the comments.  And in the meantime, Enjoy a caramel apple and a cider doughnut for me, please.


The Transition Week

I believe that summer begins on Memorial Day and ends on Labor Day, and I strongly adhere to that schedule each year.  This year, however, I have realized the importance of the “transition week” in getting myself from pre-Labor Day, when my life revolves around lakes and sailboats and sleeping until 9am if I want to,  to Post-Labor Day (when people actually expect me to do some work).  Maybe it’s because I have had such a whirlwind summer; The America’s Cup started Memorial Day weekend, lasted 5 weeks and brought 4 sets of houseguests.  In the middle of that I played a full recital with an entirely new program.  Then Paul and I finished teaching and we had our three-week staycation filled with beach picnics, snorkeling, swimming, sailing and a plethora of fun social events on the island, followed by Chicago to see my family (there were definitely s’mores–YES!)  A week of camp in Boston, 2 weeks of camp in Maine, and then our road-trip to Baltimore, Charleston and DC.  I have spent the last 3 days at our condo in Boston basically comatose. I am ready for the new concert season to begin, and yet my brain has turned to mush.  I know that I have been practicing, but the lack of routine always throws me off and makes me feel like a total slacker.  But as desperate as I am to get back to that routine, if you told me the season started tomorrow, I think I would fall to the floor, curl up in the fetal position and start crying, because I’m not READY!!!


Thus, ladies and gentlemen, “The Transition Week”. Continue reading

What I do All Day

There are two questions I am often asked by my non-musician friends and family:

The first, is a general, “So….what, exactly, do you do all day?”.  When I tell them I practice, they look at me kind of funny.

But then when they see me perform, they inevitably ask the 2nd question: “How do you know where all of the notes are going to be?”.   I’d love to simply refer them to the answer to my first question, but that would seem rude.  I’m not offended, I swear.  I get it, what I do is really strange.  I spend hours alone in a room with the door shut “practicing”–whatever that means, and then I perform.  Actors have their fellow cast members.  They go to rehearsal, they interact.  There is a clear process of learning and memorizing lines and stage direction that the common person understands.  Athletes?  They work either with the rest of their team, or if it is a solo sport, they at least work with a coach.  They do drills, they discuss their technique, how to improve. They can measure their progress through speed and distance.  But a musician?  Hmm. Weird.  So, here it is: A day in the life of a musician.  Or at least the practice room part of it.  Continue reading