About This Event


Editor’s Letter by Kimberly Syvertsen


Happy New Year! In spite of the mild winter we’ve been experiencing in New Jersey, there’s something about that seasonal lull through February that compels me to start afresh, find new inspiration and look for ways to better become the teacher I aspire to be.

With that in mind, our New Year’s issue for 2012 is meant to be a place of rest and also discovery. In “Back to Bass-ics”, veteran musicians (and past ASTA/NJ Presidents!) Linda McKnight and Lou Kosma share their stories, love of learning and educating, and practical tips for teaching bass. Leslie Webster’s formidable column on pedagogy delivers with some thoughts on loosening the left hand, while Betsy Maliszewski and Kimberly Chiesa bring fresh eyes to the recent technology phenomena. To stay in touch with chapter happenings, Peg Roberts shares several updates on the solo and quartet competitions and the upcoming President-Elect nominations. A listing of summer camps held in New Jersey rounds out our January 2012 NJ Strings offering.

As always, please consider sharing your insights by submitting an article for publication to Thanks for all you do to make this another year of outrageous string playing and teaching in the Garden State!

   Kimberly Syvertsen
   Editor-in-Chief, NJ Strings


President's Message by Erika Boras Tesi


Dear ASTA/NJ Community,
With the last of my winter concerts around the corner and the cold weather closing in, my students and I both agree that we have the time and the space now to change up the curriculum and learn some new concepts that will take some time and don’t require a concert at the end. 
The articles in this newsletter might be just what you are looking for to present your material in a new and different way that will inspire your students.  The pedagogical tips run the gamut from clever ideas to improve tone to technology as practice buddy and teaching aide. 
Great ideas submitted by great folks creating a great newsletter.  Perfect.  Enjoy!
Erika Boras Tesi
President, ASTA/NJ


ASTA/NJ Shanghai Quartet Festival by Margaret Zufall Roberts


The following are comments from Quartet Festival Participants:

Quartet Program Comments:
It was really fun for the kids; they all had a great time, and I thought they learned a lot. Honggang Li was very specific in what he told them, and I thought it was good for them to hear it from him! It was cool that Graham could have him hear that movement from his Quartet too, and I think Graham really appreciated the respect he gave the work and the respect he showed Graham. For me, it was nice to hear him say that the Quartet played "way better than he could imagine from a group of 12 year olds”!
Thanks again!
Warren Cohen

Thank you for organizing this wonderful event. It gave our kids a really great opportunity that they truly enjoyed! It was a pleasure to meet your daughter and I look forward to coming to more events at MSU.
All my best,
Judy Jacobson

Note: please find below the program distributed during the ASTA/NJ Shanghai Quartet Festival.
ASTA/NJ ShanghaiQuartetFestival
Sunday, January 29, 2012

Presented in conjunction with the
 NJ Chapter of the
American String Teachers Association
and Montclair State University
John J. Cali School of Music

10:00    Registration                     Chapin Hall Lobby
        Peg Roberts, Loni Bach, co-directors
        ASTA@MSU assistants

10:15    The Techniques of Quartet Playing             Room 201
        Shanghai Quartet

10:45    Student Quartet Coaching
        Ferastome Quartet                 Room 201
        Cajajoric Quartet                 Room 201

        Quartet 48                 Room 230
        Stirling Strings Teen Quartet             Room 230

        GNYO Quartet                 Room 330
        Sparta Quartet                 Room 330

12:15    Lunch       

12:45    Registration for the 1:00 p.m. program
                                         Chapin Hall Lobby

1:00    Performance & Lecture           Leshowitz Recital Hall
        Shanghai Quartet

Ferastome Quartet
from Randolph, NJ
Larry Qin, Jessica Lu, violins
Rachel Snyder, viola; Aoma Caldwell, cello
Eric Schaberg, coach
Mendelssohn String Quartet Opus 13, 4th mvt.

Quartet 48
from West Orange, NJ
Vikram Kalghatgi, Alex Wang, violins
Graham Cohen, viola; Eric Jacobson, cello
Warren Cohen, coach
Mozart Eine Kleine Nachtmusik; Cohen Quartet

GNYO Quartet
from the Greater Newark Youth Orchestra
Janice Cheon, Benjamin Kerswell, violins
Edmund Han, viola; Alex Nelson, cello
Shirley Chang, coach
Beethoven Quartet opus 18, no. 3, 3rd mvt.

Cajajoric Quartet
from Randolph, NJ
Eric Rappeport, Jason Kim, violins
Joanna Luo, viola; Caylynn Yao, cello
Eric Schaberg, coach
Beethoven Quartet opus 59, no. 1, 1st  mvt.

Sparta HS Quartet
from Sparta, NJ
Kathryn Chamberlain, Emily Gaab, violins
Stephanie Leotsakos, viola; Amanda Pegher, cello
Loni Bach, coach
Beethoven Quartet opus 18, no. 4, Scherzo

Stirling Strings Teen Quartet
from the New Jersey Youth Symphony
Sameer Jain, Elizabeth Rosa, violins
Kim Marotta, viola; Arman Sharif, cello
Mark Gunderman, coach
Mozart Quartet K. 168

Shanghai Quartet
In residence at Montclair State University
John J. Cali School of Music

Weigang Li,  Yi-Wen Jiang, violins
Honggang Li, viola
Nicholas Tzavaras, cello

Program at 10:15 a.m. will feature

         La Oracion del Torero                    Joaquin Turina

Program at 1:00 p.m. will feature

Quartet No. 1 in E Minor             Bedrich Smetana
        Allegro vivo appassionato
        Allegro moderato a la Polka
        Largo sostenuto

Renowned for its passionate musicality and impressive technique, the Shanghai Quartet has become one of the world's foremost chamber ensembles. Its elegant style melds the delicacy of Eastern music with the emotional breadth of Western repertoire, allowing it to traverse musical genres from masterpieces of Western music to cutting-edge contemporary works.

Formed at the Shanghai Conservatory in 1983, the Shanghai Quartet has worked with the world's most distinguished artists and regularly tours the major music centers of Europe, North America and Asia, from the Beijing International Music Festival to Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. Among innumerable collaborations with noted artists, they have performed with the Tokyo, Juilliard and Guarneri Quartets, Yo-Yo Ma, Lynn Harrell and Peter Serkin.

The Quartet has a long history of championing new music and has premiered works by such composers as Krzysztof Penderecki, Chen Yi, Bright Sheng and Zhou Long. Their extensive discography includes more than 25 recordings, the most recent of which are the complete Beethoven String Quartets on Camerata.

The Shanghai Quartet currently serves as Quartet-in-Residence at Montclair State University and Ensemble-in-Residence with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra. They are visiting guest professors at the Shanghai Conservatory and the Central Conservatory in Beijing.

Message from ASTA/NJ President:

Greetings All,

Being a member of ASTA includes you in a community of musicians and teachers that are working towards creating a lively community of support for all musical endeavors national and state wide.  In these times of cutbacks and fiscal worry it is wonderful to have a place to go to where you will find a common spirit cheering you on in your endeavors and providing resources for you and your students.  

As with all things we are the sum of our parts and that includes you.  What you and I bring to the table is what creates our chapter’s efficacy or lack thereof.  Share with us your experience by submitting articles for the newsletter, logging on to face book, coming to meetings and participating in one of our many programs.  
Please browse our website and see what we are up to!  Take advantage of the many ASTA/NJ programs that will enhance your offerings to your students.  Click on the newsletter icon on this page and read the inspiring articles submitted by fellow ASTA/NJ members.   Also, stay tuned for news of the ASTA/NJ Chamber Music Institute  2012!

Nationally recognized for its excellence and service to the New Jersey string community, ASTA/NJ was recipient of the 2007 & 2011 ASTA Outstanding Chapter Award, 2011 Best Leader & 2011 Best Website Award. In support of our mission statement objective, ASTA/NJ continually strives to promote the highest artistic and pedagogical standards in teaching and performing.

We encourage you to enjoy exploring and participating in the outstanding opportunities and programs sponsored by ASTA/NJ.


Erika Boras-Tesi


ASTA/NJ Quartet Festival Overview by Margaret Zufall Roberts


The Winners Recital for the 2011 Solo Competition will be Sunday, May 6, at 3 p.m. at the St. Francis Residential Community Center, located at the junction of Pocono Road and Diamond Spring Road in Denville, NJ. The MacDowell Club, and their Program Director John Blasdale have kindly offered to present the Winners Recital as the final program of their monthly recital series.

Many thanks to our sponsors The Violin Doctor, Things4Strings, Karin Menzel, and Robert Ames!


Early Bird ($400) – Enrique Rodriques, a 9-yr-old violinist – playing the Sarasate Zigeunerweisen and the Bach Sonata No. 1: Adagio
Early Bird Honorable Mention – Kingston Ho,  a 10-yr-old violinist – playing Bach G Minor Sonata and Mozart G Major Sonata
Junior A ($400) – Soyeong Park, a 14-yr-old violinist –  playing the Ysaye Sonata “Les Furies”, and Dvorak Concerto: Finale
Junior B (Ames Bow) – Solomon Oak, 16-yr-old violinist – playing Wieniawski Polonaise Brilliant, Mendelssohn Concerto: 3rd mvt.
Junior A Honorable Mention – Angela Kim, 15-yr-old violinist – playing the Mendelssohn Concerto: 1st mvt. and Wieniawski Polonaise Brilliant

Early Bird Division Winner, 9 year old, Enrique Rodrigues is a 4th Grade student at the Warren Point Elementary School in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. At the age of 6, Enrique enrolled into the Bergen Junior Strings Orchestra under the baton of conductor, Joseph Dubbiosi. The following year he joined the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra and in 2010 at the age of 8, he was accepted in the Bergen Symphony Orchestra. Enrique is currently performing with the Bravura Youth Orchestra. He recently met Joshua Bell, who had seen some of Enrique’s videos and was impressed by his playing and encouraged him to work hard in order to pursue his dream of one day becoming a famous violinist.
 In 2010, Enrique began to study with Ms. Duoming Ba, a member of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. He has won several awards at various competitions, including Gold Medal Winner at the NJ/MTA, the Golden Key Music Festival, the Prima International Competition, the Music Fest Competition. He also enjoys performing with his sister at Assisted Living centers.

Early Bird Division Honorable Mention, 10 year old, Kingston Ho, lives in Ledgewood, New Jersey. His teacher is Elena Peres, who teaches in West Orange High School.

Junior A Division Winner, 14 year old Soyeong Park lives in Princeton, New Jersey. She debuted with the Philadelphia Orchestra under the baton of Charles Dutoit as a winner of the 2009 Albert M. Greenfield Competition. Soyeong also won first prizes in the 29th Goldblatt Scholarship Competition and the Woodmere Friday Music Club Competition. As the winner of the Old York Road Competition and the Monmouth Symphony Concerto Competition, she was invited to perform with those symphonies.
Concertmistress in New Jersey All-State Intermediate Orchestra for three consecutive years from 2009 to 2011, her ensemble experiences include ‘Youth Chamber Orchestra’ and Quartet in the Center for Gifted Young Musicians of Temple Music Prep., the Greater Princeton Youth Symphony, Kimmel Center Summer Chamber Music Program, and String Ensemble and Quartet in West Windsor-Princeton High School North. Soyeong currently studies with Yayoi Numazawa and Yumi Scott, and has studied with Mei Chen Barnes.

Junior B Division Winner, 16 year old Solomon Oak is currently a student at the Bergen County Academies (Academy for Medical Science and Technology at Hackensack, NJ).  In 2010, he was the concert master for the North Jersey Regional Orchestra.  He has also been playing with the New York Youth Symphony Orchestra since 2009, which performs three times a year at the Carnegie Hall. He has been studying the violin with Mrs. Yu Jeong Lee for five years. He and his family, as a quartet, enjoy sharing music with the local community, especially with those who do not readily have access to music.   In addition to music, he is a black belt in Taekwondo. He won first place at the 2011 American Taekwondo Championship.

Junior B Division Honorable Mention, 15 year old Angela Kim, is a sophomore at Ramapo High School in Franklin Lakes, NJ. She is a pupil at the Juilliard School Pre-College Division studying with Dr. Ann Setzer and Khullip Jeung. Recently, she made her concerto debut with the NOVA Philharmonic at Merkin Concert Hall, NYC. Angela won the first prize award at INPASS competition in 2011, and performed in the Winner’s Recital at the Kennedy Center, Washington DC. She was also announced as the first place winner at the AFAF/Golden Strings of America, 2011 International String Competition and will perform at Carnegie Hall in January of 2012. Over the past few years, she was selected to be a member of the New Jersey All-State Intermediate Orchestra and All-North Jersey High School Symphonic Orchestra. She served as a concertmistress of Ridgewood Festival Strings and the Mannes Symphony Orchestra. During the summers, she attended Blue Mountain Festival and Meadowmount School of Music.


The Future of Practicing – Technological Practice Buddies by Kim Chiesa


The constant use of technology has become a worldwide addiction. It’s time to turn that addiction into something useful to make everyone’s practice time more efficient. There are many who practice consistently but do not using their time wisely. Since a lot of students have some kind of smart phone, iPod, iPad, tablet, or other Internet device, why not turn that instant access to the world into practice resources?

If you are like me, you are attached to your smart phone. My iPhone has become my new and best practice buddy.  I have downloaded a metronome and tuner app that work better than the metronome and tuner that I currently have, and those apps cost $2.99 each instead of the $45 that I originally spent on my metronome and tuner. I can get on the Internet any time and have access to YouTube to watch and listen to different recordings for ideas about phrasing, bowings and sometimes fingerings. I can even take pictures of what my left hand looks like in different positions, and think about what I need to do in order to adjust my hand shape properly. I have recorded myself and watched the video seconds later to see where my bow is and if the sound I hear matches what is actually happening.  When I need intonation help in passages that are all the way up the fingerboard, I can record the passage an octave lower in the voice memo feature, and then play the passage in the correct octave along with the voice memo to see what is in tune and what needs to be corrected.

I have used my iPhone many times to help enhance the quality of private lessons. I record students often and make them listen to their recordings to get them to analyze what they did. It’s also great to show students past recordings so they can hear for themselves how much they have improved. I can always pull up my metronome or tuner and show students how they can be used to improve efficiency in the practice routine. I have also started taking random pictures of posture poses in the middle of my students playing a piece in order to show them what their bow holds and left hands actually look like. When students have “picture perfect” posture, I can easily send that picture to their parents to help them know what to look for and take pride in their child’s development.

Most students or their parents have some sort of electronic wireless device. There are numerous apps that students have instant access to whenever they want. (There are also great websites too if students do not have access to a portable device.) In a school setting, the teacher has an equally noteworthy opportunity to turn this technology into a useful practice tool. Want to generate a lot of excitement for practice? ---Explain to elementary school students how to use a metronome, and let them try it out in their group lessons at school! Create the “metronome challenge.” Ask students to find the cheapest (or free) metronome and try playing through a piece they’re studying at a slower speed. In their next lesson, ask how many students tried practicing with a metronome. You will love seeing how many hands are raised!

Everyone can benefit from having a practice buddy. By taking advantage of the instant technology phenomenon we can improve upon our own playing and help to instill positive practice habits in our students. The possibilities are limited only by our imagination!


Googling Violin by Betsy Maliszewski


The winter concerts are over, region and all-state music is learned, festival and spring concert music is picked. It is time for the string teacher, both studio and classroom, to turn to thoughts of… assessment. How much has the student progressed since last year? Are they meeting the goals set by not only by you, their teacher, but also by outside adjudicated sources? The most valuable (and scariest) aspect of assessment is objectively seeing how your students measure up against the students of your peers. Technology and the internet can help both the studio and classroom string teacher prepare students for meaningful assessment.

The ASTA Certificate Advancement Program (ASTACAP) enables studio teachers to prepare students of all levels for non-competitive examinations adjudicated by string specialists. Brought to New Jersey by our own Leslie Webster, the ASTACAP program provides teachers with an eleven level Repertoire List that can be tailored to meet the needs of each student. How can the internet help? First and foremost, join ASTA. Once you become a member, go to, click on the member resources link and download the 2009 Edition of the Certificate Advancement Program Handbook. Once downloaded, this .pdf can live on your computer as an easy reference source. Upcoming New Jersey exams will be held in East Hanover on April 29, 2012 and Upper Montclair on May 6, 2012. Additional 2012 exam sites will be in Tenafly, Ewing, and Morristown. Check frequently for updated info.

    Classroom string teachers frequently need measurable assessment data for both grading purposes and overall program assessment. Collecting that data (ie listening to every student separately) can eat up many days of valuable rehearsal time, and result in pages of rubrics with no saved audio. Audio data collection can be attained using the Garage Band software application on a Mac computer. Using either the built in computer microphone, or an external Blue Snowball microphone, record each student, convert the file to an mp3, and store the files in iTunes. In this manner, you can record each student at different times of the year and maintain a cumulative assessment of student achievement. Of course, the easiest data collection procedure is to have each student record at home and bring in a flashdrive or CD.

All serious students, whether in a school music program or a private studio, need to be familiar with metronomes and tuners. As the commercial says, “There’s an app for that!” The Alvin Yu series of free apps include violin, viola, and cello tuners that clearly sound each open string. For 99 cents, the ProTuner chromatic tuner works like a “regular” tuner, but needs to be amplified for classroom use. The free Metronome app by Keaka Jackson looks and clicks like a “real” old fashioned metronome, and $2.99 will buy you a Frozen Ape digital Tempo Advance app. In a pinch, the free app Flashlight by NTG Corp. can be used as a stand light in a dark pit or concert space (personal experience - this works).
In most cases, even my youngest students own or have access to an iPad, iPhone or iPod. Virtually every Allstate solo or orchestra piece that has been recorded is available as an mp3 download. Students can now put any required piece onto their playlist and listen daily with little or no effort. Even the much maligned youTube can help your students achieve mastery of skills. A search of popular orchestra arrangements will bring up dozens of parent-posted school orchestra concerts. As with any media, you as teacher must guide the students towards acceptable renditions of required music. The point of youTube is that anyone can and does post for the world to see and hear--- anyone. Search and screen in advance, advise accordingly, and youTube will work in your favor. Happy Surfing!


Back to Bass-ics with Linda McKnight & Louis Kosma as interviewed by Kimberly Syvertsen


To say that past ASTA/NJ presidents Linda McKnight and Louisa Kosma have left an indelible mark on bass teaching and playing in the New Jersey/New York metro area is something of an understatement. McKnight, who serves as a professor of double bass at both Montclair State University and the Manhattan School of Music and Kosma, who plays in the Metropolitan Opera and serves as Music Director of the NJCU Orchestra, Youth Orchestras of Essex County, Vermont Philhamonic and the JCC Thurnauer Symphony, have maintained crucial presences in performance and education here in the Garden State. In this e-interview, we’ll explore a bit about what led them to the bass and ultimately teaching, as well as some time-honored pedagogic insights.

1. What drew you to the double bass? (Tell us a little about your experience of studying bass, from school-age through college years.)

Linda: I began my double bass studies in May of my 9th grade year at Benjamin Franklin Middle School (then encompassing grades 7-9) in Ridgewood, NJ. I had studied classical piano since age eight and was recruited for double bass by Mr. Warren Grim, BF’s instrumental music teacher, because, “You’re a tall girl, you can read music, and we need a bass player!” I immediately fell in love with the double bass, which offered me the opportunity to play in orchestra for the first time. Being able to perform with other musicians, rather than alone as pianists do much of the time, became then, and currently remains, one of my greatest joys.

My first private bass teacher was Joseph Cascelli, orchestra conductor in Ridgewood’s George Washington Middle School, principal bassist with the North Jersey Philharmonic Orchestra, and a student of famous New York Philharmonic double bass pedagogue Frederick Zimmermann. When I was in my Junior year of Ridgewood High School, Joe Cascelli brought me to New York to play for Mr. Zimmermann, who accepted me as a student on the spot. Fred Zimmermann remained my teacher through my first three years of college at The Juilliard School until, in the summer before my last year, he died at age 61. I completed my Senior year under the tutelage of Stuart Sankey, and earned my Bachelor of Music Degree from Juilliard on schedule in May of 1968.

During high school and college, I played with the RHS Orchestra, the NJ All-State Orchestra, the Ridgewood Symphony, and was mentored by my first teacher, Joe Cascelli, in the bass section of the North Jersey Philharmonic Orchestra. In the summer of 1966, I won the audition for the Congress of Strings, an eight week, full scholarship, summer string program sponsored by the American Federation of Musicians, held that year at Michigan State University in East Lansing. On one of the regular seating rotations, I was assigned to share a stand with bassist Jay VandeKopple, who had won the COS scholarship from his home state of Michigan. We instantly became inseparable, continued to write each other daily after COS had ended, and took turns visiting each other’s families during summers and on school breaks. In June of 1969 we were married, and Jay moved East to pursue doctoral studies in mathematics at New York’s Yeshiva University, while always continuing to play bass on the side.

Lou: When I was in the 7th grade I was called to the principal’s office along with another student, Carol. He told us that there was a cello and a bass in the school and he wanted us to decide which one to play. My parents played guitar and accordion, mostly by ear and we decided that a bass would fit in.  Sorry, no other fancy musical explanation for the choice!!

2. What bass teacher(s) had a profound influence on your teaching and/or playing?
What particular concept did  they impart to you that you find yourself using regularly?

Linda: My first two teachers, Joseph Cascelli and Frederick Zimmermann, with whom I studied two and five years respectively, each influenced me profoundly. Joe Cascelli gave me a solid set of basics which have always served me well. Fred Zimmermann showed me that it was most important to teach my students the concepts behind music rather than just the notes in a piece. He believed that knowing how to choose a fingering wisely would allow the student to choose a sensible fingering not only for that particular piece, but for all other similarly-constructed pieces. The proper way to select fingering and bowing was emphasized rather than the automatic digestion of a pre-packaged set of fingerings or bowings handed out without comment or explanation. To this day, I always try to follow Fred Zimmermann’s lead in teaching my students the concept they’ll need to address a certain passage rather than just giving them the fingerings and bowings necessary to execute that passage.
Lou: My main teacher, mentor and friend, Edward Arian, had the greatest influence on me.  He was a wonderful musician, bassist and had the ability to analyze a student’s needs. I believe he worked with and nurtured one’s “natural” ability and supplemented whatever was needed beyond that. Sound production, phrasing as well as the basics were thoroughly covered. There were lots of etudes, scales and arpeggios, and “sensible” solos in a graduated and logical order. Also, and most
important, a really thorough study of orchestral bass parts. He couldn’t stress them enough and boy am I glad he did! At one point, half of the lesson would be orchestral literature.

Two other teachers also influenced me in other ways. They were Roger Scott and Henry Portnoi. I studied orchestral excerpts with him and rigorous scale and arpeggio rote exercises. With Henry, I dealt more with phrasing and the notion of exaggerating what I wanted the listener to hear. (If we see a cresc., dim., or subito something on the page and the listener doesn’t get it then we never did it or at least, didn’t do it enough)

3. How did you get involved in teaching?

Linda: When I was a Sophomore at Ridgewood High School, Joseph Cascelli asked me if I would be willing to teach bass on a volunteer basis to a couple of middle school students in town who couldn’t afford lessons. I found teaching them exhilarating, and although neither one continued through the year, the spark of teaching ignited a blaze in me which quickly turned into a burning passion.

Lou: I got a Music Ed. degree with applied concentration in Double Bass from Temple University. Teaching seemed logical and “safe.” I got into it, enjoyed it and taught one year for the School District of Philadelphia and 6 years in Belleville, NJ.  We had quite a large program in Belleville when I took a leave of absence to work on a Masters. Meanwhile, I continued studying bass, playing outside jobs, teaching lessons, adjunct teaching at several universities and doing summer work such as the Grand Teton Music Festival and New Jersey Symphony.

4. Any tried-and-true tips for teaching bow holds? Improving intonation? Learning self sufficiency in tuning the instrument? Are their any variances in how you work with a student who holds their bow differently than you? (i.e. if you hold the bow French style, but the student has a German bow hold.)

Linda: A good hand position and good intonation go hand-in-hand. The development of a good hand position will make whole steps and half steps more accurate to begin with, and will prevent the necessity for large, long-distance corrections should a note require some adjustment. The closer a bassist can come to producing the intended pitch by location and hand-shape, the closer that desired pitch will be to the fingers, and the less the fingers will have to move to achieve clean intonation.

Knowing my passion for teaching, Frederick Zimmermann advised me while I was still in college to become proficient on both the French and German bows. Although Joe Cascelli, Fred Zimmermann, and I all played German bow, Fred Zimmermann was an excellent French bow player as well. Fred helped me purchase a French bow and taught me how to use it. In my last year of college study before Fred Zimmermann’s death, we spent the last 20 minutes of each lesson working on the French bow until I became comfortable and adept at it. I also worked on my French bow playing with some of the other teachers with whom I studied and coached after college – all French bow players. Among them were Henry Portnoi, the then-retired principal bass of the Boston Symphony, and noted New York pedagogue Homer Mensch. Because of Frederick Zimmermann’s wisdom in advising me to learn both French and German bow styles, I’m able to work confidently and successfully with students who play either French or German bow.

Lou: I’m a French bow player stick to primarily teaching it. I send German bow students to fine
German bow players and teachers. I usually start a beginning student with the Suzuki grip; the first joints of the fingers on the top of the wood and the thumb under the frog on the slide. When I determine that the bow arm is working properly then I switch to a French bow hold; first joints of the fingers along the stick, index extended slightly and the thumb, bent not straight, with the tip placed on the stick, between the end of the frog and the leather grip.  I use a guide for 1st position; a finger placement device such as tape or a paper hole reinforcement. I also recommend the student playing with the accompanying CD or other fixed pitch medium. If I have a bass on hand, I play along with the student in the lesson. Several years ago I was happy to read that a study from the Eastman School also recommended finger placement helps and playing with either the piano or accompanying CD!

I hold off on tuning at the beginning. I recommend that the student get a simple electronic tuner or tune to open strings with a piano or keyboard. Even phones and other personal devices have tuners available. Eventually, when the student gets to 3rd position I introduce the “matching harmonic” tuning process. Regarding tuners: If they’re good enough for some members of the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonic (others as well and not just bass players, other strings, winds and brass), then they’re just fine for a student.

I have taught some beginning German bow students but had them occasionally take a lesson with German bow colleague. I have other French bow teaching friends who have done the same. I do, however, eventually recommend that they go to a German bow teacher. I don’t want to ruin a talent.

5. What teaching points should young teachers be mindful of when they instruct bass students? What is easy to miss in teaching when young teachers are instructing bass students?
Linda: Young teachers should always select instruments that are the correct size for their students, especially when instructing elementary and middle school children. If a bass is too big, development of the correct hand position will be impeded due to the student’s inability to expand his or her hand to form a whole step between the 1st and 4th fingers.

In teaching students of any age, it is easy to miss the fact that the student may be holding the instrument up with the left hand, rather than having the bass lightly balanced against the player’s body with the hands free to bow and finger. Encouraging a student to strive for hands-free bass balance is an important and worthwhile goal.

Lou: Make sure the bass is the right height. Check to see that the shoulders are not hiked up and are in a relaxed position. Check to see that, no matter which bow hold, the arm moves in the most natural way possible. Keeping a good left hand position with the thumb behind the index finger and rounded shape of the hand like the capital letter “C” or “G.” “Holding a grapefruit or large apple” is another way of describing it, as well. Not lifting fingers and thumb when shifting. Oh, there are just too many things to look out for!! Given the above, many things are easy to miss. What one learns over time is exactly what to go after immediately or whether you can hold off a bit, particularly if positive strides and results are happening in most other areas. It’s the fine line of keeping things moving in a positive direction; working with the talents a student has demonstrated and not stopping progress for something that you know can be looked into later. However, I don’t mince words when something very basic is wrong. I say “NO.” I’ll draw attention to that problem immediately. It won’t go away by avoidance or trying to be nice, it will be learned wrong and come back to haunt the student and you in the future. You can bet on that!

Lastly, a bit of general wisdom I learned from a professor in college was the value of moving students on to someone who can best meet their needs, especially when they have needs outside our strengths or knowledge base. We can always take pride in providing a foundation and getting them excited about the instrument, but it’s also our responsibility to make sure they have the tools from the right people to help them soar.


Something to Try… Elevator Fingers by Leslie Webster


“Elevator Fingers” is a powerful little exercise that appears now and then in workshops under a variety of names.  The name I’m using I first heard from Mimi Zweig.

We have all seen young string players with left hand problems that stem from gripping the neck of the instrument too hard.  Elevator Fingers releases the grip while focusing on better tone quality.

Place your third finger very lightly on the string, in first position, as if playing a harmonic.  We will pretend this finger is on the top floor of a building and it will ride an elevator down to the basement.  While drawing long, slow bows, gradually press the finger into the string, descending toward the fingerboard, “floor” by “floor”.  Visit as many floors as possible (try for ten!), before arriving in the basement, which is a hard squeeze.   Listen to the tone at each level.  The top floor will have a whistling sound; the basement will have a harsh, piercing sound; and the floors in between will have a variety of tone qualities.  Which floor is the most vibrant?  For most of us, it is the third or fourth floor above the basement.

Do this exercise for each finger.  Try it in higher positions.  Try working slowly through a solo, applying “Elevator Fingers” note by note.  Soon you will revel in the vibrant, full tone and enjoy the feeling of a vibrating string under the fingers.  And there is a bonus:  you will love the side effect of a relaxed hand and thumb!