Choosing an Instrument


If you're starting out with a keyboard, watch for signs that it's time to trade up. The piano is a percussion instrument, and learning to use your fingers, hand and arm effectively can't be practised on unresisting keys; nor can your fingers play loud or soft notes, which is frustrating even for a beginner. As soon as you know your child is enjoying lessons, consider upgrading to an electronic or acoustic piano.

Which to get? some pros and cons -

  • an electronic piano, which must have weighted keys, is light and portable, and easy to tuck into your house; it can be used with headphones for privacy, and never needs tuning or maintenance. On the down side, it's trickier to fix if something does go wrong, and will never again be worth what you paid for it new. As your child gets more advanced, he or she may well complain it doesn't have character or personality for producing warmth and beauty.
  • an acoustic, or traditional, piano is fairly cheap to purchase used, and you will probably be able to sell it later for what you paid originally. (There are many opportunities to buy a used piano just for the cost of moving it.) It will have its own sound and character, and your child will tend to 'bond' with it! It is often a fairly large and heavy piece of furniture; the older it is, the bigger and heavier. It may need occasional tuning, but maintenance is fairly straightforward. With no headphones, you will always be able to hear exactly how often (and what!) your child is playing.


You will need to rent, borrow or buy a cello to practice on, although if you like, you can use a studio cello rather than bring yours to lessons. You will also need a hard chair without arms, and a music stand. Other useful items are rosin, which is a small hard block of gum used to condition the hair of the cello bow; and a pin holder, which holds the cello steady if you have hard floors rather than carpet. When you need a metronome, download a free app on your phone. (Metronomes help players monitor that their speed is staying steady, and how fast or slowly they should play.)

If you are buying a cello, there are many good manufacturers, and most student cellos are reliable. They come with a bow and a travel case.          A full-size instrument for adults is referred to as a 4/4; smaller cellos designed for young children are sometimes sized down to 3/4 or less.

for buying second-hand, start your search at
In Victoria,
Tom Lee Music, Long and McQuade, and Tapestry Music all offer instrument rental programs.

The Cowichan Music Festival in February is open to all students. I usually encourage students who are likely to enjoy it, and to benefit from it, to participate. Sessions begin early in February and the closing Highlights concert is held just before Spring Break.



Probably the single most important factor in a music student's success and enjoyment is the regularity and quality of practice. All the talent in the world won't help if you don't put in the time and repetitions to get your fingers used to the repeated muscle movements that musicians make. If you're involved in sports or dance, you'll already know that. When you're competent, it's fun - and when you're not -"it's boring!"

As a parent, you can help by:

  • making sure your child reads and follows the written homework assignment every practice session. It can be helpful to check off each thing as it's practised so there will be a week's worth of check-marks by the next lesson.
  • setting aside a regular time for practising, just like brushing teeth. After or before dinner, or school, might work, depending on your family's schedule and your child's temperament. Like any physical skill, it's all about regular repetition. Listing music practice in the agenda will help school teachers be aware of this extra time commitment  and might help your child remember to get it done as part of their homework routine.

  • noticing successes at least as frequently as mistakes. You might want to start a keepsake video file of polished pieces so you can all admire progress - and so can Grandma in Ontario!

Policies and information


  Missed lessons, like all pre-booked professional time, will be charged for. If I have notice, I will try to reschedule during teaching hours that same week, but even if you were sick, or had car trouble, I will not be able to 'bank' missed lessons to a later date. If I'm the one who cancels, I will always arrange a makeup lesson or give a refund.

Cancelling: if you withdraw from lessons during the year, any post-dated cheques will be returned and a refund given where applicable, following two weeks' notice (usually the last two lessons).

Other Stuff:

exams, festival, practice habits, choosing an instrument....

Exams are offered by the Royal Conservatory of Music in January, April (piano only), June and August. Some students are ready to take a Level 1 exam by the end of their second year, but it's not a route the every student wants to, or should, follow. You don't need entry-level exams to do later grades; for some, their first exam is Level 5 or higher. When you have passed Level 5 practical, you must also have passed Level 5 theory to receive your certificate. Levels 6, 7 and 8 practical, along with the matching theory exam, earn credits for Grades 10, 11 and 12 in high school in B.C.

Exam Levels, theory grades and book levels are not designed to match each other. Book 3, for instance, is not RCM Level 3; each author or school has its own system.