The Evolving Educator is a conglomeration of and repository for everything I’ve learned and created over the years…so far. As I evolve as an educator, so will this resource.

It is written through the lens of a string music educator, yet there is much information that can benefit any teacher.

My goal is to serve a wide gamut of teachers as I include not only my current tools but also previous incarnations and how they become what is useful now.

I also envision this site as a printed book and resource so if you know of any interested publishers, please let me know.

Check out my bass blog, and home page,
Need a clinician for your music faculty or students? Contact me for more information.

Visit my online store.

19 Hard Things You Need To Do To Be Successful

You have to do the hard things.


  • You have to make the call you’re afraid to make.
  • You have to get up earlier than you want to get up.
  • You have to give more than you get in return right away.
  • You have to care more about others than they care about you.
  • You have to fight when you are already injured, bloody, and sore.
  • You have to feel unsure and insecure when playing it safe seems smarter.
  • You have to lead when no one else is following you yet.
  • You have to invest in yourself even though no one else is.
  • You have to look like a fool while you’re looking for answers you don’t have.

Read more:

Disappointed with Everest Shoulder Rests

It seems that lately all string players and vendors are excited about the new the shoulder rests from Everest. I was too! The molded plastic is rugged, the foam has lots of cushion and the feet have three contact points (unlike two on the Kun brand) so it would stay on the instrument.


However, I recently had a violin and viola student with the same issue – the foot breaks off the metal post. I first tried Gorilla glue to fix it so the student would not have to spend another $23. That lasted a few days and broke again. I next tried epoxy.. Yes epoxy!! That lasted about a week. I recommend students spend a little more and get a different brand.



***UPDATE 12/12/2013
I have contacted Everest and they were very understanding and receptive. They will be replacing the faulty part and investigate the design. They also said, “We believe that the issue with broken grippers may be limited to a small batch that was manufactured a few years ago at an incorrect temperature, but we’ve since fixed that issue.”

I hope so!! These are great shoulder rests.

***UPDATE 12/13/2013 I have received replacement gripper feet and they are indeed made of a different rubber and slightly different design where it attaches to the bolt. This new design seems MUCH better but we’ll see how it holds up to middle school use!






photo 2






***IN STOCK AND READY TO SHIP***A banner of the order of flats and sharps. I tried having two banners for each but students found it confusing. So here is a banner where they can just read it from the appropriate side and with a single flat and sharp they know which side to use. The banner it 60″ x 6″, made of durable vinyl with ultraviolet protection and has 6 brass grommets for hanging.
$80 + $10 S&H

DISCOUNTED BLEMISHED – Has a tiny (~2″ long and less than a millimeter in width) on the flat and sharp sign. Contact me for pricing.


First, stay calm! :) Everyone has ups and downs in everything. This is normal! Now is the time they need our encouragement the most. Being frustated or feeling overwhelmed is a natural part of the learning process. Tell them this and tell them to stick with it. If it continues to be an issue there might be a simple but hidden problem such as:

1. They don’t like who they are sitting next to.
2. The music is too hard or too easy.
3. Someone may be making fun of them.

All of these can be resolved by talking to me – I’m here to help!!!


1. Make practicing easy by:
-have the instrument out of the case
-have a music stand
-have a set time to practice

2. Use practicing as money. If the student likes to play video games, have them ‘buy’ video game time with practice time. For example, if they practice 30 minutes, they get 30 minutes of game time.

3. Ask your child what they are practicing and what they are doing to make the music better.

4. Reward BOTH practice time AND improvement.

Snark Tuners

Everyone seems to love Snark Tuners. So did I. But they just don’t hold up to daily use.


Comparison of Popular String Brands

Choosing the correct brand of strings for your program is a delicate balance between cost, playability, and sound. The most inexpensive strings are steel which is stiff and brittle sounding. A stiff string is difficult to press down and slow to respond to the bow. A string that is easy to play and sounds big and warm is often expensive. I began playing the bass in 1990 and started my teaching career in 1996. I’ve tried a lot of strings in those years!

Most violinists favor Thomastik Dominants where cellists often mix and match strings with a brand like Larsen. Violists and bassists are often more experimental and try many strings to match their instrument.

Anyway…. As a public school string teacher I want a string that is easy on young players fingers, has a rich sound, and has a price where I can buy in bulk. Unfortunately most program gravitate right to the cheapest – usually Super Sensitive Red Label. Yuck!

I have long been a fan of Pirastro Obligato strings. Their synthetic core make them very soft to the touch, easy to bow, and have a rich and warm sound. They are also very expensive! Personally I use either Obligatos or Pirastro Flat-Chromesteels on my bass. Although now that I’ve tried D’Addario Kaplan strings, those will be my next set to try. Other bass strings I’ve used are Jargar, D’Addario Helicore, D’Addario Zyex, Thomastik Belcanto, Pirastro Flexocor, and Pirastro Permanent.

Here is a grid with prices of popular strings. Click image for a larger view.

String Prices

My take:

Super – Sensitive – Steel core with nickel winding. Stiff. Harsh sounding. Unforgiving. But cheap.

D’Addario Prelude – Steel core with aluminum (A string) or nickel (D, G, & C) winding. Available for full and fractional sizes. Similar price range as Super Sensitive. ***UPDATE 11/13/2013 I just installed Preludes on a 1/2 violin. I’m impressed! A nice, soft feel to both hands and bow with a warm sound. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

D’Addario Pro-Arte – Synthetic core with aluminum winding. Available for full and some fractional sizes. Great soft feeling string. An excellent string and not just for it’s price. I like these on violin and viola but the cello strings feel tight and a bit harsh sounding.

D’Addario Helicore – Stranded steel core with various windings. Available for full and fractional sizes. These are very popular and a nice base-line string. Not my favorite. A little too high tension and lack some clarity that Kaplans have. A good choice for fractional size basses.

D’Addario Zyex – Synthetic core with various windings. Mostly full size. Similar to Dominants or Obligatos. Bigger, more complex sound than Pro-Arte. These are definitely a great string and better than the Pro-Arte but I think Pro-Arte strings have a better bang-to-buck ratio for school budgets.

Thomastik Dominants – Multi-strand nylon core with aluminum or silver windings. Another standard in the string world – especially for violin. These are wonderful strings but I’d go for a D’Addario brand for the cost savings. I don’t know of any bassist that uses these although I’m sure some do.

D’Addario Kaplan – 15″ Viola, 4/4 Cello, 3/4 Bass and select single violin strings. Very clear, big sound. Easy to play. I really like these on cello and bass.

Pirastro Obligato – I would splurge on these for basses that need every ounce of help they can get. Every bass I’ve put these on have sounded better. These age very well.


Final Thoughts:

My plan for future string purchases:

Full size Violin & Viola – Pro-Arte and Zyex (at my middle school)

Fractional Violins – Pro-Arte and Preludes (for large bulk purchases at elementary school)

Fractional Violas – Pro-Arte and Zyex (I’ll trim some strings to fit – at my middle school)

4/4 Cello – Kaplan!!!!  (at my middle school)

Fractional Cellos – Undecided.. Probably use Kaplans for 3/4 and Helicore for 1/2 & 1/4.


Is Music the Key to Success?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE trained to be a concert pianist. Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, was a professional clarinet and saxophone player. The hedge fund billionaire Bruce Kovner is a pianist who took classes at Juilliard.

The connection isn’t a coincidence. I know because I asked. I put the question to top-flight professionals in industries from tech to finance to media, all of whom had serious (if often little-known) past lives as musicians. Almost all made a connection between their music training and their professional achievements.

The phenomenon extends beyond the math-music association. Strikingly, many high achievers told me music opened up the pathways to creative thinking. And their experiences suggest that music training sharpens other qualities: Collaboration. The ability to listen. A way of thinking that weaves together disparate ideas. The power to focus on the present and the future simultaneously.


Empathize With Students By Tying Your Shoes

What Is Empathy? 
According to Psychology Today, “Empathy is the experience of understanding another person’s condition from their perspective. You place yourself in their shoes and feel what they are feeling. Empathy is known to increase prosocial (helping) behaviors”
In the realm of education, Mannheim School District 83 Superintendent Kim Petrasek puts it this way:
Empathy is central to the shaping of relationships that are meaningful, supportive, rewarding, and productive.  
Empathy happens when children sense that the teachers in their lives feel they are important and when they understand that they will be accepted and respected, regardless of any particular talents they may have. 
Why Be Empathic?
Empathy develops tolerance and empathic students are less likely to bully or tease other students.
Empathy improves the rapport between teachers and students,  which leads to students being more active and engaged in the classroom. (Educational Leadership September 2003, Volume 61, Number 1)
Kevin Szczesniak, assistant principal at Mannheim Middle School says, “It’s more important than ever for teachers to empathize with their students.  Social Emotional Learning/Support is the key to a strong foundation for all students.  It’s basically the infrastructure of a student’s educational success.”


Need a clinician for your school, music department, string sections, or college music education / string class? I’m available!

“…[Peter] offered a full day of interesting insight, thoughtful analysis, and enjoyable music-making for the students in my program and myself.” – Mr. Michael D. Blostein , Averill Park High School, Averill Park, NY.

I was fortunate to work with local students this past winter in River Forest, IL.

 ”Peter participated in our string workshop at Roosevelt Middle School in River Forest. He came super-prepared to work with and motivate our students. Peter brought materials he had created just for our workshop and presented each kid with their own copy. His enthusiasm was motivating. He is very passionate about teaching and about stringed instruments, especially the string bass.” - Mr. David Wuersig, director


***NEW*** BEADGCF Banner


A banner of the order of flats and sharps. I tried having two banners for each but students found it confusing. So here is a banner where they can just read it from the appropriate side and with a single flat and sharp they know which side to use. The banner it 60″ x 6″, made of durable vinyl and has 6 brass grommets for hanging. $50 + $15 S&H

The Rhythm Ruler

Hey music teachers! Check out the Rhythm Ruler – a tool to help teach rhythms to students.

CardstockPicture RhythmRulerForInstructions



CAD, Math, & Scrolls

Drawing a scroll on a computer from The Strad, July 2012. Click the image for the 3 page PDF.


Names that need change…




Empathy and Action

National Public Radio has a report today about the huge influx of material goods and cards sent to Newtown, CT. This physical outpouring of emotions and empathy has led to a situation where Newtown has dedicated a warehouse to all the things they have received.

As an educator this got me thinking. We all want our students to be and feel safe. We want our students to feel empathy. We want them to feel empowered to do something and be able to affect change. These positive desires have led to thousands of schools, teachers, and students sending cards, gifts, and donations to Sandy Hook. But with Newtown housing 63,000 teddy bears, is this the best use of our time and resources? Or is it just an easy way out – it’s easy to write a card, slap a stamp on it and drop it in the mailbox.

It’s much harder to initiate change from within but the rewards are exponentially greater. Imagine if those thousands of students wrote a short positive comment to a fellow student, parent or teacher. What would be the effect if those students said ‘hello’ to just one fellow student they had never spoke to before? What if those teachers gave one extra “Great job!” to a pupil? What if a student searched deeper within and changed one tiny negative  thought to a positive AND expressed it? Those minuscule seconds of change would add up to a huge synergy of positive emotions – RIGHT NOW, RIGHT HERE. The effect would be visible and felt. Rather than hoping a gift was well received or put to use, we would have IMMEDIATE emotional feedback. Perhaps it would create a whole new direction of inertia for the learning environment.


Top 10 Skills Children Learn From The Arts

Top 10 Skills Children Learn From The Arts from the Washington Post

You don’t find school reformers talking much about how we need to train more teachers in the arts, given the current obsession with science, math, technology and engineering (STEM), but here’s a list of skills that young people learn from studying the arts. They serve as a reminder that the arts — while important to study for their intrinsic value — also promote skills seen as important in academic and life success. (That’s why some people talk  about changing the current national emphasis on STEM to STEAM.) This was written by Lisa Phillips is an author, blog journalist, arts and leadership educator, speaker and business owner. To learn about Lisa’s book, “The Artistic Edge: 7 Skills Children Need to Succeed in an Increasingly Right Brain World,” click here. This appeared on the ARTSblog, a program of Americans for the Arts.

By Lisa Phillips

1. Creativity – Being able to think on your feet, approach tasks from different perspectives and think ‘outside of the box’ will distinguish your child from others. In an arts program, your child will be asked to recite a monologue in 6 different ways, create a painting that represents a memory, or compose a new rhythm to enhance a piece of music. If children have practice thinking creatively, it will come naturally to them now and in their future career.

2. Confidence – The skills developed through theater, not only train you how to convincingly deliver a message, but also build the confidence you need to take command of the stage. Theater training gives children practice stepping out of their comfort zone and allows them to make mistakes and learn from them in rehearsal. This process gives children the confidence to perform in front of large audiences.

3. Problem Solving – Artistic creations are born through the solving of problems. How do I turn this clay into a sculpture? How do I portray a particular emotion through dance? How will my character react in this situation? Without even realizing it kids that participate in the arts are consistently being challenged to solve problems. All this practice problem solving develops children’s skills in reasoning and understanding. This will help develop important problem-solving skills necessary for success in any career.

4. Perseverance – When a child picks up a violin for the first time, she/he knows that playing Bach right away is not an option; however, when that child practices, learns the skills and techniques and doesn’t give up, that Bach concerto is that much closer. In an increasingly competitive world, where people are being asked to continually develop new skills, perseverance is essential to achieving success.

5. Focus – The ability to focus is a key skill developed through ensemble work. Keeping a balance between listening and contributing involves a great deal of concentration and focus. It requires each participant to not only think about their role, but how their role contributes to the big picture of what is being created. Recent research has shown that participation in the arts improves children’s abilities to concentrate and focus in other aspects of their lives.

Read the rest of this entry »

The More Things Change…

Check this out! A similar study was recently done with comparable results.


Fun Freebie :)

Click the image to download a PDF.

20 Seconds to Better Habits

from here:

Use the 20-Second Rule to Form Better Habits


Building good habits and breaking bad ones isn’t easy when we have a limited supply of willpower. One way to make this easier is by implementing a “20-second rule” to lower the barrier for change.

This simple trick comes from Harvard happiness expert Shawn Achor, as quoted by writer Eric Barker on Barking Up The Wrong Tree. In The Happiness Advantage:The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work, Achor recounts how just moving his guitar to be in immediate reach instead of 20 seconds away made him practice more. He no longer needed self-control to create the habit he wanted:

I like to refer to this as the 20-Second Rule, because lowering the barrier to change by just 20 seconds was all it took to help me form a new life habit. In truth, it often takes more than 20 seconds to make a difference-and sometimes it can take much less-but the strategy itself is universally applicable: Lower the activation energy for habits you want to adopt, and raise it for habits you want to avoid. The more we can lower or even eliminate the activation energy for our desired actions, the more we enhance our ability to jump-start positive change.

So, for example, you could end bad habits by making them take 20 seconds (or longer) to start (e.g., move the junk food to the back of the pantry).

Sometimes, if you want to change your life, the tiny things are what make a big difference.


Classical Thump is about understanding music theory through rock and pop music. 

The idea for occurred to me while exercising. I always have my iPod playing a random assortment of rock and pop tunes while at the gym and I’d often hear a song and think, “This would be great to teach this or that concept”.

The name is taken from Victor Wooten’s piece of the same name which is a complex and funky bass solo adaptation of Bach’s first cello suite.

Holiday Medley

A string orchestra arrangement of Jolly Old St. Nicholas, Good King Wenceslas, & Adeste Fidelis. I wanted a flexible arrangement for a 6 – 8 grade string orchestra with a wide range of abilities. The 1st and 2nd violin parts are the same except the 1st is 8va and can be played all in third position. The viola double the melody. The cello part is easy but advanced players can be challenged with position work. The bass part is similar to the cello but with some octave and articulation changes.

Dear Conductors…

Talk less yet say more. Performers are here to play music, not listen to you explain how smart you are. Oh and when you do speak, we don’t need clever put-downs.

And if you’re going to talk what is and isn’t possible with a Baroque bow, maybe you should TRY A BAROQUE bow. When I was in graduate school the baroque ensemble used their period bows and proved that much is possible than most people think. It can even bounce. Heresy, I know.

But those players are holding it underhand! Hmmm, like modern day bassists? Us bassists do just fine. But the stick is curved the other way. Yup, but the hair still has tension and therefore buoyancy.

Is the Tourte / modern bow an improvement? Absolutely. But don’t sell those Baroque musicians short!

Classroom Suggestions

I recently received these questions:

My 4th grade section is a challenge!  Mostly the issue is that I have 41 students with mixed instruments in a room that is too small.  I see them everyday for 30 minutes and get small group lesson once a week for 20.  Unfortunately, small group is still 11-12 students and since it is pull out they filter in from different rooms so it hard to keep them on task with people entering and leaving. With such a large group I can’t give the assistance to the students  that don’t quite understand the music yet (i.e. not putting the correct fingers down, rhythm etc.) let alone address bad habits such as wrist position and instrument hold. This has also caused and issue with the pacing of material. 

Do you have any suggestions for keep the material fresh and interesting so I can get the extra reps some of the students need. 

Also, if you have any procedures that you use the help keep students focused that would be greatly appreciated.

Oh do I! Here are some thoughts:


30 minutes a day is great! You are fortunate!!
First – remember that YOU are in charge. This is your ensemble and you facilitate the learning and schedule.

- Wait for silence. Create a routine so the students know when learning has started. For example, in my middle school rehearsal we sing an A at exactly 7:15am every morning. Now that they are trained, every morning right before that, it’s quiet.

-Create a lesson plan and OVER-plan. No dead time. Rehearse what you are going to say.

-Eliminate extraneous speech – ums, ah, oks, etc.

-When planning directions, think if that is really a basic enough step. “Put your instrument up” is not specific enough… “Violins, with your left hand, hold the neck of the instrument… etc” is better.

-Keep students engaged. If you need to work with one section have something to do for the others. You can have one group arco and another pizza… or one group counting out loud while working on rhythms with a section.

-There is always a need to practice something more basic or fundamental.
Have a ‘layered’ plan – like Suzuki where there is something to do for students at any stage. For example – you could start every lesson with an easy fiddle piece from Fiddler’s Basic Philharmonic. Advanced students could play the advanced tune, more advanced students could play two of each note… That would be a fun warmup and give time for other students to arrive.

Or – if they’re not ready for the bow, a section can play pizz.. those ready for arco can bow it.


Rhythm Teaching Tool

Looking for a new and effective way to teach rhythm concepts? Check out my Rhythm Ruler!



Music Dictionary

A student recently asked me if there is an online dictionary of music terms. Although my gut reaction was to tell him to use Google, I searched and found this one:

How does this happen?

“I found it in my case this way.”


Education & The Internet

1995 – Yay! We have the internet. Use the internet! Use the internet! Use the internet! Use the internet!

2000 – Make a webpage! Put all your class stuff online! Wow, cool! Yay, internet!

2003 – Hmm… Haven’t updated the webpage since 2001. Looks cheesy. Boo, internet!

2004 – Use the internet to connect with people around the world! Yay, internet!

2004.5 – Huh. No one cares and I really need to actually teach lest a child gets left behind. Boo, internet!

2005 – Stop posting information about your classes. Student safety first. Boo, internet!

2006 – Use email. Use email. Use email. Yay, internet!

2007 – Start blogging! Yay, internet!

2008 – Blogging takes a lot of time and doesn’t really do anything. Boo, internet!

2012 – Will you please stop emailing? If you need something, walk across the hall and ask! Boo, internet! Oh, and stop all the dumb forwards. Double – Boo, internet!

2012.5 – Use iPads! Use iPads! Use iPads! Use iPads! Wow these iPads are cool.

2013 – (I predict)… Wow these make great multi-media devices… But students actually retain more when physically writing on paper. The act of looking at the paper combine with the physical activity of moving the hand to create the symbols of language can create more neural connection than tapping on a screen.


Classroom Rules

Here are my classroom rules:
(click the image for the PDF)



Are Teachers Too Nice?

Here’s an interesting article from The Strad. Click the image for the PDF.

Music & Bullying

Bullying is often related to a student environment of non-acceptance certain students. If a specific school culture does not include all students, the excluded students are more likely to be bullies. Therefore, having multiple avenues of inclusion (Music AND sports) can reduce bullying.

“When students feel “connected” to the school, they are much healthier, experience less emotional distress, are less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol, and are more likely to perform academically than students who are disconnected.”

*Source: Global Compliance Network

I think we can all relate to this one!