Why practice violin?

Two things are true about playing violin:

  1. It is hard
  2. It is easy

Yes, violin is a difficult instrument to learn how to play. It takes a tremendous amount of patience, energy, and time. The rewards may not always seem obvious, the goals may not always seem attainable. Instant gratification? Nope! You need to work hard.

However, playing the violin IS easy. All you have to do is take one little step at a time, listen carefully to what your teacher is saying, and practice every day. Sometimes we violinists get so wrapped up in the quest for mastery and beauty that we forget to be proud of what we have already accomplished. We also forget how the heck we got here in the first place. What did we do? We committed to this instrument, we listened to our teachers and parents, we practiced often and we practiced what we were supposed to practice, and we never quit. Despite all the setbacks, all the frustrations and doubt, we are now here, playing beautiful music on the violin.


Fiona has been playing for two years and is learning Lightly Row

Let’s just be real — in this world it is HARD to commit to practicing the violin every day. It’s hard for me personally to take the time out of my extremely busy day to practice. I have felt guilt, at times – wondering if there was something “more important” or “more practical” I should be doing. I’ve had to learn to set guilt, fears, and doubt aside, and focus on my commitment to the violin. I have to reassure myself often that my violin journey is an important, vital part of my life and that I must work at it every single day.

I’ve found the same is true with teaching my own children. Establishing a daily practice time can be very difficult, but it is also the most important. It may need to change as the child grows or their schedule changes. It may need to change because you notice they are more alert in the morning than they are in the evening. When are they the most receptive to playing violin? For one of my children it has been better to be more flexible, but for the other, I’ve found that establishing a specific time for practice every day is better. Just like anything else with children, we must figure out what works best for each child.


Paula Bird, an amazing violin teacher and wonderful human being, was just talking on her podcast, “How Big is your Why” about the question of WHY we are doing this. WHY do I teach violin? WHY the Suzuki method? Check out her amazing podcasts here.

Her podcast got me thinking. In today’s world, it is really easy to think of violin as just another activity for your children to do – learning an instrument is an opportunity they shouldn’t miss out on. But as Suzuki teachers and parents we are doing so much more than that. The WHY behind what I do, personally, is because I believe as Pablo Casals said, that it might just be music that saves the world.

I have a very strong belief in the power of music and the benefits of learning an instrument. Together, we are making the world a better place – one child, one family, one community at a time. Brodhead doesn’t offer an orchestra program in their schools. This makes it even more important that children have opportunities to learn a stringed instrument here.

One of the goals I have for my studio is to create a safe space of non-judgement, where students can learn and grow not only as musicians but as sensitive, kind citizens of the world. Dr. Suzuki said, “Beautiful tone, beautiful heart.” I just hung up a poster with these words in my studio. I can attest to the truth in this statement. In all of the years I have played violin, I could never manage to sound beautiful when I was in a negative place in my head or heart.

So playing violin is more about just learning the instrument, it’s about our growth as individuals. This is an important journey. Why start the journey? Why continue on the journey? What is the point? Why does it matter so much?

To borrow a common parenting phrase, playing the violin isn’t a distraction from the hard work, it IS the hard work. Playing the violin creates an atmosphere of love, beauty, and magic in your home. It makes a statement that, “Yes! This is important!”. Music benefits our brains, our bodies, our hearts, and our souls. Music teaches life lessons in a positive and subtle, yet powerful way. It takes GRIT and determination to set goals and practice daily. It takes persistence and faith to know you can do it and TRY. Being part of something greater than yourself — the global violin and Suzuki community — is a life-changing experience that is guaranteed to change you for the better, for LIFE.


Louisa having fun “earning monkeys” during her lesson

My personal mission is to share my love of violin and classical music with as many children as possible. Making lessons fun. The joys of accomplishment. Helping my students grow as musicians and people. Creating a positive atmosphere of learning and beauty, not competition and judgement. Nurturing faith in ourselves and our abilities. And much more that I cannot begin to articulate at this moment. I only know one thing for certain – every child can play violin, and they are better for it.

Yes, it is hard, but it also easy.


Classical Music by Women — a wonderful world to explore

Something that is glaringly obvious about the history of classical music is the relative absence of women composers. When I was growing up, the only thing I played composed by a woman was the Melodious Double Stops book by Josephine Trott (which I still practice, it’s awesome) and the Concertino for Violin and Piano by Grazyna Bacewicz — which I performed at a recital around age 14 (not my performance below, but a really great one!)

Now that I am older, and teaching violin, I think it is really important that students learn more work by women composers and learn more about history of women violinists (and musicians in general). Fortunately, I am not the only one that feels this way. More and more is being written and researched on this subject. It is really fun to study. I’m currently reading a GREAT book: “Unsung: A History of Women in American Music” by Christine Ammer (Century Edition). What an amazing resource. I have learned so much and it fun to continue research on some of these early women composers and violinists.

Composer Amy Beach is a standout, and she composed a piece, Romance, for one of the first great American women violinists, Maud Powell. Beach’s work is available on IMSLP. Rachel Barton Pine has dedicated an entire album to Powell’s honor, “American Virtuosa: A Tribue to Maude Powell” and explains more in this interview over at The Strad.



You can also hear the recordings of Maud Powell herself (some are available on Spotify). The YouTube channel VictorianVirtuosas has some Maud Powell recordings as well as many others. It is so amazing to me that we are able to hear some of this early work and learn more about these women.

I may be most excited about the discovery of this collection of work — Violin Music by Women: A Graded Anthology (edited by Cora Cooper). Four graded volumes of violin pieces by women composers? Yes please! I plan on ordering these soon and including these works in my teaching repertoire.

maud powell

Maud Powell

Another interesting find was the music of Elise Fellows White. I found her “Etude — Caprice for Violin and Piano”, which was composed in 1922! And is available for free download here. And there is a recording of her playing it available here! 

I’m so excited to learn more, how about you? ! Not many of these works are widely used, so they would be fun to record and put up on YouTube some day 🙂 But most of all, I can’t wait to share the work of women composers with my students and our audiences!


Notes about Summer and The Happy Squirrel

This is such a fun group song! Thank you to  Kerstin Wartberg & David Andruss for arranging this and sharing it with the Suzuki community. It is great for a variety of levels from beginners to advanced students. Watch below:

The music is available for download free here. 

I taught this to my girls this morning. My oldest daughter, Kali, is about halfway through Book One and she learned the Violin 1 part. My youngest, Fiona, is 5 and just starting Lightly Row. She learned the Violin 4 part. I played the advanced part with them and it was a super fun trio. I can’t wait to try this out with my other students and play it with a larger group!

My daughters and I also created this fun practice worksheet — The Happy Squirrel Practice Sheet which is free to download and use. It can be used any way you like — color in a squirrel each time you practice the song, or for so many repetitions, etc.


ALSO — Notes about this Summer: I will be available for lessons this summer, except for the last 2 weeks of July when I will be at the American Suzuki Institute! I am so excited to pursue further teacher training. I went to the Institute at Steven’s Point many years as a child, and it was, and still is, such a rewarding experience. I would highly recommend attending if you can. It is sooooo worth it! Click here for more information! 

If you are thinking about starting violin lessons — now is a great time to start. Even though we are all busy during the summer, the days are long and focusing on music is a great way for kids to use their brains and keep away from the electronics. E-mail me at sarahhemm@gmail.com for more info about lessons or to schedule a trial lesson! Adult students are very welcome as well!

I will be playing with the Turtle Creek Chamber Orchestra this summer, and our first concert will be in Brodhead! Bring your friends and family down to Veteran’s Park on June 19th from 6-8 pm. I am looking forward to playing in my hometown!

Below: Some recent violin fun!

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Treasure Trove of Musical Ideas

A few months ago my husband came home with a huge box of old sheet music he found at a garage sale for $15. I was, at once, both excited and dismayed — because we were in the midst of moving/home renovations/summer with three kids and I didn’t have a place to store it. Luckily, I’m a bit of a hoarder, so here we are now, on a nice crisp January evening, and I can finally look through the box.


I pulled an old book out of the pile — the cover is barely holding on but the pages are intact — titled “Favorite Songs and Hymns for School and Home” by J. P. Mc Caskey. The copyright is 1899. After a little research (aka…a quick Google search), I found out that this entire book is available for FREE online!

What is intriguing about this book is that on almost every page there are sections containing in-depth writing, quotations, and facts about music, music history, composers, etc. These sub-sections could be an entire book in and of themselves!

Here is an example of such writing on only one page, (106), the quotation attributed to Holt:

“The most favorable period in the whole school life for laying a solid foundation for the intelligent rendering of music is the first three years, and here is where we must make a more sensible and intelligent beginning. We need first to appreciate the ability of the little child to learn the elements of music. This we shall never know till we learn better how to present these elements in their simplicity, in accordance with the mental laws, by which the mind acquires a knowledge of all subjects. The supposition has been that little children could not be taught to read music intelligently, simply because it had not been generally and successfully accomplished. The failure has not been on account of inability on the part of the children to learn music, nor on account of the notation by which it is represented, as some would have us to believe, but on account of a lack of knowledge amount those employed in the teaching of this subject.”

Indeed! And we can thank Dr. Suzuki for his ideas in teaching and nurturing the love of music in small children! Look how many young children now know how to play and read music! We are so lucky to live in a world that recognizes the importance of children learning music. Yes, we still have our battles, especially in the schools, to sustain and develop music programs. But as a parent, you do have options. There are so many private music teachers out there. And now, we even have the Internet to connect with others. What a wonderful time we live in.

So, fellow music aficionados, I would recommend checking out that book — and the website on which it is available, Internet Archive, has many more interesting things to find. So no complaining of being bored on these cold January days. Practice your music, or at least read and learn about it!

On that note, I have also been taking a great online course on the website Coursera about the world of the STRING QUARTET! It has been amazing! Check it out if you have the time! There are so many great musical learning resources on this website, it’s so great.


The Aizuri Quartet

Stay tuned for more posts about what I found in that magical box of music — I must share that I also found some copies of a periodical titled “The Etude” from 1919!!! There are so many interesting articles in it that I must share with you soon.

In the meantime, have a wonderful day! Cheers!


Free Downloads!


My daughter Kali and I (see silly picture above) love coming up with fun practice ideas and she has helped me create quite a few awesome charts. I have added a new page to this website to share some of our ideas and you are welcome to download them, free for personal use. If you are another violin teacher you definitely have my permission to give these out in your studio as well.

Click here to visit my Free Downloads page!

And check back with me — I will be adding more!

ALSO — don’t miss my next concert, I will be playing holiday music with the Madison Community Orchestra in our beautiful WI State Capital Rotunda on Saturday, December 19th at NOON. Don’t miss it! Free and kid friendly!

Don’t forget to like my FB page! Thanks peeps!

Fun Fall Beginnings

Fall is my favorite time of year — getting back into the school routine with the kids, crisp air, crunchy leaves, apples, and for me — the start of my new violin studio AND the start of orchestra rehearsals! You may have noticed the work we have been doing on our front porch, which had a sagging roof and rotting wood everywhere. That is all fixed now and we have put on new decking so it is nice and safe. The studio is now open and a few students are starting to trickle in. Yay! If you are interested in lessons for yourself or your child, email me at sarahhemm@gmail.com. We can also set up a time for you to come in and observe a lesson or do a trial lesson. More information is available on this website.

This month, I joined the Madison Community Orchestra. I was a little nervous because I had not played with an orchestra since I was in the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra in the 90s! Although my sight reading, at tempo no less, has room for improvement, I was happy to find the music challenging, and the conductor and other musicians inspiring. After all, I wouldn’t be a violinist if I didn’t love a challenge.

We are playing some great music and our first concert is coming up on Friday, October 23 at 7:30 – 9:00 pm. It is at the Norman Mitby Theater at the main MATC at 1701 Wright St. in Madison. More info about the concert here. Hope to see you there! We are playing excerpts of Delibes Coppelia ballet and the Fierrabras Overture by Schubert.

Studio Opening Soon!

I’m very excited to announce that I will be officially accepting students in September! As many of you know, we have recently moved to Brodhead and are restoring my great-grandmother’s Victorian house. The work is far from completed, but I am putting the finishing touches on the music studio and am definitely ready to get started teaching violin lessons!

Meanwhile this summer, I’ve been having lots of fun with my friends and family.


My niece Natalie and I breaking in the new studio space.


Natalie is in the Janesville school orchestra program, and here she is teaching us how to play one of the songs she was learning for summer strings camp. Fun!


My youngest student — my nephew Lukas!! He is playing what I like to call the “squeaky wheel” !!

11240087_10153519121236151_7226649903004873215_oFiona teaching Twinkle to her cat, “Mary the Moondust”

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Also feel free to check out my member page on the Suzuki Association of the Americas website.

If you are interested in lessons or would like to observe a lesson to see what Suzuki violin is all about, please feel free to email me at sarahhemm@gmail.com with any questions or to set up a time to meet!