The Importance of Ensembles

If you missed by previous blog post about getting creative with your studio–check it out.  It’s all about how I changed things up with mandatory ensembles, and how that worked out.  Now we’ll venture down another reason ensembles are such a great idea.

When I was about ten years old my family decided to form a family band. Well, it wasn’t really a family decision to be honest. More like a mom and, maybe to a lesser degree, a dad decision. The Christiansen band was a thing to behold. We wore matching light blue and white checkered button down shirts with white buttons and jeans. Even writing this today I cringe at the memory of those shirts. My brother, who played bass (and now is an accomplished reconstructive plastic surgeon), and I would literally try to sneak out of the house without any of our neighborhood friends seeing us going to our “gigs” in our “outfits.” My dad and I played guitar, my brother held down the low end on the bass, my mom sang and my little sister sang and played the pan lid. Yes, a pan lid. Her pan lid parts were strategically placed and even though I’d been practicing the guitar for five years and knew how to play pretty well, she stole the show with her pan lid prowess. We played an assortment of old bluegrass tunes (my dad and I would burn some tunes as duets… and that was actually a ton of fun for both of us), sang old folk tunes with the occasional country classic thrown in like John Denver’s classic “Grandma’s Feather Bed” or Alabama’s “Play Me Some Mountain Music,” and on occasion my parents would sing a duet of Muskrat Love. An argument can be made that all of us kids were scarred by that tune. We played for all kinds of events. Community gatherings, church functions, school events, actual concerts and family reunions (that were mostly not our family…. Not sure how that worked out) were all part of our scene. Looking back on this, my parents were geniuses. Not because of their Muskrat Love duet. They were geniuses for having the foresight of what that experience was going to do for their kids. All of us were incredibly comfortable in front of audiences and crowds at a very young age. It not only helped with performance anxiety (that helps me a ton as a professional musician), but helped all of us become confident public speakers. All of us became comfortable talking to adults and were able to adapt to uncomfortable surroundings. (Did I mention that we once performed with the entire family on one picnic table AT A ZOO?) Anyway, the short of it is that the family band was a blast. We rehearsed together, played together, ate together, traveled together and actually had a ton of fun. Any band is a ton of fun to be honest. So in retrospect, other fighting harder for hipper threads when the band outfits were being designed, that experience was awesome.

Author: Corey Christiansen, Executive Director of Music at EA School of Music

How to Assess Your Student’s Playing

The other day a colleague was asking me the best way to assess a student’s playing. What a heavy question that is! I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and while I think the real answer to this could be covered more effectively in several books than in a blog post, I’ll share a few ideas here anyway.

I think the first question really has to be “why” we assessing our students. I know that seems like a rhetorical question, but I think it warrants asking and I think the answer is that we assess our students so we can offer a balance constructive criticism and positive reinforcement to help them progress as students. What the balance is between criticism and positive reinforcement totally depends on the student. (Maybe I’ll cover this in a later post.)  I try to put elements of a performance under a couple of umbrellas so I can keep track of student’s progress. These umbrellas are: Technique, Musicianship/Musicality, and Theoretical Understanding. Of course, there are many aspects of music that can be organized in subcategories under these umbrellas, but I find that organizing my assessment with these concepts in mind helps me organize my thoughts and help plan strategies for each students’ progress and success.  Sometimes I will hear a student that clearly focuses more on the technique and theory side of things. They have great chops and a deep understanding of theory, but their musicality/soul or concept of time is really not very strong. Other students may have great passion in their playing but are lacking the proper techniques to execute their passion in an articulate way. It’s been my experience that students are usually strong in one or the other categories. So, while this is a very light writing on the subject, I assess every lesson/performance with a macro viewpoint to help me organize more micro solutions in a more effective way. While this may seem very obvious, I know many teachers sometimes forget about assessing the big picture when it comes to strengths and weaknesses of a student. Hope these ideas help.

Author: Corey Christiansen, Executive Director of Music at EA School of Music


Welcome to the Educational Advantage family. This is a such a cool adventure we’re all on. When our CEO and visionary, Bruce Dahl, contacted me to be involved with this project, frankly, I was completely blown away that the team (prior to my arrival on their scene) had put the pieces together for us to create the country’s first online high school offering a full music curriculum with high school credit. Nobody had done this before and I have been here from the beginning working, helping, and watching (sometimes with a dropped jaw) this amazing team of course creators, editors, web designers, and production crew put this offering together. We are pleased with how our courses and everything that supports them has turned out, and are excited to have you working with us. We are confident that, together, we can help students around the country connect better with music, master their instruments, inspire stronger ensemble experiences in schools, and maybe help develop deeper thinking and more empathetic students.

Finding a good private music teacher is the best thing a student can do if they are serious about mastering their instrument. If you’re here with us and ready to get involved, we know you are that type of teacher. Please give us feedback about our courses and offer suggestions that will help you connect better with your students and help them grow.

Author: Corey Christiansen, Executive Director of Music at EA School of Music

Listening is Essential

Guest Author: Max Matzen

I truly believe that at the center of every great player’s musical inspiration are a handful of recordings. Not just digital video footage, but actual recording projects–like records and CDs. I can name several records that had a profound impact on me as a young musician that still inspire me to this day: Wynton Marsalis’s Carnaval with the Eastman Wind Ensemble, and Clifford Brown and Max Roach’s Live at Basin Street. These records, no matter when I see or hear them, make me want to play the trumpet for several hours or more. My discovery of these two records seriously changed my entire life trajectory.  I know that sounds a bit much, but it’s completely true! I was 15 years old on a trip in Colorado. I found both of them on the same day in a CD store in Colorado Springs. Right now, many years later, they are both with me here in my private studio, proudly sitting atop my piano (next to a bunch of trumpet mouthpieces).

As a teacher in a generation where most things are just a click away, things have definitely changed. Many students are unwilling to pay for recordings, even if it’s just $1. Many people don’t have the patience to search for good recordings beyond youtube.  It’s no coincidence that every student (and professional for that mater) that I’ve seen that really excels in their art has a very close relationship with recordings that they love. They listen to them closely and regularly, repeatedly. They turn to them when they need inspiration or just to be excited about the path that they are on.

I believe that one of the biggest challenges we face is somehow fostering an environment where students learn this kind of patience, curiosity, and relationship with entire recordings, and feel good about investing in them.

What do you think?

Author: Max Matzen, Course Creator, EA School of Music 

Why Everyone Should Improvise

Guest Author: Leslie Hart

Learning to improvise is not often associated with learning an instrument. For most of us, improvisation is far from our minds as we studiously practice and learn an instrument. If our goal in learning music is to be the best musician, improvisation should be at the center of our work.

Great improvisers perform in the moment. They: 1) improvise within a context (tonality, meter, style), 2) interact with the music around them (surrounding parts, rhythm, harmony, musicians), 3) predict familiar and unfamiliar music, and 4) know a substantial amount of repertoire. Learning through improvisation establishes context, interaction, prediction, and breadth of repertoire allowing for authentic understanding of music and your instrument.

In my dissertation, Improvisation in the Collegiate Horn Studio, I found that learning to improvise was not a novelty but an essential part of learning. Improvising doesn’t need to be hard, intimidating, or fearful to start however it does require risk taking and some musicianship skills. For example, sing “Hot Cross Buns” out loud. Now, take a minute and change the tune to something similar but different. How’d that turn out? 🙂 Try again and then a few more times. Can you come up with a melody that is different but similar? If so, you improvised. In a similar way we can improvise rhythm of the tune. We can also improvise guide tone lines, which are notes that sound great with the chords in the tune. A simple children’s song that you’ve probably heard 100 times now becomes a part of your musicianship. I’ll never forget one of the questions on my theory entrance examination at graduate school asked me to notate “Happy Birthday” and I couldn’t do it. No one had asked me to think about something so simple yet something so familiar. At that point I was used to practicing 4-5 hours a day and had performed full-time professionally in an orchestra and yet I didn’t know how to notate “Happy Birthday.” Just last week, about 15 years later, someone called out to play “Happy Birthday” at the beginning of an opera rehearsal and I was the musician improvising and harmonizing, making the arrangement way cooler. 🙂

We all have a lot of experience with improvising in language—it’s called speaking! The process in music learning should be similar to that in language. In other words, you should be constantly trying to “speak” or improvise in music learning. Your musical voice and ideas are unique to you and if developed well allow you to be your best musician. Happy improvising!

Author: Leslie Hart, Course Creator, EA School of Music 

Teacher Feature 001

Meet Tim Bischof

We’ve got some pretty amazing teachers in our network. Every few weeks, we are going to feature an instructor or shop who’s caught our eye. This week, we’re talking about Tim Bischof, an EA certified instructor out of Newberg, Oregon.

Watch a video about Tim’s business here.

 Take a look at this great interview Tim did with our partner,

What/Who inspired you to start your own business?

I had a love for guitar at a very early age. My uncle Jerry used to play and he helped me get started giving me my first Mel Bay guitar book. Over the years, I learned mostly thru video instructional and self-study. I tried out some guitar lessons but was unhappy with how most lessons were being taught. Questions were left unanswered because ‘time was up’. There didn’t seem to be a smooth transition to end each lesson. I wasn’t able to challenge what I was being taught. So I decided that once I knew guitar well, I would teach in a way that encouraged the musician to help structure their lessons to fulfill what they desired to get out of it. I have always worked fairly independent jobs and enjoy the entrepreneurial work. So this is my dream come true. Now working with over hundreds of clients through the years, I get to run my own business, doing what I love and helping encourage others to love it as well. But in it, they are sure to get what they want out of the guitar lessons. It is always a win-win!

What was the greatest challenge that you encountered along the way?

The greatest challenge I have faced so far was a student whose parents wanted him to learn different material than he wanted to learn. I had to find a compromise where I was teaching what his parents desired for him, so they would let him continue to take lessons on the instrument he loved. But I had to make it fun for the student or he was not going to apply himself to his playing. So I found a way to teach the theory that his parents wanted him to learn, but to make it fun for him by incorporating songs he loved into the lessons. It was a win-win for the parents and the student. I was able to do what I love: to encourage another student to love the guitar, while improving his playing skills.

How would you describe your usual clients?

There really is no ‘usual client’ when it comes to Don’t Give Up Guitar. I have children and adult students. Their levels of experience range from those who are brand new on the guitar to those who have been playing for years. I have one family where their 7 year old is taking lessons, their teenager, and the father. There are no limits when it comes to teaching guitar. If the student has a desire to learn, then I can teach them!

What do you think is the most effective strategy to keep your customers happy and satisfied with your services?

Each student gets a free consult before we begin lessons. This allows me to get a feel for their level of experience, and gives them a taste of my teaching style. Then we can see if it’s a good fit. I also allow each student to help guide the lessons. I do not set a strict agenda and force them to follow along. They get to give input as to what they want to learn. I will suggest certain lessons based on their skill level, their understanding of theory, etc. But I always allow the student to change the direction of the lessons to ensure they get what they want out of it, and that they continue to love playing. So for instance, if one student is learning difficult theory for several weeks, we may take a week out to teach them a song they love, so they are encouraged to keep on with the theory. This allows them to begin to see how the theory is so critical and makes a heart connection by playing music they love. I always ensure there is an open feedback loop with the student (and parents). Asking them how I am doing and what they want done differently, is critical in order to adjust my teaching to the style that works for the student. Also, the lesson does not end when they go home. If a student has a question between lessons, they are encouraged to call or email me to get it answered. I do not want a student to feel that they are not being heard or responded to.

What was your most favorite and successful project?

My favorite project was making my first CD with a wonderful friend who has since passed away. In college, he majored in music and I was interested in making a CD. We worked together for months to get the recordings just right. We spent many hours in my garage with blankets up for sound barriers, etc. It was so fun working with a friend and doing what I love. And in the end we had recorded my first album. I have so many wonderful memories. I will never forget the experience or the friend! With regards to lessons, my favorite experience is when I get to see a student go from minimal guitar experience to full-on musician. I get to teach them theory, watch the light bulb come on as they ‘get it’, and then watch them as they develop into talented musicians, performing or writing their own music. It is so rewarding!

In a short line, how would you entice your potential consumers to book your service?

I have a ‘commercial’ that has been a great way to show my love for the guitar and demonstrate how the interaction with the customer looks. This has been a great tool for me. I also love to talk to the student (and parents) to discuss what they want out of the lessons, what their level of experience is, where they want to go with their music, etc. And with technology where it is today, it is so nice that location is no longer an issue. I can literally teach students across the world giving lessons over the internet. My business name is “Don’t Give Up Guitar”, and that is my mission. I take the underdogs and make them champions. I want to be your guitar coach. Bring it on. Let me help you reach your musical dreams!

You can find Tim at the following links: