10 Gift Ideas for Young Musicians!

10 Gift Ideas for Young Musicians!

As holiday seasons quickly approach, we have a few suggestions to help parents who are encouraging their children’s musical studies with gifts that support their efforts. Enjoy!


1. Music stand

Having a sturdy music stand available in your child’s practice area is a great way to show support for their music studies. A solid stand will hold all of their music books and because of its solid desk, it will support any writing you or your child might need to do during practice. (And who can resist these colors??).


2. Practice Space makeover

If you already have a stand like the one above, try adding a few inspirational messages or images for your child in or around their practice space. You could consider framing images of famous violinists such as Joshua Bell,  Hilary Hahn or Sarah Chang and/or printing some nice quotes about practice such as,   

“Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good, it is the thing that makes you good.”—Malcolm Gladwell

“Only practice on the days that you eat.” -Shinichi Suzuki

“The slower you go, the faster you get there.” -John Link

Joshua Bell Oak Park string academy

3.  Accessories

Metronome. Every music student needs a metronome. While there are many metronome apps available, I am a fan of the ‘old school’ metronome placed on a stand or shelf nearby for several reasons. First, it is loud. And second, there are no distractions from other apps or excuses to wander into social media during practice. 😉

Pencil Holder. Don’t be caught without one!

Page markers.  A fun way to mark the pages of assignments in your music books.

Highlight tape. Students enjoy using this tape to mark the “map” or form of a piece or to use it to mark spots that need extra practice.

4.  New Case strap

Having a new accessory for their instrument could not only zhuzh up their violin case, but also perhaps their enthusiasm for it (and even the practice it demands). These straps at Strapsy are fun and unique!

5.   Fun Games and Practice items 

A great way to bring some humor and play into a hard working practice session is to use little trinkets and games to keep things light and the corrections impersonal.  Can you balance a friend on your violin while you play your review piece? Can you move a bead for every “keeper” achieved  in a phrase? Along the same lines, try adding a fun music game to your practice or for a family game night. Michiko Yurko, a Suzuki piano teacher in Washington D.C, developed these fantastic materials. Many of our students order the puppy pack. Try playing traditional card games like War, Solitaire, or Go Fish with these music note cards.

practice help at Oak park string academyMusic Mind Games Oak Park string academy

6.  Concert Tickets

We are so fortunate to live in an area where there is an abundance of live music ready to be heard almost anytime. OPSA teachers perform in a many different places around the Chicago area. You can hear them in a chamber concert, downtown in an orchestra performance, in River Forest in a Bach cantata, and more. The Chicago Symphony has lovely children’s concerts like these. You can also find inspiration together by attending a Chicago Youth Symphony concert.

Here is a special concert opportunity to hear OPSA violin faculty, Elizabeth Huffman and Meg Lanfear at the Harris Theater in downtown Chicago for a Beatles Tribute concert. 

7. Subscription to Spotify

Having access to music anywhere, anytime as well as the ability to share songs between devices and people (such as your teacher!) makes a Spotify subscription a great choice for music students. And, as you may know, the Suzuki albums are all available here. We prefer the Suzuki Evergreens playlist as this offers the Suzuki version of the violin pieces as well as the original version (e.g. a German children’s choir singing O Come Little Children).


8.  A personal musical history file 

I recently saw a great idea a parent had to collect their child’s funny sayings, some photos, messages from family, childhood artwork, etc. and emailed it to an email address in their child’s name. They turned over the account to their child when they graduated high school. I thought that a similar idea would be lovely for a child growing up playing an instrument. Keep a Dropbox folder of their images from concerts, a few videos, and a list of the repertoire studied and accomplishments achieved through the years. I also love the idea of briefly viewing this folder together in a time of low motivation to show your child how far they have come with their skill development.  

9. Support building a routine

Students enjoy playing their instruments, but sometimes struggle to find a practice rhythm to their day. Sitting with your child at a time other than practice time and helping them sort through some of the obstacles to practicing can be time well spent. Are there a few moments before school that have previously gone unproductive that could be used to work through an etude or review pieces? When can listening happen? On the way to school? During dinner? Help to navigate these opportunities with your child. This support to develop and maintain a routine can make the difference between a frustrated student and one who feels they have strategies to help them conquer their day.

Planning at Oak Park String Academy

10. Time

Some of my most vivid memories of my own young violin studying years involve my childhood home in Virginia. I recall being in our living room, practicing with my Suzuki Dad. He is sitting right in front of me perched on the edge of the wooden rocking chair, holding his notes from that weeks lesson in his lap. He watches me do an exercise several times in a row while checking to make sure that my repetitions meet the criteria set out in the assignment notebook. He is tired, having worked all day. He has an older daughter who wants to tell him about her day at school and a young son begging him to come and play catch with him outside. He also has a wife in the midst of starting a business, tired herself this evening and cooking dinner for our family in the kitchen across from the living room. And yet my Dad is there—giving it his all as a Suzuki Dad. I am forever grateful, both for the memories as well as the skill those moments helped develop.  



Community Night for Benefit Concert recipient: A House in Austin

Community Night for Benefit Concert recipient: A House in Austin

Everyone welcome!

Learn about A House in Austin November 17, 2-3p

Come and make a craft, enjoy some treats and hear from visitors from A House in Austin. They will share about what their organization does to help families and community members in the Chicago neighborhood of Austin.

Our December 7th Benefit Concert at Grace Lutheran in River Forest will be in support of A House in Austin. Stay tuned for more concert details!

Back to school! Tips for encouraging success in music class.

Back to school! Tips for encouraging success in music class.

Ready to get back to school?! Get ready for music classes with these tips!

Including music classes as part of your child’s education is something we feel is essential!  In D97 string classes and band are offered beginning in fourth grade. While I wish these classes started as young as Kindergarten or earlier, starting as soon as possible will prepare your child to join one of the ensembles in middle school and high school where they will have the opportunity to develop relationships with peers who are motivated and invested in something positive and worthwhile.

Here are some tips for beginning your child’s musical education journey on a high note:

1. START EARLY: Did you know that many students studying at OPSA begin lessons at the age of 4 or 5 years old and continue through high school? Consider preparing your kindergarten or early elementary student now by starting lessons with a local teacher.  While we are partial to violin lessons at OPSA, we can help recommend teachers in the area for many other instruments.

2. QUALITY FROM THE START: Find a great teacher right from the start. Many a student has quit and decided they didn’t have musical ability simply because their first experience was not designed in a way that built in success. This is heartbreaking. Avoid having to undo bad habits–both physical and mental—right from the beginning by finding a great teacher from the start.

3. TEACHING vs. PERFORMING: Ask about pedagogical training. While a teacher should be an excellent player able to demonstrate in a beautiful and skillful way (and demonstrate often in the lessons), being able to play is NOT a sign that one can teach. This would be like assuming that a farmer can cook great meals. Maybe, but maybe not. A desirable teacher will demonstrate in the lesson (after all, music is a language that needs to be heard. Not hearing it would be like trying to learn French by only reading it–tres absurde!) as well as provide assignments for practice that leave the student and parent feeling like they know what to do, how to do it and exactly how to tell that they have achieved success in their practice.

4. CORRECT SIZE: Make sure your teacher helps you find the right size and quality instrument for your child. Did you know that violins come in different sizes? Did you now that one of the biggest demotivators for kids is having a violin that is too big which makes it harder to play? You may have heard that violins are like wine–the older the better. Without your teacher’s guidance, how do you know what makes a good violin for your individual child?

5. PLAN FOR SUCCESS: Make sure your teacher has a plan. Whether it is helping you select a violin or actually playing the violin, you need guidance. Playing the violin is not like piano or even most woodwind and brass instruments. Playing the violin is one of the most challenging things your child might ever do. BUT WAIT! Please don’t run away. Having a teacher with a plan (which often arrives from a combination of pedagogical training, experience and getting to know the particular student) can truly make or break your child’s experience. A step by step plan given in small increments can help to make the process fun, enjoyable, and most importantly–successful! At OPSA, we pride ourselves in helping every child know that they can do anything they put their mind (and time) towards. Musical talent is not inborn!

6. COOPERATION NOT COMPETITION: Cooperation and inspiration–not competition. OPSA includes a community of students (and parents) that are well trained. Some may look at the success of our students and think that it is achieved through competitive pressure. This could not be more incorrect. Rather than dull drilling, berating, pressure and competition, we provide our students with goals that they can strive for among a group of peers who inspire one another to be the best they can be by following through and committing to a path of excellence. We provide our students with clear assignments that help develop not only a beautiful sound, skill, and heart but also a sense of what mastery means and an appreciation for an art form that can (when developed skillfully) express the joys and sorrows of humanity. (Whew! What an awful lot at stake!). It is not uncommon to see a parent of one OPSA child congratulating the child of another because they’ve seen their struggle and been down that challenging road themselves and know just how much work they’ve all put in to arrive here.

7. FIND YOUR MUSIC COMMUNITY: No matter how much a child may complain about practice, I have never heard an adult come up to me and say, “I am so glad my parents let me quit.” In fact, I hear the opposite quite often; adults telling me with tears in their eyes, “I used to play and I wish I had kept it up. I’m trying now, but it is much harder.” Having friends and family around who also play or are learning to play instruments can help provide your child with a sense that this is something many people do and enjoy. Family jam sessions (no matter your ability level!) can be great fun and go a long way to encourage ownership for a budding musician. A pedagogical plan, a community of students and parents who are on a similar path, an individualized approach, and support for the parents are all necessary in order to keep the musical journey going.

Finally, learning how to play the violin in a way that teaches one how to break down something so challenging into smaller, more manageable steps is a skill that we all want for our children. On those days when they are grown and adulting just becomes too much for a moment, we hope that being able to go play chamber music with their friends, or simply for themselves, will be enough to help them recharge and find peace and beauty in their life.

OPSA welcomes new violin faculty member, Angela Thompson

OPSA welcomes new violin faculty member, Angela Thompson

Joining the OPSA violin faculty this September, violinist, and Suzuki specialist, Angela Thompson.


Angela received her Bachelor’s Degree from the National Conservatory of Peru in violin performance. She has played as a soloist with the Cusco Symphony Orchestra and has taken master classes from internationally known violinists, such as Ray Chen and Rachel Barton Pine

Angela has over a decade of teaching experience. In 2015, she co-founded the Capulitaki School of Music in Lima, Peru, which currently teaches Classical and Latin American traditional music to children of all ages. Her students have participated in musical festivals, concerts, and institutes and have toured various cities throughout Peru. Angela has completed Suzuki training courses for Books 1- 8 as well as numerous enrichment courses with some of the most skilled teachers of our generation including, Nancy Lokken, Marilyn O’Boyle, Ann Montzka, Nancy Jackson, Fernando Piñero, and Carol Dallinger. She has also received training in the Dalcroze and Kodaly methods. She has taught at festivals and institutes around Peru and was the elected Violin Coordinator of the Suzuki Association of Peru from 2015-2017.

Angela loves traveling, her two cats, and learning different styles of music. She occasionally dabbles in amateur theatre and dance. 

We hope you will all warmly welcome Angela to our OPSA community!

(Read about our other remarkable faculty here!).

New Violin Class for Elementary and Early Middle School Students

New Violin Class for Elementary and Early Middle School Students

Summer Violin Classes!

  • This class is specifically for students between the ages of 8 and 11 who have started violin lessons at school during the school year and wish to continue through the summer.
  • 8-week session begins June 10 and will consist of a 1-hour class held twice a week on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10:30a-11:30a.
  • This class will incorporate violin technique, reading and ensemble skills, Dalcroze inspired movement and general music theory.
  • Enrollment is limited to 8 and the cost of the class is $400 for the entire session ($25/lesson). Sign up by June 1st, and receive 10% off (that’s only $22.50 for each lesson!). Use Code: OPSA10
  • Classes are held at the Oak Park String Academy: 350 Harrison Street, Oak Park, IL 60304 and are taught by experienced instructors who are also active performers all around the Chicago area.
(And come on out to see our current students play at the “What’s Blooming on Harrison Street” festival this Saturday, 5/18, from 11:30a-12:30p!).
Email Office@OPStringAcademy.com for more info.
Benefit Concert 2018 for Hephzibah

Benefit Concert 2018 for Hephzibah

2018 Benefit Concert funds to go to Hephzibah Children’s Association.


Save the Date:

Saturday, December 15, 2018 at 2:00p at Grace Lutheran Church in River Forest


Dr. Shinichi Suzuki was a Japanese violinist and humanitarian. Witnessing the destruction of his homeland due to the second World War, he formed a vision to help nudge the world toward peace through its children. Through music, Dr. Suzuki hoped to build noble hearts in children all around the world.

With this in mind, we produce an event each year that connects our students from Oak Park and the surrounding areas to the larger world they live in. In previous years, our students helped to raise money through their music for the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and the Heartland Alliance’s unaccompanied minor program. This year, our music students are collaborating with Hephzibah Children’s Association in Oak Park, IL. OPSA students will be performing a concert at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Oak Park on December 15 at 2p. 

OPSA students and faculty will be collaborating with other Oak Park area musicians to create a global concert featuring music from around the world. In previous years, we performed music from Syria, Lebanon, China, Romania, and more. This year, the concert will include special faculty performances, global music, and even a holiday sing along. Local Suzuki students from neighboring studios will join to play music together and hopefully make the world just a little more peaceful and beautiful.

Hephzibah will be the recipient of the funds we raise. Last year, OPSA raised almost $2,000 for Heartland Alliance. We hope to do even better this year! You can make a donation right away!


Oak Park String Academy benefit Hephzibah