Protégé Program

Protégé Program: Lessons By Application* 

Each Studio Teacher will select students who demonstrate the following:

  • Faithfulness in thoughtful, daily practice.
  • A desire & drive to become a skilled, artistic musician.
  • Commitment to excellence in performing.
  • A desire to acquire and practice leadership skills (for age 11 and up only).

Protégé Student Distinctives:

  • Craft advantageous, individual performance goals with coaching from Studio Teachers.**
  • Reach clear weekly goals with scales, chords, & arpeggio practice.
  • Demonstrate consistent desire to tackle both challenging and enjoyable repertoire.
  • Attend Studio Class on four Tuesdays throughout the year and one Friday: Required.
  • Assist teachers in the MMK Studio Classes (ages 11 and up only).
  • Perform for MMK students & other protégé students during Tuesday studio classes.
  • Perform at the Studio Recital.

Goals upon graduation:

  • Protégé knows how to critically interact with music in every day life.
  • Protégé is equipped to be a life long musician.
  • Protégé understands music is a gift to be shared through performance.
  • Protégé is comfortable learning & performing late intermediate to advanced piano literature.

Who may apply:

  • MMK graduates
  • Transfer students

When to apply: 

  • Applications will be available by request in the Spring.
  • Notifications of student selection will be made by April.

*Openings are limited to each teacher’s unique schedule.

**Students may participate in festivals, competitions and various other performance opportunities.

Growing Up in Piano Performance

By Stephanie Edwards

Untitled design (6)My family tried a new tradition this past New Year’s: we stayed home, played some board games, and watched home videos.  As a video of one of my piano recitals appeared on the screen, memories surfaced.

Recently, I pulled out more of my recital videos and began thinking about the progression of student performing.  This first video is from my 3rd year of piano lessons, when I was 7 years old.  As with most elementary students, I completely forgot to bow or adjust the bench with my obvious nerves and excitement.  However, I was well-prepared, played with a steady beat, and even added in a little musicality:


Many beginning piano students perform in much the same way.  The extra presentational aspects (bowing, facial expressions, posture) may not be completely polished, but the playing is steady and accurate.  There is some musicality, but it may be limited a little by the student’s nerves. This kind of early performance reveals a solid foundation for my later piano studies.

The next video is from my 7th year of piano study.  As an 11-year-old, I am much more comfortable with the instrument, and you will notice that a little bit of poise has developed with my years of recital experience.  There is more expression throughout the piece, the songs are more substantial, and I even had arranged one of the songs myself.  At this point in time, I had rheumatoid arthritis, and so I wasn’t physically capable of a demanding, virtuosic performance.  Even so, there is progress overall; my playing, confidence at the piano, and performance etiquette had improved.

The final video is from one of my undergraduate recitals.  There is a bit of a gap between this performance and the previous video (11 years to be exact).  Subsequently, you will see a noticeable development in stage presence and a leap in ability (though there’s always room to grow!).  You may hear a few little memory glitches and muddled notes, as memorization is a typical challenge for intermediate and advanced-level students playing longer, more complex repertoire.  However, the musicality is more intentional and internalized; by this point, I ‘owned’ the interpretation.

In college, my teacher played a significant role in guiding me through technical challenges and helping me to develop the character of the piece, however, I had much more say in how I would play the piece and the sounds that I would evoke.  In elementary and middle school, my piano teachers taught me exactly how to play each piece and how each section should sound.  It took years for me to begin to feel more independent in this area – to convey a song’s style and character well , and make the music “come alive” on my own.

As ‘piano students’ become ‘pianists,’ their performance ability and etiquette changes.  Goals of steadiness and accuracy evolve into concerns of interpretation and musicality.  Though we teach musicality, tone, technique, and dynamics from the beginning of piano study, it takes time for students to truly internalize all these aspects and effectively convey them in performance.  Performing is an art that takes time to develop, and with each stage of the journey come new accomplishments and challenges.  It is a joy to celebrate accomplishments and overcome challenges with students at every level.

In lieu of a more recent video, I would like to invite you to a LIVE performance! My trio is hosting a concert this Saturday, April 22 at 7pm at Centerpointe Church in Fairfax.  We will be performing the Beethoven Archduke Trio and a Tchaikovsky piece, among other (shorter) works.  The cellist in the trio (Ryan Nobles) is also a GMU School of Music grad, and the violinist (Shearom Chung) has a DMA from Catholic.  It will be an evening of beautiful piano trio music!
The concert flyer is attached, and here is the link to purchase tickets as well as the Facebook event page.
Stephanie holds an M.M. in Piano Performance from George Mason University. To connect with her, you may reach her at sedwar18 @ (no spaces). In the Fall she will begin working toward a second masters degree in South Asian Studies at the DC campus of Johns Hopkins University. After finishing out this year with our studio, she will continue teaching in her own private studio in Chantilly on weekdays and Saturdays. Please reach out to her if you are interested in studying under her instruction. 

The Benefits of Reading Music by Stephanie Edwards

I love exploring the many fascinating benefits of music.

Today I will zero in on one vital skill my piano teachers taught methe ability to read music accurately and fluently.

If you were to ask me about my favorite hobbies, playing piano and reading books would be at the top of my list.  In many ways, these two hobbies are interrelated. Growing up, I loved pulling out random piano books and reading through them. To me, it was just like reading a novel; I met fascinating characters, visited exotic places, learned new things (musical patterns/gestures), and explored different genres.  I didn’t realize that this reading hobby was actually sight-reading practice

Sight-reading practice didn’t just prepare me for music opportunities like gigs, accompanying, and collaborative engagements; it also (unbeknownst to me) augmented my reading ability in general.  Brian Wandell, a Stanford University professor, conducted a study between reading fluency and students’ music education.  He discovered that children who read music fluently also read books and stories more fluently in class.

Reading music is not just a visual exercise!  It involves intellectual, kinesthetic, spatial, auditory, and emotional processes. 

Just think about all that reading music entails! We visually take in the information on the page. Our brain processes the patterns from multiple staffs.  Simultaneously, our fingers play notes, chords, complex rhythms, specific articulations, and dynamics (louds/softs).  Our feet coordinate pedaling.  We do all these things concurrently, and on top of that, we also strive to play musically, with appropriate expression and feeling for that particular piece. 

Phew!  Reading music is a lot more complicated than reading a book!  No wonder Wandell found a significant correlation between music training and reading ability.  The connecting axons between the left and right brain hemispheres (corpus callosum) were “more diffuse in participants who were good readers… [additionally,] musicians who had music training before age seven have larger corpus callosums than do nonmusicians.” [1] In other words, Music education directly helps to develop those areas of the brain that correspond with reading ability and fluency.

A few tips to encourage music reading:

  • Acquire a collection of fun piano books and sheet music.  These should be easier than your student’s lesson repertoire. 
  • Visit Music & Arts or Foxes Music Company with your student.  There are countless pop, Broadway, jazz, and classics books at every level, from early beginner to advanced.
  • Slip in a new piano book at Christmas, birthdays, and other special occasions.
  • If you play piano, play simple duets or sight read with your child every once in a while (one of you plays the right hand and one of you plays the left hand)!
  • Ask your student’s teacher for suggestions if you need help finding age and level-appropriate music.
  • Don’t forget that Amazon has an amazing library of music for you to search and make your own music purchases.  Purchasing additional music that interests your child can be done from your own home and favorite device.  

Best wishes as you continue to encourage and support your pianist.  Thank you for prioritizing music in your family.

Stephanie Edwards

[1] Cole, Katie. “Professional Notes: Brain-Based-Research Music Advocacy.” Music Educators Journal 98, no. 1 (September 2011): 26. MasterFILE Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed March 4, 2016).


Music’s Unique Affect by Anna Futoran

Looking at the vast array of the benefits of music, I’d like to highlight an amazing TED-ED entitled, “How Playing an Instrument Benefits Your Brain.” (TED-ED is similar to a TED Talk, but with animation!)  Feel free to show this video to your student musician!  It’s fascinating!  It just might make you second-guess your educational priorities.

Music is much more than a pleasant activity for children and adults alike! 

Listening to music engages the brain in a complex analysis of the components of the music – the melody, harmony, and rhythm – and also the cohesive whole. 

Playing an instrument takes it to an entirely new level! 

There is A LOT going on in the brain when playing an instrument!  Here are just a few of things happening when your child plays the piano:

Not only are the visual, auditory, and motor areas of the brain involved in playing, your child’s fine motor skills cause both hemispheres of the brain to fire, allowing the analytical left side to “talk” to the creative right side. This creates stronger connections between the two sides of the brain.

Interestingly, this kind of communication across brain hemispheres does not apply equally to other artistic pursuits – the elevated level of activity and interconnection in the brain is specifically linked to music making

Music has such a powerful impact on the brain – the TED-ED video describes music making as a full-body workout for the brain!

How does this apply to efficient practicing?

Dedicated music practice works the brain. Because of this, sometimes our brains get tired and go into auto-pilot! I’ve seen this tendency in my own practice and also in my students. To better engage in the mindful, concentrated focus that piano practice demands, it can be helpful to take a quick break between repertoire pieces to walk around the room and also take a few deep breaths

A little movement and oxygen break in the middle of a practice session can help any musician more effectively tackle that next section of music!  

All in all, the TED-ED will give you more information on these things. It is less than five minutes long, but jam-packed with fascinating information. I hope you and your child enjoy it as much as I did!

It is so exciting to discover more about how our brains have been made by our Creator to respond to and engage with music and music making.  

Best regards,

The Neuroscience of Music

By Rebecca Hynes

Having an opportunity to study music has been such an advantage and delight in my own life that I wanted to take a moment and look into what it means for others as well.  Over my years of piano study, I’ve met so many people who wish they’d had music lessons when they were younger or think, “If only my parent made me practice!”  It’s almost like I’m hearing a sense of loss here.

But, taking a dive into the world of science, neuroscience especially, I found not just a few nice perks, but a whole slew of incredibly significant assets provided by musical training.  A study featured in the Washington Post summarizes their findings:

“What we found was the more a child trained on an instrument, it accelerated cortical organization in attention skills, anxiety management, and emotional control.”

Wow.  Read that again.  Attention skills, anxiety management, emotional control.  These are major areas that will contribute to the advancement and happiness of our upcoming generation of world-changers in every single sphere of their lives.  The same study group also noted that they believe that kids playing music could turn out to be a major treatment option for ADHD and similar disorders.

The correlation between music study and successful, well-adjusted lives extends even further, however.  In our lessons, students learn to narrow their focus for the very best progress on each song.  They learn to use critical thinking skills to evaluate their playing.  They gain confidence in front of people every time they perform for studio recitals, solo recitals, or adjudicated festivals.

Perhaps the most critical character quality someone can have is perseverance.  Persistence.  Consistently taking that chunk of 20 minutes, or 30, or an hour, every day to practice will pay big “stick-to-it-ivity” dividends in school now, as well later on when it’s time to attend college, show up to work every day, be a reliable spouse, whatever life may hold for your child.

So.  Learning an instrument helps develop your brain.  It helps develop crucial character qualities.  But let’s not forget the reason your child probably started lessons in the first place: it’s just plain fun!  All the days of tears, frustration or wondering if a piece will ever be mastered, believe it or not, add up to endless joys as musical skills are acquired. So next time you hear a well-loved classical piece, a fun bit of jazz, a catchy tune floating up from your piano, pop in for a bit and see that smile on your child’s face as they practice.  It is so, so worth it!

And for all of the parents who may still be wondering if this venture is worth the hard work it takes to make it happen for your child — believe me, I have never met an adult who quit piano as a child and didn’t come to regret it. On the flip side, everyone I know who stayed the course with their musical training never ever forgets the loving, determined encouragement and courage they received from their parents to keep on going.

Wishing you all the very best!

Becky Hynes

P.S.  If you would like to read more about the study I mentioned above, you can find the link here.  You may also enjoy this NPR article expounding on the effects of musicianship on the brain.

Building Your Child’s Aural Foundation!

By Kathryn Brunner

One of my favorite aspects of teaching is watching the light bulb TURN ON in a child’s face!  The “Aha” moment! How does this happen?  How exactly does that light bulb turn on?

It starts with the aural foundation.

Listening + Language
Learning music is like learning a language!  We do it Sound-Before-Sight!  Little ears are listening even before they emerge into this world.  Author of more than 50 books, music researcher, Dr. Edwin Gordon, tells us that the first 18 months of life are the most crucial for developing and expanding a little one’s repertoire of sound.  After that, we continue to build upon the aural foundation laid.  As children continue to grow, his encouragement is to use an expansive vocabulary with our children, sing many songs, and incorporate solid musical training through early childhood, elementary, middle school and high school years.

Audiation + Imagination
Audiation is musical imagination. There was no adequate word in the music dictionary for musical imagination, so Dr. Gordon coined the term “Audiation.”  It describes the way you mentally hear and comprehend music when no physicalmusic is present.  It is also the conscious awareness of how to predict sounds and rhythms in the music you hear.  In Gordon’s research, it’s the foundation of musicianship! Gordon teaches that tonal and rhythm patterns are the words of music.

The more a child’s tonal and rhythmic vocabulary are built, the more a child will be able to explore the heights of his or her musical imagination!  A growing rhythmic and tonal vocabulary make it possible for the musical light bulb to turn on, so to speak, in a child’s mind!  This is how we build your child’s aural foundation and ensure a lifetime of musical success.

Why Is Music Important for Children?
“Music is unique to humans. Like the other arts, music is as basic as language to human development and existence. Through music a child gains insights into herself, into others, and into life itself. Perhaps most important, she is better able to develop and sustain her imagination. Without music, life would be bleak. Because a day does not pass without a child’s hearing or participating in some music, it is to a child’s advantage to understand music as thoroughly as she can. As a result, as she becomes older she will learn to appreciate, to listen to, and to partake in music that she herself believes to be good. Because of such cultural awareness, her life will have more meaning for her.” (From Gordon, Edwin E. A Music Learning Theory for Newborn and Young Children. Chicago: GIA Publications, 1990, pp. 2-3.).

In our beginning Music Makers at the Keyboard classes, we build upon the amazing research Dr. Gordon has provided for us. In fact, Musikgarten’s curriculum is largely based on his work.  Dr. Gordon is also responsible for coining the “du-de, du-de” rhythm language that many of you know from my studio!

Dr. Gordon passed away Friday, December 4, 2015 at the age of 88.  I write this post as a tribute to his legacy. I am grateful to be able to pass on the incredible benefits of his work in the studio.

For the love of music and the joy it brings us,

Kathryn Brunner