Teaching: Violin, Viola, and Fiddle Lessons with Laurel Thomsen


In-person + online options available via Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, and Hangouts

The attitude and enthusiasm Laurel Thomsen has brought to teaching and coaching violin, viola, and fiddle students around the world since 1996 is rooted in her own daily discoveries as a professional performer and touring artist, as well as the pedagogy of Dorothy DeLay, Ivan Galamian, Paul Rolland, Shinichi Suzuki, and Kato Havas. Caring, passionate, and perceptive, Laurel values holistic approaches. Her methods stress the importance of both the muscles and the mind when learning to play a musical instrument. Lessons integrate natural biomechanics, Classical technique, fiddle flavors, and performance/sports psychology, while encouraging confidence and self-esteem to facilitate playing that is free of tension, both physically and mentally.


Ready to take your playing to the next level?

Laurel partners with students to help meet their individual needs and goals. These can range from aspirations to become a professional Classical artist, a desire to improvise or fiddle with friends and family, or students hoping to join a local community orchestra or band. Her students in California and beyond have won auditions for local, regional, and All-State orchestras, at summer music camps and festivals, and in theater or opera companies. They have successfully sat for music exams across a variety of exam systems, including The Royal Conservatory of Music, Trinity, ABRSM, and AMEB. Some of her students perform in bands, take part in fiddle camps, or record in studio. Some have become music teachers, while others have gone on to share music in other aspects of the industry, such as music marketing, tour management, and engineering.


Teaching Philosophy:

Positive, curious, and determined to get to the root of any issue, Laurel Thomsen revers the attitude of the detective and cultivates this approach when troubleshooting issues with violin and viola playing and performance. Each lesson evolves uniquely and effectively when student and teacher partner in the learning experience. Instead of simply telling a student to do this or that, Laurel wants her students to understand why and how something works, empowering their own inner guidance system and teaching them how to make their own adjustments over time.


Laurel tailors each lesson to an individual’s learning style, age and ability level,  presenting concerns, anatomy, and personal musical goals, presenting a methodical and thorough approach to technique and repertoire, while leaving room for creativity. 


Though her teaching style is strongly rooted in Classical pedagogy, Laurel weaves fiddle flavors, improvising, and composing into the lessons atmosphere as appropriate and depending on her students’ interests and outside opportunities. Violin, viola, or fiddle lessons with Laurel emphasize all aspects of right and left hand technique, ear training, posture, and both music reading and the ability to learn by ear.


Tone and technique are cornerstones of Laurel’s studio, as well as creativity and exploration. Students build an arsenal of expressive skills, helping them create more stylistically accurate interpretations and add personality and expression to their pieces. These skills may include various vibrato and bowing styles, knowledge of different Classical music styles and composers, and even a survey of various genres beyond Classical music and the ability to improvise. She seeks to foster in her students a strong musical awareness and appreciation, in an environment which empowers each student to discover his or her individual creative expression. Ultimately, Laurel’s goal as a teacher is to cultivate in her students the art of self-analysis and self-observation, ushering the day when each one may become his or her own instructor.


Though we must recognize that relatively few students have the drive and interest to become Classical soloists, Laurel believes that when an openness to learning and experimenting is combined with a teaching method that tailors to an individual student’s learning style and goals,  it’s possible for every student to find his or her

“I'm an adult student who took up the violin 6 years ago. Up until this point, progress has been painstakingly slow. I was frustrated and considered giving up. Instead, I decided to change teachers to see if a fresh approach would help. I've been taking lessons from Laurel Thomsen for 10 months now, and I've made so much progress! She's an expert in isolating problems, and has a wealth of information available in addition to private lessons, including her podcasts and videos. She's helped me gain a new positive attitude. For the first time, I am really enjoying playing music.”

~Denise, adult violin student

Serious Beginners - Learn to play comfortably, beautifully, and confidently through Laurel’s systematic approach to technique, repertoire, and musicianship. Quickly move beyond the squeaks and tensions that many find so disheartening about starting to play the violin, viola, or fiddle. Learn effective and efficient practice strategies which incorporate deliberate practicing techniques and current breakthroughs in the science of learning, and embrace the joy and discipline a musical life has to offer.


Intermediates - Uncover technical issues and tension patterns which may be hindering your playing progress, freedom of mobility, and creativity, while developing a balanced repertoire and skill set tailored to your personal musical goals, such as:

  1. Classical repertoire and orchestral music

  2. Mastering important techniques and skills like shifting, vibrato, and more advanced bowing techniques, such as spiccato and sautillé

  3. Exploring fiddle styles

  4. Developing better sight reading skills

  5. Developing the ability to improvise or play by ear.

Take your playing beyond the basic notes and rhythms to explore emotion, style, and contrast!


Advanced players - Bolster your technique and transcend it, masterfully crafting your interpretations and honing your performance and audition skills. Develop consistency in your playing and learn to manage your physical, mental, and emotional energy for remarkable performances. Performance anxiety got you down? We have tools to help that. Don’t know where or how to share your music with the world? Laurel can help coach you to the next level of your career.

Lessons incorporate:

•Classical Technique

  1. Music Reading

•Ear Training

•Fiddle Styles

•Music Theory

•Music History and Appreciation

•Music Interpretation

•Improvisation

•Ensemble Playing Skills

•Sight Singing

  1. Performance Coaching

  2. Effective practice techniques

•Body Awareness

•Stress Management


Available Lesson Formats:

•Private Lessons

•Online violin, viola, or fiddle Lessons via Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, or Hangouts

•One-off and short term coaching to address a particular issue, technique, or prepare for an audition

•Parent/Child Lessons

•Workshops

•Group Lessons in Schools

•Orchestra Coaching

•Visiting Clinician

unique musical voice and a lifetime of musical enjoyment and opportunity. She is highly dedicated to her students progress and asks that her students are equally dedicated to their daily practice and pursuit of music.


While Laurel enjoys teaching a wide range of ages, techniques, and styles, in recent years she has enjoyed specializing in technical troubleshooting, bowing and tone, vibrato, students struggling with physical tension, pain/injury, and/or performance anxiety, and students wishing to explore improvising or uncover their personal musical voice with regard to Classical music.


If you'd like a comprehensive approach and skill set in a affirming lessons atmosphere, you've come to the right place!


Teaching highlights, experience, and extracurricular offerings:

  1. Laurel has taught over a thousand private students, plus many more in workshop and youth orchestra settings since 1996. As reported by the New York Times, Strings magazine, and the Microsoft blog, in 2009 she also became one of the first string teachers to offer lessons online to violin, viola, and fiddle students via Skype (and other video conferencing technologies like Zoom and FaceTime). Laurel teaches dozens of students around the world each week via Skype, on every continent except Antarctica!


  1. Since 2010, Laurel has authored over 60 articles on technique and healthy practice habits for Strings magazine.


  1. Laurel is the creator of the world’s first and only comprehensive video vibrato course, “Complete Vibrato Mastery,” available at www.completevibratomastery.com


  1. Laurel is the author of the String Letter Publishing multi-media series "Improve Your Bowing Technique” (See http://store.allthingsstrings.com/collections/improve-your-bowing-technique) and "Improve Your Violin and Viola Technique” (See http://store.allthingsstrings.com/collections/improve-your-violin-viola-technique)


  1. Laurel is the creator and host of the Violin Geek Podcast, with over 80 episodes available for every type of student and musician.


  1. When she’s not sharing her thoughts on practice, performance psychology, and technique in the lessons studio or for Strings magazine, Laurel enjoys exploring these topics in her extensive Violin Geek Blog.

Some helpful articles for students have included:

    The Violin and Viola Sizing Guide

    Overcoming Down Times and Setbacks in our Music Learning

    Violin and Viola Hardware and Set-up Demystified

    What and Why Martelé?

    Developing a Healthy Relationship with Practice

    Are Private Teachers Still Necessary?

    Cross-Training for Musicians

    Finding a Great Violin, Viola, or Fiddle Teacher

    Approaching the Practice of Vibrato

    Breaking the Speed Barrier - tips and reminders for musicians


  1. Laurel has been a touring performer and recording artist across the Classical and fiddle genres since 1998. Laurel’s performance experience ranges from symphonies and Classical ensembles, to traditional fiddle music, tribute bands, creating original string arrangements for singer-songwriters and bands, improvising, and her own work as a composer and songwriter. Explore her most recent original musical duo with Canadian singer-songwriter Dan Frechette here: www.danandlaurel.ca. To find out about Laurel’s tour and workshop schedule in general, check her Calendar or “like” her on Facebook here and here, to keep up with her travels, adventures, and insights from the road and her teaching studio.


Violin or Viola versus “Fiddle” Lessons:

“What’s the difference between a violin and a fiddle?” is one of the most common questions Laurel receives, often after performances where she’s blurred the boundaries between genres and audience members might wonder whether they should be referring to her as a “violinist” or a “fiddler”? While Laurel’s training and background is strongly rooted in Classical technique and repertoire (and why she feels most comfortable calling herself a “violinist”, with no offense to fiddlers), she’s been exploring various fiddle traditions and improvising since she was a child. Alternative genres were often the “dessert” to her steady diet of scales, etudes, and Classical repertoire. For a student most interested in learning fiddle music, we will still learn the foundational elements of Classical technique and incorporate Classically based scales and etudes in order to have good tone, intonation, posture, and playing mechanics, but instead of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms, the core of the repertoire will focus on a survey of different fiddle styles, perhaps eventually focusing on a particular genre the student is most interested in learning, or help learning to improvise, compose, or arrange across different genres. Laurel has varying degrees of experience with the Celtic based genres (Irish, Scottish, Canadian, etc.), Old Time/Appalachian, Country, Bluegrass, Swing, Brazilian Choro, Cajun, Jazz, Blues.


In-person Violin, Viola, and Fiddle Lessons:

Laurel Thomsen teaches from a peaceful and private studio in Bonny Doon, California, surrounded by redwood, oak, and madrone forests, hiking trails, deer, squirrels, lizards, quail, and wild turkeys, the beautiful Santa Cruz mountains, and a short drive to the vast Pacific Ocean. While her home studio is located in a rural area, it’s centrally located for students willing to make the drive from a wide range of Monterey Bay and San Francisco Bay Area locations. It’s 25-35 minutes from Santa Cruz, Scotts Valley, Capitola, Soquel, and Aptos, 15-20 minutes from Felton, Ben Lomond, Boulder Creek, and Davenport, 45-55 minutes from Mountain View, Los Gatos, and Pescadero, 1.25 hours from the Monterey Peninsula or San Jose, and about 1.5 hours from San Francisco, Oakland, or Berkeley, California (all under normal, non-peak driving conditions).


Because she tours frequently, Laurel strongly encourages any students regularly coming in-person to attend their lessons via Skype (or another video conferencing technology of their choice) while she’s traveling in order to continue their regular weekly lessons schedule.


Laurel also teaches in workshop throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe, and is available for private lessons at her various tour stops as her schedule permits. Please check her tour calendar and be in touch if you’re interested in attending an upcoming workshop, hosting a workshop, or scheduling a private lesson along her tour route.


Violin, Viola, and Fiddle Lessons via Skype (or FaceTime, Zoom, Hangouts):

Since 2009, Laurel has taught violin, viola and fiddle online via Skype (and other video conferencing technologies such as FaceTime, Zoom, and GoogleHangouts) to hundreds of students around the world, including students in Africa, Australia, the Middle East, South Korea, Canada, China, Japan, India, Europe, The Virgin Islands, and The Bahamas.


Students who otherwise would not have access to good private teachers, who travel frequently or have unusual school or work schedules, who have needs beyond their local teachers’ ability or experience, or who want to add an additional dimension to private lessons happening concurrently with a local teacher, have found the perfect fit with Laurel’s Skype violin, viola, and fiddle lessons.

"We have been SO pleased with our violin lessons via Skype with Laurel Thomsen. When we moved internationally and could not find suitable violin instruction for our son we began searching for a teacher who’s be willing to do this. Laurel was quick to answer my inquiry and set up a time that worked for both of us to do a "trial run". After she had a chance to meet our son and get a feel for his ability, we determined that this could be a good fit for us and began weekly lessons. We have had almost no trouble with the connection speed, and the sound quality and video have been great. Laurel’s explanations are very clear, so she is able to fine-tune our son's technique even without being able to physically help him. She is extremely patient, very upbeat, and has had lots of good ideas to hone our son's violin skills and keep him interested and motivated. She has also recorded sound recordings for him to aid in his practice and has always been very prompt in replying to any questions. Lessons with Laurel Thomsen via Skype are a great option for anyone."

~Mary

mother of international Skype violin student

View more Testimonials...


As a pioneer in the Skype music lessons movement, Laurel was featured in a New York Times front page article in 2012, has been interviewed for articles about online teaching in Strings magazine, and was featured in a story for the Microsoft/Skype blog here.


Laurel has embraced live online teaching over the past decade, to the point where over 90% of her students are now online. She has been thrilled with opportunities to connect with students around the world, while at the same time, sharing her own music with audiences around the globe. While in the past she had to make the choice between staying at home and teaching or going out on tour, Laurel is now able to maintain her full teaching studio while traveling, providing the same consistency and dedication her students expect and appreciate.  


Click here to learn more about violin, viola, and fiddle lessons via Skype, how to set yourself up to take lessons via Skype, and how to get the most out of your online lessons experience, or contact Laurel to learn more about online lessons, rates, and availability.


Click here if you’re a music teacher and would like advice on setting up your own online music teaching studio.


And if you’re looking for online lessons on guitar (acoustic, electric, slide), banjo, mandolin, harmonica, bass, ukulele, or songwriting coaching, Laurel highly recommends: www.danfrechette.com/Lessons


Video Exchange Violin, Viola, and Fiddle Lessons:

For students unable to take lessons in-person or via Skype or another video conferencing platform for whatever reason, Laurel offers a video exchange format. Video exchange lessons may be especially helpful for students who are very busy and want occasional help to ensure they’re staying on track.


Short Term String Coaching and Workshops:

Laurel also offers one-off and short term coaching to violin, viola, and fiddle students, in-person or via Skype. Please contact her for a consult if you:

  1. have a specific technical issue and tension pattern you hope to overcome

  2. have a specific piece needing polish, or a performance or audition to prepare for

  3. need guidance on how to make your practice time more effective and efficient or want a second opinion about where to focus your energy for the most pay-off

  4. want to overcome performance anxiety and enjoy being in the spotlight

  5. want to make your performances more compelling and memorable

  6. want to get started with or gain tips for improvisation or composition


Laurel loves teaching group lessons in schools, coaching youth string orchestras, hosting workshops, and teaching as a visiting clinician in public and private schools. View her list of workshop topics at http://danandlaurel.ca/Teaching and please contact her to inquire about a visit to your group, school, or orchestra.



Perspective student? Questions about lessons?

Peruse the Lesson’s with Laurel Q&A for answers to the most commonly asked questions about violin, viola, or fiddle lessons.


Ready for lessons? Please email Laurel at laurel@laurelthomsen.com (best way to get in touch) or call her at 831-224-0913 for more information about her rates and availability.


Happy Practicing!