Gabe Miller – Violin Teacher

Violin, Guitar, Piano
B.M. in Jazz Violin Performance
Jazz, Classical, Rock, Pop, Folk
Studio and In-Home Lessons

 
violin, music, fishtown, philadelphiaI was born and raised in the sweet Midwest city of Saint Louis, Missouri. My dear mother signed me up for Suzuki violin when I was 5 years old, and I am eternally grateful that she kept me doing it until I loved it.

When I was in middle school, I started playing guitar, at first on my own and then under the tutelage of a wonderful jazz guitarist in St. Louis, Dave Black. In high school I was accepted into a stellar jazz education program called JazzU, and that changed my life. I played guitar in my first year of the program, but I switched to violin for my last two years. At one of the shows I saw at the club connected with JazzU, Jazz at the Bistro, I heard Terell Stafford’s Quintet. I was blown away by Terell’s trumpet playing and by the whole band’s passion. When I was looking for colleges, I saw that Terell was the director at this school in Philadelphia called Temple University, so I thought it might be worth checking out. I’m so thankful that I ended up in Philadelphia and at Temple, where I graduated in May 2018. I am living in Philadelphia now, teaching music, playing gigs with several bands I lead or co-lead, composing music, and practicing more deeply all of the information I received in college.

I love teaching music, sharing what I know, and learning from my students. I like to approach music as a language very similar to any other spoken language. The instrument is an extension of the human voice. I incorporate a lot of listening, singing, movement, games, play, improvisation, and consistency into my lessons and practicing assignments. We learn to speak before we learn to read, and I take the same approach in music. I do believe that reading music is an important skill to have, however, and do not neglect it. I am not a certified Suzuki teacher, but I draw a lot of influence and inspiration from my terrific Suzuki violin teacher growing up, Loren Abramson. I also learned a lot about music and teaching from my fantastic teacher in college, jazz violinist Zach Brock.

 

When did you begin playing violin, and why?
I started taking Suzuki Violin lessons when I was 5 years old because my mom signed me up. At first, I totally hated it and did not want to do it, but thankfully my mom had other things in mind. She kept me going until I got over the hump and began to embrace the violin. I think it was helpful that I went to Suzuki Violin camps and saw how other kids were having a great time playing the violin. I experienced the fun and sense of community that music and the violin can create and finally thought, “Maybe this wooden box with strings isn’t so bad after all!”

What other instruments do you play, and what is your experience with them?
I play guitar and piano, as well. I started playing guitar around 10 years ago when I began figuring out Beatles songs and folk songs on my dad’s guitar. All my violin training made it a lot easier to figure out songs by ear. Eventually I took about 2 years of jazz guitar lessons, which really got me into jazz. I began playing piano around the same time, figuring out songs from YouTube videos and by ear. I took some piano classes for 2 years in college, which were very helpful to fill in some holes in my playing.

What are your personal goals as a musician?
I want to be free to play whatever I hear on the violin. I want to feel comfortable performing jazz and other improvised and composed music at the highest level and have a deep connection with the instrument, making it an extension of my voice. I want to always learn more about composing and performing on a variety of instruments and for a variety of instrumentations. I’d like to get better at guitar and piano so that I can compose more interesting music using them as chordal tools. I would like to develop my singing and have a smoother tone and more in-tune pitch. Ultimately, I would love to be a performing musician who plays in several bands that play music that inspires audiences, challenges them to think critically about the world and their lives, and makes them feel good and excited.

Do you have a memory of a time when a musical concept or technique really clicked?  Something you’ll remember forever?
In one of my lessons at Temple University with Zach Brock, he asked me to improvise over a blues for a few choruses. After I played three choruses, he stopped me and asked me what I thought about it. I said something that was not the answer that he was fishing for. He said, “You played the whole time without taking a breath.” He told me to try it again, but this time, sing everything you play. I played it again and sang all of the lines as I played them, missing a few notes here and there. I stopped after a couple choruses, and Zach said it sounded 100x better than the first time. “That’s jazz,” he said, “and I’d much rather listen to you play that than to hear you play a bunch of bebop lines that you’re not actually hearing.” I later listened back to both of the solos I took, and the second definitely sounded more swinging, the phrases were better, and it sounded like something that I actually meant. I’ll never forget this moment. It was an amazing lesson in jazz phrasing, which is something that is especially difficult on the violin, and it showed to me the importance of singing and playing.

What is your favorite piece of advice from one of your past (or current) teachers?
My wonderful Suzuki teacher growing up, Loren Abramson, had a simple but extremely helpful question she would ask when working on a tough piece. She would say, “How can I make this easier for myself?” This question forces you to examine whatever passage is difficult and break it down to its most basic parts. From there, you can isolate those parts and take control over them before integrating them back together.

What was your most challenging moment learning an instrument?
I love how challenging the violin is to play. It keeps things dynamic and fun! It was hard for me to relax my hands for a long, long time. And it is still something that I need to work on. But for a while when I started playing violin, I would just squeeze my left hand so hard around the neck of the violin. I think it took quite a while for me to relax. There are so many challenging moments, though, and I think it’s cool to take them on with patience and gratitude—easier said than done!!

What is your biggest musical achievement?
It is hard to think of one thing of which I am most proud, but I am most thankful for the opportunity I had to attend the Banff International Workshop for Jazz & Creative Music in August 2017. That was a life-changing three weeks, and I feel very lucky to have been able to attend it with the faculty and students who were there.

Favorite thing about teaching?
I love to share and collaborate with people who are interested in music! It’s a joy to help others work through challenges that I have worked through or that I continue to work through.

What is a piece of advice you would like to share with anyone learning music?
More than anything, consistency breeds results! If you do something in the right way for long enough, you WILL improve at that thing, and that is something to celebrate!

Personal music projects
I am in several bands including rock/jam band dot.gov, a contemporary string quartet called Bismuth Quartet, a band that plays my original music called Sushi From The Future, and other occasional projects. I wrote the music for and perform in a four person play called Almost Pregnant, which is showing at the FringeArts Festival this September.