Elizabeth Riley – Cello Teacher

Specializing in Strings
Cello, Violin, and Viola
Suzuki Cello Pedagogy, University of Denver
Cello Performance, University of South Carolina

cello, music, lessons, philadelphia, philly, fishtown, south phillyI began playing the cello at age 10 in the public schools of South Carolina. I had been playing piano since I was 3, starting lessons with my Mom, who is an organist and pianist. I loved playing the cello and after several years of study began taking pre-college lessons at the University of South Carolina with my teacher, Dr. Robert Jesselson. I studied with Dr. Jesselson throughout high school and my undergraduate degree in cello performance. During my time at USC I played in many orchestras and chamber groups, performed in masterclasses for cellists such as Bonnie Hampton, Anthony Elliott, and David Ying, and spent summers studying at the Green Mountain Chamber Music Festival. Next, I attended the University of Denver where I earned a graduate degree in Suzuki Cello Pedagogy with Carol Tarr and Richard Slavich. Following the completion of my masters degree, I moved to Philadelphia, where I began teaching in the city and working on a second graduate degree at Temple University focusing in music education. During my time in Philly I have taught throughout the city teaching a combination of private lessons, group classes, conducting orchestra ensembles, and teaching early childhood and musicianship classes. I love working with students of all ages and teaching in a variety of musical mediums. In my free time, I enjoy running and practicing yoga, as well as cooking and baking.


When did you begin playing cello, and why?
I began playing cello in the 5th grade in the public school system of South Carolina. I wanted to play a string instrument, so I enrolled in my school’s orchestra program. There were no students signed up for cello, so I decided to study cello!


What other instruments do you play, and what is your experience with them?
I began playing piano at age 3 and have played throughout my life. I started cello at age 10, and it quickly became my musical focus. I have also spent lots of time studying, practicing, and teaching the violin and viola also!


What are your personal goals as a musician?
My main goal as a musician is to never stop learning. I have been inspired by many teachers I have worked with, and the common thing among them was they were lifelong learners. My desire is that as a musician I will be continually improving for my whole life, always making time to learn new things and refine old ideas.


Do you have a memory of a time when a musical concept or technique really clicked?  Something you’ll remember forever?
I remember for years my teachers asking me if I heard a difference whenever I made a change during a lesson. A teacher would alter some technical aspect of my playing and it would change the resulting sound. I would often say, “yes!” because I knew it was what they were looking for. It took a while before it completely clicked that I needed to be listening for the sound that came out of my instrument in order to decide for myself whether I had made a change for the better. Now, this sense of ownership of a student’s own practice process is something I work with each of my students on. It is important to change techniques in a lesson, but it is even more important to practice those changes during the week and be able to hear when they take place.


What is your favorite piece of advice from one of your past (or current) teachers?
My favorite piece of advice from one of my past teachers is actually not even music-specific. I had a teacher encourage me when I was adjusting to taking lessons from a new teacher. I felt that the new teacher was not working with me in the way I thought might be best. My past teacher encouraged me to learn whatever I could from my new teacher, even if it wasn’t about music. I was to find whatever my new teacher was good at, and learn that from him. This is an idea I have carried every time I interact with a new person. I aim to find what they are good at and look to implement that in my own life.


What was your most challenging moment learning an instrument?
My most challenging moment learning an instrument came following an arm injury I had which prevented me from playing the cello for about 9 months. When I was able to return to playing, I could only play 5 minutes a day, every other day. This required me to be very diligent with planning my practice and with savoring each moment I played the cello. The lessons I learned about practice and love of the instrument still stay with me every day.


What is your biggest musical achievement?
My biggest musical achievements occurred during the time I was performing with my string quartet, the Aviva String Quartet. Our quartet performed all of our repertoire from memory, which is a very difficult thing to accomplish. It required immense amounts of individual and group rehearsal and practice. However, the full recitals we presented from memory were so exciting to perform and it was a great achievement for all of us.


Favorite thing about teaching?
My favorite thing about teaching is getting to know each student as an individual in order to understand their personal musical and life goals. As a teacher, I feel it is important for me to approach each student as the individual they are and tailor their musical instruction to fit their goals and needs. For me, the process that leads up to this understanding is my favorite thing about teaching.


What is a piece of advice you would like to share with anyone learning music?
The most important idea when learning music is persistence. It is important that each musical hurdle that comes up is approached systematically and with persistence. It is more important to be constantly working towards a goal than to work for great amounts of time less frequently. Good, planned, consistent practice is the way to go and will result in deeper learning.