Adam Hockman speaks to violinist Chloé Kiffer about her teaching approaches, which include self-reflection, a solid teaching philosophy and providing consistency for students


Violinist Chloé Kiffer teaching a student © Ibeth Pinzón

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Most musicians combine several pursuits in order to forge a career: teaching, playing in an orchestra or chamber ensemble, and performing solo. Balancing a rewarding performance and teaching career requires clear goals, effective time management, and reasonable boundaries. Teachers who are just starting out can learn from those who have come before them—what worked and what didn’t. 

In the last decade, Franco-American violinist Chloé Kiffer has found a way to balance her performance and teaching careers. She never wanted just to perform because she has teaching in her DNA. Her grandfather was a long-time dean of a middle school in France, her mother is a violin teacher, and her father is a saxophone professor. 

’My grandfather taught for more than 50 years,’ she says. ’He influenced generations of students. When he died at 96, hundreds of students reached out, and many attended the funeral, including his students from 30 or 40 years ago.’ In Chloé’s family, teaching is not regarded as a job but as an opportunity to create relationships with students and guide aspects of their lives in meaningful ways. When Chloe began teaching, she gave it her all. She used her experiences as a child of musicians and a student of dedicated teachers to form an approach to teaching. These are some of the keys to her success and what she has learnt along the way. 

Reflect on your experience as a student

Before you teach your own students, Chloé advises reflecting on your experience as a student. What did your teachers do that was effective, and what didn’t work? Chloé studied with teachers in Germany, France, and the US, and she had lessons with a Russian teacher. ’Every teacher had different schools of thought on technique, musicality, and pedagogy. I tried to absorb all I could from them and integrate it into my playing. I draw on those perspectives when I teach to address specific student needs.’ 

Write a teaching philosophy you can live by

When musicians apply for a teaching position, they usually submit a teaching philosophy statement. It’s easy to write a statement that checks off the boxes but does not reflect your day-to-day teaching or serve as a guidepost for interacting with students. An effective teaching philosophy states how you approach instructing students, build relationships with them, co-develop their goals, and create a productive learning environment. It’s a checklist for what you should do daily and with every student. 

’Every student is different. My philosophy is to focus on what the students are currently doing and where they want to go, and to always create a rigorous and supportive environment where they can learn. I studied with Patinka Kopec and Pinchas Zukerman when I moved to the US. Ms. Kopec cared about every aspect of my playing: bow hold, phrase shaping, and practice planning. She was attentive and never let me advance without first mastering the basics. She also cared about me as a person, and that meant a lot as a young performer living far away from home.’ 

Reflecting on past experiences as a student and young teacher has helped Chloé form the philosophy she holds today. 

Make consistency for your students a priority.

When Chloé was a child, she was fortunate to have the attention of multiple teachers and her parents. ’Growing up, I had a weekly lesson with my teacher and then the help of my mother and father to practise at home; it made it easier to stay motivated and progress quickly. At Paris Conservatory, we had two weekly lessons: one with our primary teacher and another with a teaching assistant. I have tried to replicate that for my students whenever possible.’ 

Her experience as a student and teaching students of varying levels showed Chloé the importance of frequent meetings. Once-a-week lessons aren’t usually enough to work on technique and repertoire, create an effective practice plan, or stay motivated. Students also need support between lessons. Chloé often assigns advanced students to practise with younger students, which gives older students an opportunity to teach and helps younger students progress between lessons and during summer breaks. 

Demonstrate on your instrument to stay in shape.

Practising your own repertoire after a long day of teaching is rarely ideal, and it may not be possible. It’s easy to get out of shape when you can’t find two- to four-hour blocks to practise regularly because you have so much else going on. You can, however, find short opportunities to work on repertoire and stay in shape. One way to do this is by having your instrument out during lessons with your students and demonstrating technique or passages you are working on. 

’I love to provide brief demonstrations for my students. Using my instrument to model string crossings, phrase shaping, or articulation is very useful. Of course, you’re not performing—and you don’t want to overplay in a lesson—but having your instrument out during the lesson makes it easy to engage your body and even play a little between lessons.’ 

Interleaving, a method of mixing small sections of material into short periods of time, can help you practice spots in a piece that need work and improve them when time is limited.

Think about why you teach and perform.

Students benefit from teachers who commit time and energy to their lessons and learning. Just as when you perform, you are more effective when you are present and focused. On occasion, ask yourself: Where am I in my career? Do I enjoy what I’m doing? Should I make a change? These questions can help you reflect on whether what you do daily contributes to your larger purpose. You can create the career you want through reflection on and commitment to your valuable activities, be it teaching or performing. Your students deserve your attention and ongoing reflection, and you will feel better about how you allocate your time and energy. 

Born in Metz, France, violinist Chloé Kiffer studied at Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris, Hochschule für Musik Saar, Manhattan School of Music, and Stony Brook University. She has performed on stages and with orchestras in Europe, Asia, and North and South America. Kiffer taught on the University of North Texas violin faculty and is currently on the pre-college and college faculties of the Manhattan School of Music. She spends her summers teaching at festivals in China, France, Italy, and the US.

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