Date of Award


Degree Type



School of Music

Director of Thesis

William Terwilliger

First Reader

Don Russo

Second Reader

Don Russo


What is the biggest commitment you have ever made in your entire life? How about recalling the biggest commitment you made before you finished the first grade? Other than pledging to only eat candy for dinner for the rest of my life, at the age of six, I unknowingly committed to a challenging and unending pursuit: learning to play the violin. To be completely honest, I was not terribly interested in playing the instrument. However, my kindergarten-age sister was ecstatic to give it a go. So, my parents enrolled me in Suzuki lessons at my creative arts elementary school. Unlike many inspiring stories of famous musicians, I was clearly not drawn to the instrument by a particularly burning passion. In fact, for many years, I only continued playing because the violin was something dependable in my life; regardless of where we lived, how busy my parents were, et cetera, I could count on daily practicing and weekly lessons with a local teacher.

Fast forward almost ten years later: I was beginning to apply for undergraduate programs prior to completing my last semester in high school. At that point in time, I experienced an existential crisis—or at least as much of one as an eighteen-year-old can have. Even though I felt like I was expected to go to college, I had no clue what to study. I reflected on my life so far, and I saw that the violin was the one existing consistency. Thus, I rather whimsically decided to pursue a degree in Music Performance. Ironically, I suffered (and still do, to an extent) from extreme stage fright. I developed a severe anxiety—and borderline loathing— of performing for people. This negative mindset was not very effective for my degree program. As a result, I felt incredibly lost and simultaneously unable to communicate my growing unhappiness and anxiety about the decision I made for my college career. I continued asking myself, what am I going to do once I manage to finish this undergraduate degree?

In December 2016, a unique opportunity arose. I followed up with a colleague about possibly taking over her studio of violin and viola students at Freeway Music, a music lessons studio located in Columbia, South Carolina. I was incredibly nervous to take on such a huge responsibility, but I decided that I would benefit from the opportunity to experience teaching the violin. After the very first day, I fell in love. In fact, I fell in love with several things: my students, the violin, and Freeway Music to name a few. The motivation that I feel every day I go teach, the excitement I feel when planning my lessons, and the personal investment I have in each of my students exceeds any other commitment I have made in my life so far. I truly desire to continue improving myself as a musician and teacher to better serve my students.

Since beginning at Freeway Music a year and a half ago, the entire studio has worked to develop the Music Achievement Program (or MAP, for short). This


program establishes a template for teachers at Freeway to utilize in formulating their own teaching curriculum. Don Russo, a founder and owner of Freeway Music, shared his completed MAP program with me, which outlines the entire curriculum which he would use to begin teaching a guitar student. His MAP would guide the student through beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels of music training. Additional components of the MAP encourage his students to become involved in extra-musical activities such as gigs, option performances, and teaching opportunities. I believe the development of my own studio’s MAP would be a huge step in challenging and improving myself as a violin teacher.

In this thesis project, I will present a finalized form of my MAP. Following the completion of this thesis project, I will incorporate the MAP in my lessons at Freeway Music. My goal for the MAP is to develop a curriculum that addresses the numerous elements of developing musicianship and violin technique. While a large portion of the MAP will cover specific technical concerns, I would also like to emphasize the non-musical skills and benefits which accompany learning how to play an instrument. The MAP will thus provide a framework from which I can approach the individual needs and development of each student I work with in my teaching career. I think it is an incredibly valuable thesis project because it will provide a product which I will, hopefully, use for many years to come.

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© 2017, Laura JulieAnne Bennett