The first in our new bi-weekly Instructor Feature series: violin teacher Indi Tisoy Morales!

We asked Indi to share a bit more about herself, how she started in music, what her inspirations are, and about her approach to violin lessons & teaching!

Getting Started with Music

I started music really early in life, before I even understood what it was really. In my family, even though no one really plays an instrument, we’ve still had lots of experience with music and there’s a real history of music and relationships in our family & culture. I remember starting with my mom and doing some kindermusik and early childhood music programs. That was a good introduction I think; we sang & played xylophone, did intro to piano, etc. From there, I realized that I really wanted to play an instrument and I decided I wanted to learn violin. (We had a keyboard at home also, but it wasn’t quite a piano.) So I really wanted to learn violin, went to my first lesson, and ever since it’s motivated me and been something I wanted to get better at. As inspiration, my mom would always have me listen to music – Mozar & Bach CDs, etc. I also started with the Suzuki books and Suzuki method, and I always wanted to get to the next song. So there was this constant wanting to improve and explore the instrument further. 


Current Inspirations

Right now I’m mostly in the stream of classical violin, so I pull inspiration from soloists that I like to listen to, like Hilary Hahn, Janine Jansen, and Ray Chen. These are people I love listening to, not just in the way they play and approach the instrument but also in the pieces that they play. I hear these big amazing pieces and I think “I want to learn to play that!” It makes me want to harness my technical skills & musicality enough so that I’m able to perform like that. I also find inspiration for my instrument every day: for me I’m a very social person, so I love playing music with people. I play in orchestra & chamber groups, and have a fairly close-knit music community at Dal. It’s not only my friends that play string instruments, but also those that play piano, and sing. It’s such a great experience to collaborate, and that really helps you to grow as a musician, even if you play completely different instruments. As well as my teachers: getting to hear them perform and learn from them.

I find my own  experience teaching has been an inspiration also; the process of breaking up violin playing for new players can also help you realize things that you should be doing differently in your own playing, or how you could approach something that you’re currently working on. It’s also always great watching someone else play, seeing their eyes light up and that fresh excitement. That also continues to motivate me when things become difficult in my own practice; it’s important to remember and remind yourself why you started playing.


Current Projects & Pieces

Right now I’m very piece-oriented, and focusing on my own technical ability. I’m currently working on the Mendelssohn violin concerto, which is a well-known violin concerto that I actually didn’t grow up with! Although for many kids it’s one of their dream pieces. So I’m super excited to be tackling it and having a really good time with it. It’s very much a challenge though. Otherwise, I’m just always working on how to be a better teacher, observing from other teachers, learning from students, etc. That’s really the best part about this field, is that you’ll never get tired or bored. There’s always something new to learn, and always people to look up to and work together with.


Favourite Styles of Music

My favourite style for playing right now is mostly Romantic music: I really like Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn. But recently I’ve been playing more 20th Century music as well: music like Shostokovich, which when you listen to it can be scary and jarring sometimes. But I’m having a really good time in a quartet right now and playing that sort of music, even though it can be challenging in a different sort of way. Especially the wonky notes and rhythms that can be not very approachable or user-friendly at first.

Besides classical music, one of my favourite styles is jazz. I really like playing jazz and latin music. When I was in high school I played in a Cuban-Jazz band on the violin. So that was a really neat thing, to be able to improvise and play in a different style. I don’t want to say “fun” style, as really any style can be fun, but maybe in a more relaxed manner. There’s definitely this whole thing in classical music, about it being more uptight, which I don’t think is necessarily true, but the culture can feel that way sometimes. So it’s nice to also take a step back and play something different and completely contrasting that you can enjoy in a different way. For example, my quartet has played lots of shows where we play pop arrangements, jazz, or folk music. I think it’s important to be able to play and showcase a variety of styles on your instrument, regardless of what connotation that instrument has.


A Musical Life

I think in my life, music means several things. For one, this is my professional career: this is what I’m looking for, this is my craft that I want to improve throughout my life and put a lot of work into learning how to master. That for me is something pretty meaningful, because it’s something that I enjoy doing and a form of art, but also a way to connect with other people. There’s the independent discipline and practicing, which for me is great not only because I can focus on my instrument and my physical connection to it, but also work on my awareness and mental ability. So for me music is a way to self-improvement. When I’m practicing music, I’m also practicing discipline and focus. Which is something that not everyone gets to work on in day-to-day life otherwise.

Music can also be enjoyment; just having fun, playing with others, and making cool sounds on your instrument. Honestly, that’s why I wanted to study arts and music, because it is fun, and if I’m going to spend a lot of time doing it, I might as well be doing something that I enjoy. Going back to connections, I think teaching has added a lot of value to music for me: not only in how I see music, but also how I approach life. For example, having students make you care a lot about setting a good example. But I think music is one of the best things about life and I love that teaching can be a part of it for your entire life. No matter if you’re starting out, or in the later years of life, I think that process is never ending.


Getting into Teaching

I wasn’t necessarily looking for teaching at first, but it definitely found me. For some ensembles that I coach now, I first had the opportunity to assist with when I was still in high school, helping out the conductor with various things for the group, etc. For me teaching wasn’t something I planned on, but it’s something I’m super grateful for now. I’m very happy for it to be such a big part of my life and career. As I touched on before, I think learning music, teaching music, and making music are all intertwined and connected with life. As a musician you are always both learning and teaching yourself and others. Once I realized that, I really embraced the teaching stream, and now I’m always looking to do more Suzuki modules, or observe others teaching, and take opportunities to teach and lead groups where I can.


Teaching Approaches

I really like to implement good habits in my teaching; that’s one of my main focuses. I’m grateful for the teachers that I’ve had, but always wish I could have implemented more good habits earlier on. Even though it doesn’t sound as fun to talk about, it just makes things so much easier when learning and especially later on. So I like to implement, for example, technical behaviours, working on specific shapes of the hand, and try to make it really memorable, sometimes by implementing toys or silly noises to help students remember. Especially for violin, the technical side is quite difficult, and it’s really important to implement those good habits early on. This is also an aspect of Suzuki method, and for teaching students patience and to always be raising the standard for themselves. 


Suzuki Method

I myself started with the Suzuki books and after a couple of years landed with the right teacher to develop those skills. I think Suzuki method is one of the best ways to learn an instrument, especially the violin because the method was based on the violin. For people that aren’t as familiar with the Suzuki method; there’s a lot of priority placed on listening. Also called the “mother tongue” method, it’s intended to parallel the way that children learn languages: from hearing it regularly, listening to their parents speak, etc. So then taking a similar approach to learning an instrument. It really helps to develop ear-training skills, and that’s really great for kids especially because their brains are still developing. I’m always amazed by how fast kids are able to learn something by ear and play it back. Even if they aren’t as interested in classical music, it’s something that’s very transferable to other styles and other instruments. Suzuki method also emphasizes tone production–and that’s something that advanced musicians do especially, not just playing note-by-note, but focusing on the colour of the sound so that you know you’re playing something really beautifully.


Closing Thoughts

I’m really grateful to be working at Ekko and teaching my students. I never expected teaching to be such a big part of my life so early on. It can be intimidating for younger teachers to start out, but for every musician teaching and learning is always part of the journey, and this it’s always best to embrace.

Indi currently teaches violin lessons (and fiddle) with Ekko Studio on Wednesdays and Saturdays. You can read Indi’s shortform biography and also book lessons online via her page: