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Music school focuses on later-in-life learners

CARSLBAD — Learning to play an instrument later in life may seem like a daunting task to most, but Carlsbad’s newest music school and its teachers are here to prove that it isn’t impossible.
The Renaissance Institute of Music offers lessons, ensembles and encouragement to beginning and returning adult musicians looking to learn their way around a string instrument.
“We have a real empathy for adult learners,” owner Kim Stephens-Doll said. “To be like a little child again at something is hard — it can be very stressful.”
Stephens-Doll and her husband, Bob, opened the school to make a professional music education accessible to an older generation. They bring together rental instruments, class space and established teachers to provide a unique and supportive learning experience.
“We use the Mark O’Connor method,” Stephens-Doll said. “It’s all American music and it incorporates a lot of improvisation. It’s not a talent — it’s a skill; anyone can learn how to play.”
She strives to provide the students with top-notch instructors who are also established performers. In her own learning experience, she found that those with a balance of both skills are better able to understand the needs of adult musicians.
“Our focus is on excellent teaching and adults having fun making music together,” she said.
The institute’s students are given a number of opportunities to grow as a musician as they master the basics of their chosen instrument.
While they learn through private lessons, they are also encouraged to join weekly ensembles and performance groups. The school’s rehearsal spaces are also available for practice sessions during business hours.
“It repays you the amount that you put in,” she said. “It’s nice teaching adults because they understand that need for persistence to get good.”
Stephens-Doll launched the school after years of struggling to find someone who could teach her. She recalls many teachers who weren’t sure how to handle an older student.
Now that she’s retired from her career as a schoolteacher, she’s using her challenging experience to help others in a similar situation.
“If people have access to good teaching, they can learn,” she said. “I’m living proof.”
As picking up a new instrument is a huge commitment, Stephens-Doll offers free introductory lessons on the violin and viola to those who are curious. She encourages anyone with an interest to stop by and try it out.
“What grabs you is a particular sound that you want to make,” she said. “When that’s what you want to do, it makes the time investment well worth it.”
The Renaissance Institute of Music is located in Carlsbad’s Village Faire plaza, 300 Carlsbad Village Drive. For more information about the classes and methods used at the school, visit to