Some of my music students will naturally wrestle with a new challenge. They’ll go over and over a specific passage until they have a break-through. Sometimes I have to bite my tongue as they doggedly work out the solution in front of me. Sweet victory! These kids have tenacity a.k.a., grit!
And then there’s the other kind. They sit placidly and wait for the answers to be handed to them. If I present something new, they almost always says, “I don’t understand, it’s too hard!” and then give up immediately. When I do give them the answer, they’ll do it once and then say I got it, but then want to move on to something “new.” As I tell all my students, “repetition is the mother of skill,” – Tony Robbins.
The ones who have the tenacity or “grit” as they now call it, have been shown to be the ones who become better students, not only in music but also in almost every aspect of life. There have been studies showing that later success in life is better predicted by emotional qualities such as “grit” than academic scores.
It seems that if we as parents and educators can instill more “grittiness” in our kids, then they’ll be better prepared for the future.
A path to grittiness
So how does Music Lessons develop this quality called grit?
Any repeated practice can be used for building grit. Whether it’s music or sports or juggling.
[box] Isn’t it a bit unnerving that doctors call what they do,
I still have some availability for my Fun With Music Games for Learning Theory classes. There is no prior experience necessary (for the beginner class) and it’s guaranteed to make music learning fun and memorable.
You know kids love games! They instantly perk up at the slightest mention. I so wish my music teachers knew about making games out of music theory. It’s the fastest, funnest and most enjoyable way to learn some very abstract concepts.
In my private music lessons, I always use a game for the theory stuff. Usually it’s just me and your child.
This summer, I’ve dedicated 2 afternoons for Music Games days – Tuesdays for beginners and Thursdays for advanced. This will let us enjoy the fun of a group playing the games – and learning at the same time. These classes are open to my current students as well as new ones who may have never even played an instrument. No matter, it will be fun for all.
What Are Music Games?
Here’s the core of what we’ll be learning through the fun and magic of games. Advanced students will touch on these but go further faster.
Music alphabet – 7 letters – sequencing backwards, forwards, up, down and then skipping in intervals. These girls are “thinking in thirds.”
With all of my students, I stress the importance of memorizing their pieces, especially for performance at a recital. Here’s some of the reasons why.
Repetition is the Mother of Skill
How many times did Tiger Woods hit a golf ball before ever entering a competition? Apparently he was already golfing at age 2 when he made an appearance on the Merv Griffin show with his Dad. He turned professional at age 21 after winning many competitions along the way. That’s 19 years and probably 30,000 to 40,000 hours of practice! In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, he discusses the theory that it takes an applied 10,000 hours of practice to mastery in any field. No wonder Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer that ever lived! He’s simply played 3 or 4 times much as anyone else before he even turned pro!
Now, I’m not demanding 8 hour practice days for my students, but five minutes the day before the lesson is just not going to cut it. It’s unfair to the student who is going to sound awful and not enjoy the wonderful process and sense of accomplishment of learning a song to a masterful level.
As we use our muscles to achieve the production of sound, we need to train them to move in specific ways. Fluidity can only be achieved by repetition. By consciously practicing the repeated motions at the same time being mindful of proper alignment of back, wrists, hands, we can create smooth, fluid motions that create beautiful sounds without repetitive stress injuries.
We had a lovely Winter Recital on Saturday at the Park Slope Library here in Brooklyn, NY. Though there was a scheduling mix-up and we almost had to cancel, it all turned out well in the end. Thanks much to all at the Brooklyn Public Library especially Leane and John who worked it out.
I had this idea to have more public performances for my students which was well received by all the parents. This afternoon, we had our first Music Salon, hosted by Maziar & Michelle, and it went wonderfully! It was a casual festive event with wine and snacks and a roaring fire with a great 13 foot Christmas tree. Just lovely. And we had a sing-along of some Christmas favorites. The best part was that some of my shyest and quietest students got up to play several times and all did a great job.
Here’s some photos from the event. And many many thanks to Maziar and Michelle for being such gracious hosts.
I read this great article about how music lessons became a great discipline for success in life. What really resonated with me was the fact that none of the writer’s 4 daughters were natural “prodigies” and had to struggle with daily music practice. I too did not just fall into playing piano and guitar and alto saxophone. But once I found my favorite teacher(s) and repertoire it started to flow easier.
Flash-forward 20 years from that first Suzuki lesson, and three of my four kids have put away their violins in favor of other pursuits. But those early lessons stuck. All four have had the courage to embrace long-term, large-scale projects outside the realm of their formal academic training. All of them credit their Suzuki days for ingraining in them the habit of patient practice that has seen them through the long, slow development of mastery.
Sure, talent matters. Talent is the difference between good art and great art, between proficiency and virtuosity. But talent alone is rarely enough to get by.
Teaching young kids to read music is quite a challenge. I approach through a long process of micro-steps. It’s the reverse of peeling an onion. It’s a layering technique of building up from tiny kernels of understanding, expanding outwards. The first lessons are always performance focused – get them excited about playing a song! It’s fun and within reach to play a song in 5 minutes! That is so awesome! Then over the course of many lessons, we explore basic concepts of music theory through a series of games. One of these “games” is learning solfeggio (Italian pronunciation), also known as solfège (French pronunciation). This is the system of pitches with words that was created in the eleventh century by a Benedictine monk, Guido de Arezzo.
To make it easier, I always look for ways to engage other learning modalities besides visual or aural. In this case, an Englishman by the name of John Curwen did this work in the 1800s by creating a system of hand signs to go with the solfège system. This engages the brain to have another way of remembering these pitches. Kids love it and it certainly is fun! Another great educator (and composer) the Hungarian Zoltan Kodàly took these hand signs and made it easier by associating a height with each sign to correlate the rising of the pitch with each syllable. In my lessons, I teach my students using 2 hands to make it even easier as it balances both left brain and right brain. Plus it’s easier and more fun! Did I mention that fun is important?
I’ve started making videos of songs I’m teaching my students as so many of them are visual learners and have the technology to view this at home. This video is not meant to be a step by step instruction but a reinforcement/memory aid for after the lesson when practicing at home.
When children learn to play a musical instrument, they strengthen a range of auditory skills. Recent studies suggest that these benefits extend all through life, at least for those who continue to be engaged with music.
But a study published last month is the first to show that music lessons in childhood may lead to changes in the brain that persist years after the lessons stop.
Indeed, scientists are puzzling out the connections between musical training in childhood and language-based learning — for instance, reading. Learning to play an instrument may confer some unexpected benefits, recent studies suggest.
We aren’t talking here about the “Mozart effect,” the claim that listening to classical music can improve people’s performance on tests. Instead, these are studies of the effects of active engagement and discipline.
A Playlist for Young Music Students – or anyone who appreciates a wide eclectic listening palette.
I hope you are having a super summer and getting some much needed recharging.
As you know, listening to quality music is one of the most important parts of being a music student. Hearing comes before sight as well as our ability to talk. Music is a language and the more your child listens to a wide variety of quality music, the wider your child’s view of the world. With that in mind, I wanted to let you know of an amazing resource called Spotify. If you didn’t already know, this a free software app/website that allows you to listen to about 90% of all recorded music for free – http://www.spotify.com. It’s like an internet radio station/library.
This is an amazing resource for teachers, students and fans. There are a few commercials, but you can pay for a premium version without commercials – which is how the musicians and composers get paid by the way. The best part of Spotify is the social aspect in that you can easily share songs and playlists with friends…and my students!
I’ve made an Essential Listening Playlist for my students.
It covers folk, jazz, blues, rock, bluegrass, country, film soundtracks, Colombian rock including one vallenato and some classical. It’s quite eclectic, and is chosen for quality of music, composition, styles and appropriate lyric content. You will never hear this on commercial radio – no Justin Beiber here! Once you subscribe to this list, you’ll receive updates as I add them,
If you are interested in piano, guitar, strumstick, ukelele, voice, songwriting and music theory lessons this summer, there are still slots available. The summer lesson schedule runs 6 weeks from July 9 through August 16 Monday through Thursdays. There are morning and afternoon sessions. Lessons are $60 each or $330 for the full 6 weeks.
Aimed at parents , home-schoolers and teachers of young children aged 3 to 6 years old, the book is really an app which delivers a learning system including audio, video, animations and my unique color system. It spans the first month and a half of lessons that in my private lessons would cost over $200! There is no experience required and no need to read traditional music notation. In fact, the problem with most music books and teachers try to present too much information at once. By breaking down the learning process into micro steps, I’ve helped hundreds of kids learn to play piano, (and guitar) whilst having proper technique, and learning music theory, traditional notation and even composition.
For those of you who have been unable to get on my roster, this is a great way to virtually start lessons with me. There’s even a free sample that gives you the first lesson for free. And this is just the beginning, I’m already working hard on the next volume as well as a support website PlayPianoForKids.com
It was a great recital last Saturday at the Carroll Gardens Library in Brooklyn. With 30 students performing and a house of over 100 guests, we had a lovely time and everyone did their best. Thanks again to all the parents, grandparents, friends and family who came to show their support, love and appreciation of our young performers! And special thanks to Jeff Schwartz and the entire staff of the Carroll Gardens library who graciously let us use their space and even set up the chairs for us!
Apologies for the site being down all of last week. But we’re back! Here’s a quick update and enjoy the week off for Thanksgiving!
As many of you know, in each of my lessons, my aim is to address 3 main areas: repertoire, reading and music theory.
This is building up a collection of pieces that your child can play from memory and perform in public.
It allows us to work on technique and bring music to life whilst giving a great confidence boost and joy in playing. This material I often present using my own color notation which enables your child to learn a piece as quickly as possible and then memorize it. Many of you are using Suzuki material for this repertoire whilst others are working on a combination of Suzuki with jazz, blues, pop and world music.
To learn to read music is truly a great skill. To be musically literate opens a whole door to deeper appreciation. Reading music is not as difficult as it seems, but requires a steady practice diet. I will usually not start this until we’ve been playing a repertoire of about 7 to 10 songs. I use a proprietary method of notation to get them up to speed quickly with simple and then complex pieces.
This is the nuts and bolts of music. We get under the hood and see how music is structured and built through games,
We had such a great recital last Saturday and it made me think of how important these events are for so many reasons.
Recitals are like so many things in life. It’s a due date when you need to really know something well and you need to show it in public, in this case 100 of your friends, families and peers. Think of the times when you had to present a paper or a case or a sales pitch at a specific time and day. The recital is preparation for that. It’s a deadline.
Discipline and Mastery
Preparing for the recital is also like life. The discipline required to learn, memorize and perform the pieces is the same discipline you use when you are in college working on a term paper, at your job preparing the big powerpoint presentation to your clients, presenting your court case to the judge and jury and so on. There’s a level of mastery that needs to be achieved in a recital. Nowadays, it seems there’s less encouragement or paths to mastery with all the instant gratification of digital downloads and games and apps. We don’t let our children go 5 seconds before we step in to help them with a frustrating problem. Mastery requires discipline and a commitment to “do it again…and again.” Self-help guru Anthony Robbins speaks of the 10,000 hours it required to master a skill. Malcolm Gladwell describes some great outliers including Bill Gates in Outliers: The Story of Success.
This summer, I’ll be teaching a 5 week session from July 5 through August 6.
If you are an existing student and would like to continue at your regular time, please let me know ASAP. I will be teaching private 30 minute lessons and, if enough interest, small group lessons of not more than 3 students.
The cost for the summer private sessions is $260 275, and the small group classes will be $$125 at a time to be determined.
We’ll be hearing the great work your children have been doing on Saturday June 11 at 3pm at the Carroll Gardens Public Library. I’ll be there from 2:30pm to set up the room. If you can, please come early to help and to let your kids get acclimated and to calm down any last minute nerves.
It’s free and open to the public, so invite your friends and family. It’s also a good time to see the great resources of your local public library system – please support them!
Many of you are struggling with playing cleanly and smoothly. This simple technique can help you to relax your fingers to pay more fluidly. Developed by Glenn Gould’s mentor and longtime teacher Chilean pianist Alberto Guerrero, it aims to retain a relaxed muscle memory. You can learn more about this in the wonderful documentary Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould.
What a great success our Winter Music Recital was last Saturday! I hope you all celebrated the great achievements of your children. No matter if they played some notes that were not intended, the entire process of going on stage, in public, in a crowded room of at least 80 people, and performing the piece they practiced for months – priceless!
I noticed many parents who were much more nervous than their children! And, by starting your kids early in this process of focus, practice and performing publicly, you’ve started them on the road to success in life no matter what professional path they choose. And the benefits of developing an appreciation for beauty, form, structure and communication through music is why I do what I do. I love teaching your kids and thank you for supporting us on our journey!
We’ll be having our recital at the Carroll Gardens branch of the Brooklyn Public Library on Saturday, January 22, 2011 at 2pm. The space looks nice and they even have a grand piano – though so out of tune it is unusable!
It’s located at the corner of Clinton and Union Streets. The recital, as always, is free, and open to the public, so come early to guarantee a seat and to help me set up the room! I appreciate your help in putting away the chairs afterwards as well.
So we continue our tour of the Brooklyn Public Library spaces as weekend hours have been cut at Pacific Library and Park Slope is still under renovation for another year! Please support your/our public library!