My family loves to watch American Idol as well as The Voice. These competitive singing shows are fun and introduce a new audience to a lot of great songs, old and new. The shows are both well produced and fun and get you involved with each contestant’s story so that you care whether or not they make the cut.
One thing that stands out for me is the subject of song choice.
So many of the judges comments on these shows go something like, “That was the perfect song for you.” But who’s helping these fledging artists make these choices?
Last night’s American Idol had a lot of interesting re-workings of old songs in such unusual ways. There was a slow, introspective almost morose version of “You’re the One That I Want” – the song from Grease. There was a female singer doing a version of an Adam Sandler song! That is probably the first cover he ever got. So interesting! Talk about “making it yours.”
A&R is not Accounts and Receivables
In the early days of the recording industry, there were specialists at the record companies. They called them “guys with ears.” These Artists & Repertoire or A&R men (they were always men) were the specialists in matching the singer with the songs. This art of song selection is the true magic behind some of the greatest music stars. The most famous of these A&R men are guys like John Hammond who discovered Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin and Billie Holiday to name a few.
What is the most important factor in a student? Many people would say it’s talent, or effort, or persistence, or luck or some combination of these.
Behind all of this is something that is more important – the proper mindset. Recent research (Blackwell, Trzesniewski, & Dweck, 2007) has shown that there are two different mindsets among students:
1) intelligence as a fixed, static trait or you got what you got
2) intelligence is a changeable, flowing trait, in other words: you can learn whatever you put focus and effort to
Most of my music students do have a growth mindset, but may need some extra encouragement. To do this I need to use a specific way of communicating.
The Dangers of Praise and How To Do It Right
Researchers have discovered that if you just praise the intelligence of the child, there are negative consequences. So just being positive and saying “Good job!” is actually detrimental and has a backlash because given a new challenge, the child would rather not participate (quit) in order to “save face” and live up to the expected standard. Rather if the child was praised for their effort, the next harder challenge was met with more effort.
Communicating Learning Goals
Almost daily I have a student who complains
“That’s too hard! I want to just stay on the same song!”
Here’s some things I say and you can too in your classroom, studio or with your own children. Though I’ve made these specific to music, you can apply a variation of these to any subject.
All parents want the best for their child and after-school is an opportunity for extra enrichment beyond the classroom.
Yesterday, The Atlantic published an article, After-School Activities Make Educational Inequality Even Worse. The author, Hilary Levey Friedman, interviewed and followed 95 middle-class families over 16 months who were involved in soccer, dance and competitive chess. She identifies 5 skills she believes separates middle/upper class children from less fortunate children and which she calls Competitive Kid Capital. There’s some overlap here with Angela Lee Duckworth’s concept of Grit which I discussed previously. Though Friedman didn’t profile music students, these all overlay very well with music instruction and recitals.
1 – The Importance of Winning – In music there is not necessarily winning and losing, but if you didn’t get the right notes, or you didn’t perform as well as you did at home, then, there’s a sense of a loss. All of my students are pretty hard graders on themselves when asked, “How did you do on that piece?”
2 – Learning from Loss – this is resiliency and happens everyday you practice at your instrument. You’re going to make mistakes, but what matters is what you do next.
3 – Time Management – Music is a time based language- you need to keep the beat – events happen over time. Having good rhythm and timing to correctly and effective communicate a beautiful piece of music is one aspect but so is the management of practice time over weeks and months for a big recital.
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.
I’ve been teaching how to count rhythm to most of my students using Michiko Yurko’s genius method of naming note values with easy and fun to say words. I highly recommend her book Music Mind Games for all music teachers and home-schoolers and interested parents..
For example, a one beat (quarter note) is called BLUE.
Two eighth notes are called JELLO.
An eighth note triplet, where the three notes are played in one beat is PINEAPPLE.
And four sixteenth notes is HUCKLEBERRY.
This is so much more fun and easier to remember than when I was in school learning, “one -eee- and – ah.”
Practice counting the beats of any song you already know and other new ones as well. It becomes a much easier task to learn a new piece if you have internalized the rhythm already and can then focus on the pitches and fingering.
This past week, I did just that by having several of my students learn “Go Tell Aunt Rhody” by first counting out the song in this Blue Jello way. Then, by teaching the distinct hand signals for each, which adds another level of kinesthetic learning, I played the melody while the student counted out the piece. After 3 or 4 times, the melody and rhythm are so ingrained, that playing it on the instrument becomes just a minor technical matter.
A new study in the journal Social Science Quarterly reveals that music participation, defined as music lessons taken in or out of school and parents attending concerts with their children, has a positive effect on reading and mathematic achievement in early childhood and adolescence.
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