We not only want our students to learn how to play songs. We also want them to understand the concepts of music theory which make it easier to transfer to other instruments. Many of our students have started at the keyboard and then added other instruments like ukulele, guitar, recorder, flute and lap dulcimer to name a few.
In our Musicolor Method™ curriculum, around the 3rd or 4th lesson, we introduce solfeggio, which was invented over 1000 years ago in Italy! How crazy amazing is that? Somehow, the French word Solfége has become more widely used. Most people just know of it from the movie the Sound of Music where Julie Andrews teaches the children to sing using do – re – mi – fa – so, etc.
In our lessons we use the syllables, along with hand signs invented in the 1800’s by John Curwen along with the positions created by Zoltan Kodaly in the last century. If you’ve never heard of them, it doesn’t matter, but they are iconic figures in music education.
Each student begins to use the solfege along with the hand signs to learn every new song going forward. It helps to internalize the music through multiple modes: visual, aural and kinesthetic. And…it’s fun!
And they each go home with a fun poster to help them remember this along with some fun facts.
Here’s Lilah learning the first phrase of the old folk song Lightly Row.
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.
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.
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?
When teaching to read traditional music notation, I separate the 2 parts of pitch and rhythm. Rhythm is easy to teach using stick notation.
[update-12-3-12] Stick notation is taking traditional notes and removing the note-head. The note-head is the round dot at the bottom of the stick. The dot is placed on the 5 lines of the staff and depending on where it is, tells us which pitch to play. By removing the note-head, we focus only on the rhythm.
The use of hand movements, words and sounds enable us to get the music in our body, mind, eye and ear. Multiple modes of experience!
This method is created by Michiko Yurko and you can find her and her books/games/workshops at MusicMindGames.com.
Here’s a little video I made with the help of Ava.
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.
We’ve been doing some great explorations of the roots of rock and roll which began with the basic form of the 12 bar blues. These 12 measures are like a pattern, a recipe that hundreds if not thousands or hundreds of thousands of songs have been based. Once you know the “recipe” you can cook up your own or play all of the variations. Here’s a few of them.
You can view these video clips and read along in the music notation I gave you.