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, “practice?” – George Carlin[/box]
It’s about having the long view in mind. It’s the delayed gratification, the working towards a goal and the reward of reaching a high level skill.
The most time-consuming part of my job as a private music teacher is in the selection of music and individualized lessons in which I determine the order of presenting new conceptual ideas to each student. By paying close attention to where each student is in their technical and conceptual development as a musician, I can then place the next “stepping stone” just at the right moment. To far ahead, and I risk losing them – even the tenacious ones. To close, and they’ll complain that it’s too easy or even boring.
By showing each student a path, individualized to their current state, I can guide them forward on this long road to success and life!
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.
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. This kind of musical training improves the brain’s ability to discern the components of sound — the pitch, the timing and the timbre.
“To learn to read, you need to have good working memory, the ability to disambiguate speech sounds, make sound-to-meaning connections,” said Professor Nina Kraus, director of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University. “Each one of these things really seems to be strengthened with active engagement in playing a musical instrument.”
Skill in appreciating the subtle qualities of sound, even against a complicated and noisy background, turns out to be important not just for a child learning to understand speech and written language, but also for an elderly person struggling with hearing loss.
In a study of those who do keep playing, published this summer, researchers found that as musicians age, they experience the same decline in peripheral hearing, the functioning of the nerves in their ears, as nonmusicians. But older musicians preserve the brain functions, the central auditory processing skills that can help you understand speech against the background of a noisy environment.
“We often refer to the ‘cocktail party’ problem — or imagine going to a restaurant where a lot of people are talking,” said Dr. Claude Alain, assistant director of the Rotman Research Institute in Toronto and one of the authors of the study. “The older adults who are musically trained perform better on speech in noise tests — it involves the brain rather than the peripheral hearing system.”
Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, are approaching the soundscape from a different point of view, studying the genetics of absolute, or perfect, pitch, that ability to identify any tone. Dr. Jane Gitschier, a professor of medicine and pediatrics who directs the study there, and her colleagues are trying to tease out both the genetics and the effects of early training.
“The immediate question we’ve been trying to get to is what are the variants in people’s genomes that could predispose an individual to have absolute pitch,” she said. “The hypothesis, further, is that those variants will then manifest as absolute pitch with the input of early musical training.”
Indeed, almost everyone who qualifies as having truly absolute pitch turns out to have had musical training in childhood (you can take the test and volunteer for the study at http://perfectpitch.ucsf.edu/study/).
Alexandra Parbery-Clark, a doctoral candidate in Dr. Kraus’s lab and one of the authors of a paper published this year on auditory working memory and music, was originally trained as a concert pianist. Her desire to go back to graduate school and study the brain, she told me, grew out of teaching at a French school for musically talented children, and observing the ways that musical training affected other kinds of learning.
“If you get a kid who is maybe 3 or 4 years old and you’re teaching them to attend, they’re not only working on their auditory skills but also working on their attention skills and their memory skills — which can translate into scholastic learning,” she said.
Now Ms. Parbery-Clark and her colleagues can look at recordings of the brain’s electrical detection of sounds, and they can see the musically trained brains producing different — and stronger — responses. “Now I have more proof, tangible proof, music is really doing something,” she told me. “One of my lab mates can look at the computer and say, ‘Oh, you’re recording from a musician!’ ”
Many of the researchers in this area are themselves musicians interested in the plasticity of the brain and the effects of musical education on brain waves, which mirror the stimulus sounds. “This is a response that actually reflects the acoustic elements of sound that we know carry meaning,” Professor Kraus said.
There’s a fascination — and even a certain heady delight — in learning what the brain can do, and in drawing out the many effects of the combination of stimulation, application, practice and auditory exercise that musical education provides. But the researchers all caution that there is no one best way to apply these findings.
Different instruments, different teaching methods, different regimens — families need to find what appeals to the individual child and what works for the family, since a big piece of this should be about pleasure and mastery. Children should enjoy themselves, and their lessons. Parents need to care about music, not slot it in as a therapeutic tool.
“We want music to be recognized for what it can be in a person’s life, not necessarily, ‘Oh, we want you to have better cognitive skills, so we’re going to put you in music,’ ” Ms. Parbery-Clark said. “Music is great, music is fantastic, music is social — let them enjoy it for what it really is.”
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, so in effect, I’ll be your DJ.
Essential Listening for Music Students
An eclectic mix of music by Andrew Ingkavet
There’s a ton of tracks here -so make sure you click through to the full list.
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, exercises, composition, dictation and listening. It makes music fun if you know the how and why. It also changes your listening and deepens your appreciation of music. It can be quite abstract at times which is why we have many many activities and games built up over a long period of time.
I realize not everyone has a massive music collection at home and I’m often asked, “What should we be listening to?” I’ve recently written a series articles for Jill Simeone’s lovely parenting blog Cozy Owl which address, Early Childhood Music, Essential Listening and Music for A Road Trip.
In the near future, I’m hoping to post playlists of Music Every Child Should Hear via this site.
NOTE: Winter Music Session
The winter music session is starting on Monday November 28 and will run until February 11. I will be sending out invitations for the limited openings available to those on the waiting list. If you would like to join the waiting list, please go to the contact page and click the link.
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. It does take a lot of time, discipline and repetition to master anything. And music lessons culminating in a recital is a training ground for discipline on the road to mastery. Even better to start at such an early age!
In my past life as an actor and television host, I had to memorize lines all the time. I remember this as an incredibly difficult task. My acting teacher gave us the trick of writing down the lines over and over to internalize them. And then to say them back in multiple different rhythms and phrasing. Along the way, I started to notice certain patterns in the language and even structural groupings of how one paragraph was almost like a variation on a previous one. We’ve done many of these things in the music lessons as I ask my students to play the second part first, or play it at triple speed and then play it with your eyes closed and then play it as if you were dancing. And then somewhere around the 100th time, the notes stop being just a sequence of sound events, but they start to flow and have a feeling of their own. “It’s like I wasn’t even thinking about it anymore.” is the phrase I’ve heard from several of my students.
Anxiety is a big part of any public performance. There was a survey somewhere I saw that listed people’s top fears in order of worst to least. At the top was public speaking, followed by death by burning! Incredible. Most people would rather die burning at the stake than have to speak in public. A recital is a public performance and by repeatedly going through the process, the anxiety lessens over time. 2 years ago, I remember a number of students in particular looking rather ill before their turn. Now, those same kids are still nervous, but it’s not the same panic attack level, rather a heightened level of awareness with a confidence that they will fly through.
Mistakes will happen as in life. In fact, how often do things go exactly the way you want them to? Almost never. Your goal is to minimize them. But you can never achieve 100% perfection, you wouldn’t want to. To play like a machine is completely useless. It’s the mistakes that make you sound human and gives you unique expression. As described in a recent NY Times article about what makes music so expressive, researcher Daniel J. Levitin at McGill University and Edward W. Large at Florida Atlantic University recorded a concert pianist performing a Chopin etude analyzing it for speed, rhythm, loudness and softness. They then recreated the performance with a computer stripping it of any human variances, in other words, making it more perfect. They then scanned the brains of listeners as they listened. The results? Perfection is boring.
Another thing discovered by these researchers is that music can give us emotional hits by creating a subtle change from a pattern. In all of my lessons, I’m always showing the structure lying underneath the piece of music we are working on. Whether it’s the grand scheme of section A followed by section B or even just how the notes of one measure actually are spelling out an F chord. It’s the same in real life. There’s an order and structure to how things are put together, whether it’s a sandwich, a computer program, a resume or a social network.
Possibly the best part of a recital is the immediate feedback from the audience. There’s no waiting around for an acceptance letter in the mail, if you did well, you know it right now! And if not so well, then you know that too. What’s great about our recitals is they are safe space, a controlled environment as everyone is there rooting for you. It’s your home court and we all want you to make a slam dunk! And if you don’t, we’ll empathize with you and give you a hug too. It really doesn’t matter – you did your best. And there’s always the next recital.
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!
The Fall semester is fast coming to an end with the last lesson on Saturday November 20, 2010. We’ll have a break for Thanksgiving with the new Winter session starting Tuesday November 30, 2010 and running until Saturday February 19, 2010.
The cost for the new semester is $550 with an early bird discount of $50 if paid before November 15, 2010.
There will be no lessons the week of
* December 24 – January 2 – Winter Holiday Recess
If you are not currently studying with me, space is extremely limited, but you may register on the waiting list here.
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.
EVANSTON, Ill., July 21 (UPI) — Musical instruction can “prime” the brain to improve human skills in language, speech, memory and attention, U.S. researchers say.
A study at Northwestern University found the effects of musical training on the nervous system can build meaningful patterns important to all types of learning, ScienceDaily.com reported Tuesday.
Researchers studied music training’s effect on neuroplasticity, defined as the brain’s ability to adapt and change as a result of training and experience over the courseof a person’s life… read the rest at UPI.com
And here’s a snippet regarding the same study from The Sun UK.
Dr Nina Kraus, who headed the research at Northwestern University in Illinois, said: “The beneficial effects confer advantages beyond music. This argues for an improvement in the quality and quantity of music training in schools.”
Musical training has long been linked to intellect. But until now experts believed it was because children who played instruments were more likely to come from wealthier backgrounds where they got extra help.
The study showed musical training benefited children from all backgrounds.
We can hardly be surprised, meanwhile, that music lessons improve children’s IQ7, given that they will nourish general faculties such as memory, coordination and attentiveness. Kraus and Chandrasekaran now point out that, thanks to the brain’s plasticity (the ability to ‘rewire’ itself), musical training sharpens our sensitivity to pitch, timing and timbre, and as a result our capacity to discern emotional intonation in speech, to learn our native and foreign languages, and to identify statistical regularities in abstract sound stimuli…Read this full article
This is from a concert at Madison Square Garden in 1972. Essential listening for anyone!
Imagine there’s no Heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace
You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world
You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one
I’m starting a songwriting class in September and we’ll be analyzing some of the greatest rock, pop, jazz songs of all time as part of the curriculum. Stay tuned or get on my waiting list on the registration page.
Last Saturday’s Spring Recital was a great success and I am so proud of all of my students!
Performing in public is a skill that only a small minority of people in this world have developed a comfort and ability with. It is such a huge accomplishment even to get up onstage and then to perform a piece that they’ve worked hard on for months. You as parents should be happy and proud of this achievement and I hope you celebrated this milestone in your child’s life. Whatever small mistakes they made in the performance were greatly outweighed by the entire experience of publicly performing.
Many of my students have been forgetting some of the basics around technique. Here’s a handy chart that you can post by the piano or on the first page of your music notebook. Probably the most important one I’m finding is sitting the proper distance away from the piano. Many kids like to sit almost with their bellies touching the piano. This makes it so much harder for their fingers to be in the right shape to play well. You should be sitting so that your forearms are about level with the floor, elbows bent and shoulders not hunched or lifted.
Curling the fingers can take some time to remember for the youngest students. I usually tolerate the flat-fingers for a while until they get a few pieces memorized.
When I find myself in times of trouble, mother Mary comes to me,
speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me,
speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be.
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.
And when the broken hearted people living in the world agree,
there will be an answer, let it be.
For though they may be parted there is still a chance that they will see,
there will be an answer. let it be.
Let it be, let it be, …..
And when the night is cloudy, there is still a light, that shines on me,
shine until tomorrow, let it be.
I wake up to the sound of music, mother Mary comes to me,
speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
We’ll be having our next recital on Saturday June 12, 2010 at 2pm at the Pacific branch of the Brooklyn Public Library – downstairs. Please save the date! It’s a great chance to showcase our talents and I look forward to seeing you all there.
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. It’s already in the body, brain and ear! The results? Everyone learned much, much faster and without the stumbling and frustration.
A book I recently read describes the importance of communication using multiples levels of engagement. Made To Stick, by brothers Chip & Dan Heath, is a NY Times Bestseller and popular among business and marketing types, but is equally usable by teachers and parents. Anyone, looking to make their ideas “stick” can benefit. So one of the main principles of the book is the concept of CONCRETIZATION. By making abstract concepts concrete, giving a physical nature to the abstract, it makes it easier to grasp. So by adding hand signs to the funny words for each note, we add another layer of concretization. By saying it aloud, making the hand gesture and using the Blue Jello words, we are creating a unique kinesthetic experience of what was just quarter notes, eighth notes, half notes and whole notes.
And besides, how much more fun is it to say HUCKLEBERRY, GOOSEBERRY, JELLO BLUE?