Lean On Me by the great Bill Withers

One of the greatest songs of all time by probably my favorite songwriter of all time, Bill Withers.

Lean On Me

Words & Music By Bill Withers

Sometimes in our lives
we all have pain
We all have sorrow
But if we are wise
We know that there’s always tomorrow

Chorus
Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on

Please swallow your pride
If I have things
you need to borrow
For no one can fill
those of your needs
That you don’t let show

Chorus

If there is a load
you have to bear
That you can’t carry
I’m right up the road
I’ll share your load
If you just call me

So just call on me brother, when you need a hand
We all need somebody to lean on
I just might have a problem that you’d understand
We all need somebody to lean on

How To Teach Rhythm to Beginning Music Students

Teaching rhythm using stick notation & hand signs

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. 

The History of Rock and Roll – 12 Bar Blues

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.

1950’s Early Rock and Roll Clips

Elvis Presley – Blue Suede Shoes

Chuck Berry – Johnny B. Goode

Jerry Lee Lewis – Great Balls Of Fire

Little Richard – Tutti Frutti

Little Richard – Lucille

Little Richard – Long Tall Sally

Winter Music Recital Update

Pacific Library branch of Brooklyn Public Library – 2:30pmPianoHeadercropped

Everyone is sounding so good and ready for this week’s recital.  So here’s a reminder of the event.  It’s at 2:30pm on the third floor of the library which is located at the intersection of Pacific Street and 4th Avenue – right near the Atlantic/Pacific subway stops and the Long Island Rail Road.

There is a GED class going on in that space until around 2pm so we need to set up quickly.  I would appreciate any help from the parents as I’m not sure if the chairs will be arranged for us.  Also help in cleaning up will be greatly appreciated.  I’ll be bringing my digital piano and will set that up as soon as we are allowed too.

There will be 20 or 21 children performing each for between 1 minute and 3 minutes.  So I expect the whole affair to be done within 45 to 60 minutes.  We have the space until 4:30pm.

The space is provided free to community events and we must give thanks to librarian Salvador Salame.   We hope to impress him so we can book a summer recital here too.

Please note, I plan on video recording the entire event and will share the clips on my website.  if anyone prefers not to be included, please let me know.

Thanks and I look forward to seeing you on Saturday afternoon!

Winter Music Recital is Saturday January 30th, 2010

The recital will be open to the public at the Pacific Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library from 2:30pm to 4:30pm on Saturday, January 30, 2010.  It was the first of the Andrew Carnegie libraries to open in Brooklyn in 1904 and features a lovely third floor light-filled auditorium with windows.

Special thanks to librarian Salvador Salame for the space.

Teaching and learning music in slices

I’ve been talking with many of my students about the importance of not trying to learning in giant gobbles but rather in small bite size pieces or slices of pie.  Learning a new piece is like eating pie; you don’t eat it all in one bite.  You take slices, and then forkfuls and then chew on each bite a while before moving on to the next.

Dr. Shinichi Suzuki  called  it “steps.”  To match the right step to the child, you need to adjust according to the individual.

So how do we do this?  By breaking up the piece into digestible chunks.  Often I will use my handy colored translucent tape to mark off a measure or a phrase that we want to concentrate on first.  So going from the “red phrase” to the “blue phrase” or whatever.  This has been tremendously successful.

If your child has come home with some of my music with a multicolored tape collage on it, have no fear, we’re just learning a new piece – in slices!

Each color block is a teachable chunk or slice of music

Using Colors to Learn Music

One of the core concepts of my approach to teaching music to young children is the use of colors to represent pitches.  I’ve used this with great success on both piano, guitar and in reading music notation.

Those of you studying with me have already seen my piano covered with translucent tape and my guitar with colored stars up the fretboard.

Here’s a link to that highlighter tape that I use.  Thanks to my son’s first grade teacher Melissa for the great tip.

This pack will last you a long long time.

Music Recital, June 13, 1pm at Park Slope Public Library

We’re celebrating all the hard work, fun and music we’ve experienced this year.  Come join us at the Music Recital on Saturday, June 13 at 1pm in the community room downstairs at the Park Slope branch of the Brooklyn Public Library.

I expect that 10 or so of my students will be performing but all my students, family and friends are encouraged and welcome to attend.

Poster designed by Dana Zaldo.

Study shows link between music & brain plasticity

A recent research study on the linkage between the arts and brain development shows that students of music have definite structural changes in happening in students who practice as little as 15 minutes a day.

So, I’m not making this all up!  It’s really true.

From the Baltimore Sun article:

Charles Limb, a Johns Hopkins doctor and a jazz musician, studied jazz musicians by using imaging technology to take pictures of their brains as they improvised. He found that they allowed their creativity to flow by shutting down areas that regulated inhibition and self-control. So are the most creative people able to shut down those areas of the brain?

Most of the new research is focusing on the networks of the brain that are involved in specific tasks, said Michael Posner, a researcher at the University of Oregon. Posner has studied the effects of music on attention. What he found, he said, was that in those students who showed motivation and creativity, training in the arts helped develop their attention and their intelligence. The next great focus in this area, he said, is on proving the connection that most scientists believe exists between the study of music and math ability.

The imaging is now so advanced that scientists can already see the difference in the brain networks of those who study a string instrument and those who study the piano intensely.

This Is Why I Teach Music

This is a wonderful piece that has been published many times.  It reflects how I feel about teaching and the wonderful teachers I have had in my life.

That Is Why We Teach Music

Not because we expect you to major in music
Not because we expect you to play or sing all your life
Not so you can relax
Not so you can have fun

BUT

so you will be human

so you will recognize beauty
so you will be sensitive
so you will be closer to an infinite beyond this world
so you will have something to cling to
so you will have more love, more compassion, more gentleness, more good–in short, more life

Of what value will it be to make prosperous living unless you know how to live?

THAT IS WHY WE TEACH MUSIC.

– Author Unknown

Thank you to the late great Andy Blackett, Pete Brasch, Sal Piccolo, Mark Elf, Dan Converse, Seth Shapiro, Gene Bertoncini, Ron Sadoff, Pat Castle, Rudolph Palmer, Lucy Galliher, Katie Agresta, Conrad Cummings, David Speer, Joe Lovano, Phil Gushee and all the other teachers formal and informal,  in my life who have given so much to my life.

A First Lesson for Piano – Video Clip

If you are currently taking lessons with me, you will know this as the Peanut Butter Sandwich or the Mississippi Hot Dog.

It’s a great first lesson for anyone studying the piano, regardless of age, as it builds finger strength, independence and gets your hands in the proper position.  So much of music is based on muscle memory.  So you may as well get it right from the start without all the bad habits that can lead to muscle fatigue or carpal tunnel syndrome or tendonitis.

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Essential Reading for Parents of Music Students

Talent is not inherited. The first month in a nightingale's life determines its fate...I had always thought that a nightingale's incomparable song was instinctive or inherited. But it is not so. Nightingales to be used as pets are taken as fledglings from nest of wild birds in the spring. As soon as they lose their fear and accept food, a "master bird" is borrowed that daily sings its lovely song, and the infant bird listens for a period of a about a month. In this way the little wild bird is trained by the master bird...It is not a matter of being born a good singer or a bad singer...the life force has a wonderful power to adapt to environment.

Link between music and academic achievement

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.

10 Tips For Parents To Help Their Children Learn Music

Many parents have expressed their frustration at getting their child to practice their musical instrument.  Here’s some tips to help.

  1. Re-frame the notion of practice from chore to a fun activity or even a reward.  Don’t force them to practice, it will only drive them away from it.
  2. Place the piano in a central part of the home.  If a guitar, put it on a stand in the living room, or even hang it on the wall like in the guitar stores.  All instruments have some kind of stand you can buy.  By having it out and in easy reach, the instrument naturally gets picked up at various times of the day.   If the instrument is in a far off corner of the house, it feels like a banishment or punishment.
  3. Make a consistent time of music time everyday.  Some people have found 5 minutes in the morning before school is a great thing.  Others find right after school or just before bed.  By having a regular schedule, it becomes a habit and that makes it easier to have consistent and frequent time at the instrument.
  4. Take interest in your child’s playing (even if it’s awful).  By giving attention, the child feels rewarded and they will get better – really, I promise!
  5. Ask them to teach you the lesson (even if you already know it.)  By teaching, the child has to be able to organize their thoughts and really know how to communicate the knowledge.  They learn by teaching.  This may work better with one parent than the other when one is a musician and the other not.

At What Age To Start Music Lessons?

As a teacher of music, this is a common question I hear.  Every child is unique and while there is no one right answer, I can offer a few guidelines.

ABCs

One of the first “games” I play with my younger students is to have them order the letters of the alphabet.  This is a chance for them to show off their knowledge, build confidence and break the ice with their new teacher.  I do this by giving them a stack of flash cards, each with one letter on it.  By connecting this to the musical alphabet, there’s usually an “a-ha” moment.   So if you’re child knows their ABCs, it will be easier to connect the dots to the musical alphabet.

Interest

Having a child who is passionate about music is probably the most important thing.  The amount of time required to master these new skills and concepts is great.  Has your child been asking about music lessons?  Do you listen to music around the house?  Does your child sing spontaneously?  If so, these are all great signs that your child is ready for more musical challenges and instruction.

Fine Motor Skills

Many kids, especially younger ones, have difficulty controlling different fingers.  With these children, I usually spend more time on singing, clapping and movement activities designed to internalize basic music concepts.  With piano, these kids can play melodies with one finger.  Other instruments may need to wait.

Which Instrument?

Voice is the instrument we already own.  With all of my students,

The Goal of Beginning Music Lessons

My goal with my beginning music students is to

  1. Ignite the passion, fun and excitement of music within
  2. Introduce the names of the notes
  3. Connect those notes to their location on their instrument
  4. Connect those notes to standard written notation
  5. Through achievements, build their sense of self confidence and self worth.
  6. Have fun

To go through these steps, I have a variety of techniques and methods.  Steps 1 and 2 are usually not a problem.  If you know only the first 7 letters of your ABCs you know all the names of the notes in music.  Connecting those note names, A-B-C-D-E-F-G to where they lie on a guitar or piano or xylophone can be a challenge, especially for 3 to 5 year olds.  Once students know where the notes are on the instrument, we can make music and the fun begins!

I have experimented with many methods out there.  One method is to use color to correlate note names to keys.   I’ve been doing this with some of my younger students with great results. This is not synesthesia, where a person actually perceives one sense with matched with another like say “middle C is always a certain hue of red.”  It’s using what is readily available as a transmission system that is highly developed in all but the color-blind.

However, there is a caveat.  One has to know when to remove the “crutch of color” to allow the student to walk on their own.  Otherwise they never progress to the next level.