What is the most destructive question that everyone asks themselves?

What is the most destructive question everyone asks themselves? And how to ask a better one.

And how to ask a better question

“What’s in it for me?”

This is the underlying question almost everyone has running in the back of their minds. Someone makes you an offer and you automatically ask it.

“What’s in it for me?”

Parents ask a variation, “What’s in it for my child, my family?”

It’s perfectly normal and most everyone does it.

 

So why is this question a problem?

Because this question reveals a mindset of lack.

“Gimme, gimme, gimme.”

“Take, take, take.”

It’s the voice of the ego based on fear, insecurity, and a lack of abundance.

 

Victim Mindset

It’s victim thinking, not a hero.

I experienced this growing up.

It was like life was an all you can eat buffet.

But “You better get your money’s worth.”

It’s why cruise ship guests put on their “buffet pants.”

Or the advice of some who say, “don’t fill your plate with the cheap stuff, grab the good stuff.”

Now, what if we could shift this to the opposite?

What if we could change the question?

Not

“What’s in it for me?”

But rather

“How can I help?”

By asking this new question, there is an assumption of abundance. This question assumes you have the power, capacity, and ability to help. It’s a powerful question. You are tapping into your true gifts. It comes from a deeply spiritual place, not your ego. There is more than enough to share.

We’ve all had ups and downs in our lives. I personally experienced many magical miracles. And then flipped to complete despair.

What I’ve noticed is the presence of the first question and not the latter. Mindset is the key.

 

So what is mindset?

A mentor of mine recently gave me an amazingly simple definition:

“Mindset is the voice(s) in your head.”

That’s so true. I hear my parents, teachers, and even people I don’t care for speaking in my head.

 

Who put these voices in our heads?

They get installed automatically throughout life. Parents. Teachers. Relatives. Caregivers. Friends. Facebook. The media…

The thing is, unless you are aware, you are being programmed all the time. If you let it wash over you daily without consciousness, you are installing these voices. The prevailing mindset of lack, poverty, and despair.

The good news is, you can reinstall new voices. It’s like upgrading your internal operating system to the latest, greatest version. You choose your own voice.

Ask Better Questions

Tomorrow, my son turns sixteen. Sixteen! We’re about to start visiting colleges. Think about focus of study. Plan out a course for life.

What I want most for him is to flip the questions. Ask more empowering ones.

 

“How can I help?”

“What can I offer the world?

What was I born to do?

What are my gifts?

What makes me the only one?”

Of course, questioning goes on for a lifetime.

 

We never completely know

We are always discovering.

The journey of life and success IS the journey of discovering the answers to this question. Life is self-discovery. And this question can change your life.

How can I help?

I hope this awakens something inside of you. New voices = new life. This goes beyond parenting, music, education, business, whatever. This is for you. And through you, you will light up the world.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and place it under a basket, but place it on a lamp-stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine, so that they may see your good works…” – Matthew 5:14. the Bible

 

This is why you should not learn to read music first

This is why you should not learn to read music first

Should All Music Students Learn to Read Music?

As a music teacher, I’m often asked about reading music.  Some parents want to know,”Will my child learn to read music?”  These are usually parents who have had musical training and see the benefits of being able to read music from the last 1000 years of music literature!

Music notation is an incredible invention.  It is so concise, brief and elegant in it’s description of what would have been a lost experience.  But that’s the problem.  It’s so concise and symbolic, you need years of training, practice and conceptual development to simply read music.  It’s well worth the effort though.  Learning to read music unlocks the doors to vaults and vaults of incredible music by the masters from Bach to Mozart to Beethoven to Stravinsky to Bernstein to Miles, Bird and Lin-Manuel Miranda, to name just a few.

But My Favorite Rock Star Can’t Read Music

Others want to know if they “have to learn to read music.”  This is usually from parents who struggled with reading music and really did not enjoy the process.

I can see both points of view.  While yes, there is a great value in learning to read music, many of the greatest musicians cannot read standard music notation.  Paul McCartney is just one example.  And no one would ever claim Sir Paul is not a “real musician” or songwriter.

The Old School Traditional Way

Traditional music teachers often start with reading music. They want to do this because it is teacher-centric. It’s easier for teachers as there’s so much music written with traditional notation.

Music notation is over 1000 years old!

Ye Olde Songs…yawn

So, often, this old school, easy way for teachers, is also focused on older music.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  But, if you want to connect with younger students, you need to find a common ground.  You need to connect them with their music.  No, you can’t start immediately on the latest songs on the radio.  But you can accelerate the learning to get to that goal much quicker.

 

This is why you should not learn to read music first
This is an example of Bach’s handwritten notation from back in the 1600’s!

 

Accelerate Learning Techniques for Music

At Park Slope Music Lessons, we feel that to present the written music first is backwards. It’s like teaching grammar rules before even learning to say hello!

Our curriculum, the Musicolor Method®, works by giving students an experience of playing first, while building up technique and then gradually presenting the language of music through games and activities. It’s much more entertaining and twice as effective!

By empowering children of all ages to immediately start playing, there’s a huge boost of confidence.  Emotion is part of all learning.  How do you feel if you don’t get it?  Dumb?  Confused?  Frustrated?  But what if you could learn to play a simple song within the first five minutes of your first lesson?

Take a look at our videos, and the rest of our site.  You will see we have helped so many kids here in Brooklyn and now around the world learn to make music in a manner more organic, fun and fast.

Life Skills Through Music

And that leads to building life skills transferrable to school, work…everything!

Can special needs children learn to play an instrument?

Music lessons for special needs children?

If you ask the average music teacher about special needs children as students, you may get a blank stare. There isn’t much literature focused on this. Children with special needs may include those with learning disabilities, developmental issues, as well as those on the Autism spectrum.

At Park Slope Music Lessons, we’ve had several students with special needs. Our Musicolor Method® has proven to be a great way for these children to learn music where other teachers/methods have failed.


Can a special needs student learn to play piano?  

Absolutely!

“I still can’t believe you got my son to play with all 10 fingers in a single lesson! He is so excited and practicing every day on his own. Our previous teachers were all trying to get him to play one finger the whole time. He was bored and frustrated!”
Parent of a 5 year old student

Take a look at some of the videos of our past recitals, music salons and read our blog posts.  You will see we have helped so many kids learn music in a way that is fun, fast and supportive.  It doesn’t matter if your kld is or isn’t a prodigy, we make learning music an organic process.  And it all activates life skills that are transferrable to school, work and life!

How we use the Musicolor Method to teach special needs children to make music with fun and ease.
Musicolor Alphabet Cards, one of many physical games/tools we use to teach abstract concepts of music

If you have any questions about your child and their specific issues, feel free to contact us.

Infographic on the powerful benefits of music for babies and kids

Most of our students at Park Slope Music Lessons have some experience with early childhood music programs.  But you can even start singing to your baby in the womb.   I came across this delightful and educational infographic from the fine folks at Mom Loves Best.

Our Musicolor Method® is a fun, simple and effective next step from those Mommy&Me type programs and makes learning higher levels of music easy.

Enjoy!

Learn more about the benefits of music for babies and kids at Mom Loves Best.com

Why I want my student’s “desk” as big as possible

Did you ever go to a library or coffee shop just to have a bigger desktop?  There’s something so spacious and freeing about just having more physical workspace right in front of you.

Last week, I visited several co-working spaces in New York City just for that reason. Having a bigger desktop is incredibly freeing. It opens up your thinking.

And it’s the same thing with your internal mental workspace.  Years ago, I came up with the metaphor of the mental desktop.  This is how I imagine each child learning.  As I begin teaching a 4-year-old, they can only retain one note at a time in their mental workspace.

Over time, we begin chunking that into two and three-note phrases.  Over time, we begin expanding their “mental desktops” to be able to hold complete phrases and sections.  It is incredible to witness!

Each child’s progress is individualized.  

There are no hard and fast rules of how many days or weeks it will take to expand from two notes to two measures.

But sometimes we overestimate how much a particular student can retain.  Sometimes the student will shut down and not want to do anymore.  They’ll refuse to even try!  Other times, it’s as if we’ve gone backwards.

I’ve had some parents complain about their kid’s slow speed in learning how to read music.  But it’s similar to learning to read words.  You can’t skip ahead.  That will only lead to confusion, frustration, and overwhelm.

The core principles of the Musicolor Method include a 7 step framework of teaching and learning.  The first is the Growth Spiral. Every organism in the universe follows this spiraling outward from a central core.  You can see it in the petals of a flower, microscopic cells and the macroscopic like the cosmos.  It’s how growth happens, physical and mental.  You can’t skip from the inner to outer rings.

Another principle is called the Stepping Stone Principle.  Imagine you are trying to cross a stream.  Your guide (the teacher), picks a path and even lays out some stones for you (the student) to cross over.  If the stones (lessons) are too far apart, the students falls in the water.  Some may even get swept away or drown.  Putting the stones too close leads to boredom and perhaps the student also gets stuck there.

These principles are not something taught in music education programs.  It’s my distillation of what I have learned from other effective mentors and reflection on my teaching experiences.

So what if your child is not progressing to your expectations?

Well, the first question to ask is:  Are they practicing every day?

Practice is a learned skill.

You need to teach them how to practice.  It’s not about cramming.  It’s creating a routine that then becomes a habit.  We are all made of our habits, good and bad.  Learning to practice takes effort at first, but quickly becomes a routine.  It’s all about finding even five minutes at the same time every day.  This makes it easier.  Brushing your teeth was not something you just did on your own.  Your parents taught it to you.  It’s the same with music.

If practice is happening, then most issues dissolve. But please be patient.  If your child seems to be going slower than their friends, it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong.  Skipping ahead will only make things worse.  Trust the process and practice.

The best way to praise your children

The best way to praise your children

Take a look at these two sentences.

1) “Great job, you must be really smart.”

2) “Great job, you must have worked really hard at this.”

So similar but a vast difference in results.

 

If you say “Great job, you must be really smart,”

the child hears,

“Oh you think I’m brilliant and talented.  That’s why you admire me and why you value me. I  better not do any that will disprove this evaluation.”

It leads to a “fixed mindset.”

Whereas focusing on the process of growth leads to greater perseverance, grit and focus.   This comes from the research in the 1970’s by Stanford professor, Dr. Carol Dweck and has influenced so many others including Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth’s work on Grit.

When Alejandro was still small, I used to habitually say, “Good job.”  And I noticed over time, a fixed mindset was starting to set in.  If the task did not come quickly and easily, he wouldn’t persist or even attempt to try.

After I learned about Growth Mindset, I quickly shifted how I  praised and it began to change.  Thankfully, it seems to have been corrected.

It’s the same in music lessons.  I have become aware of seeking to praise the process and effort.  Over time, you will begin to notice how your child reacts differently.

I tried to read Carol Dweck’s academic works, but found them very dry.  This video is a much simpler, easier and fun way to learn more.

 

How To Set Up A Successful Practice Routine

Parents: How to set up a successful practice routine for your child
  1. Pick a time of day when you can always practice, even for just a few minutes.
  2. Choose a small amount of time that you can always do, for example, 5 minutes.
  3. Set it on the calendar or sticky note or smartphone alarm.
  4. Practice for just the allotted time.
  5. If you feel you can do more or want to do more, go ahead, but don’t skip a day,
  6. Make an X on your chart or calendar for everyday you practice.
  7. Celebrate each small win with a small reward
  8. Repeat

As I said in a previous post, creating a practice routine that is at the same time everyday, in the same location, begins to cultivate a habit.  Willpower is required at first, but then it becomes a trigger that sets the  routine in motion.

Habits are what we are made of.  Successful habits separate winners from losers.  There’s no willpower involved, you just do it.

This Will Make Your Kids More Successful In Life

This will make your child more successful in life

When I was a kid, I felt like loneliness was my best friend.  It’s not like I wanted to be around him.  He just clung to me.

We were the only Asian family in an all-white neighborhood in a suburb of New York City.  The typical question was,

“What are you, Chinese or Japanese?”

 

As if those were the only two options.

 

“I’m Thai, Chinese and Korean.”  I would try to explain.

 

This answer was usually met with bewildered stares and silence.  Mind you, this was long before kimchi tacos,  Pad Thai noodles and Sriracha hot sauce were even a blip on the radar of the general public.  Heck, most people hadn’t even heard of sushi back then.

My New Best Friend

Somewhere along the way, though, I discovered music, who quickly became my new best friend.  It was through music that I began to feel less alien, foreign and an outsider and more like “just one of the gang.”  Through the bonds of shared passion for Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix, I found new friends.

 

Music was the social lubricant and the universal language of our tribe.

 

I was 14 and teaching myself to play guitar.  I needed to get better fast!  Thus, I began to learn how to learn and how to practice.

 

I dove deep into technical exercises and repetition.  I studied the form and structure of music.  And I improved rapidly.   I began to realize that I could improve my results by focusing on the things that gave me better results and leaving the rest behind.  This was before I had ever heard of the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule which states that 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts.  By focusing on that high leverage 20%, I was able to improve much more quickly.

 

One day I realized something profound.

 

Practicing what I already know is a waste of time.  I need to practice what I don’t know to improve!

 

The Practice of Practice

Now, I am a professional music teacher, and I strive to teach the practice of practice to all my students.

Last week, I held a Parents Curriculum meeting where I shared my core belief:

 

“Learning a musical instrument is one of the best paths for personal development.”

 

It requires knowing how to study, learn and focus.  These skills affect everything in life.  Cultivating these skills will transform your child’s life forever.

Most people, kids included, will enthusiastically start a project like learning an instrument with great enthusiasm and a lot of willpower.

 

But there’s a problem with willpower.

 

It’s limited.

 

Many world leaders, CEO’s and military commanders know about decision fatigue.  It’s been proven-  there is a finite amount of decisions you can make in a day.

 

It’s why Steve Jobs wore the same outfit everyday.  He saved his decisions for designing life-changing products.   It’s why President Obama didn’t choose his meals.  (I don’t know about Trump.)   Why waste limited resources?

 

It’s the same thing with practicing, and the good news is that you can design a practice routine.

Many successful people have a morning routine.   New parents are familiar with creating a sleep routine for their infants.

 

It’s the same with practice.

 

By creating a practice routine that is at the same time everyday, in the same location, you begin to cultivate a habit.  Willpower is required at first, but then it becomes a trigger that sets the  routine in motion.

So take some time to consciously design a successful practice routine for your child that then becomes a daily habit.  It will transform your child’s life and make your kids more successful.   And, through the shared love of music, it may even open doors of friendship, too.

Michelle Ingkavet Photography

How to ensure your child’s success?

How to ensure your child's success-

What can we do to help our children become successful?  It’s a question that reverberates deeply in every parent.

[box] “To give our kids the best possible potential for a successful life, we need to teach and model for them how to work well.” – Cal Newport[/box]

The summer I was 10 years old, I would ride my bike every morning to my local public library.  There, I would greet the librarian, Mrs. Mascolo, and take home a stack of books: everything from mysteries to biographies, science fiction, and history.  

For most of the day, I would be hidden among the leaves, high up in my backyard willow tree, diving into worlds far beyond my backyard.  

There wasn’t much else to do in my suburban town.  

To me, the book was the ultimate escape. I could sit reading in the tree all day, until Mom would cry out, “Andrew!  Dinner time!”

Today there are so many ways to escape.  

I doubt I would have spent so much time reading books if I had the options available today.  Every kid has a “pocket computer” that can instantly look up anything, listen to music, “talk” to just about anyone, watch movies, videos, take photos, and play games.  

It’s a blessing and a curse.

As a parent, I love the ability to “find my friend” and track my son’s location.  I can instantly message him and send automated reminders for appointments with the orthodontist.

But these options have made a problem.  A problem of focus.

With the lure of instant gratification, our attention has become shallow and scattered.  (Note the rise in cases of ADHD.)

In his book, Deep Work, Rules for Focused Success in A Distracted World, author Cal Newport states

“The Deep Work Hypothesis: The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.”  

Faster…But Better?

To be a contributing member of society today, one needs to achieve mastery of multiple areas.  As the pace of innovation increases, we need to learn new skills, behaviors, and tools that didn’t exist a few years ago!   

And to do this, we need to learn “how to learn.”  We need to develop the muscle of concentrated focus.  It’s a skill that is not inherent.  Simply clearing away the noise is not going to make you a master of focus.  It’s a skill that needs to be cultivated, honed, and practiced.  

10,000 Hours

Perhaps because I was bored and lonely in my teens, I spent hours and hours practicing guitar. I felt like I had to “catch up” to all the other prodigies who started when they were 5 years old.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was engaging in the “10,000 hours” rule that Malcolm Gladwell describes in his fascinating book, Outliers – The Story of Success.

The basic idea is that it takes a long time, about 10,000 hours, to achieve mastery in anything.

The Zen of Practice

Studying a music instrument is like a zen practice on the art of practice!  It cultivates attention skills required for deep focus.  In psychology terms, they call it deliberate practice: repetitive performance of intended cognitive or psychomotor skills.  

This is what will set apart your child for their future life success.

Deep work is not an inherent ability but a skill that needs to be practiced.

You can’t multi-task your way to mastery.  

Multi-tasking is not a real thing.  

Studies have shown that you are not actually doing more than one thing at the same time, but rather jumping between two or more things quickly.  This results in a slow-down and lowering of quality of attention.   So when you want to get things done, you need to go into the world of Deep Work.

Success is not about innate abilities / talent, but rather skills of focus, courage, action, and perseverance.  

So the next time your child sits down to practice, take a moment to be fully present.  Listen deeply, observe, and praise something specific.  Your gift of attention and focus is a reward in itself.  You are showing, not telling, that this is important and a priority.

And you are showing your child the path to mastery and success in life.

 

Note:  also see the excellent TED Talk and book by MacArthur genius award winner Angela Duckworth.

[box] “The greats weren’t great because at birth they could paint The greats were great cause they paint a lot Ten thousand hours felt like ten thousand hands Ten thousand hands, they carry me” – 10,000 Hours by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis [/box]

“There is a lot of confusion about the 10,000 rule that I talk about in Outliers…practice isn’t a SUFFICIENT condition for success. I could play chess for 100 years and I’ll never be a grandmaster. The point is simply that natural ability requires a huge investment of time in order to be made manifest.”  – Malcom Gladwell Business Insider

 

Black History Celebration Gig at local hospital, featuring Park Slope teacher Sean Spada!

Recently, one of our teachers, Sean Spada, had an interesting gig…at a hospital!  Held February 8 at Maimonides Medical Center, the event celebrated Black History Month, focused on highlighting influential women, and even featured some employees from the institution for the first time.

 

During the program, staff members represented influential women in the fields of civil rights, politics, literature, athletics, and science. The presentation honored a total of seven members of the black community from the 1940’s through today, including pioneers such as astronaut Mae Jemison and poet Maya Angelou, as well trailblazers like Rosa Parks and Shirley Chisholm.

 

Sean Spada

 

 

The celebration opened with a performance of the song known to many as the Black American National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” by a choir from St. Mark’s Day School. Throughout the evening, songs by revolutionary artists like Whitney Houston and Nina Simone accented the presentation. Accompanied by Spada, artists N’Kenge and Natalie Renee concluded the night with their renditions of “God Bless the Child” and “Minstrel Man.”

 

Congrats to Sean Spada on being involved in such an awesome and meaningful event! Be sure to check out the full article at the Brooklyn Reporter.

http://brooklynreporter.com/story/maimonides-medical-center-honors-women-black-history-month/

Ukulele for kids: what size should I get?

What size ukulele for my kid?

There are several sizes of Ukulele.  This instrument, from Hawaii, has had a major resurgence in the last decade or so.

(If you’ve never heard of Jake Shimabukuro – just google him now.)

And why not?  It’s so fun!  And portable!

Plus you can get a really nice one for less than $100.

The four most common sizes of Ukulele are

  1. Soprano
  2. Concert
  3. Tenor
  4. Baritone

There is another now called the Bass Ukulele which is a whole new animal.  It is only possible because of some special string technology.  More on this in a future post/video.

For most kids under the age of 10, the best size is the soprano.  Not only is it small, it’s the most affordable.

I definitely recommend this one from Kala 

I had one and recently sold it to a 6 year old student

And here’s what I got now:

What will my child learn in their first piano lesson?

Park Slope Music Lessons

When you’re searching for a music teacher for your child, you want to get a feel for the teacher.  What is a lesson like?  What’s their philosophy?  What can I expect?

We have taught hundreds of kids in the Park Slope area of Brooklyn over the last decade.  The secret to our success is in the fun we bring to the lessons right from the start.

If you hated piano lessons when you were a kid, this is not your old lessons.  It’s a complete reversal.  We work using a child-centric approach.  What would a child love to learn in a first lesson?

By focusing on fun while sneaking in technique, we can build technical facility in our students very quickly.  Within 15 minutes, they will be playing a song using all 10 fingers.

Here’s a video of just one part of our first lesson.  We use the Musicolor Method® which was created right here in Park Slope, Brooklyn and is now being taught by teachers all over the world.  For more info, check the website for Musicolor Method here.

The Musicolor Method® was originally designed for young children, even preliterate ones.  But it has been used successfully with older students as well even teens and adults.  For the older students, we just explain that these are finger exercises in disguise and the sooner you master them, the quicker we’ll be playing your favorite Taylor Swift, or Imagine Dragons or Stevie Wonder song…whatever.

We’ll be posting videos of all of our teachers soon.  Until then, be sure to register for a free phone consultation to discuss your child’s specific needs, desires and their music experience level.

What makes our preschool piano lessons better?

Our preschool piano lessons are virtually unmatched.  Most teachers will not accept a student until 7 or 8 years old.

Why is that?

There is a gap in most music curriculums that do not cover the pre-literate preschool aged child.

The curriculum we use with our young preschool students is what makes us stand out.  It was developed in house by our founder, Andrew Ingkavet and is called the Musicolor Method.  It is currently being taught to music teachers all over the world through an online training course and curriculum.

What makes the Musicolor Method unique?

musicolor-2000-white-boxThe Musicolor Method is the first music curriculum aimed at teaching piano to preschoolers (aged 3 1/2 to 6 years old) that aligns with principles of human development, early childhood education and information design.  Over a ten year period, the curriculum and method have codified into a dynamic and flexible program that has been used successfully with hundreds of children.

Direct Labelling

By labelling keys, fingers and notation with color, we create a direct labelling that allows children to bypass all the abstract symbolic knowledge required in most other curriculums.

It is the best curriculum for bringing preschool beginners up to a level where they can then begin to read music on the staff and can branch out to other curriculums, methods and styles of music.

Here are some of the key components of the Musicolor Method:

  • It doesn’t rely on the need to read
  • Unique musicolor notation is clutter-free and designed specifically for this age group
  • Begins with piano/keyboard which allows for easier understanding of theory
  • Transferrable to other instruments such as guitar, ukulele, recorder, etc.
  • Puts performance first, thereby building up confidence and esteem
  • Abstract concepts and technical issues are introduced in micro steps
  • Use of voice, all songs have lyrics that are age-appropriate
  • Most music concepts are presented in the form of games
  • Effective for children with learning disabilities
  • Fun!

The curriculum can fill an entire academic year and dovetails nicely with many of the other commercial piano methods available on the market.

Inside a music lesson – it’s more than just sitting on the piano bench

Our music lessons are fun!

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.

 

American Idol And Finding Your Voice: A Music Teacher’s Perspective

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.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hn16g2NSW4Q

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.  Other legendary music executives could be considered “guys with ears” like Clive Davis, who discovered Whitney Houston and ran several record labels, or Ahmet Ertegun who founded Atlantic Records.   Clive was a lawyer, so how he came to be a guy with ears was just pure passion, innate talent and personal interest.

Nowadays, most artists are expected to write their own music or have a very specific view of the kind of material they are looking for.  Everyone needs to know what is their “own music.”

So how does this relate to teaching music?

Find the perfect song for the student and you are golden.  You no longer have to TRY to motivate them.  The student is so self-motivated – it’s what they want to do.

To do this, you need to get to know your student.  What makes them excited, not just musically, but in life?  What are their interests, passions, causes, fears?  What do they care about?  Who do they love?  Who loves them?

The material you select together will be putting words/ideas/feelings in their mouths and mind.  It becomes a part of them, their reality.  The choices you help them make become a part of what makes them unique.

When you find that next song, don’t just play it like everyone else.  Experiment to find what is their own way.  Change it up.  Make it faster, slower!  Do it with a reggae lilt.  Do it in a bossa nova style.  Change the key.  Make it a minor key.  Most of all, make it their own.  Play it like it they wrote it!  Find their voice.

The “song” can be more than a song

It’s the same in every subject, whether it’s soccer, physics, macramé or Chinese lessons.  Having a mentor to guide one on a personal path can be the difference between passion and drudgery.

Find the song, and the next, and the next, and the life path will be clear.   At every stage, a different “music” is required to guide, lift and release into the exact place of purpose, whether it’s on the stage of American Idol, or any other field of endeavor.  Every lesson is a lesson in life.

Finding Your LIfe Path, Photo by Des D. Mona @ Flickr
Finding Your LIfe Path, Photo by Des D. Mona @ Flickr

“I am circling around God, around the ancient tower, and I have been circling for a thousand years, and I still don’t know if I am a falcon, or a storm, or a great song.” – Rainier Maria Rilke

Music Instruction Expands Brains!

As an independent, private music teacher, I am always being forwarded studies and news articles about the benefits of music lessons.  It definitely feels good to be on the right side of this issue!   And it certainly validates my profession.

This weekend’s Wall Street Journal has an article, A Musical Fix for U.S. Schools, which puts music instruction higher than all other so called non-academic activities.

“Kids in sports also showed increased ambition, while those in theater and dance expressed more optimism. But when it came to core academic skills, the study’s authors found, the impact of music training was much stronger.”

This seems to be one-upping another article this week in the NY Times about how Exercise Boosts Young Brains.

Breaking the day into different activities just makes sense.  You need a break from just constant focus of core curriculum of Science, Technology, English and Math.  But what the WSJ article says is it’s not just a break, but actually a boost.  And the most potent boost comes from learning, playing and practicing an instrument, so much so, that it could be a simple cure-all for all the ills of the school system.  At a calculated cost of $187/student per year, a typical large suburban school system could turn itself around.

Ava performs Lightly Row
Ava gets prepared to play Lightly Row

The list of benefits of musical training include:

  • Music raises the IQ
  • Music can reduce the academic gap between rich and poor
  • Music does more than sports, theater or dance
  • Music can be an early screening tool for reading disabilities
  • Music expands your brain, physically

I highly recommend reading the complete article.

My suburban school system provided me with an excellent music education.

I give daily thanks to the late great Andy Blackett and Peter Brasch, Sal Piccolo, Charles Weinsoff, Helen Roberts, Diane Greenspan.  I never thought I would be doing this but now it all makes sense.

Spring Recital June 2014

Teaching Strategies For Growth Mindset

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.

  • Learning music is like playing a video game. Once you achieved the last challenge, we’re on to the next level.
  • You’re not supposed to know this already, this is brand new.

High Expectations For Forward Motion

  • I KNOW that you can do this, that’s why I’m showing you this.
  • This will be challenging, but I’ve seen you do amazing work before.
  • Remember how hard _____ piece was? And now you can play it so well. This is like that one only better.

Struggling Even With Effort

  • You are not there…YET (emphasis on the yet)
  • If you’re feeling overwhelmed, just remind yourself that you can’t do it…YET.
  • Let’s take a break and come back to this tomorrow.
  • I admire your persistence.
  • I appreciate your effort and focus on this.
  • I love how you never gave up on that last piece. Let’s do it here too.

Struggling But May Need Help With Strategy

  • Let’s work on just the one spot giving you trouble
  • What part is giving you trouble? Let’s just look at that.
  • How about we make a plan to learn this piece? You can do section A today and then section B tomorrow and then back to A…

By setting the proper belief system in place at an early age, we can guide our children to future success in music, and in life.

For more information, read this excellent article from Prinicipal Leadership, a magazine aimed at school principals.

For a free download on Growth Mindset Framing. You’ll have to register but it’s free and you can download a pdf.