I had this idea to have more public performances for my students which was well received by all the parents. This afternoon, we had our first Music Salon, hosted by Maziar & Michelle, and it went wonderfully! It was a casual festive event with wine and snacks and a roaring fire with a great 13 foot Christmas tree. Just lovely. And we had a sing-along of some Christmas favorites. The best part was that some of my shyest and quietest students got up to play several times and all did a great job.
Here’s some photos from the event. And many many thanks to Maziar and Michelle for being such gracious hosts.
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?
Aimed at parents , home-schoolers and teachers of young children aged 3 to 6 years old, the book is really an app which delivers a learning system including audio, video, animations and my unique color system. It spans the first month and a half of lessons that in my private lessons would cost over $200! There is no experience required and no need to read traditional music notation. In fact, the problem with most music books and teachers try to present too much information at once. By breaking down the learning process into micro steps, I’ve helped hundreds of kids learn to play piano, (and guitar) whilst having proper technique, and learning music theory, traditional notation and even composition.
For those of you who have been unable to get on my roster, this is a great way to virtually start lessons with me. There’s even a free sample that gives you the first lesson for free. And this is just the beginning, I’m already working hard on the next volume as well as a support website PlayPianoForKids.com
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 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
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 knowhow 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.
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.
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.
Many parents have expressed their frustration at getting their child to practice their musical instrument. Here’s some tips to help.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Voice is the instrument we already own. With all of my students,
Ignite the passion, fun and excitement of music within
Introduce the names of the notes
Connect those notes to their location on their instrument
Connect those notes to standard written notation
Through achievements, build their sense of self confidence and self worth.
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.