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

 

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:

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.”

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

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.

Some Kids Have A Secret Advantage

Ava wrote her own music!
Ava wrote her own music!

All parents want the best for their child and after-school is an opportunity for extra enrichment beyond the classroom.

Yesterday, The Atlantic published an article,  After-School Activities Make Educational Inequality Even Worse.   The author, Hilary Levey Friedman, interviewed and followed 95 middle-class families over 16 months who were involved in soccer, dance and competitive chess.   She identifies 5 skills  she believes separates middle/upper class children from less fortunate children and which she calls Competitive Kid Capital.   There’s some overlap here with Angela Lee Duckworth’s concept of Grit which I discussed previously.  Though Friedman didn’t profile music students, these all overlay very well with music instruction and recitals.

1 – The Importance of Winning – In music there is not necessarily winning and losing, but if you didn’t get the right notes, or you didn’t perform as well as you did at home, then, there’s a sense of a loss.  All of my students are pretty hard graders on themselves when asked, “How did you do on that piece?”

2 – Learning from Loss – this is resiliency and happens everyday you practice at your instrument.  You’re going to make mistakes, but what matters is what you do next.

3 – Time Management – Music is a time based language- you need to keep the beat  – events happen over time.  Having good rhythm and timing to correctly and effective communicate a beautiful piece of music is one aspect but so is the management of practice time  over weeks and months for a big recital.  Will you be prepared?  This is life!

4- Adaptability – you need to go with the flow – some days you’ll feel different and you’ll play the music different because of that.  But also making small corrections everyday on technical issues is a way of adapting.

5 – Grace Under Pressure –  performing in front of a roomful of strangers can be a very intimidating experience.   The more you do it, the easier it gets.  I’ve seen some of my students blossom over the years and these skills  will be useful in the classroom, the job, the board room, anywhere.  I wrote this article Why Music Recitals Are Like Life Skills 101 a few years ago.

See the full article at the Atlantic.

And here’s another article that caught my eye.

Last weekend’s New York Times had a brief article about the Long Term Benefits of Music Instruction.

A new study reports that older adults who took lessons at a young age can process the sounds of speech faster than those who did not.

“It didn’t matter what instrument you played, it just mattered that you played,” said Nina Kraus, a neuroscientist at Northwestern University and an author of the study, which appears in The Journal of Neuroscience.

What’s incredible is that this is 30-40 years later!  And these people may never have continued on an instrument after their childhood music lessons.

See the full story here.

Why Memorizing Music Is So Important

By Andrew Ingkavet

With all of my students, I stress the importance of memorizing their pieces, especially for performance at a recital. Here’s some of the reasons why.

Repetition is the Mother of Skill

How many times did Tiger Woods hit a golf ball before ever entering a competition? Apparently he was already golfing at age 2 when he made an appearance on the Merv Griffin show with his Dad. He turned professional at age 21 after winning many competitions along the way. That’s 19 years and probably 30,000 to 40,000 hours of practice! In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers,  he discusses the theory that it takes an applied 10,000 hours of practice to mastery in any field. No wonder Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer that ever lived!  He’s simply played 3 or 4 times much as anyone else before he even turned pro!

Tiger Woods golfer
Now, I’m not demanding 8 hour practice days for my students, but five minutes the day before the lesson is just not going to cut it. It’s unfair to the student who is going to sound awful and not enjoy the wonderful process and sense of accomplishment of learning a song to a masterful level.

Technique

As we use our muscles to achieve the production of sound, we need to train them to move in specific ways. Fluidity can only be achieved by repetition. By consciously practicing the repeated motions at the same time being mindful of proper alignment of back, wrists, hands, we can create smooth, fluid motions that create beautiful sounds without repetitive stress injuries.

Practicing small bits at a slow speed can produce incredible, exponential results. When pianist Glenn Gould burst onto the scene as a young man, his flawless technique stunned the world, as did his ingenious interpretations of Bach.

Pattern Recipes

The bits of music phrases teach re-usable pieces of the fabric of music. Just like a recipe book or a code pattern that can be re-used in many projects, future songs will surely employ similar melodic, harmonic and rhythmic ideas. Music performance, composing and listening becomes easier as we progress. This is in fact the basic concept of object orient programming for computers. By designing a library of re-usable components, programmers can quickly put together new projects by cobbling together pre-build elements. Learning a later song is easier because the old one had similar patterns. And then, creating variations is now an option.

Artistic Expression

Spencer TracyThe famous actor Spencer Tracy was once quoted,

“Know your lines…and don’t bump into the furniture.”

You could say the same of music.  Know the notes.

How can you make the music your own without knowing it at a deep subconscious level.
When I was briefly an actor, I took a wonderful class in
the Meisner technique. The basic exercise was called the Repetition technique. It consisted of 2 or more actors on a bare stage with minimum set props. It was improvisatory in that each would only repeat what the other said until there was a natural impulse to say something else. What was amazing was that the inane conversation became full or emotion and life immediately as the words were not hindering the emotion. It’s the same thing in music. But, we need to know our parts. Of course, in jazz, improvisation is the raison d’etre, but there is still an agreed-upon structure.
We need to get to the very heart of emotion in the music, and the only way is to memorize, internalize, and interpret as our own. To know the music fully.

Tell A Story

To make your music tell a story, you need to have a physical comfort level with it. You can’t NOT know your parts. Otherwise it’s like the actor who doesn’t know his lines…you don’t believe them.

Instrumental Music is extremely abstract. Pop and folk songs with lyrics provide a narrative focus. But pure instrumental music can benefit in having some kind of narrative in that it can bring a piece to life. Make up a storyline for your piece! Sometimes this is relatively easy as the music is dramatic and narrative by nature.   Disney realized how Dukas’ Sorceror’s Apprentice was perfect in that it told the story.  Take a look.

I’ve been astounded by the difference in performance by some of my youngest students when they add a storyline to their piece. What’s even more amazing is that 6 year stories are all pretty much the same! But the music sparkles!

Repertoire

Having a mind full of pieces to perform at a moment’s notice is a wonderful thing. It’s what makes one feel like a truly accomplished musician. And, you never know when your Aunt Harriet is going to pop over with her friends and ask you to play “something sweet.”

How Memory Works

So how does memory work? Scientists still know only a fraction of how the brain works, but we’re learning more everyday. There is still so much research still to be done. 

So far, it seems that there are some generally agreed-upon concepts.

Encoding – getting the information into your memory. Of course, the information needs to be right from the start. Garbage in does equal garbage out.

Storage – There’s short term and long term. It seems we are similar to computers in that we have temporary space for short term and commonly used information. If we don’t use it, we lose it, unless we consciously store it in an organized way.

Retrieval– Getting the right information out when you want it is possibly the trickiest. Many scientist believe that the human mind never forgets anything, it’s just difficult to retrieve on command. But, repeated retrieval places the keys to a specific memory in a prominent location. So if you want to remember where you put your keys, try saying it aloud when you put them down. And, practicing your piece on your instrument at repeated intervals is like oiling the doors to that memory closet.

How To Memorize Music

In a famous study done by George Miller at Princeton University they discovered that humans can memorize up to 7 discreet bits of information, plus or minus 2. But chunking this into groups greatly increases the amount that could be stored and retrieved easily. We can apply this to music memorization.

Chunking It Down

To start memorizing, I suggest with a small chunk or part, perhaps even as little as 3 to 4 notes. The younger the student, the less notes. As they learn, we can go to the next chunk, and after mastering and memorizing that, we group those two chunks together. By continuing to add to the memory in small groups, and then synthesizing those into a larger whole, the entire piece can be memorized quickly so that a piece with several pages can be played from memory easily.
Some common breakpoints would be first measure, then second measure, then group them together. Then do the next 2 measures that way before you group together the entire first stave. Then A section can be memorized as contrasted to B section, etc.

Listening

An extremely effective way of learning a new piece is by listening to an existing recording. This is, of course, the bedrock of the Suzuki program of music instruction.

At higher levels, this may influence the styling of the performance, but that’s why we listen to great performances! Better to mimic the masters. You can also record yourself playing the piece slowly to listen to it over and over again.

Writing as a Memory Aid

Hand-written music by Mozart
Hand-written music by Mozart

Actors learning lines often write and re-write their lines without punctuation, like a long run on sentence. Why no punctation? By learning the words as raw material, they can add their own punctation depending on the emotion required for the scene. We can do the same for music, though the punctuation is usually dictated by the composer in terms of tempo, dynamics and accents, etc. By copying the music to staff paper, another method of input has been created both visual, kinesthetic and even aural through mental memory of the sounds. As a composer, I’ve gained invaluable details and nuances by just copying pieces of music. The physical act of copying does something that internalizes into the mind and body. It’s why the great painters all learned by copying the masters at the Louvre.

Blind Memory

Another technique to memorize is by relying on the auditory, and kinesthetic only. By blindfolding, or closing one’s eyes, or even turning out the lights, the musician can practice

Ray Charles
Ray Charles

without relying on the visual and play by touch and ear. This will also make the student realize quickly if they are not committing to a fingering pattern as they will be unable to play it blind. And, some of the best musicians in the world were literally blind.

Visualization

I’ve heard of stories where prisoners of war without access to their instruments practice completely in their mind, visualizing the experience completely, hearing it in their mind’s ear and seeing themselves in the mind’s eye performing their piece perfectly. These people return from their isolation playing better than before! I’ve told a few of my students about this and you can see in this video, my student Mitra is actually visualizing herself right before she performs onstage. Wonderful!


My son Alejandro has been working on a difficult piece by Bach and he recently told me that every night before he goes to sleep, he visualizes himself performing this piece. Wow! I don’t even recall telling him to do this!

An Odyssey, A Memory Palace

There’s a lot of wonder at how some of our ancestors could remember stories to pass on to the next generation. One was was through the use of rhythm and sound in the form of poetry, a kind of word music. By linking the sounds with the imagery in the stories, whole long passages could be told and memorized. By singing the melodies of the piece you are trying to memorize, you are using these very techniques and internalizing the music. Glenn Gould would sing all his parts incessantly to the point where he never stopped singing even when performing in public or recording his piano pieces.

There’s also the technique called the Memory Palace, where using the memory of a physical place you know intimately such as your own home, you could “store” information in specific locations. So, to remember things in a specific order, you could then mentally walk through your palace and retrieve the information. I found this book where it taught me all the names of every play by Shakespeare in the proper order, and lo and behold, it works! Now I should really do this for something more useful like song lyrics as I’m terrible at remembering them.

The Benefits of Memorization

Now the greatest thing is that these memorization and learning skills are applicable and transferrable to the rest of your life, forever! You can use them to learn anything like languages, careers, work stuff, school, research, anything! You are basically learning to operate your mind. How to store information, keep it fresh, retrieve it when you need it and then use it to combine, build, mix, remix and synthesize all you want. And to think you got all this from memorizing your little recital piece!

 

 

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.  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?

Here’s another article with a video that made about this.