Each year, I host a Holiday Party and Music Salon for our music students at one of our student’s homes. It’s a great way for our youngest and shyest to get over their fears of performing in front of others. And every year it gets better. It also gives a chance for new friendships to be be born and our Music Mentors and Mentees to hang out, each some treats and play for all of us. Wonderful.
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.
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!
Ifyouasktheaveragemusicteacheraboutspecialneeds children as students,youmaygetablank stare.Thereisn’tmuchliteraturefocusedonthis.Childrenwithspecialneedsmay includethosewithlearningdisabilities,developmentalissues,aswellasthoseonthe Autismspectrum.
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!
If you have any questions about your child and their specific issues, feel free to contact us.
As parents, we want the best for our children and we are usually anxious about getting it right.Here in Park Slope, we all know the competition for preschool, day care and elementary schools begins at birth!
You can usually get a sense of your child’s interest in music by around the age of 2 or 3.They will be singing along with songs in the car or asking you to play a certain song over and over again. And at some point, they may even ask you,
“Can I learn to play ____?(guitar, piano, flute or whatever).
So when should we start getting our kids into a private music lesson?
As a private music teacher and parent, I recommend the following.
Try out a mommy-and-me type class first.
My son enjoyed the Music Together classes on the corner of 1st street and 6th avenue though he was usually more interested in putting away the instruments than actually participating!We also had a lovely time with Juguemos A Cantar, a Spanish language program that includes lots of music and playtime.
There are so many sing-along programs available where general exposure to music,singing and dancing take place in a group environment.This is great for toddlers from 6 months to around 3 years old.
Listen To Music In The Home
This seems rather common sense, but you can definitely expose your child to some great stuff. Be sure to try and include a variety of music. Also, be aware that certain music and lyrics may not be age-appropriate the same way you do with movies and television. Folk and classical music are good choices for toddlers.
Take Your Children to See Live Music
Seeing and hearing live instruments is an amazingly different experience than just listening to recordings. And, because so much of our listening experience is now mediated through compressed audio via streaming services, we really miss out on the true experience of sound. All the major music institutions in our fine city have programs for children. PS 321 has long been hosting a wonderful series of concerts for children organized by Simone Dinnerstein, a world renown classical pianist. Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, BAM and don’t forget the fine performances of students at Juilliard, NYU, Mannes and Manhattan School of Music. We have no excuse!
Fine Motor Skills
By around the age of 3 1/2 or 4 years, most children have developed fine motor skills to the point where they can write their name legibly.They may be able to spell it forwards and backwards.They usually can say the alphabet in proper sequence.And, they usually start to develop the ability to focus on one activity for a longer period of time, say 5 to 10 minutes.At this point, we can start to work with a child on piano /keyboard.
Why start with piano/keyboard?
The piano is a very visually and logically designed interface. It doesn’t require a lot of technical exertion to produce a pleasing sound.Modern digital keyboards can fit into any sized apartment and have volume controls as well as headphone outputs! (We have some recommendations here.)
By starting with the piano/keyboard, we can also visually explain abstract concepts of music like pitch being high or low, and the relationship between the pitches as spatial relationships between the fingers and keys.Using a well-design curriculum like the Musicolor Method, we can coax our young preschoolers to producing quite complex and beautiful music in a relatively short period of time.
Why not violin?
Violin, though often touted as a great beginning instrument, has the challenge of no fixed pitch.It requires tuning and the ability to play in tune – intonation.This can drive lots of people crazy hearing a squeaking, out of tune Twinkle Twinkle over and over again.Piano, or digital keyboard, has the advantage of fixed tuning.An acoustic piano is tuned by a professional once every 6 to 12 months and that’s it.Parents don’t have to fiddle with the tuners.
Growth mindset and brain development
By starting your child in music lessons at the age of 3 or 4, you are helping them with so many life skills.There have been so many studies about the positive effects of music on brain development in young children.And now, further studies are showing the positive effects of participation in formal private music lessons.These studies are showing that music, above all other activities, fosters the very skills that are needed for success in life.These skills include focus, persistence, discipline, public performance, practice skills, study skills, problem solving as well as the ability to listen, harmonize and blend with others.
A Focus on Life Skills
It is with this life skills focus that I established Park Slope Music Lessons. I had studied to be a music teacher at NYU on a special scholarship back in the 1980’s.However, I was soon pulled into many other adventures of life including becoming a writer, producer and VJ for MTV, back when they still played music.Teaching music as a full-time focus didn’t happen until my own son began asking for music lessons.It was then that I started to search for a teacher.I was surprised that almost no one would accept a 3 or 4 year old student.
They all said “Come back when he was 7 or 8.”
A Homeschool Project Expands
That’s when I started my own homeschooling project that blossomed into both a new curriculum and music school. Today we have 3 teachers, including myself, two of whom will actually come to your home for lessons.
I hope to work with you and your child one day soon.
This past Sunday, there was a NY Times Article on the importance of music education in everyone’s life. I feel like it was written specifically for music teachers! The author interviewed some of the top performers in numerous and diverse industries and has found a surprising number had deep musical training from Condoleeza Rice to Allan Greenspan to Paula Zhan to James Wolfensohn to Steven Spielberg to Woody Allen and Paul Allen.
[box] “I’ve always believed the reason I’ve gotten ahead is by outworking other people,” he says. It’s a skill learned by “playing that solo one more time, working on that one little section one more time,” and it translates into “working on something over and over again, or double-checking or triple-checking.” He adds, “There’s nothing like music to teach you that eventually if you work hard enough, it does get better. You see the results.” – NBC White House Correspondent Chuck Todd[/box]
I’ve started making videos of songs I’m teaching my students as so many of them are visual learners and have the technology to view this at home. This video is not meant to be a step by step instruction but a reinforcement/memory aid for after the lesson when practicing at home.
When children learn to play a musical instrument, they strengthen a range of auditory skills. Recent studies suggest that these benefits extend all through life, at least for those who continue to be engaged with music.
But a study published last month is the first to show that music lessons in childhood may lead to changes in the brain that persist years after the lessons stop.
Indeed, scientists are puzzling out the connections between musical training in childhood and language-based learning — for instance, reading. Learning to play an instrument may confer some unexpected benefits, recent studies suggest.
We aren’t talking here about the “Mozart effect,” the claim that listening to classical music can improve people’s performance on tests. Instead, these are studies of the effects of active engagement and discipline. This kind of musical training improves the brain’s ability to discern the components of sound — the pitch, the timing and the timbre.
“To learn to read, you need to have good working memory, the ability to disambiguate speech sounds, make sound-to-meaning connections,” said Professor Nina Kraus, director of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University. “Each one of these things really seems to be strengthened with active engagement in playing a musical instrument.”
Skill in appreciating the subtle qualities of sound, even against a complicated and noisy background, turns out to be important not just for a child learning to understand speech and written language, but also for an elderly person struggling with hearing loss.
In a study of those who do keep playing, published this summer, researchers found that as musicians age, they experience the same decline in peripheral hearing, the functioning of the nerves in their ears, as nonmusicians. But older musicians preserve the brain functions, the central auditory processing skills that can help you understand speech against the background of a noisy environment.
“We often refer to the ‘cocktail party’ problem — or imagine going to a restaurant where a lot of people are talking,” said Dr. Claude Alain, assistant director of the Rotman Research Institute in Toronto and one of the authors of the study. “The older adults who are musically trained perform better on speech in noise tests — it involves the brain rather than the peripheral hearing system.”
Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, are approaching the soundscape from a different point of view, studying the genetics of absolute, or perfect, pitch, that ability to identify any tone. Dr. Jane Gitschier, a professor of medicine and pediatrics who directs the study there, and her colleagues are trying to tease out both the genetics and the effects of early training.
“The immediate question we’ve been trying to get to is what are the variants in people’s genomes that could predispose an individual to have absolute pitch,” she said. “The hypothesis, further, is that those variants will then manifest as absolute pitch with the input of early musical training.”
Indeed, almost everyone who qualifies as having truly absolute pitch turns out to have had musical training in childhood (you can take the test and volunteer for the study at http://perfectpitch.ucsf.edu/study/).
Alexandra Parbery-Clark, a doctoral candidate in Dr. Kraus’s lab and one of the authors of a paper published this year on auditory working memory and music, was originally trained as a concert pianist. Her desire to go back to graduate school and study the brain, she told me, grew out of teaching at a French school for musically talented children, and observing the ways that musical training affected other kinds of learning.
“If you get a kid who is maybe 3 or 4 years old and you’re teaching them to attend, they’re not only working on their auditory skills but also working on their attention skills and their memory skills — which can translate into scholastic learning,” she said.
Now Ms. Parbery-Clark and her colleagues can look at recordings of the brain’s electrical detection of sounds, and they can see the musically trained brains producing different — and stronger — responses. “Now I have more proof, tangible proof, music is really doing something,” she told me. “One of my lab mates can look at the computer and say, ‘Oh, you’re recording from a musician!’ ”
Many of the researchers in this area are themselves musicians interested in the plasticity of the brain and the effects of musical education on brain waves, which mirror the stimulus sounds. “This is a response that actually reflects the acoustic elements of sound that we know carry meaning,” Professor Kraus said.
There’s a fascination — and even a certain heady delight — in learning what the brain can do, and in drawing out the many effects of the combination of stimulation, application, practice and auditory exercise that musical education provides. But the researchers all caution that there is no one best way to apply these findings.
Different instruments, different teaching methods, different regimens — families need to find what appeals to the individual child and what works for the family, since a big piece of this should be about pleasure and mastery. Children should enjoy themselves, and their lessons. Parents need to care about music, not slot it in as a therapeutic tool.
“We want music to be recognized for what it can be in a person’s life, not necessarily, ‘Oh, we want you to have better cognitive skills, so we’re going to put you in music,’ ” Ms. Parbery-Clark said. “Music is great, music is fantastic, music is social — let them enjoy it for what it really is.”
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
It was a great recital last Saturday at the Carroll Gardens Library in Brooklyn. With 30 students performing and a house of over 100 guests, we had a lovely time and everyone did their best. Thanks again to all the parents, grandparents, friends and family who came to show their support, love and appreciation of our young performers! And special thanks to Jeff Schwartz and the entire staff of the Carroll Gardens library who graciously let us use their space and even set up the chairs for us!
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.
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.
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, we sing, clap and speak out all of the songs we are working on first, to internalize their rhythms, pitches and phrasing. As we develop our voices, we can start to work on specific techniques like diction, phrasing, acting etc.
Piano is the easiest external instrument for anyone to learn. It does not require physical strength nor the building up of calluses or specific breathing techniques or lip tension. For all of my students, regardless of instrument, we spend some time learning the notes on the piano.
Guitar requires strength to press and hold down the strings. This gets easier the older the student. Check my website for recommended half-size guitars for younger students.
I would recommend piano as the first instrument anyone learns and then if there is interest, to move to other instruments. I currently teach piano, voice and guitar and may offer wind instruments at a later date.
A previous article about the Goals of Beginning Music Lessons will also give you a better idea of our first weeks of lessons and whether your child is ready to embark on the magical journey of music.
NOTE: This article came about from a conversation and a request from Melissa at Hip Slope Mama. The article will soon appear there too.