“Where words fail, music speaks.” – Hans Christian Andersen
Many people think of music as mere entertainment, but I believe learning to make music is a metaphor for learning life skills.
Science has proven the benefits of music lessons to stimulate whole brain development in children more than other activities including sports, science or visual arts. Music lessons provide a structured path for personal development by imparting skills of listening, coordination, focus, pattern-recognition, goal-setting, public performance, and so much more. And this applies to all children, even those on the autism spectrum or attention deficit, dyslexia or other special needs.
Now if you have ever taken music lessons as a child, you may have experienced some difficulty understanding in the beginning. Traditional teaching methods force students to read abstract symbols before learning to play. This can be confusing, overwhelming, and lead to dropping out of lessons altogether. There are so many adults who tell me, “I really wish I had continued with my music lessons.”
Luckily, there is a new way of teaching that enables children, even those who are preliterate or have special needs, to begin playing with confidence and joy immediately.
This way is called the Musicolor Method and aligns with natural modes of learning – think of it as learning to speak before you read. It uses direct-labelling with color as educational scaffolding and simplified notation that grows in complexity as the student progresses. It culminates with reading standard music notation and playing with mastery. The end result is life skills through music with less stress, overwhelm and a lot more fun.
Music can be defined as organized sound and I believe we have a deep, cosmic connection through music and sound. For example, our hearing is the first sense activated in the womb. Also, astronauts discovered that being in space, far away from Earth led to a strange sickness. After close inspection, scientists discovered that Earth has a “sound” ((known as Schumann Resonance – 7.83 Hz) like a giant cosmic cello we synchronize and harmonize with. Adding back an artificial, generated tone normalized these astronauts in space – music is in our DNA!
But even here on firm ground, playing a musical instrument stimulates whole brain thinking, synchronizing left and right hemispheres. A recent study in England has shown that music lessons improve a student’s abilities in all academic subjects and can be quantified as equivalent to a leap forward of one year! While you may not intend for your child to be a concert pianist, having some music lessons in childhood will undoubtedly improve all of their studies.
Since 2007, we at Park Slope Music Lessons have worked with hundreds of students, some as young as 4 or 3 1/2 including many with ASD, ADHD, and/or special needs, learn life skills through music with joy. Come join us!
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.
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?
“What’s in it for me?”
“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
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.
I believe music education is vitally important as it teaches one of the most important skills of childhood…confidence.But it’s not the egotistical, brash arrogance posing as confidence that is plaguing our society.
Rather, we parents want our kids to be a clear channel for intuition and spirit developed by learning the laws of the Universe so perfectly exemplified in music.
We are all vibrating, resonating beings.Let’s lift ourselves by resonating with the highest vibrations!
Come join us
This Saturday, June 10, 2017, we will host our Spring concerts at the Park Slope Library on 9th Street and 6th Avenue.
We have an 11am show and a 2pm show in the lower level auditorium. Free and open to the public. Come check out what your kids and neighbors have been working on for the last few months.
We have a diverse and eclectic music program including everything from Bach to Beethoven, Folk Songs to Lady Gaga, classic rock to the blues, original compositions and songs and, of course, music from Disney’s Moana.
I’m looking forward to our upcoming Spring Music Recital on June 7 at 2pm. It will be in our usual location, the auditorium of the Park Slope branch of the Brooklyn Public Library.
We have a great program of diverse music from folk classics to Suzuki standards to pop songs from Katy Perry, Imagine Dragons, One Republic, jazz standards in the style of Frank Sinatra and film and Broadway soundtracks all played by kids ages 5 to 13.
The show is free and open to the public. You can see previous recital videos here.
Also, if you haven’t already signed up your child for summer lessons, I have some openings for our short summer session which runs 4 weeks in July from the 7th to 31st. More info.
I’m also offering music lessons via internet (Skype, FaceTime, Google Hangouts) over the summer and into the Fall too. This may be a good opportunity to continue practicing whilst at Grandma’s house.
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.
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.
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]
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? I created a printout for my students that features…them(!) – to help remember these. You can download this here. Get Download
Hopefully we’ll all be singing and signing at our next recital. Here’s a video from another teacher (who also produces wonderful educational tools which I use and heartily recommend.) After internalizing these pitches and then connecting them with notes on the staff, reading music becomes connected with the aural, visual and kinesthetic. It has become much easier to move into any standard method book after a few weeks of this. [button link=”http://themusicolormethod.com/blog/” type=”big” newwindow=”yes”] Click here for more music teaching tips[/button] http://youtu.be/zCbDD5kfp-g
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!
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, exercises, composition, dictation and listening. It makes music fun if you know the how and why. It also changes your listening and deepens your appreciation of music. It can be quite abstract at times which is why we have many many activities and games built up over a long period of time.
I realize not everyone has a massive music collection at home and I’m often asked, “What should we be listening to?” I’ve recently written a series articles for Jill Simeone’s lovely parenting blog Cozy Owl which address, Early Childhood Music, Essential Listening and Music for A Road Trip.
In the near future, I’m hoping to post playlists of Music Every Child Should Hear via this site.
NOTE: Winter Music Session
The winter music session is starting on Monday November 28 and will run until February 11. I will be sending out invitations for the limited openings available to those on the waiting list. If you would like to join the waiting list, please go to the contact page and click the link.
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.
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.