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!
When I was a kid, I felt like loneliness was my best friend. It’s not like I wanted to be around him. He just clung to me.
We were the only Asian family in an all-white neighborhood in a suburb of New York City. The typical question was,
“What are you, Chinese or Japanese?”
As if those were the only two options.
“I’m Thai, Chinese and Korean.” I would try to explain.
This answer was usually met with bewildered stares and silence. Mind you, this was long before kimchi tacos, Pad Thai noodles and Sriracha hot sauce were even a blip on the radar of the general public. Heck, most people hadn’t even heard of sushi back then.
My New Best Friend
Somewhere along the way, though, I discovered music, who quickly became my new best friend. It was through music that I began to feel less alien, foreign and an outsider and more like “just one of the gang.” Through the bonds of shared passion for Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix, I found new friends.
Music was the social lubricant and the universal language of our tribe.
I was 14 and teaching myself to play guitar. I needed to get better fast! Thus, I began to learn how to learn and how to practice.
I dove deep into technical exercises and repetition. I studied the form and structure of music. And I improved rapidly. I began to realize that I could improve my results by focusing on the things that gave me better results and leaving the rest behind. This was before I had ever heard of the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule which states that 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts. By focusing on that high leverage 20%, I was able to improve much more quickly.
One day I realized something profound.
Practicing what I already know is a waste of time. I need to practice what I don’t know to improve!
The Practice of Practice
Now, I am a professional music teacher, and I strive to teach the practice of practice to all my students.
Last week, I held a Parents Curriculum meeting where I shared my core belief:
“Learning a musical instrument is one of the best paths for personal development.”
It requires knowing how to study, learn and focus. These skills affect everything in life. Cultivating these skills will transform your child’s life forever.
Most people, kids included, will enthusiastically start a project like learning an instrument with great enthusiasm and a lot of willpower.
But there’s a problem with willpower.
Many world leaders, CEO’s and military commanders know about decision fatigue. It’s been proven- there is a finite amount of decisions you can make in a day.
It’s why Steve Jobs wore the same outfit everyday. He saved his decisions for designing life-changing products. It’s why President Obama didn’t choose his meals. (I don’t know about Trump.) Why waste limited resources?
It’s the same thing with practicing, and the good news is that you can design a practice routine.
Many successful people have a morning routine. New parents are familiar with creating a sleep routine for their infants.
It’s the same with practice.
By creating a practice routine that is at the same time everyday, in the same location, you begin to cultivate a habit. Willpower is required at first, but then it becomes a trigger that sets the routine in motion.
So take some time to consciously design a successful practice routine for your child that then becomes a daily habit. It will transform your child’s life and make your kids more successful. And, through the shared love of music, it may even open doors of friendship, too.
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]
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!
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.
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.
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.
The 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!
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.”
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Listen to music in the home. Take some time to consciously choose music that features the instrument your child is learning. Listen to all kinds of music and talk about it.
Go see live music. Take your child to see live musicians and then talk about the concert. You’ll be amazed at the observations they make. They also may take a new interest in a different instrument as well!
Sing (or hum) together. Many people feel very shy about singing. Actually everyone can sing and if you start at a really young age, they can’t criticize you. You’re just their parent singing and that’s always music to their ears. Holiday carols or folk songs are a great fun family activity.
Take music classes yourself. In my lessons, I actively engage the parents to stay at least on par with the child’s musical knowledge. It becomes a family experience.
Have a family concert (or a music playdate). By having more people making music (or sounds, noise) it becomes a social and group activity. Fun! Just don’t play saxophone with a mouth full of potato chips – that’s gross – I know from experience.
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.