How To Talk So Kids Will Practice

How to talk to your kids so they will practice music

How To Talk So Kids Will Practice

Just about everyone I’ve talked to has a challenge with getting their kids to practice. 
I too had this issue.
 
When my son Alejandro was young, not only was I the parent, but also the teacher. It was very challenging and we would often end our lessons in tears – his and mine!
It was extremely frustrating! 
It’s like that quote from the film Cool Hand Luke. 
“What we have here is a failure to communicate.”
It’s true. Communication is probably the biggest challenge humans face in all walks of life. 
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” 
– George Bernard Shaw
At age 9, Alejandro went to camp and became “piano guy” as he banged out requests on the old upright in the mess hall. Now at 16, he seeks out time to practice on his own. It’s become an outlet, a passion and a constant companion. Music has become part of his identity. 

So how did we get here?

Flashback to ten years ago. My brilliant and beautiful wife knows a lot about developmental psychology. Besides giving me a time out! – she gave me a book to read. You may already know about it. 
Reading this book was a major breakthrough for me.

In the book, the authors discuss four key strategies:

  1. Listen with full attention
  1. Acknowledge their feelings with a word
  1. Give their feelings a name
  1. Give them their wishes in fantasy

Listen with full attention

This is a rarity nowadays. I’ve seen so many parents staring at their smart devices while their children are begging for some attention. When Alejandro was a toddler, he would grab our faces and literally turn our heads and say, “Look at me!” Pretty funny and effective.
Getting attention is like getting oxygen. Your child wants your attention, approval and notice of what they are doing. Practice time can be an incredible bonding time. Get interested in what they are doing, and they will do more of it. It’s why I recommend always placing the piano in the center of the living space. It shows you care about this and it’s important to you. 
Did you ever notice how sports-crazed kids usually have sport-crazed parents? It’s the same with music, movies, arts, crafts, dance, whatever. Your children want to share in your passions. In other words, where your attention is.

Acknowledge their feelings with a word

It doesn’t even have to be a full word. It can be just, “Oh” or “Hmm” or just a caring look and nod of acknowledgement. One thing that is also very powerful is to just reiterate what they said. This works wonders when your child is upset. They don’t necessarily want or need you to fix things, they just want to be heard. As a man, I know I have the tendency to want to fix the problem, as the book  Men are from Mars, Women from Venus illustrated for me. My wife sometimes just needs me to hear her, not fix the problem! The same is true for your kids.

Give their feelings a name

This is especially useful for younger kids who don’t have the vocabulary to express what they are feeling. Heck, many adults don’t either! There is a movement towards social-emotional learning (SEL) with full curricula to emphasize this. 
When your child is upset, they don’t always have the words to tell you what they are feeling. Giving them a vocabulary is relieving in that they are acknowledged. 
This chart used to be on my refrigerator. It is a useful way of articulating how you’re feeling.
You can try having your child point to the picture that most describes what they are feeling right now.
Bonus points if you make that face too!

Give Them Their Wishes in Fantasy

This is fun and a way to build empathy and connection. Obviously your child knows it’s a fantasy. But they feel heard and acknowledged. You’ll see what I mean below.
Here’s two examples of how to talk about practicing, one obviously better than the other.

Scenario 1

Child: I don’t want to practice 
Parent (looking at phone) : You have to practice! How are you going to get better?
Child: But I don’t want to!
Parent: It’s not a choice just go do it!
Child: No
Parent: You know you need to practice – why don’t you just go practice?
Child: I don’t feel like it.
Parent: Well I don’t feel like doing many things either, but I have to. Do you think I want to go on the stinky subway everyday? Now go and practice, NOW! 
Child leaves crying and bangs on the piano.
Parent: What did I do?

Scenario 2

Child: I don’t want to practice 
Parent looks directly at child: Hm. You don’t want to practice.
Child: Well…I know I should, but I don’t feel like it right now.
Parent: You’re not ready to practice right now.
Child: No.   I want to go to the beach!
Parent: Well, that would be fun. But I know the beach is over an hour away. I wish I had a magic wand to make us just fly to the beach right now! 
Child: Ha ha….
<Pause>
I’m a little hungry, can I have a snack?
Parent: Ok I’ll make a snack.
Child: And then I want to show you the new song I learned!
There’s so much more in the book. I encourage you to try these strategies out. Also share this with your friends and families.

Winter Recital Concerts

You can see the joy on their faces and it's awesome!

Excitement is building for the two Winter Recital Concerts coming next week. It's a massive undertaking to produce these concerts and I appreciate your support. Here's some reminder details.

Date Time and Location

  • Where: St. Francis Xavier church - corner 6th Ave and Carroll St
  • When: Saturday, January 26, 2019
  • Time: 10:30 am OR 2 pm

Registration Of Performers Closes Today at 5pm

Reminder to register today as we need to start printing programs and certificates.

Structure Of Recital

If this is your first recital, here’s how it’s structured. After a brief introduction, I gather all the performers and teachers onstage and hand out achievement certificates for all performers. We take a big “class photo” and stand powerful and strong in our “power poses.” It helps overcome the jitters of getting up in front everyone as we are all together looking out at you, our loving and supportive audience.

Your Teacher Will Support Your Child

Then we follow the program and I introduce each performer. Your child’s teacher will greet them, support and assure them. Also, they’ll make sure they have their correct starting positions on the keys! They will also stay near for emotional support.

Video Recordings on YouTube

I will record video of each child. We’ve been pretty lucky with having decent quality in the past -though, I can’t guarantee it! I post these on our YouTube channel with first names only. Let me know if you do NOT want a video taken.

Support All The Performers

Please plan on staying for the entire concert. It’s important to show your love and support of all the performers, not just your child. I know a few of you have told me of scheduling conflicts, so please be discreet if you have to leave early.

Thank you for being part of our musical community!

Photos from our Holiday Party / Music Salon 2018

Park Slope Music Lessons Holiday Party Music Salon

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.

Here’s some of the highlights.

Can special needs children learn to play an instrument?

Music lessons for special needs children?

If you ask the average music teacher about special needs children as students, you may get a blank stare. There isn’t much literature focused on this. Children with special needs may include those with learning disabilities, developmental issues, as well as those on the Autism spectrum.

At Park Slope Music Lessons, we’ve had several students with special needs. Our Musicolor Method® has proven to be a great way for these children to learn music where other teachers/methods have failed.


Can a special needs student learn to play piano?  

Absolutely!

“I still can’t believe you got my son to play with all 10 fingers in a single lesson! He is so excited and practicing every day on his own. Our previous teachers were all trying to get him to play one finger the whole time. He was bored and frustrated!”
Parent of a 5 year old student

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!

How we use the Musicolor Method to teach special needs children to make music with fun and ease.
Musicolor Alphabet Cards, one of many physical games/tools we use to teach abstract concepts of music

If you have any questions about your child and their specific issues, feel free to contact us.

Music education instills compassionate confidence

Park Slope Music Lessons Spring 2015 Recital

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.

Black History Celebration Gig at local hospital, featuring Park Slope teacher Sean Spada!

Recently, one of our teachers, Sean Spada, had an interesting gig…at a hospital!  Held February 8 at Maimonides Medical Center, the event celebrated Black History Month, focused on highlighting influential women, and even featured some employees from the institution for the first time.

 

During the program, staff members represented influential women in the fields of civil rights, politics, literature, athletics, and science. The presentation honored a total of seven members of the black community from the 1940’s through today, including pioneers such as astronaut Mae Jemison and poet Maya Angelou, as well trailblazers like Rosa Parks and Shirley Chisholm.

 

Sean Spada

 

 

The celebration opened with a performance of the song known to many as the Black American National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” by a choir from St. Mark’s Day School. Throughout the evening, songs by revolutionary artists like Whitney Houston and Nina Simone accented the presentation. Accompanied by Spada, artists N’Kenge and Natalie Renee concluded the night with their renditions of “God Bless the Child” and “Minstrel Man.”

 

Congrats to Sean Spada on being involved in such an awesome and meaningful event! Be sure to check out the full article at the Brooklyn Reporter.

http://brooklynreporter.com/story/maimonides-medical-center-honors-women-black-history-month/

Ukulele for kids: what size should I get?

What size ukulele for my kid?

There are several sizes of Ukulele.  This instrument, from Hawaii, has had a major resurgence in the last decade or so.

(If you’ve never heard of Jake Shimabukuro – just google him now.)

And why not?  It’s so fun!  And portable!

Plus you can get a really nice one for less than $100.

The four most common sizes of Ukulele are

  1. Soprano
  2. Concert
  3. Tenor
  4. Baritone

There is another now called the Bass Ukulele which is a whole new animal.  It is only possible because of some special string technology.  More on this in a future post/video.

For most kids under the age of 10, the best size is the soprano.  Not only is it small, it’s the most affordable.

I definitely recommend this one from Kala 

I had one and recently sold it to a 6 year old student

And here’s what I got now:

Recital Awesome-ness January 2017

Elias performs Heart and Soul at the Winter Music Recital January 2017

Wow, what a great set of concerts we had on Saturday!

Life Skills

It’s truly amazing to see what our kids can accomplish with some directed focus, guidance and perseverance.
These skills translate into wonderful life success skills and you may already notice them surfacing in areas like school, sports and homework.

But, I think this photo truly captures the spirit and essence of what our recitals at Park Slope Music Lessons are all about.
Can you guess what it is?
Elias performs Heart and Soul at the Winter Music Recital January 2017 Elias with his Dad perform Heart and Soul with a surprise support guest little brother Gabriel.

Joy!

Look at all that joy!  And how fun is it that Gabriel was so moved that he had to join them on stage!  After all, what good is music (and life) without joy?
Music is fun.

Music is social.

Music is therapeutic.

Music is all of these and more!

Grit

I’m so proud of all our students.  Please tell your children how much you appreciate all the courage and hard work that happened this week.
(And continues every week in the lessons and practicing.)

Be sure to praise specifically the effort and the work – not just a vague “good job!”
This is a key component of grit, which I’m sure you have heard lots about.
If not, check out Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth’s TED TALK or her new book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.

Videos of Recital Performances

I’ve uploaded all the videos to our YouTube channel here.
Plus you can always see them at our website under the Videos link.

I’ve included videos by students who could not attend but wanted to document their progress at the lessons.

Here’s Alejandro performing his original song For All The Days.

 

 

Morning recital students - we also had an afternoon show!
Morning recital students – we also had an afternoon show! Photo by Aehee Kang Asano.

Thanks for letting me be a part of your child’s musical magical adventure!

best,

Andrew
P.S. We’ll have a lot of photos soon.  Our photographer is busy editing and as soon as I get them, I’ll start sharing.

What will my child learn in their first piano lesson?

Park Slope Music Lessons

When you’re searching for a music teacher for your child, you want to get a feel for the teacher.  What is a lesson like?  What’s their philosophy?  What can I expect?

We have taught hundreds of kids in the Park Slope area of Brooklyn over the last decade.  The secret to our success is in the fun we bring to the lessons right from the start.

If you hated piano lessons when you were a kid, this is not your old lessons.  It’s a complete reversal.  We work using a child-centric approach.  What would a child love to learn in a first lesson?

By focusing on fun while sneaking in technique, we can build technical facility in our students very quickly.  Within 15 minutes, they will be playing a song using all 10 fingers.

Here’s a video of just one part of our first lesson.  We use the Musicolor Method® which was created right here in Park Slope, Brooklyn and is now being taught by teachers all over the world.  For more info, check the website for Musicolor Method here.

The Musicolor Method® was originally designed for young children, even preliterate ones.  But it has been used successfully with older students as well even teens and adults.  For the older students, we just explain that these are finger exercises in disguise and the sooner you master them, the quicker we’ll be playing your favorite Taylor Swift, or Imagine Dragons or Stevie Wonder song…whatever.

We’ll be posting videos of all of our teachers soon.  Until then, be sure to register for a free phone consultation to discuss your child’s specific needs, desires and their music experience level.

American Idol And Finding Your Voice: A Music Teacher’s Perspective

My family loves to watch American Idol as well as The Voice.  These competitive singing shows are fun and introduce a new audience to a lot of great songs, old and new.   The shows are both well produced and fun and get you involved with each contestant’s story so that you care whether or not they make the cut.

One thing that stands out for me is the subject of song choice.

So many of the judges comments on these shows go something like, “That was the perfect song for you.”  But who’s helping these fledging artists make these choices?

Last night’s American Idol had a lot of interesting re-workings of old songs in such unusual ways.  There was a slow, introspective almost morose version of “You’re the One That I Want” – the song from Grease.  There was a female singer doing a version of an Adam Sandler song!  That is probably the first cover he ever got.   So interesting!  Talk about “making it yours.”

A&R is not Accounts and Receivables

In the early days of the recording industry, there were specialists at the record companies.  They called them “guys with ears.”  These Artists & Repertoire or A&R men (they were always men) were the specialists in matching the singer with the songs.  This art of song selection is the true magic behind some of the greatest music stars.   The most famous of these A&R men are guys like John Hammond who discovered Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin and Billie Holiday to name a few.  Other legendary music executives could be considered “guys with ears” like Clive Davis, who discovered Whitney Houston and ran several record labels, or Ahmet Ertegun who founded Atlantic Records.   Clive was a lawyer, so how he came to be a guy with ears was just pure passion, innate talent and personal interest.

Nowadays, most artists are expected to write their own music or have a very specific view of the kind of material they are looking for.  Everyone needs to know what is their “own music.”

So how does this relate to teaching music?

Find the perfect song for the student and you are golden.  You no longer have to TRY to motivate them.  The student is so self-motivated – it’s what they want to do.

To do this, you need to get to know your student.  What makes them excited, not just musically, but in life?  What are their interests, passions, causes, fears?  What do they care about?  Who do they love?  Who loves them?

The material you select together will be putting words/ideas/feelings in their mouths and mind.  It becomes a part of them, their reality.  The choices you help them make become a part of what makes them unique.

When you find that next song, don’t just play it like everyone else.  Experiment to find what is their own way.  Change it up.  Make it faster, slower!  Do it with a reggae lilt.  Do it in a bossa nova style.  Change the key.  Make it a minor key.  Most of all, make it their own.  Play it like it they wrote it!  Find their voice.

The “song” can be more than a song

It’s the same in every subject, whether it’s soccer, physics, macramé or Chinese lessons.  Having a mentor to guide one on a personal path can be the difference between passion and drudgery.

Find the song, and the next, and the next, and the life path will be clear.   At every stage, a different “music” is required to guide, lift and release into the exact place of purpose, whether it’s on the stage of American Idol, or any other field of endeavor.  Every lesson is a lesson in life.

Finding Your LIfe Path, Photo by Des D. Mona @ Flickr
Finding Your LIfe Path, Photo by Des D. Mona @ Flickr

“I am circling around God, around the ancient tower, and I have been circling for a thousand years, and I still don’t know if I am a falcon, or a storm, or a great song.” – Rainier Maria Rilke

Winter Recital 2015 is this Saturday Feb 7

WinterRecital 2015 Poster-2

Where: Park Slope Library (corner of 6th Avenue and 9th Street)

Brooklyn, NY 11215

Time:2pm

Day:  Saturday February, 7, 2015

Lower Level Auditorium.

Hopefully the weather will be cooperative.

We have a great lineup of kids from ages 4 to 14 playing everything from Peanut Butter Sandwich to Moonlight Sonata to Demons to Do You Want To Build A Snowman and everything in between.

Watch for the coming video deluge right here on our video page.

Music Instruction Expands Brains!

As an independent, private music teacher, I am always being forwarded studies and news articles about the benefits of music lessons.  It definitely feels good to be on the right side of this issue!   And it certainly validates my profession.

This weekend’s Wall Street Journal has an article, A Musical Fix for U.S. Schools, which puts music instruction higher than all other so called non-academic activities.

“Kids in sports also showed increased ambition, while those in theater and dance expressed more optimism. But when it came to core academic skills, the study’s authors found, the impact of music training was much stronger.”

This seems to be one-upping another article this week in the NY Times about how Exercise Boosts Young Brains.

Breaking the day into different activities just makes sense.  You need a break from just constant focus of core curriculum of Science, Technology, English and Math.  But what the WSJ article says is it’s not just a break, but actually a boost.  And the most potent boost comes from learning, playing and practicing an instrument, so much so, that it could be a simple cure-all for all the ills of the school system.  At a calculated cost of $187/student per year, a typical large suburban school system could turn itself around.

Ava performs Lightly Row
Ava gets prepared to play Lightly Row

The list of benefits of musical training include:

  • Music raises the IQ
  • Music can reduce the academic gap between rich and poor
  • Music does more than sports, theater or dance
  • Music can be an early screening tool for reading disabilities
  • Music expands your brain, physically

I highly recommend reading the complete article.

My suburban school system provided me with an excellent music education.

I give daily thanks to the late great Andy Blackett and Peter Brasch, Sal Piccolo, Charles Weinsoff, Helen Roberts, Diane Greenspan.  I never thought I would be doing this but now it all makes sense.

Spring Recital June 2014

Teaching Strategies For Growth Mindset

What is the most important factor in a student? Many people would say it’s talent, or effort, or persistence, or luck or some combination of these.

Behind all of this is something that is more important – the proper mindset. Recent research (Blackwell, Trzesniewski, & Dweck, 2007) has shown that there are two different mindsets among students:
1) intelligence as a fixed, static trait or you got what you got
2) intelligence is a changeable, flowing trait, in other words:  you can learn whatever you put focus and effort to

Most of my music students do have a growth mindset, but may need some extra encouragement.   To do this I need to use a specific way of communicating.

The Dangers of Praise and How To Do It Right

Researchers have discovered that if you just praise the intelligence of the child, there are negative consequences.  So just being positive and saying “Good job!” is actually detrimental and has a backlash because given a new challenge, the child would rather not participate (quit) in order to “save face” and live up to the expected standard.  Rather if the child was praised for their effort, the next harder challenge was met with more effort.

Communicating Learning Goals

Almost daily I have a student who complains
“That’s too hard! I want to just stay on the same song!”

Here’s some things I say and you can too in your classroom, studio or with your own children.  Though I’ve made these specific to music, you can apply a variation of these to any subject.

  • Learning music is like playing a video game. Once you achieved the last challenge, we’re on to the next level.
  • You’re not supposed to know this already, this is brand new.

High Expectations For Forward Motion

  • I KNOW that you can do this, that’s why I’m showing you this.
  • This will be challenging, but I’ve seen you do amazing work before.
  • Remember how hard _____ piece was? And now you can play it so well. This is like that one only better.

Struggling Even With Effort

  • You are not there…YET (emphasis on the yet)
  • If you’re feeling overwhelmed, just remind yourself that you can’t do it…YET.
  • Let’s take a break and come back to this tomorrow.
  • I admire your persistence.
  • I appreciate your effort and focus on this.
  • I love how you never gave up on that last piece. Let’s do it here too.

Struggling But May Need Help With Strategy

  • Let’s work on just the one spot giving you trouble
  • What part is giving you trouble? Let’s just look at that.
  • How about we make a plan to learn this piece? You can do section A today and then section B tomorrow and then back to A…

By setting the proper belief system in place at an early age, we can guide our children to future success in music, and in life.

For more information, read this excellent article from Prinicipal Leadership, a magazine aimed at school principals.

For a free download on Growth Mindset Framing. You’ll have to register but it’s free and you can download a pdf.

Spring Recital 2014 is on June 7 at 2pm

 

Our Spring Recital will be June 7, 2014 at 2pm
June 7 at 2pm, Park Slope Library

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.

Why Memorizing Music Is So Important

By Andrew Ingkavet

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

Repetition is the Mother of Skill

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

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

Technique

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

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

Pattern Recipes

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

Artistic Expression

Spencer TracyThe famous actor Spencer Tracy was once quoted,

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

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

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

Tell A Story

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

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

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

Repertoire

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

How Memory Works

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

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

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

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

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

How To Memorize Music

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

Chunking It Down

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

Listening

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

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

Writing as a Memory Aid

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

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

Blind Memory

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

Ray Charles
Ray Charles

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

Visualization

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


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

An Odyssey, A Memory Palace

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

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

The Benefits of Memorization

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

 

 

Summer 2012 Music Lessons still available

If you are interested in piano, guitar, strumstick, ukelele, voice, songwriting and music theory lessons this summer, there are still slots available.  The summer lesson schedule runs 6 weeks from July 9 through August 16 Monday through Thursdays.  There are morning and afternoon sessions.  Lessons are $60 each or $330 for the full 6 weeks.

Contact me if you are interested.

Winter Recital 2012 Success!

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!

 

Here’s some photo highlights.  Videos are posted here.

Students warm up before the music recital
Students warm up before the music recital
Music Students of Park Slope Music Lessons
Lining up to receive award certificates
Giving out awards
Everyone comes onstage
Students at Winter Recital 2012
Winter Recital 2012
Strumstick student Felix
4 year old Felix on Strumstick
Evan & Sienna perform What A Wonderful World
Evan & Sienna perform What A Wonderful World
Ryan performs Katy Perry's Firework
Ryan performs Katy Perry's Firework
Ava performs Lightly Row
Ava gets prepared to play Lightly Row
Stella & Tellulah perform Adele's Someone Like You
Stella & Tellulah perform Adele's Someone Like You

 

 

A Typical Music Lesson – My Approach to Teaching

4 hands are better than 2!

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.

Repertoire

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.

Reading

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.

Music Theory

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.

Listening

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.

How To Read Music: Rhythm using Stick Notation

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.