Why Every Child Should Learn Music With Tips, Strategies and Resources

listening is programming

We had a lovely Parents Curriculum Meeting this morning. It was wonderful to see so many of you.  Here’s a summary of what we covered.

The Benefits of Music Lessons

My philosophy of teaching music is to impart an enjoyment, appreciation and ability to create and perform music while having fun.

I don’t expect all my students to become professional musicians, but I do expect them to gain life-long skills such as

  • goal-setting
  • problem solving
  • conceptualization
  • organization
  • memorization
  • categorization
  • structuralization
  • delayed gratification
  • self-discipline
  • persistence
  • tenacity
  • the last 3 can be combined to be called grit
  • and  learning the process of how to learn just about anything.

Structure Of A Typical Lesson

  • Repertoire – a fancy word for a group of memorized pieces at a performance level. Having a memorized repertoire means you can play anywhere at anytime. It also starts to give rise to conceptual skills such as seeing/hearing structure, order and experiencing how feeling can be transmitted to others through music. It’s very empowering! These pieces are usually taught by ear, visual memory and my color system. They are usually a bit harder to read from traditional music notation but within the student’s abilities to perform. Sometimes I’ll use video to help communicate tricky pieces especially for students whose parents do not read music.
  • Reading – Learning to read music opens a door to the thousand year tradition of written music. Just like reading books gives access to timeless ideas, reading music gives access to timeless music. I use several different method books, none which are perfect where we are learning to see what music sounds like.
  • Theory/Technique – I use many games to help understand the very abstract concepts of music like harmony and how the symbols of music are visualized. These take a long time but through weekly intervallic training , we accomplish great things.

Tips For Parents of Students:  How To Guarantee Success At Home

  • Organized – by having all the learning materials organized in a binder or some kind of system where they can easily find their notes in chronological order enables students to learn quicker and to learn valuable skills of being organized.
  • Daily Practice – repeated practice (of anything) at daily interval activates a higher retention rate for learning. For younger ages 5 to 10 minutes may be enough, but as soon as they are able, we should be aiming to bring that up to 20 or 30 minutes or more per day. The complexity of the music requires more time.   A kitchen timer is highly recommended.  For young boys, using a metronome and/or duets with an adult, older student or  the video or  recording may force them to play at a normal human tempo!  We also discussed how to get your child to practice the older repertoire and many loved the dice game I created.  See below.
    [box] Dice Game: Number all the songs in the repertoire. Roll the dice. The number that comes up corresponds to one of the pieces. Play that piece. Roll again and play the next one, etc.   All of a sudden they’re willing to play old songs they never wanted to play before![/box]
  • Listening is Programming Your Child – just as we all watch what our children eat, media consumption can be monitored and “programmed.” I like to play my son classical piano music in the morning at breakfast as it calms and focuses him, but is also giving him the knowledge of pieces that he is working on or will be soon.  Listening to only Top 40 Hit radio is like a diet of soda and potato chips!   We need to expose our children to the world’s greatest music from Baroque to Classical, Blues To Jazz, Folk To Country, Rock To Electronica to Merengue to Cumbia…the list goes on.  I wrote this article and this one, about a recommended order of listening to music for the youngest children where I talk about starting with simple singable folk music   and then adding  early classical music.  As with visual art,  children start with primary colors and then learn to mix more complex ones later. Structures in early classical music are simple to understand and lend well to learning how to play.
  • Listening is programming your child
    Watch your musical diet.
  • Going To See Live Music – we live in a city of riches for live music. Summer concerts in the park, Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall and the Met all have programs for children. And, you can view almost anything on YouTube though you may want to screen them in advance as some of the related video content is inappropriate for children.

Resources For Experiencing Music

There has been an explosion in ways to access music anywhere and anytime. Here’s a few of my favorites.

  • WQXR – Classical radio station now owned and operated by WNYC (yes I’m a member!)  Fabulous repertoire of all the hits of classical music, some modern pieces and even film soundtracks. Love it.    You’ll start to learn the composer names, performers and even coming concert dates in the area.  Available online, on FM radio 105.9 and as an app for smartphones.
  • YouTube – back in the day, after radio,  MTV was where kids found about new music.  Today it seems YouTube is where kids go automatically to find new music. As I mentioned above, you may want to screen first for appropriateness depending on age of your child.
  • Suzuki Method CDs – all my students start with the Suzuki Book 1 and the CDs. These are folk songs arranged for piano and are perfect for any age. Volume 2 and on are excellent classical piano repertoire and lovely dinner party listening too.
  • Spotify – A free (w/ads) or paid ($5 or 10/month) internet music streaming library. It seems to have something like 90% of all recorded music.   It’s available as a website or an app.  Fantastic learning, research tool. I’ve made some playlists for my students and will be sharing with you shortly.  Here’s an article with a playlist for great songs for a roadtrip.
  • Pandora – an internet radio station that monitors what you like and delivers more like it. You type in an artist or song and it creates a “radio station” that plays that music for you. Free with ads or you can subscribe for $4/month.  Available as a website, app, or even built into some smart TVs.
  • iTunes Radio – Apple’s new radio streaming service that is similar to Pandora. Just launched this October 2013 (Free with ads or pay $25/year.)  Available on Apple devices and PCs.

Technology to Help Create Music

Recording technology has taken massive leaps in the last 10 years. Here’s a few we talked about.
GarageBand – Apple’s truly-amazing, easy to use multi-track recording software with virtual instruments and it’s less than $5! For iPad, iPhone and Mac (this one is more like $30)

LogicPro – this is what I use to create film scores, songs, and most of my music production.  This is professional music software and it only costs $200.  That’s an incredible difference from when I was a kid!

Notation Software to Write Music on Staff

Professional music engravers use Finale or Sibelius, both have student options:

  • Sibelius First – I use Sibelius and love it.   I find it much more intuitive to learn and use than Finale.  It’s used by many, many professional musicians.  This student simplified version is about $99 and works on Mac, Windows.
  • Finale Songwriter – I hear that most professional music engravers use Finale, perhaps because it is more powerful, but with that power comes complexity.  This is their simplified version for songwriters.  Not sure if it is that much easier.  It is cheaper though at around $50.
  • Finale Notepad – FREE!  Well FREE is a pretty good price so you can check it out and decide for yourself.
  • Musescore  – free open source – I have no experience with this but looks pretty good.
  • Noteflight – an online software – you get up to 10 for free and then after that you need to sign up for a subscription.  It sounds pretty good – though I never tried it.
  • Of course you can also just get a nice music notebook like this one from Moleskine.  Use pencil so you can erase!

New Ideas

We had some ideas suggested at the meeting.

  • Longer lessons –  45 minutes  for older students – may need to wait until next year to implement as the schedule is tight!
  • More playlists of music programmed by Andrew – coming soon!
  • Piano Buddies/Mentors – organized piano mentor sessions with older students. Older students teaching younger ones as in Montessori Schools or Summerbridge (now called Breakthrough Collaborative) Very positively received idea and looking into how to implement.


Teaching Kids How To Read Music Using Solfège, Hand Signs & Kinesthetic Learning

Learning Solfege with Curwen Hand Signs

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

Learning Solfege with Curwen Hand Signs
Solfege is fun!

  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

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.


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.

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.


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.

Glenn Gould’s Finger Tapping Exercise for Piano Technique

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.

Music lessons & effects on the brain

EVANSTON, Ill., July 21 (UPI) — Musical instruction can “prime” the brain to improve human skills in language, speech, memory and attention, U.S. researchers say.

A study at Northwestern University found the effects of musical training on the nervous system can build meaningful patterns important to all types of learning, ScienceDaily.com reported Tuesday.

Researchers studied music training’s effect on neuroplasticity, defined as the brain’s ability to adapt and change as a result of training and experience over the course of a person’s life… read the rest at UPI.com

And here’s a snippet regarding the same study from The Sun UK.

Dr Nina Kraus, who headed the research at Northwestern University in Illinois, said: “The beneficial effects confer advantages beyond music. This argues for an improvement in the quality and quantity of music training in schools.”

Musical training has long been linked to intellect. But until now experts believed it was because children who played instruments were more likely to come from wealthier backgrounds where they got extra help.

The study showed musical training benefited children from all backgrounds.

It claims music “stretches” the brain by forcing it to recognise pitch and rhythm.  Read more: http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/woman/health/health/3062237/Learning-music-will-make-you-cleverer.html#ixzz0vNLGNKsP

And another take from the journal Nature.

We can hardly be surprised, meanwhile, that music lessons improve children’s IQ7, given that they will nourish general faculties such as memory, coordination and attentiveness. Kraus and Chandrasekaran now point out that, thanks to the brain’s plasticity (the ability to ‘rewire’ itself), musical training sharpens our sensitivity to pitch, timing and timbre, and as a result our capacity to discern emotional intonation in speech, to learn our native and foreign languages, and to identify statistical regularities in abstract sound stimuli…Read this  full article

Teaching and learning music in slices

I’ve been talking with many of my students about the importance of not trying to learning in giant gobbles but rather in small bite size pieces or slices of pie.  Learning a new piece is like eating pie; you don’t eat it all in one bite.  You take slices, and then forkfuls and then chew on each bite a while before moving on to the next.

Dr. Shinichi Suzuki  called  it “steps.”  To match the right step to the child, you need to adjust according to the individual.

So how do we do this?  By breaking up the piece into digestible chunks.  Often I will use my handy colored translucent tape to mark off a measure or a phrase that we want to concentrate on first.  So going from the “red phrase” to the “blue phrase” or whatever.  This has been tremendously successful.

If your child has come home with some of my music with a multicolored tape collage on it, have no fear, we’re just learning a new piece – in slices!

Each color block is a teachable chunk or slice of music

This Is Why I Teach Music

This is a wonderful piece that has been published many times.  It reflects how I feel about teaching and the wonderful teachers I have had in my life.

That Is Why We Teach Music

Not because we expect you to major in music
Not because we expect you to play or sing all your life
Not so you can relax
Not so you can have fun


so you will be human

so you will recognize beauty
so you will be sensitive
so you will be closer to an infinite beyond this world
so you will have something to cling to
so you will have more love, more compassion, more gentleness, more good–in short, more life

Of what value will it be to make prosperous living unless you know how to live?


– Author Unknown

Thank you to the late great Andy Blackett, Pete Brasch, Sal Piccolo, Mark Elf, Dan Converse, Seth Shapiro, Gene Bertoncini, Ron Sadoff, Pat Castle, Rudolph Palmer, Lucy Galliher, Katie Agresta, Conrad Cummings, David Speer, Joe Lovano, Phil Gushee and all the other teachers formal and informal,  in my life who have given so much to my life.