Why I want my student’s “desk” as big as possible

Did you ever go to a library or coffee shop just to have a bigger desktop?  There’s something so spacious and freeing about just having more physical workspace right in front of you.

Last week, I visited several co-working spaces in New York City just for that reason. Having a bigger desktop is incredibly freeing. It opens up your thinking.

And it’s the same thing with your internal mental workspace.  Years ago, I came up with the metaphor of the mental desktop.  This is how I imagine each child learning.  As I begin teaching a 4-year-old, they can only retain one note at a time in their mental workspace.

Over time, we begin chunking that into two and three-note phrases.  Over time, we begin expanding their “mental desktops” to be able to hold complete phrases and sections.  It is incredible to witness!

Each child’s progress is individualized.  

There are no hard and fast rules of how many days or weeks it will take to expand from two notes to two measures.

But sometimes we overestimate how much a particular student can retain.  Sometimes the student will shut down and not want to do anymore.  They’ll refuse to even try!  Other times, it’s as if we’ve gone backwards.

I’ve had some parents complain about their kid’s slow speed in learning how to read music.  But it’s similar to learning to read words.  You can’t skip ahead.  That will only lead to confusion, frustration, and overwhelm.

The core principles of the Musicolor Method include a 7 step framework of teaching and learning.  The first is the Growth Spiral. Every organism in the universe follows this spiraling outward from a central core.  You can see it in the petals of a flower, microscopic cells and the macroscopic like the cosmos.  It’s how growth happens, physical and mental.  You can’t skip from the inner to outer rings.

Another principle is called the Stepping Stone Principle.  Imagine you are trying to cross a stream.  Your guide (the teacher), picks a path and even lays out some stones for you (the student) to cross over.  If the stones (lessons) are too far apart, the students falls in the water.  Some may even get swept away or drown.  Putting the stones too close leads to boredom and perhaps the student also gets stuck there.

These principles are not something taught in music education programs.  It’s my distillation of what I have learned from other effective mentors and reflection on my teaching experiences.

So what if your child is not progressing to your expectations?

Well, the first question to ask is:  Are they practicing every day?

Practice is a learned skill.

You need to teach them how to practice.  It’s not about cramming.  It’s creating a routine that then becomes a habit.  We are all made of our habits, good and bad.  Learning to practice takes effort at first, but quickly becomes a routine.  It’s all about finding even five minutes at the same time every day.  This makes it easier.  Brushing your teeth was not something you just did on your own.  Your parents taught it to you.  It’s the same with music.

If practice is happening, then most issues dissolve. But please be patient.  If your child seems to be going slower than their friends, it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong.  Skipping ahead will only make things worse.  Trust the process and practice.

The best way to praise your children

The best way to praise your children

Take a look at these two sentences.

1) “Great job, you must be really smart.”

2) “Great job, you must have worked really hard at this.”

So similar but a vast difference in results.

 

If you say “Great job, you must be really smart,”

the child hears,

“Oh you think I’m brilliant and talented.  That’s why you admire me and why you value me. I  better not do any that will disprove this evaluation.”

It leads to a “fixed mindset.”

Whereas focusing on the process of growth leads to greater perseverance, grit and focus.   This comes from the research in the 1970’s by Stanford professor, Dr. Carol Dweck and has influenced so many others including Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth’s work on Grit.

When Alejandro was still small, I used to habitually say, “Good job.”  And I noticed over time, a fixed mindset was starting to set in.  If the task did not come quickly and easily, he wouldn’t persist or even attempt to try.

After I learned about Growth Mindset, I quickly shifted how I  praised and it began to change.  Thankfully, it seems to have been corrected.

It’s the same in music lessons.  I have become aware of seeking to praise the process and effort.  Over time, you will begin to notice how your child reacts differently.

I tried to read Carol Dweck’s academic works, but found them very dry.  This video is a much simpler, easier and fun way to learn more.

 

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