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.

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