How Children Learn Music

We don’t talk about this enough and we should.

The idea that waiting until a child is 9 years old to begin their musical learning needs to vanish.  We live in a different world. Music learning has to be handled differently.

Fifty-five years ago families were still singing together at home,  parents still sung their childhood songs to their infants and religious congregations viewed singing together as a vital part of programming.

Nowadays we are not making music at home,  parents are shy about singing a simple lullaby  out loud and the music in most churches consists of loud repetitive sounds.  

But parents still want their young children to learn to be proficient at music. In one year of lessons.

Children Learn music the same way they learn language

The following steps are an example of what happens when learning language or music.  Every individual moves through these steps at a different pace.

  1. Listening (infants listen to family interactions, family sings together)
  2. Imitating (a few months later they begin to imitate sounds they hear)
  3. Repeating (sounds turn in to meaningful words, singing parts of songs)
  4. Creating (finally sentences! making up songs)
  5. Reading (elementary school, ready for learning to read notes)
  6. Writing (school continues,  composing music)

Imagine teaching someone to read (step 5) who has not moved through stages 1-4. It is quite difficult.  So why do we continue to allow it for music?

this is what happens in a piano lesson?

This is what should be happening in a preschool piano class!  But more importantly the understanding that children need to go through these steps before learning to play an instrument, is the mindset that needs to prevail.  

So is there hope for my 9 year old?

Yes! Your child may begin lessons at any age. However, now I hope you understand why it might take longer than you expected!

Piano Lessons Without Practice

Maxes at DPS

 

Week by week. Year after year. Students arrive at their piano lesson without practicing their assigned pieces.

Week by week. Year after year. Piano teachers try to find ways to entice students to practice.

Piano students are “let go” from piano studios because they do not practice.

Households are stressed because piano students do not practice.

Piano teachers are loosing students because parents are tired of weekly messages saying “Johnny needs to practice .”

On the other hand…

Playing sports is so much fun! Put on your t-shirt, join your team, play the game together, go home.

Next week? Repeat!

How many of these players will be drafted by a major league team? less than 2.9%.

How many will have a career in sports? Probably a few more.

How many will love the game for life and dabble in it when gathering with friends? I bet 99% of them will at least still enjoy the game.

What does this have to do with piano lessons?

Learning to play the piano has a tradition of discipline, repetition and loneliness. Students may love to come to their lesson every week, it may even be fun; but the daily practice at home… that’s another story.

Is there another way to learn to play the piano and love it?

Here is my vision.

Piano lessons are so much fun! Grab your music bag, join your team, play the piano, go home!

Next week? Repeat!

How many of these pianists will pursue the career of a concert pianist? Probably none.

How many will have a career in music? Maybe quite a few.

How many will love the game for life and dabble in it when gathering with friends?I bet 99% of them will at least still enjoy music the rest of their lives.

Do you see what I see? It’s a beautiful vision of my students  making music at the piano with others. For life.

Will you join me?

Family Music for Toddlers

playing resonator bars

Today we completed an awesome semester of music with toddlers!

Every Thursday morning ten little ones brought their grown ups into the studio for 30 minutes of nursery rhymes set to music.  We danced, we hopped,  we went this-a-way and that-a-way…all day long!   Well, even if the class was not all day long, I received reports of their singing at home. Wonderful!

Allee Galloo galloo

Each  week we confirmed the notion that “nursery rhymes lend themselves to musical activities because they are rich in rhythm, meter, inflection, and song.”*  Most importantly, though, the children and their adults had a delightful time clapping, tapping, jumping, skipping, and singing, the best way we know to build musicality!

 

*Musikgarten – All Together Now! Nimble & Quick, card 2

(Piano) Exercise with Your Child Week

Today is the beginning of  Exercise with Your Child Week (Aug. 8 – 14) which reminds parents and guardians of the importance to exercise with their children as part of a healthier lifestyle.  And now that I have reminded you  about this, allow me to turn this into a call to practice piano with your children.

Exercising (the piano) with your child will:

  • Improve their overall musical well-being – When you “send” your child to practice the piano alone in a separate room  you send a message of “I’m not interested”, “I need you to leave me alone”, or “My time on the computer is so much more entertaining”.  All of these might be true, but not helpful to their musical progress.  Most of the time children are taking lessons because you, the parent, want them to and being isolated in a room for 30 minutes is really a punishment, not a good thing.

 

  • Maintain a healthy love of music –  The weekly assignments that your child needs to review are vital nutrients for their musical development.  When these nutrients are enjoyed with someone special, a stronger connection is created.  A good example is my new habit of drinking a green juice of vegetables and fruit, every morning.  I am encouraged to continue because family and friends are happily expecting their cup of juice every morning.  We have created a special connection, a stronger bond.

 

  • Reduce the risk of dropout – Many of the complaints that I receive from parents have to do with practice at home.  “Johnny doesn’t want to practice”, is a weekly melody.  Most of my students love coming to their lesson, but hate to practice. If they do not practice, they make no progress.  A daily battle rages at home finally the parent gives up and another piano dropout is born.  However, when daily piano exercise following the teachers assignment of musical nutrients is combined with a strong parent/child connection, the risk of being a dropout is greatly reduced.

Make this week the beginning of a healthier and  musical lifestyle!

Smart Phones and Piano Lessons

If you know me, you know I go EVERYWHERE with my smart phone.  It is the only way I know what I have to do next.  I might not always use it as a phone, you know, like for answering calls… but it has my calendar, schedule, emails, maps, camera, and files.  And then I can TEXT anyone, anywhere.  I can GOOGLE any subject right away.  Oh! so much can be done with a smart phone.

I have been accused of being in the CLOUD instead of being in the moment.  I have been accused of being a workaholic (ha!) because that is what I usually do with my smart phone – however, I will not use it while I teach unless I feel it is an emergency.  Often I just leave the smart phone on my desk in the office while I teach, and the volume is always off.

So what is this post about?

It is about parents, smart phones, and piano lessons.   About half of my piano students are in group classes.  45 minutes of class and then the parents join the class for another 15 minutes with their children.  This is where I explain what is new, what is expected at home and answer any questions.  I have provided a tall stool for each parent to sit on beside their child’s piano, a pencil for notes, a neatly typed assignment page.  So many parents are grateful for my efforts to make this part of class easier.  But there are those who totally ignore me, their child and basically are just a warm body present in the room but drifting in the cloud.    Really? yes, indeed. When it is their child’s turn to play a solo piece for the class,  they are busy emailing, ‘texting’ or playing a game. One of these parents even told me that he did not understand what his daughter had to practice at home!  And guess what?  This family is no longer enrolled at my studio…

Put the phone away!

I am not a confrontational person.  I like to keep the peace and want to believe that everyone is happy and  get along with each other. I will take a parent to the side and talk about issues, but I would much rather they turn on the common sense switch and realize these 15 minutes are precious time that they are PAYING FOR!  Really and truly, it is a generation of parents who just want to pay for lessons and drop the kids off, pick them up and maybe remind them to practice during the week.  Thankfully I only have one or two parents that don’t get it, my frustration is because those are the families that need to pay attention.

You put up a sign?

I do.  In the small waiting area of my studio I’ve been known to post signs for everything for the simple reason that I hate being the bad guy, and I would rather focus on making music than rules and regulations. In the past I have posted “TURN CELL PHONES OFF”, “NO FOOD OR DRINK”, and “DON’T PLAY WITH THE NEIGHBORS TOYS.”  It has worked for me 99% of the time.

Smart Parents

I cannot forget those parents who use their smart phones wisely.  A few beginner parents videotape the 15 minutes that we are together in order to remember how to practice at home.

That is exactly the way a smart phone should be used during a piano lesson!