Monday, October 20, 2014

A Happy Ending for the Three Blind Mice. Why folk music?

You child might be asking you: Why were the mice blind? Why did the farmer's wife chase them!?  What happened next!?

Rest easy once you've heard the extended story with pictures and happy ending, in this online (and offline) storybook by John Ivimey. The mice even end up with a pet cockroach…so friendly!

History of Three Blind Mice

This nursery rhyme became mainstream in children's literature in the 1842 publishing of "The Nursery Rhymes of England". However, it was originally written with music in 1609.  It is speculated that the origin of the tale of the mice came from the Catholic Queen Mary I (Bloody Mary), Henry VIII's only surviving daughter, who was known for her merciless hounding of Protestants.  The story could relate to Mary's 1555 execution by burning of three Protestant bishops.  The mice's blindness could be interpreted as faithlessness, alluding to their rejection of Catholicism.

Mary Tudor is also featured in the nursery rhyme "Mary Mary, quite Contrary", enjoyed by our Sound Beginnings Students.  The 'silver bells' and 'cockle shells' in the garden likely referenced torture devices like thumbscrews, and the 'maids' referred to The Maid (a pre-guillotine device for beheading).

Why Do We Sing Nursery Rhymes?

Let's Play Music adopts many Kodaly concepts of music education.  Authentic folk music has short form, pentatonic style, and simple, repetetive language.  The clear, simple, musical styles in nursery rhymes provide the perfect foundation for mastering beginning rhythmic and melodic skills.  Mastery of skills and concepts in progressive levels of difficulty is critical for the long-term musical success desired by Let's Play Music families.  'Three Blind Mice' is a melody that has withstood the test of time; any tune with poor melodic or rhythmic qualities would not have been passed from generation to generation for over 400 years!

"Kodaly felt that simple, expressive forms of nursery songs and folk music were most suitable for children because they were living music, not fabricated or contrived for pedagogical purposes. The language of folk music tends to be simple, drawn from speech patterns familiar to children even before they enter school."

"Kodaly felt a close relationship between the music of the people and the music of great composers. He believed that a love for the masterworks could be cultivated through a knowledge of and a love for one's own folk music."

Folk music plays an important artistic role for each musician: providing a cultural musical background.  In the Let's Play Music effort to educate the whole musician, we practice singing several folk songs to provide students with an ageless cultural background from which to draw from as they begin creating their own music.  

A fantastic way to understand the simplicity and richness of folk music is to peek at samples of folk music from several different cultures (click here).  You'll notice that each cultural video shows simple music, with only a few musicians, using instruments characteristic of their country.  Folk music often takes place outside for anyone to dance to.  Now that you've joined Let's Play Music, you'll have many opportunities to play and dance to folk music, too.

Let's Play Music also adheres to the 9 National Standards for Music Education.  Standard number 9 is: understand music in relation to history and culture. We offer a valuable string to the past when we teach children that music has been around since before even their parents were born!  Music has a role in life beyond just entertainment, and even beyond music education.  Your music teacher might let your child in on the secret that today they learned a song that is over 400 years old!  Back in that century, singing rhymes and songs to each other was the way people recorded history.  

A Little More Mi-Re-Do

Of course we love the simple melodies in folk songs since they give our beginning students the perfect complexity of tune to examine and identify.  Your child should be able to  hear and identify the mi-re-do in 'Three Blind Mice' and soon will be able to figure out how to pick out the entire tune, note-by-note on bells or keyboard from carefully listening and identifying solfeg. Encourage your child to 'mess around' with the bells, tell him that he just might able to figure out a well-known song, and chances are he'll come to you with a big proud smile once he gets it!

'Hot Cross Buns' is another easy mi-re-do tune you may want to sing and play with your child this week.  It actually ONLY uses these 3 notes!  (MRD, MRD, DDDD, RRRR, MRD).  If you let your child in on the 3-bell secret, and challenge him to pick out the melody, he'll master it like a jigsaw puzzle.  

Like any puzzle, we start with the easy puzzles that only have a few pieces.  Eventually your child's ears will be ready for more complex puzzles.  The ability to sing melodies from memory and pick them out on a keyboard is an exercise in relative pitch / intervallic ear training, some of the basic skills that Let's Play Music incorporates in our training of the whole musician.

-Gina Weibel, M.S.

Related Articles:

Monday, October 6, 2014

Finger Strength Achieved Through FUN!

My barely 5-yo daughter is thrilled to be a Green Turtle student and play songs on the piano like her older siblings.  Unlike her brothers who took Let's Play Music years ago, she has tiny, weak (darling!) little fingers.  Today I share some ideas for strengthening little fingers with ideas you can do AWAY from the keyboard.

The Wisdom of Let's Play Music
I am relieved that my daughter has had a year of ear-training, note-reading, vocal-training and harp-playing before being required to demonstrate dexterity and finger strength.  Her mind and ear were ready for Red and Blue level theory and exercises, and she soaked them up.  It would have been a frustrating waste of time, effort and motivation if she'd been sitting at a piano all year, wishing her fingers could keep up with the amazing pace of her mind!  Fingers develop at a slow pace, even for kids with sharp minds, and Let's Play Music planned for it.

Strengthening At the Piano
I can't say enough good things about the drills assigned by LPM teachers.  If your kiddo has weak fingers, never skimp on bubble holding and tapping, individual finger-playing, and kit-kat key pressing!   You can encourage amped-up practicing to get a bigger workout from keyboard time; I have my daughter play the kit-kat song with 2 fingers for the group of 2 (pressing them 4 times before moving on) and 3 fingers on the group of 3.  Our goal is to do it with nice rounded fingers.

Strengthening Without A Piano
I can't keep her at the piano all day, but luckily there are scores of playful ways to strengthen fingers when we're on-the-go.  The dollar store likely has everything you need for games that will strengthen overall grip/flexion, improve individual finger strength, and improve individual finger control and independent movement.

Sponges: Make a game of filling containers (perhaps during bath time) with water by squeezing a soggy sponge into the container.  Squeezing strengthens wrist muscles and finger flexors.

Bulb Syringe: Maybe you have one of these bulbs left over from when your student was a newborn!? Let her enjoy filling and squeezing the bulb with water at bath time. Ask her to try squeezing with different fingers (only thumb and finger 2? only thumb and finger 3?) Of course every activity is more fun if you fill the bulbs with paint and make it a craft.

Spray bottles: Make cool designs on the sidewalk by squirting water on the cement.  If squeezing seems easy, try using fewer fingers on the trigger! If you've got good weather, fill spray bottles and squeeze bottles with home-made sidewalk spray paint.

Play-doh: We play "mushy pushy."  My daughter holds a ball of dough in her hand and when I say a finger number (or roll a die), she squishes only that finger deep into the dough. There are plenty of play-doh games online to keep your kiddo entertained and squeezing for hours.

Stress-balls: We made our own stress ball by putting flour in a balloon.  Just to be silly, we sing the "flat little red balloon" song instead of "great big red balloon" while squishing it and strengthening fingers.

Finger Exerciser: $6 is a pretty cheap price to pay for a GYM MEMBERSHIP for your fingers. That's what you get when you buy a finger exerciser (available on Amazon.) You can work the whole grip, or each finger individually.

Clothespins: Pick up small items using a clothespin as tongs, or clip clothespins around the edge of your Green Turtles songbook.  Look online for dozens of clothespin educational games  or super-cute animal crafts with opening mouths made from clothespins.  Try opening with different combinations of fingers!

Tennis Ball Puppet: Make a puppet by cutting a mouth slit in a tennis ball.  It takes a strong grip to squeeze his mouth open (and you can hide small objects in there!) Draw eyes with marker or glue on some googley eyes.

I Love You:  Teach your child the classic handsign for "I Love You" and flash it to each other every day!  The ASL (American Sign Language) alphabet and counting numbers also require finger strength and control to shape little hands.  Ask math questions and make a game of only answering with fingers.

I hope these ideas help you and your little one strengthen fingers without getting too frustrated in these early weeks at the piano.  In no time at all her hands will be stronger and she'll be playing chords and intervals with confidence AND be able to remember those hand positions for life.

-Gina Weibel, M.S.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Musical Superpower: Perfect Pitch!

Now your child is enrolled in Let's Play Music classes and you're getting excited about the long list of amazing skills that will be taught during 3 power-packed years.  One fantastic super-power you'll see signs of in your child is perfect pitch.

What is Perfect Pitch?
Perfect pitch is also referred to as absolute pitch (AP).  Pitch defines how high or low a tone sounds; a person with perfect pitch can identify the tone without hearing a reference.  For example, if you play a note on the piano without letting your child see, and he correctly exclaims, "That was a D," he's able to discern the pitch! Amazing!  If you ask him to sing a middle C and he can hit it exactly, he's demonstrating absolute pitch.

Children who speak a tonal language (one where pitch of voice is an important consideration, like most forms of Chinese) usually have an easier time developing perfect pitch, although the tonal languages rely on relative pitch (the change in pitch during speaking).   It is still possible and worthwhile to improve pitch skills for all young children. In fact, it is recognized that although anyone can improve AP skills, only those who start very young can truly gain Perfect Pitch. Read a bit more about it in this BBC article.

Why is it useful?
All varieties of pitch training are useful in helping your child become a complete musician, the focus of Let's Play Music.  With some absolute pitch skills, a musician can:

* Sing a song in a requested key.  
* Provide the starting note(s) for singers or musicians singing parts.
* Listen to a singer or other musician, determine what key they are in, and accompany them with appropriate chord progressions. This is especially helpful when you're at the piano during the Christmas party and Aunt Martha starts singing and she doesn't know what key she is in.
* Identify if stringed instruments are tuned properly. This is especially useful if you're sitting around the campfire without a pitch pipe iPhone app.
* Correct themselves while singing or playing an instrument, especially when sight-reading. Those with AP are amazing at playing new music. 
* Read musical scores in their minds. It really is like reading a book with a soundtrack!
* Master brass instruments or vocal music easily: the slight contractions of throat, oral, and lip muscles determine the pitch; only your ear will give you feedback as to whether you've hit the note exactly. Most musicians/singers without AP use a piano to check if they are hitting the correct note.
* Have success learning a tonal language as a second language.

What can we Do?
In Let's Play Music class, your teacher has specific games and activities designed to improve absolute pitch!  As your child sings "Do Is Home" using Middle C, she's practicing trying to find that pitch without reference, and learning to check herself.  You'll love seeing improvement by the end of the year.

I recommend you download a pitch pipe app or a keyboard app onto your phone, so you can recreate this type of activity at any time.  More practice leads to improved ability!  One family made it a habit to sing "We Are Here" every time they arrived at a destination in their car (checking the middle C pitch with an iPhone app.)  

It's also easy to play pitches on piano (or piano app) for you child and have him identify which note he hears.  To make it easier for my beginners, I use only white keys.

Don't Have Perfect Pitch?
Most Let's Play Music students will be able to sing a Middle C when requested.  Most will not develop complete perfect pitch.  Are we worried? No way!  

In addition to absolute pitch (AP), we will be training your child's ear for relative pitch, ability to identify chords by ear, ability to hear chord progressions, and ability to discern and identify rhythms by ear. Although a fun and desirable skill, very few famous musicians and composers have AP.  Let's Play Music class will prepare well-rounded musicians who have the ability to hear and understand music.

Shelle Soelberg, creator of Let's Play Music, knew that some solid practice in AP would benefit all young LPM students and set them on the road to acquiring true absolute pitch.  As each of her own children completed the program over the years, they were perfect at hitting Middle C along with other graduates.  With a bit more practice, four of her children acquired absolute pitch by age twelve!  Soelberg told me, "we made pitch practice a part of our daily habit….nothing structured, it just became a fun thing we all started doing.  The piano is near the kitchen, so during cooking, meals, and chores, it was natural to try to sing a pitch and go check, or play a pitch and quiz the family."

Whether or not you continue to practice AP games beyond the Let's Play Music years, your child will be blessed for life to have an ear a bit more sensitive to absolute pitches.

-Gina Weibel, M.S.

Related Posts:
Intervals are worth knowing
Ear-Training: Intervals with Turtle Tom and Tim

Monday, September 8, 2014

A new Twist on a Classic Game: Memory Sounds

I was recently on a 5-hour flight with my four-year-old, and we stayed busy the entire time.  I had packed her Memory game and her Let's Play Music tone bells amid other toys and books.  Together we invented "Memory Sounds," a way to play the Memory game using tone bells to strengthen both ear-training and memory.  If you have a new set of tone bells and are looking for another fun way to put them to use, read on!

Sound Memory
What you will need: A Memory game (check your local thrift shop- I got mine for $2), a set of Let's Play Music tone bells, and a curtain or binder or wall to hide the bells from the players/ listeners.

Set Up
You won't need all of the matching pairs from your Memory game.  At most you will need 8 pairs.  Set up a divider so your child can't see the bells.  Lay your bells from left to right, high to low: this seems backwards to YOU, but your child facing you will hear low sounds on HER LEFT and high sounds on HER RIGHT.  Next to each bell, choose two different pictures to represent that sound.  Finally, put the matches from all of those pictures into a "draw box".

The first time we played this game, we were in tight quarters on a plane (photos below).  I used a blanket draped between our seats as a barrier, and had the bells on my tray.  Since it was our first time and I wanted her to get confident with the game, I only used three pairs.  If your child struggles with hearing and matching sounds, just use a few pairs, and use tones that are NOT adjacent (not an interval of a second).  I used Do, Mi and Sol.

One-Player Game
The listener chooses two cards and holds them up so the musician can see them.  The musician states the picture and then plays the corresponding bell.  "Train...ding!  Banana...ding!"  If the two sounds match, the player makes a pair.  If they don't match, she tries a different combination of pictures.  Even when she hasn't made a match, she's practiced identifying if the sounds match! A valuable skill!

This game is fun and challenging for ANY family member, even recent Let's Play Music graduates.  I was impressed how quickly my 8-year-old LPM-grad made matches. (In the video below, we hadn't yet realized it's best to have the bells laid out high-left to low-right for the musician.)

Multi-Player Game
Each player takes a turn picking two pictures and listening to the sounds, hoping for a match.  Just like in regular Memory, players can gain advantage by paying attention to the combinations chosen by others.

Major Scale Strategy
It didn't take my kids long to come up with a helpful strategy!  Each time you guess two cards and hear the tones, set the cards on the floor in a line, placing the cards approximately as far apart as the tones sounded, with the higher sound to the right.  You'll visually be lining up the tones and helping them find mates.  At the end of the game, all of your pairs will be arranged in a Major Scale!  Remove the screen/ divider, and you'll be able to check that all of the matches were correct AND they are all in the correct order to make a major scale.

I hope you'll have some family fun game time playing this game as the musician or the listener.  Just for the record, the white noise on the airplane was so loud that the tinkle of our tone bells could hardly travel more than a few feet: no patrons were harassed in the making of this blog post.

-Gina Weibel, M.S.
Let's Play Music Parent

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

3 Big Ways To Boost Your Child's Brain Using Music

Guest Post by Sharlene Habermeyer, author of Good Music Brighter Children

I'm Sharlene Habermeyer, mother of five boys and the author of Good Music Brighter Children and happy to be blogging for Let's Play Music today.   I have spent the last thirty years studying how music affects the brain and I’m convinced there is nothing like music to build a bigger, better brain for children and adults. Why? Because music is the ONLY thing we do that exercises the entire brain—left, right, front and back—simultaneously.

Bottom line: playing a musical instrument it is like giving the brain an aerobic workout accompanied by fireworks!

How does Let’s Play Music fit into all this brain-building activity? This program is so comprehensive in its musical scope that it builds the three areas of the brain most needed for learning: the auditory, the visual/spatial, and the motor cortices.  Let’s talk about each area and how it relates to learning…

Brain-builder #1: Music strengthens the auditory cortex and helps with reading and language…

Did you know that the auditory cortex of the brain is five times smaller than the visual cortex? So it is already established by the brain that we learn more quickly and easily by visually looking at something. But here’s the rub: when a child learns to read, they must use their ears first(auditory cortex) and their eyes second (visual cortex). Think back when you were learning to read. All those letters on the page looked like Greek and it wasn’t until your teacher said the word, and you used your ears, that you understood how to say the word. So the rule for reading is: ears first to hear the pronunciation of the word and eyes second to visually recognize the word. From various brain scans, scientists know that learning musical instrument strengthens all areas of the auditory cortex thereby making it easier for a child to read, tounderstand directions, and to process information in the classroom and elsewhere. It also reaches children who are learning disabled as all learning issues begin with auditory processingor not being able to understand what you hear.

The philosophies of Kodály and the music-teaching methodology that develops and strengthens the auditory cortex are integrated into Let's Play Music classes.  Kodály trains children to sing on pitch without the aid of an instrument. It’s called solfege (read more about it here)  and it takes practice! While singing, children also use hand signs to reinforce the learning. This training strengthens the auditory cortex thus making readingwriting and processing of information easier Aural or listening skills are learned when the child listens to the varying pitch, rhythm and harmony of a multitude of songs. Let's Play Music is an amazing brain-builder!

Brain-builder #2: Music strengthens the visual/spatial cortex and helps with math and science…

Music training also strengthens the visual/spatial areas of the brain. Spatial people solve problems in their minds-eye; they think in pictures; they understand higher forms of math and science and they are usually very creative (they dream in color while most people dream in black & white). Think about Albert Einstein whose visual/spatial areas of his brain were 25 percent larger than most people: he was an accomplished violinist and credits music with organizing his brain and helping him to solve intricate theories and problems. His friend said that Einstein used music for inspiration and that the answers to complex problems came to him in the midst of playing his violin. Studies show that when a child learns a musical instrument it primes, prepares, and develops the spatial areas of the brain in such a way that a child is able to understand science, technology, engineering and math more easily.

Brain-builder #3: Music strengthens the motor areas for brain organization and memory skills…

Learning a musical instrument and being engaged in music develops the motor areas of our brain—which are important for the development and organization of the entire neurological system. Let’s Play Music incorporates both the Orff-Shulwerk and Dalcroze teaching methods—both of which strengthen the motor areas of the brain.  Here’s how:

When a young child pounds on rhythm instrumentsclaps her hands, stamps her feet, snaps her fingers or marches around the room, these activities help organize the brain.  They help the child to remain focused and increase memorization skills. These types of rhythmic body movements introduced by Orff are practiced in Let's Play Music classes.

Dalcroze promotes the use of specific movements called eurhythmics.  Children move their bodies to the beat of the music and the body is trained like an instrument. Many different senses come together in the Dalcroze experience: seeing, hearing, feeling and moving.  Scientists agree that movement is an indispensable part of learning and thinking. Dancing and moving to the music, marching, singing, whistling melodies, humming tunes all boost a child’s language, listening and motor skills. They also help develop physical coordination, timing and memory.

So there you have it. If you want to build a bigger, better brain; one that functions at a higher level; one that helps children to read; increases language development; boosts memory; aids in the learning of math and science; and enhances motor skills—then start learning music. It will be the best thing you do for your brain—and your overall feeling of well-being! Plus, it is just plain fun!

My Book:
Here is a small sampling of what you find in my book to help you and your child on your musical journey:

* Why and how music builds a bigger, better brain.
* How to turn your home into a musical training center with ideas on musical games and activities for your children from utero through high school.
* Ideas to help the learning disabled child.
* How to choose an instrument and teacher, ideas to get kids to practice, and values learned from learning a musical instrument.
Resource Section: The book also has an extensive 50-page Resource Section that includes list of music to play when children are studying, lists of books and DVDs about music, music to use when teaching subjects such as animals, nature, the solar system, etc. and music for every stage of your child’s development.  Also on page 393 check out what I have to say about Let's Play Music!

The book is easy-to-read and loaded with examples and stories that will excite and motivate you to get you and your kids involved with music!

If you are interested, please visit my blog: www.goodmusicbrighterchildren  My book is available here.  

About Sharlene HabermeyerSharlene holds a Masters degree in Education from Pepperdine University, Malibu, California and a Bachelor’s degree in Art from Utah State University. She teaches college and in 1999, she started the Palos Verdes Regional Symphony Orchestra. It currently boasts over 100 musicians. She will be teaching at BYU Education Week August 18-22, 2014 (8:30am in the Harris Fine Arts Building, Madsen Auditorium)  

Please “like” me on Facebook:
You can access my Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and other blogs

Monday, June 30, 2014

2014 National Composition Contest Winners

The student confidently steps onto the stage, and announces his original composition.  He performs beautifully for the audience.  The parents, and certainly the teacher, are shocked to discover that three short years have flown past since he began Let's Play Music, and now he's graduating from the program as a viable musician.  Audience members gasp in delight and amazement to hear the creativity, knowledge, and feeling bursting from compositions by unassuming six-, seven-, and eight-year-olds.

This is a familiar scene every Spring at Let's Play Music studios nationwide.  The program helps students read and play piano music, but the more fantastic result of three very short years is a student body who understand the music, enjoy the music, and create their own music!

Today we share the performances from the 2014 National Composition Contest winners: students who made it clear that they understand and will forever be creators of music.  Winners were announced earlier in June at the National Let's Play Music Symposium for teachers.  1,264 young composers completed compositions in 2014.

Best Overall Composition: 
"The Wild Mustangs"Joshua, Age 7.  
Teacher: Heather Prusse, Arizona
"You should hear two horses racing. In the minor section, you should hear some horse bandits trying to get them, but the Mustangs get away." - Joshua

Most Original: "Secretariat" Paige, Age 8. 
Teacher: Laura Leavitt , Utah
 "You will hear horses hooves thumping on the ground." -Paige

Best ABA Form:  
"The Great White Shark" Noah, Age 7
Teacher: Marianne Barrowes, Utah
"The song helps you think about scary stories."- Noah

Best Use of Chords:  
"Ponies in Trouble" Kinsey, Age 6 
Teacher: Alicia Dansie, Utah

Best Melody: 
"Gypsy Air- Dani's Song"Kallyn, Age 9 
 Teacher: Janalee Fish, Arizona
"I wrote this tune for my little sister, Dani."- Kallyn

Honorable Mention: "Miracles"Grace, Age 7 
 Teacher: Cindy Read, Arizona

Honorable Mention: "Scottish Jig" Eli, Age 7.  Teacher: Annah Clark, Kansas

Honorable Mention:  
"I Love To Swim All The Time" Ashyln, Age 6 
Teacher: Lily Hight, Utah
"My B-section is minor, because it's when you have to get out of the pool." -Ashlyn

Honorable Mention:  
"Horse Family On The Range"Aundra, Age 6. Teacher: Celeste Stott, Montana
"My song is about me and my family chasing cows."-Aundra

Honorable Mention:
"The Best Day Ever" Charlie, Age 7.
Teacher: Jera Farnsworth, Arizona

If your student hasn't reached the third year yet, stick with Let's Play Music and you'll see all the foundational skills come together for some joyful musicianship.  If your child isn't in Let's Play Music, FIND A TEACHER near you: most are registering right now for classes that begin this fall!

-Gina Weibel, M.S.
Let's Play Music Parent