Monday, August 13, 2018

Piano Bench Magazine Features Let's Play Music

It's always a great day when Let's Play Music teachers get to share the reasons why we love LPM with music educators who haven't heard of us before.  So, we were thrilled when Piano Bench Magazine featured us in the July, 2018 issue!

If you're a piano teacher, Piano Bench Magazine is a great resource for ideas, tips, and up-to-date news to help you succeed in every way.

You can get the July 2018 issue, and other issues, at this link. But if you're wondering what I wanted to tell the world's piano teachers about Let's Play Music, here's the entire message:

Every Piano Dilemma Solved

As a teacher, I’m on the prowl for methods and techniques that will really help my business blossom and increase my income. I’m also constantly looking to glean ideas for improving the quality and outcomes of my program. So, imagine the glorious day over a decade ago when I discovered an elusive gem that solved EVERY piano dilemma: I present to you Let’s Play Music.

Let’s Play Music is a group class taught from a national 3-year curriculum, so let me start with that. Am I the only teacher who wondered how I could pay my mortgage with music lessons?

Teachers Eat, Too

With group classes, the student’s fee is $400- $600/ 30 weeks (depending on regional rates), and I have 6-8 students in each 45 minute class.  My first year teaching Let’s Play Music, I had 2 classes weekly, but in my most booming years of teaching, I swelled to 20 classes/week.  Instead of having 40 total private students in my 20 hours, I had 140 students in the same 20 hours. Dilemma solved. Know what else I recognized? The students love group classes. We have a spirit of fun collaboration. Kids learn better in the group! And everyone wants to join this group!

Balance Your Time

For those of you have 40 (or 140) students, you’re still wishing to give every student a carefully crafted, well-prepared, multi-faceted lesson every week. Oh, and it would be great if everything were taught through a clever game instead of a boring lecture. I know that’s what I dream of, but where can I find the prep time for all of that?

Enter the lesson plans provided by Let’s Play Music: Every lesson has been taught thousands of times, refined to provide both repetition and progress of new concepts all presented through GAMES and active fun. I never spend hours scouring the web looking for ways to make concepts fun. I flip open my manual (with the lessons planned to the minute) and I know my students will get 45 minutes PACKED with fast-paced, non-stop games. I prep my supplies and post a list of the activities and I’m ready for classes with minimal prep. Dilemma solved! A class cannot be this amazing without many people testing and refining it. I’m so relieved I don’t have to go it alone - I have the BEST lessons handed to me every week, and YES there is still room for me to add my personality and my twist when I want to.

Start Them Young

So, what about young students? I understand the sensitivity of young ears and minds; I want four- and five-year-olds to be ear training with chord progressions and relative pitch and melodic patterns and rhythm. I’ve read the studies on the importance of foundational music skills and I don’t want to waste these precious early years when kids intuitively absorb the concepts.  

I know they can be taught to understand how notes on a staff work, but their fingers are not ready for piano and they get bored if I make them sit for more than five minutes. What can I do with these young ones, when a 30-minute lesson on a bench would be a disaster? Let’s Play Music!

This is a 3-year program DESIGNED for students who start at age 4 or 5. Everything is skipping, clapping, puppetry, and games...or so the students would tell you. We have them reading melodic patterns, singing on pitch, using solfege, and playing chord progressions on an autoharp (AHA! No dexterity required!) all in the first few weeks.

We give them a whole YEAR of singing/ ear/ brain training with the autoharp and tone bells before they go on the piano...and then they are SO successful. Recruiting tip: Let’s Play Music  is the ONLY piano/musicianship program I can feel good sending a young one to. Dilemma solved! I’m never giving a 4-year-old a private lesson; it feels like a waste in comparison.

Way More than Piano Alone

But I care so much about REAL musicianship. I don’t want to leave anything out. It seems like no matter which lesson books I follow with piano students, I still need to supplement to cover composition and listening and ear-training. How can I make that work?

VOILA! Let’s Play Music includes classical music study, composition, dictation, ear training (chord progressions, intervals, melodic patterns, etc.), vocal training/ pitch matching/ singing, note reading, solfege, sight-reading, and more. YES, all through active, fun play.

I LOVE the days when my 4-year old classes (with no music playing) belt out the entire Verdi’s Triumphant March because they love it so much.

I LOVE the days when I give my 5-year-old students (who’ve been using pianos for 6 months) a song like “Old MacDonald” and tell them to choose chords for an accompaniment and then write them correctly in the bass clef.  

I LOVE the days when my 6-year-old students play two-handed on piano and can transpose between the keys of C, F, and G in a single song.

I LOVE the final recital when they perform their OWN complete piece (yes, for both hands and with ABA form and usually harmonized with I, IV, V, chords and complex rhythms and melodies.)  

MIND BLOWN and Dilemma Solved! I no longer worry that ANYTHING is missing from the Let’s Play Music curriculum. These students (and vicariously their parents) are getting the best musical training I can ever hope to provide.

By the way, please visit the blog and see videos of the fantastic compositions from students this year, or read dozens of articles explaining everything we do in Let’s Play Music.

Okay, there is one big downside to Let’s Play Music… it ends. After 3 years (and an optional 4th bridge year), students graduate and hate to leave. You can choose to keep those 7-year-olds as private students and move them into your favorite piano lesson series, or you can send them on to other local piano teachers who will ADORE you for giving them prepared, ready-to-work students who can hear, improvise, and create! Students also go on to a multitude of other instruments and excel thanks to the amazing foundation provided by Let’s Play Music.

Please Share the Love

Will you consider joining the circle of piano excellence? Provide a fantastic foundation for many  4-year-olds of your city, then pass them on into the loving arms of excited private teachers. (or keep them! You choose!)

I’ve been teaching Let’s Play Music since 2006 and it has been a tremendous blessing for me, my husband, and our four children. That was my final dilemma...I wanted the VERY BEST for my own children. Dilemma solved! As a pure bonus, I have extreme fun playing in every class. I have never had such fun doing “work”.

Gina Weibel, M.S. is a teacher on Bainbridge Island, WA, and blogger for Let’s Play Music. She also teaches Sound Beginnings for preschoolers and a variety of other classes.

Learn more about Let’s Play Music and how you can become a teacher at our website:

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Composition Contest 2018 Winners

One reason spring is my favorite season is because I know that all the hard work of the 3-year Let's Play Music curriculum is coming to fruition... and a huge group of students are bringing BRAND NEW music to the world!

These students (now ages 7-9) write music full of expression, creativity, and skill...and they've only been using a piano for 2 years!

Imagine where they will be in a few more years, now that they have such a strong foundation.

In 2018, over 1700 students in the US and Canada composed music with us.  We want to show you some of our favorites, as selected by our guest judge Dr. Kris Maloy (meet him here.)

Best Melody: 
By The River I go by Maya S
From the Studio of: Tina Gosney

Something special about this song is how nature and this music makes Maya feel calm. Maybe it will have that effect on you:

Best Use of Chords and BEST OVERALL: 
Picky, Picky's Day by Hunter F
From the Studio of: Melissa Lunt

Enjoy a tale of Picky, Picky the cat. When you listen to the music, you'll feel how frightening a trip to the store is... when you're a cat!

Best Use of ABA Form:
Cats and Ducks by Aliyah M
From the Studio of: Maggie Gambill

In this song you'll hear how cats feel about storm clouds!

Most Original:
Robots are Good and Bad by Pax M
From the Studio of: Celeste Stott

Pax started thinking of the theme for this song when he was 2 years old and a Sound Beginnings student! Luckily he continued with music and finally learned how to take his idea and make it into a complete song. Can you hear the good robot theme and the bad robot theme?

Best Story:
Forest Dwellers by Sarah H
From the Studio of: Jennifer Bigly

This forest story has birds singing, deer prancing, and hunters marching. Can you hear each of them? 

Honorable Mention:
Liverpool Rules by Anden S
From the Studio of: Rebecca Suelzle

This fan attests that Liverpool RULES! His music describes the players walking to the field, running/kicking/scoring, and marching off the field to the cheers of adoring fans, including at least one that is an inspired composer!

Congratulations to these kids, families, and parents AND all who have successfully composed, published, and performed their very first piano piece!

We'll be looking forward to another batch next Spring.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Should I Enroll Both of My Children?

Hooray! Your kiddo is finally the right age to enroll in Let's Play Music and you are ready to roll.

But WAIT! You have ANOTHER child that is also the right age to enroll. Maybe they are twins. Maybe they are a few years apart. Should they be in the same class? 

Parents' Time Management

Many parents have HUGE success with siblings in the same class. 

In Let's Play Music, parents attend every other week in year one, and once per month in years two and three.  

If you only go through the cycle once, it saves you (parent) tons of effort arranging to attend on parent day and finding childcare for whichever one is not in the class.  For this reason alone, it is often a good idea to purposely plan to enroll in LPM when one child is 6 and the other is 4!

What will parent day be like with multiple kids? Your teacher will always welcome another adult to attend, but if that doesn't work for your family, you'll have one child by each knee when on the floor, and you'll be seated between their two keyboards during keyboard time.  

Don't worry- you will definitely be able to give hugs and high-fives and feedback to both kids. I have seen many parents succeed with two in a class. We will make sure that there is enough of you to share with your crew.

Family Practice

Many families also love having both kids enrolled in the same level because practice time can really be family time.  One mom told me, "During these few years, music is a big focus for all of us in the family, LPM is something we are all invested in, and we are all on the same page. The girls both learn the songs and sing for each other and cheer each other during practice. They both have similar practice assignment, similar chores, similar bedtime. It's easy to go to class together."

When the whole family is excited to do a puppet show together after dinner or a group rhythm game... family time is a fantastic re-creation of music class. So fun!

My Time to Shine

While some families are loving being in class together, there are few reasons you might decide to separate them.

One mom told me that it was very important for her older daughter to have her own thing to shine at without being upstaged by a little sister. She hoped that her younger daughter would be even more excited to take LPM after watching and waiting for a year or two.  "She needs to see that the class is an honor that comes with age, and I don't want her to be competing directly with her sister."

There was another benefit, too. "Because she's the big sister and in LPM, we let her stay up 15 minutes later from bedtime to do her practice. She feels cool because she's a big girl doing serious practice, and her sister looks forward to that someday."

Rates of Learning

If your children (or you) are competitive, having two in the same year can lead to stress.  Children (even of the same age) will learn in slightly different ways and at slightly different rates.  

Your 6 year old will play songs with excellence. During the 2nd and 3rd year, she will be able to play at full speed with both hands, and may even be given extra challenges from the teacher. 

Meanwhile, the child who starts at age 4 will understand the concepts and be able to perform the skills, but may do so a slower speed. During year 2 and 3 she may never reach the highest level of "polish" on songs.  


We ensure that students understand and love the concepts, but rather than take time to bring every student to the highest level of polish, we spend a set amount of time on each song and skill.

As a parent of two children at different ages, are you prepared to show delight and congratulations and joy at progress by both of them, even if results vary? 

And here is a secret side note... starting ear training as EARLY as possible leads to best's possible the younger sibling becomes better at hearing and identifying intervals, melodic patterns, and chord progressions, even though her older sibling can do the technical parts of making music better! (You, parent, will learn aural skills in class as well, but it will probably take you a LOT longer than your kids to rewire your brain.)

Sibling Personalities

Also consider the personalities of your children.  Will the younger one fall into despair if she cannot keep up with her older sibling? (Note: this is an opportunity for some heart-to-heart conversations about realistic expectations that YOU have and that SHE can have.) If you already know it's going to be a struggle for her... let her wait and do LPM on her own. 

Will your older child lord over her sister, or will she coach her and cheer her on? (Again, be prepared for some parenting! This is a great springboard for coaching her on how to have perspective and be kind.)

Poor Lost Souls

Every year I have a few parents enrolling a student and it turns out that there's an older brother or sister at home who missed out on Let's Play Music, usually because it wasn't available here or they didn't know about me!  (By the way, some areas have PRESTO for ages 7-12.)

YOU, parent, are going to be in class seeing everything that is taught, and YOU are welcome to sing the songs and share the ideas with your older kids at home. Parents are always amazed at what better musicians they become by attending with their child. Now, take that feeling home and share with everyone.  Nobody is a poor lost soul.

The worst case scenario was when one mom told me, "I feel bad enrolling Tommy because I never did this for Johnny." EEK!  

I told her, "As parents we do the best we can for our children with what we have at the time! When you find something amazing, partake as much as you can and share as much as you can. No guilt allowed, because years ago you were ALSO doing the best you could with what you had!"  True, that.

So, WELCOME to Let's Play Music! We are so happy to have your family.

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

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Writing is Fundamental.

Music is a Language. We Must Read AND Write.

Imagine the following scenario: a 17-year old with straight A's is ready to graduate from high school.  

You hand her a difficult piece of prose to read, which she does well. 

Next, you ask to write something original in the next 5 minutes--a short essay on something of her choice.  She stares blankly, then says "I've never written anything before."

"OK," you say. "Well, I'll tell you a sentence or two, and you can write that down."

You are met with a stare again as she says, "I can't do that."

We'd be shocked if someone could graduate high school without ever having written anything before, or even being able to write down what someone says.

But, in music, we're guilty of this ALL THE TIME.

What's up with Writing Music?

People with many years of lessons under their belts can read music fluently, but often have never written a note on paper, and can't even begin to write down the music they hear.  

In fact, I wonder whether a person ever actually does learn to read ANY language fluently if they don't have experience writing words and connecting the written word to the spoken one.  We begin teaching this skill to students in preschool who are mastering English. 

We might ask if a student, like the high school student in the story above, even has a real understanding of the music she plays.  Or, is she like the allegory of a monkey who can type Portugese--a monkey can be trained to look at the symbols and push the corresponding buttons on the typewriter but has no understanding of the meaning of what she types.

Sadly, there are too many music students who are like this.

How do we Train Musicians, not Typists?

We can overcome the weak trend in music education. It starts with having students write music.  

Just this week, one of my younger students, who is starting her third year of piano, started writing a short piece.  When she started to write middle C, I pointed out that what she was playing was in fact a C but one octave higher, and should be written as such.

She exclaimed, "Oh! That's why that C is at the third space!"  And this was a student who has been reading and playing notes for 2 years and doing well for her age.  The exercise of doing it the opposite way-- when you can see the keyboard and the note you want, and you can hear it, and then you have to figure out how to write it on the staff-- this registers differently in the brain. It registers is a way that is likely to stick and reinforce what we're teaching.

Better Writers = Better Performers

Not every studio teacher will be comfortable or experienced in helping students write their own original music.  Even allowing the space and time for students to do this for a few minutes' of lesson time can have great benefits and help them accelerate ALL of their learning and musicianship.

I know when I began to compose, I found it not only fun and fulfilling, but the exercise made me a much better performer because I saw everything-- dynamics, phrase marks, articulations, repetitions-- in a new light.  

I knew, then, exactly why a composer would put those symbols in because I had put those same symbols in my music to gain a desired result.

Shall we Transcribe?

Even if the activity isn't truly composition, great results can be had from transcribing an easy piece or folk song. This can actually be a very effective way to help students learn key signatures: transcribing simple songs in keys with three or four sharps or flats to help students internalize what the key signature really means and why it is so important.

Similar results can be had in the domain of rhythm. Most students, even at a beginning level can quickly develop a good sense of rhythm by clapping and tapping along with their favorite songs.  Converting that clapping to written symbols is difficult for many students (and teachers). 

Of course, doing drills and working on the reading aspect will help, but don't overlook simply taking a student's favorite song and having them try to write out the rhythm themselves. 

I know this can be time-consuming and it is tempting to think, "I don't have time for that!"  But it has been my experience that an hour or two devoted to doing this for even a few bars of a couple of songs comes back with many returns in the form of much quicker learning through rhythms in every piece a student attempts after having done it. 

Learn By Doing it YOUR Way

Composing and transcribing is fun! All students, but especially kids of this generation, want to do things their own way.  They enjoy being creative, whether that's in the form of improvisation or creating their own music or arranging their own way of playing a popular song.

Students will enjoy lessons more and internalize more if they're creating their own way to play something they like.

One of my favorite things about Let's Play Music is that it gets students writing and allows them to finish the curriculum with a short piece they invented themselves.  

All of us who help these students continue their studies, and especially those of us who have students who have never written music themselves, must take every opportunity to get students putting the music they make, see, hear, and play down on the page themselves.

The rewards are always worth the time spent to both students and teachers.

- Dr. Kris Maloy is an award-winning composer, arranger, and performer. He has served as a professor at several different universities and taught students of all ages through Gold Lantern Music, the studio he founded in Fort Collins, CO.

In Spring 2018, we are happy to have Dr. Maloy as a guest judge for our own Let's Play Music composers.  We have over 1500 3rd-year students in the USA and Canada, and each of them has written an original piece of music before graduating from our program. And, we are happy to tell Dr. Maloy, they still have ten years before they get to graduation.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Sound Beginnings Articles

If you're a Sound Beginnings Parent, we've collected some blog posts that will be most helpful to you:

Sun, Moon, and Stars: Why we teach patterns in Sound Beginnings class. Learn the reasons AND get ideas for playing with patterns in your daily life here.

Jack be Nimble, Jack be Quick! Here are 3 more fun ways to enjoy this nursery rhyme and extend learning at home. Read more here

If you love to sing The Itsy Bitsy Spider, be sure to check out these extension activities and crafts for more fun at home. Read more here.

Solfege is a powerful tool for ear training and singing skills. Find out why it works, why we use it in class, and how you can learn solfege quickly in this series:

Part One Here
Part Two Here
Part Three Here

Let's Sing! In PART ONE, learn why singing is a fundamental musicianship skill and essential for ear training. Read it here.

In PART TWO, help your child sing on pitch and match pitch with some exercises and activities. Read it here.

Ready for a fun exercise? Turn your favorite story books into song! Story time just reached a new level of greatness! Read our post and enjoy some easy to sing books- or create your own.

Discover the Pentatonic Scale in this post here. This simple five-note scale is a basic learning tool for musicians and children all around the world. Bobby McFerrin gives a demonstration showing how humans naturally internalize the pentatonic scale.

Why do youngsters need so much repetition in learning? Find out in this post and learn how to apply layered repetition to your own learning and teaching- you'll be able to remember every song you know!

Understand instrument families with this post: how we categorize the instruments of the orchestra and how we help students hear the different timbres they make. Sound Beginnings instrument day is a "petting zoo of instruments" for your child!

Understand the heart maps in your workbook, and learn more about helping your child develop the ability to find and keep a steady beat with some games and tips in this post.

You might also enjoy these topics from our FIRST YEAR STUDENT articles:
Big Ideas that Shape Let's Play Music:
Have a request for a post? Leave a comment below! Fresh posts come every month to help you get more from class by playing at home.