Tuesday, March 24, 2015

We Value Open and Honest Communication

It’s April, and that means you may have played (or suffered through) a few tricks on April Fool’s Day!  Let’s Play Music teachers are some of the sneakiest folks you’ll meet, but even at our trickiest, we truly value open and honest communication.

Our teachers are super sneaky, but that does NOT mean we toilet-paper your house or put plastic wrap on your toilet seat.  It DOES mean that we play fun and silly games during class and our students are tricked into thinking that's ALL there is to it! (bwah-ha-ha) 

During class, you WON’T hear us expounding lengthily about the purpose behind each activity, and we WON’T spend tons of time demonstrating.  We just get right into the games and keep things moving.  Our trickery is revealed years later when students notice, “hey, I have a fantastic ear for identifying notes…where did that come from!?”  That’s right, we value fun in our classes (read about it here); we sneak in loads of complicated theory with every game, and the students sometimes don’t notice!

Let’s Be Honest
We get a bit sneaky with the kids, but we certainly strive to be open and honest with you parents.  We DO want to educate YOU about everything going on behind-the-scenes in the Let’s Play Music program.  This blog is one tool that was created to help reveal our magic, so I plan to reveal things here such as:
  • What do we value, and how does that shape class format?
  • What is the purpose behind each activity?
  • What else can I do at home to help my child learn the concepts?
  • Why is each skill useful, and how will students use it in the future?
Sometimes you’ll have questions that aren’t answered here on the blog, but your teacher is there to chat with you.  I sincerely hope that if you don't feel confident about what your child is learning, you'll contact her so she can help you get there.

We’re Open for Business
We value open and honest communication.  Of course, communication is a two-way street.  That means YOU have an opportunity and responsibility to speak up, too.  Let’s Play Music teachers are encouraged to seek feedback (usually via surveys) each year, to find out what you're thinking. 

I can tell you, my first few years as a teacher I was pretty nervous to solicit feedback.  I put my heart into my work. I loved my students and gave them 100%.  I wasn’t sure I had energy to handle any suggestions.  With some coaching from the Let’s Play Music trainers, I came to value the honest opinions and use them to improve my studio.  

One survey response I received included a suggestion that I start a blog or send out weekly emails so parents could have a better understanding of the activities.  Excellent idea!! Thanks for letting me know what you needed to get the most from class.

Now it's up to YOU to take the time to give thoughtful feedback when your teacher asks.  Don't hold back on telling her something, kindly, that she can really put to use and make her program better.  In the long run, you don't help by being silent.

The Good Times and…
Okay, folks.  Some day you may have a tough topic to discuss with your teacher.  It might make you nervous to approach her, and it might make her nervous, too!  Whatever your topic, your teacher has been trained to address your concern openly, honestly, and professionally.  Please meet us halfway- tell us honestly what you are concerned about, and give us a chance to meet your needs.

The good news is, your teacher has a huge supportive network of teachers across the nation.  Whatever question or issue or problem you may need to bring up with her, someone has probably dealt with something similar before! I don't tell you this to minimize your concern, I tell you this so you'll know that you WON'T break your dear teacher's heart or business if you talk to her about what's going on.  She will get support and find ways to work through it.

Don't Let This Be You I've had a few students over the many years who simply VANISHED from class.  They stopped coming, with no communication about what was going on.  I tried calling one parent, and she wouldn't answer!  She ignored my calls and emails for months and months and never told me what had happened.  A few YEARS later I saw her in a store and, although it was awkward, I did want to talk to her.  I told her, "I was worried about you…whatever happened back then?"  She told me that making the payments was a struggle so they'd stopped coming to class.  I suspect her embarrassment and awkward feelings were overwhelming, and just got worse over time.  DON'T LET THIS BE YOU. Don't let something spoil your child's music experience when it might be resolved.

I have had a few other clients with that same struggle handle it differently. Sure, myriad things happen that affect a family's finances.  When those parents came to chat with me, I discussed some creative solutions.  Most of the time we were able to figure something out so the student could stay in class.  Occasionally we couldn't, but we separated with an amicable and compassionate feeling between us.  This is how we prefer to operate- let's communicate.

Convos With My Teacher
Here's a sample conversation to help you get started IF you have a tricky subject to bring up!  Perhaps there's something in class that's happening (or not happening) that could be better.  Trust me, I have had a few of these conversations.  Being THIS CONNECTED to the students and parents is one thing that I love about our program.

You: Hi Ms. ____.  I have been wanting to chat with you about something- do you have a few minutes now?

Teacher: Why, yes. I'm so happy you called. What's on your mind today?

You: Well, one thing I really value is _____.  I really care about making sure that ______.  So, one thing that I have been thinking about is __________.  

Teacher: Okay. I'm glad to hear that ____ is so important to you. I really want to make this class a success for your child, and knowing exactly what you care about helps me.  Now that you point it out, I can understand your perspective about ________________.  I really care about making this work for both of us; is it okay with you if I take a couple days to think about this and consider what you've shared with me.  I'm also going to do a little research and see if I can come up with some strategies to share with you- can I call you back on Friday?

You: Sure.  I'm glad you're willing to talk to me about this. I really feel like we are a team.

Teacher: Of course! I'm on a learning curve to becoming a fantastic teacher- I'm sure this isn't the last time I will have to confront _______ , so I'm glad you're friendly about helping all of us figure it out.

You're My BFF
Right now my daughters are really into the phrase "BFF."  They're wearing BFF necklaces, but tell each other, "it's really BSF because we're best sisters forever!".   

Your music teacher strives to have great customer service, but she's also someone you're going to get to know pretty closely after 3 years (more if you have more children.)  I hope she can become your BTF: Best Teacher Forever.  You know- the kind of teacher you can really talk to about your child's progress. 

Really importantly: when she does something you like, tell her that, too! "I loved it that you made those treats for the kids.  It meant a lot to me that you stayed after class to talk to my child.  I value that you took time to show me again how to do that skill."  

Thanks for telling me that! Now I know how to help you enjoy class the most.

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

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Get Crafty with Alphabet Gems

Hey Yellow Arrows student, have you cut out your Alphabet Pieces yet? You do not want to let this valuable activity fall by the wayside: these little scraps of paper are a powerful learning tool AND we will even show you how to cutesy them up!

Keyboard Geography
Back in the fall we introduced the idea of Keyboard Geography: Looking at the keys and noticing the patterns made by black and white keys.  The black keys are SO important because without them, you'd have no way to visually distinguish the C's or F's or any keys at all!  

You can guess that eventually your pianist will want to play songs without looking at her hands much, but before she gets to that point it is valuable to spend some serious time now looking at, learning, and internalizing what the keyboard looks like.  Eventually, she'll be able to hold the image of where her fingers are (and where they need to go next) in her mind's eye.  Combining her mental image of the keyboard with her muscle memory (read about it here and here) she'll be able to play without looking down very often.

Visual and Kinesthetic Learning
In class, your child practices singing the musical alphabet to learn the pattern of the keys, and practices the Kit-Kat Keyboard chant to start practice matching the keys to the keyboard.  Both of these activities are primarily aural but become a visual way of learning when keyboard matching comes into play.  To strengthen the learning, we provide even more pathways (read about the learning process here) for mastering information by giving students kinesthetic ways to play with the skills.

Alphabet games help make drilling "what's the name of this key?" fun and engaging AND because they involve your child moving a tangible object over to a tangible key, this knowledge sticks better than if we only used flashcards.  

Whenever possible, take it one step further by playing the pitch of the note after identifying the alphabet letter, and matching it…"Yes, that was a D, and a D sounds like this…DEEEE."  We try to find ways to see it, hear it, and get physically involved as we practice it.

Where Do We Go Next?
Next fall your student will start learning to read every single note on the staff, and match each note to its exact key on the keyboard.  Of course, it's going to be a very rough challenge if your child reads "treble D" off the staff but can't find a D on the keyboard.  This is one reason we spend time on key names now; it's the prerequisite for advanced music reading.

I like to point out that the alphabet names of the notes and keys are an abstract concept created to help us read music.  It IS possible and necessary to read music by matching "that note" with "that key" correctly without identifying the name of "that note".  (Read more about it here)

But these key names are critical to give us the way to talk about the notes and keys and be specific as we teach the advanced theory coming next year (changing key signatures, transposing, adding sharps and flats, etc.) 

Great Ways to Play
Now that you're motivated, you'll definitely want to check out the list of different games using alphabet pieces. (CLICK HERE).  You'll see everything from Cowboys and Indians to Frogger and Go Fish: all games that will encourage visual matching and active learning.

Get Crafty
Now, for a crafty way to make your pieces the cutest and most gorgeous ever (also preventing them from falling between piano keys,) try this option: making Musical AlphaGems! 

  • Clear glass gems (each approx. 1/2 inch in diameter): avoid ones that are too big to fit on your piano key!
  • Cardstock alphabet (last page of your Yellow Arrows songbook)
  • Acrylic spray (option)
  • Clear silicone adhesive (sticks well to glass and is less smelly than other strong glues)
  • Workspace covered with some newspaper
  • Scissors
  1. Optional: Before cutting out the alphabet circles from the printable, spray the backside of the cardstock paper with a few coats of acrylic spray.  This will help seal the paper and make your gems last longer.
  2. Using a pair of scissors, cut out alphabet circles to fit your gems.  Too small is better than too big.
  3. Examine each glass gem before using to check for imperfections.  Toss any that are chipped or have odd designs that might affect how easily you can read the alphabet letter through the glass.
  4. Put a dab of silicone glue on the bottom of a glass gem and then gently press the gem onto a cut-out circle so that the printed alphabet letter shows through the glass.  Gently wipe the gem’s edges on the newspaper workspace to remove any excess glue.  Allow the gems to dry upside down.
That's it!  Go have some fun with your alphabet games.

-Gina Weibel, M.S.
* Musical AlphaGems was first seen at www.colorinmypiano.com

Monday, February 23, 2015

We Value PLAY

Children Learn Through PLAY
It's March, and if you live in a snowy place you might be feeling the effects of cavin fever by now.  Your family needs to have some fun and movement- the good news is you'll get it this week in Let's Play Music class!

 At Let's Play Music, we value PLAY.  We believe that fun, spontaneous experiences heighten enjoyment and create magical discoveries.

Play is how children figure things out; play is HOW they learn.  Fred Rogers states it perfectly: "Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning.  But for children, play is serious learning.  Play is really the 'work' of childhood."

Four Reasons to Play

Kids learn best when they're playing, but why?  Here are my top four reasons with an explanation of how you'll see play shape our classes.

1. Play gives children the opportunity to try out new ideas in a safe environment. When "it's just a game", a student has freedom from evaluation and judgement. During games, it's easy to embrace mistakes with a laugh, because they are a built-in expectation.  (Read the post on the learning process to see why embracing mistakes is so necessary!) 

I think of many games, like Frog in the Middle. I am secretly giving students practice finding and matching a beat, aurally identifying melodic patterns, and matching and singing pitches. The students love this "practicing" because it's so silly! They are excited to take a turn showing off their dance.  They don't worry about performance tests, but they DO strive to master their moves and hand signs so the game will be better each week.

Every LPM game has a secret agenda, but to avoid damping the fun, I don't tell students about it during class. (Watch for next month's post on being sneaky.)

It makes sense that all of us are willing to try new things when we're unafraid of punishment for not being perfect.  In making music, we have to start somewhere, and it's far from perfection.

2. During play, children practice human values: cooperation, sharing, turn-taking, and conflict resolution. I recently heard a lecture from a child psychologist who would gauge these skills by timing how long children could sustain a group game.  One child would invent parameters for the play, "Let's play house", but others would inevitably add suggestions, "no, superheroes!" When the children could compromise, resolve conflicts, and be flexible, then they could keep the game going instead of giving up ("mom! we're bored!") or losing participants ("forget it! I'm not playing with you!"). Play time is an opportunity to practice interacting with others. "Okay, let's be a superhero family and we can pretend to go on a trip."  

By now you've caught on that Let's Play Music classes are about more than just teaching your child to do something.  Let's Play Music is about teaching your child to become something.  Our game-oriented class gives opportunities to practice these skills.

When I play the games like Circle Left, with my class, they work because everyone participates in making the circle rotate.  I offer each student a turn to decide how we will march/fly/skip/dance.  I remember one class when a student flopped to the floor during a game, upset about some offense.  Another classmate also stepped out of the game and gently went to him. "Oh, are you sad? Will you come back to the game? We would all like if you come be part of our circle. Will you come with me?"  My heart swelled as Sylvi reached out to her classmate. Her focus on considering everyone showed that she was practicing these skills.

3. The child at play is self-motivated and actively engaged.  Too-common are the stories from adults who took a few piano lessons as kids but for some reason didn't stick with it. Was practicing drudgery? Were lessons like a lecture? Were you wondering when it was going to start being fun? Did you wish going to lessons was as fun as going to Let's Play Music!?

I know your child will practice every day if it's part of your daily routine, and if he's looking forward to a weekly prize, or if he knows he doesn't get screen time until it's done.  Each of these extrinsic motivators has a definite place for establishing the practice habit early on, but what will happen when you take those motivations away someday? (I, for one, am planning on having my kids move out someday.)  

Our long-term goal is to help students discover the fun and joy and playfulness that can be found in making music, so they will eventually be self-motivated, intrinsically-motivated, to continue with practice and music studies when they graduate. Yes, making music takes focus, effort, and WORK (so does mastering the final level of Super Mario Bros). This brings us back to the fuzzy line between work and play: when your child can find the PLAY within the WORK, he'll have the motivation to stick with the training.

We don't pretend music-making is not hard work, but we do find every opportunity to highlight the silly and fun potential.  The process of finding joy in the work of music is sometimes a long, slow, road. So we keep our eye on the goal and make sure to help students recognize the joy whenever we can.

4. Play provides opportunities for fine and gross motor development. This truth applies to all of the playtime activities your child enjoys.  I'm thinking about the countless hours my own daughter spends dressing and undressing her baby dolls: definitely lots of fine motor practice there!

Moving around doesn't just improve motor skills; mounting scientific evidence from neuropsychologists and neurophysiologists teaches us that movement is crucial to learning.  Experiential, active instruction is most likely to lead to long-term memory of new concepts.  Playing a game in which you run to the magnet board, add your skip or baby step, and dash back to your seat helps you internalize the concept more strongly than if your teacher just showed it to you.

Not surprisingly, physiological stress reactions can negatively affect learning.  When your mind is in "playtime" mode, you are physiologically relaxed and ready to learn at your best.  Physical movement helps the brain perceive events and information in a non-stressful way so is learned more easily. Teaching via physical games is a winning strategy we use in Let's Play Music class!

Stages of Play

Finallly, one more big difference between Let's Play Music and other options is our group class format.  Parents sometimes wonder if their child would be better off with a private teacher right from the beginning.  Now that we know children learn through play, classes are formatted to accommodate the style of learning and playing at this age, and that translates into playing with friends.  
How do children play at each age?

Ages 0-2 : Solitary Play: Plays alone, starts to interact with adults. 

Ages 2-2.5: Spectator: Observes other children and copies them, enjoys repetitive motions.

Ages 2.5-3: Parallel: Plays along-side other children (not necessarily with them), copies actions of other adults and children. Play is imaginative.

Ages 3-4: Associative: Starts to develop cooperative play, starts to develop friendships, shows interest in 'why' and 'how' things are done during play.

Ages 4.5-6: Cooperative: Thrives in small-group play, enjoys cooperative games, enjoys learning and applying rules and demonstrating mastery.

When music theory is taught via silly group games, our students are set up for success.  Learning with a group of 5 friends is easier and more engaging for them than having a teacher one-on-one.

The Results are In

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has identified the importance of playful learning in supporting children's development.  They also note the importance of joyfulness in learning- not typically assessed as an outcome of programs, but identified for its importance. When children find something fun, they learn more effectively.

If you are excited about PLAY and its role in your child's education, be sure to register for Let's Play Music classes, and then perhaps enjoy some additional reading:

The Power Of Play: Learning what Comes Naturally, by David Elkind.
Smart Moves, Why Learning is Not All in Your Head Carla Hannaford 
Play=Learning: How Play Motivates and Enhances Children's Cognitive Growth, Dorothy Singer.
Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Stuart Brown
A Moving Child is a Learning Child, Gill Connell
Playful Learning: Develop Your Child's Sense of Joy, Mariah Bruehl.


Stay tuned as we focus on one of our CORE VALUES each month. Our classes are patterned and structured differently from other programs; you'll understand why as we explain what we value.

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

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Monsters: A Double Fun Puppet Show with Prokofiev

Now that we're into our third year of classical music studies, the music gets a little trickier.  In the 'Monsters' puppet show (Dance of the Knights, AKA Montagues and Capulets, from the ballet Romeo and Juliet,  Prokofiev), there are always TWO themes running simultaneously. DOUBLE FUN.

Double Your Fun Again!
I have a fun double-scoop surprise to enhance your enjoyment of the Monsters show every day.  First, we've got some silly story lyrics to help you sing and remember the parts.   Then, for the second scoop of fun, you'll get to see seven stylistic versions, with music for each day of the week.  In one week, this will be your new favorite piece.   

Meet the Characters
My own children decided there needed to be a reason for these monsters to be hanging out together.  We decided they are all roommates, living together in a big house (like perhaps a LPM fraternity at Monsters University, yes it's good 'ol Lambda Pi Mu.) Echoing these melodic themes with voice is easiest when we add some fun words to sing, so we gave each of these characters a theme song.

Note: Even if you love singing the lyrics, make sure that you also allow everyone plenty of chances to just listen and audiate along to the music.  We don't want singing to overshadow the skill of careful listening.

Ogre:  This big, slow, guy is the only member of the house who makes a chore chart.  He simply sings "Left, Right, Left, Right" as he stomps around the house inspecting to make sure there are no messes.  He looks grouchy because he hates finding crumbs on the floor and dirty laundry in the hall. His best friend is Montague the Dragon; in fact, Ogre only comes out to sing if he knows Dragon will be singing, too.

Montague the Dragon: With a famous name like Montague, he wants to make sure everyone knows it. He sings, "Montague the Dragon, I am Montague the Dragon.  And I like flying high, yes I like flying HI-GH.  I can blow fi-re, yes, I can blow fire!"As protector of the house, Montague flies around outside to see if anyone is coming, and keep them out if they're not friendly.

Crocodile: Croc wanders about the house looking for something to eat.  He's always hungry, like some real college students I know, and all he can afford is Ramen.  He sings: "SNAP and chomp and SNAP and chomp and SNAP my teeth!"  It's fun to use your hands like a crocodile mouth to clap on each 'SNAP'. Someone get this guy a pizza!

Ghost: Ghost is the jock of the house, working toward a degree in kinesthesiology.  Right now he's doing a project to see how many pull-ups he can do.  He sings, "Up and Down and Up and Down and Up and Down and..."  We all noticed that he is fantastically fast at doing pull-ups, but that's probably because he doesn't weigh anything. Hope that doesn't mess up his data.

Capulet the Frankenstein: Capulet is the president of the fraternity, and it's no wonder; he is super friendly!  Anytime anyone comes to the house, he welcomes them and escorts them up the grand front staircase (the music sounds like he's stiffly marching up stairs, right?).  He sings, "Hello, friend, I will walk you up the stairs, I like walking up and walking down, I'm Capulet the Frankenstein."  First you'll hear him walk up and down the stairs with Ghost, then with Montague the Dragon, and later on with Skeleton.  He has more friends than any other character!

Skeleton: Skeleton is a quiet, shy, member of the house. His theme is hard to hear because he's so shy compared to someone as outgoing and loud as Capulet the Frankenstein, and Capulet is the only one friendly enough to draw Skeleton out (is there anyone softspoken in your LPM class?).  He tiptoes around, trying not to be noticed as he sings, "Bones are quiet, Bones on tiptoe, Bones are quiet, Bones on tiptoe, Bones are quiet, Bones are shy."  Since each 4 notes have an up-down pattern, I imagine Skeleton huddling down into his shoulders, then extending his neck up, and then dropping back down.  So, he's got an up-down head motion as he sneaks around.

Fall DownThis is not a character, but you hear the distinct sound of Capulet the Frankenstein and Skeleton falling down.  I am pretty sure that Skeleton was skulking around as usual, and Capulet accidentally tripped on him (he does have rather stiff legs) and they both fell down those grand stairs!

Now to really get these melodies in your mind, I put together this little video.  Each theme plays alone so you can isolate it and get it in your mind before going on to hear them layered together. (Youtube hates me right now...I'm working on getting a better video)

Monsters Every Day
Now you're ready to put it all together.  Grab your Orange Roots Manual and flip to the map in the back.  Follow along with your puppets and manual as you listen to each of these variations and soon you'll have no problem discerning each theme.  

When Prokofiev wrote this music, many of these styles had not been invented yet.  People love this passionate music and have fun experimenting with changing how it sounds.  Let's Play Music classes are helping our students understand how they can change chord voicings and rhythms to create different styles. Hooray for the power to understand and make music your own!

Sunday: I just bet the orchestral version, from the ballroom scene of Romeo and Juliet, will make you curious to read the Shakespearean play and watch the full ballet.  This music is used to create a dark atmosphere; you can just tell the Montagues and Capulets are going to get in some trouble.

Monday: This piano version will inspire you to learn to play this piece, no doubt.  Here is a pdf of the simplified themes I printed above…so there's nothing stopping you from getting started today playing those (and it will knock the socks off your LPM teacher!)

Tuesday: This stylized rendition will get your toes tappin'!

Wednesday: This guitar cover (here) will give you great ideas for self-accompaniment.

Thursday: The full-scale metal rock version (here) will make you feel like you've been out partying in the middle of the week. 

Friday: The dubstep remix version (here) will surely get you dancing like a robot.  

Saturday: Grab your controller and invite Mario and Luigi to battle to the video game music version (here).

Sergei Prokofiev, 1891-1953
Prokofiev was born in eastern Ukraine. His mother, Maria, had devoted her life to music.  When Sergei was young, she would go to Moscow for 2 months each year to study piano (don't you feel lucky that your LPM teacher lives near you?).  

Sergei was inspired by hearing his mother practice the works of Chopin and Beethoven in the evenings. She helped him learn to play and she transcribed his first composition when he was five. Maria would have been a great LPM parent or teacher!

Sergei didn't slow down; he kept taking lessons, composed an opera at age 9, and was ready to write a symphony by age 11.  Of course by then he had other teachers besides Mom.  Sergei went and studied music at the St Petersburg Conservatory in 1904; that means he was only 13 and much younger than most of the other students.  

When it comes to musical rules, he was a real musical rebel. His compositions sounded original and had a sound unlike other composers.  He became well-known as the composer-performer with his own style.  Some people hated his "futuristic" music, but other listeners thought it was clever.  This month, our LPM students are writing their own music; as teachers we'll guide them to add enough structure to make the song work, but the real decisions are theirs.  If some listeners don't like my student's piece, I console the child, telling him that Prokofiev heard it a few times, too!

In 1914, Sergei entered a piano composition contest.  The prize was a Schreder grand piano. He won the prize by playing his Piano Concerto 1. All across the continent, our young composers are wondering if their song will be considered for the Let's Play Music National Composition Contest that we run each spring.  I do hope your piece does well…but I am sorry to say there is no grand piano as a prize. :(  

Prokofiev was Russian, but as an adult lived in the USA and Europe for many years before finally settling in Moscow with his family.  It was in Moscow, 1936, that he wrote his famous piece for children, Peter and the Wolf. It is definitely worth your while to hear the music that he wrote to introduce children to the voices of the instruments.  In my family, we listen to a CD version each time we take a road trip (is Spring Break coming up for you!?)

In 1940 Romeo and Juliet was finally staged for ballet.  The Moscow dancers had a really tough time with the syncopated rhythms and almost boycotted the music because it was just too tricky.  It's a good thing they decided to try dancing to it, because the show was an instant success.  I hope YOU don't give up on listening to this puppet show, because it could become one of your favorites just as it has become one of mine.

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

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Celeste Stott: Music and the Karate Kid

Celeste Stott: Creating Musicians in Montana
Hi, Everyone!  I am Celeste Stott from Choteau, Montana.  I live at the base of the Rocky Mountains.  We have a cattle ranch about 20 minutes from a tiny town of 1800 people.  Choteau is amazing: the people value music education and make sacrifices to participate.  My studio is unique because I teach in my generous in-law’s home so that my clients do not have to travel quite so far.
I have been married almost 22 years and have 4 children: 2 boys and 2 girls.  I love to scrapbook, sing, play the piano, play the violin and dance.  I love taking pictures of the Rocky Mountain Front, especially on horseback.  My favorite pictures I take are of my children.  I love to cook and bake for others.  A few of my bucket list items are to go hang gliding, play the cello and the harp.  
My sister introduced me to Let’s Play Music in 2005.  When I talked to her on the phone, I would hear my very young nieces and nephews playing advanced piano pieces.  This program called to me and I knew I wanted it for my own children, too.  I saved my pennies and trained in 2008 and started teaching 4 classes. I was thrilled to have had such a supportive response from my music-loving community. My 3 oldest children had the privilege to graduate from my first group of students and have continued in piano, singing and playing other various instruments.  
A Blessing to Children in the Area
I trained to become a Sound Beginnings teacher with the first group to train in 2012.  What a gift this program has been to my studio and children in this area. I am thrilled every day to see the benefits of learning during the music-learning window.  There is no substitute for teaching ear-training during this window of time when young children are most sensitive to it. My daughter is in her second year of Sound Beginnings and loves it. I could tell when she was a tiny baby that she had already learned a great deal about her voice and music.  I am convinced that all my teaching and singing during her pregnancy formed permanent hard wiring in her brain for music aptitude.  She truly was a little mocking bird, matching my pitch as early as 5 months old! This was phenomenal to witness!  I am blessed to see this happen for other children every day.  

My True Passion
From the time I was tiny, I knew I wanted to be a teacher. I am thrilled to have found my true passion: teaching music to children.  Children are my favorite people ever and they are pure joy to have in my life.  They are why I do what I do.  My love of music and my conviction of the importance of children learning music is the second reason I teach Let’s Play Music and Sound Beginnings. I have taught piano and violin for over 20 years to anyone who wanted to learn and am blessed to have these two programs that have taken my teaching to a new level.
Music for 'The Karate Kid'
I love how Let’s Play Music teaches music with music, uses as many senses as possible, uses the full body, by “experiencing” music first and it is all done through play!  I am blown away at how in a matter of 24 nonconsecutive months, children are playing in 5 different keys, composing, transposing, improvising, and have a knowledge of chords and their structure!  I love how sneaky we are about teaching theory in a fun way! 

I had a parent compare LPM to “The Karate Kid".  Mr. Miyagi was training Daniel-san in Karate when Daniel only thought he was painting a fence and waxing a car.  This parent was expressing that the things LPM teaches are preparing children to be a whole musician, one step at a time, even if they don’t understand how it will all come together.  I am able to see how these tiny steps have made a difference in my violin and private piano students that have become complete musicians in Let’s Play Music as a primer to further study.  It makes all the difference in the world!
The most rewarding part of teaching Let’s Play Music is that I get to be a part of sharing my love of music with another person.  I know music will be my student’s life-long friend and will help all of their cognitive learning.  
Pay It Forward

My vision is for my students is for them to love music and share it with others.  Talk about paying it forward!  That is my dream….to make the world better by sharing the gift of music!  I hope my students will leave my studio equipped with confidence, a great self-esteem, concrete musical skills and a desire to continue to compose and play music forever.  I adore every one of my students and I am grateful to have them a part of my week!  Their unconditional love, cute stories and things they say and enthusiasm are priceless to me.
-Celeste Stott, LPM Teacher

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

We Value The Learning Process

February Value: Learning 
At Let's Play Music, We Value the Learning Process.  We value the entire process of learning, including acknowledging mistakes, having courage to try, and embracing opportunities to increase confidence.

A Happy Musician
One reason you chose Let's Play Music for your child's first musical adventure is because you want him to come to love music; you know that love is going to motivate him for years to come!  Students (hey, and parents too) will inevitably hit a moment when you may hear yourself saying: "I'm not doing it right! I'm not good at this! I just can't get this right!" But here at LPM, we embrace that not doing it right and making mistakes are vital steps in the process of learning! The struggle is part of the process, and the process doesn't make us sad!  

Four Stages of Learning
Having an awareness of the stages of learning is one vital step in remaining happy even in the tough times.  When they hit you, you won't be surprised; you'll be able to get through it, maybe even with a smile!

1. Unconscious Incompetence: "I'm unaware that I don't know how to do this." This is the stage of Blissful Ignorance. Your youngster taps on the bells and doodles on the piano and he thinks he's awesome! And he is! (Don't' spoil it).

2. Conscious Incompetence: "I realize I don't know how to do this, yet." This is the hardest stage, so please use compassion.  Your child has now seen other pianists and realized he can't play like that.  Or his LPM teacher has introduced some new playing skills and he realizes, this is tricky!   This stage causes many musicians to give up- but not you! You'll say, "I knew that this would happen, and it's okay! I know we're normal for experiencing this. I know we can get through it." 

By the way, how are your recent New Year's resolutions coming!?  This phase of learning catches most folks by such surprise that they give up their resolutions!  "Be strong! Keep working at it and I know you can get it.  It's okay that you aren't good at this, yet.  You are being brave to try this- I know it's scary right now.  Everyone who IS good at this was once in your shoes and had just as much trouble.  You're on the right track, and this is part of the process…it's a hard part, but we just gotta take it slow and get through it!"  

Yes, Mom and Dad, this is my pep-talk for you and your resolutions (or perhaps your commitment to parenting through LPM), and it's the same type of pep-talk you'll want to deliver to your musician when they get stuck in this step of the learning process.

3. Conscious Competence: "I know that I know how to do this." By now your musician has improved at the skill he's working on, but he still has to think about it; it's still a little uncomfortable, it still takes awareness. Nevertheless, success!  Watch out, because many musicians are tempted to stop here.  "Yeah, I know I can learn to play songs with some effort…but should I learn another one already?"  The only way to get from competence to mastery is practice, practice, practice.  Don't stop learning.

4. Unconscious Competence: "Well of course I know how to do that."  Right now your Yellow Arrows child sweats bullets trying to get his left hand to make a Yellow chord.  Imagine when he's a graduate of Orange Roots: he'll be able to sight-read music composed of the 3 main chords with ease.  And imagine LPM grads in high school…well of course they can play those chords without a thought.  It has become automatic: that's mastery!  Now you can add this task in your next pep-talk, "Remember when you first learned to play chords? It was hard! But you stuck with it. Now as you're learning to (insert new task), you have to go through the process again. I've seen you do it before! You'll get it if you don't give up."

We value the learning process at every step along the pathway to mastery.

Modes of Learning
At Let's Play Music, we respect what educational psychology and neuropsychology have to tell us about how children experience the learning process.  The fact is, teaching with a multi-sensory approach stimulates and enhances the entire learning process. The four broad modes of learning are visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic.  Children often have a preferred learning mode, but can improve at learning via other modes with practice.  LPM gives them that opportunity with activities in each mode that complement each other.

In our classes, we'll use the magnetic staff, puppets, and hand signs (visual), singing, ear-training, echoing and listening (auditory), strumming, keyboarding, tapping, clapping and hand signs (tactile), and dancing, moving, skipping, jumping, stomping and conducting (kinesthetic) to teach!  

Research also tells us that play is the first form of learning, and enhances learning and motivates students. Watch for our next post all about play.

We value the learning process in every mode.

Product vs. Process
Observable change is a product of learning.  If learning were defined as nothing more than the product, our classrooms would operate very differently. We would ensure that every child could play a set of piano songs amazingly and perfectly. Period.  

At Let's Play Music, learning is a process. It is the act of acquiring new knowledge, skills, and values, building upon what we already know. Learning is more than just a collection of facts and songs mastered. 

Because each student enters with a different background knowledge and strengths, each child will have a unique experience. When we pass off songs in class, each student may have a different competency level- LPM is designed for that!  Assessment is for encouraging growth and improvement, not for comparing one student to another (this is particularly important to remember when siblings are in class together!).   Especially in composing, students are able to individually choose what they find meaningful and are interested in doing.

We value the learning process as an individual experience for each student.

A Three Year Process

We value meaningful learning: when a learned concept is fully understood to the extent that it relates to other knowledge.  Meaningful learning implies a comprehensive knowledge of the context of the facts learned. The LPM curriculum is intentionally sequential: skills move from simple to complex, building on what is already known, allowing students to construct the meaning.

I often say that experience precedes learning with musical concepts: students experience input, THEN form conclusions, THEN create a reference.  For example, students learn to audiate note patterns with mastery before learning the symbolic association (reading notes on the staff.) See our post on note-reading. 

Every concept is repeated and reinforced before we eventually label it. Much labeling (think about note naming, rhythm terminology, and chord numbering) comes in year three, after students have internalized the meaning and use of the concepts.  

It is important to complete the entire three-year program, so the experiences the child encountered can translate into solid musical understanding as he is guided in building connections.  The specific activities planned for each class over three years were carefully scheduled to provide a tidy conclusion to the basic concepts developed.

We value the time, repetition, and experience needed to allow for meaningful learning.

Stay tuned as we focus on one of our CORE VALUES each month. Our classes are patterned and structured differently from other programs; you'll understand why as we explain what we value.

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