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 to read about our CORE VALUES as we share them each month.
-Gina Weibel, M.S.
Let's Play Music Teacher

Friday, January 16, 2015

Jen Ellsworth: Hello, Minnesota!

Meet Ms. Jen:
Hello from chilly Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania! My name is Jennifer Ellsworth but all of my students call me Ms. Jen. I have been teaching private violin and piano lessons since 1995 but was blown away when I stumbled upon the Let's Play Music curriculum. I just HAD to be a part of it so I trained to teach in 2008 and then brought the exciting program with me here to Pittsburgh. I LOVE it! While teaching Let's Play Music is a big part of my life, my favorite job is being a mom to my three boys and baby girl. They are the reason that I started teaching Let's Play Music and my heart swells each time I hear them perform on their cellos together because of the foundation they received through this amazing program.

Advanced Theory…Through Play!

I was thrilled when I discovered that the Let's Play Music program was theory based. Back when I was first learning violin and piano I had little exposure to theory and was intimidated when I participated in heavy theory courses in college. 
When I saw what level of understanding that these five and six year old children were accomplishing in such a short time I was astounded and knew that my own children NEEDED this knowledge to help them in their future musical endeavors. 
 Not only were these children learning advanced theory concepts, but they were doing it through PLAY, the best way for a young child to learn! Without even seeing a class in action I registered to become a Let's Play Music teacher and have had a blast since then. It is truly the BEST program for children have a solid musical foundation...and it's just plain fun!

Delightful Surprises:

I think that the Let's Play Music curriculum does an amazing job at teaching difficult concepts in a fun and engaging way. But there is always a way for me to spice things up and keep it interesting! In Orange Roots my class might get to jam on "Cadence Blues" with a live electric bass guitar and drums. Or instead of playing the M&M's game to practice staff notes we toss velcro balls at a foam staff and guess the note it lands on. Maybe in Green Turtle Shells you will see a live performance of "Spring Bees" on my violin. You might have the real cowboy "Winston" show up to sing about his trusty Old Paint in Blue Bugs. Whatever we do I try to make it fun so the children remember it and apply it to their practicing at home.

Enrichment that Lasts a Lifetime

I hope that as I teach the children in my studio that not only will they grasp the conceptual part of the program but that they will develop a love for music and and the enrichment that it provides for the rest of their lives. I hope that after they finish their time with me that they can feel empowered to continue their musical journey and turn that spark of excitement into a passion for the music they create. One of my favorite things is receiving emails or letters from former students (now in college!) telling me that what I taught them at the beginning has fueled their desire to continue excelling in music and given them a love for what they create and share with others. That is a teacher's dream (or at least mine, anyway!).

- Jen Ellsworth, B.A.
Let's Play Music Teacher
2011 National Visonary Teacher Award

**In addition to her Let's Play Music and Sound Beginnings certifications, Ms. Jen has training in Suzuki and traditional violin and piano methods as well as a B.A. in Elementary Education from Arizona State University.
To see her local classes in action or to sign up for a class with Ms. Jen in her new location of Rochester, Minnesota (starting fall 2015), visit the blog (www.lpmjenniferellsworth.blogspot.com).  We love seeing Let's Play Music spread to more and more states every year!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Orange Roots and Bamboo Shoots

If your child is in the third year of Let's Play Music, your family is beginning the final semester: Orange Roots.  At a recent symposium, Let's Play Music creator Shelle Soelberg shared with me her process for choosing the semester icon, Orange Roots.  
It's Always Been About Making Musicians

By this final semester, Soelberg hoped parents would now have the years of experience to understand what creating a musician encompasses, to comprehend exactly what it takes, and then have a glorious moment to bask in the satisfaction of the achievement.  How could that all be conveyed in a semester name?

By now, Mom and Dad, your child has attended at least seventy-five classes: 3,675 minutes of classroom instruction.  You've found babysitters for siblings so you could be in class on parent week.  You've arranged schedules and meal-times and errands so your child could get to all seventy-five classes on time.  You set up a daily practice plan and played with your child and assisted in hundreds of hours of practice.  You helped with homework.  You may have even laminated ten complete sets of puppets!

And now something wonderful and exciting is finally happening: your child is learning some serious music theory, performing some fantastic songs, and even composing and transcribing her own music. Finally, your bamboo has sprouted!

The "Bamboo Lesson"

Shelle shared the popular motivational allegory , the "Bamboo Lesson" with me, and it makes perfect sense that this final semester should be a celebration of roots.  Before I share my version of the allegory with you... I invite you to watch this fantastic stop-film of a bamboo as it grows one meter per day!

There once was a music parent who felt discouraged.
Her child had been attending Red Balloon music lessons, 
but it didn't look like her daughter was becoming a great musician.
She began to lose hope, so she went to speak to the LPM teacher.

The teacher said, 
"Come, watch this fantastic stop-frame film of a bamboo tree growing."
Together they watched one day of growth.
The sprout rose from the ground and grew three feet.
Over the next several days it continued to explode upward.
At the end of six weeks, the bamboo was ninety feet tall.

Then he teacher asked, 
"So, how long did it take for the bamboo to grow to that impressive height?"
"Six Weeks!" the parent excitedly replied.
"Ah.  This interpretation will definitely set a person up for disappointment," 
said the teacher. 

 You see, this bamboo was grown from a seed:
Shortly after  planting, a tiny and fragile seedling appeared.
For a year, the grower watered and tended the seedling in a heated greenhouse, 
but the seedling did not appear to change. 

For a second year, the sensitive seedling was kept warm.
The farmer carefully watered and fertilized it.
Still it appeared unchanged.

For a third year, the seedling was kept in the greenhouse and carefully tended.
Finally, it was robust and stable enough to transplant outdoors.
For the fourth, fifth, and sixth years, the seedling was tended.
Each spring, a few new shoots appeared.  
Each spring, the shoots grew a bit taller, and a bit stronger.

In the seventh year, during the wet spring, new shoots sprang up.
They grew three impressive feet in the first day!
After six weeks, they reached 90 feet tall.  
It took seven years for the bamboo to develop, unseen, 
the strength to produce the 90 foot shoots.

What was happening during all those years when there was no visible growth?
Underneath the ground, out of sight,
a  network of roots was developing to support the bamboo's sudden growth.
If at any time the grower had stopped fertilizing and tending the bamboo
there would be no amazing performance in the seventh year.

Growth takes patience and perseverance.
Every practice session counts.
You might not see the change right away, but growth is happening!
During the entire Let's Play Music program, 
your child is developing an enormous network of roots.
Your child is growing a musical foundation that will support future years of practice.
Your child's roots will support amazing performance!

How Deep Are the Roots?

In Let's Play Music, we train students with a wide range of skills for musicianship; creating a foundation like musical roots that will support the fantastic growth that comes in this final year and for many years to come. In every aspect of music learning in the program, we grew the foundational skills first. This is the way to cultivate more than a students who can play piano...but students who are musicians.

For all these years, Mom and Dad, you watered and nurtured your bamboo and didn't give up!  When the teacher was asking your child to audiate, and you had no idea what she was really hearing in her mind; it was like trusting that roots were growing unseen below the ground.   All the time spent on listening to the chords, perfecting the hand shapes for playing, and singing cadences may have left you thinking, "Why doesn't my child just play something amazing already, and stop with these games!?"  Well, that bamboo would have missed out developing a critical foundation without those games.

But NOW you WILL really start to see the evidence of that watering and pruning and care: students who understand how music is put together and are ready to write their own songs.  Students who can talk about notes and rhythms using the correct terminology, and play correctly with correct counting.  Students who can harmonize a song (add chords to a melody) or hear chord progressions in music, and transpose it to other kids.  Students who ARE real musicians!

The "Chord Root" Lesson

The story of the bamboo forests and the importance of building a solid foundation (roots) is not the only reason we have Orange Roots as a semester name.

Students are now ready to learn how to build chords upon a root note.  You'll be learning this at Orange Lesson 5, but in case you get home and it's become a blur, let me run it by you one more time.

I. Choose Any Note.  We'll start the lesson by building a chord with three notes: a triad. (P.S. There's a song on your CD to teach you every triad.) You can choose ANY line or space note on the staff to begin; let's choose F for our example.

II. Add a Third and a Fifth.  You'll remember from our interval lessons that a third is also known as a skip.  So, a skip up from F is A.  A fifth up from F is C.  The top note is the "fifth", the middle note is the "third".  What special name do we have for the bottom note?  The ROOT! It's on the bottom, just like plant roots, and beautiful sounds grow out of it, just like beautiful flowers grow from roots.   

III. What shape do you see? Our chord is definitely looking like a snowman-shape.  It looks like a snowman because there are no gaps between the notes; they are all stacked up nice and neat.  We call this snowman-shape the ROOT POSITION.  Root position is super handy because it is super easy to identify the root: it's simply the guy on the bottom.  Since it's the root that gives a chord it's name, this is an F chord.

IV. Inversions. The reason this is an F chord is because it has F, A and C.  Even if those notes were in a different order, it would still be an F chord!  Let's try it...what if the F (root) were played on the TOP instead of the bottom? Gosh...now this chord has a very yellowy, bottom-heavy shape. We call this shape the FIRST INVERSION.  Well, drat, now when we look at something with this shape, how will we ever quickly identify the root?  The note above the gap's the root, it just has rearranged.  So...the root is STILL F. This is still an F CHORD.

V. Take it all the way.  That was fun, moving the F to the top.  Let's move the A to the top, too.  Well, now this thing has a very top-heavy, blue shape and we'll call it the SECOND INVERSION.  Even though it's a new shape, the note above the gap is STILL F, and this is still an F chord.  

Challenge Question: You just saw the F chord, and even though it was always the F chord (the root never changed), it was drawn with the shapes of what are commonly used for Red, Blue and Yellow chords.  So which one is it?  Now that you're in Orange Roots, it's time to learn that the SHAPE does not define the chord as red, blue or yellow.  It is the NOTES that define the chord.  In the key of C, an F chord is the BLUE chord (aka the IV chord because F is the 4th step up from C.)

Why Did We Do That?!

Now that you're a master of looking at these chords and finding the roots, you'll go through old songbooks and notice that our Red, Blue, and Yellow chords in the key of C are C chord, F chord, and G chord.  On page 1, you'll be playing the Primary Roots Song so you can see just how much jumping around your hand will have to do in order to play these 3 chords in root position all the time.  Jump your hand to C position, then F position, then G position! Whew!  (Mom and Dad, take the time to learn to play this song...it is not too tricky and teaches a great lesson.)  

With the blessed use of inversions, we can play the Primary Chord Song with the Red chord in root position, the Blue in second inversion, and the Yellow chord in first inversion.  You have mastered the hand shapes required to do these chord structures and you'll be able to play all 3 chords without having to move your hand away from C position.  Well, that is super helpful!

So, congratulations and welcome to ORANGE ROOTS! Our amazing musicians are really starting to shine now.

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

** Yes, folks, I changed the original bamboo lesson a bit because it didn't line up very well with the science of bamboo growth. In the original story, no shoot comes above ground for several years, and the very first shoot to ever come up achieves maximum growth rate and height.  In reality, it likely takes 15 years for a rhizome to mature enough to send up a culm of maximum height, and growing from seed is not a great idea (in part because bamboo flowers as rarely as every 50 years).  Bamboo is fascinating (read more), so I didn't want to propagate (pun intended) false data about it, but I do love a good parable when I hear one.  

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Learning to Read Music

Before I heard of Let's Play Music, I had already taught my dear little four-year-old son how to read.  Wow! That kid sure did (and still does) love reading books.

I had spent months at the library investigating different methods for teaching reading, searching for the one that would work for my family.  The reading method we eventually fell in love with had a few key facets that made it a huge win for my son (and all subsequent siblings).  

A short time later, a Let's Play Music teacher moved into our neighborhood and my little son began to take classes and learn to read music.  I was so ASTONISHED when I heard the theories behind the Let's Play Music method for teaching musical reading, I nearly fell out of my chair!  They were parallel to important truths I had found while teaching my son to read books.


1. Get Some Exposure

Not surprisingly, I taught my son to read books in his native tongue, not Spanish or any other language.  The work of decoding text is tricky, but the motivating drive is that when the laborious work of sounding out letters is done, the text is going to mean something that makes sense.  Since his infancy, I'd also been reading him story books and pointing out words to him.  By age three he'd had a thousand books read to him; when I proposed having him read the books himself, he had a good understanding of what that would mean.

If we went to music lessons as adults, we might expect to show up, have the logistics of note-reading explained to us, and get down to the business of hammering out tunes.  Before our little children can digest such a blunt approach to reading, they need exposure to melodies and tonalities and patterns that they will soon be reading, so that these melodies can mean something.

In my recent post on ear-training for perfect pitch, I discussed how a student can, with practice, be able to mentally "hear" the music as she reads notes on the staff.  The first step on the path to such excellence is practice hearing, singing in tune, and internalizing a large collection of musical tunes and patterns that represent the language of music.  Much of the work during Year 1 of Let's Play Music is designed to expose children to the language and patterns of music.  These activities in class are an important accompaniment to note-reading, so the students will find meaning as they decode, since they'll be decoding a language they know.

2. Learn How Notes Work

I taught my children the sounds that alphabet letters make and the sounds that the consonant clusters make before focusing on the names of the letters. Eventually it's important to know the letter names (an abstract concept) so we can talk about letters and discuss spelling and do intellectual things like that.  But when one is actually reading, he's not thinking about the names of those things...he is just focused on what they mean and how they work as a tool.  Letters are just tools that represent sounds; you don't need to know a whisk is called a whisk in order to make meringue!

In Let's Play Music class, our students are starting to read on the staff in Year 1 and they don't even know ANY NOTE NAMES on the staff.  Shocking? Not at all.  Your kiddo can become a pretty good note-reader by paying attention to the patterns of notes as they baby step and skip, up and down.  Being able to correctly and easily move from one note to the the next is the essence of reading music.  A student must quickly process the relationships between notes in order to read music; the student focuses on how the notes move and relate and work as tool BEFORE focusing on abstract ideas like names for notes.

Stepping and skipping patterns are the first relationships students recognize and perform.  The next fantastic tool will be the ability to quickly recognize intervals between notes, a huge focus in Year 2 (read more about intervals here and here). 

3. Learn some Common Patterns

In the English language, there are a bundle of common words that don't make phonetic sense to a four-year-old.  The word SAID is one of the first sight words my son learned by rote.  Once he had this word in his memory bank, he could effortlessly read it and flow easily past it, spending more effort on the tricky new words in stories.  Even phonetic words, once they are read many times, begin to meld into single items (instead of individual letters) in our fantastic brains.  We don't see the letters anymore- we see the WORD as a whole chunk.

Similar to the English language, the language of music also has some very common "words".  These musical chunks, or melodic patterns, show up ALL THE TIME in music.  The Let's Play Music program introduces the most common melodic patterns (mi-re-do, sol-fa-mi-re-do, sol-la-ti-do, sol-sol-do, sol-mi-do) as if they are sight words. Experienced students will read three or four notes as a cluster of notes; they quickly internalize the pattern represented and play it as a "word" instead of individual notes.  This ability stems from both mental repetition and muscle memory from playing these patterns and handshapes frequently (blog post on muscle memory).

A skilled pianist can sight-read music (play through something brand new) by quickly finding relationships and by looking at "chunks" of notes at once.  During measures of music with unusual patterns, he'll have to slow down and carefully pick out the notes.  Is it amazing to read music without being fully focused on each individual note? Not more amazing than how your brain interprets this entire sentence of English text, only slowing down when it comes to an unusual word, like abecedarian.

3. Learn some Anchor Notes

So, midway through Year 1, your student can play melodies of steps and skips correctly, but it only comes out as intended if the student begins on the correct note!  Every note on the staff represents exactly one white or black key on the keyboard; it's critical to find THAT ONE KEY.

It's not necessary to painstakingly match note-to-key for every single note of the piece if the student can accurately work through the rest of the song by following patterns of steps and intervals.  It will be necessary, for him to learn to check at the beginning of each "chunk" he reads to be sure he's in the right place.

Before teaching all the notes on the staff, Let's Play Music teachers introduce some anchor notes. In Year 2, students learn Middle B,C,D, Treble C, and Bass C, and quickly match between the staff and keyboard.  As they play piano, they check for accuracy of the first note in a "chunk", then play the remaining notes based on patterning.  This is very evident in the second year song How to Skip; the student identifies the first note of each measure, then plays skips up and down to complete the measure.

Anchor notes are these first notes on the staff that the student unfailingly matches to the correct key on the keyboard.  Any note now can be paired to its key by considering the relationship to the anchor ("Oh, I see the key I need is one skip above Middle C, and I know where Middle C is!").  Thinking in this intervallic way is not only a quick way to find the keys, but an excellent way to mentally internalize the distance between notes while your hand is likewise memorizing the physical distance.

4. Find Any Key

By Year 3 of Let's Play Music, your child will be ready to transpose (move Do somewhere other than C), ready to play complex pieces, and ready to build triads and chord inversions.  It's finally and absolutely necessary that we be able to intellectually talk about the notes. The mnemonic song Treble, Bass, Line and Space helps students remember the note names represented by each line and space on the staff. I call this note-spelling since the names are alphabet letters. Teachers will quiz students to be sure they can quickly identify these note names; students will need to do this in order to understand the theory of Year 3.

I sometimes see a division in Year 3 between students who can sight-read music well and those who cannot, and the fast note-spellers are NOT always the best sight-readers.   Fast note-spellers are sometimes tempted to name every note, then match to every key of the song while playing.  Note-spelling has its place in reading: to identify the first note of each "chunk"The rest of the music should be read by looking for patterns.

5. Start With Success

A huge element that I love about our reading program is the way my children experience immediate success.  Most English words are not perfectly phonetic, but we learned a way to write them so they could be decoded phonetically: put a line above a vowel if it is a long vowel, draw a letter tiny if it doesn't actually make a sound, glue two letters together if they make a cluster sound, etc.  My son felt FANTASTIC when he was able to immediately start reading real content.  He still had a short list of practice words each day, but there was no reason to wait for months before letting him read real stories with meaning.  Intrinsic motivation was high! He could see that he was really reading, and he wanted to keep at it, and he read daily because he loved it.  

After a few months, the helpful hints and modifications to words were taken away- but by then he had internalized the many wacky phonetic rules of English and could still read the words, and correctly infer how to read new ones. Success!

In Let's Play Music, students begin keyboarding by playing chords.  They are still practicing daily at reading and playing melodies, but we want them to have immediate success at the piano, too!  By playing accompanying chords while singing the melodies, the student creates the harmony and the complexity of real music! There is no reason to wait months before playing something that sounds full and rich and big and exciting.  

I remember my own early piano lessons with my primer-level book.  For months I languished with small-sounding tunes, dreaming of one day playing some real songs. Nowadays, my students get the joy of success early on, and it motivates them to strive for music success, even long after they graduate from Let's Play Music.

6. In Loving Arms

I didn't mind teaching my son (and eventually his siblings) to read.  It was a commitment, for sure, but it meant that every day I would hold him snuggled in my lap for 15 minutes.  We made up silly games to get through the practice words and we had curious discussions about the silly stories he read. I shared with him my joy at seeing his progress and told him I would always welcome hearing him read me a story.  We took turns reading passages, and reading was our special time together.

Is it any surprise that reading music can be a similar experience for a child?  If you, Mom and Dad, don't read music yourself, take this opportunity to learn along with your child during your Let's Play Music years.  Sit at the bells or keyboard together and play duets, take turns reading melodies, and make up songs together.  Much of the long-term success of this early music education is wrapped up in your child's emotional experience with learning music.  

If I'm asked why the Let's Play Method of teaching note-reading really works, I can get right down to it and answer, "because the children feel loved." The Let's Play Music program was carefully crafted to help your child learn music AND hopefully help you build a strong, loving family at the same time.

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

EDITOR'S NOTE: I didn't set out to write a commercial for my favorite reading method, but I truly have loved using Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons and you can buy the book used for $5! Just to be clear, I have no evidence that other LPM teachers endorse this method. If you'd like to discuss it with me, leave comments below.  My favorite method for handwriting is Handwriting Without Tears, and of course my favorite method for music is Let's Play Music!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Hoedown with Aaron Copland

Our second year students are getting in the cowboy groove with composer, Aaron Copland.

Aaron Copland
Two features set Copland apart from other composers we learn about in Let's Play Music: he was an American, and he lived very recently (1900-1990).  It was very important to Copland to help define a style of classical music that was truly American.  The U.S.A. is relatively young, so most of the classical music being performed when Copland was a student sounded old and sounded like it came from Europe.  Well, most of the classical music we still listen to in Let's Play Music does come from Europe!

In a television interview (WATCH HERE), Copland was asked, "why can't you write (music) in the (same styles from the)  past?"  He answered, "It wouldn't be natural! Why should we limit ourselves? We have rhythms that Chopin never thought of.  We have a wider range; a more complex, more dissonant language....the language of music has really advanced with the times."

An American Style

Copland, raised in New York, witnessed the rise and popularity of jazz music.   Jazz was genuinely American music.  He knew Americans could learn to learn to love classical music as much as they loved jazz, and he wanted them to have a type of classical music of their own.  So, he incorporated musical elements from jazz and folk music to compose classical music that was all-American. He believed it was possible to interest more Americans in classical music by writing something just for them. The piece we study,  Hoedown, from the ballet, Rodeo, is a perfect example of an exciting and sophisticated classical piece derived from folk tunes (cowboy songs).

Ballet, Radio, Movies, and More
Copland lived during a time when photographs, radio, and movies were invented and became common.  He saw that it was important to write music that people wanted to use in new formats.

 In a 1935 radio interview (listen here), he was asked, "How would you describe your music today?" and Copland answered, "I wouldn't want to describe it, because I might limit it. I think of it as different kinds of music for different reasons and purposes and media, and I hope it sounds like ME despite its variety."

Indeed, he did compose for different media: ballets (ie Billy the Kid, Rodeo, Appalacian Spring) and movies (Of Mice and Men, Our Town, Heiress) as well as classical concerts (like Third Symphony, Clarinet Concerto).  He wrote music to be incorporated into popular venues, and in doing so reached a very wide audience.  You can even see Aaron Copland, himself, conducting in this 1958 television series (watch here).

I like to challenge my Let's Play Music students to begin to notice the divers ways music is used and enjoyed in our modern society; perhaps one day these youngsters will emulate Copland's flexibility and write the music for concert halls, ballets, movies, television, commercials, cartoons, video games, and ipad apps! Next time you play a game on a phone or tablet, take a moment to notice the music; what do you think about it? Does it set the right mood for the game or scene? Would you like to write this kind of music?

Hoedown Ballet
A hoedown is a musical dancing party, featuring square dancing or country dances.  In class, our  cowboy and cowgirl puppets come together for a barn dance.  Copland wrote the music for a the ballet, Rodeo.  Although this clip is a little fuzzy and old, it's my favorite because I love the Baltimore Ballet choreography, and I love that they perform live with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

Hoedown Animation
Here's a different type of video: this delightful animation from artist Eleanor Stewart is set to Hoedown. Similar to the cowboy puppets we use in class for each theme, her characters are set for each theme in the music.  You'll see them repeat as the musical sections repeat.  This animation also shows the written musical score: the pages and pages of musical notes musicians read from as they play.  Let's Play Music students will enjoy hearing themes presented in this different type of puppet show.

Hoedown from Rodeo from Eleanor Stewart on Vimeo.

So How Do You Compose A Song?
Aaron Copland wrote music in a style that was new, and he wrote music to be used in new ways.  In the biography, Aaron Copland: The Life and Work of an Uncommon Man,  he shares a bit about his own creative process.

"Somehow, suddenly, a musical idea occurs to you; either a whole phrase, or three notes, or a series of chords, something that seems pregnant with possibilities for development. Once you have the kinds of ideas that fascinate you, you're no longer in a position to decide the nature of the animal. It's going to take its essence from the musical ideas that occur to you.... Some musical ideas are too short, they don't seem long enough to carry you through ten minutes of music, so you have to start searching about for other ideas; contrasting ones that seem to fit with the original ones."

Take it from Copland: there are are many ways to begin a song.  Even if you only have a few notes that make a tune you like, or a few chords that progress in a cool way, it is enough to begin. When your student begins composing in Year 3 of Let's Play Music, encourage him to tinker and find the small bits of sound and melody that become the seeds of a composition.  It doesn't take much!

You Can Go To The Hoedown!
A hoedown is usually not for ballet dancers- it's a party regular folks. At the end of the day, the farmer puts his HOE DOWN and goes in form some music and merrymaking.  Are you sad that wild west cowboy days and barn dancing days are long past?

Well, I have great news for you: you can still attend a hoedown in your area (Click Here to Find One)! The type of dancing will be contra dancing (similar to square dancing), and the music is usually folk and bluegrass played by fiddles and banjos and piano.  The caller will teach you a few dance steps, then call them out as the music is played.  You'll learn quickly because the same few steps will be repeated many times during the song.  The caller will teach you a new pattern for the next song. 

Can young people attend contra dances? You bet! Generally the pace is a bit too quick for the four-year-olds to learn the steps, so they end up clapping on the sidelines, but if you attend a family dance, they'll have a few simpler songs to make sure everyone gets to dance (check with your local group). Tweens and teens will easily master the steps, and I have seen several children as young as seven participating just fine, too.  I hope you'll feel adventurous enough to go on a family outing and to a dance in your area.

Put Your Hoe Down and Dance
Now that you've seen some Hoedown ballet and some contra dancing, why not make up your own moves to Hoedown to dance with your family?

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

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Becky Johnson: Young Children Learn Through Experience

Meet LPM Teacher, Becky Johnson
I’m located in Shawnee, Kansas—a suburb of Kansas City—and started teaching Let’s Play Music in January of 2010.  I currently teach 10 classes a week.  Looking back, I’ve always loved music.  I took piano lessons for 9 years—thank you Mom!!  And I sang in my high school choir and jazz choir.   I still sing with my church choir and have led children’s choirs for many years.  Funny that my college degree is Business Management with an emphasis in Information Systems!  

One of my other “jobs” is teaching Music & Movement at a preschool (not LPM curriculum).  I find it natural to draw a little person into singing and keep them engaged!  Who knew this was a talent someone could have!?

How did you find out about LPM?

A very persistent friend kept inviting my 2 oldest children to attend a Sample

Class.  After more than a year I finally agreed to go and was impressed most with the “Puppet Shows” as a way of introducing a love and understanding of classical music.  She showed me the 2nd and 3rd Year Songbooks/repertoire, and I LOVED that they started the kiddos playing chords first.  I signed-up and got several other kiddos signed-up as well!

Sadly, after 3 years she informed me that she would only be in the area for another 2 years—she was moving before my youngest daughter would be old enough to start LPM, and she was the only teacher for 500 miles!  I talked to my
children’s private piano teacher and she was already interested after seeing what my kids could do!  Score!  However, several months into teaching Let’s Play Music her husband changed jobs requiring they move 2 hours away.  She asked me if I would take over her classes and I was pretty excited!  I had been asking questions about the application process for several years and now 2 classes were just handed to me.  I’d been watching and participating in Let’s Play Music classes for 5 ½  years straight before I started teaching my own classes starting with the Blue Bug semester! 

What element of the curriculum do you love the most?

My absolute favorite LPM song is “Let’s Find the Root”, in the last semester.  It’s such a jazzy-funky song that always gets me grooving.  It was hysterical that when I was training to teach 3rd year I was asked to perform this song!  No one knew it was my fave.

Because I also teach at a preschool, I am required to take continuing educational classes that will help me be a more effective teacher.  These classes make me smile. They repeatedly validate the way we teach in Let’s Play Music! 

Research has shown that young children learn best through experience—by making their own choices and discoveries.  This means you engage all the senses to help them come to a particular conclusion.   I LOVE asking questions and leading them to hear/feel/see musical connections—that “ah-ha” moment is always very gratifying.  Let’s Play Music takes from the very best methodologies in both HOW we teach and WHAT we teach!  What a privilege to a part of a premium quality program.

What do you hope students get from your class?

I started doing this for my children and I continue because there are so many other children/families whose lives will be enriched.  My hope is for every student to know that I love them and that we had a TON of fun while they gained a love of music.  Of course, it would be a bonus to know that they continued on in music in some fashion—voice or instrument.

Sign up for a class with Becky, here!