Monday, February 23, 2015

Children Learn Through PLAY

March Value: PLAY
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?

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 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 12 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

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 (  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? 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 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.