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!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Lindsey Judd: The First Teacher Has Impact

In the bustling suburbs of Chicago, IL, Let's Play Music is blooming in the studio of veteran teacher, Lindsey Judd.  Lindsey currently teaches Sound Beginnings,  Let's Play Music, private piano, and voice lessons: not a light load for a mom with a newborn (her 5th child) just arrived in 2014!

I Knew I Would Teach Someday

Let's Play Music students begin our program at age five.  That makes perfect sense to Lindsey; that's when she began lessons, too. Even back then, she felt the premonition that she, too, might one day become a music teacher.  "I think teaching was 'in me' from the start because all throughout my years of lessons, I took mental notes of what my teachers did: things I loved and things I didn't love. Now I'm finally incorporating all of what I've gleaned."

The First Teacher Has Impact

Lindsey told me about her first teaching gig.  "When I was fifteen, a family at church asked me to teach piano lessons to their two daughters. In one moment I was both honored and terrified! I remember sitting in the school cafeteria at lunchtime, a few hours before our first lesson together, feeling the weight of being the first one to introduce these girls to piano.  I knew that as a first teacher, I could shape their entire piano experience."  

Fortunately that first experience went very well and that first family (with 7 children) kept Lindsey as a teacher for them all.  She identified, early on, an important truth we hold dear at Let's Play Music: A child's first experience with music must be fun, playful, and loving.  The environment and attitude around the first experience determines much about the many years to follow for a young musician!

Just an example of the fun you might find in Lindsey's class: Baby Natalie made a guest appearance this week, in the role of Bunny as the students played 'Bunny's Birdhouse' on their keyboards.

Give Them Success 

Not all of Lindsey's early lessons were so successful. One very young student, petite and adorable, struggled with finger strength.  "She wanted to learn to play so badly! Her yearning was tangible.  It broke my heart to see her small, weak hands struggle to push the keys, week after week.  She eventually stopped lessons because it was too frustrating.  Years later, when I found the Let's Play Music curriculum, I remembered this student and wished I could have introduced her to LPM! It would have enabled her passion to flourish without the discouragement from having little fingers.  It breaks my heart to think that any child might associate music with disappointment. Let's Play Music was designed for student's to have the maximum positive musical experience, and I'm grateful for it."

We Teach Music...and Life Skills

Balancing a music studio and five young children isn't easy.  Lindsey let me know that Let's Play Music isn't just the job; it's helping her with the mothering! She says, "Teaching the LPM curriculum helped me rediscover the fun, spontaneous side of myself that got a little rundown in motherhood.  We now implement LPM methods in our home; for example, we create songs for routines, like our jazzy original tune 'Socks, shoes, coats and here we go!'. I can hum a few notes from this , my kids echo it back, and know what to do."

Lindsey hopes to share this love of music with her students- not just being able to read and perform music, but to use it in daily living, love it, and play with music at every opportunity. She told me, "Our lives have become a musical!  We burst into song when we are happy, and again when we're so frustrated that singing seems a better outlet than shouting." 

"Making up songs has become our family norm; on one trip home from the store, three children spontaneously starting singing to their crying baby sister to soothe her... in parts! Each separate, spontaneous lullaby was sweet, melodic, and rhythmically interesting, layered on the siblings' sweet voices.  The Let's Play Music curriculum isn't just helping these children with pitch and theory, they're also learning coping skills; they're also armed with music as a source of strength to use when life gets tough."

"These memories are the moments I hold on to and come back to when practicing seems hard or teaching lessons feels inconvenient." 

Lindsey holds a BFA in Music Dance Theater from Brigham Young University.  You can visit her studio website here or her classes in Skokie, IL.  It was a great pleasure to get to know her better!

- Gina Weibel, M.S. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Yankee Doodle Comes to LPM Class!

History of Yankee Doodle

"Yankee Doodle" was first sung as a ditty used by the British to mock the rag-tag, disheveled American soldiers.  Yankee began as a negative term to identify Americans.  The word itself might possibly have begun as a Native American mispronunciation of "English," resulting in "Yengeesh."  Doodle is an old word for a fool or simpleton.  Macaroni  was not pasta but a term for a man dressed in a ridiculous style.  So, this is a song about a rag-tag simpleton who thinks he is fancy even when he is ridiculous!

Ironically, this song was adopted and adored by early Americans proud to be identified as Yankees.  It has even become the official state song of Connecticut! Just as Yankees took control of the British during the Revolution, they also took command of this song and sang it proudly as an anthem to tease their foes.  

Lyrics and Tune

Lyrics were written in 1755 by an English doctor, Dr. Shackburg during the French and Indian War to describe those ramshackle colonists fighting alongside the well-dressed British soldiers.  Because the tune was popular and easy to remember (it's a turn on the nursery rhyme tune Lucy Locket), new versions of lyrics were written during the American Revolution and the Civil War. Of course the South sang lyrics mocking the North, and the vice versa. The song has over 190 versions from different dates.

The song was revived in 1904 by George M. Cohan with "Yankee Doodle Boy", providing the verses most of us are familiar with. You can hear them here.  John Philip Sousa was so fond of the tune that he used it in many of his works.

Since the lyrics to this melody have been written and rewritten many times for inumerable uses, let's write some Yankee Doodle verses  just for Let's Play Music! If you and your child come up with additional LPM verses, please add them in the comments!

Yankee Doodle went to class
Singin' a soprano
He played the harp, he played the bells
And then he played piano.

*Chorus* Yankee Doodle Do Mi Re,
Yankee Here We Go Now
Mind the solfeg and the chords
and sing Sol La Ti Do, Oh!

A Red Balloon went up up up
as Yankee Doodle watched it.
When it came down the Major scale
He reached right up and caught it!

Yankee Doodle sang on pitch
He knew that 'Do is  Ho-ome'
He always followed Echo Ed
and never sang alo-ne.

Bill Grogan's goat was eating shirts
All down his throat they'd go-
He coughed one up and stopped a train
With just Sol La Ti Do-o!

Yankee Doodle had two pets
in little turtle she-lls,
seconds, thirds, and fourths and fifths,
he learned them very we-ll!

Yankee Doodle found the root
Of each and every chord
He harmonized I, IV, and V
And rarely needed more!

Why Use Folk Music?

True folk tunes withstand the test of time.  If Yankee Doodle had poor melodic or rhythmic qualities, it would not have been recreated over 190 times and passed down through generations of oral history.  These simple tunes have excellent, simple structure for students to study when developing an understanding of musical composition and theory or experimenting with playing styles as we do in Orange semester. Even the greatest composers began with a foundation in folk music.

And in terms of your musical foundation, hold on to your Orange book because there are many ways to progress as a musician as you play with Yankee Doodle.  Here are some ideas to help you progress, especially if you'd like to keep practicing into summer to complete them all:

Easy: Play block chords as written and sing the melody.

Nice: Play 2-handed marching style chords and sing the meldoy.

Double Nice: Play 2-handed marching style while your friend plays the RH melody an octave above, then switch roles.
 Fantastic: Play the melody with RH and block chords with LH.

Superstar: Play the melody with RH and play marching LH chords. 

Tricky: In some of my lyrics above I refer to Ti Sol La Ti Do Do as the last two measures of the song, which is a very common ending for this tune. In your Orange songbook, another common variation (Ti Ti La Ti Do Do) is written; it's easier for you to play since you won't have to move your RH in a great jump to get down to Sol.  If you would like to play the Sol La Ti Do ending, give it a try!

Brilliant: Now that you know how to examine a song, figure out the chords, and play them in 2-handed marching style, try it with the song Hurry Hurry Drive the Firetruck from your Green songbook. You still have your Green book, right!? First use careful listening to decide which chords are needed for each measure.  Use half notes, just like we did in Yankee Doodle. (Here's a hint: you will only need red and yellow chords.)  Then proceed through all the levels of mastery as listed above. Tip: when playing measure 4 RH, use fingering 1 2 1 'pop'2.  You'll have to really reach that 2 finger over to the G.  If you have a younger sibling in Let's Play Music, s/he is really going to love playing a duet with you on this song.

Have fun and post your additional lyrics to share in the comments!
- Gina Weibel, M.S.

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Monday, November 3, 2014

Katie Wilson: From Hating Lessons to Loving Music

Katie Wilson, M.S.

This week, I had the pleasure to get to know Let's Play Music and Sound Beginnings teacher, Katie Wilson.  Katie has been teaching in Midlothian, Virginia since 2012 and currently has 6 classes each week as well as several private piano students.

In addition to Let's Play Music teaching, Katie is the founder and co-director of the Young Midlothian Singers (a community children's choir for ages 7-13), founded in 2011.  She has also performed in adult choirs in both Washington DC and Richmond. 

Hated Lessons!?

Although Katie has been involved in music and performing for most of her life,  it wasn't always as joyful for her as it is today.  Katie says, "I took piano lessons as a child and hated almost every minute of it!  I loved when I could play songs that I chose and when I had a teacher who let me improvise and have fun." Too bad that was not the norm.

In retrospect, she wishes there had been Let's Play Music classes to nurture her when she was a child, encourage her composing and improvisation, and focus on learning to love the music she could create.  As an adult, she eventually returned to playing piano and composing and says, "I wish I had taken lessons longer and practiced more as a child."  

Most Important: Learn to Love It

Not surprisingly, Katie's dream for her students it to learn to LOVE music "whether they stick with piano or not."  She says, "My Let's Play Music classes give them the tools for understanding music and the confidence to pursue any musical avenue that appeals to them. I want music to be a part of their lives and their children's lives for generations to come!"  Katie has discovered that by teaching a love and understanding of music, not just the technical performance of it, her students get what she never quite achieved in her early lessons.

How Different Could It Be?

Midlothian is quite isolated from other Let's Play Music studios.  How did it make it's way into that area?  Katie explained that her best friend and mother of 4 Let's Play Music students gushed about how AMAZING the curriculum was and insisted that Katie should start teaching in her area.  "I was like, 'sure, yeah right, how different could it be from everything else out there?'"  As her friends children continued through the program, year-by-year, she continued to remind Katie that she NEEDED to become a teacher.

"I would say, 'yes, it sounds great' and then ignore her.  After years of nagging, I finally watched the demo video (watch here) on the website and was immediately hooked."

Katie has a Master's degree in developmental/ child psychology and learning theory.  She could see from the start how Let's Play Music was theoretically sound, with lessons building on each other and material presented in an age-appropriate way.  "On top of it all, it is SO FUN! I get to be crazy and silly and still teach sound foundational music theory. What could be better?"  She had finally found the program she'd wished for as a child, and applied that very week.

Teaching the Sneaky Way

Now Katie says the thing she loves most about teaching is being SNEAKY.  "I love that the students learn fun songs and don't realize how much theory is jam-packed into them. I also like to see the surprised look on parents' faces, especially very musical parents, when they see how cleverly we introduce tricky concepts."  Her clients were delighted when she used the feather and bulls-eye to demonstrate changing the rhythm of quarter notes to dotted-quarter and eighth notes, in a memorable, fun, and precise way.

When she's not teaching, Katie's four children are her greatest passion.  She homeschooled three of them up until high school, and still has a 5th grader at home.  She has successfully nurtured a love of music, theater, and performing in all of them, and says, "I spend a LOT of time in the car driving to and from rehearsals and shows. Keeping up with schedules is tricky as a single mom, but I love seeing them do things they are passionate about."

I had a great time getting to know Katie and hope you'll check out her classes if you happen to be in Virginia!

-Gina Weibel, M.S.

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Monday, October 20, 2014

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

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

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

History of Three Blind Mice

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

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

Why Do We Sing Nursery Rhymes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Little More Mi-Re-Do

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

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

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

-Gina Weibel, M.S.

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Monday, October 6, 2014

Finger Strength Achieved Through FUN!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Gina Weibel, M.S.