Monday, September 22, 2014

Musical Superpower: Perfect Pitch!

Now your child is enrolled in Let's Play Music classes and you're getting excited about the long list of amazing skills that will be taught during 3 power-packed years.  One fantastic super-power you'll see signs of in your child is perfect pitch.

What is Perfect Pitch?
Perfect pitch is also referred to as absolute pitch (AP).  Pitch defines how high or low a tone sounds; a person with perfect pitch can identify the tone without hearing a reference.  For example, if you play a note on the piano without letting your child see, and he correctly exclaims, "That was a D," he's able to discern the pitch! Amazing!  If you ask him to sing a middle C and he can hit it exactly, he's demonstrating absolute pitch.

Children who speak a tonal language (one where pitch of voice is an important consideration, like most forms of Chinese) usually have an easier time developing perfect pitch, although the tonal languages rely on relative pitch (the change in pitch during speaking).   It is still possible and worthwhile to improve pitch skills for all young children. In fact, it is recognized that although anyone can improve AP skills, only those who start very young can truly gain Perfect Pitch. Read a bit more about it in this BBC article.

Why is it useful?
All varieties of pitch training are useful in helping your child become a complete musician, the focus of Let's Play Music.  With some absolute pitch skills, a musician can:

* Sing a song in a requested key.  
* Provide the starting note(s) for singers or musicians singing parts.
* Listen to a singer or other musician, determine what key they are in, and accompany them with appropriate chord progressions. This is especially helpful when you're at the piano during the Christmas party and Aunt Martha starts singing and she doesn't know what key she is in.
* Identify if stringed instruments are tuned properly. This is especially useful if you're sitting around the campfire without a pitch pipe iPhone app.
* Correct themselves while singing or playing an instrument, especially when sight-reading. Those with AP are amazing at playing new music. 
* Read musical scores in their minds. It really is like reading a book with a soundtrack!
* Master brass instruments or vocal music easily: the slight contractions of throat, oral, and lip muscles determine the pitch; only your ear will give you feedback as to whether you've hit the note exactly. Most musicians/singers without AP use a piano to check if they are hitting the correct note.
* Have success learning a tonal language as a second language.

What can we Do?
In Let's Play Music class, your teacher has specific games and activities designed to improve absolute pitch!  As your child sings "Do Is Home" using Middle C, she's practicing trying to find that pitch without reference, and learning to check herself.  You'll love seeing improvement by the end of the year.

I recommend you download a pitch pipe app or a keyboard app onto your phone, so you can recreate this type of activity at any time.  More practice leads to improved ability!  One family made it a habit to sing "We Are Here" every time they arrived at a destination in their car (checking the middle C pitch with an iPhone app.)  

It's also easy to play pitches on piano (or piano app) for you child and have him identify which note he hears.  To make it easier for my beginners, I use only white keys.

Don't Have Perfect Pitch?
Most Let's Play Music students will be able to sing a Middle C when requested.  Most will not develop complete perfect pitch.  Are we worried? No way!  

In addition to absolute pitch (AP), we will be training your child's ear for relative pitch, ability to identify chords by ear, ability to hear chord progressions, and ability to discern and identify rhythms by ear. Although a fun and desirable skill, very few famous musicians and composers have AP.  Let's Play Music class will prepare well-rounded musicians who have the ability to hear and understand music.

Shelle Soelberg, creator of Let's Play Music, knew that some solid practice in AP would benefit all young LPM students and set them on the road to acquiring true absolute pitch.  As each of her own children completed the program over the years, they were perfect at hitting Middle C along with other graduates.  With a bit more practice, four of her children acquired absolute pitch by age twelve!  Soelberg told me, "we made pitch practice a part of our daily habit….nothing structured, it just became a fun thing we all started doing.  The piano is near the kitchen, so during cooking, meals, and chores, it was natural to try to sing a pitch and go check, or play a pitch and quiz the family."

Whether or not you continue to practice AP games beyond the Let's Play Music years, your child will be blessed for life to have an ear a bit more sensitive to absolute pitches.

-Gina Weibel, M.S.

Related Posts:
Intervals are worth knowing
Ear-Training: Intervals with Turtle Tom and Tim

Monday, September 8, 2014

A new Twist on a Classic Game: Memory Sounds

I was recently on a 5-hour flight with my four-year-old, and we stayed busy the entire time.  I had packed her Memory game and her Let's Play Music tone bells amid other toys and books.  Together we invented "Memory Sounds," a way to play the Memory game using tone bells to strengthen both ear-training and memory.  If you have a new set of tone bells and are looking for another fun way to put them to use, read on!

Sound Memory
What you will need: A Memory game (check your local thrift shop- I got mine for $2), a set of Let's Play Music tone bells, and a curtain or binder or wall to hide the bells from the players/ listeners.

Set Up
You won't need all of the matching pairs from your Memory game.  At most you will need 8 pairs.  Set up a divider so your child can't see the bells.  Lay your bells from left to right, high to low: this seems backwards to YOU, but your child facing you will hear low sounds on HER LEFT and high sounds on HER RIGHT.  Next to each bell, choose two different pictures to represent that sound.  Finally, put the matches from all of those pictures into a "draw box".

The first time we played this game, we were in tight quarters on a plane (photos below).  I used a blanket draped between our seats as a barrier, and had the bells on my tray.  Since it was our first time and I wanted her to get confident with the game, I only used three pairs.  If your child struggles with hearing and matching sounds, just use a few pairs, and use tones that are NOT adjacent (not an interval of a second).  I used Do, Mi and Sol.

One-Player Game
The listener chooses two cards and holds them up so the musician can see them.  The musician states the picture and then plays the corresponding bell.  "Train...ding!  Banana...ding!"  If the two sounds match, the player makes a pair.  If they don't match, she tries a different combination of pictures.  Even when she hasn't made a match, she's practiced identifying if the sounds match! A valuable skill!

This game is fun and challenging for ANY family member, even recent Let's Play Music graduates.  I was impressed how quickly my 8-year-old LPM-grad made matches. (In the video below, we hadn't yet realized it's best to have the bells laid out high-left to low-right for the musician.)

Multi-Player Game
Each player takes a turn picking two pictures and listening to the sounds, hoping for a match.  Just like in regular Memory, players can gain advantage by paying attention to the combinations chosen by others.

Major Scale Strategy
It didn't take my kids long to come up with a helpful strategy!  Each time you guess two cards and hear the tones, set the cards on the floor in a line, placing the cards approximately as far apart as the tones sounded, with the higher sound to the right.  You'll visually be lining up the tones and helping them find mates.  At the end of the game, all of your pairs will be arranged in a Major Scale!  Remove the screen/ divider, and you'll be able to check that all of the matches were correct AND they are all in the correct order to make a major scale.

I hope you'll have some family fun game time playing this game as the musician or the listener.  Just for the record, the white noise on the airplane was so loud that the tinkle of our tone bells could hardly travel more than a few feet: no patrons were harassed in the making of this blog post.

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

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

3 Big Ways To Boost Your Child's Brain Using Music

Guest Post by Sharlene Habermeyer, author of Good Music Brighter Children

I'm Sharlene Habermeyer, mother of five boys and the author of Good Music Brighter Children and happy to be blogging for Let's Play Music today.   I have spent the last thirty years studying how music affects the brain and I’m convinced there is nothing like music to build a bigger, better brain for children and adults. Why? Because music is the ONLY thing we do that exercises the entire brain—left, right, front and back—simultaneously.

Bottom line: playing a musical instrument it is like giving the brain an aerobic workout accompanied by fireworks!

How does Let’s Play Music fit into all this brain-building activity? This program is so comprehensive in its musical scope that it builds the three areas of the brain most needed for learning: the auditory, the visual/spatial, and the motor cortices.  Let’s talk about each area and how it relates to learning…

Brain-builder #1: Music strengthens the auditory cortex and helps with reading and language…

Did you know that the auditory cortex of the brain is five times smaller than the visual cortex? So it is already established by the brain that we learn more quickly and easily by visually looking at something. But here’s the rub: when a child learns to read, they must use their ears first(auditory cortex) and their eyes second (visual cortex). Think back when you were learning to read. All those letters on the page looked like Greek and it wasn’t until your teacher said the word, and you used your ears, that you understood how to say the word. So the rule for reading is: ears first to hear the pronunciation of the word and eyes second to visually recognize the word. From various brain scans, scientists know that learning musical instrument strengthens all areas of the auditory cortex thereby making it easier for a child to read, tounderstand directions, and to process information in the classroom and elsewhere. It also reaches children who are learning disabled as all learning issues begin with auditory processingor not being able to understand what you hear.

The philosophies of Kodály and the music-teaching methodology that develops and strengthens the auditory cortex are integrated into Let's Play Music classes.  Kodály trains children to sing on pitch without the aid of an instrument. It’s called solfege (read more about it here)  and it takes practice! While singing, children also use hand signs to reinforce the learning. This training strengthens the auditory cortex thus making readingwriting and processing of information easier Aural or listening skills are learned when the child listens to the varying pitch, rhythm and harmony of a multitude of songs. Let's Play Music is an amazing brain-builder!

Brain-builder #2: Music strengthens the visual/spatial cortex and helps with math and science…

Music training also strengthens the visual/spatial areas of the brain. Spatial people solve problems in their minds-eye; they think in pictures; they understand higher forms of math and science and they are usually very creative (they dream in color while most people dream in black & white). Think about Albert Einstein whose visual/spatial areas of his brain were 25 percent larger than most people: he was an accomplished violinist and credits music with organizing his brain and helping him to solve intricate theories and problems. His friend said that Einstein used music for inspiration and that the answers to complex problems came to him in the midst of playing his violin. Studies show that when a child learns a musical instrument it primes, prepares, and develops the spatial areas of the brain in such a way that a child is able to understand science, technology, engineering and math more easily.

Brain-builder #3: Music strengthens the motor areas for brain organization and memory skills…

Learning a musical instrument and being engaged in music develops the motor areas of our brain—which are important for the development and organization of the entire neurological system. Let’s Play Music incorporates both the Orff-Shulwerk and Dalcroze teaching methods—both of which strengthen the motor areas of the brain.  Here’s how:

When a young child pounds on rhythm instrumentsclaps her hands, stamps her feet, snaps her fingers or marches around the room, these activities help organize the brain.  They help the child to remain focused and increase memorization skills. These types of rhythmic body movements introduced by Orff are practiced in Let's Play Music classes.

Dalcroze promotes the use of specific movements called eurhythmics.  Children move their bodies to the beat of the music and the body is trained like an instrument. Many different senses come together in the Dalcroze experience: seeing, hearing, feeling and moving.  Scientists agree that movement is an indispensable part of learning and thinking. Dancing and moving to the music, marching, singing, whistling melodies, humming tunes all boost a child’s language, listening and motor skills. They also help develop physical coordination, timing and memory.

So there you have it. If you want to build a bigger, better brain; one that functions at a higher level; one that helps children to read; increases language development; boosts memory; aids in the learning of math and science; and enhances motor skills—then start learning music. It will be the best thing you do for your brain—and your overall feeling of well-being! Plus, it is just plain fun!

My Book:
Here is a small sampling of what you find in my book to help you and your child on your musical journey:

* Why and how music builds a bigger, better brain.
* How to turn your home into a musical training center with ideas on musical games and activities for your children from utero through high school.
* Ideas to help the learning disabled child.
* How to choose an instrument and teacher, ideas to get kids to practice, and values learned from learning a musical instrument.
Resource Section: The book also has an extensive 50-page Resource Section that includes list of music to play when children are studying, lists of books and DVDs about music, music to use when teaching subjects such as animals, nature, the solar system, etc. and music for every stage of your child’s development.  Also on page 393 check out what I have to say about Let's Play Music!

The book is easy-to-read and loaded with examples and stories that will excite and motivate you to get you and your kids involved with music!

If you are interested, please visit my blog: www.goodmusicbrighterchildren  My book is available here.  

About Sharlene HabermeyerSharlene holds a Masters degree in Education from Pepperdine University, Malibu, California and a Bachelor’s degree in Art from Utah State University. She teaches college and in 1999, she started the Palos Verdes Regional Symphony Orchestra. It currently boasts over 100 musicians. She will be teaching at BYU Education Week August 18-22, 2014 (8:30am in the Harris Fine Arts Building, Madsen Auditorium)  

Please “like” me on Facebook:
You can access my Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and other blogs

Monday, June 30, 2014

2014 National Composition Contest Winners

The student confidently steps onto the stage, and announces his original composition.  He performs beautifully for the audience.  The parents, and certainly the teacher, are shocked to discover that three short years have flown past since he began Let's Play Music, and now he's graduating from the program as a viable musician.  Audience members gasp in delight and amazement to hear the creativity, knowledge, and feeling bursting from compositions by unassuming six-, seven-, and eight-year-olds.

This is a familiar scene every Spring at Let's Play Music studios nationwide.  The program helps students read and play piano music, but the more fantastic result of three very short years is a student body who understand the music, enjoy the music, and create their own music!

Today we share the performances from the 2014 National Composition Contest winners: students who made it clear that they understand and will forever be creators of music.  Winners were announced earlier in June at the National Let's Play Music Symposium for teachers.  1,264 young composers completed compositions in 2014.

Best Overall Composition: 
"The Wild Mustangs"Joshua, Age 7.  
Teacher: Heather Prusse, Arizona
"You should hear two horses racing. In the minor section, you should hear some horse bandits trying to get them, but the Mustangs get away." - Joshua

Most Original: "Secretariat" Paige, Age 8. 
Teacher: Laura Leavitt , Utah
 "You will hear horses hooves thumping on the ground." -Paige

Best ABA Form:  
"The Great White Shark" Noah, Age 7
Teacher: Marianne Barrowes, Utah
"The song helps you think about scary stories."- Noah

Best Use of Chords:  
"Ponies in Trouble" Kinsey, Age 6 
Teacher: Alicia Dansie, Utah

Best Melody: 
"Gypsy Air- Dani's Song"Kallyn, Age 9 
 Teacher: Janalee Fish, Arizona
"I wrote this tune for my little sister, Dani."- Kallyn

Honorable Mention: "Miracles"Grace, Age 7 
 Teacher: Cindy Read, Arizona

Honorable Mention: "Scottish Jig" Eli, Age 7.  Teacher: Annah Clark, Kansas

Honorable Mention:  
"I Love To Swim All The Time" Ashyln, Age 6 
Teacher: Lily Hight, Utah
"My B-section is minor, because it's when you have to get out of the pool." -Ashlyn

Honorable Mention:  
"Horse Family On The Range"Aundra, Age 6. Teacher: Celeste Stott, Montana
"My song is about me and my family chasing cows."-Aundra

Honorable Mention:
"The Best Day Ever" Charlie, Age 7.
Teacher: Jera Farnsworth, Arizona

If your student hasn't reached the third year yet, stick with Let's Play Music and you'll see all the foundational skills come together for some joyful musicianship.  If your child isn't in Let's Play Music, FIND A TEACHER near you: most are registering right now for classes that begin this fall!

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

Thursday, June 5, 2014

2014 Traveling T-Shirt Contest!

Share the Love!
It's summer again, and we want you to share your love of Let's Play Music with the whole world!  Wear your LPM shirt to the cool places you visit, and submit a photo to be entered.

* Post your photo onto our Facebook wall with a message telling us where you went, and who your LPM teacher is.  Did you tell anyone about Let's Play Music on your trip?

* Entry Deadline is Monday, September 1.

* One entry per STUDENT, please.  Parents can enter multiple times according to the number of students they have enrolled for 2014-15.  Students who just graduated in 2014 may also enter!

No Shirts at Home?
Don't have an LPM shirt? Don't travel much?  You can still enter by sharing the LPM love in your very own town.  Tell us your brief story about how YOU shared LPM with the world.

*Post a message to our Facebook wall or this blog with briefly telling readers how you shared Let's Play Music, and who your LPM teacher is.  It's not hard to let the world know what you love most about LPM!

Here's an example from yours truly:
At summer tennis class, another mom started chatting with me. 

Linda: "Are you signing Clementine up for the next session of tennis?"
Me: "Yes, we're all set.  How about Johnny?"
Linda: "Yep, he just loves tennis."
Me: "What about this fall- will he play sports or take music class or something?"
Linda: "We haven't planned anything yet."
Me: "Clementine's favorite after-school event is her Let's Play Music class. We just LOVE it. She'll be playing piano this year, so I'm totally excited.  Are you planning to have Johnny learn piano?"
Linda: "Well, eventually, probably. We haven't really looked into it yet."
Me: "I was kind of surprised to find out that this age is actually the key time to get started with music.  The class she is in takes advantage of how quickly 4 and 5 year olds learn ear-training, but they also learn to read music.  Our teacher is so fun."
Linda: "I should get the name of your teacher.  I bet he would like something like that."

Our friends at Easy Ear Training understand our passion for balancing all aspects of MUSICALITY in our young students.  Let's Play Music brilliantly incorporates ear training into our classes, along with note reading, sight-reading, singing, composition, music appreciation, piano skills, music theory, dictation, improvisation, and ensemble-playing.

We want to give you even more opportunities to master ear-training with your whole family, so Easy Ear Training has generously donated a GRAND PRIZE 5-book set of ear training books, (valued at $77).

Our SECOND WINNER will receive the  Ear Training Essentials e-book AND audiobook (valued at $30).

* Winners will be chosen in a random drawing from all entries.
* Be sure to enter by September 1, 2014.
* Go share your love of LPM!

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

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

It's Summer! Should We Practice?

The glorious days of summer are just around the corner.  It's time for swimming and camping and vacationing! How does piano practice fit into it all? As you decide how to help your student prepare for 3rd year, you have a spectrum of choices for handling summertime practice.  From the structure of daily practice to the ease of taking a serious long-term break, you can make a plan that fits your family's needs.

Option 1: Stick with Daily Practice
If your family has a groove going with practice and you would love to maintain daily practice and progress during the summer, you'll love having more of the structured practice and theory assignments that you've come to love.  Let's Play Music teacher, Jen Ellsworth, in St. Clair, Pennsylvania has put together a six-week summer practice program to help any student get bolstered for Purple Magic this fall.
Practice Packet

If you had a Yellow Arrows student that was less than confident with all of the repertoire learned this year, a summertime of continued (or improved?) practice can make a huge difference!  Three months is a long time for young minds and fingers; often, struggling students can  turn things around and enter Purple class full of confidence.

Option 2: Get Some Help
You love the idea of the first option: daily practice.  BUT, you know that your child (and yourself) are just not going to be motivated to get the practice done five times each week when you know full well that there is no fun lesson waiting for you.  Don't despair!

If you are especially lucky, your Let's Play Music teacher might even have time for a few private lessons in the summer.  Between her travels and yours, that might mean only 4 or 6 lessons, which is often plenty for a summer.

If your LPM teacher isn't teaching privates, summer could be a great time to start looking for the piano teacher you'll graduate to in one short year.  Check out our guide for interviewing piano teachers.  Explain that you'd like someone to help your child over the summer, you have a curriculum you'd like to follow (from above), and if all goes well you'll be back in a year to start up full time.

Many private teachers are looking to fill summer vacancies and will be happy to work with you, and you'll be happy to have a few weeks to test the relationship before signing on long-term next year.  Some teachers have a wait-list for taking permanent students; if you like this teacher, put your name down now for next year.

Option 3: Go To Disneyland!
Go to the family reunion.  Go camping.  Send the kids to a week of camp.  Do you feel like you are in and out all summer?  The summer packet has only SIX weeks of assignments, so it is expected that you'll be busy for a few weeks and just pick up when you get back.

If you decide to add the private lessons, you'll be relieved to know that students who attended as few as FOUR summertime private music lessons showed improvement and retained Yellow Arrow skills.  Practice the weeks you're in town, and don't worry about the rest.

Option 4: Take A Long Break
Perhaps your child is wanting some freedom to choose what she plays, and to wanting to practice as a recreational activity this summer.  Even if there are no formal practice sessions, we hope your child is starting to love making music and will go to the piano on her own (or with gentle suggestion) sometimes for fun and creation.  
As fall starts to approach, check in with your child to be sure she can still play the basic skills learned in Yellow Arrows and use our guide for crafting your own practice plan to refresh skills before class starts.

When your musician attends the first few weeks of Purple Magic, she'll feel happy and confident having mastered her chords, hand positions, and scales.  She'll be ready for the new fun skills and repertoire to come!

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