Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Traditional Piano Lessons VS Let's Play Music


Perhaps you're one of the many parents who decided long ago that piano lessons would be an important part of Junior's eduction. You may have assumed that he would take piano lessons, just like you did (30+ years ago).  

But NOW, lucky you, you've been introduced to Let's Play Music! This program   helps children get ready for, and transition into, piano lessons as they build musicianship skills.  Let's Play Music has been on the scene since 1998, so it's the relatively new kid on the musical pedagogy scene. 

So...should you sign up for 3-years of Let's Play Music foundational classes, or find a traditional piano teacher right now?  Let's compare!

Note-Reading and Keyboard Technique

When you think of piano lessons, you likely think of learning to read music by looking at notation, and learning to play the music correctly on the piano. These are definitely big parts of taking lessons, and I confirm that private piano teachers have tons of experience, skill, and ideas for helping youngsters master these skills.  No doubt that in private lessons, you will get lots of help with this!

So, how does Let's Play Music teach note reading?  In a very natural and nurturing way:  We begin with exposure to musical notation, then introduce how notes work in relationship to tones (steps, skips). We teach common melodic patterns and relate reading to singing. Students learn white keys and anchor notes when they need them. 
Read our 7 Steps for Music Reading Success here

And what about keyboard technique? Read our post to see that we help little fingers develop strength and form in a progressive way.  We will help your kiddo start to develop good piano skills, but be aware that Let's Play Music is not specifically a piano program. If finger dexterity and strength and technique drills are what you're most interested in right now, you'll actually be better served with an instrument-specific teacher! 

BUT  WAIT! If your child is 4-5 years old, I really really think you have years and years of future lessons to work on technique. Let's Play Music will not teach bad habits or "mess up" your child's technique, but there's something more important you need to worry about for this age group, so read on...

Musicianship

In my earlier post, Are Music Lessons Holding Me Back? I addressed the worrisome problem that some adults experience: they took lessons as a kid, learned to read and play a bit, but still came out after years of work believing that they don't really know anything about music.

One danger that sometimes arises in private lessons is an abundance of focus on notation and executive skills (reading music, accurately playing the music like we just mentioned) and not much balance with skills that are harder to measure: rhythmic, tonal, and creative skills.  

How can you become a musician who understands how to jam? A musician who can write songs and re-harmonize songs and transpose songs? A musician who can play but is also "talented" at improvising music? 

Dr. Chad West gives some advice for choosing your child's first musical experience. "In classes where a focus is on movement, singing, chanting, listening, and creating, students are developing 'readiness' for music that pays off in the long run. Audiating, matching pitch, and keeping steady time are skills that don't have flashy, quantifiable outcomes to measure right away, but parents and teachers who value these skills see that in the long run, students with these skills bring more meaning to the notation. These students understand and create music, not just read and play music."

Does a traditional piano lesson give a foundation for musicianship through movement, singing, chanting, listening and creating?  Let's Play Music sure does! Read a post about what we cover in class.

Playfulness
PLAY is one of the Core Values at Let's Play Music. Fred Rogers summed it up when he stated, "Play is often talked about as if it were relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the 'work' of childhood."

Read the post: We Value Play for four four big reasons play is critical for learning, and how we use play in our curriculum.

Does your traditional piano teacher offer the playful, silly, fun experience that children this age require? Just a heads up: I haven't met a 4-year-old who preferred sitting on a piano bench for 30 minutes over playing silly games for 45 minutes.

One reason private lessons struggle to achieve the environment we're looking for is because they're one-on-one. Research shows that group classes are a big part of creating a playful atmosphere where learning through trials can happen. Read our post to understand why, at this age, children learn best in groups. Let's Play Music has it!

Relationships

Another core value at Let's Play Music is: We Value Relationships. Read the full article to see how classes are built to encourage bonding between parents and children through an enriching, wholesome, and fun experience.  

In your first year, you'll attend class with your student every other week. In year two and three, you'll attend about once per month. 

You probably already know that with a very young musician, parent involvement is the key factor in making practice happen and helping students succeed. The same would be true with a private teacher, but the difference here will be that you, parent, will have an intimate hands-on participation as your child is learning. You will never wonder what new things she worked on this week, what her favorite songs to play are, or what her challenges are- you will know.

Years from now, your grown child won't focus on exactly which songs she could play at which young age. But the attitudes and feelings developed around her first musical experiences will set the stage for years of hard work to come. We believe that having parents and kids develop happy memories together around music is the way to achieve a true love of music. Let us help you do it.

For most parents, another fantastic bonus in Let's Play Music is learning music theory in a fun way, at an amazing level, and using it with ease right alongside their child. Ever wanted to transpose easily or compose and harmonize your own tunes? You'll get lessons for you as a freebie by attending with your student.

Long-Term Growth

My goal in this article is to convince you that partaking in 3 years of foundational Let's Play Music (you will love these 3 years) is your best way to ensure long-term musical progress. Read our spotlight on Truman Walker, an amazing young musician who started with Let's Play Music.

I don't want you to avoid private piano teachers forever; I actually love them and think you are going to find a fantastic private teacher to help your child soar after LPM graduation. We even have a transition plan, Connections, in place to help you succeed with your private teacher.

Piano teachers will love your child when she comes as a LPM graduate. She'll really be ready to take off with piano-specific teaching, and she'll have tons of musical know-how internalized by then.

For readers with a child who is 3-5, wondering "why should we even bother with  music lessons now...isn't he too young?" Please read my post on the many benefits of getting an early start (in an age-appropriate program).  

For readers with a child who has aged out of Let's Play Music (children must be 4-5 to enroll), this is a bummer! This specific pathway to musical excellence is currently unavailable, but the great news is that a new program for older  beginners (age 6-7) will be rolling out soon, so I will have fewer of you to console.


Whichever route you follow, Let's Play Music classes or private piano lessons now, I honestly believe you've made a great decision to give your child music education in her life. Thanks for being a positive force for something so important!

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













Thursday, March 16, 2017

Master The Pentatonic Scale

You probably have the basic gist of what a scale is.  We sing some notes and they go up, up, up. 

But when I start talking about pentatonic and diatonic and chromatic scales in class, people start wondering, "what the heck are those and why do we care?"


In this post, everyone (especially Sound Beginnings parents) can get excited about the pentatonic scale and improve their melody skills.  


A Scale With Every Note


You may hear mention of the chromatic scale.  (Chromatic means colorful.) This is a good one to start with because it means we play 12 semitone intervals, so 13 notes.  Play every single piano key, black and white, and that's the chromatic scale.  Voila!



C  C# D  D# E  F  F# G  G# A  A# B  C

On a piano, the 12 steps are evenly spaced, meaning the wavelength of the note changes by a consistent amount between each step.  You've played an octave when you play a note that has a wavelength twice the length from the note you began on, a 2:1 ratio. 

The chromatic scale is the fundamental set of notes from which scales can be built. It's not really musical, because it doesn't have a tonic, a home note.  


We love finding "Do is Home" in Let's Play Music, and being able to identify the home, or key note, in music we listen to. Music naturally pulls back to Do, so let's look at some scales that have a tonic note and work for writing melodies.

Scales Around the World


Thousands of years ago, peoples in different parts of the world discovered frequency ratios and pitch relationships.  By selecting 5-8 tones with relationships they liked, scales were created and used to make melodies.  Different cultures settled on varying scales, giving the music characteristic sounds.  


Note: Any of the following scales could be played in any key by creating the same pattern of skipping tones (with whole steps and half steps) to create the scale. 


The Diatonic Scale is our beloved Major Scale Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Ti-Do! Read more about it here. Western music since the Middle Ages on has been based on this scale. We spend most of our time in class learning about this scale. The steps go: whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half. Remember that trick and you can build a major scale on any note.



C  C# D  D# E  F  F# G  G# A  A# B  C

Here are the notes/intervals that make an Indian whole-tone scale, just one of the many scales that could be used in Indian music. Notice how evenly spaced the tones are...all whole steps, all the time. Here is some piano music using a whole tone scale. Sounds dreamy!



C  C# D  D# E  F  F# G  G# A  A# B  C

And a Hungarian Gypsy scale. Listen to it here...sounds like you would expect.



C  C# D  D# E  F  F# G  G# A  A# B  C

And an Arabic scale.... well, sort of. Arabic tone scales actually define wavelength intervals smaller than what we use (or have names for or piano keys for). When you're tuning your guitar and your note is a little too flat to be C but a little too sharp to be B, you're playing one of those Arabic notes that we usually pass over. Want to see how a guitar can make the microtones by adding extra frets? Pretty cool, and if you like getting sciencey with microtones, check out some computerized 53-microtone music.



C  C# D  D# E  F  F# G  G# A  A# B  C


The Blues Scale comes in super handy during our 3rd year of Let's Play Music when we get to play some piano blues! Write a new melody for your blues using these notes. Get some help learning Blues Scales here.



C  C# D  D# E  F  F# G  G# A  A# B  C


Pentatonic Scale Everywhere


The pentatonic scale, created by the  mathematician, Pythagoras, is rather special.   He started with a home/tonic note and added a perfect 5th. The 5th is an interval between two notes whose wavelength have a ratio 3:2. 


Take the notes you have, repeat the process again and get 2 more notes, or 5 all together: the pentatonic scale. These notes have nice clean ratio-relationships, so they harmonize nicely together.


By the way, repeat the process to get 2 more notes and create the diatonic scale. If you want to get a little nerdy, let Donald Duck take you on a tour of Pythagorean society in this classic educational cartoon about math.


The result is a five-note scale with the intervals most commonly used for music worldwideYou can find this scale in every musical culture.  There are loads of country, folk, jazz, and rock songs that contain just these 5 notes in the melody, but they are especially prevalent in children's songs.  

C  C# D  D# E  F  F# G  G# A  A# B  C
Do       Re      Mi         Sol     La          Do

Why so popular for children??  Because hearing and singing this small set of easily defined musical intervals is age-appropriate and prerequisite for more advanced melodies.  Pentatonic hearing and singing is foundational for children.  You'll notice in class we start by hearing, echoing, and singing the minor 3rd (sol-mi). 

Once children are hearing and reproducing it, Echo Ed sings patterns that contain la.  Then we add in do  and re as ear-training progresses to more complex tunes.  (Very last we add echoes with fa and ti...notes from the major scale)


Bobby McFerrin demonstrates how his audience has already internalized the pentatonic scale. Wherever he goes in the world, the audience 'gets' the pentatonic scale. The pentatonic scale is part of every musical culture!



  
Sing the Pentatonic

Here's a collection of songs built on the pentatonic scale. Many more of your favorite children's tunes fit into this category, too. 


Notice that the pentatonic scale avoids half step intervals. It seems easier to train your vocal chords to jump to the intervals without having to consider the half steps that occur in the major scale.

Pentatonic songs are great to teach to your child or any beginning singer. You'll recognize many from our Sound Beginnings classes (click links to hear these songs). There are thousands of pentatonic songs you would recognize, but here are a few:

Have fun singing with the pentatonic scale, and if you're interested, check out our blog series on Singing in Tune.
- Gina Weibel, M.S.
Let's Play Music teacher

Saturday, March 4, 2017

How Much Do Music Lessons Cost?



If you're a new parent, you're starting to find out that raising kids is expensive! Now that your darling is of the age for music classes, you might be asking yourself, "How much is this going to cost? Is it worth it?"

Happy Money

Before I tell you too much about music class cost, be aware that HOW you spend your money really CAN affect how happy you are!  In the book, Happy Money, Elizabeth Dunn explains that your spending can bring you great joy and satisfaction, especially if you:

* Focus on Experiences
* Make it a treat
* Buy Time
* Pay now, consume later
* Invest in others

When it comes to Let's Play Music and Sound Beginnings, these principles can really apply.

* Focus on the experience of being in class with your child and of practicing with your child. Take photos and videos of this special time in your lives. You're not buying a result. You're buying an experience. 

* Knowing that music class won't last forever might make you enjoy it more...lots of parents are sad when their family graduates. Sorry! This is a special treat that only lasts a little while. 

* You're buying quality musical playtime with your child, so really focus on playing/engaging with him during music class. Turn off your phone. This is special time together for you to bond.

* Pre-pay for the whole year up front. It takes away the sting of the payment, and helps you focus on your own well-being and enjoying the class.

* Invest in your child by giving them the gift of music lessons.

Bargain Hindsight is 20/20

I have had a few parents who hear our rates (a year of Let's Play Music in the USA is about $400-$450 per year) and break into a happy dance. If you do the math, that's like $15 per lesson. Our lessons are 45, 50, or 55 minutes long and are PACKED with carefully timed activities (so we work all the musicianship skills in every class.)

I found out these parents are so happy because they have older children who have already explored exciting activities and incurred the exciting costs.  In comparison to just about everything else you can get involved in, LPM is a BARGAIN.  Now that I have older kids, too, I look back and realize, yes! A BARGAIN!

Don't get scared, but you might expect to spend a lot on these activities:

* Private music lessons: $20-$50 per 30-minute lesson ($1,000+/ year) 
* Swim lessons: $10-$20 per 30-minute lesson  
* Swim team: $100-$200/month 
* Karate: $100-$150/month 
* Dance classes: $60- $200/month
* Soccer: $50/month
* Club Soccer: $100-$200/month
* Gymnastics: $15-$20/ class 
* Gymnastics, advanced: $150-$200/month

An Abundance Mindset

Oh dear. I hope I didn't scare you too much.  I like to focus on an abundance mindset.  Yes, I want my kids to learn to swim AND learn music AND learn a team sport AND get passing grades. How can we have enough time and money to make all of that happen for them? (My post on teaching abundance mindset)

The truth is, we usually can't have it all, all at once. But we CAN give our kids a lot of experiences over time.  

Which activities do YOU value most? 

Which need to be done NOW?

Important and Urgent: I decided to have my kids learn to swim up to a competent level as soon as possible, since I value it as a life and safety skill. Once they're competent, that frees up more time/money for other things.  (Bonus: I now have a teenager working as a lifeguard and earning $$ with those mad skills.)

Valuable, Less Urgent: I also decided that my four kids would not play club sports year-round, so that they could have time and money to try out different sports each season. (Year-round club sports are not only super expensive, but often lead to burn-out) With some sports and activities, I came to grips with the fact that no harm will come if my kids don't get to experience all activities, like downhill skiing, in their youth. It doesn't fit into our budget now, but I plan to have a great ski-learning trip with them when they are college age. (Update: when one of my sons was 13 and wanted to play club soccer, I let him make that choice and put other things on hold during that time.)

Valuable and Urgent: Finally, because I understand the importance of whole musicianship, the sensitivity of the young ear, and the importance of starting early (post), I decided that starting music now is urgent.  My children would all complete the 3-year Let's Play Music program at ages 4-7, followed by piano or a different instrument if they chose.  

I am not afraid that I missed my chance to offer some other experiences to my kids. Instead, I'm confident that they eventually will accrue enough options to taste what the world has to offer, and they had enough consistency to get pretty-good at a few of the things.

Yes, we had a few dry spells when a child or two was not studying music (gasp!), but it didn't worry me because I took a big-picture abundance view. I adore when they join a high-caliber high school music program or sports program...and all of sudden the tax dollars start working in a visible way. 

I'm loving the fact that my LPM-graduate kids enjoy making music, and have the skills at least to know what to do when they want to learn a new song or piece. I love that they can understand what they hear in music, giving them a deeper appreciation and joy from it.  I love that their focus and study toward music helped them develop their minds and habits.

Were music classes worth the price? I say, Yes! 

This scenario is all about ME, but you can make a plan that works for YOU and your family. If music is important to you, you CAN make it work into your budget and you CAN still fit in the other things (eventually) that you value. 


Well, new parent, take some time to think about what experiences you want to invest in and when they need to happen. I sure hope that, if music is important to you, you will join us in Sound Beginnings or Let's Play Music classes!

- Gina Weibel, M.S.


Why Start Music Lessons NOW?

I've talked to many parents who are super excited to get their kiddo started in music-learning, but just as many who say, "yeah, I hope he learns to play saxophone someday, but why should I be thinking about that NOW? He's too young to be worrying about that."

You definitely benefit from music learning RIGHT NOW and I'll tell you why...

Because of Neural Development

I'm sure you've heard, when discussing learning foreign languages, that it's harder to learn a foreign language in adulthood if you were never exposed to it as a child. This is especially true if it's a language that involves utterances that are very different from those in your native language.


Music is a language in its own right, and likewise, has a world of sounds, pitches, tones, voices, and patterns that require listening, repetition, and training to distinguish and understand. Many will say that your ear is more sensitive when you're young, so you'll be better able to hear all the varieties of sounds.

It's not exactly your ear, but your brain, that is sensitive. A baby hears millions of sounds and needs help knowing which ones are important. Which ones have meaning? Which ones are unimportant and should be ignored? Over time, the sounds your baby ignores become harder for her to notice at all!

When we guide a child to focus on musical sounds, by filling the environment with them, by singing them, and by rejoicing when she sings them, the neurons for hearing those patterns are strengthened. It's never too early to begin this process... in utero is not too early!

A young (or not-so-young) person who has not strengthened the neural pathways has a more challenging path, and much more work to do to retrain her brain to start noticing sounds. Because it can be done, I never tell anyone to give up on music.  You're never too old.

Because the Memory Bank is Empty

Continue to consider music as a language. Two types of memory are used in learning: procedural memory and declarative memory. 


We use the procedural memory system, which develops early in life, to learn complex things like grammar and musical patterns. Much of the time, procedural learning happens unconsciously. The declarative memory is used to learn things like vocabulary words and facts, and takes longer to develop. 

As we age, we have more declarative memory accumulated. Adults trying to learn a new language (or music) draw from declarative memory, trying to piece together the 'facts' about how it all works.  This tendency can actually hinder our ability to internalize the procedural learning. We make learning harder by thinking about it too factually!

Youngsters have it easier; they don't have a memory bank full of facts, so they play with and experiment with the music, and with guidance internalize how it works in a procedural way. (We value play!) Youngsters who start early could speak music in a native tongue!

Because Musicians Trump Pianists

Lots of children will study to play an instrument. A few will actually be musicians using their instrument as an outlet for their art.  In our post, Are Music Lessons Holding Me Back?, I warned that disappointments can come from studying an instrument but ignoring overall musicianship: executive skills, notation skills, rhythmic skills, tonal skills and creatives skills.

Right now, your child is small, so I agree it doesn't make sense for him to be playing trombone or piano or violin. But, if he has no musical training for 8 years, and then jumps into trombone lessons, he runs a risk of become a trombone player but never a musician. Many (most?) private music lessons focus on executive and notation skills only. Before venturing into those lessons, spend preparatory time on rhythmic, creative, and ear-training tonal skills during preschool years.

The foundation you lay now can make a big impact on the type of musician your child becomes.

Because You Are The Student, Parent!


I'm sure you're interested in teaching 'school readiness' skills to your child at home, and I hope now you're also seeing the value in teaching 'music readiness' too.  Can you do it on your own?  Probably! Especially if you are musical yourself.  You can do things like:

* Provide a home with lots of music playing
* Sing together often, and encourage your child to sing
* Clap, stomp, dance to rhythmic music
* Listen to different styles of music, encourage your child to listen carefully and notice/appreciate instruments, mood, tempo, themes in different songs
* Buy or make simple instruments and sing/play often

And because I want you to be a rockstar music-readiness parent (figuratively and literally), I encourage you to get your child into Sound Beginnings or Let's Play Music classes NOW instead of later.  Because you will come to class with your child, you will be a student too! 

In class, you will:

* Learn a plethora of new games and activities to play at home to create the ideal musical environment 
* Meet other like-minded friends to play with
* Bond with your child in a focused playtime together
* Learn music theory and musicianship that's new to YOU, too!

Because We Know She's Young

One word of caution: Now that you've read about the importance of having music in her life now, you may be excited to get her into instrument lessons right away.  Instrument lessons are not the same as musicianship classes.

I generally never encourage anyone to go directly into instrument lessons at a very young age. Sitting on a piano bench for 30 minutes is torture for many 4-year-olds. Even if they don't mind the stillness and focus, I worry that the musicianship skills will be unbalanced in the long run.

Instead, find a program like Sound Beginnings or Let's Play Music that is play-based, with lots of movement and fun. Children and parents will have the most success and learn the most when they are happy and feel loved.  Nothing is more powerful than a first music experience that results in happy, uplifting memories couched in success, and the opposite is a first music experience that is scary or frustrating.

Let's Play Music addresses limitations and development of young players (our keyboard method), so she'll experience success and find room to push herself, too.  This is a program designed just for her, at her age.

See you in class soon!
- Gina Weibel, M.S.
Let's Play Music Teacher

Monday, February 6, 2017

Truman Walker: A Let's Play Music Foundation for Success

Every year, more and more young musicians graduate from Let's Play Music and go on to further musical pursuits. We love checking in to see what these young people are up to and today we caught up with superstar Truman Walker, winner in the 2012 LPM Composition Contest.

Meet Truman Walker
Truman took three years of Let's Play Music lessons with teacher Tina Gosney in Eagle, Idaho. After graduation, he continued to study piano lessons with local teachers Launette Shaw and then Suzy Clive. Truman says, "Suzy is a very accomplished pianist and an amazing teacher who has taught me a lot. Let's Play Music helped me with the basics so that I could learn really quickly when I started with Suzy and started learning more classical music."
 
Truman learned that when working on specific piano pieces, attending master classes with different experts like Brandon Stewart, Andrew von Oeyen, Dr. Renato Fabbro, and Jason Lyle Black  really helped him master his work and prepare for competitions.

Truman's consistent work and training has led him to success in several fun and challenging venues, including:

2013 Apple Blossom Festival Music Competition, Payette, Idaho - Junior Division, First Place. Original composition, Good King vs. Evil King.

Treasure Valley Music Teachers Association Sonatina Competition
      - 2014 - Level 4 - First Place
      - 2015 - Level 7 - First Place
      - 2016 - Level 10 - First Place
        
2016 Meridian Symphony Orchestra Young Artists Competition, Junior Division (10-14 yrs), Second Place, performing Concerto No. 8 in C Major by W.A. Mozart


2016 Spokane Piano Competition
-Baroque/Classical Division - First Place, Performing Sonata in E Major by Domenico Scarlatti
-Modern/Impressionist Division - First Place, Performing Bagatelle No. 10, Op No. 5 by Alexander Tcherepnin
   

Question and Answer with Truman

Gina: How do you imagine things might have turned out differently for you if you did not do LPM, if you had just gone straight to your piano lessons?

Truman: Music wouldn't be as fun. I wouldn't have been as excited for just piano lessons. LPM helped me learn how to love music and express myself. LPM helped me do things I wouldn't be able to do, like compose songs. Now I have composed five piano pieces and performed them at different recitals and events.
 

Gina: Do you ever get discouraged or bored or tired when you are practicing? 
Truman: YES! But I get over it by thinking about why I love it and what I want to accomplish. I also think about how practicing makes my pieces turn out better, and that gives me motivation to keep trying. I practice 2.5 hours every day.  I have to think about my goals a lot so I can keep working hard.


Gina: Wow! 2.5 hours. What does that practice routine look like?

    
Truman: Ms. Clive has helped me break my practice sessions down into 7 parts. First, I review my goals for the day and list what I want to finish during that practice session. Second, I play through some of my repertoire so I keep my pieces fresh. Third, I work on technique by doing Hannon exercises or "power fingers" to strengthen my fingers, hands and arms. Fourth, I do scales to learn and memorize key signatures. Fifth, I play through LDS Hymns so I can help with the music in my church congregation. Sixth, I practice sight reading and work on musical theory workbooks. Seventh, I get to work on memorizing and playing my major piano pieces that I am preparing for performances, competitions or just for fun to challenge myself.  
 

Gina: How do you go about writing a song?  
TrumanFirst I think of one main idea and the key signature I want to use. Then I think of things that sound original and I piece them together and smooth them out to make a song. I have written pieces about family trips we've taken and other things. I have also written a song for my older sister who accidentally hit a wrong chord in her piano practice one day. She liked the chord and asked me to write a song using that chord as the main idea. That was fun.
 
Now I have written 5 pieces. After the LPM composition, I continued to build on that song and it helped me win $50 at the Apple Blossom Festival. Here's a piece I composed called Living Water.
 



Gina:Can you tell me about one of your musical memories?
 
Truman: One Sunday night when I was 9 years-old, our family was sitting together in the piano room listening to me play. They started asking me about how I write songs and how the music comes to me. Then my older brother, David, and sisters, Anna Mae & Katelyn, started playing a game with me. They would give me an idea, like 'standing next to a waterfall' and I would play a mini-song for them that created a feeling like they were experiencing the idea they came up with. We did this for about an hour that night and it was a fun memory for our family.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Sing it Again: Repetition in Teaching Music


Does your child have a favorite song, bedtime story, or movie he requests over and over? As adults, we are constantly seeking new stimulation, while children often crave just the opposite. 

Repeating activities helps neural pathways develop to create long-term memories. Repetition gives kids a sense of power, accomplishment, and belonging, so it's no surprise they crave repetition.

It's true in music class, too. When we play a new game in music class, there is often some trepidation as everybody wonders how it's going to work. The next time we play, students are more at ease. They know with confidence, "I belong here, I know what happens next, I know what we do in this game, and I am a success in this class."

Layered Repetition
Large doses of learning are squeezed into Let's Play Music classes by layering content. Yes, we may sing the same song for seven classes in a row, but each time, as the students become more proficient, we add new elements.

Students get the repetition they need for mastery and confidence, and teachers have a sneaky way to introduce new material in each and every class.  

Below are some possibilities that your teacher may focus on over the weeks, all within one song. Want to help us get the most from class time? Listen to the music at home so your child is already familiar with the song and lyrics before class...your teacher doesn't want to spend much time on that.
  • Notice the lyrics, what do they mean?
  • Listen carefully to the melody, can you recognize the common melodic patterns?  Can you play the melody on bells/ keyboard? Can we transcribe the melody?
  • Shall we sing the entire song using just solfege and handsigns instead of lyrics? Can we transpose to another key/ multiple keys?
  • Focus on the ostinato. Play it on bells/ keyboard while you sing.
  • Can you hear the harmony? What chords do you hear? Identify the chord progression.
  • Audiate parts of the song.
  • Listen to the rhythms, can you identify the bugs? 
  • How does this song make you feel, how do you want to move/dance? What words describe the type of sound or style of playing?
  • Notice the format of the song- do sections or phrases repeat? How are the sections different?
  • etc. 
  
The Rule of Seven

In Marketing, there exists a well-known idea that a prospect must see or hear about a product at least seven times before they'll take action and buy it. The point is, the  ability to generally recognize something is strengthened with multiple encounters.

This is why, in music class, we will also present several songs or games for each concept covered (common melodic pattern, common rhythmic pattern, minor tonality songs, common chord progressions, legato vs. staccato, etc.)  Experiencing each concept in multiple, slightly different musical examples gives students a chance to better recognize and isolate the element.  

Spaced Repetition & Memory
When we learn a new bit of information on Day 0, we all start to forget the information right away. It's a bummer, but that's just how the brain works. Our brains need cues to get the message, "hey, this stuff is worth remembering."  

The forgetting curve looks like an exponential decay curve. 

Each time we review what we know (and start to forget again right away), the decay curve is a little bit flatter.  Each time we can allow longer periods between review, and we can remember just a little bit longer before we start to forget. 

The trick for optimizing learning is to plan repetition of activities and information so that the reviews coincide with the intervals of time when students are starting to forget their facts.  With organized intervals of repetition, we can study smarter, not longer.

That's why we sing a new Let's Play Music song or game in every class, several times, when it is first presented. Then it comes back (less frequently) for us to review and sing.

Remember Every Song
If you want to study smart, try creating your own spaced repetition learning: review pieces of information that you are retaining well less often than pieces that you are not remembering well. 

Here's quick piano example: Choose the piano songs you want to review. How about every song I have memorized. Attempt to play through the songs. Based on how accurately you can remember the song, decide if you will review it again tomorrow, next week, next month, in 4 months, or next year.

As part of your routine, each time you play piano, include some work on a new piece you are trying to memorize and include a play-through, from your schedule of a piece that you already know. If your list is short and you're having fun, you might play more songs than are on your list (playing memorized songs is really fun.)

The importance of the list is to remind you of your songs- if you wait too long, you'll forget what you worked hard to memorize in the first place. 

Remember, the goal is to practice again just as you are about to forget, and that happens at increasing intervals each time.  By making it part of your routine to play through one memorized song (it's fun-you won't mind), you'll retain every song you've ever memorized, forever! 

Have fun!

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