Friday, May 29, 2015

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star: Variations in Compositions

Theme and variation is a popular musical form in which a composer states a melody and then repeats it several times with changes to create interest and variety. 

You could think of the theme as a plain cupcake. First, the composer shows the plain cupcake to the audience.  The variations are like decorated cupcakes.  Once the audience understands the plain cupcake, the  decorated ones are displayed for everyone to enjoy with their fancy differences.  Nevertheless, they are still recognizable as cupcakes!  Let's take a look at "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" and taste the deliciousness of what your young composer is learning from studying it during the 3rd year of Let's Play Music!

The Poem
Lyrics for this popular lullaby come from an 1806 poem, "Star", published by Jane Taylor. Jane was a real trailblazer because she and her sister helped introduce the novel idea of writing poetry just for children.  Here is the entire original poem:

A sing-along storybook is available. By Jane Cabrera.
  Twinkle, twinkle, little star,

     How I wonder what you are!
     Up above the world so high,
     Like a diamond in the sky.

     When the blazing sun is gone,
     When he nothing shines upon,

     Then you show your little light,
     Twinkle, twinkle, all the night.

     Then the traveller in the dark
     Thanks you for your tiny sparks;
     He could not see which way to go,
     If you did not twinkle so.

     In the dark blue sky you keep,
     And often through my curtains peep,
     For you never shut your eye
     'Till the sun is in the sky.

     As your bright and tiny spark
     Lights the traveller in the dark,
     Though I know not what you are,
     Twinkle, twinkle, little star.

The Melody (and a Silly Game)
"Twinkle" is only one of many international songs that have been sung to the melody Ah! Vous dirai-je, Maman, a popular 18th century French children's tune.  In English, "The Alphabet Song" and "Baa-baa Blacksheep" are two more songs sung to the tune.

As a kid, I played a singing game with my sisters, and you might like to try it in your family: each of three singers (or teams) choose one of the above songs, then all sing at the same time.  Although the lyrics are different, the melody is the same for everyone.  Silly, right!?  For an even trickier song, sing in a round, starting a few measures behind the previous singer, still singing different lyrics.  Still not silly enough?!  For the best song yet, all start singing together, but each time the leader claps, switch to different lyrics!  Each group will end up singing a different crazy song, perhaps like this:

     SINGER 1                                                      SINGER 2
     Twinkle, twinkle, little star  (CLAP)                    Baa, Baa black sheep have you any wool?
     yes sir, yes sir, three bags full  (CLAP)              H I J K, LMNOP
     Q R S, T U V  (CLAP)                                       Up above the world so high
     Like a diamond in the sky…                              And one for the little boy who lives...

Apparently the best time to try this game is while trapped in the car with the entire family on a very long road trip.  We "entertained" our brothers and parents for hours and hours with our giggling.  

Nevertheless, if a melody is simple and memorable, it's likely to be the perfect place to start for creating variations.

Variations: Frosting on the Cake
The composition we study in Let's Play Music during the Orange semester is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's, "Variations on 'Ah vous dirai-je, Maman!'" with his twelve variations of the tune.  You know all about ABA form, but this is A-AI-AII-AIII-AIV….AXII form.

Just about every student of composition utilizes Theme and Variation to stretch their composing skills, and you can too.  Actually, after Mozart composed variations on this particular tune in 1781, the SAME TUNE was used by several other composers to create their own variations, including: Bach, Schulhoff, Dohnanyi, Liszt, Rinck, and Cardon!

Now your child (and you!) are ready to have some fun with variations.  It's like you want to decorate some of those beautiful cupcakes.  Options are limitless, but first you want to know: What colors of frosting are available?  What kinds of sprinkles do we have? What sizes of piping tips are there? Yes, if you want to decorate, it's good to understand your tools, so lets look inside Mozart's toolbox.

Variations are created by altering the rhythm, melody, harmony, pitch, tempo, or dynamics of the tune.  

Mozart's Toolbox of Variations

Grab your Orange Roots CD and read this post as you listen along. Let's figure out what he did to create each variation. (Yes, all twelve. You may need a cupcake for nourishment).  Then YOU, TOO, will have the power to add variation to YOUR compositions.  Let's also imagine you have a really simple composition to work with, like Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol, and maybe we will play with it just like Mozart would.

Theme: First Mozart presents the theme, which sounds pretty much like "Twinkle."

 Variation 1: The right hand still plays the melody, but it is embellished with running notes (notes running between the important ones that carry the actual melody).  That is to say, where a single note was played in the 'theme', three extra notes have been squished in.  So each quarter note bug has been turned into four sixteenth notes (a caterpillar). It sounds fast and busy. 

What you can do: You could add the easiest ever extra notes…just double or triple notes of your theme by turning bugs into beetles.  Do-do Re-re Mi-mi, etc. is a variation.  Or to really make them running notes (moving up and down scales) you can add just about any baby steps, so long as you remember to hit your important melody notes sometimes.  Maybe you'll have Do-re-mi-re Re-mi-fa-mi Mi-fa-sol-fa, etc.  The bold notes are just reminders of what part of this new tune came from the theme.

Variation 2: The right hand still plays the melody, but the left hand is filled with running sixteenth notes (caterpillars). 

What you can do: We didn't talk about your left hand part, but most of my students begin with block chords. There are many ways you could get some extra fun notes in there.  You could start playing the low note of the chord, jump to the high note, and add a few baby steps down. Do-sol-fa-mi, Ti-sol-fa-mi, Do-sol-fa-mi  replaces a slow Red, Yellow, Red.  That sounds fast and fun!

Variation 3: The right hand plays the melody in triplets. A triplet means three notes make up one count.  We don't formally introduce this rhythm, but for fun (after I point out what is going on at this point), I like to have the class pat their laps while chanting "bug. bug. bug."  I come in with "one-trip-let. two-trip-let. three-trip-let." just so they can hear how I manage to fit three claps into their one beat.

Variation 4: You guessed it. Mozart plays triplets with the left hand.

Variation 5: The right hand plays the melody in an off-beat pattern.  This is a really whimsical way to dramatically change the rhythm. The right hand plays an eighth note- quarter note pair, then the left hand plays a pair, and they take turns.  

What you can do: When you mastered Yankee Doodle recently, you got the feeling of having your hands take turns. Yeah, both hands don't always have to strike at the exact same!  Play a creative rhythm to go along with some of your melody notes, then give the left hand a chance to play something with that rhythm.  Take turns. Fun!

Variation 6: The right hand STILL plays the melody but this is cool: instead of playing one note for melody, the note is played as part of a chord. Yay! Our students know how to do that!  Doesn't it sound big and strong and smashing?  The left hand goes back to playing with running caterpillars.

What you can do: If you want to stick to the Red, Yellow, and Blue chords, you can find a chord that includes each note of your melody.  Do-Re-Mi-Fa could use Red-Yellow-Red-Blue.  Now, to play those chords but make them sound like melody, choose an inversion of the chord so that the melody note is at the top.  You can do it! You know how to play with inversions. Take your time. The right hand gets to play slowly in this variation so you can jump your hand around if you need to.

Variation 7: The right hand goes back to running caterpillars. This time Mozart really did push to make the running notes into almost complete scales instead of just zig-zagging baby steps. He also mixes in his cool idea of having the left hand strike a note while the right hand rests. Fancy!

Variation 8: This variation is in C minor. That alone can make for an exciting change, but he also has the left hand echo the notes after the right hand plays.

What you can do: Whatever key you have written your composition in, you will add flats to change a few solfeggi.  Do-Re-me-Fa-Sol-le-te-Do is the minor scale we presented in class a few times. (The minor solfeggi are pronounced 'may', 'lay' and 'tay'.)  Figure out where your three flats need to be and you are ready to fly minor!

Variation 9: The theme is played staccato.  Your student knows all about staccato and could easily give it a try in her own work.

Variation 10: The left hand plays the melody, and the right hand embellishes.  Mozart has the right hand rest on the beats when the melody notes are played by the left. It really helps those notes stand out.

What you can do: I have several students who love to "flip" their work and let the left hand carry the melody while the right hand does something else.  The right hand could play a chord root, or a broken chord, or experiment with simple embellishments like Mozart does. I will play the left hand melody slowly and let the student use his right hand to experiment with possible ideas until we find something that sounds interesting.

Variation 11: This is one of the only variations where tempo, Adagio, is indicated.  Adagio means slow.  The theme is played in a singing style; you could certainly imagine someone humming or singing these lullaby notes.  Musical style indicates a piece follows conventions that give it a distinct sound, characteristic to the group.  We had fun with the Monsters puppet show by Prokofiev when we showed it performed in seven different styles.  I especially love the reverse: when pianists take pop songs and play them in classical style!

What you can do: Your student experimented this semester with how to change the stylistic feel of a song by playing chords in a broken style, root-note-only, or even a two-handed marching style.  You can take one melody all the way from a big loud parade march to a nice, slow, lullaby by changing the stylistic interpretation.  Try some of the ideas from class on your song.

Variation 12: This time the tempo is indicated as Allegro, which means fast. The melody has interesting rhythms and decorations, and the left hand is back to those caterpillars.  When I listen to this big, fast, exciting ending, I can just feel my heartbeat start picking up pace.

What you can do: Think of something special (loud? quiet? fast?) and slightly different to end your song with just the right feeling to send your audience home with.

This is not an exhaustive toolbox, but now you know some ways Mozart made his music interesting, so give them a try in your composing. If you hit a creative block, take a break to bake some cupcakes and they'll surely get your creative juices flowing.

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

Saturday, May 23, 2015

It's About TIME! We Value Time and Balance

It's finally summer and you may find yourself with lots of time to fill, or you may find yourself over-scheduled with dozens of summer activities to plan!  As you sit by the pool, take a moment to read about another of our Core Values at Let's Play Music: We value the efficient use of time and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Time In Class
Marianne Barrowes practices Ear Training using Echo Ed.
You may have noticed that your Let's Play Music teacher squeezes a LOT into the short lesson time: she pre-plans activities to be presented in specific order, and carefully notes of key points she wants to emphasize. She smoothly transitions between games, and without a pause the class is suddenly singing "Let's Say Goodbye!"  

Class time flows swiftly, but you may not realize exactly how carefully timed and balanced the activities are. We value the time you have given to come to class, and we value our time with your child, so we've planned every minute for its best use. Your teacher always takes time before class for a practice run through the lesson to make sure precious minutes won't be lost!

Ann Cue gives each student a chance to sightread
The National Association for Music Education identifies a host of skills comprising complete musicianship, the essence of what we offer at Let's Play Music.  A typical carefully-structured Let's Play Music class touches upon many elements, giving your child a broad education in musicianship.  Here are some skills you'll see, artfully presented within our limited time together each week:

  • Singing, alone and in groups, a varied repertoire of music.
  • Performing on instruments, alone and in ensemble, a varied repertoire.
  • Improvising melodies, accompaniments, and variations.
  • Composing and arranging music.
  • Reading and notating music.
  • Listening to, analyzing, and describing music.
  • Evaluating music and music performances.
  • Understanding music in relation to history and culture.

Repetition is necessary for mastery of these concepts and skills, so semesters are carefully constructed so each skill or activity will be repeated just the number of weeks optimal for learning while allowing for layering complexity into songs and activities as they become familiar. 

You can walk into class and declare, "This is going to be time well spent!"

Time Out of Class
By 3rd year she's practicing 30 minutes
Your commitment to Let's Play Music doesn't end when we sing, "Let's Say Goodbye."  We value your time at home and want YOU to have a healthy balance with other activities, too.  Weekly homework and practicing assignments are thoughtfully planned to help your child retain material and master new skills without becoming overwhelming.

Our commitment to making music practice fun and making music part of daily living is a strategy for helping your family enjoy music while getting the most from your time spent at learning.

During the first year, it's a smart investment of your time to do something each day touching upon music class lesson, so that students don't regress in what they learned at class.  Perhaps you'll chose to do the homework, play a game from class, listen to the CD, or perform a puppet show together.  Practice is informal; the goal is to infuse music into your daily family routine.  These small, happy, moments are time efficient and fun!

At the beginning of the second year, time at the piano takes only 2-5 minutes, and eventually builds to 15-20 minutes per day.  We've found that it's just not worth your time to ask a very beginner to sit at the piano for any longer: you don't achieve more by forcing it.  Once his finger dexterity has caught up to his mental ability and ear-training practice, he'll be more interested in working longer.  Instead, an effective use of home time continues to be puppet shows and playing games from class, including our Alphabet Pieces games.

During third year, a smart time investment continues to be for you to sit with your child during the first few practices each week to make sure he understands the tricky bits.  Practice time grows longer and more intense, so starting on a good note on Monday means you've paid your dues and can listen from the distant kitchen on Friday.

Time Of Our Lives
Many parents ask, "Is it worth my time and effort to learn everything my child is learning?" By the end of second year, and definitely in third year, that will probably require some practice time of your own at the piano. 

I tell my clients, "Congratulations! You've won a wonderful scholarship! Even though you are only paying for lessons for your child, we have granted you a scholarship to have music lessons for FREE!"  It's a wonderful gift, so be sure to think carefully before turning it down.  You have already invested the time in attending class with your child, and you already sit with her for at least a few of her practices each week.  Your teacher sends emails that explain the theory and logic behind exercises (which are not often shared with the students up front) and she's available to explain it again if you need extra help.  
Parents in Katie Wilson's studio have invested the time to come to class with their children.
You've already put in 75% percent of the commitment; this is the sweetest opportunity you're going to get to finally learn to play AND it will give you a chance to bond with your child over music.  Ask HER to show you how to play a tricky part, and then play a duet together!

Nevertheless, it is strongly recommended that you invest the time to master the second year material.  These skills will be invaluable as you help during home practice.  If you fall a little behind during third year, we understand: you need some life balance!
After three years of Let's Play Music, you and your child will have amassed hundreds of hours of memories spent enjoying class together, working at a new skill together, smiling, laughing, and bonding.  Yes, your child will have become a musician, and she'll have the experience of getting there with you, and that's time well spent.
Time For Our Teachers
The majority of our teachers are mothers with young families to care for, households to run, dinners to prepare and carpools to drive! We want YOU to have a happy, focused, sane teacher when class time begins, and we want HER to be energized by seeing her students each week.  We value her relationships with her children as much as we value and strengthen your relationships with your children. This is why we make great efforts to coach our teachers on balancing work and family life. 

Each year in June, we host a weekend teachers' symposium filled with workshops, planning, and playful time spent with fellow Let's Play Music enthusiasts.  In 2012, our theme was It's About Time; the entire weekend was dedicated to strengthening our teachers by helping them manage their studios alongside their precious family commitments.  

A strong network of connection and support is in place to help teachers efficiently master the workings of a studio and quickly manage business details so they can stay balanced in all aspects life.  If you've been considering using your talent for music and teaching to start a business, Let's Play Music provides a warm and nurturing that cares about YOU and your family.

Thank you for taking the time to learn more about our Core Values.  They define how we operate and who we are as a community.

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

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Darlayne Coughlin: Drumline, Band-leader, LPM Teacher!

Darlayne Coughlin, Middleton, WI

Hello!  I'm delighted to be in this month's Let's Play Music Teacher Spotlight.  My musical journey began at age 10;  I started learning to play the flute in the 5th grade band and never quit. I've been teaching music for 10 years and Let's Play Music specifically since 2010, when I stumbled upon the program in a funny way.

A short time after finishing up my degree and student teaching at the University of Wisconsin - Madison, I took on a part-time babysitting job watching a whole slew of kiddos while a music teacher taught classes to young children in her home.  Being in the room next door to the classes and a musician myself, I was always intrigued as to what was going on in that room where I heard laughter, singing, and merriment.  One day that teacher (Gina Weibel) said to me, "Hey, you're a musician, why don't you glance through my lesson plans and maybe you should become a Let's Play Music teacher too!"  The moment I read through the curriculum I was excited and, no doubt, hooked.  

I currently teach 6 classes each week and will be training soon to teach Sound Beginnings as well.  My husband is a musician too, and we recently built a home in Middleton, WI (a suburb of Madison) with a studio space designated for Let's Play Music classes, flute, and percussion private lessons.

Join the Band
In addition to teaching Let's Play Music, I am a full time middle school band director in Middleton.  When I began my career, my job included teaching general music to Kindergarteners in addition to the middle school band responsibilities.  When my teaching assignment shifted to band only, I missed my really young students quite a bit, but that's when Let's Play Music serendipitously showed up in my life.  

I can't count how many times I have talked about the program or told parents of my students that their 4 or 5 year old has a stronger foundation in music than my middle school band students (even after they have/had music classes multiple times per week every year they've been in school!).  Nearly all of my LPM students have been from my neighborhood or a neighborhood close by.  Many of my current students and graduates will attend the school I work at in a few years.  I can't wait for the day when I see my Let's Play Music graduates as members of my band class.  I know they will be the leaders and already have the skills needed to not only read and interpret music, but also know what it means to have to, "Practice everyday..." so "lots of songs they'll learn to play!" 

Rhythm Skills that Work
One of my FAVORITE things about the Let's Play Music curriculum is the way in which we teach rhythm!  The rhythmic patterns that are taught in Blue Bugs and the way in which they are transferred to "real counting" by the 3rd year is amazing!  Middle school band kids often struggle with rhythm and counting and I've spent countless hours thinking about how to adapt and adopt the methodologies behind our rhythm instruction to suit their needs.  

Miss Darlayne Rocks the Drumline
I've always enjoyed the teaching side of music more than the performing side of music (unless you count leading an ensemble of band students or kids performing at a recital performing...I really enjoy doing both of those).  But, despite my "dislike" for performing music, I do perform at every home game played by the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.  My husband directs the Tundraline, the official drumline of the team; he and I are two of the original members of the group since it's inception in 2007.  

One of my fondest memories as a member of the group was from this past winter.  A local music store brought our group in to perform as guest artists and I, of course, invited all of my students.  It was AWESOME to look out into the audience, where I saw the smiling faces of my Let's Play Music students.  They were in awe of the performance.  I could tell they had no idea Miss Darlayne could flip, spin and twirl a pair of cymbals like that and in preparation for this spring's recital asked many times if the recital was going to be just like Miss Darlayne's concert with the drumline.  Getting students and parents excited about not just being a learner or performer of music but also a connoisseur of the art form is one of my goals.

I feel so lucky to have the most rewarding job in the world.  There's nothing more fun than enlightening young minds through music.  Being a Let's Play Music teacher and teaching the Let's Play Music curriculum has not only made me a better musician, but it has also made me a better music teacher in all facets of my career.  

Register for Darlayne's classes in Middleton, WI, HERE.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Recital Time: We Celebrate Accomplishment

Let's Celebrate
It's May, which means you've just participated in (or will soon experience) an end-of-year Let's Play Music recital.  Recitals are our biggest, shiniest way we share one of our fundamental values: We Celebrate Accomplishment and Aspire to Excellence.

Students of Nicci Lovell in Mesa, AZ perform classical music puppet show actions during a recital.
Why Perform?
How many adults have you met who wish they had persevered with music lessons instead of quitting early? Perhaps they needed more recitals! 'Too few performing opportunities' is among the TOP FACTORS that cause students to quit music lessons.  Let's take a closer look at your recital and why it's such a great teaching tool.  So, what does a student get from participating in a recital?

Every student wishes to perform well in front of friends, family, and peers. For a first-year student, this may be the first time he gleans a deep understanding of the magic of serious practicing toward a goal.  Third-year students are definitely aware that a few weeks' of focus can result in an excellent show.  The upcoming show motivates students to add that bit of extra effort.  

"I'm definitely not going to miss any practices for the next 2 weeks, because I want to be really perfect for the SHOW!"  "I want to work extra hard on this piece, because it's going to be in the SHOW!"
First-year students of Heather Prusse in Gilbert, AZ had their bells songs mastered in time for the show.

We aspire for excellence. At recital time, students have the opportunity and motivation to present their best selves.  They choose to write beautiful, challenging compositions and practice them to perfection.  Because our pass-off songs during the year are sometimes less-than-perfect (read our post on the learning process), recital gives an opportunity to strive for the VERY BEST. Once students know what that feels like, they raise the bar for in-class songs, too.

Students will be asked to polish recital pieces beyond the level of perfection expected in class AND memorize them.  Will they rise to the exciting challenge, one that can only be met with steady, disciplined effort? Yes! Like the myriad of smaller challenges presented during Let's Play Music class, this one is intimidating at first, but definitely achievable.  "I know it is a big job to memorize this entire song, but I think if I add just a measure each day I'll be able to get it." "I don't want to skip practice today, because I know I need to learn at least one more line by tomorrow to be on target for learning this piece by showtime!"

I love having recitals back-to-back or combined with several classes.  When a student sees the younger class perform, he can develop a sense of accomplishment and growth. "Last year I played that song, too. Now I can play so much better."  

Likewise, when watching an experienced student, he can set very realistic goals and aspire for the next year.  "I love that song that he wrote! I can't wait until I write my own song- It's going to be fantastic."  

In every case, students usually pull off their very best performances and even surprise themselves with how beautifully they perform.   "Grandma, did you hear me play the bells? I played perfectly!"   

Even when things go differently, students have an opportunity to evaluate themselves. "I missed a few notes on that song. I think I could have done better in the A section."

Performance Skills
Second-year students of Jodi Blackburn in Mesa, AZ 
It takes muster to get up on stage and perform! Some students are extremely nervous and anxious, but challenge themselves and go onstage nonetheless.  While it seems scary, the more a student performs, the more comfortable he becomes at it.  Recitals give students opportunities to build courage and confidence: traits that translate to public speaking and life events later on. 

"Last year I was pretty nervous to go on the stage, but this year it's not so bad. I know Mom is going to love hearing me play."

Recitals teach that mistakes are part of life.  Inevitably, a few stray notes will happen on stage.  Mistakes are common and we all make them.  Students learn that the mistakes are not the focus of the evening.  The important thing is getting up on stage and performing.  We focus on the accomplishment and not the mishaps that occur.

The recital is a show, a performance, and a grand celebration.  I love to have pretty cakes and myriad treats at recitals, accompanied by awards and matching shirts and dressing up.  It is a special day and a big party complete with photos and flowers and lots of clapping.  After the marathon work students put in to produce their best work, a celebration is in order for a job well done.  We celebrate accomplishment!
First-year students celebrated with teacher, Tera Nelson in Rancho Cordova, CA

All Year Long
The Let's Play Music program is designed to celebrate accomplishment and aspire for excellence all year long.  Each time a student echoes Ed, sight-reads Edna's melody, or performs a pass-off song, a small opportunity arises to celebrate.  

"You really listened carefully…and you got it!"  "You played that song the best I've ever heard you play it!"  "Last week that was really tough for you, but you practiced and now you're doing it faster!"

Every activity in class has a purpose in music-teaching, every class takes students one step closer to excellence, and every time children participate in class activities they perform in a micro-recital among peers and parents.  

-Gina Weibel, MS
Let's Play Music Teacher

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Celebrate Spirit Week! April 20-26

April 20-26, 2015 #LPMSpiritWeek

This week has been declared Let's Play Music Spirit Week!  Sound Beginnings students: you are part of the family, too!  We want you to share YOUR love of Let's Play Music by posting to Instagram and Facebook and telling us what you love best about LPM.


We'll be giving out lots of prizes this week:

Tuesday Morning      (5) Great Composers Coloring Books
Wednesday Morning (10) Beethoven's Wig CDs
Thursday Morning    (10) Let's Play Music T-shirts
Friday Evening    (1) $100 Visa Gift Card, (1) Dinner and Movie Gift Certificate
Friday Evening    (3) Sound Beginning materials sets (must be SB student)

How to Enter and Show Your Spirit:
Post to your personal Facebook Timeline a picture of you or your child in your Let's Play Music t-shirt.  Don't have a shirt? How about a photo of practice time on piano or bells, or performing your favorite puppet show, or a snapshot of your recent recital? Anything that shouts out "Let's Play Music!" will show your pride.

Make sure your post is public (down there near the 'post' icon is a button to choose your audience).

MOST IMPORTANT: Use the hashtags #LPMSpiritWeek and #iloveLPM so we can find your post.  You'll be automatically entered to win and your post will stay in the pool all week.

If you are a Sound Beginnings student, also use #SBSpirit so you can win a few prizes for SB only!

Check it Out:
On Facebook, do a search for #LPMSpiritWeek and you'll quickly see all the other posts on this topic- look what fun we're having with LPM!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Oh Canada! Joanna and Lisa Bringing Music to a Nation

Sisters Lisa LeBaron (left) and Joanna Dick (right) of Sherwood Park, Alberta Canada, are the founding Let's Play Music teachers in the nation.  

Join the Family
Lisa discovered Let's Play Music in 2011 on a visit to Arizona.  After hearing about the program, she investigated online and was dismayed to discover that it was not an option anywhere in Canada!  Lisa knew her children would thrive with this fun and engaging program, so the natural decision was to join the Let's Play Music family.  Her sister, Joanna, was intrigued and decided to do the training at the same time.  

Both ladies took piano lessons as children and had a mother that taught piano lessons.  As a baby, Lisa sat in the room during her mother's lessons. When she started counting as a toddler it was not the regular "1 2 3 4" but "1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and"!  Her musical fate was sealed, and it was no surprise that both sisters became private piano teachers.

Lisa completed her Piano Teacher's A.R.C.T. (Associate diploma from the Royal Conservatory of Toronto), while Joanna took music and education in University and currently teaches music at an elementary school.  The Let's Play Music classes are taught in Lisa's house and the sisters had their first group of students graduate in 2014.  

Use Music to Teach Music

Lisa says, "Taking a group of students through the entire 3-year program was an amazing way for us to witness the magic of learning music through music."  On many occasions, the sisters would be planning lessons and listening to the songs, saying "that is so smart and sneaky!"  The lyrics of songs an the musical concepts demonstrated in songs are used to teach concepts.  Joanna says, "It is always fun to see the parents have those same discoveries as they attend class with their children and see how we teach complex concepts while having a great time."  

Become a Better Teacher
Even with years of prior piano teaching, both teachers agree that teaching Let's Play Music has helped them become better teachers through the LPM method.  Joanna especially loves the rhythmic and melodic dictation that the 3rd year students do. She says, "I find it amazing that something I did in university, the children are able to do when 7-8 years old." She also loves the careful listening and ability to create harmony in class.  "When the moms sing one part and the kids sing another, it is fantastic! It is so fun to teach in a small classroom setting in such an enjoyable environment."  One of her favourite songs is the catchy jazzy 3rd year song, Let's Find the Root, because it's so exciting to put on sunglasses and rock out with the kids!  

More that Just 'Piano Lessons'
Lisa loves that Let's Play Music is focused on creating complete musicians.  She says "It is impossible to pick just one favorite thing about this amazing program. I love the puppet shows and how they instill a love of classical music.  I love to see my students bring their own puppets and all do the show together."  As a private piano teacher, Lisa sometimes found it tricky to fit all of the aspects of musicianship into lessons, but with the knowledge learned from Let's Play Music, she now knows how to find ways to incorporate these elements into her private teaching, too.  Ear training, note reading and singing are all elements that can be used to expand musical possibilities for students instead of just taking 'piano lessons'!  

Joanna and Lisa both want their students to have fun in class and take away an enjoyment of music.  Learning an instrument is hard work, so with a fun foundation it can provide the stepping stones for so many opportunities for these kids.  The sisters commented, "It’s so fabulous that after completing Let's Play Music, although all the students have been in the same lessons, their strengths are not all the same.  The variety of ways they learn about music make it possible for them to all be successful in pursuing piano, voice or some other instrument.  For us, that is what we want our students to do, have music as a part of their lives to enjoy and share with others."  

Learn about class openings in Alberta, Canada HERE.