Friday, June 26, 2015

The Influence of Orff on Let's Play Music

Photo from Facebook user Melissa Martin
When Let's Play Music creator, Shelle Soelberg, selected the best elements to include in the LPM curriculum, she included tenets from pedagogical masters Orff, Dalcroze, and Kodaly that would achieve a complete musicianship program.

At our recent annual Let's Play Music teacher's symposium, we were treated to a session with certified Orff instructor, Anne M. Fenell, M.Ed., to learn more about the influence of Orff on Let's Play Music.

Carl Orff (1895-1982)
The Orff Approach to musical education is not a method: there is no lesson manual to follow. What we do have are fundamental principles and clear models that we apply in our own classrooms and the LPM lesson plans.

Carl Orff was born and educated in Munich, Germany. He became a conductor in several opera houses, and  established an international reputation as a composer with his operas, Der Mond (The Moon), and Der Kluge (The Clever Woman)  

Orff's pedagogical work is reflective of his own compositions: melody and rhythm are explored through singing, playing percussion, speech, and movement.  Orff believed that music is the natural outcome of speech, rhythm, and movement.  Just as every child can learn language without formal instruction, every child can learn music by a gentle, friendly, natural approach. Through his many interactions, he concluded that "All humans are biogenetically predisposed to play and create music."

Photo by Red Poppy Photos and teacher Nicci Lovell
Orff conceived his approach to building musicianship in every learner through by integrating music, movement, speech and drama.  Orff Schulwerk (schoolwork) was developed in the 1920's for teaching young women in collaboration with Dorothee Gunter. The students improvised music on drums, rattles, and pitched percussion.  

Eventually the approach was recast for a younger audience.  In 1948, as part of a Bavarian radio series, the Orff music was presented for children. Five volumes of music were published as Music Fur Kinder (1950-54).  These volumes have been re-recorded worldwide, with a 1977 American edition which includes our own national heritage and folk songsOrff worked until the end of his life to continue development and spread of the approach.

We Learn through Play

"Since the beginning of time, children have not liked to study.  They would much rather play, and if you have their interests at heart, you will let them learn while they play" -Carl Orff


First year Let's Play Music students in class.
Children instinctively play, imitate, and experiment.  Orff recognized that this is the process for learning.  Music is considered a basic system, like language.  In an environment where children feel safe to experiment and develop personal expression through music, drama and speech, they will easily incorporate musical literacy, just as children easily incorporate language and grammar. The Orff Approach is a child-centered way of teaching and learning music.  

Musicality is more than just literacy: it depends on improvisation, experimentation, and imagination. In our posts on why we value play and how we value the learning process, we explain how a playful environment opens the door for creative learning.   When children discover, invent, improvise and compose, their experience of music is intensified. These creative activities are complementary to those of interpreting and listening to music AND are part of the toolkit for a complete musician.

Teachers in Let's Play Music, and all Orff Approach teachers, create an atmosphere similar to a child's world of play so children can feel comfortable experimenting with new and abstract musical skills.  Teaching an ability TO CREATE is essential.  Dr. Fennel stated, "Creativity is THE currency of the 21st century." 

Lifelong Musicians
The Orff Approach shares several common goals with Let's Play Music: a concern with fundamental experiences and foundational skills for a comprehensive musical training.

This means it is not enough to teach literacy (reading and playing your instrument), although that is part of it.  The goal to guide students to ENJOY making music in groups or solo. The goal is to help students BECOME composers and musicians.  The goal is to show them how to make it a language for their lifetime (not just for the duration of the music class.)

Anne Fennell, M.Ed.
Fennell says she always teaches with the end in mind: to get the kids to become composers. This is a key point to becoming a lifelong musician.  She quoted that up to 80% of students who play in band class don't play their instrument again after high school.  And who are the other 20%? Although everyone learned to read and play music, those 20% were the few who picked up the ability to create their own music.  They find joy in working cohesively with others to create, they find a language in music, and they don't drop it when class ends.  Fennel said, "our world needs lifelong musicians.  Our world needs creative problem solvers."

Fennel said, "Orff Schulwerk is creative music and movement through which children make meaning as composers and active participants," and that is very different from literacy alone.

Learn by Doing
The Orff Approach dictates that concepts are learned by doing. Students learn music by participating in activities that awaken the child's awareness of the aesthetics of music. The Let's Play Music curriculum minimizes lecture in our very active classes, and we avoid intellectualizing concepts until they have been internalized. Example: our Red, Yellow, and Blue chords will be defined as I, IV, and V once the students have sung, played, and internalized their use and learned to read on the staff.

Carl Orff instructs, "Experience first, then intellectualize," a phrase that explains exactly what we do with our color chords and our rhythm bugs.  He was also fond of the Chinese proverb: "Tell me, I forget. Show me, I remember. Involve me, I understand." You've seen involved students when they arrange themselves into chords on the giant staff, or when they sing a song in a game and figure out the ending melody on their own. Living up to her approach, Fennel had all of the teachers at the symposium learn by doing. We created our own rhythmic work and performed it immediately.
Songs for teaching-by-doing are usually short, contain ostinatos (short, repeated melodies), are within singing range, and can be manipulated to play in rounds or ABA form. Folk music and nursery rhymes of the child's own nation and heritage are chosen. Read our post on why we use folk music.

Orff and Let's Play Music both begin with major and minor scales. We both introduce singing on pitch with sol-mi (the minor 3rd interval), and progressively add more intervals for singing.  When students learn songs and skills, they first imitate the teacher's model and explore through activities involving singing and playing. Literacy then prepares for students for their own improvisation in a nurturing environment.

The Orff Approach focuses on percussive rhythm. The instruments feature xylophones, marimbas, glockenspiels, and drums. The children also sing, dance, chant, clap, snap, along to melodies and rhythms.  Soelberg gleaned many principles from the Orff approach and applied them to the Let's Play Music curriculum, our fabulous method including keyboarding into well-rounded musicianship instruction over a three-year curriculum. I'm happy I had a chance to learn more about Orff at symposium.


* Anne Fennell teaches music at Mission Vista High School in CA.  Her enormous steel-drum groups and fantastic concerts represent the joy and essence of Orff teachings in action.

Gina Weibel, M.S.
Let's Play Music instructor








Sunday, June 21, 2015

Block, Broken, Marching: Love those Chords!

Quick Reminder: What's a Chord?
Photo courtesy of Facebook user Sara Young

By now you're very familiar with the Red, Blue, and Yellow triangles your Let's Play Music teacher uses in class.  Triangles have 3 corners to emphasize that a chord has at least 3 notes heard together. (Yeah, when you graduate from LPM you will learn chords with more than 3 notes.)  
 

Block Chords
So, if a chord must have at least 3 notes, one straightforward way to play it is to strike all 3 notes simultaneously.  Your ear hears all 3 sounds merged together into one sweet creation: the block chord. Block chords can sound very strong, loud, and powerful in songs. Or they can sound rich and deep.

One of my favorite things about Let's Play Music is when my 5-year-olds sing and play "Old Paint" at the very begging of 2nd year. It's their first time on the piano and they already sound loud, rich, and complex because they are playing chords AND overlaying with the melody of their voice. It sounds SO GOOD from day one.  This is very motivating and the students want to sit down and play for hours!

When reading chord maps in year one, we touched each triangle as the entire chord was played on the beat.   We generally consider all chords played on the harp as block chords (students strum all notes in one swift movement, or at least they try to!)

Block Chord Ear training: Listen to this sample of block chords playing.  The first activity is just like ones we do in class to help students distinguish when we change from one chord to a different one.  The second activity is for to practice identifying which chords are heard in a pattern.  Ear training practice helps our students recognize cadences in music they hear every day, all around them!



Reading Blocks: Since music is read from left to right, notes that are stacked on top of one another are played at the same time.  Learning to recognize the familiar shapes of block chord structures, and teaching the hand muscles to quickly play them is a great skill that all Let's Play Music students graduate with.  As we mentioned in our post on note reading, musicians look at notes and chords in chunks.  You may scrutinize one note of the chord for accuracy, then let the shape of it guide your hand to magically perform the rest of the chord!

By graduation, students will have no trouble playing block chords all over the keyboard, like these.  If you ARE a third year student, what color are these chords!? (The answer is at the end of the post!)


Broken Chords
So, a chord has three or more notes.  A delightful variation is to play the notes one at a time instead of all at once.  Broken chords can change the feeling of a song into something delicate and lilting when played piano and legato or give a sharp and spicy impression when played forte and staccato!

A fabulous word that means 'broken chord' or 'notes of a chord played in sequence' is arpeggio.  Nothing beats having your five-year-old approach a guest over at your house, and announce, "I'd like to play you some arpeggios on the piano, for your listening pleasure."

In the first year of Let's Play Music, we played songs like "On Top of Spaghetti" to practice with broken chords.  Although we did use a chord map, we tapped each corner of the triangles while listening to the accompaniment to emphasize that we are hearing each note of the chord separately (broken chords.)  

Arpeggio Ear Training: Broken chords (arpeggios) are used in Let's Play Music ear-training just as often as block chords.  It is often easier for the students to figure out which chord I am playing if they can hear the notes one at a time, hearing the individual notes and intervals between them.  If I play a block chord and the student can't identify it, I usually play broken style and they can recognize it.  In each of these tracks, can you tell which chord I play? 


Reading Broken Chords: Just like you read a book left-to-right, you play the notes from left-to-right one at a time. You'll get excellent practice with songs like "Lullaby." Because arpeggios are so common, composers often write a block chord and put the arpeggiate symbol next to it.  It just means 'spread this out' and is a handy way to save paper if you write a lot of broken chords. If you want the chord to be played top-to-bottom, add a downward arrow to the symbol.



Some delightful variations that will be very useful in composing music are fun to experiment with now (why wait!?).  After playing the 3 notes of a chord, why not repeat the first note again an octave higher (shown above)? Play the arpeggio going up and then back down! Fancy!  (You'll have to use fingers 1-2-3-5; that's tricky!)

Looking for another way to add a fourth beat? Play the broken chord and then replay the middle note. This can really spice up an accompaniment.  Red, Blue, Yellow, and Red chords in broken style:

There's no need to play a boring bug-bug-bug-bug rhythm.  Take these notes and add a calypso rhythm to make your composition even fancier! That's what what you'll see when you play "Tinga Layo".

Marching Chords
In Let's Play Music we highlight one more fun way to play chords: Marching style.  Like a mixture of block and broken, the chord is played in two beats.  First play just the lowest note of the block, then play all the others. Voila! You've got some marching chords.


You can play around with marching in your own compositions.  Mix up the rhythms or repeat the low or high to create some cool sounds.  In third year we'll also play marching by having the right hand and left hand alternate for a marching sound.  Can you play this cool composition I just made completely of red chords?
 

Have Fun with Chords
Photo courtesy of Facebook user Juliane Wolf
Now that you know the secrets of block, broken, and marching chords, you can change the way you play songs!  In Let's Play Music classes, we train complete musicians. That means students understand how songs are put together, have the power to improvise the way they play what is written on the page, and can compose their own music. 

So give it a try! Go play with chords and create something new! 



Block Chord Reading Quiz Answer:These chords shown are shown in different inversions.  They are: Red, Red, Red, Blue, Blue, Yellow, Yellow, Red. Or you could say I, I, I, IV, IV, V, V, I.  You must look at the key signature to be sure that the first block chord is a I (Red)! Our 3rd year students are so smart!

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

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Brooke Stevenson: This program does it ALL

Hello from Oregon!
I am really excited to talk about Let's Play Music.  Ever since I first started hearing about it, I couldn't talk enough about it to my friends and neighbors.
 
Brooke and some of her students celebrate on recital day.
Passion for Music
I have always enjoyed music; I took piano lessons and played flute as a teenager, but really became passionate about high school choir.  I was lucky to have a teacher, Kelly DeHaan, who instilled in me a deep love of music.  He changed my life and helped me realize music must always be a part of it.

I majored in vocal performance in college, but really excelled in my theory and composing classes.  My senior year I was selected to teach a college-level music theory class for music majors and I had a blast preparing lessons and teaching all the elements and rules of Baroque style music.

Shortly after graduating, I accepted a position teaching music at an elementary school.  I was impressed by the Kodaly curriculum and all the folk songs and games I played with each class.  The kids were receiving a great music foundation, especially in learning to sight read with solfege.

Where Do Music Teachers Send THEIR Kids??
After I had my first child and moved across the country, I quit teaching in the elementary school, but taught some private classes on the side.  I stumbled upon Let's Play Music after hearing about it from two different college music-major friends in the same week.  Both had put their children in Let's Play Music and they LOVED it.  They loved the theory and aural skills their five- and six-year-olds were learning in class each week.  To top it off, their kids thought the class was tons of fun! I wanted that for MY kids, too.

Sure enough, after browsing the Let's Play Music website, I realized how right my friends were.  LPM incorporates the Kodaly elements I love, even more than I thought possible! Full-body involvement, aural training, chord training, solfege, rhythm and harmony training, classical music listening, piano foundations, and a culminating composition of the student's own! I could NOT believe it was all included. This program does it all!

I have been a Let's Play Music teacher since 2011, in Portland, OR, since 2012.  The time has flown by and it's been like a match made in heaven for me to be involved in LPM.  

I get to teach my passion (music theory and aural skills) to kids just at the age when their brains are wired to learn it like a native language AND I get to teach my own kids right in my home.  

As a bonus, the kids think it's all just a really fun class each week.  One dad told me his daughter looks forward to class each week like it's Disneyland.  She can't wait to get there, and is super pumped up and excited the rest of the night after she gets home.  AND she loves practicing every single day.

This is why I enjoy teaching more and more each year.  I strive to give my students what my high school teacher gave to me: a passion and joy for music that will last the rest of their lives.

-Brooke Stevenson

You can learn more about Brooke's Portland, OR, studio, and register for her classes HERE.



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

Mozart
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.