Thursday, January 28, 2016

Melissa Ashby: This is How Music is Taught

Hi, I'm Melissa. I grew up in Alberta, Canada. I now live in Hillsboro, Oregon with my husband and our 3 kids ages 14, 11 and 6.

This is How Music Should Be Taught
Music has played a big part in my life. I started playing piano when I was  9 and flute at 11. I was always involved in music lessons, bands, music productions, and choirs. I have  a B.S. in Child Development and have always enjoyed teaching. When I taught private piano lessons, I always tried to find ways to incorporate games and fun activities. The students could not seem to sit at the piano for 30 minutes! 

Then I found Let's Play Music! This is exactly how music should be taught! This was something I wanted to teach! I have been teaching Let's Play Music for 6 years now. I love it; I can't say enough wonderful things about it.  

Seeing is Believing
I started teaching LPM in Utah and after 2 years moved to Oregon. I didn't know anyone in Oregon except my in-laws. I asked my sister-in-law to send an email to her friends telling them about my sample class. With just one sample class, I filled 2 Red Balloon classes. These parents had no idea who I was, but they could see how amazing Let's Play Music is. This program sells itself.

I love that teaching LPM has taken me out of my comfort zone. Just last week I admitted to my current Red Balloon parents that my biggest fear when I first started teaching was singing in front of parents!  It terrified me!  Now, I don't even think twice about it. I am having too much fun! I break into song all the time, embarrassing my poor teenage son.

It Makes My Day
I have really enjoyed teaching my own children, although they can sometimes be the toughest students in the class. My youngest was 1 when I started teaching.  Let's Play Music has been a big part of his childhood. He is now in his 3rd year of LPM. I love listening to him sing all the time. I love his grasp on music theory. It makes my day when I hear him make up songs on the piano

I love learning. I really enjoyed college. Over the years I have enjoyed various community college classes and I'm currently doing an online program.  I love that with Let's Play Music I feel like I'm always learning and growing. Whether I'm brushing up my theory skills in order to answer an extremely inquisitive student or parent, rearranging classroom management strategies to help each child have the best experience, or attending an amazing LPM training or symposium, I love it all and feel like I am continually learning so much.

- Melissa Ashby, B.S.
Let's Play Music Teacher 

Sign up for my classes and watch a video of me teaching HERE

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Core Value: Creating Relationships

It's February, and that means Valentine's Day is coming, and that means you're thinking of all those you love. I'm thinking this is a perfect month to share another core value from Let's Play Music: we purposefully cultivate relationships by nurturing family connections and professional camaraderie.

Family: At the Heart of It All
No other social institution has as much impact on society as the family, and no one influences our students more powerfully than their families.  Not surprisingly, our amazing successes in teaching young students come about in large part because we recognize that families play a key role in children's lives as they establish habits, tastes, and values on the road to independence.  If the household has an attitude that "music is what we do" and "it's fun to play musical games" and "we relax and unwind with music", the children adopt those viewpoints! We really care how your family feels about music, and we really care that you are connected with your child!

Our goal in teaching music is to create musicians, but we also hope these three very special years give you a chance to strengthen your family and build some special connections with your child.  Even if your little one does not go on to a musical career, she'll have a special memory of these happy times with you!

A Strong Family
 Whatever structure your family has, you'll be spending time together, solving problems, and taking care of each other. That's good for life and it's good for music-learning. Here are some characteristics of what might identify you as a strong family:
  • Adaptability: We cope with everyday and unanticipated stressors.
  • Appreciation: Individuals feel and show appreciation of each other. We care about the well-being and needs of each member.
  • Clear Roles: We're aware of rules, roles, expectations and responsibilities, yet flexible.
  • Commitment: We're committed to the family, and have a shared purpose and values.
  • Communication: We can communicate openly and honestly with each other in a safe and positive way. We're willing to listen to each member's views, and we resolve conflicts when they arise.
  • Community Ties: We are connected to, and participate in, our community
  • Encouragement: Individual development is encouraged
  • Shared Time: Both quality and quantity time are shared. We are willing to spend time and energy meeting the needs of our family or problem-solving to improve our family.
Family Strength Strategies
Here are a few strategies that can help you strengthen your family, and I'll shamelessly suggest how participating in Let's Play Music can help you cultivate relationships with your children.
  • Spend time alone with each child, each week: Quiet chats just before bedtime or a puzzle together after school ... and how about making a special weekly date for just you and your child to get LPM homework done and have some time to sing and snuggle? Your child will also value that you leave the siblings behind so you can go to class with just her and interact with her during class, then help her practice (the first couple practice sessions each week).
  • Respond to children with patience and respect their feelings and abilities: I can guarantee that at some point, your student will be frustrated with mastering a tough piece of music.  You will practice using empathy and respecting his struggle. He'll know you understand him. You'll connect over the difficulties, struggle through together, and experience such joy when the song is finally perfect!  Helping your child get through something tough is fabulous! You'll both remember it and it will set a tone for how you respond to his struggles.
  • Encourage family members. Share their accomplishments. You'll cheer delightedly with each small musical accomplishment all year. You'll help her prepare for the big recital and invite everyone you know to come. You'll take proud videos of her composition and brag on Facebook. She knows you are her number 1 fan.
  • Visit and find ways to help at your child's school or activities. Get involved in something she does, and suddenly it's not her thing but your thing together. Coming to LPM class, helping her practice, and learning to play duets with her can't be beat! She'll remember it as time with you.
  • Eat a meal together as a family, and involve family members in mealtime tasks. LPM won't teach you to cook, but I strongly recommend that you sing together as you set the table and/or put on some music you all enjoy.
  • Hold family meetings that give all family members an opportunity to talk. Maybe at your next meeting, you'll have the kids weigh in on what practice plan (link for ideas) they would like to follow.
  • Develop a family mission statement that includes your family's mission, goals, and objectives. I don't know what your goals are, but I bet they will affect your music practice. If "We strive to help each other" is on there, siblings might be prompted to help each other with practice time. If "We develop and share talents" is a goal, kids might be inclined to volunteer their music skills in the community or church. If "We respect each other" is your mission, you can encourage the kids to take turns nicely at the piano.
  • Develop and maintain family traditions and rituals.  Tell me what your musical traditions are in the comments! I want to know! Is it: We sing together while we drive in the car; We always practice music before school; We listen to classical music at bedtime; We always have music playing while we set the table for dinner;  We always put on a puppet show on Sunday afternoon; Dad always plays soothing piano at bedtime; Mom always brings her guitar on camp-outs; Mom always plays with Sally in music class; Dad always sings in the choir. Having traditions can really define your family as your own, and let your children know there's a culture they belong to. If you don't have a musical family tradition yet, the good news is: it's never too late to start! Add music into your life and find out what your family want to do over and over...and it suddenly becomes a tradition.
Connect Through Music
Now that you know we strive to make music-class time a really special time for you and your child, I hope you'll go to class with a can-do attitude: "I'm gonna seize opportunities to connect with my kid during class!" 

Here's an analogy: most parents stand BEHIND their kids while pushing them on a swing.  Sure, the kiddo enjoys a super-fun ride and enjoys having Mom at the park.  Some parents get more connection: they stand in FRONT of their kid while pushing.  That way they can make eye contact and smile every time the kiddo swings past.  
But, finally, SOMEONE went and took it to an epic level by inventing a swing that lets Mom get the most connection by actually participating in the fun.  Mom still smiles and makes eye-contact, but she also subtly teaches: "This is a fun thing to do. I like to do this thing with you and I like doing this because I'm with you. I like to participate/ learn/ practice this skill, and I invite you to join me.

Being on that double-swing is like going to music class and actually singing along to the songs!  It's like doing the solfege hand-shapes and smiling at your child when you see she's doing them, too.  It's doing your best Frog-in-the-Middle dance and not worrying about sweat during Johnny's Haircut. It's being just a bit silly and being totally present, because you want to be there with your child.  And if you don't like skipping to Sally Goes Round the Moon? Tell yourself, "I like doing it because I am doing it with you." 
Three Things To Try In Class
Show your kiddo that he's your V-A-L-E-N-T-I-N-E by giving him some love with these three classroom ideas:
1. MORE HUGS: You'll be sitting directly behind your child during floor time. He can't always see you but for sure he can hear you singing along.  Look for opportunities to add in the hugs! After he answers a question, or puts a magnet on the board, or answers Echo Ed, give him a big smile and hug.  Silent and easy. It works at the keyboard, too: after she plays a piece, answers a question, or echoes Edison, give her a squeeze or touch foreheads to silently say "I heard that!"

2. SOLFEGE HIGH-FIVES: Soflege hand-shapes are fun and silly. I posted the solfege high-fives HERE as a fun way to teach hand-shapes, but I hope you'll use them in class all the time!  Whenever you find a chance, silently tell your kid "Nice job!" by giving one of these high-fives.  It's like a secret handshake between the two of hold out two O-shaped hands, and she knows to plant her FA-lower (flower) thumbs into the pots and bloom those flowers.  It all happens silently and quickly and is a special moment between the two of you. A stranger on the street is not in-the-know about your secret handshakes! 

3. SOLFEGE KISSES: You may not have seen this before because solfege kisses are pretty intimate- which is why they are perfect for you and your child! Put your cheekbone against his so that your mouth is near his ear and his mouth is near your ear.  Very quietly sing "Sol-Mi" and have him echo "Sol-Mi".  Vary with "Do is Home" or "Sol-La-Mi" and other patterns.  Anytime (at home) you'd like some snuggles with your kiddo, announce "solfege kisses!" and do a few singing exercises.  You'll be able to hear and feel these notes being sung.

Since your face is almost in position, you could top it off with some butterfly kisses, but of course you'll want to blink in rhythm while chanting "caterpillar, grasshopper, BUTTERFLY, bug!" (Bring your eyelashes close enough to touch his cheek, then blink your eye so the lashes brush and tickle his cheek and feel like butterfly wings flapping against his skin.)

Okay! Go have some fun singing the V-A-L-E-N-T-I-N-E songs, and maybe give a bit of extra oomph this month toward building a bond with your child. Our track record indicates that when you are connecting with and having fun with your child, his music-learning increases!

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

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Say it, Play it! Reading and Sight-Reading From the Staff

In my previous post, In A Flash!, I explained how we use flash cards to help teach students to read notes on the staff.  Students can look at the staff and quickly say the letter name of the note represented.

3 Step Reading
Of course the letter name is not the full meaning of the note on the staff. Letters are an abstraction that help us talk about keys and teach music theory. We absolutely can't get through class without having letter-names for notes, but the piano key is the real meaning behind the note on the page. Reading the note and playing it on the keyboard (Say it-Play it) is the really practical skill, the end result of several steps, we are driving at. 

STEP 1: A new student reads the note and identifies it "This is F!" (in my class, I have them sing the pitch as part of our game). Our purple flashcards help them learn this skill.
STEP 2: The student holds a mental visualization of what "F" looks like. Our alphabet pieces games from Yellow semester help them learn this skill.
STEP 3: The student seeks and finds the matching note, in the correct octave, and plays it. Again, I have them sing the pitch "This is F!" for ear correction. What do we have to help learn this skill? Teeny tiny flashcards.

Teeny Tiny Flashcards
I was looking for a way to really practice STEP 3 in the decoding process, and was delighted find these teeny tiny note flashcards that are exactly the size of a piano key (you can print them for $2) or you can get a similar, free version here.
I printed a set and mounted them on a foam sheet, and cut them up. I introduced them to my daughter in groups just as she was learning the groups in 3rd year.  

I keep my tiny flashcards a little treasure chest on the piano and play games with my daughter to reinforce step 3 of the reading process. Just do one game for a few minutes each day instead of or in addition to your purple cards.

Say It- Play It- Lay It: Your LPM teacher likes to play "Say It- Play It".  We just add one more step. Draw the card, say the letter, play it on the keyboard, and lay the card on the key to show you're done.  Each time you play this game, decide how many cards you will do.  As you get faster, increase the number of cards you do at each practice. Attempting the whole box at your first sitting can be daunting, so pick a number that will just take 3 minutes, and congratulate your student on getting faster each time. Alternatively, decide you will work for 3 minutes and see how many you can get done.

Bananagram: Each person gets 5 cards randomly.  Ready, set, go! Put them on the correct keys as quickly as you can.  When one person is done, they say "take two!" and everyone must take 2 more (whether you were done or not!).  Continue in this manner until the box is empty...then give everyone enough time to finish placing the pieces in their hand. 

Fix-it, Felix! This game works well if you have a toddler who is longing to help. Let your youngster arrange the cards on keys in the octaves you are working on (they will be laughably wrong.) Then, your student chooses one card, picks it up and moves it to the correct key, bumping off whatever card had been there.  She then takes that card to its correct home, bumping off whatever card had been there, etc. If you get a point when a card goes into an empty slot, do a quick check to see if you have won (everything correct) or not (when you find a mistake, pick it up and start working again.) It's exciting if you can win in one run without hitting any restarts!  Your toddler will love to clean up for you, too, if you cut a slot in an oatmeal can for her to mail the pieces into.

Crazy Composer Choose 5-6 notes randomly from the box and put them on the correct keys. Play the 5 notes. Then, play them in any order to create your crazy composition.  You are allowed to duplicate notes and make up any rhythm, but you can only use those notes!

Sol-Mi Soundboard: Draw a card, play the note, and place it on the key.  Sing that note as "sol" and follow with a minor-3rd step down to "mi".  Yes, they key in which you sing will change but you should be able to sing a sol-mi anywhere, any time, any key (LPM Teachers practice this, too)! That's the joy of being able to hear and sing intervals.  (play 'sol' then play 3 keys lower to hear 'mi'.  The color of key doesn't matter...just count down 3). Repeat with other cards.  No matter where you start, you can sing this interval, I know it.

Go Fish: Play this game once you have all of the treble and bass clef lines and spaces in your box.  Each player starts with 4 cards.  Ask another player, "Do you have any treble-clef-spaces?" If so, they have to give them over! If not, you "go fish" for a card.  Once you have all of the notes needed to sing one verse of our treble, bass, line, space song, place them on they keys where they belong, then continue the game.

Where are We Going?
Wow, the 3-steps for reading notes seems to take a long time: too long to be useful if we play every note in a song like that.  As I mentioned in our post on learning to read, we read most of the song by looking at intervals and chunks of patterned notes. We only need to spell-check a small percentage of notes in a song, so it's okay if those take a little more time.

With practice, you'll also get incredibly faster at finding individual notes. When I read new music, I don't take mental time to think of the letter name.  Because I have been conditioned, I have dropped that middle step and the process is faster.

It's like when we first learned to read words: we always noticed the individual letters (C-A-T) and thought about what sound each letter represented.  As we improved, we stopped thinking of the abstract names of the letters, and just focused on the sounds they represented, and eventually moved on to noticing the whole word as a chunk.  Learning to read music has a similar progression. For now, work on getting fast at matching staff notes to keyboard keys!

Want to be a Sight-reader?
Some musicians have a great ear, some are excellent at reading, and at Let's Play Music we set our students up to do both! 

Sight-reading is the ability to look at music and play it correctly without having practiced it.  How can you become better at sight-reading?  A recent study surveyed MTNA-certified piano teachers and found that while 86% thought sight-reading was important, only 7% said they addressed it systematically with their students. 

So it seems the answer may still be elusive, or may be the same for learning to read written words: read, read, read!  This means you'll need a stockpile of easy-to-play tunes or a website that generates them for you.  Songs you can sight-read correctly are MUCH simpler than songs you can play, but need a bit of practice on.  So, you'll need a stockpile of easy stuff to start with. You might spend a few minutes at each practice sight-reading a few pieces!

Franz Liszt, known as the best sight-reader of all time, has a few tips for you as you begin your sight-reading journey:

1. Focus on Rhythm: The audience can forgive a mistake in pitch, but not rhythm. If you miss a beat, the whole song will be off (especially if you're playing with an ensemble!).  Keep the rhythm perfectly and do your best with notes.

2. Don't Stop: Remember rule 1? The audience and judges will forgive a wrong note or two, but if you stop and go back to correct it, it draws attention to the mistake and disrupts the flow of the piece (and your ensemble will leave you behind!) So RESIST the urge to stop and correct.  For sight-reading, you must keep going. (If you are learning a new song and not trying to sight-read, learn it measure by measure for goodness sakes.)

3. Let the most difficult passage set the tempo: Your goal is to play the whole piece correctly.  You've heard this music before, and you know there's a tricky bit in the middle, so start off playing slowly enough that you'll be successful on the tricky bits, too.

4.Learn to look ahead: When you drive a car, you don't only look at the pavement directly under your car, or just in front of the hood! To be safe, you look a few blocks ahead so you know what is coming in the next 4-8 beats.  In music, push yourself to be looking at the measure beyond what you are actually playing, so you can process and prepare for it.

Only play any piece of music TWICE for sight-reading. After that, I'm guessing you'll start to memorize it. If you had a lot of errors BOTH TIMES you played it, choose something easier for your sight-reading efforts.
Good luck with your reading skills: Read, read, read, and over time the difficulty level of your sight-reading material will advance.  Maybe someday you'll be like Liszt: able to sit down and play challenging pieces you've never seen!

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

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Skaters, a Puppet Show with Johann Strauss II

I just love skating, especially when I've got great music to enjoy as I glide, spin...and yes, CRASH!  We use 'Banditen-Gallop' (Galop of the Bandits) by Johann Strauss II for our Skaters puppet show in 3rd year.

Parents who Prohibit Practicing?!

Johann Strauss II was born October 25, 1825, in Vienna, Austria.  His father, Johann Strauss the Elder, was a self-taught musician and composer.  He hoped his son would avoid the rigors of a struggling musician's lifestyle, and encouraged his son to become a banker, instead.  But, Johann the Younger could not resist... he studied music secretly and asked a violinist from his father's orchestra to give him tips.  One day when his father caught him practicing, he gave him a severe whipping!  I ask my Let's Play Music students, "Do you only practice when your parents push you to, or are you like excited to learn that you would practice even if no one wanted you to do it!?"

Nevertheless, Johann the Younger eventually surpassed his father's popularity and productivity, becoming known as the 'Waltz King' and credited with the dance's enormous popularity. He traveled widely with his orchestra, and even toured the United States in the 1870's.
A Funny Story...
The Bandit's Galop is part of the 1871 operetta, Prinz Methusalem. Strauss planned it to be his first operetta performed in Paris, France, so he chose to write music for a political satire originally written by French authors. (Similar to how today someone might make a movie version of a book they love!) Unfortunately, the French deal fell through and the operetta was taken to Vienna, Austria (and translated into German) for opening night.  Critics did not like the story; it was too complicated, it was not funny, and there were over 35 characters to keep track of.  Nevertheless, Prinz had a good reception thanks to the Strauss score.  

It was first performed in Vienna, so I think it appropriate to check out a 2006 Vienna performance:

A short version of the operetta's plot makes it sound plenty funny to me (maybe I am partially French?): two kings of neighboring, financially-struggling kingdoms decide to have their children marry in a step toward creating international and domestic peace. One kingdom has too many soldiers, and can't pay them. The other kingdom has too many artists and can't pay them, either.  The prince and princess meet and fall instantly in love, but the kings distrust and dislike each other, so they decide not to go through with the marriage. They each begin to plant seeds of uprising in the other kingdom and try to keep their children apart (the princess gets locked in a tower!).  

In the scene when you hear "Banditen-Gallopp", a group of bandits come on stage to overthrow the prince. In the end, the prince and princess successfully run away together, and both kings are deposed...then become sovereigns of the opposite realms!  Confusing...but funny!

When we listened to the music, we could have made a puppet show about these silly bandits trying to fight the prince.  Instead, we imagined other actions that could go with the music- it sounds to us like wobbly skaters falling down! When YOU listen, can you imagine a different story for this tune? Whatever it is, I bet it will be funny. (I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments!) 

What's a Galop?
A galop (short for gallopade) is music written for dancing, and is named after the fastest running gait of a horse (gallop).  Unlike a waltz in 3/4 time, a galop is written in a fast 2/4 time. The time signature is written next to the treble and bass clef at the beginning of the page- it tells you how many beats will be in each measure. Quiz question: Do you expect to ever see a whole note in 2/4 time? How about a dotted half note? 

The galop was a forerunner of the polka, and a very fast and lively version of the galop is the can-can. In other words, FUN!

Quiz answer: NO, you should not use whole notes (4 counts) or dotted half notes (3 counts) in a 2/4 time composition because they can't fit in a measure.  Instead, we would write two half notes and tie them together across measures (so they sound the same as a whole note).  A tie is a curved line- it looks just like a slur (legato) mark, but since it's connecting two notes of the same pitch, you don't strike the note again, just keep holding it.

Let's Play and Dance!
When I get to know a song this well, I want to learn to play it. Even if my parents tell me I'm not allowed to practice! Here is a version in the key of F you can buy for $3.50. Perhaps you'll ask your new private teacher to help you when you graduate (are you on a wait list for your new teacher yet?)

Strauss's waltz and galop music inspired the world to get up and dance- and today we can dance to a galop, too! Our Sound Beginnings students play with The Infernal Galop by Offenbach, in our froggie game. If you don't want to look like a froggie, you can dance a galop like this: stand in waltz position (see video), slide with your partner to the side, keep moving to the beat of the music, change direction when you want to, and move counter-clockwise around the room.  This dance is both easy to learn and exciting!  Add a few heel-kicks or promenade if the music inspires you.

Grab your kiddo, put on a galop, and dance around the room! If all goes well, strap on some ice skates and repeat :)

-Gina Weibel, M.S.
Skating Zealot and Music-Lover

Thursday, December 17, 2015

What Exactly is Ear Training?

One element of Let's Play Music class that definitely stands out is our inclusion of activities and games that focus on ear training. So today I've asked Christopher Sutton at to explain it to us!
Ear training is:
  • Not an overnight magic trick.
  • Not an antidote for deafness.
It can help you make the most of the hearing you still have, but training won't repair hearing loss.
  • Not part of music theory.
Think of ear training, music theory and instrument learning as the 'musical trifecta'. All three complement each other, and interrelate. You need all three to be a truly great musician.  That's why Let's Play Music is a good example of a course for the complete musician.
  • Not for experts only.
Whatever stage you've reached in learning music-from absolute beginner to seasoned pro- ear training can bring significant benefits and should be part of your practice routine.

Ear training is about:
  • Hearing more, and hearing more clearly
...which helps you become a more sophisticated musician.
  • Understanding more in what you hear you can play freely, compose, improvise and play by ear.
  • Connecting what you hear with what you play
... closing the gap between ear, mind, and instrument.

Ear Training is:   

Anything somebody does 
to improve their ear for music.
In fact, in spite of its name, ear training is not really about improving the ear itself! The majority of 'ear training' exercises are actually exercises for the brain.

We are teaching our brains to reliably pick apart what the ear is physically hearing and turn it into the concepts that are meaningful to us.

As we train we become able to hear more complex concepts and with much greater reliability.  You might start off just hearing that a series of notes are piano notes, but after training you could report that it was "an ascending harmonic minor scale with first inversion i-iv-v-i chords underneath!" You've probably heard great musicians or audio pros do this kind of thing- and you can learn it, too.
The Slow Way or the Active Way?
Anybody who sings, plays an instrument, or works in a job where they pay a lot of attention to sound will be doing this already!  However, while their ears will inevitably be getting better as they practice and hone their art, this is a very passive process – and so a very slow process. Ear training is about taking active steps to improve the same skills, so that progress can be much quicker.

For example, humans naturally learn to distinguish male from female voices as we grow up. We are surrounded by them and have the ‘right answer’ given to us most of the time by seeing the person who’s speaking. But if you’re an English-speaker learning Spanish, and want to be able to distinguish regional accents from around Spain, it takes a much more active effort to make progress. You’ll have to find examples and techniques which help you, and the quickest way to make progress will be by focused effort on learning ways to tell the accents apart. Otherwise, it will be years before these skills develop on their own!

The speech examples above illustrate the main kind of ear training – learning to reliably classify what you’re hearing, and then knowing what label to put on it. 

1. Learn the different classes 
(e.g. different instruments, different notes, different types of chords)
2. Learn what to call each class
(e.g. oboe, flute, clarinet...C,D,E,F,G....major, minor, diminished) 

Sometimes the first part is easy- for example, most people will easily hear the difference between a major and minor chord without practice. Once they've been told that the 'happy sounding' chord is called 'major' and the 'gloomy, sad' one is 'minor', they have the second part, too.

You might think that only the first step matters- after all, if you can always hear what 'class' something fits into, why does it matter what label you put on it? Well, there are two good reasons for learning the labels: 

1.Using common terms helps you work and play better together with other musicians, and learn from them.

2. Having clear, defined labels for the types of things you hear greatly speeds up learning to reliably classify them by giving the brain a framework. One reason Let's Play Music uses solfeg is to give this type of framework.  

Hear More at Once

Not all ear training is about identifying sounds.  For example, another important type of training is teaching your brain to process more information in parallel.  coming back to our voice analogy: A young child may be able to tell if a voice is male or female, but still really struggle to understand speech in a room full of people talking! A few years later this will pose no problem, and he'll be able to easily tune into one person or another amid the noise of the room.

Ear training lets you do the same thing with music; when listening to music, ear training can let you:  
  • Hear the individual notes in chords and harmonies
  • Identify how different instruments co-exist to create the overall sound
  • Follow multiple instruments' parts at once rather than just the melody
 The music comes to life, as what used to be a noisy mess becomes clear and richly rewarding.    

Why do ear training:

The skills we improve through ear training are the skills we use all the time as musicians, music parents, or music fans.  They lie beneath everything we do with sound ad music and yet  most people never spend any time on these skills! Sadly, most people assume that these are things you 'just get better at' automatically as you practice your instrument.

By choosing to actively improve your skills through ear training, or enrolling in a program, like Let's Play Music, that incorporates such activities, you will make much faster progress and unlock talents you never thought you'd have.

  • If you're a musician, ear training is the number one thing you can do to improve your musicianship an bring life to your music. 
  • If you're a music fan, ear training will let you hear things you've never heard before, even in music you already knew.  You'll have a much deeper understanding of the music you love and your tastes will be broadened as you begin to hear what's so great about music you never thought much of before.
  • If you're a music parent, ear training will help you help your child- because you'll understand exactly what you're hearing when something sounds wrong.  

-Christopher Sutton
Easy Ear Training, Ltd.
Read more about this here.

You can learn this skill!

As a parent of a Let's Play Music student, you've been exposed to the ear-training, music theory, and musicianship taught in class.  We want to know:

How has being a Let's Play Music parent expanded YOUR musical ambitions

Write your answer as a comment below (50 words or less).  

If you are serious about improving musicianship, consider joining Musical U.  At Musical U, you will train your ear through well-planned training modules, AND have the support of a community of learners and musicians coaching you along the way.  Musical U will help you become more musical as you learn to:
  • play notes and chords by ear, easily and instinctively
  • improvise powerful solos, reliably and confidently
  • truly understand what you hear, and create amazing music yourself 

So, tell us what YOU would do with your new musical skills, we love hearing how musical you are becoming through Let's Play Music.


Monday, November 30, 2015

Jack Be Nimble: 3 More Ways to Play

Jack Be Nimble,
Jack Be Quick,
Jack Jump Over the Candlestick! 

Jack jumped high,
Jack jumped low,
Jack jumped over and burned his toe!

Who is Jack?

Like so many traditional rhymes, we can't be 100% certain of the origin of this chant recorded in 1815.  Here are three possibilities: First, Yellow Fever, also known as Yellow Jack, is a viral disease that sometimes leads to jaundice. In a time when treatments had more to do with superstition than science, it was thought that lighting a fire in the room of the infirm would draw the fever out. Perhaps this rhyme is an invocation for the fever to 'jump' into the fire.

Second, 'Calico' Jack Rackham (1620-1720) was a pirate captain, captured and hanged in a cage as a warning to others. The rhyme could be a celebration of Jack's many near misses before he was finally caught.

Third, is a theory that the poem relates to a tradition of using candles to divine the future. Candle-jumping was popular in Buckinghamshire, England in the 1600's, where a St Catherine's Day festival would end with leaping over a candle.  It was thought that jumping over the lit candle without extinguishing the flame would bring good luck. 

YOU Jump Over a Candlestick! 

Even if we're not sure who the original 'Jack' was, we have lots of fun with this rhyme in class inserting your child's name into the chant as he jumps over a candle. There is no shortage to the benefits of reciting chants like this one for both literacy and music skills.  Kids who can recite a chant:
  • Have increased self-confidence
  • Have more awareness of how words and grammar work
  • Have a more extensive vocabulary (words like 'nimble'!)
  • Have clear and modulated speech
  • Are better able to make up their own rhymes and recognize spelling patterns
  • Have improved ability to memorize
  • Can create a steady beat and flow words over it
  • Can find meter in poetry and perform it correctly
Want a fancy new candle to jump over? It's easy to make a pretty great one from a cardboard roll

1. Let your child decorate the roll.  
2. Draw a flame shape on orange paper and have your child cut it out.  
3. Cut two small slits in the bottom of the flame so it will sit on the tube. 
4. Set it on the floor and... JUMP OVER! Easy!

3 More Ways to Play

Game 1: Names: Of course your little guy can have a ton of fun inserting family names into the chant to coerce all of his family members (and favorite stuffed animals and action figures) to do the jumping. Nothing motivates him to practice a poem more than knowing that at any time, in any place (the grocery store? the library?) your toddler could launch into "MOM be nimble!" and of course, Mom will start hopping around like a goof, and you'll both burst into giggles.

Game 2: Rhymes: Recognizing how to make rhymes is a powerful literacy skill that doesn't have to be boring to practice. Change up the words of the poem to create rhymes for other items around your house (or use pictures of items.) Challenge your child to guess how each verse is going to end. Some of these objects can be jumped over; others might be climbed over. Of course your child will like it if you lift him up and swoop him over the big ones.

How does this rhyme end?
Jack be nimble, if you're able,
Jack jump over the kitchen _____.

Jack be nimble, do it again,
Jack jump over my blue ink _____.

Jack be nimble, read the news,
Jack jump over Mommy's ______.

Jack be nimble, Jack jump up,
Jack jump over my water ______.

Jack be nimble, Jack be fair,
Jack jump over my Teddy ______.

Jack be nimble, Jack come look,
Jack jump over my favorite ______. 

Game 3: Movement: Of course I LOVE that this chant gets us up and moving. Young children learn best when they have a whole-body experience, and they need plenty of practice to master the coordination of muscles.  

In this version of the game, invent different ways for your child to move by replacing the word JUMP with: SWIM, STEP, TWIRL, ROLL, CRAWL, SQUAT, TIP-TOE, FLY, TRIP, SCOOT, etc. If some of these aren't safe to do over a candlestick, try going around. 'Danny scoot around the candlestick.'

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