Thursday, January 8, 2015

Orange Roots and Bamboo Shoots

If your child is in the third year of Let's Play Music, your family is beginning the final semester: Orange Roots.  At a recent symposium, Let's Play Music creator Shelle Soelberg shared with me her process for choosing the semester icon, Orange Roots.  
It's Always Been About Making Musicians

By this final semester, Soelberg hoped parents would now have the years of experience to understand what creating a musician encompasses, to comprehend exactly what it takes, and then have a glorious moment to bask in the satisfaction of the achievement.  How could that all be conveyed in a semester name?

By now, Mom and Dad, your child has attended at least seventy-five classes: 3,675 minutes of classroom instruction.  You've found babysitters for siblings so you could be in class on parent week.  You've arranged schedules and meal-times and errands so your child could get to all seventy-five classes on time.  You set up a daily practice plan and played with your child and assisted in hundreds of hours of practice.  You helped with homework.  You may have even laminated ten complete sets of puppets!

And now something wonderful and exciting is finally happening: your child is learning some serious music theory, performing some fantastic songs, and even composing and transcribing her own music. Finally, your bamboo has sprouted!

The "Bamboo Lesson"

Shelle shared the popular motivational allegory , the "Bamboo Lesson" with me, and it makes perfect sense that this final semester should be a celebration of roots.  Before I share my version of the allegory with you... I invite you to watch this fantastic stop-film of a bamboo as it grows one meter per day!

There once was a music parent who felt discouraged.
Her child had been attending Red Balloon music lessons, 
but it didn't look like her daughter was becoming a great musician.
She began to lose hope, so she went to speak to the LPM teacher.

The teacher said, 
"Come, watch this fantastic stop-frame film of a bamboo tree growing."
Together they watched one day of growth.
The sprout rose from the ground and grew three feet.
Over the next several days it continued to explode upward.
At the end of six weeks, the bamboo was ninety feet tall.

Then he teacher asked, 
"So, how long did it take for the bamboo to grow to that impressive height?"
"Six Weeks!" the parent excitedly replied.
"Ah.  This interpretation will definitely set a person up for disappointment," 
said the teacher. 

 You see, this bamboo was grown from a seed:
Shortly after  planting, a tiny and fragile seedling appeared.
For a year, the grower watered and tended the seedling in a heated greenhouse, 
but the seedling did not appear to change. 

For a second year, the sensitive seedling was kept warm.
The farmer carefully watered and fertilized it.
Still it appeared unchanged.

For a third year, the seedling was kept in the greenhouse and carefully tended.
Finally, it was robust and stable enough to transplant outdoors.
For the fourth, fifth, and sixth years, the seedling was tended.
Each spring, a few new shoots appeared.  
Each spring, the shoots grew a bit taller, and a bit stronger.

In the seventh year, during the wet spring, new shoots sprang up.
They grew three impressive feet in the first day!
After six weeks, they reached 90 feet tall.  
It took seven years for the bamboo to develop, unseen, 
the strength to produce the 90 foot shoots.

What was happening during all those years when there was no visible growth?
Underneath the ground, out of sight,
a  network of roots was developing to support the bamboo's sudden growth.
If at any time the grower had stopped fertilizing and tending the bamboo
there would be no amazing performance in the seventh year.

Growth takes patience and perseverance.
Every practice session counts.
You might not see the change right away, but growth is happening!
During the entire Let's Play Music program, 
your child is developing an enormous network of roots.
Your child is growing a musical foundation that will support future years of practice.
Your child's roots will support amazing performance!

How Deep Are the Roots?

In Let's Play Music, we train students with a wide range of skills for musicianship; creating a foundation like musical roots that will support the fantastic growth that comes in this final year and for many years to come. In every aspect of music learning in the program, we grew the foundational skills first. This is the way to cultivate more than a students who can play piano...but students who are musicians.

For all these years, Mom and Dad, you watered and nurtured your bamboo and didn't give up!  When the teacher was asking your child to audiate, and you had no idea what she was really hearing in her mind; it was like trusting that roots were growing unseen below the ground.   All the time spent on listening to the chords, perfecting the hand shapes for playing, and singing cadences may have left you thinking, "Why doesn't my child just play something amazing already, and stop with these games!?"  Well, that bamboo would have missed out developing a critical foundation without those games.

But NOW you WILL really start to see the evidence of that watering and pruning and care: students who understand how music is put together and are ready to write their own songs.  Students who can talk about notes and rhythms using the correct terminology, and play correctly with correct counting.  Students who can harmonize a song (add chords to a melody) or hear chord progressions in music, and transpose it to other kids.  Students who ARE real musicians!

The "Chord Root" Lesson

The story of the bamboo forests and the importance of building a solid foundation (roots) is not the only reason we have Orange Roots as a semester name.

Students are now ready to learn how to build chords upon a root note.  You'll be learning this at Orange Lesson 5, but in case you get home and it's become a blur, let me run it by you one more time.

I. Choose Any Note.  We'll start the lesson by building a chord with three notes: a triad. (P.S. There's a song on your CD to teach you every triad.) You can choose ANY line or space note on the staff to begin; let's choose F for our example.

II. Add a Third and a Fifth.  You'll remember from our interval lessons that a third is also known as a skip.  So, a skip up from F is A.  A fifth up from F is C.  The top note is the "fifth", the middle note is the "third".  What special name do we have for the bottom note?  The ROOT! It's on the bottom, just like plant roots, and beautiful sounds grow out of it, just like beautiful flowers grow from roots.   

III. What shape do you see? Our chord is definitely looking like a snowman-shape.  It looks like a snowman because there are no gaps between the notes; they are all stacked up nice and neat.  We call this snowman-shape the ROOT POSITION.  Root position is super handy because it is super easy to identify the root: it's simply the guy on the bottom.  Since it's the root that gives a chord it's name, this is an F chord.

IV. Inversions. The reason this is an F chord is because it has F, A and C.  Even if those notes were in a different order, it would still be an F chord!  Let's try it...what if the F (root) were played on the TOP instead of the bottom? this chord has a very yellowy, bottom-heavy shape. We call this shape the FIRST INVERSION.  Well, drat, now when we look at something with this shape, how will we ever quickly identify the root?  The note above the gap's the root, it just has rearranged.  So...the root is STILL F. This is still an F CHORD.

V. Take it all the way.  That was fun, moving the F to the top.  Let's move the A to the top, too.  Well, now this thing has a very top-heavy, blue shape and we'll call it the SECOND INVERSION.  Even though it's a new shape, the note above the gap is STILL F, and this is still an F chord.  

Challenge Question: You just saw the F chord, and even though it was always the F chord (the root never changed), it was drawn with the shapes of what are commonly used for Red, Blue and Yellow chords.  So which one is it?  Now that you're in Orange Roots, it's time to learn that the SHAPE does not define the chord as red, blue or yellow.  It is the NOTES that define the chord.  In the key of C, an F chord is the BLUE chord (aka the IV chord because F is the 4th step up from C.)

Why Did We Do That?!

Now that you're a master of looking at these chords and finding the roots, you'll go through old songbooks and notice that our Red, Blue, and Yellow chords in the key of C are C chord, F chord, and G chord.  On page 1, you'll be playing the Primary Roots Song so you can see just how much jumping around your hand will have to do in order to play these 3 chords in root position all the time.  Jump your hand to C position, then F position, then G position! Whew!  (Mom and Dad, take the time to learn to play this is not too tricky and teaches a great lesson.)  

With the blessed use of inversions, we can play the Primary Chord Song with the Red chord in root position, the Blue in second inversion, and the Yellow chord in first inversion.  You have mastered the hand shapes required to do these chord structures and you'll be able to play all 3 chords without having to move your hand away from C position.  Well, that is super helpful!

So, congratulations and welcome to ORANGE ROOTS! Our amazing musicians are really starting to shine now.

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

** Yes, folks, I changed the original bamboo lesson a bit because it didn't line up very well with the science of bamboo growth. In the original story, no shoot comes above ground for several years, and the very first shoot to ever come up achieves maximum growth rate and height.  In reality, it likely takes 15 years for a rhizome to mature enough to send up a culm of maximum height, and growing from seed is not a great idea (in part because bamboo flowers as rarely as every 50 years).  Bamboo is fascinating (read more), so I didn't want to propagate (pun intended) false data about it, but I do love a good parable when I hear one.  

1 comment:

  1. Love this post and how it shows visually the amazing way we are helping to build well rounded musicians!!! Thanks for posting this !