As I’ve thought about venturing back into the writing and research world and what I might want to talk about on the website, I keep coming back to the idea of an authentic musician vs a perfect performer. I hear so many of my students and fellow performers talk about how they are working on “perfecting” a piece. My students get so anxious about performing a piece perfectly. And while it's possible that generations of musicians and music teachers may have meant well in holding the up-and-coming musicians to high standards, I think perfection is unrealistic and often harmful.
Much of traditional classical musical training revolves around putting certain musicians and composers on pedestals as examples of greatness to strive toward. Vocalist are told they will only "make it" if they have big booming voices and can sing on stages like The Metropolitan Opera. While singing on this stage carries a great deal of prestige, it is not the only way to measure success.
It is time to encourage musicians to embrace their authentic sound and find their own path for success. While some changes in higher educational curriculum now open up musicians to non-classical paths, such as music industry studies or contemporary music studies, we still have a way to go in encouraging a broader approach to performance and individual instrument study.
We have a lot of specific thoughts about this and are excited to launch this new series: The Authentic Musician. We hope you'll engage with us and share your thoughts on this topic. Furthermore, we hope to influence future musicians to embrace their authentic sound and path.
Avoid Quitters Regret
I can't tell you how many people come up to me and tell me how they took piano for a few years and then their parents let them quit and they really regret it and wish they had stuck with it. Seriously, if I had $1 for every time I heard this sad tale, I could fund all my Disney travel desires.
Why is this such a common tale? Every year, many students begin learning an instrument. For some, it may be through a school band, orchestra or choir program. For others, they may start down the path of private music lessons. Regardless of the reason or instrument, approximately 50% will quit within the first 2 years.
WHAT?! I have candy that's lasted longer than that (ok not really...I mean only if said candy is hiding in a really good hiding spot...but you get my point).
Let's take a moment and think about what would happen if kids quit other things at that rate. What if 1/2 of all students quit math after 2nd grade? No multiplication, division, geometry...some of those quitters might have gone on to learn to love math and become engineers or doctors. What if we missed out on important discoveries because kids got to opt out of math or science. What would civilization be like if we all stopped reading after we mastered the Magic Treehouse books? Who would have made Harry Potter so popular that it became a movie and a theme park? Poor kids might actually think that the movie versions of The Hobbit are what Tolkien wrote (Don't even get me started on that)!
So what are the reasons that these kids are quitting? And how can we change those numbers? Well, I've got some ideas I'm going to share here.
1. Kids don't think they're good enough musicians. I don't know about you, but I work really hard to explain to my students that learning an instrument is a process. One lesson isn't going to make them a master. But I think that in today's society, where instant gratification is the order of the day, kids are so accustomed to getting what the want when they want it, that working for anything is a concept a little beyond their grasp. But it's such an important lesson to learn! Sure your student might not be a prodigy. But that's ok. Let them practice and learn and love music. Loving music is what it's all about anyway.
2. Parents get tired of nagging and students don't want to practice. I covered this in a previous post about practicing. But you've got to find the way that works for you. Don't give up! Every child is different. Maybe your students has a hard time sitting for 30 minutes. Let them break their practice time into two 15-minute slots! Have them fill up a sticker sheet for practicing. Once they've practice 30 days, give them a special prize. It's not easy and it might require some nagging. I know my mom nagged me A LOT! And I constantly thank her for it.
3. The music they play isn't "fun". I'll be the first to admit that I practice more if it's a piece I enjoy. However, students have to learn fundamentals before they can play anything "fun". I have all kinds of books with 5 finger and big note music from movies and Disney, but they still will have to be able to read notes. Some of them require knowing sharps and flats and that's something my students don't fully incorporate until toward the end of their first method book. But I'm happy to let them work to earn "fun" pieces. After they've passed off a certain number of songs (and obviously have the skills required for the piece they want), I let them choose from the pieces that I have. It would also be helpful to take them to concerts or recitals of advanced musicians so they can see what might be.
4. They're too busy for music lessons. I know there are a lot of options of things for kids to participate in. I just wonder why music seems to be perceived as a lower priority than other things. The lessons learned from learning an instrument are enormous (I've got another blog post on that). They are different, but just as important as the skills learned while playing team sports. And if learning an instrument is part of a school class, then that needs to be given just as much weight as any other academic class. If you can make time for 2 soccer teams, 3 dance classes and tennis lessons, you can make time for music lessons.
5. Students take a break over the summer. Goodness this drives me bonkers. Summer is the best time to get into a really good habit with your music! You don't have all the homework weighing down on you! You usually have fewer of those "busy" activities. And you're not spending 6 hours a day at school. But inevitably, every year I have students who either excuse themselves from lessons entirely, or just don't practice because it's summer. For school groups, if you don't touch your instrument all summer, what will happen when you go back? You're going to get frustrated because you can't do things that used to be easy for you. This will make you feel like a failure. That frustration will spiral, you're not in a good habit of practicing because of your summer hiatus and that's not likely to get fixed overnight once school and the insanity that comes with it begins again. If you don't read over the summer, you're so far behind in your English classes. Think about how much review is required in math classes once school is in session again. If your student to feel successful, help them practice during the summer.
6. Teachers don't offer enough performing opportunities. It's always nice to have something to work for. Recitals can be a goal for students to work toward. However, sometimes that can be a little intimidating, especially to beginning students. For my studio, I have group lessons a few times each semester. In group lessons, it's kind of like a mini recital, but only with the other students. This gets the kids used to performing in front of people. It also helps them learn how to be part of an attentive audience. Additionally, at group lessons I discuss with the students different topics. For my voice students, we might talk about vocal health. One time, we even did Vocal Yoga together (I really should have taken pictures of that...it was a riot). For my piano students, it might be the importance of following correct fingering. For any student, I often discuss topics like performance anxiety and etiquette or practicing methods. This gives my students opportunities to perform and a reason to be prepared with a song that I usually let them choose. It's also in an environment where they can feel successful and see others are struggling with similar things.
There really are a number of reasons that students might quit music lessons. Let's all work together to try to prevent more of the "I wish I hadn't quit" stories from being quite so popular!
I had this idea about 4 hours into my day yesterday to do a blog post about what I do in a day. I really do feel very fortunate to be able to set my own work hours and work from home (mostly). This flexibility means my husband and I can go to school and further our education and support ourselves in that endeavor. I also love teaching and after working in many different fields and jobs, I can tell you that if you find something you love and can support your family doing it, that's the dream.
Anyway, so here is a glimpse at a day in the life of a private music teacher...
I'm not gonna lie, I sleep in during the summer. More accurately, I try to stay in my bed until around 8:30 am. We don't have kids, so I realize this is a luxury most don't get to enjoy. And I really enjoy my morning downtime during the summer because I know that when school starts again, I have a 7:30 am class, which I am not particularly enthused about, but that's how the cookie crumbles.
I get out of bed and start my morning routine by making the bed. I can usually hear my husband out in the living room suffering through his morning exercise routine. I don't like to suffer, so I pound out a few push ups and crunches and call it good. I'm a night time shower-er so I don't worry about that in the morning. I get ready and head to the kitchen to make breakfast. My husband has gotten on a healthy kick recently, so I made us a smoothie for breakfast while he got cleaned up after he was done with his exercising.
If I'm smart, I immediately start on a to do list. Otherwise, I end up bonding with my recliner and Netflix. Yesterday was a good day and I started early with some practice time. Not only am I a student, but I am an active performer, so I have practicing to do. Part of practicing for me includes IPA and translation of texts in foreign languages. I spent a couple of hours doing that yesterday.
I do this for all of my foreign language pieces. I count this as part of my practice time because it helps me with my memorization and interpretation of the pieces. It is definitely one of the more tedious things I do during practice time.
By the time I was done with this project, it was lunch time. So I fixed myself some lunch and treated myself to an episode of The West Wing on Netflix.
Next up on the schedule was teaching time. During the summer, with everyone being so busy with traveling and summer fun, I don't always have a full teaching schedule. Yesterday, I only had 3 lessons to teach.
One piano lesson and two voice lessons later, and I was left to tidy up after my teaching adventures. I use a lot of props and such for teaching. And since our teaching space is also our living space, I always make sure to clean up right after finishing lessons.
I love using the exercise ball when teaching students about support. Truth be told, it's one of my favorite things to use when I'm practicing too. And last summer's stroke of genius to write up warm ups to keep at the piano and hand out to all the students has saved my sanity. Sometimes my brain just can't come up with warm ups on the fly.
We decided to take in a movie yesterday afternoon. So we headed off to the movie theater and enjoyed the new Star Trek movie. And because we're music nerds, I have to mention how much we love Michael Giacchino's movie music.
Then we picked up a little dinner on our way back to the house and I introduced a new show to my husband. My friend and I have recently started watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on Netflix. It's quirky and hilarious. And its' characters randomly burst into song. Hilarious songs. So I watched an episode with my husband and then watched an episode with my friend. Actually, she lives across the country. So we both watch and text each other during it. Because we're cool like that.
This summer, my husband and I have tried to take nightly walks. It gets pretty toasty during the day in Utah so we wait until the sun goes down and it starts to cool off. We go out and walk around a bit and now that Pokemon Go has come out, we catch Pokemon too. Because we're cool like that.
Then we come home and wind down for bed. My husband has been working on a puzzle.
Well, that's pretty much it. A day in the life of a Private Music Teacher. The routine varies a bit. On days when I don't teach, I spend time working on lesson plans or reading books about pedagogy. I spent 3 hours the other day planning for the Fall Group Music Classes for young kids.
And sometimes we have performances in the evening. Right now, we are performing at Desert Star Playhouse in it's production of "Perfect Pitch", which is a spoof on Pitch Perfect.
I am so grateful that my husband and I are able to continue to work to help us get through school. Our programs are very involved and we spend a lot of time at the school, so a regular job isn't as feasible for us. We take our job as teachers very seriously and work to make sure our students are getting a thorough music education.
Get Your Practice On
Practicing is a seemingly never ending gripe for every music student since the beginning of time.
"This is boring."
"I don't like this song."
"Has it been 30 minutes yet?"
"This practicing is really getting in the way of my Pokemon Go time."
If you're a teacher or the parent of a musician, you've heard them all. There's always a part of me that thinks practicing will improve when school gets out and summer comes. All of the "I have so much homework" excuses will disappear and hours of time each day will open wide open for practicing.
And then summer lessons get going and somehow practicing has gotten worse. "We've been out of town." or "It's so hard to have a schedule during the summer." or "I had to beat a level on my video game." We're all really good at making excuses.
And sometimes, as a teacher, I get really tired of just saying "Ok, but next week do better at practicing." Sometimes I run out of tricks in my bag to help students practice more consistently.
So how do we become better as teachers and parents at encouraging students to practice? I've got a couple of things that have worked for me in the past that I'll share with you in this post. I'd also LOVE to hear from other teachers and parents and students! Share in the comments what helps you!
Preparing to Practice
1. Try to find a quiet place to practice. Sometimes that can be difficult when you want to practice piano and you're the oldest of 6 kids (that was me). Quiet was something that wasn't plentiful at my house. But see if people could at least go to a different room/area or outside while you practice. You'll have a more successful practice session if you have fewer distractions.
2. Have supplies you need nearby. Pencils, metronome, timer, whatever you might need.
3. Technology can help, but it can also be one of those distractions we talked about earlier.
4. Make a goal before you practice. Pick something you want to accomplish by the end of your practice session. Write down your goals so they are more real and can refer to them during your practicing.
5. Figure out in what order you will be practicing things.
6. Practice smarter. Break things down into manageable pieces.
7. Don't always start at the beginning of songs. I usually rock the beginning of my songs. Because that's where I always start. I have to remind myself that if I want my song to be successful throughout, I need to start at the middle or the end to strengthen other parts.
8.Set a reward yourself. If I make it through a good practice session and achieve my goals, I like to eat a cookie or little treat.
During Your Practice
It helps if you have a map for your practice time. And I happen to have one I really like.
This helps my students map out their practice time and keep them accountable. I use it for my piano and voice students. If the students will use it, I've seen serious improvements at lessons. So often we just sit down and play songs and at the end, can't even say what we really did for 30 minutes. This helps kids identify the trouble spots in songs so they actually get better from week to week.
I also encourage my students to start practicing with their least favorite song. That way it actually get it practiced and the better you practice, the sooner you can pass it off and get a new song you might like better.
Practice Pays Off
It always feels good to be able to pass off a song and move on. Cookies feel better. Ok. Incentives in general tend to be pretty, well, incentivizing. Maybe you want to keep a sticker chart and once they pass off 10 songs, they can choose a "fun" song (i.e. Harry Potter or Disney or Star Wars), or pick a prize from a prize bucket. Or have them fill out their daily practice sheets and once they've turned in 8 completed, they get a prize. Maybe even recognize the top "Practicers" at a recital with a special certificate or gift card to a local music store.
And at home, you can do something similar. Have a chart your student can put a sticker on each time they practice and after it's filled up, let them have a special treat!
(I love all things disney. So Disney Cookies would be a real motivator to me.)
I am always ready to hear other good ideas to help with practicing. So If anyone else has ideas to encourage students to practice, I'd love to hear them! And if any of these ideas can help make your students practicing a little more pleasant, then I've succeeded!
Good Luck in your Practicing endeavors!
Summer Music Camp Recital
We wrapped up our Kids Summer Music Camp this week with a recital. It's been so much fun to spend 2 mornings a week with these kiddos! And they've worked so hard and have learned so much! I wanted everyone to be able to see what they were able to accomplish in just a short 4 weeks!
Of course we had to do our warm ups and show off our solfege skills. They hardly need any help from me! And the our littlest class sings their song. You get about 3/4 of it before my iPad decides it's too hot outside and shuts down.
We had a few older girls join us and I decided it would be "fun" for them to get to sing solos. They worked really hard and I'm really proud of them for being so brave and stand in front of everyone and sing.
This is the younger half of our older class. They worked with Adam to learn "I Won't Grow Up" from Peter Pan while I worked with the older girls on their solos. I love how much enthusiasm these kids have while performing this song! And please notice how well they all know the words and the audience can actually understand them! Way to go guys!
Our Boomwhacker attempt with the kids went better in practice than it did in the performance. They were a little passive about hitting the boomwhackers, which I promise you was not a problem in practice. This is our attempt at "The Imperial March" from Star Wars.
I'm so glad you asked! We're about to start our final week of the first session of Kids Summer Music Camp. It has been a lot of fun! The kids have been learning all kinds of things about music and they've been learning to sing some really fun songs too! In fact, they will be showcasing these songs at a mini recital at the end of Camp! I can't wait for the parents to see everything the kids have learned!
I've really love watching them discover a love of music. It's so fun for me to be their guide this summer! And I'm so proud of all that they've done!
Take a look for yourself! And sign up for Session 2 of Summer Camp starting July 18th (If there's enough demand) or sign up to join us this fall in our Weekly Music Classes for kids ages 3-12!
Here we are reviewing our note values! Our older class is working on knowing whole, half, quarter, eighth and sixteenth notes!
Here is the younger class singing their "Do Re Mi"s! Aren't they adorable?
And here is the older class giving you a sneak peak at their Chitty Chitty Bang Bang song they will be performing at the recital!
Isn't this all so much fun?!
Keep watching the blog and website for more details about the Fall semester of Music Classes for your kids! I have some more fun and exciting things for the kids to learn this fall and I'd love to have your kids join us!
For more information, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Gearing up for Summer Camp
The school year is quickly drawing to a close. Soon all the kids will be home.
"Mom! I'm bored!"
"Mom! I'm hungry!"
"Mom! I don't have anything to do!"
"Mom! Mom! MOM!"
Has the panic started setting in? What are you going to do with your kids for the next 3 months? I mean, sure. Losing your mind is always an options. But let's call that Plan B. What's Plan A, you ask?
Doesn't this seem like a much better alternative to insanity? You can send your kids to me for a couple of hours each week and I will not only entertain them, but I will teach them music!
What at kinds of things will they be doing and learning? Glad you asked!
:No. Your eyes do not deceive you! That is indeed Star Wars music for my little boomwhacking 3-4 year olds. And I'm sorry but Minions doing the solfege hand signs ,ought be the most adorable thing in music education like ever. My middle class will have fun learning basic note reading and writing with a handy little coloring work book.
The oldest group is going to learn some music theater songs! And that includes choreography! Don't worry. You don't have to be an award winning dancer. You just need to be enthusiastic!
I know ive said this before...but you are not going to want to miss out on this Summer Music Camp! In fact, you should register today to guarantee your spot!
Go to the website to register! I will them contact you via email to verify your registration and give you more information. Register now and don't worry about paying until the first day of your class!
Don't spend your summer hiding from your kids while clutching a mostly empty bag of chocolate chips! Send your kids to me!
For more info and to register go here:
See you soon!
Music Education in the Home
I grew up with parents who really worked to enhance our school-based education with varied learning experience outside a classroom setting. I think too often nowadays, we get so busy, we expect too much of the educational burden to fall in teachers and schools. The fact of the matter is, teachers have rigorous standards to meet, a over loaded curriculum and endless paper work to compete. Some aspects of education might have to slip through the cracks. Quite often arts education is one of the first things to fall to the wayside. That's where parents (and of course private music instructors) come in to help pick up the slack.
You don't need to wait until your children are school-aged to start implementing music into your at home learning time. If you start when they are tiny tots, it will become part of your regular routine and it will be easy to continue have music time after they start school.
What should you be doing at home to introduce your tiny kids to music? Well, I'm glad you asked! That's exactly what this post is about! Below are just a few ideas to make music a more prominent part of you home learning environment!
1. Play a variety of music. Thanks to Pandora and Spotify and Amazon Prime (the list goes on), we have access to any kind of music you could ever want (and probably some you never want). Turn it on in the background during playtime or while they eat lunch. Even infants can enjoy the music and it will help with their cognitive development!
2. Play a lullaby and nap time and bed time. Some of you might already have a white noise machine or something to help block out the business of life when your little ones sleep. Try using so,e classical music! There are so many choices! Baby Einstein has classical lullabies or there's the newer Rockabye Baby CD's. Find what works best for you and your littles! I suggest music without words while they sleep so they aren't tempted to sing along.
3. Set aside time for free dance! Just out on some favorite tunes and let loose with the kids.
4. Practice clapping to the beat of different songs. This will help your kids rhythm instincts thrive!
5. Let them sing along! Kids love singing! And the younger they start(I love when babies who can't talk yet think they can sing along. It's adorable and hilarious!) the sooner their sense of pitch will develop.
6. Enroll your kid in group music classes. Most of these kinds of classes will teach rhythm and other musical elements through fun games and simple children's songs. In the group setting, they'll work on social skills as well as music skills! And the kids will have a fun time! Look around your area to see what classes might be offered through your city or through local private music schools and teachers in your area!
7. Buy your kids play instruments. Fisher Price and Playskool make plenty of toys in this category. I know they're noisy. Set aside a time a couple times a week to get these toys out and let them experiment. Let them have fun!
8. Enroll your kids in private lessons. Suzuki method teachers will often take students as young as 3 or 4 for violin or piano lessons. Most other teachers prefer waiting until at least kindergarten or until they can read.
These are just a few suggestions on how to incorporate music education at home! But there are many more.
I want to know what has worked in your house! Leave a comment to share your experiences with others! That's how we all learn!
Yesterday was National Superhero Day. We love Superheroes at our Griffiths Music Studio. Adam is the resident expert around here so I had him compile a list of 10 Superhero Themes you'll be humming for the rest of the day.
And in no particular order:
1. X-Men Cartoon Theme- Ah the good ol' days of superhero cartoons. I remember watching these after school with my brother.
2. X-Men movies- Let's not give all the X-Men glory to the animated series. (Composer for X-Men 1 is Michael Kamen)
3. Nanananananana BATMAN!- You're welcome.
4. Tim Burton Batman- You know this one is iconic as well. And we have Danny Elfman to thank for it!
5. Dark Knight Trilogy- So much good batman music! This theme is courtesy of Hans Zimmer.
6. The Incredibles- Let's come out of the darkness and enjoy a superhero theme that might not have immediately jumped to your mind. But you know it belongs on this list and so does its' composer, Michael Giacchino.
7. Spider-Man- Our niece LOVES Spider-Man! And with such a catchy theme song, who can blame her?
8. Spider-Man Movie- Regardless of your feelings about the Spiderman movies, but the theme music is pretty good. But Danny Elfman has had some practice with superhero themes.
9. The Avengers- I have a friend who listens to this music while she runs. And who can blame her? It makes me feel like a superhero too. Well done composer Alan Silvestri.
10. Superman- The King of Movie Themes, John Williams, is a good option for topping off our list.
Man, that's some good music! Makes me want to get out there and fight crime! If you walk around with any of these stuck in your head today, well, you could definitely do worse.
Leave a comment and let us know what other Superhero themes you love! Obviously this isn't a comprehensive list!
We'd also like to leave you with an honorable mention...because childhood nostalgia....
I'm not [completely] ashamed to admit that I like to read Buzzfeed. And I'm a sucker for the lists. "7 kitchen gadgets that will change your life" "22 gifs that are basically you as an adult" "15 quotes from Parks and Rec that perfectly describe finals week"
So today, I'm giving you a Buzzfeed-esque list!
1. Mark Twain- Did you know Mark Twain played the accordian, guitar and banjo? True story.
2. Zooey Deschanel- That really is her singing in Elf and she sings the Theme song for New Girl. Did you also know that she is in a musical group called "She and Him"?
3. Albert Einstein- There's no question this guy was a genius. Is it a coincidence that he also happened to play piano and violin?
4. Hugh Laurie- We love him as Dr Gregory House, cantankerous genius with social issues. And like his character, Hugh Laurie is also an accomplished musician. He especially loves Jazz.
5. Neil Armstrong- This name is the first we think of when we think of the moon and space travel. But did you know that Neil Armstrong also played the Baritone?
6. Ryan Gosling- Is there anything he can't do? Watch him sing and play the piano with some cute kids singing back up.
7. Louis Braille- This is one of my favorites. The man who created Braille (the way blind people can read) played the Organ. I just think that's super cool.
8. Condolezza Rice- This Former Secretary of State even got to tickle the ivories for Queen Elizabeth II. And you might have seen her in a cameo on the TV show 30 Rock.
9. Bernie Williams- For those of you who know sports (I'm not really up on my sportsing), he was a New York Yankee. But apparently he's also grammy nominated and composes his own songs. He plays the Guitar.
10. Chris Evans- Our very own Captain America has a hidden talent. Watch him play and sing with his brother. It's a bit rough, but I'm sure it's because he was worn out from saving the world or doing push ups or something.
Lists are fun. I liked watching various videos while I put this one together. It's fun to see all the hidden talents of people we think we know so much about!
I will definitely be doing more lists like this!
Adam and Wendi have extensive music experience, as teachers and performers.