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5 Excellent Goals for Kids’ Music Lessons | A Guide for Parents & Teachers

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As teachers, what should you keep in mind as you create music lesson plans for kids? And as parents, how should we be encouraging our children as they’re taking lessons? Here, Brooklyn, NY teacher Julie P. shares her ideas…

 

Music lessons are a great opportunity for any child, no matter what their musical goals are. In fact, goals for music lessons don’t have to be entirely musical. Most children who take music lessons will not grow up to be professional musicians, so it’s great to focus on some of the big picture skills when investing time and money into lessons. When it comes to music lesson plans for kids, here are five great goals for parents and teachers alike to keep in mind:

1. Enjoy Playing and Making Music

This most important goal for any child’s music lessons is for the child to have fun. Yes, there is a fair amount of hard work that goes into creating music lesson plans for kids, but if the student isn’t enjoying the process, then he or she probably won’t continue to play music for very long. Every student is different and not all students will enjoy the same music or teaching styles. Parents, if your child isn’t having fun learning to play music, consider approaching your teacher about it to come up with some ways to engage your child better. This might include the student composing his or her own songs, performing duets with other students, or learning a pop song.

2. Improve Listening Skills

Learning how to play an instrument is a long and challenging process that requires the ability to take directions and follow them accurately. In music there are many rules and parameters governing the skills being acquired, all of which will be new to the student. Teachers help students acquire the necessary skills using appropriate music lesson plans, including exercises and practice techniques that help the student approach the new skills from multiple angles. This is a great opportunity to hone listening skills, as the students will need to listen carefully to the teacher’s directions and examples in order to progress.

3. Develop Perseverance

Kids who take music lessons have an opportunity to develop perseverance. Not only are kids challenged to maintain a consistent practice schedule, but they will also come across skills that are difficult for them to grasp. Children who learn how to keep working on those skills even when it gets difficult will carry those perseverance skills into all other areas of life.

4. Develop Confidence

Studying music is a great way for kids to increase their confidence. Kids are often proud of the new musical skills they develop, especially when they’ve worked hard for a certain skill. They learn that the key to developing confidence is careful and thorough preparation. There are many performance opportunities available, from band and orchestra concerts to recitals and community concerts, such as at nursing homes or places of worship. Kids also have weekly opportunities at lessons to perform for their teacher in a low-stress environment. Some kids who study music are hesitant to perform in front of people, but there are many group performance opportunities than can bolster their confidence, even if they choose to not perform a solo.

5. Develop an Appreciation for Music

Music will continue to be a part of kids’ lives as they grow up, even if they don’t continue with music lessons. If they learn to appreciate different kinds of music they will end up as a supportive member of the musical community. Many adults who took music lessons when they were young find great enjoyment in going to concerts of all genres (classical, folk, rock, blues, etc.). Often I will hear them say that they appreciate the work the musicians put into their craft, having experienced when they were young the kind of hard work it took to learn an instrument. Kids who develop this appreciation through music lessons will open up many doors for enjoying music in the future.

There are many benefits to music lessons, and many different goals to pursue. These are five great goals for kids’ music lessons that will benefit children for the rest of their lives. If you’d like your child to start taking music lessons, find a TakeLessons teacher near you here!

JuliePJulie P. teaches flute, clarinet, music theory, and saxophone lessons in Brooklyn, NY. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Music Education from Ithaca College and her Masters in Music Performance from New Jersey City University. Learn more about Julie here!

 

 

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6 Things You Can Do to Support Your Young Composer | Tips for Parents

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Do you catch your son or daughter making up songs during the day? Learn how to encourage your little one in this guest post from New York, New York teacher Natalie L...

 

Imagine if students were taught to read and speak but not write. What if they were taught literature and the alphabet, but never applied this knowledge to formulate original thoughts? As ludicrous as this seems, it is common practice in most music programs where students are instructed in reading, listening, and playing music but not in composing music.

However, composition can be taught to children.

Most young children are creative and musical by nature, which is evident in their love of nursery rhymes, sing-a-longs, musical toys, and vivid make-believe worlds. In addition, composition:

  • Instills deeper music intelligence beyond simply listening to music or playing an instrument.
  • Fosters general life skills, such as problem-solving and decision-making. This includes thinking in and about sound, exploring sounds, and generating, testing, and selecting ideas.
  • Imparts self-esteem. Composing music that students can then listen to, download to their cell phone, and play for their friends is a unique and powerful experience.

Want to help? As a parent, here are six things you can do to support your young composer:

1. Expose them to a lot of music
Providing children with a musical environment at home is very important, as they will most likely start to compose by mimicking the music they hear around them. Play the radio in the car, let them watch cartoons with music, sing children’s songs with them, take them to a musical now and then, and have some Mozart playing in the background while you’re cooking. They will absorb it all.

2. Introduce them to a musical instrument
Composing music is a lot easier when you have an instrument to compose on. The most common instrument for composition is piano, because you can play melody and accompaniment at the same time. Guitar is another popular option.

Playing an instrument also helps children learn musical theory and note-reading, which will ultimately make them better musicians and more confident composers. Even getting a small keyboard and letting them play around on it can be very helpful in encouraging musical exploration.

3. Focus on telling a story
Composing can be very abstract. To make things a little more concrete, focus on telling a story with music.

Ask them what sounds remind them of specific emotions and images. For example, holding down the pedal on the piano will have a “dreamy” effect, while playing staccato notes on very high keys might sounds like a little bird. Going down by half steps might be someone walking down the stairs.

Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf is a wonderful example of personifying music, so I would suggest listening to this piece together as a start.

4. Don’t censor them
When your child first sets out to write music, don’t worry about her being the next Mozart. The piece she writes might be completely non-sensical, with no clear structure or hook — and starting out that way is fine. Her first drawings were probably messy blobs, but you still proudly displayed them on the refrigerator. Think of early compositions in the same way.

5. Create a tangible representation of the composition
There is nothing as powerful to students as having a tangible representation of their work. Because musical notation is a relatively advanced skill, don’t worry about having them write their music down yet.

You could record their piece on a CD and display it with the rest of your CD collection. Or they could draw a picture of their piece if it tells a story or make an abstract finger painting. And don’t forget to give it a title! This is one of the most fun parts for them and makes them feel the piece is real.

6. Consider private composition lessons
Once your child shows interest and aptitude for composing music, enrolling him in private composition lessons will help him grow. A teacher trained in music composition can give young composers direction, instruct them on harmony and form, get them to think more abstractly, encourage them, and help them find their unique musical voice. Middle school or even late elementary is not too young to start, depending on their own motivation and interest.

On a personal note, I began making up songs at age four, began piano lessons at age six, and was formally composing music by age nine. I was lucky enough to have a private piano teacher who encouraged me and never made me feel I was too young for composition. No one ever told me I couldn’t do it, so I assumed I could – and I did, eventually earning my Master’s in Music Composition.

Composition isn’t just for prodigies – it’s a form of artistic expression that every child is capable of doing. And who knows? With the right encouragement and guidance, they might surprise you.

NatalieLNatalie L. teaches singing, piano, songwriting, and more in New York, New York. She has a Master of Music in music theory and composition from New York University, a Bachelor of Music in musical theater from the Catholic University of America, and a certificate in vocal performance from the Peabody Prepratory. Learn more about Natalie here! 

 

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How Can I Support My English Language Learner Child?

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Parents, you play a huge role in helping your child learn in between private tutoring sessions. Here are some ideas to help your English-learner work on their skills, from North Hollywood, CA tutor Brittany G

 

When I first got my teaching credential, I was in suburban Connecticut. The majority of students in the classroom where I did my observations and student teaching were native English speakers, with a handful who spoke another language as well. When I moved to California, the most noticeable difference was the number of non-native English speakers in the classroom. This inspired me to get my Master’s of Education in TESOL, Literacy, and Culture from the University of San Diego. Through this program, I was given the opportunity to conduct an action research project investigating best practices for supporting Kindergarten English Language Learners in the mainstream classroom. These findings can be generalized to help parents and tutors uncover methods for supporting their English language learner children outside of the classroom as well in phonics and phonemic awareness.

Some Background on English Language Learners

Between 1980 and 2009, the number of children in the United States aged 5-17 who spoke a language other than English at home skyrocketed from 4.7 to 11.2 million, the equivalent of a jump from 10 to 21 percent of the population, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The California Department of Education website states that English learners make up 23.2 percent of the total enrollment in California public schools in 2010-11. Nearly 37.4 percent of the state’s public school enrollment speaks a language other than English at home, and the majority of these ELLs are enrolled in Kindergarten through sixth grade (California Department of Education [CDE], 2012).

Tools You Can Use

  1. AlphaFriends is an adorable program by Houghton Mifflin that introduces each letter with a corresponding song to highlight the letter-sound correspondence. If your child is having trouble matching letters to sounds, take some time during the week to introduce an AlphaFriend and practice singing the song. One teacher’s compilation is available here.
  2. Alphabet Bingo is a fun way to practice letter-sound correspondance. You can call out a letter, name the AlphaFriend, or choose another word starting with the same letter, and your child has to find and mark the picture on their Bingo card. Over time, you can increase the difficulty by having your child look for middle or end sounds, for instance, “Find the middle sound in the word ‘cat.’” Your child should break apart the word into /c//a//t/ and search for the letter “A.” Here’s a link to some printable Bingo cards.
  3. Let them write! Ask your child to write down their favorite food. Instead of being focused on the proper spelling, work with them to figure out what sounds they want to make and what letter best represents it. For example, I’ve asked students to write out “Ice Cream,” and the process looks something like this:

Teacher: What sounds do you hear first?
Student: I
Teacher: Okay, so what letter is that?
(Student writes “I”)
Teacher: What sound do you hear next?
Student: Ssss
Teacher: Great, lets write the /s/ sound.
(Student write “s”)
Teacher: Next up is /k/.
Student: That sounds like K…

When all is said and done, you might have Iskrem. This is a perfect opportunity to talk about how the letter “c” can make the sounds /s/ and /k/! Create a comfortable environment where your child feels comfortable to take risks and knows that even if they make a mistake, it’s better to try than not. Get your child talking and you will see amazing things!

Identifying letters and sounds are crucial skills for kindergarten and first grade students. Without these building blocks, it is very difficult to move forward into more advance reading and spelling skills. By setting aside 10-20 minutes a day to provide extra support, parents and tutors can help low-level English Language Learners (ELLs) catch up with their peers. It is so important to get involved early and help your child stay on track.

I hope some of my ideas can come in handy, and would highly recommend that you experiment on your own to see what other methods might work for your child.

BrittanyGBrittany G. tutors in a variety of subjects in North Hollywood, CA, as well as through online lessons. She graduated from the University of Hartford in 2011 with a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education, and has also received a Connecticut Teaching Certification for Elementary K-6 and a Certificate of Clearance to teach in California. Learn more about Brittany here!

 
 
 

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Tips for Parents: 4 Ways to Help Your Child in Music

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Not sure how to encourage your child in between his or her music lessons? Show your support with the following strategies from Nashville teacher Dave L.:

So your child has begged you for music lessons, chosen an instrument, and is about to begin this new and exciting journey in music… what now? You’ve just paid a bunch of money for an instrument, instruction books, accessories… you’re considering the time and money it’s all going to take in order for them to do this… what ELSE can you as their parent or guardian possibly do for your child to help them succeed in their musical journey that the teacher CANNOT provide? This article will give you a checklist of options. The main assumption is only that your child is important to you (obviously!) and you already provide them with a living space some or all of the time. The final assumption is that we as the teacher/parent team want your child to be successful their endeavors.

So what’s first?

1. Help your child create a special music area. This could be an extra room or their own room. Include items such as a music stand, metronome, perhaps an instrument stand, a place to keep their instruction books, and also an audio source such as an iPod or CD player. This space should be a place where they can play uninterrupted away from outside distractions like their cell phone, pets, friends, and siblings. It should also be an area that is kept clean (by the student) – once kids see the value in maintaining this type of area as their own, they’ll take pride in ownership, which will spill over into their learning.

2. Understand that interest = practice, and not necessarily the other way around. You obviously want your child to practice as much as his or her teacher does. But neither the teacher nor you as the parent can truly force the student to do this while also expecting them to find enjoyment in playing music. The student must develop an intrinsic motivation to do this. Help your child create a practice schedule that fits with their daily activities – if they’re a beginner, 15 minutes a day is a great start. While they’re practicing, peek in once or twice as more of a “fan” or audience member. Show interest and ask open-ended questions about what they’re doing, like “Wow, that sounded really cool – how are you making that sound?” or “Can you show ME how to hold the instrument?”  - then all of a sudden the student gets to “play teacher” for a minute and show you what they’re learning, which only strengthens the learning process for them.

3. Help your child create a fun music library that incorporates the instrument they’re playing. Ask your child’s teacher for recommendations if you aren’t sure. Also, bringing them to live concert events that feature a soloist or group playing the instrument of study is a great way to motivate your child. This may also be a nice way to introduce them to music that is exciting to you, as well!

4. Encourage discovery. Allow your child to make his or her own discoveries in music as often as possible. This encourages independence, confidence, and motivation. So many times I see parents come down hard on their kids for not practicing, or smothering the child with criticism, many times with all good intentions (impress the teacher, progress faster, etc.). But it’s my opinion that this approach isn’t best. We want to help them reach their OWN goals. The discovery in this case may be that music just isn’t what interests them – which is OK! Other students will discover a brand new love for life through music and along the way continue to learn about the world, themselves, and humanity. I believe it’s our job as educators and parents to help our youth find exactly what they’re looking for. Music is just one of MANY vehicles we can use.

Thanks for reading!

DavidJDave L. teaches clarinet, flute, music performance, music theory, piano, and saxophone lessons in Nashville, TN. Dave holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education from The University of Central Florida, and is currently the touring keyboardist/saxophonist for Platinum-selling band Sister Hazel. Previously he toured with artists such as 80s pop icon Tiffany and Grammy-nominated vocalist John Berry. Learn more about Dave here!

 

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Moms Vs. Dads: See Who Dances Better

Since time immemorial, human beings have been embarrassed by the way their parents dance. Then, we grow up and become embarrassing parents ourselves. It’s all part of the circle of life.

For our Moms versus Dads ultimate dance-off, who better to demonstrate the fine art of parental booty-shaking than Jimmy Fallon? His “Evolution of Dance” videos are completely on point and sure to make you laugh!

Ladies first! Take it away, Moms!

Don’t take that laying down, Dads! Show us what you’ve got!

With moves like “the slippery snake” and “driving the station wagon,” this one is too close for us to call. What do you think? Who dances better? Tell us in the comments below!

 

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How to Find Free Piano Lessons for Kids – And if They’re Worth It

Free LessonsThese days, there are so many resources available to help you or your kids learn how to play the piano – and many of them are free.  But are free piano lessons for kids the best way to learn? Are there any differences between finding free resources, or paying for private piano lessons? In this article, we’ll go over some of the options, and how to determine what will best suit your child’s needs.

Finding Free Piano Lessons for Kids — Available Free Resources

  • YouTube: Nowadays, it’s extremely easy to browse YouTube and find videos on how to play the piano. There is an almost infinite amount of videos, and more and more show up every day. You’ll also find a wide variety of lessons, providing you with lots of genres and styles to choose from. Almost anybody can try to learn any style of music from YouTube.

  • Music Websites: You can also try out some music websites that offer free piano lessons for kids. They usually provide videos, sheet music, ear training exercises, and a few other bells and whistles. This often involves going through a trial period or signing up in order to access the free resources.

Pros and Cons of Free Lessons for Kids

Free piano lessons, at first glance, may be a more appealing option because they’re free. However, there are going to be some differences in the quality of lessons. Here are a couple reasons free lessons might not be the best option:

  • Free Lessons Lack Human Interaction: YouTube provides many videos, but this approach ignores an important contributor to your success in learning:  human interaction and a skilled teacher who can assess your child’s playing skills. Having a professional available who can observe and comment on your child’s playing is invaluable. Teachers have spent countless hours honing and perfecting their skill — they’ll be able to identify errors in your child’s playing, help to correct them and prevent poor playing habits from forming.

  • Free Websites Only Offer So Much: Learning how to play piano from a free website or trial will only take your child so far. Websites often only provide you with a set amount of material for free, and may charge you after a certain amount of time or point in the program has passed. This can be discouraging for your child if they’re on a positive arch in their learning process.

So, where do private piano lessons come into play? As mentioned earlier, working with a teacher one-on-one is an important part of the learning process. Some additional advantages of private lessons include:

  • Experience with a professional: Private piano lessons give your kids the opportunity to study with a professional, someone who brings their experience, personal insights, successes, and failures to the table. They are able to provide real-time adjustments and answer any questions that your child may have. They are also able to connect with your child emotionally, something that a website or YouTube video can’t do!

  • Variety: It can be beneficial to study with someone who can teach different genres and provide a strong foundation for learning – and private lessons do just that. With free piano lessons, your child will only be able learn so much about a specific genre. A private teacher will be able to guide your child and help them pursue their interests, increasing their excitement of taking lessons.

Putting It All Together

Studies show that children involved in music develop intelligence and skills that stick with them throughout their lifetime. If there is any gift to give to your kids, music is definitely one of them. Although private lessons may not be free, the price is about the only con when considering what’s best for your child. Signing up for piano lessons will help bring out the best in your child’s ability and provide them with a strong foundation to excel!

Photo by M3Photos

 

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Why September is the Best Time to Start Music Lessons

bandCan you believe Labor Day is right around the corner? The back-to-school frenzy has officially begun! It’s an exciting time for kids, especially if they’re hitting a milestone, like moving up to middle school or high school. Pretty soon the after-school activities and sports will kick in, so now is a great time to organize your schedule and determine which activities will be priorities. If your son or daughter has shown some interest in music, or is starting a band or orchestra program in school, you might be wondering about private music lessons. But is now a good time to get started? Absolutely!

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5 Must-Have Back-to-School Apps

Between school, music lessons, and other activities, September can feel like the busiest time of year! To cut down on your stress, here’s our list of the best back-to-school apps for parents and students. Let your smartphone or tablet be your personal assistant, and going back to school this year will be a breeze! Read more

Tips for Parents: 5 Strategies for Drama-Free Music Practice

No matter how excited your child started out, sometimes getting him or her to practice can feel like an intricate balancing act. You want them to understand that hard work pays off, but also have fun and stay motivated. But the minute your child views it as a “chore,” even the best young musicians can be quick to start a fight. Here are 5 tips for easing the struggle:

1. Let them do their thing. Offer suggestions, guidance, and praise—but give your child her space. There is a fine line between staying active in the lessons and being a “backseat driver.” Avoid setting a timer, as this can result in inefficient practice and resentment. Instead, encourage her to set a measurable goal, such as “I want to play this passage perfectly by the end of this practice time.”

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