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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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Should Your First Music Lessons be 30, 45, or 60 Minutes Long?

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You’ve found a great music teacher and are ready to book – but if you’re not sure how long your lessons should be, you’re not alone! Read on for some helpful advice from Greensboro, NC teacher Alanna H...

 

When first starting music lessons, either for your child or yourself, it’s hard to know how long your lessons should be. Eventually many students can work up to 60-minute lessons if they want to, but where is a good place to start? Here’s my advice:

30-Minute Music Lessons

–Young children (elementary school and most middle schoolers)
–Students who have never played the instrument before

30-minute lessons are great for young children and people brand new to the instrument. If you have a young child (middle school or younger) who is new to the instrument, I would definitely start with half an hour. In addition to not having the playing endurance, young students often don’t have the attention span to get full use of an hour or a 45-minute lesson. There are of course always exceptions, but that is a good rule of thumb. Adult beginners might also find that 30 minutes is the best for them endurance-wise.

45-Minute Music Lessons

–Children who are serious about learning the instrument
–Adult students who have never played before

45-minute lessons are great for adult beginners, high schoolers, and younger children with a keen interest in music and longer-than-average attention span.

60-Minute Music Lessons

For serious music students, or students preparing for auditions or competitions, 60-minute lessons are ideal. An ideal candidate for a 60-minute lesson practices regularly and therefore has built up the playing endurance to feel comfortable all the way through the lesson.

Music lesson length can also be determined by the actual time you have available, as well as budget, and those are perfectly acceptable reasons to choose a certain lesson length. If you still feel unsure about how long the first music lessons should be, contact a TakeLessons Student Counselor, or speak with your teacher about your goals, experience, and schedule prior to your first lesson to get a recommendation.

AlannaHAlanna H. teaches music theory, clarinet, and saxophone lessons in Greensboro, NC. She received her degree in Music Performance (Saxophone) from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Learn more about Alanna here! 

 

 

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6 Kids’ Games for Learning Piano Music

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Is your child struggling to stay focused when they’re practicing the piano? That’s normal–it just means it might be time to add something new to the routine! Get some great ideas for music games for kids in this guest post by Santa Cruz, CA teacher John S...

 

Can your 4- to 6-year-old keep her focus through the entirety of a traditional piano practice? Music demands a tremendous amount of attention, in several different areas at once: reading music, being careful about pitch, rhythm, and fingering, and much more! Some children have no trouble keeping on task with all these endeavors. However, if your young child is like the vast majority, you may need to break up their practice with other activities. In between their private lessons, playing music games for kids can certainly help–and most of these you can play with your child even if you don’t have much of a music background!

1. Be an animal
Most young children love pretending to be different animals. Not only that, but the intuitive connection of musical features with an animal’s characteristics comes quickly and effortlessly to most kids. Try something like the following, perhaps while looking at a picture with lots of different animals:

You: Ok, which animal would you like to be?
Child: A snake!
You: A snake, wow! What would snake music sound like?

The child may immediately have a sense of snake music. If so, let ’em play! It may not fit your idea of snake music in any way, but if they’re engaging with their imaginations, let them be.

If a child isn’t sure what to do, you might make a suggestion like the following:

You: To me, a snake is a slithery thing. (Play a stepwise melody that moves up and down the piano in a sinuous fashion.) Do you think this sounds like a snake? What do you think would sound more like a snake?

2. Use a picture book
Books for young children that have great pictures are a nice way to guide an improvisation that progresses through a beginning, middle, and end. Many children will respond immediately when you ask them to look at the picture and think about what it would sound like.

If they get stuck, you can point out specific features in the pictures. For instance, “See the twinkling stars? Can you make a twinkling sound like those stars might make?” or “Those are some big, hairy monsters! How can you make a big, hairy sound on the piano?” You can always play them a little example to get them started. Chances are, they will be impatient for you to stop so that they can get their hands on the piano keys.

3. Make up a story
This is a great game for kids if you know how to play piano as well. Start off by thinking of a story, like the following:

“A man was walking down the street” (play ambling, rhythmic music at an andante tempo) ”when suddenly,” (stop playing) “he saw an elephant right in front of him.” (pounding, ponderous bass line perhaps with circus-like qualities) “The elephant was dressed in royal finery, and being ridden by a man in a suit of armor.” (fanfare, clanking sounds) Let your imagination run wild with bold, big images that you can translate into music.

Next, you can ask them to contribute, either with story ideas, or by playing the piano. Gradually, you can encourage them to do the whole thing, story and music, by themselves.

4. Pick four pitch classes
Restricting the available pitches is a great way to make improvisation sound better. It turns out that four is a perfect number, because all combinations of four pitches can sound musical.

You: Let’s take turns choosing the pitches we’re going to use for this song. You can choose any letter A through G, and you can make it sharp or flat if you want.
Child: A-flat!
You: Good, so you can play any A-flat you want. (play all of the A-flats on the piano) You can be sure you have an A-flat when it’s the middle black key in a group of three.

Then it’s your turn to choose a note, and alternate until four pitches are chosen. Even if it is a cluster, the group of pitches can sound good.

Let your child play on those pitches in any rhythm they like. If they play a note that’s not one of the four you selected, tell and show them exactly what note they played by mistake, and remind them of the notes that were chosen.

5. Repeat after me – Rhythm 
This is another great game if you don’t know much about the piano, because you can play it away from the piano, sitting cross-legged on the floor. Here’s how I play with my students: “Me first, and then you,” I say, then start with simple rhythms, banging the floor or clapping while saying the counts aloud. I chant, “One and Two and Three and Four and,” while alternating hands pounding the floor, L-R-L-R on the main beats.

Look at your kid around beat four and more than likely they will get the right idea and repeat after you. Gradually increase the complexity of your rhythms so that they are fun and interesting, but not too hard.

While using large movements and big muscles is the best way to get started in this game, it need not stay there. When they are comfortable with large movements, ask them to make gentle finger taps. Then, they can start playing specific piano keys; for example, you can play B-flat while the child plays E-flat.

6. Repeat after you – Three pitches
Sitting next to your child at the keyboard, ask him or her to play any three pitches, one after the other. Then play the same pitches, perhaps in a different register. You can spice it up by asking for different dynamics: “Play me really soft ones now,” or “Try three loud ones.” Make sure that your child plays the notes separately and clearly so that you can accurately repeat them.

Use your imagination!
Of course, these games for kids are only the beginning. Taking your cue from your child’s natural creativity, you can develop a whole world of musical games. When your child experiences the power and joy of direct musical expression, he or she will gain confidence in their musical creativity that will last a lifetime.

JohnSJohn S. teaches singing, piano, guitar, and more in Santa Cruz, CA. He received his a doctorate in music composition from UCSC. Learn more about John 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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Making Practice FUN – 2 Ways to Spice Things Up

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Is practicing your instrument becoming more of a chore than an enjoyable pastime? Check out these tips from Hayward, CA and online teacher Molly R. for making practice fun and getting out of the rut:

 

Sometimes as students and teachers, we lose sight of some pretty important things in music making: personality… and plain FUN!

Sure, there may be a handful of musicians out there that wow with their impeccable technique. But is that really enough? Think of yourself as an audience member for a moment and ask yourself which performances are the ones you really remember: the ones that appeared flawless, or those that touched you in some way?

We should ask ourselves the same thing as a musician in our day-to-day lives. Do you want to be perfect, or do you want to be interesting? It all starts in the studio or practice room.

Here are some ways to get out of your head and to start bringing the fun back into making music:

  • Are you a singer? Well, if you’re learning a “serious” aria, why not sing it in the style of Katy Perry or Beyonce? Why not rap it? Instrumentalists… the same applies to you! Say you’re doing a jazz or classical piece that’s pretty difficult . Stand up and rock it Jerry Lee Lewis style and really use your body and attitude (no one’s looking! Go, Killer, go!).
  • How about our basic warm ups? Those don’t have to be boring, either. Sing your scales using nonsense words. Swing the rhythms! Dance or sway or stomp and clap. Make funny faces. Use your imagination – the options are limitless!

Now after you have done some of these “crazy” (but hopefully fun!) things, sing or play as “you.” Record yourself. Are you amazed at the difference? You should be. Something magical just happened. By allowing yourself to cut loose , you will do wonders for your singing and playing. When the mind relaxes, so does the body!

As I tell my students, practicing should NEVER be a chore. There are plenty of ways for making practice fun by mixing it up and simply playing. My rule is “first, make it fun.”  After all, isn’t that why you got into music in the first place?

mollyrMolly R. teaches online and in-person singing lessons in Hayward, CA. Her specialties include teaching beginner vocalists, shy singers, children, teens, lapsed singers, and older beginners. She joined TakeLessons in November 2013. Learn more about Molly here!

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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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Don’t Quit Now! Keep Your Kid Motivated for Music Lessons

Few things are more frustrating than investing your time and money in an instrument and lessons for your child only to hear weeks later that they’ve changed their mind and don’t want to continue. Although you’re frustrated and you want your kid to get the many advantages that music lessons have to offer, you also don’t want to turn your home into a battleground. What’s a parent to do?

If your child tells you that they don’t want to continue with music lessons or if you sense that their motivation is slipping, you can take action. Read on to find out what you can do to keep your kid committed to learning music! Read more

TakeLessons and Learning Care Group Announce Plans to Open 75 Lesson Centers This Fall

TakeLessons Learning Care GroupExciting things have been happening at TakeLessons for several months now, and yesterday we finally revealed some big news that marks the beginning of a brand new venture for us – the expansion of our music lesson programs to designated Lesson Centers!

We are pleased to announce that beginning this fall, TakeLessons and Learning Care Group, Inc., the second largest for-profit early education and child care provider in North America, will be partnering together to offer music lessons to children ages 5-12 at select schools within the Learning Care Group umbrella of brands, including The Children’s Courtyard, Childtime Learning Centers, La Petite Academy and Tutor Time Child Care/Learning Centers.

With this partnership, TakeLessons will offer private, one-on-one lessons on site at over 75 Learning Care Group schools in major cities such as Los Angeles, Phoenix, Seattle, Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. The program launches on September 1, 2010, with plans to expand to additional markets in the near future.

Students will have the option to choose from guitar, piano or voice lessons, which will be conducted in a designated area within each participating Lesson Center location. As an added benefit, students and other family members age 5 – adult have the opportunity to take in-home lessons through the program as well.

Each lesson is 30 minutes in length and provides the student with one-on-one personalized instruction at a pace that complements their overall learning ability.  All of our Lesson Center teachers are TakeLessons Certified™, and must meet our rigorous hiring standards and pass a background check before they are accepted into the program.

Numerous studies have shown the direct correlation between playing music and increased brain development and academic achievement.  Many children experience additional benefits from taking music lessons, such as improved memorization skills, enhanced motor skills, and increased self confidence.  This program will provide Learning Care Group students with the opportunity to start building these valuable skills at a young age, which will continue to impact them throughout their lives.

More information about the each school’s music program can be found on the following sites:

TakeLessons at Children’s Courtyard
TakeLessons at Childtime
TakeLessons at La Petite Academy
TakeLessons at Tutor Time

TakeLessons Welcomes The Childrens School (La Jolla)

TheChildrensSchool TakeLessons would like to welcome The Childrens School in La Jolla, CA as the newest school partner for the TakeLessons SchoolAdvantage(TM) program. They will be utilizing the TakeLessons services for music lessons for kids.

The Childrens School shares many of the same core values as we do and they focus on providing their students with an excellent education that develops the whole child. . Their programs teach students important knowledge and life skills using
innovative, hands-on teaching strategies that engage students in the
process of learning.

They focus on key elements including:

  • Successful Outcomes
  • Hands-On Learning
  • Emphasis on the Arts
  • Social Growth
  • Interdisciplinary Curriculum
  • Commitment to Physical Education

If you’re in the La Jolla area, check out The Childrens School. Your kids will be glad you did.