Welcome Holidays!!

Just as we break away from Halloween and embrace daylight savings, in comes “The Holidays”. Holidays are SO MUCH FUN… until they’re not. They are full of traditions that exhilarate us as children but can suffocate us as adults. Our days are filled with many special events including “recitals”.

As many of you know by now, the formal “recital” is not part of my show here. We have a super fun concert/party day – only students and me. (If you want to read more about how it works, search “concert” on my home page.) If you feel like you want a more formal recital than I offer, here is another idea.

When I was a kid, my family would gather together after dessert and perform for each other. It was a variety show. Many of us: brothers, sisters, parents and grandparents, would perform something. There were poems and jokes, musical selections and stories. You stood up and were “on stage”. Then we all sang together. This was not meant to be a competition and no one got “voted off”. It’s a great memory. I have a pretty giant family and nearly everyone is a ham, but even if your family is smaller, you can still give your child a chance to “show off” a little.

As we get closer to our concert day, I keep discussing with my students what pieces they really like and encourage them to keep working on them. At home, you can encourage your child to practice a piece that they want to share with your family at holiday occasions. By creating a little more structure around this, you can accomplish two things: 1) A little extra piano practice, and 2) A controlled “show off” experience for your family and friends. Think about it. You say to you kid, “Sally, how about you play that piece you have been practicing for Aunt Ginny?” Sally plays, everyone claps. End Scene. Now Sally can continue to play and you and Aunt Ginny can continue your visit with beautiful background music.

Now careful here – “background music” is NOT code for “soft enough so it doesn’t bother our conversation.” I have spent a lifetime playing the piano in the background in my home. It is a delightful experience. You play in the prettiest way possible with no judgment. You know everyone can hear you, but they are not listening intently enough to catch every little mistake. It is freeing. It is one of the reasons I still love to play the piano today.

Let your child know that you love to hear him or her play. Be specific. Identify the song and say what it is you like: sweet, scary, fun. This is a pretty easy addition to any holiday routine. Best of all, when the holiday is over, you do not have to pack it up and put it in the attic until next year. You can enjoy it all year round.

Music Lasts a Lifetime

Aunt Golden & AB

My nephew, Paul, sitting next to my Aunt Golden (professional silent picture pianist). My sister Grace is chatting with her son. There was a crowd in the room and we all loved to hear Aunt Golden play. She was our background music until she was 96 years old.

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Watching Piano Playing

As many of you know, I try to incorporate some music history that is a little out of the box. Our schools do a really nice job of exposing our children to music, which affords me the opportunity to be creative. This year I thought it would be fun to focus in on piano performances. When I have a minute or two, I have been sitting down and practicing my own pieces in front of the students. It gives them a chance to see what practice looks and sounds like. Plus I am trying to show them just how involved a piano piece can be. They sometimes follow the music while I play which is another worthwhile skill.

Last year I had them watch a couple of piano performances centered around the composers we were studying, and many of the students seemed to enjoy that. I was able to reinforce a couple of technical points for them to consider. This year I am going to focus on the actual performer. So of course, I am beginning with Bugs Bunny and Tom & Jerry. I’m sorry, but seriously – some of the best. The kids will love it. Then we head to the Marx Brothers – the power of the internet! I would have loved to have an actual video clip of Jelly Roll Morton or Fats Waller but next best thing is a couple of pianists playing some of their amazing Ragtime. And then, there is Liberace from the 40’s and 50’s.

After watching these speedy pianists, I fully expect your children to come home and play as fast as they possibly can. Playing too fast is something kids absolutely love to do. Don’t be discouraged. It is a great way to become more dexterous at the piano. I remember practicing a piece a million times to show my teacher how fast I could play it. She was not impressed and I felt she did not understand 8 year olds at all.

If you happen to be with your child at church or a concert or anywhere someone is playing the piano, you might want to choose your seat so that you have a good view of the keyboard. We have been focusing on two elements: “releasing” or letting go of the keys, and moving forward on the keyboard (closer to the wood) using the entire depth of the keyboard. This feels weird at first because your fingers are literally between the black keys.

Most of all just enjoy watching. It is like a dance on a very special stage. This awareness is something I hope will stay with your children forever.

“Music Lasts a Lifetime!”

Back to School

Well, now the summer really is over. It is always a little sad but nice to get into a new routine. There is so much to juggle: sports, clubs, music… oh, and school. Why do we do it? Are we just making the motions?

I read an article that said if you are going to get the most out of music lessons, you have to engage. This is why I run my lessons the way that I do. I believe that you learn more if you are immersed in the learning. This means: understanding the theory, actively listening, enjoying the piece you are playing, considering the physical requirements, eg. How do I get my fingers to do this?

In the following TIME Magazine article, Nina Kraus, director of Northwestern’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory, says “I think parents should follow their intuitions with respect to keeping their children engaged. Find the kind of music they love, good teachers, an instrument they’ll like. Making music should be something that children enjoy and will want to keep doing for many years!”

Check out this brief article. I think you will like it.

http://time.com/3634995/study-kids-engaged-music-class-for-benefits-northwestern/

And remember, Music Lasts a Lifetime.

Don’t Worry… It is Still Summer

There are still four more weeks until kids go back to school – five weekends. It is at this point in the summer when we start writing “to-do” lists: doctors appointments, school supplies, clothes, and the ever-exhausting “schedule”. Take a GIANT breath. The stars will align and you will figure it out.

If piano lessons are on your child’s plate for September, contact your teacher and begin the process. All you need to do is say yes or no for starters. Then if you can jump in with what days do NOT work or what days MIGHT work, that will be helpful to everyone.

So send a text, or an email, or even call. Then you can check off “contact piano teacher” 🙂

Welcome to the Spring Migration

It is that time of year when all “good” parents must sit down at their calendars and adjust for the ever-changing sports schedules, end of the year school projects, fun school picnics/field days, Spring concerts, and don’t forget you are supposed to let “kids be kids” and roam the woods and commune with spring (after you apply the tick repellant). After a long and very snowy winter, we are supposed to all be thrilled with Springtime, but we forgot about the mayflies. Migration is an adventure for sure.

The change in season is just part of the whole cycle. I used to get frantic wondering how I could make it all run smoothly, but after a few years of fretting, I noticed it always did  – both at home and at work. Requests would come in from parents that needed to switch days and times. Somehow they would mix and match and before long, everyone was accommodated.

Here is my Spring piano advice.

  1. Talk to your child’s teacher and work out the schedule if need be. It never hurts to ask.
  2. Keep your kid practicing. A few less minutes a day is better than skipping days all together. Consistency pays off.
  3. If you are planning to take the summer off from music lessons, line up some fun book to work on over the summer. Keep old books handy to review. This can be a lot of fun. Be prepared.
  4. A few lessons in the summer will sometimes provide structure to keep moving forward and limit what is forgotten. Vacation can be a time to remind everyone about the “play” in playing an instrument.

 As always-  “Music Lasts a Lifetime”

Commercial Jingles – Music History

In the 1960’s, when I was about seven years old, my brother, Steve and I would spend our television hours together playing “the commercial game”. In this game the challenge was to name the product first. Clearly we watched too much TV, devoid of any educational purpose. Nevertheless, it was a fun game. In the 1960’s it was a pretty easy game because many commercials had “jingles” that clearly stated the product name numerous times: “It’s Slinky, it’s Slinky. For fun it’s the best of the toys.” The music was catchy/annoying, and got the message across in a 30 – 60 second clip.

For many, music embeds a message in the brain. No surprise that jingles actually started on the radio. Their purpose was for station identification. All those radio call numbers were a blur when spoken, but if you put them to music, they became memorable: “Dou-ble-You-A-Bee-Cee.” At the time the National Broadcasting Company banned direct advertising. The first singing commercial that advertised a product aired on Christmas Eve in 1926. “Have You Tried Wheaties” was sung by a male quartet. This jingle got around the ban by just asking if you had tried Wheaties, letting you know the ingredients and suggesting it would please your taste buds.

This week the students have heard the Wheaties jingle and have also seen 12 additional  memorable TV commercials. They are easily discovered on YouTube. If you want to watch some, just search “1950 commercial jingles” and you will be very entertained. Some of the ones we watched were: Oscar Meyer Weiner, Slinky, Kool Aid, Chiquita Banana, Fritos, Rice Krispies, Alka Seltzer, and Trix. In all cases, I tried to find the oldest versions.

As we proceed along the year, we will move through the decades of music in commercials. There has been a historical progression. Jingles were the start. Later pop music became the background for commercials. Sometimes the singer made the product successful, but in other cases the product made the singer successful. And then there are those beautiful musical themes that have morphed into commercial brand recognition. What percentage of the population hears Gershwin’s brilliant “Rhapsody in Blue” and says, “That’s the United Airlines song!” I am not judging here. I am always happy to hear this piece. I just want my students to be aware of the music that is around them. The ability to be a great listener will stay with them. It is one of the reasons that I continue to say, “Music Lasts a Lifetime.”

Ready, Set, Practice

By now your family’s schedule is in place. Surely there are cancelled games and last minute birthday parties, but you are organized enough to make that work. The days are about to get shorter which means a little more “inside the house” time. This is the perfect time to encourage your children to get in a little more practice at the piano.

Getting into the habit of practicing is half the challenge. Every day, even a few minutes, is better than a crash course the night before the lesson. Playing the piano is a physical exercise. Your fingers have to get in shape.

Parents have told me that they have many different ways to encourage their children to practice. Some play first thing in the morning and others right before bed. Some set a timer while others have their children play each piece a certain number of times. There is no “right” way. The only sure thing is… practice makes perfect … or at least more perfect.

However you fit practicing into the daily schedule, there are three pretty easy ideas you can implement when encouraging your child to practice.

  1. Remind your child to practice. Truly they forget. Make your reminder as positive as you can.
  2.  Listen to them play. You don’t have to sit right there, but they need to know you were paying attention.
  3.  Say something encouraging after they play. “That is sounding better” “Nice work” “I like that song”

Remember, learning how to “play” an instrument is hard work. It is physically and intellectually challenging. However, once you get into the habit, it is a whole lot of fun.