Saturday, April 5, 2014

Intervals By Ear: Fun with Turtle Tom and Tim

I love how the ear training components of Let's Play Music lessons train students to hear more in the music they are listening to and understand what they are hearing.  With the better understanding of what's happening in music, students are ready to be expressive (and "musical") in their own composing and playing.  It thrills me to know these skills can be taught- anyone can learn to be musically talented!
What Interval Did You Hear?
A Few Types of Ear Training
Let's Play Music classes incorporate chords training: listening to multiple notes played as triads to make Red, Yellow, Blue chords that are major and minor. But there's more!

Pitch Training refers to hearing and identifying specific notes.  C is always C.  G is always G. When we teach students to sing "Do is Home" or "Middle C" with the pitch of Middle C, with no reference to other notes, they are refining their  absolute pitch.

Interval Training refers to identifying one note based on another note by hearing the distance (interval) between the two pitches.  When students sing or identify specific intervals, they are working on their relative pitch.  I've written about the many reasons learning intervals is so helpful to musicians!

Our second year students are learning so much about playing intervals with their turtle pals in the song Turtle Shells, I wanted to focus on helping them get more interval ear training with these guys.

Turtle Adventures: Interval Training
An easy trick for improving relative pitch is to have a list of your favorite interval reference songs.  Take the first 2 notes of a song you love, and use those notes as a reminder any time you want to sing that interval. 

Major 2nd: Sing the "Do-Re" of a major scale, or sing the first two "up, up" of The Red Balloon song.
Major 3rd: Sing "Do-Mi" of the Red chord, or sing "I Am" from the song How to Skip.
Major 4th: Sing Do-Fa (or Sol-Do), or sing "Boom Boom!" from the song Ain't it Great to Be Crazy or sing "Tallest Tree" from the song 5 Fat Turkeys.
Major 5th: Sing Do-Sol, or "Hop Hop" from the ostinato of the song Frog Went A-Hoppin, or sing "Twinkle Twinkle" Little Star.

Here are two more that we aren't using today, but our students are ready to learn:
Minor 2nd: Sing a major scale and focus on Ti-Do at the end. 
Minor 3rd: Sing Sol-Mi, or Hickety Pickety Bumblebee, a song made entirely of this interval.  In our Sound Beginnings class, we have 2 songs every semester focusing on this important interval, since it's the first one young children can learn and sing back on pitch!

To help my daughter practice and remember these intervals (and because she requested something to color), we made the Adventures of Turtle Tom and Turtle Tim coloring storybook!  The turtles in this story arrange their bodies in the drawings to make each interval, while playing along to the very song that helps us remember the interval.

Click Image to Download PDF
Assembling your little book:
1. Print the image on 8x11 paper.  Fold along the gray lines, to form 8 sections.
2. Open so the page is folded in half (short ends together) and cut along the dotted line.  Don't cut too far!
3. Fold the page so long ends are together (fresh cut is at the seam), then pinch the pages out so the seam separates.
4. Adjust the pages nicely so you have a cute little book!  Let your child color and practice singing intervals.
Two Ways to Use The Book
I like to read the story with my daughter, pausing on each page to sing the song.  Then I ask her to sing me just the specified notes (interval) several times.  Then we sing those notes using the solfeg names instead of lyrics several times before going to the next page.

On other days, she has her book in hand, and I play a 'mystery interval' at the piano, or sing it with my voice ("bum-bum").  She flips through her book trying to decide which of the songs I was beginning to sing or play, in other words, she identifies which interval I played.
Bigger Coloring Pages
If you are interested in having larger pictures to color on two full-sized sheets that are not formatted into a booklet, click HERE.  These would go well on your wall and you could enjoy the same games.

Wow, Interval Ear-Training Was Easy!
So now you have mastered a few intervals and are off to a great start!  There are a few more to learn (and be sure to recognize and sing them descending as well as ascending), and luckily there are some websites like this and this where you can add more songs and do some drills to get better.  Have fun!

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

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Learn the White Keys: Visualize the Keyboard

Kit-Kat Keyboard! It's time for your second-year student to learn to identify all of the white keys.  

Our goal is for students to identify the keys without counting up.  If you see your child mumbling "C, D, E, F... G!"  Then you know she was counting up, which takes longer than instant recognition.  Your child can learn instant recognition by visualizing the keyboard geography (arrangement of black and white keys).

An Abstract Concept
At first, the arrangement of keys and their names are abstract and foreign concepts to your child.  Let me give you a sense of how it might feel: if I show you two nonsense arrangements of dots and tell you the first one is called "MONAY" and the second is called "CARRACA", what are the chances that tomorrow or next week you'll be able to recall those facts?

Students find it easier to remember new bits of information if we help them find meaning in what they are seeingSilly and outrageous mnemonics are easy to remember.  How about if I connect those dots and show how the first set looks like the arms of a monkey, which sounds almost like MONAY, and the dots on the second set connect to form the jaw of a CARRACA-dile (crocodile).  Do you think your chances of being able to match these pictures to their names will improve? Or your abilty to recall their names? 

If MONAY and CARRACA were actually useful pieces of information, this visual mnemonic would help you remember their names as you got started used them in your music practice.  With use and repetition, your mind would construct a true and valuable meaning for these images and eventually you wouldn't think of them as monkeys and crocodiles would internalize them as monays and carracas.  

The same process takes place as your child gets to know each of the white keys and what they truly are in music.  Once he internalizes the look, the sound, the meaning, and the use of these keys, he will think of them as themselves.
The Kit-Kat Chant
The kit-kat chant gives your child a silly and outrageous meaning for the keys: those black keys look like candy!  If your kiddo still struggles with finding Cs and Fs quickly, do not skip this chant in your drill time until she masters those.   You'll know she's got it when she can:

* Fly along the keyboard (low to high) and find all the C's (or F's) without pause.
* Sing the pitch of the notes as she's finding them. (Let's strengthen the ear as well as the eye for identifying notes.)
* Do it again in the other direction (high to low).
* Identify a C or F when you play and ask her "What is this key?"  Repeat 5 times all over the keyboard.

Visualize the White Keys

Show your child the below picture, or draw it.  "Doesn't it look like those two black keys could be tipped together to make a little roof?  Who could live in such a tiny house?  Probably a Dog!  That key is D!  Can you find all the dogs (Ds)?" As you child plays all the Ds, have him sing middle D pitch!  "Deee, Deee, Deee." You may decide to just introduce this one for a few days or a week.
"Now imagine a bowl of food just on this side of the dog house.  That's because dogs LIKE TO EAT.  EEEEEEEat starts with E.  Can you find all the places to Eat?"  My students like to chant (on the pitch of E): "I like TO EAT.  I like TWO EAT." as they find all the Es (strike them on the word 'eat') by looking for groups of TWO black keys.  They think puns are hilarious!

Next, show your child the picture below.  "That doghouse was pretty small.  If we built a house and used THREE boards for a roof, it would be bigger.  Maybe it could be Grandma's house and we could visit her.  See where Grandma is standing in her house, it looks like she's got an Ant in the house!"
Have your child practice finding all the Gs or all the As on the keyboard while visualizing this silly picture.  For my own students, I tell them it is GINA'S house and the first key is G because that's how my name starts and the other key in the house is A because that's how my name ends (true for 'grandma' too).  You could also decide that building is a GARAGE.  My students know the first two letters in the word garage are G-A!

Almost done! "Wow, you know almost all of the white keys! You have been finding C and F for a long time, then you learned D and E, and then you mastered G and A.  Now I'll tell you about another animal, and it's not a dog this time; it's a BEE.  Where might bees live?" (listen to some suggestions) "Wild bees build a hive at the top of a THREE.  Oops, did I say THREE?  I meant to say TREE.  I guess on our piano, BEES live at the top of the THREEs." Laugh it up (I tell you, they love puns), then have them practice finding all Bs, not by counting from F (or heaven forbid, C) but from looking for groups of three black keys and jumping to the top.

Let's Do Some Drawing
Because this stage of key naming is so visual, I recommend some drawing fun! Draw a rectangle for your child, show how to divide it into 3 keys (or 4) and then how to add 2 (or 3) black keys.  This will be tricky the first time!  Your child might be surprised to notice how the black keys straddle two white keys.  Identify the white keys.  Challenge your child to recreate the drawing, as an advanced test of her ability to visualize the keyboard.  If she can draw it, you know she can visualize it.

Good luck learning the white keys!  Remember to introduce them bit by bit and take every opportunity to have your child SING the pitch as she plays it (love that ear training!). 

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

Extra! Extra! Cdim7
(The Diminished 7th Chords)
I'm including this postscript for fun, because I still enjoy visual mnemonics, too!  There are chords beyond the Red, Blue, and Yellow, and one that I find to be lots of fun is a four-note chord called the diminished seventh.  The dim7 is the chord that gives you the  awesome melodrama sound just as the villain jumps out and grabs the damsel!  or the trains are about to collide! or the monster is about to attack!

If you've got a third-year student composing a song and looking for some excitement and tension, show that child the dim7!

There are lots of names for all of the dim7 chords, but there are really only three of them!  Here's why: this chord is build from a root, the next note is 3 keys up, the next note is 3 keys up and the next note is 3 keys up.  It looks like this, which I like to call "HOUSE".  This chord has 4 names (Cdim7, Eflat dim7, Gflat dim7, Adim7), but they all have only these notes .  As you are learning in your third-year Orange Roots class, you could play the higher C instead of middle C (inversion).  It will still be HOUSE because I remember these are the 4 notes.  By visualizing my picture, I can quickly find the notes I need.

The next chord looks like this and I remember it as "UPSIDE DOWN HOUSE." Can you see it in your mind's eye? Totally!  I am guessing you can figure out how to give this chord four names (any note of these special guys could be the root, and it's the root that gives the chord it's name.)

The final chord looks like this and I call it "DILAPIDATED HOUSE" or "FALLING-DOWN HOUSE."

Play these chords as you are improvising (especially on Halloweens songs!).  I love that in Let's Play Music, we teach students how to make music have the feel they want, to be creative, and to understand how to put it together.  This is an advanced topic, but don't let that stop you from playing these notes with your child to hear how they sound.  May your damsels all get rescued!

-Gina Weibel

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

How to Care for Your Piano

Every Let's Play Music family needs a piano or digital piano for years 2 and 3 of the Let's Play Music curriculum.  Get tips on what to buy with our buying guide.  Now that you've got that taken care of, you might be wondering how to take care of your lovely instrument.

Moving the Piano

Perhaps your piano is already nestled in its permanent home, but if you've just purchased it or are moving house in the future, please consider having professional movers deliver it.  The correct equipment for moving pianos includes using ramps, piano-moving boards, piano dollies, piano-lifting straps and protective padding.  Professional movers can get your piano in place without damage (and minimal knocking out of tune.)

Chances are, your upright piano is up against a wall, as is mine, because the back of the piano is not all that attractive.  Experiment with pulling it a few more inches away from the wall, since most of the sound comes from the back, and this will allow some space for some nice resonance to help you get that sound projecting into the room.  You might also consider using the piano as a divider between two rooms or spaces: cover the back of the piano with fabric for an attractive appearance, and be rewarded with the acoustics.

Men lifting piano
Don't they make it look easy?

Key Cleaning

Sticky peanut-butter fingers are not the only things that take the shine away from your piano keys.  Just the oils and daily dirt on fingers can do the trick.  It's a fine idea to institute a "washed hands" policy to reduce the frequency for key cleaning.  Another fine habit is to close the cover when not in use to prevent dust on the keys.

Avoid using anything abrasive (chemicals, cleaners, or even paper towels.)  Use a flannel or microfiber cloth with some warm water, and wipe each key towards you (not side-to-side) making sure you get the sides of the black keys as well as the tops. Only clean one octave and then quickly wipe it dry before moving to the next octave. A gentle soap is okay if your keys are plastic.

If you are wanting to disinfect your keys during flu season, use a solution of 3:1 water:vinegar and wipe down as above.

Cabinet Cleaning

Modern pianos are finished with a variety of laquers and resins, designed for beauty without the addition of any wax or polishes.  Dust your piano with a feather duster or a specific piano-dusting mitt, or wipe away smudges using a slightly damp flannel using long straight strokes.

Since pianos are 85% wood that expands and contracts with humidity, you can protect your piano's finish, case, and pitch by avoiding swings in temperature and humidity whenever possible (the garage is not a good permanent home).  There are even piano-humidity devices available, and your kids will laugh every time you remind them to "go water the piano, please."

Your piano's beautiful finish hates direct sunlight, and live houseplants should never go on a piano.  Actually, you shouldn't set items on your piano unless there is a soft cloth protecting it, or scratches are likely to ensue.

Tuning the Piano

With the ear-training you and your child receive in Let's Play Music class, we hope you notice if your piano is going out of tune.  Even if no one uses the piano, it goes out of tune over time simply because the strings are under high tension and they slowly stretch.

Here's an interesting thought: if all of the strings stretch slightly, your chords and intervals may still sound correct even though the pitch is slipping!  Don't wait until you notice that your chords and intervals are sounding poor to get a tune.

Professional tuners will tell you that 6 months is the longest you should go between tunings.  Waiting longer, and letting all the pitches drop dramatically, poses a real challenge for getting a piano back into tune: when each string is tightened dramatically it interacts with the neighboring strings, knocking them out of pitch.  In that case your tuner will conduct a pitch-raise (dramatically increasing tension on all of the strings) before tuning, and you'll get an extra charge for it.  It's much easier (and maybe cheaper) to get a piano in tune if it is always kept tuned-up.

My favorite times to tune the piano are in September and March, simply because I want the kids feeling confident as they start up a new year in Let's Play Music, and again as they are preparing to perform their compositions in the big spring recital.

You do not need to re-tune your piano if you move it from one room to another in your home, but if it spends a significant time outdoors during them move, perhaps in a moving van, the fluctuation in humidity could knock it out of tune.  If it is only outside for a short while, you may be fine.

Brand new pianos, straight from the manufacturer, have strings under tension for their first time, and they will stretch a lot in the first year.  During that year, 4 tunings are recommended.

One more caution: before buying a used (or dangerously free) piano, be aware that if a piano has been flat for too long, it may be impossible for the strings to handle the string tension to get them back up to Standard Pitch (A440).  Buy a certified used piano, or hire a tuner to check it out for you before you buy.

Good luck and enjoy your piano!  It could bring you (and future generations) much pleasure for up to 100 years!

-Gina Weibel, M.S.
Let's Play Music Teacher
*Originally published at Making Musicians- the official Let's Play Music blog*

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Create a Piano Practice Plan

Happy New Year!  In the spirit of resolution, are you thinking about your current schedule and perhaps finding renewed energy for making practice time sparkle this upcoming year?  I'd love to share my long-term-vision strategy for constructing a piano practice plan.
mother helps daughter at piano

Long Term Vision
The first practice question that is sure to come up is simply: what behavior do you want to occur? Not too hard to answer, is it?  As an adult with perspective and vision (and access to lots of research articles), you know that your child benefits from her daily practice in ways she can't fully comprehend yet.  You want to see a cheerful response whenever you remind your child it's time to practice for the day!  

Question number two sometimes gets overlooked: what do you hope her motivation to be for that behavior?  That's what this article is about: creating a practice plan that doesn't plow ahead and leave this important  consideration in the dust.

My biggest hopes are that my child falls in love with making music and finds a way to express herself and her creativity through this medium, that it becomes a great tool for her to relax and have fun with other musicians and family members, and that the allure of mastering challenges and creating beauty keep her gravitating to the piano of her own free will throughout her lifetime.  A child who can tap into these intrinsic motivators will power up her own music practice for years! (even when she doesn't have me there to remind her.)

I'm guessing you are not excited to hear your child say, "I only practice so I can get my privileges," and  "I practice because I have to, but I never want to."  You don't want her to burn out on music just because you are not there to give her a treat (extrinsic motivator) every day.  So what can be done?

Set the Stage
I suggest this step first because it's straightforward.  Set up your piano or keyboard in an inviting, uncluttered space.  If you want your child to gravitate to the piano easily, make it a pleasant experience to be at the piano. 

Share Your Vision
Before making any other changes or plans, get a peek inside your child's mind.   Talk to your child about why you think practicing is worthwhile.  Side note: it is a great exercise for you to pinpoint why you care about daily practice!

"Hey Johnny, come sit with me for a minute.  I'm so excited for this new semester of music to start up- you sure are learning a lot of things in class!  I've been thinking about practices, and I'm thinking it's  pretty important to get that done every day...'

'I noticed how confident you seem when you're heading to class, fully prepared for the goals of the week. '

'I love how when you're all caught up on practice you really participate in class and keep up.  You seem to have a lot more fun in class than on the days when you didn't know the songs very well.' 

'It seems like you have a lot more fun playing when we do it daily- it doesn't seem to be as scary or as tricky as when we miss a few days.  This is important to me, because I love seeing you have fun and I hope you'll love making music as much as I do.'

'And when you are caught up on practice, I really notice how capable you are at learning everything your teacher taught you.  I get really excited because I think you'll love some of the cool things you're going to learn.'

'Do you want to hear one more really cool thing?  I read some articles online about how practicing music makes your brain actually bigger! and helps you be a better thinker and helps you learn how to work on hard things without giving up!  Those are all really cool things I hope for you to have, and those are some of the reasons why I really care about helping you practice every day.'

Okay, reality check!  Some children can handle this whole conversation in one dose, and others might digest it better in small chunks.  I don't think of this as a huge lecture.  I do think you do yourself a disservice if your child doesn't know WHY you are asking him practice

Whatever few phrases you use, engage him with, "Do you also notice that?  Do you also feel that way?  Can you tell me what it's like for you when you go to class prepared (or not)?"  Then sit still and listen!   If you bring up these ideas just after a successful practice, you may be rewarded with something like: "Why yes, I did really had fun playing that piece and I'm delighted that I learned it in just one week.  My practice really did pay off!" 

Helping your child realize that he has fun making music and enjoys the challenge of mastering songs is your way of helping him discover the intrinsic motivation to stick with music.  It comes from inside him: talking about the good feelings and experiences going on in there will help him be aware of it!  In the long-term, this will be a longer-lasting motivation than weekly stickers and prizes.

 Fix It Together

Practice time involves the student, so have the student help decide how to make practice time work.  Talk to your child about how this thing could be most enjoyable, and hear what he thinks would be enjoyable.  "Well, you know I am excited to see you practice every day, so help me figure out what we can do to make it work really well and be most fun."

'I guess I like it best if I practice after dinner. In the morning I'm too sleepy.'
'I guess I better just do it in the morning... when I get home from school I just want to play.'
'I do like to play duets with Mom...that always makes practice more fun.'
'I want Mom or my teacher to give me a prize so I can look forward to it.'
'If you help me play the games from class as part of practice, that would be fun.'
'I like it when I have a few minutes of free time to play my own stuff.'
'I like it if you play for me sometimes, so I can just listen.'
'I like it if you give me stickers to help me see my progress.'
'I like to decide the order of what I practice.'
'I like to set a timer so I know when I will be done.'

Draft an agreement with your child.  It can be written or just spoken (but you might forget if you don't write it down.)  We will agree to practice after dinner an set the timer for 15 minutes, and we'll be sure to play duets at least once each week and Mom will provide cute stickers to mark of practices, etc.

And When We Fail?

Once you agree on a few points of when/how practice will happen, ask "What will each of us do if we miss a practice?"  Hear how your child is willing to be held accountable and let your child know how you plan to react. 

'Johnny, will you agree to come to the piano nicely when I remind you that it is time?  If we are too busy one day to practice in the morning, will you agree to practice before bed?' (or twice on another day, or practice on the "day off" day).   Also consider: if he has met the goals of the week, will he be allowed to slack off for a few days, and what does that look like? 'If you can show me that you are ready with all the goals for class, you may spend the last practice of the week playing anything you want'. 

'I want to be helpful to you, so  I'll promise to remind you when I notice practice time is coming.  Do you prefer a 5-minute or 10-minute warning?  I'll also agree to sit by you for the first 2 practices each week, so you can get help if you need it.'

'It will break the agreement if I call you to practice and you throw a tantrum.  If you want to practice at the alternate time, will you agree to talk to me politely about it and we can decide if it will work?  If you decide not to come to the piano at all one day, that will also break the agreement- what should be the consequence if that happens?'    For some students, the consequence of being unprepared for class may be enough.  Your child might still need extrinsic motivation (supplied by you) to get it done.  Do what works with your parenting style.  'Can we add to the agreement that in our family, each person will practice before they play computer games?' 

Jump in, But Be Ready for Bumps!

Post your agreement and start having fun!  When the day comes that your child doesn't want to practice, lovingly inquire (and make guesses about) what makes practice hard. 

'Okay, Johnny, we're here at the piano, but you seem to be having a hard time getting started...

'Are you feeling a little nervous because this is a huge song and you are not sure where to start?  Perhaps if you just figure out the right hand for these 2 measures, and play those measures 3 times, that's enough of that song for today. '

'Are you feeling worried that this might not sound right, because you don't know it well yet? Yes, there might be a lot of mistakes today, but I love hearing your work through hard things and not give up.  Let's find the tricky part and just practice that a few times. '

'Are you feeling like this song is not much fun to play, because it's really hard and slow right now?  Yeah, songs do take a lot of work at the beginning, but I know you get faster and smoother every time you play it...and that means more fun every time!  How about if you work on this for a few minutes, and then play one that you know really well. ' 

'Are you still thinking about playing with that toy you just had, and wishing you could keep doing that right now?   Yes, that was fun, it would be nice to have more time to do that.  You'll be able to play again in 20 minutes.  I bet if we play this song a few times, you'll start having fun at piano, and the 20 minutes will pass really quickly.'

'I'm noticing that you really need to wiggle today! How about if you play through the assignments, and do five jumping jacks between each one?' 

If your child can tell that you really understand why this is so hard for him right now, he is more likely to listen to your suggestion for moving forward. 

The Unilateral Decision

Hopefully your child was able to understand some of your wisdom and reasons for encouraging daily practice.  If he's having fun in class and having fun bonding with you around the piano, he probably bought into the practice agreement, and isn't surprised that you follow through daily to check if it's getting done.

Occasionally a child may announce he just doesn't want anything to do with music lessons.  Then it's up to the wise parent to weigh the benefits of musical education and decide how important it is to the family.  As a parent, it might be time to step in with a unilateral decision (no voting!).  You've probably already made decisions about going to school or church or certain behaviors.  Your children learn that "that's just the way we do things in our family, and it's not up for a vote."

'Johnny, I respect that you don't enjoy practice right now.   I really care about you, and I know there are so many great things that will come to you if we stick with the music program.  I have many dreams for you, and musicianship is one gift I want to give you.  It is very important to me that I do my part to be sure you have this gift, so I would be too sad to let you stop music lessons.  I'm going to do everything I can to help you have fun and catch my vision.  I am pretty sure that one day you will!' 

Long-Term Vision

LPM student shines
Your long-term vision is to have a child reaping the many advantages of musical education, all the while loving the adventure.  

Right now, he is young and the challenges of learning music are new.  He loves practicing music because he loves and trusts you, he loves his teacher, he is excited about prizes, he has fun with you at the piano, and he wants to avoid the consequences of missing practice.

Over time, an exciting thing will happen- he'll start finding his own enjoyment at making beautiful music, he'll find joy in overcoming the challenges of learning new material, and he'll feel the pleasure of creating.  He'll practice because he's intrinsically motivated to practice, and because he's caught your long-term vision. 

I wish you the best as you help your child catch on to your long-term vision this year!

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

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Gift-Giving Guide for Musical Kids

** This post was originally written for Making Musicians: the official Let's Play Music blog**  
It's holiday season, and that means you have an opportunity to choose thoughtful gifts for the children in your life.  Want to encourage music learning and help create a musical environment at home?  Peruse our gift guide for those musical kids and find several great items right at the Let's Play Music Webstore.

Tuition for Music Classes

If Grandma or Aunt Betsy asks what the kids could use this year, be sure your bases are covered for tuition.  Having some or all of a class paid for is a clutter-free gift that stays with your child forever.  Don't forget how easy it is to offer a semester of Sound Beginnings to toddlers and preschoolers on your gift list, too!  Need to find a teacher for those nieces and nephews? Use our FIND A TEACHER button.

Big Ticket Instruments:


A Piano Or Keyboard:  

If this is your first year in Let's Play Music, you'll need a piano or keyboard at home next year.  Check out our guide on how to choose a piano or keyboard.  Warehouse clubs like Costco often have deals on 88-key digital pianos during the holiday season, and Target has had Black Friday keyboard deals for the past several years.

An Autoharp: You might also enjoy an autoharp at home, especially since the portable instrument is fun to take along on camping trips and pull out at family gatherings. 

A Metronome:  Finally, by the 3rd year of Let's Play Music, your student will be ready for a metronome.  There are some fun  games you can play with a metronome, but of course it will be a tool for improving musicianship skills.  There are many economical options and even apps.  A nice traditional metronome can last a lifetime, so you might consider getting a top-notch one.

Rhythm Instruments:


The Gift of Your Time: Now that you've got the piano taken care of, it might be fun to have a "rhythm box" of instruments accessible to your child.  Help him learn the rules about instruments (handle them gently, put them in the box when you're done, ask politely to use what someone is holding) while playing along to favorite songs with the family.  Of course you'll be able to recreate the rhythm games from all years of class (and even find more online) that you can play to improve rhythm and reading.  Start a rhythm tradition; build a time into your day when the family can giggle and dance to a song, using the instruments to keep the beat or play a rhythm echo game.  The instrument itself is the first gift, your instruction on how and when to use and enjoy it is the second!

Tambourines and Rhythm Sticks are must-haves in a rhythm box.  The Let's Play
Music Holiday Webstore has a set of high-quality instruments. Rhythm Band is another vendor with sets and individual instruments.

A Gathering Drum by Remo is an all-time favorite.  They have several other items for children, too.

Boomwhackers from the Let's Play Music Holiday store are fun and sturdy and can be used along with your tone bells and many additional family games and activities!

Echo-microphones encourage kids to sing, and don't cost much.

 Kazoos and Harmonicas make easy stocking stuffers, too.



CD Players or Ipod Docks: If you don't already have a device for your child to operate when he would like to play his Let's Play Music songs (and other music), this would be a worthwhile gift.  Teaching your child how to operate the equipment to turn on songs he would like to hear empowers him to make music part of his day, and puts a smile on your face when you hear the sounds of your independent little one off in his room singing to his CD (and perhaps playing bells.)

During the second and third year of Let's Play Music, you'll also want a dock or CD Player near the piano so your child can play along with the recordings- here's your  chance to get prepared!

MP3 Players:  For those worried about replacement costs, MP3 players can often be found cheaply ($15 and less) and can be loaded up with carefully-chosen Let's Play Music and other songs.  It's worthwhile to choose child-safe headphones or educate your child about safe volume levels on headphones before turning him loose. 

Music to Listen To:


Performing Arts Tickets: Nothing sends the message "we care about music" quite as succinctly as giving your child tickets to see live musical performers.  Check your local symphonies and performance halls for performances that would be especially child-friendly (and respect age limits on those that are not), but don't overlook college, high school and community performing arts centers, too.   If there is a performing group you think your child may aspire to joining in the future, it's never to early to become a fan; find out where they will perform and take your child to check it out. 

Music CDs:
You can help your child improve musicality and music literacy by giving her opportunities to listen to lots of music.  Don't make the mistake of skipping over "kids" music in an effort to speed your little Einstein to success.  Simple, easy-to-sing songs have a definite place in your child's learning curve; she'll probably appreciate that she CAN easily discern the melodic patterns and chord progressions.   KIMBO has a huge collection of traditional rhymes and sing-a-longs; my preschoolers always especially love the "Six Little Ducks" album.

A large number of children's artists are writing songs that parents enjoy too. You can browse the CD collection at your library before you buy, or try some of my children's suggestions:

 Laurie Berkner 
Brady Rymer
Ralph's World
Putumayo Kids :world music
Dog on Fleas
Imagination Movers
Justin Roberts
Lunch Money
Recess Monkey

Karaoke Machine: Encouraging your child to sing out loud during music class might be as easy as encouraging her to sing out at home!  Consider a karaoke machine for the family to enjoy with some kid and adult favorites.

Encourage Classical Music:

Beethoven's Wig Albums: All this children's music talk doesn't mean you should avoid classical music.   I adore the albums by Beethoven's Wig, which put silly lyrics to popular classical tunes.  My kids sing along with joy, then eagerly listen to the traditional tracks with no lyrics, then demand "I MUST learn to play this piece on piano!"

Maestro Classics: Listen to the London Philharmonic play and hear a familiar story to go with the music in each of the Maestro Classics.  There are even activity pages.  Give it a look!

Books about Music: Encourage music with a few books about instruments and fun stories about the orchestra.  Here is a top ten list to get you started.
Composer Coloring Books: There are several books, so you can choose one for each child in your family to color while learning about our favorites.

Scarves for Dancing: Encourage the experience of classical music with our Sound Beginnings "Smart Moves", or make up your own dances to go along with favorite music.  Scarves to dance with make it all the more fun.

Puppet Theaters: Pinterest can give you ideas for making your own puppet theater, or you can purchase a lovely one to showcase the many classical shows you'll know by the end of Let's Play Music!

Additional Learning :

8-Note Bell Music: If you're wishing for more songs to play on your bells (or boomwhackers), the best place to start is with these 2 songbooks from the Let's Play Music Holiday shop.

Extra Sheet Music: Peruse your local music store for sheet music that will interest your child.  I adore playing duets with my kids, so we have enjoyed Alfred's Chord Approach Duet book .  The Faber Accelerated Piano Adventures Pop Repertiore is exciting and fun and just right for our third year students.

Giant Piano: Your physically active musician will be inspired by youtube videos of giant piano performers dancing their way through the classics.  

 Educational Apps: If you have a device, your child might enjoy a few new apps all about making music.

Toy Piano: If you just can't resist the cuteness, you might give a toy piano to your preschooler.  I'm told the keys on the Schoenhut pianos are full-size, which makes me happy because your child's fingers will develop muscle memory for these distances.  The 25-key pianos will at least have enough keys to play the Red, Yellow, and Blue chords with one hand, but the 15-key pianos will frustrate your child when she tries to play Yellow with no low B.  One parent desperately wanted this toy but worried that it would somehow stunt the actual piano learning.  I'm of the opinion that anything that draws your child to play and experiment with music (and practice real chords) can't be bad! 

Giant Staff: Love games on the giant staff mat in class?  Make one of your own to play with!

If you have (or hope to have) a musical child, I hope you've been inspired to find at least one gift this season to nurture the love of music learning!  Happy Holidays!

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

Friday, December 6, 2013

May There Always Be Me: Music's Power to Reach Children

This story comes from my dear friend and LPM teacher, Kim.  It was originally published at the Making Musicians blog.

May There Always Be Me

Twenty minutes before my parent meeting in August of 2012, I had a pregnant mother, and friend of mine, call me and tell me that there were complications with her unborn daughter and it was going to be too much for their family to participate in Let's Play Music and take care of a sick infant.  There were a few tears and understanding words shared between us at which point I told her I would be happy to have her 5 year old son, Carson, participate if something changed.

Sadly, things did change and a week later I attended the funeral of that precious 3 day old daughter.

My friend called me about a week after the funeral and asked if I still had a spot for Carson, which I did.  She said she felt as though she needed to keep things as normal as possible for the other children, 5 and 3 years old, after the passing of the baby.  Carson is one VERY, VERY active boy who needs an understanding and loving teacher.  She thought music class would be a great outlet and learning environment for him. 

Grief Counseling

I asked his mom how he was doing with the death of his little sister and she told me he had never said anything about it.  He would act out sometimes but never talked about his sister.   They were attending grief counseling where the counselor told them that this was completely normal and he may NEVER talk about it.  Young children process differently than adults, but to make sure they always kept the lines of communication open and let him know he could talk about it if he wanted.   But not to expect it.

I had him start class on lesson 3 so he would have his mom there with him on his first visit to Let's Play Music.  I quickly realized that he was going to be a very challenging student.  Sitting still and not talking were not his strong points!  I sometimes wondered if it was really worth the money being spent.  I would often struggle with him walking around, sitting in corners and trying to tell stories, very animated stories, in the middle of my teaching.  I would say to him, “I really want to hear that story.  Can you remember it and tell me after class?”  I would say that to him… A LOT.  

 He Listened

 Then came our first time in class talking about a lullaby and listening to/singing ‘May There Always be Me’.  We rocked as we listened to this song.  Carson rocked.  He didn’t talk.  He listened.  When I stopped the music he raised his hand.  First time ever.  I called on him and very excitedly told him, “Thank you for raising your hand!”  He said, “That’s a song we should sing to my sister.”  He continued on, “She isn’t here anymore.  She is in heaven but I think she can still hear us.  She died.  They put her in a box and sent her to heaven.”  I was so taken aback.  I did not ever expect to hear him talk about the passing of his baby sister.  Obviously, this time I let him tell as much of his story as he wanted.   “She was sick in my mommy’s tummy.  The doctor had to take her out.  But she was dead.  In a box.  They put her in a box.  It was little.  I think me and mommy should sing this song to her at bedtime.  It would make her happy.  She would like it.  I will sing to her.”  I tried to compose myself and finish class.

A Glimpse into A Child's Mind

I talked with his mom after class and told her what occurred during our lullaby.  She was in tears and thanked me over and over for sharing with her and allowing him to share and talk.  Up to that point, he still had not said a word about it to anyone.  Not once.  She was grateful there was an opportunity to get a glimpse into his mind as to what he was feeling and thinking about having a sibling die.  The grief counselor prepared her to never expect Carson to speak of it again. 

Carson had some weeks following that lesson where he would be in tears or would act out.  But we worked together.  He started answering questions.  Correctly.  Sometimes yelling out of turn… but he KNEW HIS STUFF!  I can ask him any question today and he will have the right answer.  All those weeks of sitting in the corner, wandering around or doing donkey kicks – he was listening.  That smart little boy was teasing me and making me think he wasn’t paying attention.  He was paying attention and music has opened up his world in ways I will never be able to understand.  A family was strengthened and gained a greater perspective of their 5 year old’s life than even a grief counselor could believe. This family was able to better assist their child in healing after the loss of a sister because of what was shared during my LPM class.

Music Has Power Beyond Notes and Chords

Students act out the scary genie during the Aladdin's Lamp puppet show.

I have been teaching LPM for 7 years now.  I have seen LPM affect kids and families in so many positive ways throughout the years.  However, those 10 minutes during that class listening to Carson’s story after singing a lullaby changed me and my outlook on how and why I teach Let’s Play Music forever.   It reaffirmed to me that music has powers beyond notes and chords.  It has strengthened my conviction that every child needs music in their life.  And not just for the reasons and benefits we normally think of as music educators.  I continue to be impressed with all of my LPM classes, but I especially look forward to seeing what Carson is able to accomplish when he graduates two years from now.

 --Kim Seyboldt, Let's Play Music Teacher