All posts by Musikgarten

Teaching Toddlers to Piano: When Seeds Start To Produce Flowers

If you imagine yourself to be a gardener, you will have to learn to wait and wait for the day when  those tiny seeds you planted last April will finally flower into their full glory. So goes the musical development of the children in our music classes. We welcome in the new family with infants in their arms and encourage music making through singing, rocking, dancing and playing sticks.  Of course the baby mouths that stick, eagerly working on that emerging molar. We let the parents know this is a first step in the music literacy development, exploration, and the child will soon find the sound, play with the sound, copying the beat, and keeping a steady beat. We sing and ask parents to sing along in whatever key they can find and feel a seed of joy in our hearts when the toddlers begin to sing along, first in snatches and then slowly joining us for the whole song.

We relish the moment when a child comes back with their first “bah” or “bam” and secretly jump up and down when their response is in tune, and, oh, the quality of that first voice. And when a child in your classroom NEVER responds with a bam or bah you find yourself nervously reminding your parents how this is a process based program. But you, the teacher, wonder when or if you will ever see that flower bloom. Patience is the key and making sure all those little things that happen are acknowledged and appreciated.

Let’s go back a few years to one of my Cycles classes. A mother arrives with twin girl and boy, Ayla and Acer, and a baby in tow. The twins hide behind mom and very rarely do I see their faces. Mom reassures me the boy is very musical, but I am not allowed even a glimpse of this in my classes. We go through the year and Mom brings the children weekly without fail.  I know she plays the music at home and participates fully in my classroom. The boy moves into Music Makers and the girl into ballet class at the same time as his music class. Sigh! Mom comes week after week with both, drops off the boy and DRAGS the young ballet dancer out of my studio. The boy is still very shy but shines his sweet eyes on me sometimes when I am looking. When Music Makers: Around the World begins, the girl joyfully rejoins the class, still very shy but I hear her beginning to sing with a sweet quiet voice as she joins all our musical activities.

Ayla Acer and Trekker - May blog

Fast forward to this year; Music Makers: Piano. Both children are now singing in tune, keeping awesome steady beats and playing their keyboards like there is no tomorrow. The “baby”, now a preschooler, is still hiding behind mom in his music class but I have heard him singing in the background when his siblings send me recordings of their music making at home.

Let’s hear a bit from the mother, Jennifer, about the experience:

As a homeschooling family, we find outside enrichment to be very valuable. I suppose our Musikgarten journey began even before our home school journey – when our oldest (twins) were 2 1/2. We went in search of some sort of musical training for our particularly eager son, who was obsessed with guitars. Through a local music store, we found Ellen. At first, I would say we found classes to be fun but did not see how this would foster our budding musician’s creativity or bring along his less-eager and very shy twin sister. In fact, both children (and especially now our third child) were pretty reluctant to take part in many of the activities. We continued on, only partially (if at all) understanding what was happening.

And then we moved into piano instruction. We were amazed!! Both children grew by leaps and bounds – our son was constantly at the piano creating, and our daughter even started to love playing and getting creative! And I was surprised at what I was learning too! Now all 3 children are in, and enjoying the program. I can only imagine what great surprises may be in store as we continue!

Jennifer did not give up on her children. Instead she kept music a big part of their home life.  She provided instruments for the children to explore at home and invested in a keyboard that has become a center for playing the piano all day long.

I bet in your piano classes you usually don’t have time to hear all the pieces the children have been exploring at home. It can get discouraging when it feels as if they only know two pieces – Listen for Bells, and Mouse Mousie. This year, I found it useful to have my parents send me home recordings of their  children’s playing. This has been an eye opening experience as a teacher. For the shy student, this is the ideal place to express their pieces from a place of comfort. Ayla never wanted to share her pieces during piano sharing time.  Yet when Mom sent videos of her playing at home I was surprised and pleased to hear how comfortable she felt playing the piano, heard her entire repertoire (which included every piece we did in class) and even got to hear her improvisations.

With home recordings you can :

  • Hear their entire repertoire
  • Make little suggestions in terms of sound production
  • Give positive feedback, which they love to hear
  • Observe their home bench height and distance from the keyboard
  • Remind the parents to get their pianos tuned

Listen to Acer and Ayla’s latest recordings.

Acer – Green Gravel in two keys

Ayla – Follow Me with improvisation

I hope you can hear how all the little things we do with the children in those early classes finally bloom in a myriad of ways when they are ready to place the music in their hearts onto the piano.  My garden is blooming!

Summer Offerings: Ideas from Musikgarten Teachers

Every teacher has a different idea of how they wish to teach through the summer months. Long gone are the days when music studios go quiet during the summer months. Parents are looking for music classes and camp programs to keep their children involved in music. I was curious how different teachers manage their summer months. Last month I spoke about my own way of creating a balance between downtime and offering classes.  Here are some other teachers’ responses.

Bobbi Morgan of Florida, who teaches in a studio called Music Compound in Sarasota, Florida tells us about her program:

During the summer I use a variety of Musikgarten programs:

  • Babies: Babies Musical World
  • Toddlers: Sing/Dance/Play or Clap With Me
  • 3s and 4s: Summer (part of the Cycle of Seasons Program)
  • 5s: Music Makers at the Seashore
  • 6s and 7s: Introduction to Keyboard.

For my Music Makers: at the Keyboard students I also offer a Music Makers Keyboard review class.

Although we have an outdoor space, we tend to not use it because it is simply too hot out there!

I offer my programs through late Spring and Summer. I work most weeks, but I take a break from over the July 4th holiday and most of August. Like many studios, I teach by myself and do my own administrative work, like marketing, registration, collecting tuition and material fees.

To attract families, I have a mailing list to which I email a schedule prior to each session and then I follow up by phone or individual emails. My schedule & Musikgarten information is on the studio web site. I teach a free class for the Hospital Mom/Baby groups.  I also put schedules in music stores, children’s clothing stores, church nurseries, doctor’s offices, libraries, coffee shops with bulletin boards, etc.

I teach in the summer because my parents request classes. Teachers in my area who are off in the summer request them too. Short summer classes attract new families, help retain families, and generate income for the studio during dry summer months.

The Toddler classes are most popular, although Baby classes are a close

Second. These classes enable children to participate in group experiences
before preschool years begin. It gives the moms something to do together
with their child and friends with kids. They believe in the power of music
to facilitate their child’s development. Everything is new & exciting
to this age group. To new teachers I just want to mention that attendance to summer classes in my area is generally sporadic, unlike during the rest  of the year.

Lianne Brewer founded The Music Factory in Springfield, IL in 1994, and currently has 7 teachers serving approximately 300+ children.  She now lives in southern CA and has started teaching Musikgarten there at a local music school.  This is how Lianne is shaping up her summer plans:

I use the Musikgarten curriculum because everything I need is there! I love teaching Musikgarten because the curriculum excels in providing developmentally appropriate activities, as well as fun activities, melodious songs, and lots of variety for the families and for me. The music school I presently teach at has no access to outdoor space, but many years ago I did have a grassy area outside that we used in the preschool classes!  Great fun!

Currently I teach a summer program by myself (looking for another teacher and helper!) for six weeks during the summer starting in early June when school is out.  In previous summers my teaching colleagues and I have presented a program called “A Taste of Music”. This ran for two weeks in August and was a music program filled with fun, low-key classes that geared up for Fall. We made a rule that current families could only attend if they brought a NEW family. These August classes were FREE!

To find families, I advertise on Facebook, and direct email. I primarily teach during summer to attract new families, so I make the session shorter to give families a taste of my regular programs.

In my present music school my most popular  class has been our Dancing, Drumming & Drawing Camps for preschool (ages 3-5 yrs) and music makers  (ages 6-8). Offered 1x a week, on two different days, from 9:30-11:45 AM, for 6 weeks. I am lucky because I can offer a Baby Class or a Toddler class at the same time in another room. Of all the summer toddler programs, Twist and Turn or Nimble and Quick have been the most popular.

I would encourage teachers to offer “perks” to get new families in! It works to offer discounts to current families if they bring a new family; I also have families pay for only classes they can attend (minimum of 4 out of 6 weeks) so those who say they can’t come at all because they’ll miss two classes due to vacation, swimming lesson, etc, will be more inclined to come!

Stephanie Rivera, Coordinator of Children’s Music at First Presbyterian Church Orlando, has big plans for the summer:

We use the following programs during the summer.

Summer Curriculum plans for 2017:

  • Babies (birth-13 months) – My Musical World
  • Walkers (14-23 months) – My Day
  • Toddlers (2-3 yrs) – On a Trip
  • Big Kids (3-4 yrs) – Cycles Summer
  • Family Class (mixed ages) – Nature’s Music
  • Explorers (4-5 yrs) – My Neighborhood Community
  • World Travelers (5-6 yrs) – Seashore
  • Nature Trail for 6-8 yrs, possibly

We solely use Musikgarten as our curriculum because of it’s quality, flexibility, and how many curriculum options we have for our large program.

Our location is a church in a downtown area. It has 3 buildings and a parking garage, which can be intimidating to some families.

Our summer schedule usually consists of morning classes Tuesday-Thursday, adding Friday as necessary. Very rarely add Mondays, but it has happened. We also offer a lunch-time class, but that has a tendency to be cancelled because it is such an odd time. We take off the week of July 4th, and this summer will also take off the week our church has Vacation Bible School due to lack of rooms available.

I have a team of 4-6  teachers that teach during the year, and a small set of 2 teachers that teach during the summer. This summer, I’ll teach on my own due to one teacher being on maternity leave and the other traveling more this summer than usual.

We use Facebook for our advertising through our own Facebook page and my own personal page. Our teachers share my posts about upcoming classes. Current families also tag their friends in the comments. The rest is word-of-mouth. In May, I will give a free demo to a local moms group in hopes that they will join us for Summer.

Our most popular classes during the summer are Walkers and Toddlers. There are many activities available for 3 years-old and older in our area, and some people think their baby is “too young” to attend classes so they wait until they are walking to pursue any structured activities.

When offering summer activities, consider that many people are traveling during the summer, so try to keep your classes in the middle of the week rather than Monday or Friday. As always, nap time is a major factor when families are scheduling activities, so ask around about what ages are napping and what time of day. Mixed ages classes work well during the summer due to older siblings being out of school, so that might be a good starting point of your curriculum offerings.

I hope these three teachers give you some great ideas!  What are you planning to do this summer?

Summer – Create a Year Round Teaching Schedule That Fits You!

You have worked hard to enroll your classes for the winter and spring and are happily on your way to sharing music with children and their families in your community. But … are you ready to enroll for your summer session? Parents are already looking for summer activities for their children. Now is the time to contact your families and offer your summer program even as the snow falls.

Summer photo

Your summer schedule is as unique as you are. For me, I used to take the entire summer off because I had three children and I wanted to devote my summer days to them; July and August was about long beach stays, playing games with my children, and riding bicycles. It was also a time for me to rejuvenate my energy for the upcoming Fall schedule. But now I am an empty nester and the Musikgarten summer curriculum is too good to pass up. So this summer I plan to teach three days a week for eight weeks and still give myself a few weeks off to rejuvenate.

Why should you consider teaching Musikgarten during the summer?

  • Current Students: inviting your students to continue with your classes over the summer rather than other classes down the road is important. Why leave the door open?
  • Marketing: With the right marketing you can entice the families who are unsure to join you for a shorter period before they commit to your Fall and Winter Sessions
  • Summer Students: some families who cannot join your Fall, Winter, and Spring classes, due to location and/or work commitments can fit you in during their summer months (which is the case for many of in my resort community families who live 90 miles away during the school year)

The Musikgarten curriculum has many different programs you can use over the summer. Each are flexible and can be molded to fit your needs. This coming summer I want to offer weekly classes and I ask my families to choose at least four classes throughout my July and August Schedule.  They are welcome to choose more than four classes, but I don’t want people dropping in. I offer a choice to come weekly or twice per week. This works for the families who rent houses here for one or two months. My local families often rent and leave the area for anywhere from two weeks or one month to the entire summer. So I meet my family’s needs by offering the flexibility to choose a variety of days and class times, unlike during the regular season when I insist in weekly attendance. The downside is some classes will be less full than others. The summer programs are not sequential so I can do this. NOTE: The only exception is my Intro to piano session which is only four weeks long and the families must register for the entire program.Shoot3and4_Robert_IMG_6082

Musikgarten also offers one week camps. If you have the space for a week long summer camp I highly recommend this option.

Here is a checklist to get ready for your summer program:

  • Go to your personal schedule and decide what weeks you wish to work and what weeks you want to vacation and not work. I call this your ideal schedule. Take a good amount of time to create this ideal summer schedule because once it is set you will thank yourself later.
  • Now consider what programs you want to teach. Consider you space limitations. I am excited to offer the brand new summer toddler program for 8 weeks on Wednesdays and Fridays. For my mixed aged families I want to add Twist and Turn to the schedule. Note: If you wish to make your schedule 10 weeks, the program gives you that flexibility or offer less weeks to fit you! For my threes and fours I have added afternoon classes since all my pre-schoolers now attend morning camp (daycare). I love teaching Summer from the Cycle of Seasons Program. My older 4s and 5s will enjoy Music Makers: Seashore, or what I call Going to the Beach, which is a nice set of lessons specifically designed for weekly one hour classes that fit perfectly in my community and in my studio.  Finally I plan to add an Introduction to the Piano for six year olds which will meet either twice a week for two weeks or four weeks (but you can also offer it over one week). All these classes must take place on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, no exceptions. This gives me four days off per week.  Heaven!!
  • Once you create that ideal schedule it is NOW time to put it onto your website. Really think through this. I have a Summer page that delineates all the programs I am offering and the dates of the classes. I add pictures from the Musikgarten teachers source. I want it to be easy for them to register for the weeks they want.
  • When that schedule is set it is time to advertise it. My favorite avenues are:
    • My present families – Send them a link to the website and ask them to consider joining my summer programs. I also add a coupon incentive giving them a sizeable discount. These are the families that will make my groups sing and dance because they already know my program and will carry the newbie’s along with their enthusiasm. It’s worth the investment.
    • My Summer families – I have a list of families who live in NYC and only partake in my programs in the summer. I will send them a link to my website by March 1. I will also send them a coupon encouraging them to refer me to their friends. I also ask them to include me in any email or Facebook pages they are active on.
    • My New families – Families are calling me for spots in Fall classes. Why not introduce them to my programs during the summer? I send them a link to my website and suggest they register now. I send them a coupon where if they join in the Fall, the summer program is discounted.

You can also check out this previous blog post for more marketing ideas!

Preparing for the summer means imagining what you want to teach, creating the ideal schedule, establishing the classes, and then getting the word out on your website and in your community. Just cross your fingers and you are on your way.

Question:  What summer program would you like to have?  Or what has worked in the past for you when scheduling your summer?

How to become more comfortable teaching improvisation.

Improvisation is a skill we piano teachers need to develop.   When we teach our students to improvise, we know they gain a greater understanding of the language of music.  Sylvia Rabinof, my improvisation instructor at the Juilliard School wrote, “It is a tool to building effective musicianship.  Together with ensemble training, the study of improvisation is perhaps the most undervalued and misunderstood phase of music education today.  We tend to forget that improvisation is a basic element of music making and that one who can improvise successfully uses all of the various idioms and skills of that language as naturally as if speaking in his native tongue.  The entire musical literature, which its tremendous diversity of expressive styles, has evolved from improvisatory traditions; all of this predated systems of notation.  Improvised music, then, no matter how primitive or limit, carries on a unique artistic heritage.”

But for the majority of piano teachers, the art of improvisation was not included in their own weekly piano lesson. As a result, many teachers feel awkward when it is their turn to create an improvisatory phrase in front of their students.  Can we, the teacher, still develop our improvisational skills?

I believe the best answer is to teach The Musikgarten curriculum, Music Makers at the Keyboard, a three year sequential program for group piano.  This method has the best improvisation sequence I have found.  It teaches improvisation step by step and I recommend you, the teacher, follow this program to develop their own improvisational skills. If you work alongside (or a bit ahead of) your students and master each step of the process you will find this process of creating music gradually becoming easier for you.  If you haven’t yet started a class I still think you can go through the program and work on the steps bit by bit.

Let’s take a quick look at how improvisation is introduced in Book 1 of Music Makers at the Keyboard:

  1. In Book 1 the children and teacher are echoing fundamental tonal and rhythmical patterns that are found in the pieces they are singing and dancing to. The patterns we practice are commonly found in the songs such as See the Pony, Who’s That? and Hot Cross Buns. These are pieces we are singing and dancing to and eventually learning to play by ear on the piano.

Video 1 – See the Pony, Who’s That?, and Hot Cross Buns with Tonal patterns.

  1. As the children become more familiar with the songs, such as the song we sing and play within the video, we play a game whereby they find these patterns in the piece they are singing.  There is such a sense of satisfaction and “AHA’ in the children when they are successful in finding a pattern in a song.  These patterns become their friends at the piano as they work out how to play the patterns in different keys and how they work them into the familiar tunes.  This takes time. Almost the entire Book 1 is devoted to becoming comfortable with these patterns.  I hope you as a teacher also become comfortable with these patterns in your voice and at the piano.
  1. By the tenth lesson, the children begin to create their own tonal patterns. We do this exercise on the floor. First, they echo the same pattern I chant and then they are asked to create new patterns on their own. Here is your opportunity as a teacher learning to improvise to start to create your own patterns. Try thinking of different ways you can make a tonal pattern using Do, Sol and   Then go to a piano and find those patterns.  When you are comfortable, try two tonal patterns in a row. This will be good preparation for what will occur in Book 2.

Video 2 – children singing rhythmic patterns and then improvising on the patterns.

Video 3 – children singing tonal patterns and then improvising on the patterns.

In Book 1 we play with duple and triple rhythm patterns and major tonal patterns based on the Tonic I Chord.  In Book 2 the children are led through a carefully planned sequence of activities which lead the students to improvise patterns on the piano within a duple or triple rhythm context.

You should feel comfortable making up patterns on the piano, but if this is difficult for you I suggest:

  1. Learn the patterns as the children are learning them, using the practice CD to learn the songs by ear on the piano.
  2. Create a tonic pattern on the piano and then figure out it’s name. Then sing a tonic pattern and find it on the piano.  Go back and forth until you can do this easily.
  3. When you are comfortable, move to longer patterns.
  4. Add a Tonic chord under your improvisations and play with this.

Creating a few patterns each day will slowly increase your confidence at learning to improvise.  You may be a few steps ahead of your students or perhaps at the same level.  Just keep going to the piano and play, play, play.

What have you found works for you to become more comfortable with your own improvisational attempts?  Let me know by responding to this essay in the comment section below.

Interested in taking training for Group Piano? Click here to find out more!

Benefits of Early Childhood Music for Your Studio

Teachers and parents are starting to understand that if you give children the gift of music at an early age, the benefits last a lifetime. It is not just listening to music, but engaging in music in an active way with in a group.  The parents see the benefits instilled in their children and the teachers see these and the benefits for their studios.

For children the benefits can be:

  • Their toddler learning to relax and be calm, control impulses, or move with rhythm and grace
  • Their preschooler learning to share, take turns, sit still and listen, or get ready to read
  • Their school age child falling in love with music, learning to compose and improvise

Teachers see the same great benefits for the child through their classes, but also understand that having or adding early childhood music to their instrumental studio makes business sense. Here are just a few benefits for the teacher:

  • Extra income – you make more money with group classes then just teaching one student
  • Making the most of your day – you can schedule early childhood classes at different times, like a morning time, than private lessons
  • Laying the ground work for good musicianship and building your instrumental studio from the ground up

Long time Musikgarten teacher Ellen Johansen recently spoke about this in a podcast with nationally recognized piano teacher, Tim Tophan, and specifically using the Musikgarten material to attain these goals, especially laying the ground work for good musicianship. Here is a quote from the session when discussing why she uses Musikgarten:

“That’s why I do it. I love it, I love the flow of it. I love that it covers all the bases and it answered the most important question for me when I was looking for it 20 years ago. And I was frustrated as a traditional piano teacher. I kept getting students who are following all those method books and they were following everything I was saying and yet they weren’t creating music, and they weren’t reading very well. And the question kept popping up, “How do I get these kids to read music?” And I mean it became a major issue for me and that when I found this program (Musikgarten) it answered the question and more. I had no idea and I’ve never gone back to that traditional mode since then.”

Click below to listen to the complete podcast:

Teaching Music using Musikgarten

Tim also focused on this topic in a recent blog post, referencing some of Ellen’s thoughts.

How to Build an Early Childhood Program

Maybe you are a piano teacher, singer or other instrumentalist who wants to make extra income or just want you students to be more musical. Musikgarten is the answer!

Come take a look by attending one of these free events:

Meet Musikgarten webinar

Introduction to Piano Partners

Marketing your Musikgarten with Out-of-the-box ideas!

Marketing your Musikgarten classes can be a challenge and sometimes it gets difficult coming up with new, out of the box ideas to try. Sometimes the best person to talk to is another Musikgarten teacher and the Gartenloop is good place to start.

One teacher, Nancy Kubo was graciously willing to share some of her ideas on the forum and agreed to let us reprint a few of them. Here is Nancy in her own words.

I have had a long-running studio program in Seattle with Lorna’s curricula for 30 years now and have a steady enrollment of 170-200 students every year. I have seen the enrollment rise and fall with economic conditions, with the arrival of competitive programs, and with the ups and downs of the birth rate. And advertising methods certainly evolved over the years with the arrival of the Internet.

I’m doing less and less on the internet the last few years, except for presence in three different online parent publication directories. My toddler enrollment in recent years was cut in half due to competition with not only other music programs but also the vast array of activities now available to toddlers.


My current strategy is to imprint the “Musikgarten” name on every parent’s mind in Seattle, so that when they think of toddler activity, or specifically music classes, they think of Musikgarten, just like when you think of tissue you think of “Kleenex”.

Here are some strategies that have worked for me:
1. Yard signs – I use the ones the Musikgarten makes. I got brave and put out 24 signs all around my area of Seattle. I’m kind of shy about it and it’s taken me forever to figure out where they can go without being removed. But now I don’t care, even if they do get removed a week or two later, I got my two weeks of exposure of the name. It only says Musikgarten — I don’t add my phone, and I cut off the musikgarten.org part because I’d rather a parent just Google Musikgarten and my website will come up.


When asked where she puts the signs or if she worries about them getting removed Nancy responds:

OK, where do I put the yard signs: they have to go in dirt/grass. Can’t put at a library, they’ll remove it right away because they can’t support a for-profit business. I do put them at playground corners, even though I shouldn’t, and just hope they stay as long as possible. Also intersections, medians and little traffic circles, but if they are really manicured; I don’t, because some nearby resident probably maintains it.  I look for more neglected, grown over spots, which tells me nobody cares too much. And usually I place at an intersection where drivers have to stop. If they get removed, they are gone. I do not and retrieve the yard signs.


2)  Auction fundraisers – I donate a $200 certificate to about 40 schools every year. Probably less than one third actually get used, but 100s of parents (1000s?) saw my little display and brochure on the auction table when they passed by it at the auction. Each contribution probably costs me about $4 or $5 for the photo printout and brochure and postage.

When asked if the dollar amount of the certificate is more of a draw than a “free semester” or “four weeks of class”, Nancy responds:

The reason I make it a $200 certificate is the parent can jump in anytime during the year for Babies, Toddlers, or Cycles and I don’t expect people to start at the very beginning of a term. This is also a studio grower. The auction organizers want a “value” stated and those three different age groups are different price points for a full term. If they join half way, then it carries over into the next term. But I really don’t give too much attention to all that, of course I’m glad to get certificate redeemers because they usually become steady families. My main reason for doing the auctions is the exposure at the silent auction table. I actually searched on the internet for every private and public school, and preschool in Seattle. Then went to their website to see if they do an auction and asked for the procurement form. I now participate in over 40 auctions. I know $200 is a lot, but I want them to come for at least 12 weeks, to get the feel.

 

3) Sports – I almost forgot to mention sports! I am now a baseball and soccer sponsor! Ugh! If you can’t beat them, join them! So all summer a huge Musikgarten banner hung in two different fields for baseball. Now two banners will hang on two soccer fields and “Musikgarten” will be on one team’s jerseys.

kubo-team-photo

These strategies are ones that my competitors would never do, and therefore really give me an edge over them. Well that’s my recent experience.

And guess what, the toddlers are back!

Out-of-the-box ideas do not work for everyone’s situation. For some areas the marketing tactic that works is heavy internet marketing through Google or Facebook and for other areas a more grass roots effort is a key component.

Do you have out-of-the-box marketing ideas? Share them on this blog or on Gartenloop.

For information on the Gartenloop contact Denise at event@musikgarten.org.

The Value of the Parent in a Toddler Music Class

The time to start experiencing music is in early childhood; the place is in the family. Home is the first and most important school for children, and involved parents are the most effective teachers. Adults are learning how to interact effectively and easily with children through music, and families are growing together musically. This is good for children and good for families. (Musikgarten, Family Music for Toddlers, On a Trip, 2016)

When I teach a music class for toddlers I must acknowledge the elephant in the room.

elephant

Next to, or nearby, every toddler attending class is an adult. This adult could be a parent, a caregiver, an uncle or a grandparent, but what do they all have in common? They are no longer toddlers and therefore have completely different musical needs from a toddler. They may be agreeing to sit in a toddler class but does that mean they need to sing along, dance along and play along? Wouldn’t they rather grab their cell phone, find a corner and start Facebooking? What can you do to keep those parents from herding into a corner and starting a gossip circle?

News Flash! You are not only about to teach a toddler music class, but also teach music to adults. So let’s first address the question,

“Why do Musikgarten family toddler classes include a loving adult for each toddler in the room?”

  • The adult links you, the teacher, to their child. For instance, you will demonstrate a steady beat by bouncing your stuffed animal and the adult will bounce their child the same way, instilling that steady beat.
  • The adults join in a community chorus of singing and participating that surrounds the toddler with hopes that one day s/he will feel comfortable joining.
  • The adult creates a space that becomes a safe zone for the toddler. Within that space the child feels most comfortable; in their comfort space they can best learn.
  • The adult makes logistics easier in the classroom. Imagine walking into a classroom filled with 12 roving toddlers and no adults. Bounce along? Maybe one at a time if you can catch one. Sing to them? They won’t sing back and will stare at you with a lost look. Sit in a circle? What’s a circle? Hand out sticks? Could be dangerous. Ask them to Walk and Stop? Good luck. Try pulling out that drum. Bam, oof, watch out!

Teachers agree: The parent is the channel through which you instill the heart and life of the Musikgarten program.

When the parent participates in class, the class is moving and grooving. When they sit back and watch or zone out your class is compromised. So your parents need to know this and you need to acknowledge their presence and worth. They already have a clue that music is wonderful and significant for their children. They have heard that music is part of a well-rounded education and it makes a significant difference in the lives of children.  Now the participating adults need to know they are the magic key to accessing the music education in your classroom. So what can we do as teachers to help the parents feel their value?

  1. Make sure you have spoken to every parent that plans to attend either on the phone or at a parent’s meeting. Besides reminding them about arriving on time, washing hands, and taking off shoes, they need to learn to enter the studio with excitement and anticipation, leaving the worries and cares outside the door, along with their cell phone.
  2. Before class begins, set the mood by having the CD for the program playing softly. So often I have parents walk in and begin to sing along with music. This is marvelous proof that they have been doing their homework and playing that recorded music often enough that they know the words.
  3. Room should be free of clutter and all toddler distractions put away. Remind the parents to leave all toys and food outside of the room. Stuffed animals that sneak in under a child’s arm gets invited to watch on my piano. Invite them to sit on your clean carpet or floor. Maybe have a drum or other classroom instrument to explore. Note: I keep that instrument with me at all times.
  4. Begin the class on time. I can’t emphasize this enough and tell the parents that we always begin on time. Note: I say this every week and also mention this at the end of class.
  5. Ask the parents to gather up their wandering children to form a close-knit circle.
  6. Quietly remind the parents that you are modeling all movement and they are expected to sing and move just like me. Mention this for many weeks – not just the first week! Note: I do not go into the discussion of “But I can’t sing” at this time.
  7. Sing the opening song quietly with a smile.
  8. Keep a slow tempo and make sure you have had eye contact with each parent and hopefully with each child.
  9. As the class progresses you will deal with individual needs and issues: roving toddlers, toddlers that need some quiet time in the waiting room, chatty parents, non-participating parents, etc.
  10. End on time, acknowledge the class, and invite them back for next week’s class.
  11. As parents leave, take care of any business. Note: I sometimes choose to call or email business related items later and keep the goodbyes pure.

As rapport grows, encourage parents to sing more and more in class. First encourage the ancient word, “la” and then urge the parents to eventually sing the words. Repeat a verse so that parents can sing along. Note: I make sure I drop out for a verse or sing quietly along, promoting their musical participation.

There are a few ways to communicate to parents between class and this is a great way to smooth out any miscommunications or to continue to educate parents about music class.

  1. A follow up phone call
  2. Through emails or handouts
  3. Indirectly through the encouraged use of the CD or downloaded music at home

By making the parent the most valuable asset, you are investing in your studio because these are the parent who will return next semester and the year after that.  Eventually you will have a base from which you can teach all that Musikgarten has to offer.

Make this your first step towards establishing your music studio.  You will reap the rewards of all your hard work.

Question:  What have you found to be the most effective way to guide your parents into joyful music making in your classroom?

What works and doesn’t work when marketing your Musikgarten classes?

What works and doesn’t work when marketing your Musikgarten classes?

I need to face a fundamental fact about myself. Although I have been teaching my classes for over twenty years, my weakest skill is marketing my program. Like most teachers, I love teaching, but shudder at the thought of putting myself and my studio out there. Often after dutifully sending out marketing material I throw up my hands and pray for three more students, just three more students.

Here is the good news and the bad news. You will become a better teacher over time and marketing doesn’t get easier.

So what works and what doesn’t work for my studio business? First let’s get the “doesn’t work” out of the way. Doing nothing or wringing my hands and hoping my classes fill up with registrations on their own doesn’t work.  I have learned that to market my classes I needed to step out of my studio and actually tell others about what I do and when I do it.

What has given me the best bang for my buck? Every area is different, but these three basic tactics have given me the largest overall return:

  1. Website: I use the website offered by Musikgarten through AW Technology (makingmusik.com).This service is easy to use, only $14.95 a month, has a modern look, and is mobile device friendly. This is the single most important marketing tool in my box.
  2. Word of Mouth: Creating relationship with my families is very important to me and research shows this will fill your classes more than any other tool. If parents like me and like what I offer there is a good chance they are going to tell their friends about my studio. I highly recommend listening to a podcast produced by Michael Hyatt called,”Do you Want to Wow your Customers”.  I found myself rethinking how I greet my clients as they enter my studio, and how I communicate to them through emails and on the phone.  This podcast has a lot of relevance to how we can grow your business by making it the most awesome music studio in your community.
  3. Brochures: Whether you use the brochures produced by Musikgarten for licensed teachers or create your own, brochures are very valuable. Having this valuable tool in your purse, bag, by your studio door or in your glove compartment is essential. One way I use a brochure is to introduce myself to teachers in local schools. This may sound like cold calling but you need to start somewhere. Most parents will ask their public school teachers for a good “piano teacher” who will teach their three year old. Guess who they will refer if they have your name in their contacts?

Other Tactics to Keep in Mind:

  1. Print ads in your local paper, magazines, or journals: As I mentioned earlier, every area is different. I personally have not had good luck with these, but that does not mean you should not consider or investigate these as an option in your area. Print ads can be expensive, but they may come with some combination of digital ads. You could also consider Musikgarten’s co-op advertising. If you have three or more teachers in your area, advertise together and Musikgarten will partner with you, evenly splitting the cost of the ad between all parties. Contact Bunny at bgodfrey@musikgarten.org for details.

Note: A lot of local papers have event sections for kids that you can be listed in for free. Submit a description, class times and contact info of your program in this section.

  1. Online parent sites: There are many of these sites to explore. It helps to ask families around town what they use to find their activities and that can be an eye opener. Do some research and choose what fits. Other online sites like Macaroni Kid may be an option for you in your community. Network and post on Facebook pages that cater to parents in your community.
  2. Flyers: I still run around town putting these up and I feel so good afterwards, but I will admit I know I do not get more than maybe one or two calls per year. Musikgarten has pre-made flyers that you can easily customize to your studio on the Teacher Extranet. If you want to create your own flyer, I recommend Canva.com. You can use the wonderful pictures and Musikgarten logo available to licensed Musikgarten teachers on the Teacher Extranet and create a professional looking flyer that tells parents what they need to know.
  3. Social Media: I do have a Facebook page for my business, but I follow many other Musikgarten studios that consistently update and advertise via Facebook and I have to admit that I suffer from Facebook envy. Check out The Music Garden, LLC. Keeping content updated is key. You can reference blog posts, promote your classes, share Musikgarten posts from their corporate page or from other sources, and create simple ads. Here is a sample of a quick ad I created for my Facebook page in less than 15 minutes; not perfect, but helps demonstrate what you can create in a small amount of time. An added bonus is that you can add a website link and email this to inquiries as a reminder to sign up for the fall, you can also post this to your Instagram and Twitter account and add it to a flyer with your contact information.

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  1. Demo Classes: As a veteran teacher I realize this was an important step early on, which brought me good exposure. I offered these classes in my studio and at my local libraries. It gave me a chance to practice my skills on the unsuspected. It also gave me a chance to hand out those nifty licensee brochures mentioned earlier.

For other ideas, check out this blog post from March 2015.

Please know it takes time and patience to bring families to your studio. Also remember that different communities require different combinations of tactics to reach your audience.

After you have chosen your tactics, how can you know which ones work best?  I have created an inquiry list that includes the question, “How did you hear about me”. Start collecting this data when the phone rings. This will give you the best barometer for the most effective tools in your marketing toolbox. Whatever tools you choose remember that you need to assess time and effort versus return.

Tell us how you have grown your Musikgarten studio!

Lazy Summer Days

The water is warm at the ocean; an August breeze rustles my hair as I sit relaxing at the ocean beach and pondering the upcoming fall music season. When I started teaching early-childhood music classes in 1992, not many people knew what “early-childhood music” really was, but things have certainly changed.  It is rare to find a child these days who has not had an early-childhood music experience, either in a pre-school or in a private studio setting.  This is wonderful news!  The earlier we reach children the more opportunity we have to help them reach their full music potential.

Thanks to a myriad of articles about the long term benefits of music in a child’s life, many who previously thought music to be a nice little “extra” are now clamoring to sign their children up for class to give them an edge on their SAT’s. On the one hand it is very gratifying to have the work of early-childhood music and movement teachers validated by scientific research. Seeing the value of music education highlighted in the media is truly exciting!  On the other hand, I find it rather sad that for many people in our society, music is only valued for its ability to improve a person’s math and science skills.

Music teachers have long known about the relationship between music and spatial awareness. We know that students involved in school music programs have better attendance records. We know that being involved in a music ensemble promotes social skills. While these are all good reasons for enrolling a child in a music program, they all point to the extrinsic value of music. What about the intrinsic value of music? What about music for music’s sake?

Imagine for a moment the Inauguration Day ceremonies without the Marine Band playing “Hail to the Chief”, or your child’s first birthday without the sounds of “Happy Birthday” being sung by your family, or a Christmas Eve church service without any Christmas carols. Music is a part of our lives and is an important part of the ceremonies that mark the milestones in our lives. It’s hard to imagine a wedding, a funeral, a graduation, a party, or a parade without music. Music is an essential aspect of our humanity that stimulates the imagination and nurtures the soul. Music is a source of joy and wonder and we all have the right to fulfill our musical potential. .

Our good friend, neuroscience educator Dr. Dee Coulter, says this about music and Musikgarten: “I would suggest that Musikgarten nourishes children in three ways: Their souls are nourished by the music itself, their bodies are nourished by the graceful movement, and their minds are nourished by the rhythm.”

All children are musical beings and are born with an aptitude for music. But that aptitude diminishes if it is not nurtured in the first nine years of life. By helping our children reach their full music potential we are helping them come into their own as well-rounded human beings.

The most valuable thing you can do for a young child is to keep him singing and moving.  Dr. Edwin E. Gordon, who was the leading researcher in early-childhood music and author of the most widely used music aptitude tests, states that a child’s music aptitude is in a developmental stage from birth to age nine. While a child can certainly learn musical skills such as fingerings, breathing, note reading, etc. after age nine, how musical a person he or she is –  how well attuned his or her sense of pitch and rhythm is – is set for life by age nine. Gordon divided music aptitude into tonal and rhythm aptitude and said the most effective means of nurturing a child’s tonal and rhythm aptitude is to provide them with a rich environment of singing and moving. What does this mean in terms appropriate early-childhood music and movement activities?  I believe there are four simple activities that should be kept in mind, whether you’re choosing a music program for your own child or integrating music activities into your daily plans:

  • singing simple songs
  • echoing tonal and rhythm patterns
  • moving in continuous and flowing movement activities
  • creating steady beat activities

Musikgarten programs do this in a weekly classroom setting. Musikgarten teachers choose the finest musical instruments they can get their hands on, ideally all made of natural material. Musikgarten incorporates a selection of music and movement activities drawn from the best of our cultural heritage. It was put together by master designers to be flexible and meet the needs of all young children and teachers.

My feet push into the sand as I watch children dig and create sand castles, happily humming to themselves and I envision all the activities we do in class that are based on large muscle movement – the root of all true learning experiences. The children follow the steps of musical fluency, intricately incorporated into my program and constructed to bring the children’s whole body into each music experience. Music flows from their toes to their vocal chords, movement and sound working together. It extends out from the mind to the tips of their fingers as they reach toward a keyboard or drum to play the music that they hear in their head.

A parent comes to help build and decorate the sand castle with their child. This parent/child relationship is integral to the development of the child.  Musikgarten classes provide families with a weekly parent/child time where you can rock, sing, clap, hug, roll, laugh and learn with your child. Every activity in class is an opportunity for you and your child to share a special moment that can be reproduced at home creating lasting memories.

I could sit alone on a solitary beach, yet I choose a spot in the middle of a lively beach crowd. Music class gives you and your child a choice to connect with your local community. Rather than watching music programs on T.V. or setting your child in front of a computer screen, you can make music among friends through song and dance.  Most importantly, by bringing your child to a weekly music class you say to your child that music is wonderful, it is shared with others, it is a valuable part of your every day experiences and it is a part of your daily family life. 

Now it is time to return to my studio and leave behind this summer beach day of reflection. I hope you will teach Musikgarten or find a Musikgarten music program that will fill your lives with music!

Instruments: In the Classroom and at Home

An essential part of a Musikgarten music class is playing simple instruments, like rhythm sticks, rattles, jingles, and drums. Children love to explore these instruments and I want to make sure I have a selection of the highest quality available for my students in the classroom. Since we, as the teachers, are models to the parents, parents often ask me, “What instruments should I have in my home for my children?” Parents value instruments that are not only fun to play but ones that will also last over time and make beautiful sounds. There are lots of instrument choices for parents to purchase on the internet but many of these choices are not appropriate for young children. If it looks like a toy, it is probably a toy.

When I create a list of instruments for parents to choose I consider:

  1. Instruments that have an excellent sound quality.
  2. Instruments that are made of natural materials.
  3. Instruments that are safe for children to handle.

In the classroom I mainly use instruments that Musikgarten offers, including their beautiful and simple drum. It has a wood frame, natural calf skin head, and is sturdy, but light weight. It is perfect to put on the floor and have the children play with their hands, but light enough to hold while standing.  I always make sure I have enough for everyone to have a drum.

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Musikgarten sticks are natural and have no varnish added to them so they can be mouthed by the babies and tapped by all the children.  These sticks need to be smooth and have no rough edges.  I like sticks that are small enough that they cannot become a ‘sword’ and heavy enough for hands to actively tap in various ways and roll on the floor.  Perhaps they may even become letters or houses.  I also have sticks with ridges so we can explore the sounds of insects, trains, rubbing or other imaginative sounds.

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Musikgarten rattles are also made of wood and large enough so they cannot be swallowed by the youngest baby, but are small enough to feel comfortable in little hands.  With these cylinder shaped objects we can tap, pound, and roll and, yes, create towers to crash to the floor in a noisy heap.

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A classroom can survive with only these instruments – great news for new teachers on a budget.  As the years have passed I have collected and adorned my studio with ethnic drums, band instruments my own children attempted to play while in school, bells found in antique shops and garage sales and other odd assortments perfect for a play-along time. These instruments are like flavor to a stew and can be used for a fun celebration at the end of class or at home.

I have also found it very helpful to give parents some instruction on how to store the instruments. My favorite suggestion is to collect all those instruments and place them in a music area in your home. As families participate in the Baby and Family music program they receive a home instrument with each unit including a set of sticks, rattles, bells and sand blocks.  These can go into a basket which is separate from the toy box.  Add a music player that children are allowed to control, place the basket of instruments on the floor and you have music time!

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Then when your music time is over, place the basket OUT OF REACH of the children. Why?  I believe instruments should be treated differently from toys.  They are tools to create sounds and are taken out and put away when the activity is done.

Remember, for both your studio and when advising your parents, to keep it simple. Choose instruments that have a great sound quality, are made of natural materials, and are safe for children to handle. I advise staying away from plastic instruments and those 20 instruments in a set deals that you can find on the internet.  Homemade instruments can also be fun as long as they are safe for the children.

Eventually the question comes up from parents, “When should I purchase a piano for my child?” This is a blog article in itself, so stay tuned for the answer!