Category Archives: Early Childhood Instruments

Getting Free Press for your Early Childhood Music Studio

Last month, we began a children’s music studio marketing series that touched on several ways to attract parents through various low to no-cost marketing tactics, including the value of Word of Mouth Marketing (WOMM).

A very effective and no-cost vehicle to generate WOMM is the press release. Editorial publicity is often called “earned” media, and will strengthen a music studios credibility and identity.

However, there is no guarantee that a press release is going to be printed or aired. To increase the chance of being published, keep these things in mind when writing a press release for your early childhood music studio:

  • Make it “Newsworthy” – Most press releases that media outlets receive from businesses are extremely self-serving, and read like any other paid advertisement for that company. Relate your press release to a topic that would be interesting to anyone exposed to that media, so that it is newsworthy. For example, you may want to write about how your children’s music studio is helping to fill the void where public school music programs have had budgets slashed, or how scientific studies show exposure to music help with infants with positive cognitive development.
  • Write it Like an Article – Write the press release from the third person perspective, just as it would be published in the newspaper or online publication. Be sure to cover all of the facts about the topic, answering all of the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How questions. Editors will often take a well written press release and simply re- publish it verbatim, especially if they are up against a deadline. 
  • Become Your Own Topic Expert – Not only do you want your press release published, but you would also like to have an editor or reporter reach out to you for an interview to add more depth to the topic. Include an informed quote from you on early childhood music learning and be sure to make yourself the Contact person on the press release. Include another quote from a teacher at your music studio or parent of a child student, as “supporting evidence” for your topic.
  • Jazz Up Your Press Release with Visuals – Any advertising or marketing professional will tell you that photos or videos of kids are sure attention grabbers. Provide a good photo of some children having fun in your music studio while learning about music. Better yet, a video is often better for getting the point across, especially to attract broadcast or online media. Just be sure to get permission from each child’s parent with a media consent and release form for minors.
  • Submit your Press Release to the Right Person, and Follow Up – Media and Publication companies typically have several editors/reporters based on different departments, so be sure you are reaching out to the right human being, not just a department. Typically, early childhood music programs fall under the Arts, Education, Hometown News, or Community departments. Reach out to the contact person, and find out the best way to get the press release to them. The contact number on your press release should be one where you can be reached very easily, not to a voicemail box. Reporters have very short deadlines for publication, so it is important that you have quick availability. Finally, once you send the press release to the right person, make a friendly follow up call to see if they received it. That follow up call may just turn into a phone interview!

A well-placed press release can be a beneficial marketing tool of early childhood music studios for many reasons. With advertising, the audience is already skeptical of an articles claims, whereas the media provides third party validation. And while advertising unabashedly says “buy this product,” well placed media says “this is important.” If you write your press release with those things in mind, you may just get some free and valuable publicity for your children’s music studio.

 

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?

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.

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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.

IMG_0247crop

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.

IMG_0265stick crop

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.

IMG_0262rattle crop

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!

IMG_0013basket resized

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!