Category Archives: Piano Teachers

The Science of Music: Creativity Wish List – How to Inspire Children to Fall in Love with Music

If you have been following along with us on this informative journey about The Neuroscience of Music, this third and final set in the Musikgarten published series will explore ways in which early childhood music education can help to develop skills from parents’ Creativity Wish List. Don’t worry if you have not read the previous posts, they all stand alone, and you can always go back and read them here. The four installments in the Creativity Wish List set will provide insight and tips into how music inspires children to fall in love with music, compose, improvise, and love nature.

“Music can bring so much joy to a child’s life that it is a wonderful gift in its own right,” affirms Dr. Dee Joy Coulter, a nationally recognized Neuroscience educator, “but it also has the most “fringe benefits” of all the art forms and activities you could give your child.”

  • Music is often thought of as humanity’s universal language. As children learn songs and dances from around the world, they learn how to connect with different cultures and become world citizens.
  • There are an increasing number of medical applications for music in healing, including the relief of pain, lowering stress and blood pressure, and reducing the hospital stays of premature newborns and surgical patients.

Here are a few facts and information on how to inspire children to fall in love with music from the first installment in the parents’ Creativity Wish List.

How to inspire Infants and toddlers to begin to love music

  • Even before birth, most infants hear and love the sound of their mother’s voice, and research shows that nearly all people who go on to develop higher musical skills in life were sang to by their parents during childhood.
  • Music classes begin with the most powerful expression of parental love cultures have developed – the lullaby. Nothing is more nourishing than this opportunity to soak up the love of a parent through music.
  • The same tonal patterns in songs and tunes are used by different cultures around the world, naturally using rising tones to create and delight infants and toddlers, while using falling tones to calm and sooth them.
  • As your infant grows into toddlerhood, explore different types of songs and music to see which delight them the most, bringing them joy and relaxation. Many parent-child early childhood music classes help parents to explore what kind of music has the most effect on their child.

Using music to build skills that will delight preschoolers and beginning school age children

  • As toddlers grow into preschool age, parents and teachers can use songs, dances, musical stories, games, and other activities to teach children about energy and emotion. Lively songs are often met with happy, smiling movement, while slower, gentler songs can help express calm and even sadness.
  • It can be helpful to match music to your child’s current mood to show how music conveys feelings. If your child is happy, then sing happy songs with them.  Inversely, you can use music selections, songs, and activities to help counter their mood, such as slower, softer songs at bedtime to help them settle down.
  • Throughout history and across cultures humans have shared in songs when working together. Explore work songs with your child as a great way to teach them to enjoy picking up their toys and helping with chores around the home.

Instilling a love of music in your child is a gift that will last their entire life. Even before birth, exposure to music has shown to provide numerous benefits in early childhood, such as improved language development, focus and memory, and fundamental math skills. Taking it a step further, group musical activities in early childhood have shown to improve self-confidence, self-esteem, discipline, and teamwork.

*Musikgarten Delivers: The Neuroscience of Music collection by Dr. Dee Coulter is available for $10 in the Product Catalog section of our Teacher Portal. Username and password are required. You may also contact Musikgarten at 800-216-6864 to purchase.

The Science of Music: How to Prepare Children to Enjoy Practicing

The series The Neuroscience of Music*  shows parents and music teachers ways in which early childhood music education can help impact the development of children. This second set of the Wish List series focuses more specifically on a parent’s School Skills Wish List. The topic of the third installment of this set is how to get children to enjoy practicing.

From infancy to about the age of 6, children have a unique window of opportunity to learn how to, and enjoy practicing things. Dee Joy Coulter, a nationally recognized Neuroscience educator, explains that during these few years, a child’s enjoyment of repetition is strong. Parents can help them to practice naturally by providing fun activities that they can eventually master. However, this satisfaction must come from within in order to develop a lifelong habit, warns Coulter, so parents must resist praise, blame or pressure during these activities.

Below are ways that parents and early childhood music educators can use music to help children learn to develop self-discipline to succeed at school, work, athletics, and the arts.

How to introduce the idea of practicing to infants and toddlers

  • In learning basic coordination and language, infants must practice and learn the nuances of their senses in a pleasing way. They are wired to mirror everything they see, and this is highly rewarding to them. Parents and early childhood music teachers can help with imitation games with clapping and pointing to things with exaggerated facial expressions, and they will naturally follow and copy.
  • In the earliest stages of infancy to toddlerhood, parents can perform simple songs and movement games to teach motor skills and instill a familiarity. After a few weeks of repetition, leave a particular game for a few weeks and come back to it. This allows the infant or toddler time to anchor the movements and memory in their system. When the game is brought back, the predictability that goes with recognition and the control that goes with increased physical mastery are very powerful incentives for practicing.

How to teach preschoolers to begin focusing on how to practice

  • Research suggests that poor learners don’t know how to handle the failures of new learning, and so tend to abandon challenges right away for fear of failure. On the other hand, those that excel in tasks and challenges tend to have a passion for practice and truly enjoy the experience – much like the capacity of children’s minds in the first stages of life.
  • Share enjoyable music activities with your preschooler before introducing an instrument. By first instilling a love of music in children before asking them to focus on an instrument helps to ensure that they will enjoy practicing due to its relationship to something they already love.
  • The teaching practice of spiraling, or a pattern of dropping an activity for a period and then spiraling back to it, allows new skills to seat more deeply than constant practice. Childhood music programs  will use this practice along with the process of scaffolding to allow children to learn on their own and provide help at the appropriate times. This approach to creating the basis for more advanced learning is important for advancement in musical skills, mathematics, science and foreign language learning.

Music can be an important tool for preparing infants and toddlers for a lifetime of learning enjoyment. Games that encourage mimicking help to develop a love for practicing from the earliest stages of infancy. By leaving and returning back to activities, children will learn to think and accept new concepts on their own while having pleasure in practicing. This will not only serve them well in music, but also in academics.

*Musikgarten Delivers: The Neuroscience of Music collection by Dr. Dee Coulter is available for $10 in the Product Catalog section of our Teacher Portal. Username and password are required. You may also contact Musikgarten at 800-216-6864 to purchase.

How to Retain and Gain New Music Students During the Summer

As the school year winds down and families begin to make their summer plans, regular weekly schedules from the school year are sometimes overlooked or forgotten. This experience can be especially true for music teachers, as lessons are often considered part of school curriculum. Brain drain or “the summer slide” is often credited with a fall in cognitive activities for students over the summer.

With the potential for the attendance of regular weekly lessons or classes to fall in the Summer, studio owners should be proactive to not only maintain a steady income over those months, but also look at it as an opportunity to increase income. So, how do teachers retain music students, and even add to their class rolls during the summer?

Here are a few ideas that can help throughout the Summer Vacation:

  • Try Billing by the Semester or Year – Billing parents monthly, or by the class, is typical for music teachers and programs. But the approach often creates mental gaps in between those programs, providing parents and students an opportunity to “take a break” and miss some time, especially over the Summer. While it takes a bit more planning, semester or even full year billing can not only create a more stable cash flow for music teachers and studios, it can also provide a structured “pathway” for parents and students to continue lessons.
  • Gain New Students with Summer Advertising and Promotions – While Summer vacations and competing camps may cause a dip in current student music studio attendance, it is actually a time when many parents are looking to sign their students up. Consider an investment in advertising during the Spring and Summer using Summer themed programs. This does not have to be expensive, either! An ad in a newsletter at your local pool, Word of Mouth (WOM) using referral cards with current students, or offering a Summer Enrollment Special to get parents over the finish line. Summer themes stand out in advertising!
  • Offer an Alternative to Screen Usage – According to the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, children between the ages of two and five spend an average of 2.2 hours on screens every day. That number is undoubtedly higher during summer months, as parents again struggle with how to keep their children engaged in other activities while they are at work. Work out messaging to address this hot topic for parents. Emphasize that music lessons provide an extremely beneficial alternative to screens in all of your marketing and dialogue with parents, especially during the Summer.
  • Consider Free Group Classes with Organizations to Gain More Students – In addition to camps and music studios, many other organizations offer children’s programs during the summer. Public Libraries offer Summer programs and many churches offer Vacation Bible School or similar programs. While many teachers resist giving away any instruction for free, these programs are looking for daily activities to fill their days, and music instruction is a very popular subject. Partnering with these organizations offers exposure to a large group of potential new students once the free program is over. Approach them with a structured plan that takes some of the planning burden off of them. Keep in mind that having a good option for both secular and sacred music programs allows more flexibility with these partnerships.

While the Summer months may be a time when current music student enrollment tends to fall due to family vacations and camps, music studio teachers should also consider it an opportunity to gain new students and income through offering specialized curricula, themed programs, and alternatives to screen usage.

Five New Year Resolutions for Promoting Your Early Childhood Music Studio

As the calendar resets once again, it is a good opportunity to reflect on the past year’s successes while looking forward to the new year with the wisdom it provided. This is no different for any size business, whether it is a large corporation or a local children’s music studio. While keeping in mind the best approach for keeping New Year resolutions, here are five ways to go about planning for your music studio in the New Year:

  1. Don’t Call them Resolutions, but GoalsAccording to US News and World Report, 80 Percent of new year resolutions fail. To help prevent from feeling frustrated over resolutions not achieved, think of them more as goals to build on and strive for instead of simply “pass / fail.”
  • Reflect on the Last YearWe learn from both success and failure, so it is important to reflect on both over the last year. Think about your studio’s major achievements and milestones, and how you can best continue or capitalize on them. While reliving failures is often painful, it is just as important to evaluate last year’s stumbling blocks and understand how to prevent them from reoccurring. For example, make your marketing dollars work smarter by evaluating what promotions and advertising spends worked best for your children’s music studio.

  • Set SMART Goals for the Coming Year – Write down three to five major goals for the coming year, while making sure they are SPECIFIC, MEASURABLE, ACHIEVABLE, RELEVANT, and TIME-BOUND. Many failed goals can be attributed to unrealistic and non-specific expectations.
  •  Develop a Plan for Reaching More Customers – Whether its meeting (2) new parents a week, handing out (20) complimentary baby or toddler lesson cards a month, or posting something new to social media about your childhood music program at least (2) times a week, write down a goal for reaching new prospects within a specific time frame (see SMART Goal setting above). Also, don’t forget that it costs much less to keep a current customer than to find a new one, so also set goals for nurturing relationships with your existing music class parents and children.
  •  Look for Partners to Help you Achieve Your Goals – No successful business owner will ever claim that they “did it all on their own.” Think about who may help you achieve your goals and build your music studio. Whether it’s a program with the local library, or partnering with an experienced early childhood music education organization, there are many resources available out there to help you achieve success in the coming year.

There is a reason that the above list only contains five (and not ten or more), resolutions for growing your music studio in the coming year. Too many goals can be overwhelming and impossible to achieve, so starting small will help you to focus and will ultimately lead to greater success.

How to Market Childhood Music Programs to Millennial Parents

The Millennial generation has often been hard to define for many marketers and business owners, but it is extremely clear that if you are marketing to the parents of young children, Millennials should not be ignored. The Pew Research Center defines the Millennial generation as those being born from 1981 to 1996, (or currently falling within the age of 22 to 37). In 2016, Millennials accounted for 82% of births in the U.S. In order to best market an early childhood music studio, owners need to know what makes the Millennial generation tick, and what to keep in mind when reaching out to these parents. Here are a few tips for marketing music lessons to Millennial parents:

Digital Natives are All Grown Up and Rely Heavily Online

 While it can be argued that the Internet had at least some influence on consumers before 1981, there is no doubt that Millennials were the first full generation to grow up with it from birth. They have been so engaged online, that many have never even heard of an encyclopedia. As would be expected, Millennial parents depend heavily on the Internet to find the parenting information they need. Online resources – parenting websites, online forums, parenting blogs and social networks – collectively gather 71% of first and second place rankings when it comes to top parental influencers.  The majority of this influence points towards social media, where 97% of Millennial moms and 93% of Millennial dads find social media helpful to their parenting for exchanging ideas, product reviews, and price checks. Music studio owners marketing out to Millennial parents cannot ignore this 22 million strong and growing group of heavy social media users!

Understand How to Talk to Millennials

 With children comes a new identity and responsibility for parents, and marketers need to understand that when creating a message that resonates with them. However, Millennials are very much about being genuine and not being “helicopter parents.” However, they do need recognition to make them feel good about themselves and the decisions they are making in regard to purchases for their child or children. Think about the “trophy for everyone” mentality that was so pervasive in their childhoods, and you can begin to understand Millennials need for acknowledgement and affirmation.

Millennial Dads are More Involved

 Millennial dads spend nearly triple the amount of time with their kids than that of previous generations. It’s important to note, however, that Millennial dads are not taking over the roles of moms, but rather looking to define a more involved role for them in the family. Early childhood music studios are increasingly catering to including dads in their curricula, inviting dads or both parents to participate in classes from the earliest stages of music appreciation and understanding. Marketing to not just the mom, but both parents of the millennial generation has become far more important than previous generations.

Millennial Parents Prefer Video to Reading

 Millennials use of online resources cannot be overemphasized, whether checking reviews, social media, or Googling about high fever in infants, they were the first fully connected generation. It is no surprise, then, that Millennials prefer Digital Video such as YouTube over traditional TV. With these parents depending on web based content for recommendations and reviews, the influential use of video becomes clear. When promoting childhood music programs to Millennial parents, short video testimonials can be a very effective way to inform and build trust. But be careful, Millennials understand what is marketing, and are suspicious of something that does not come across as genuine.

Music studio owners who understand where to find Millennial parents, what format is best suited to reach them, and how to craft a message that is meaningful to them will be able to reach millions of potential new early childhood music students each and every year.

Social Media Marketing to Attract Music Students

Social Media platforms have transformed the way our world communicates. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly 70% of Americans have at least one social media profile. These platforms can be a highly effective means of reaching new music students and engaging them in a very meaningful way. And, when your followers engage with your form of social media, you have the opportunity to influence all of their connections as well. When considering if and which social media platforms to market your music studio, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

Social Media Tips for Music Teachers

  • Understand your target market so that you select the social media platform that will reach the most of them with the least amount of effort. There are several social media platforms for families and mothers of young children such as Famster, Justmommies, Cafemom, and Disney Family Community, but keep in mind while these are highly targeted platforms, their population pales in comparison to the major platforms such as Facebook or Pinterest.
  • Rather than participating in all of the different major social media platforms, think about doing just a few of them really well. Social media can take a large amount of time, so you will want to budget your time wisely so that you can concentrate on other aspects of your music studio marketing.
  • Post often and with relevancy. If you do engage in social media for your studio, be prolific about posts, and make sure they will be interesting to your intended target audience of prospective young music students. Social Media authors can be very creative in what to post and how it links to their business or message. Don’t write all of your posts like an advertisement for childhood music program, so followers don’t get turned off.
  • When the platform allows for it, use pictures along with words. Color catches the eye, and eyes on faces also grab attention. Just be sure that if you do post a picture of a young music student on social media, that you have signed permission from their parent(s).  Also be sure that you do not provide the child’s name anywhere in the post.
  • Use links to references within your posts to add more relevance. Search engines like for social media content to have supporting evidence in the form of online articles, blog posts, and other data sources. These can be easily found by searching for industry leaders in childhood music theory, and placed as a link within the content itself.
  • Pay or not to pay. Often times you can build a group of followers from scratch with interesting, creative, and thoughtful social media posts. If this is the case, then you may not consider paying for ads or “boosts” in social media. However, these methods can be helpful to get a social media destination off the ground. Consider starting small and seeing what kind of results the buy gets you. Cost per new follower is a good way to gauge the effectiveness of an ad buy or boost.

There is a multitude social media resources for early childhood music teachers available online, if you do some digging. Start with a few platform(s) that best suit the target audience for your music studio, and learn as much as you can about effectively using those social media outlets.

 

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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