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The Science of Music: Controlling Children’s Impulses Through Music

Our series of blog articles for parents on The Neuroscience of Music* continues with how music can help parents control impulses in their children, or more importantly, help children to control their own impulses through “inner speech.”

According to Dr. Dee Coulter, a renowned brain science educator, children need to develop impulse control to be successful in learning, social interactions, and performing complex movement tasks. Dr. Coulter identifies three elements of impulse control – the ability to calm, the ability to wait, and one last skill that develops more slowly – inner speech. Our last two blog articles touched on the impact of music on children’s ability to be patient and be calm. This installment focuses on the use of music to develop a child’s inner speech.

Inner speech is a kind of “self-talk” children use to guide their actions. Here are some insights and suggestions for parents to help their child discover their inner speech:

Inner Speech is Out Loud Until Age 8 or 9 – We can hear children speak out loud to direct their actions or narrate what they are doing. In motor tasks, they may use this “outer-speech” as they tie their shoes, make the shapes of letters, or play Simon Says. In music, this self-talk is developed when words are linked to movements like “head, shoulders, knees and toes” or stories in song that are acted out while singing. As the words are repeated over time they become automated. By age 4 or 5, this self-talk becomes strong enough to override temptations and children can use it to control their impulses. Later, children will need this inner speech skill to guide them while silent reading.

How to Teach Inner Speech in Babies and Toddlers:

  • Sing and talk to your baby or toddler often. Research continually shows that the more children are spoken to as infants, the better their language skills will be later in life. Strong language skills, in turn, lead to improved social skills and better listening and learning skills for school.
  • You will probably notice that your baby or toddler reacts even more favorably to your singing voice as they do when you are simply speaking to them. Singing is calming and soothing to them, so they will instinctively pay closer attention. Make up songs to explain what chores you are doing or what is happening in the world around them. Put their familiar nursery rhymes to music and sing them.

Teaching the Preschooler and Beginning School Age Child:

  • To be a great self-talk coach, show them how by talking to yourself out loud. Just talk as if no one else is there and you are just thinking out loud about how to do these things. Narrate for your child as you do household chores, go to the post office, shop for groceries, or watch the activity at a sibling’s sports event.
  • Recalling song lyrics and stories also builds inner speech. Enjoy singing with your preschooler and beginning school age child, too. Help them master the lyrics to traditional as well as contemporary children’s songs. Many of these songs tell stories, or narrate actions. You will be helping your child build impulse control and perform better in school.

Teaching your child to perform self-talk or inner speech, through music has many lasting benefits, including problem-solving, patience, confidence, and impulse-control. Hearing music and songs from caregivers from the earliest ages help to teach children to sing or talk through everyday tasks. Children’s song lyrics are often a manifestation of describing actions or stories, which help them begin to develop their own inner voice.  

*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 Children Learn Patience Through Music

This second installment in our series of blog posts on The Neuroscience of Music* explores how music can help parents teach their children to wait and be patient. Boy, have parents been waiting for this one!

Researchers often call it the ability to delay gratification and say that it is the single most important requirement for developing impulse control, for resisting addictive behavior, for handling the confusion of new learning, and for setting goals and working toward meeting them. While this desired behavior can be taught to children, here are some thoughts to keep in mind:

Using Negative Strategies are Ineffective – If we get overly firm and insist on making a child wait, they will see no point in waiting when we aren’t around to discipline them. We want them to be able to practice patience on their own:

  • Make sure there is enough for children to share once their turn comes. Whenever there is too much scarcity, children will learn to take what they need as soon as they get the chance.

Teaching Babies and Toddlers to Wait – There are some simple exercises and “games” that stretch the moments of anticipation of delight.

  • Songs and movement games are helpful in creating anticipation and embedding small wait times. Who can forget waiting for the POP in “Pop, Goes the Weasel,” or the anticipation of the fall in “Humpty, Dumpty?”
  • With infants also play little movement and touch games, such as circling your finger around and then gently landing it on their nose.
  • Use reward to encourage patience. Toddlers may learn the patience it takes to put on a coat or shoes if they know they are going outside to play. Baking cookies teaches them that waiting patiently has it rewards as the warm goodies come out of the oven! Of course, it is also tough for adults to wait for the cookies to cool!

Teaching the Pre-schooler and Beginning School Child

  • Sing songs with your child that involves claps, pauses, and exact timing. This not only teaches patience and anticipation, but will also help develop a strong sense of rhythm.
  • Create some family times that involve some kind of ceremony, such as setting the table before dinner or saying the blessing before digging in. This teaches pre and school age children that there is a waiting period before the gratification of eating, etc.
  • In anticipation of a coming event, such as a birthday or another special occasion, mark a calendar and observe each day with anticipation to the BIG day. Think the 8 days of Hanukkah, or (sing) the 12 Days of Christmas. Saving up or preparing for an event can also teach patience, such as saving money for a vacation, or buying presents for a future event.

As you may have noticed, the exercises above not only teach children to wait, but also can have the same effect on parents! Those of us who already have children know the importance of patience, and that we should always teach by example.

*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 Music Teaches Children to Relax and Be Calm

Music and movement can benefit children and their adults in a multitude of ways. Over the next several months, we will be featuring a series of blog posts on The Neuroscience of Music*, explaining how music benefits children in many ways that parents and music teachers may not realize.

The first subject for this Benefits of Early Childhood Music Series explores how music can help parents teach their children to relax and be calm. Brain science educator, Dr. Dee Coulter, calls this skill the art of self calming. She explains, “It helps us build an ability to self-regulate that we will use our whole lives. But we aren’t born with a calming switch! Babies learn to calm by being calmed. One of the most powerful tools is music.”

 The following are facts and information about how to use music to calm children from the earliest age:

  • Sing to your baby and toddler, even in the womb – Research shows that even in utero, a baby hears and learns its mothers voice. By monitoring heartbeat in utero, the mother’s voice is shown to have a calming effect.
  • Throughout history, songs and music have been a big part of child rearing, as beloved lullabies, rhymes, and dances are passed down from one generation to another. Pick a few lullabies and sing them often.
  • Singing to infants communicates love and security, helps to strengthen the bond between mother and child, and aid digestion while counteracting stresses.
  • Even if you believe that you are not a singer, repeatedly singing simple songs creates another level of familiarity and sense of safety for a child.
  • Remember to stay relaxed, to use a soft voice and keep a warm heart. Even if your baby only thanks you with tears and distress for a while, be patient. The lullabies will work their magic in time.
  • Sing during transition times such as naptime or feeding time to communicate that a change is happening.
  • Move, sway and dance while you sing. Encourage toddlers to move with you while singing.
  • As the developing child becomes more and more aware of their bodies, movement with music becomes even more important. Children need to move so that they become well acquainted with their bodies in order to learn how to hold still.
  • Transitioning from music with movement to just soothing music or even quiet time helps your child recognize when s/he is too stimulated and needs to take a break.

Don’t worry if your singing is not pitch perfect, just fake it until you get it! The surprise bonus you receive from singing and moving with your child will be the relaxation and calm you will feel from developing a deeper relationship with your child!

*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.

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.

HELP! How to manage a class of VERY active Toddlers!

As Musikgarten teachers, we always have to be on our toes, and have lots of tips up our sleeve!!  “Educating” parents and setting up expectations from the beginning will help immensely!  Here are a few quick tips or reminders to help manage the classroom experience:

  • Use simple pictures to convey your expectations (i.e. ONLY run when you hold your grownups hand;  it is OK to sit or stand by your grownup or the teacher;  it is OK to stand in the middle of the circle!) This will especially help the toddler and preschool members of your classes.
  • Remember to rid your teaching space of any and all distractions, and look ahead to what you will need for the class like instruments, CD’s, paper, crayons, etc. Have them ready but out of reach!
  • Remind your parents: React or Intervene ONLY when the child is doing something that is dangerous to him/her or someone else in the room, the child is doing something destructive, or the child is carrying on at such a level that it is distracting or causing distress to others!! Otherwise, wandering or seeming to not be engaged is perfectly normal and acceptable behavior. Children are taking in everything in the environment!

Here are a few book resources on how children learn which have been huge influences and help in my teaching:

Here is one other resource I would like to mention: Conscious Discipline by Dr. Becky Bailey. This book is written primarily for classroom educators, so I’ve done a little “editing” to these excerpts using some words/examples that might take place in a Musikgarten class.

Conscious Discipline Chapter 3: pages 91-97, entitled “The Power of Attention: What You Focus on, You Get More of.”

1) “In a given scenario where two children are ‘fighting’ over a scarf or a drum, how will you react?  Will you focus on what is wrong? “What are you two doing? What is the rule about pushing? No pushing! Do you want a time out?” Or will you focus on action needed to solve the problem. Calmly say, “Jane, you wanted that red scarf that John has. You didn’t know how to ask him so you pushed him. Say ‘May I have that scarf please?’ Say that now.” Of course, a 2-year-old may not have the language to say that yet, but you could ‘help’ them, with parent’s assistance.”

 2) “Often we carry on about the things we want children NOT to do, to stop doing, or what we will not allow. Think about these commands and questions: “Stop talking! Don’t push! Don’t run! Don’t hit the wall! Do you want to go to time out?”

What if you were told “Don’t think about a purple alligator”?  What would pop into your mind?  Of course, a purple alligator!  Watch a toddler if you say, “Don’t touch my CD Player!”  what does the child do?  He/she reaches out to touch the buttons!  Her brain heard “touch the CD Player”, so she looks at you proudly as she reaches out!  Imagine her confusion when you growl, “What did I tell you?”  and push her away.

Redirect the child, instead of focusing on what you don’t want. You could say, “You see all the things on my table! The CD player, the sticks, the scarves…. Let me pick you up so you can see them better! Now let’s go find an instrument to play”, OR “let’s rejoin the class OR sit by mommy!”

Children younger than 5 or 6 simply do not understand conjugated verbs such as “Don’t”. Your goal should be to create descriptive, mental images to help them be successful. The brains of young children are governed by mental pictures, not words”.  

Think of what you “see” with these comments:

“Use your walking feet around the room so no one gets hurt!”

“Hold on tightly to your sticks!  No throwing!”

“Children listen so you will hear my story.”

Hopefully these ideas will give you some tools to use in keeping a happy and safe environment in your Musikgarten classes, but remember that some days, nothing works! It’s a “full moon”, or it’s “going to rain”….. Just smile, keep singing and making music! I’ve even been known to say “I think these children are done for the day!” and dismiss a few minutes early!

Lianne Brewer, Musikgarten Teacher since 1994, Springfield, IL, and now Southern California

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.

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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.

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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?

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!