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?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Tactics to Keep in Mind:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell us how you have grown your Musikgarten studio!

Lazy Summer Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instruments: In the Classroom and at Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Musikgarten Recordings Make Classes More Successful!

Last week an enthusiastic father in my toddler music class announced to the class that his daughter learned to sing two new songs this week. While both songs (If I had a Hammer and Puff the Magic Dragon) are wonderful songs by themselves, I wondered why he wasn’t enthusiastically sharing how his daughter was singing two of her favorite songs from her class recording. So I asked the question every Musikgarten teacher fears asking,

“Have you downloaded (or listened) to your classroom music yet?”

As a teacher I bet you will cringe when you hear the myriad of excuses why parents haven’t gotten around to doing this simple and important act, and as a parent I bet you guiltily look for that code to download the songs onto your listening device or search for your CD.

Why would children and parents listening to the music at home be so important to the success of your program? Here are five important reasons to consider:

Familiarity breeds success: Children love to hear a song over and over and over again. They will request the music on every car trip. When they enter the classroom they embrace the activity because they KNOW the songs from listening to the recording at home.

Children singing on recordings: All Musikgarten recordings have children singing several of the songs, sometimes in a children’s choir and other times as a solo. This is magical for children because they love hearing other children sing. They can easily sing along because the vocal range is optimal for their voices.

Expands the classroom experience: So often I have parents share how their children are “practicing” their songs. This could be a baby or toddler singing the songs on a syllable like ba or bam in their crib or in their car seat. Or an older child singing a complete song while dancing.

Develops vocabulary: Songs, especially the folk material that Musikgarten uses, are rich in words. When children sing with the recording or later by themselves, they are developing their growing vocabulary.

Parent’s important role: Parents are the model the child will follow. I notice more parents sing in class when they have listened to the recording with their children or on their own.  How many times have I heard parents say they continue to listen and hum along to the music long after they drop off their children to school or other activities?  Parents love the music!

I always encourage families to listen to as many different types of music and I embrace the tremendous variety of musical choices in our society that we can access 24 hours a day. However, I want to emphasize the strengths of the Musikgarten recordings that are created specifically for young children:

Instrumentation is diverse: This is so important! So many children’s CDs limit their instrumentation to drums, guitar, piano and voice.  But take a look at a typical Musikgarten CD. The listener will experience a children’s choir; instruments from the woodwind family like the clarinet, oboe, and bassoon; large orchestras, brass instruments; folk instruments like bamboo flute and jaw’s harp; plus the traditional guitar, drums and piano. Oh, and did I mention an ensemble of Renaissance instruments? When it is time for a child to choose the instrument they wish to study, teacher and parent can be sure they have heard a wide selection of musical instruments before they make that lifelong choice.

Tempo: The tempo of the music is just right for children. I have found when I listen to CDs that are labeled for children they are just too fast. In my classes I am constantly slowing down the speed of the songs we sing to match the speed of the children singing.  At the same time, I want the tempos on the recordings to be lively and catchy and the CDs have the speed that is ideal for the children.

The singers are often children: This needs to be repeated! This means a child has a model of singing that is just like their voice. They hear a sound that they can easily understand and recreate.

Music includes activity: Remember in class we don’t just sing a song, we sing and MOVE to the song, whether it is tapping the beat on our knees, rocking to and fro, marching through the room, or playing along with sticks. This brings another dimension to the song, something a recording by itself cannot do.

Share these wonderful attributes about the Musikgarten recordings with your families. Encourage them to find these recordings and make them a part of their daily life.

This father has promised he will spend five minutes and download the music. I hope he will take advantage of this opportunity to share Musikgarten’s excellent music all week and all session long.

The Magic of Finger Plays

Finger plays are songs or stories that are acted out using your fingers and hands. As parents and teachers, we all want children to experience and play with as many finger plays in their early years because they “focus on the aspect of identification of fingers and hands and experimentation with their various movements.” In Musikgarten classes, finger plays are an essential and fun part of every toddler music class.

Over the years of teaching toddler music class I have learned that I must be well versed in the finger play to be able to share it with a group of children.  As I present the activity I realize I am also presenting it to parents in the hope they will continue to play and share this play at home.

So where do we begin?

Like many finger plays, the raw material for a parent or teacher is usually a ‘head scratching’  little poem:

Five little birds without any home,
Five little trees in a row,
Come build your nests in our branches tall,
We’ll rock you to and fro.

Not much to go on…….

A parent started a discussion about finger plays in class the other day.  She asked, “How do I do finger plays? Is there an online source to show me how?  When can I do them at home?”  I realized that finger plays were not a part of her early life. As a child I was surrounded by finger plays, learning and enjoying them with my parents, my siblings, my Sunday school teacher, etc.  Finger plays were part of my everyday world as a child. Is it possible we have lost the art of finger play in today’s home life?

As a teacher a finger play is an immensely powerful tool to draw in my children and their parents to a close knit circle.  From this intimate space we will share a moment that brings smiles and giggles mixed with hugs and rocking.  Always a good plan in a toddler music class!

The experts say a finger play:

  • develops vocabulary
  • creates a stronger emotional link between parent/teacher and child
  • develops the motor facility of the hand
  • develops cognitive areas of the brain
  • creates a safe place for children and adults to explore together
  • creates a safe place for physical contact between a parent/child or teacher/child
  • connects culture from generation to generation
  • goes beyond the purpose of nurturing, caressing, comforting or feeding.
  • creates laughter and excitement and pleasure.
  • creates a place where a child wants to repeat the game and play more and more.
  • turns a hand into a toy.

The finger play, summarizes Jelena Sitar Cvetko, is the “shortest and simultaneously the most comprehensive form of Folk literature. Finger plays are pre-dramatic forms with fingers as players and the hand as the stage, completed within itself and created within the play itself.” **

Good stuff in a little activity.  But still, the question still begs, HOW do I do a finger play?

So I have created a “before children walk into the room” video of the finger play “Five Little Birds”.

With no children in the room, it appears that all you need are the words and the fingers.  Notice the pace of the poem, the vocal tone used and the expressive quality of my fingers.  I believe a finger play needs to be rehearsed before your families walk in  because when children are added to the mix, anything can happen. You need to be ready to adapt in the moment.

Here is a video of another finger play with children and parents learning side by side.  It is quite different in that  you need to engage the toddlers and the parents. Luckily it helps that you are building on the common bond of love between parent and child:

When can a parent/grandparent/caretaker use a finger play?

  • during a diaper change
  • before bed
  • during a waiting time in a doctor’s office
  • during play time
  • whenever you need a connection or just want to laugh and giggle along with a child

Finger plays are fun and can create special moments throughout a child’s day.  For the teacher, it can make a major fun moment in a music class.  For the parent, it is a break from the necessary routines of a child’s life. Yet both parents and teachers still express apprehension when it is time to actually share the finger play.

Here are some clues to help:

  • Memorize the finger play but don’t worry if you mess up a word or two. It is more about the tone of voice, the pacing and loving way you transmit the play.
  • Repeat over and over. Children love to repeat and will gladly help and correct you if you don’t repeat it exactly the same way you did it yesterday.  Believe me, they remember EVERYTHING!
  • Exaggerate the underlying emotion of the finger play. Emotional response (laughing, crying, gasping) create significant memory cues for the children.

Watch how I emote in “Five Freckled Frogs” as the frogs “disappear into the pond” only to all return at the end.

Finally, some finger plays, like “Whoops! Johnny” can be changed to include the child’s name.  I add verses which include each of the children and then Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, sisters, brothers, and pets. I had a mother say her child would go through everybody in her world before going to bed at night.  The list was quite long and she would diligently repeat all the loving people in her repeats.  And, yes, I was included!

I hope you will make finger plays a part of your repertoire as a teacher and as a parent/grandparent/caretaker. Use these whenever possible.  This magical moment will make a difference in your life as well as the child playing with you.

What could be better?

**Quote from the Paper of Jelena Sitar Cvetco, The value of Finger play as a form of Cultural Heritage in the Curriculum of the First Age Period: https://hrcak.srce.hr/file/222654

The Teaching Triangle

As a young piano teacher, I was taught that the most successful recipe for learning to play the piano was to encourage the triangle of support from student to teacher, teacher to parent, and parent to student.  When any of these sides become weak, the process becomes more difficult for all.  Then reality set in. I faced a problem many piano teachers lament.  The parent would drop off their student, hopefully on time, and later pick up their student, hopefully on time, but their involvement ended there.  Even though the child received a weekly written homework assignment of what to practice at home, more than likely the only one benefitting from this paper was a hungry dog.  I was entertained with threats indirectly aimed at me as the exasperated parent would lecture the sullen child, “If you don’t practice the piano, I am not going to invest any more money for lessons”.   Unlike an orchestral triangle, my triangle was thudding, not dinging.

TriangleWeb version

Adding Musikgarten classes to my piano studio makes this triangle so much more fun to manage.  By bringing families into my studio to share music with me, I could now direct appropriate music making. Families receive a marvelous CD, or digital download, of music for them to sing and dance with all week. Ultimately I form a lasting relationship starting in my early childhood classes and moving through the program and beyond into my private piano program.

In a Musikgarten class, a community is sharing music and magic is in the air.  Below are some of the benefits from each perspective of the musical triangle:

 

Teacher:

  • Gets to know the whole family in the music class setting.
  • Becomes familiar and can work with their high/low and out of tune voices, and can adapt the program to work with the laid back family or the families that giggle and jiggle along.
  • Long term relationships are formed in a Musikgarten class and the triangle is strengthened. This musical relationship can go on for nine years in the Musikgarten curriculum and beyond in traditional lessons. When that student finally graduates from high school and adds music to their college course load all can shed tears of congratulations.
  • Gets to share something once to a group rather than 8 times to individual lessons. And the punch of the content is much more effective in the group.  No more telling a student who may or may not tell the parent.

Parent:

  • Receives firsthand experience of what is happening when their child is learning music.
  • Learns alongside their child and may even relearn what they were taught as a child.
  • Receives a quality recording and doesn’t have to entertain their child with solo performance of singing.
  • Know they have made a sound musical choice for their child that will go well beyond the early childhood years and gracefully bridge their children on to formal lessons.

And Students?

  • LOVE having their parents and siblings alongside as they share music.
  • Know they can share this music at home and the family will be familiar with the songs and dances.
  • Can dance, sing, and play musical instruments along with their friends.
  • Freely fall in love with their music teacher, can dream of learning to play an instrument and get to share music throughout their whole lives (although they don’t know about this surprise yet!)

Teacher-kids low resThere are so few experiences in our culture wherewe get to really know the teacher the way a Musikgarten class can provide this access.

If you are a teacher, I hope you add these ideas to your list of talking points. If you are a parent, I hope you will see the lifelong benefits of Musikgarten

And if you have, share the benefits you have enjoyed.

Confessions of a Piano Teacher

It’s a new year and a new beginning for our blogger, Ellen Johansen.  She will be adding her insights, tips and suggestions each month.  But first let us introduce her:

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My name is Ellen Johansen and I have a passion for teaching music to young children.  It is my belief that music is one of the most valuable gifts we can share with others; the kind of gift where both the receiver and the giver benefit.  Being a Musikgarten teacher, I get to facilitate and develop this gift of music with children and their parents with the hope that they will continue music in their family lives and in their future.

I began teaching piano when I was 16 and I am reluctant to talk about it 🙂

I had no idea what I was doing but I did discover that teaching music was fascinating.  In my twenties after studying the art of piano pedagogy in college, teaching became an important source of income. I drove from home to home, sometimes wondering if I was teaching music or providing an expensive babysitting service.

As I developed my home studio and continued to study piano pedagogy, an annoying and enduring question rose, “How do children really learn to read music?” I scrambled to collect every possible method book, theory and ear training workbooks thinking they would somehow answer this basic question. Yet there seemed to be a disconnection from the printed pages of these books to the sound I wished for my students to learn. The joy I wanted them to experience with discovering and creating a musical sound was missing.

Why were my students so squirmy on the bench? They seemed un-interested in my attempts to help them see a half step compared to a whole step.  Even though they could name those dots on the page with letter names, why did they seemed no closer to reading music fluently?  I found myself blaming it on not enough daily practice.  Or maybe I wasn’t following the method books correctly. The children coming for piano lessons could not sing in tune or keep a steady beat. This concerned me greatly.

As I began to raise my own family I recalled all the hours I spent singing with my own family as I was growing up. My Great grandfather was an organ builder, my grandmother was a piano teacher during the depression and my mother and her sisters learned to play the piano and sing.  Music was part of my every day as a young child. My mother played the piano and sang every night as I fell asleep and my siblings sang songs and played all sorts of musical games children like to sing and play.  We sang and played in the car, we sang and played around the house, we sang at campfires on the beach, we sang in school and at scout meetings, we sang weekly in church and in Sunday school, and we sang and played with our neighborhood friends in the backyard.  But the children walking into my studio were growing up in a different culture, where music was performed on the radio or TV and children attended playdates instead of knocking on a neighbor’s door.

Then I found an ad about teaching early childhood music and movement classes in my studio.  Maybe this source could help me answer this question.  I met Lorna Heyge and everything changed.

I completed every training session offered in early childhood music, and then I taught as many classes as I could book in my music studio. It has now been over 20 years that I have taught the Musikgarten curriculum and this wonderful teacher’s resource has been the ongoing wellsping of appropriate and passionate sequential musical activities that lead the children in my classes towards musical literacy.  But it wasn’t without many missteps and musical mishaps before learning how to incorporate this aural and joyful approach to my classroom.

Today I run a successful, independent music studio on the East End of Long Island and offer all levels of the Musikgarten program, from toddlers through keyboard classes. Most of my Musikgarten graduates continue into piano studies.  I now have the experience of witnessing many of my Musikgarten graduates go on to study other instruments as well as composition. They enter college with music in their hearts and as part of their course load.  One student of mine, who started in a toddler music class, is graduating from High School this year and will be giving a concert of piano music including Debussy’s Arabesque and Gershwin’s Preludes.  He is a great example of the Musikgarten graduate who is the literate musician I always dreamed of teaching; he thinks and plays musically, can hear what he sees and sees what he hears.  It all started with that first question: “How do children really learn to read music?”

I hope my experience and insights into this marvelous curriculum will help you find your answers to your teaching questions.

11 Reasons Kids Need Music More Than Ever!

Parents have lots of options when it comes to activities for their children. How’s a parent to choose between Baby Yoga and Toddler Soccer and Mommy & Me Cooking Classes – not to mention those other music-like programs? As a Musikgarten studio owner, it’s important to know what to say to a parent who is thinking about signing up for Musikgarten, but isn’t totally sold…yet.

So with that in mind, we’ve researched and compiled a list of 11 important ways children benefit from music education. Use this sound reasoning to help parents make the smart decision!

  1. It’s highly logical: music improves reasoning skills! Children who take music lessons are shown to have unique brain functions compared to children who do not receive music lessons. In general, children with music instruction tend to score higher in memory, reasoning and in writing, math, and science. Source: PBS.org
  1. All together now: music teaches coordination! Playing instruments and learning rhythmic movement develops dexterity and coordination between the ear, brain, and body. Enhanced coordination, fine, and gross motor skills can open a world of possibilities, not only in the arts, but in sports as well. Source: Parents.com

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  1. Excuse me ma’am, music cultivates social skills! Music classes require interaction with both adults and peers, and classes help teach respect, direction following, impulse control, teamwork and “musical sportsmanship” – that is encouraging and supporting each other. Through music, a child learns how to respect others and collaborate within a group to accomplish a goal. Source: Parents.com
  1. From the top! Music teaches children to practice. While practice may not always make perfect, music teaches children how to practice and why it matters. Whether they’re learning to play an instrument or simply learning about music, the act of practicing teaches children about self-discipline, patience, perseverance, resilience, and how to reach both short- and longer-term goals. Source: Violinist.com
  1. Music boosts confidence and self-esteem! Learning about music and how to play an instrument takes work but the rewards are incredibly gratifying. A child’s confidence can be immediately boosted through understanding, reading, and performing. Even small achievements will boost a child’s self-esteem.
  1. Music is like “IQ food”! Studies show that children who were given music lessons over a year averaged three IQ points higher than other groups. And because music requires the use of both the right and left sides of the brain, it helps create new neural pathways and linkages that help improve overall brain function. Source: beautythroughimperfection.com

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  1. Music teachers are many! We don’t have to tell you that music teachers are something really special! But when it comes to music, children also benefit from a whole world of mentors – from classical composers to popular musicians to experimental sound artists. Whatever a child’s preferences, there will always be an endless catalog of music and musicians available to inspire and teach them something new.
  1. Don’t forget! Music fosters short- and long-term memory! Each of us can still remember the first song we were asked to memorize as youngsters, or even the 16 bars we practiced for hours upon hours. Learning music stimulates the hippocampus in the brain, which in turn supports short- and long-term memory. Source: Psychologytoday.com
  1. Wait, what? Music can increase attentiveness and focus! The ability to pay attention—focus, listening, and staying on task—is deeply connected to academic performance. A research team at Stanford University found that music engages the areas of the brain involved with paying attention and focus, which can directly contribute to higher test scores in school. Source: med.stanford.edu; Oxford Journal
  1. ¡Fantastico! Music helps children learn other languages. Music training has been shown to physically develop that portion of the brain responsible for language development. A more developed language center allows for the mastery of a native language as well as foreign languages. Source: PBS.org
  1. Music is a trip! Because Musikgarten incorporates curricula, lessons and songs from other countries, children will learn about other cultures. Musikgarten won’t just open their minds; it’ll open up their worlds! With our uniquely global approach, children become curious about other cultures and may be inspired to follow an educational or career path that takes them to new and exciting places.

You know music matters, now you can help parents understand why music – and Musikgarten – are so much more important that they realize!

Mama Mia! 10 Ways To Manage Parents!

As a music teacher, you’re not just teaching children to play; sometimes you’re teaching parents to play nice! Some parents may be overly involved during class; some may not engage at all. Some parents will push their child too hard; others won’t practice a note after class. Some may have unrealistic expectations of you, the curriculum, or their child’s ability or progress. They may be critical of your teaching methods, the class schedule, or your payment policy. Bottom line – at some point in your Musikgarten teaching career you will come across an unpleased parent. But there are things you can do to prevent and smooth over issues before they get out of hand. After all, parents are your customers and you want to keep them coming back!

Here are a few smart ways to manage moms n’ dads, and keep your Musikgarten humming along in perfect harmony.

  1. Set Expectations Early! Discuss what is expected of parents, students, yourself and your staff. Provide written guidelines, a poster in your studio, or some type of expectations “contract.” Keep rules and consequences clear and concise. For example, how will you handle late payments? No payments? No-shows? Behavior issues? Iron it out now, before you’re put in a tough spot later.
  1. Communicate How To Communicate! Let parents know the best time(s) and preferred way(s) to contact you in person, via email and on the phone. Don’t feel obligated to give out your personal or cell phone number or to answer calls during dinner. If a parent wants your attention between busy back-to-back classes, let them know a better time to chat.
  1. Listen Up! Active listening is critical, especially if there’s a problem. Make eye contact, repeat what you’re hearing and ask for clarification where needed. Make sure you understand the issue before diving in with a solution. Even if a parent is voicing a complaint, wait until they finish to respond. The parent will feel respected and heard, they won’t feel the need to repeat it, and you’ll know the whole argument before you reply.
  1. No Time Like Now! Don’t let little things fester. Address a problem as soon as it arises and nip it in the bud. Encourage parents to voice their concerns promptly, too.

“One of the best tools in my tool box is a studio policy with very clear expectations for students and parents. I also try to keep the lines of communications open. I touch base with parents frequently through email, or one on one. That way we can nip problems in the bud before they become out of control. I have found that the majority of my families are respectful if you are clear about what you want.”  -Paulette Amory, Early Childhood Music School

  1. Do The Math. If you have a problem with one parent, address that parent one-on-one. If you’re having the same problem with many parents (e.g. lots of families in the habit of arriving late or lingering too long after class), then address it as a group or in an email as a “friendly reminder.”
  1. Focus On Facts, Not Feelings. Having a heated discussion? Keep personal feelings out of it. Focus on the facts (“Your payments are consistently late…”) and the impact of those (“So I am not able to pay my staff promptly.”) but not personal feelings (“I feel like you’re taking advantage of me!”). If the problem is with a child’s behavior, focus on the behavior and the impact of that behavior. Then involve mom and dad in the solution. For example, “I had to remind Parker to stop throwing instruments five times today. It’s disruptive to the rest of the class and I know it’s not fun for Parker. How can we work together to help him?”
  1. Follow Up, Fast! Document important conversations and solutions immediately in an email to the parent. Then, if the solution seems to be working, let the parent know and thank them so they know you’re paying attention. If the problem continues, you’ll have a handy record of your attempts to remedy – especially important in the case of payment or behavior issues.
  1. Be Consistent! Don’t play favorites or give preferential treatment such as discounts or allowing disruptive behavior to go unchecked. Even if close friends or family join your class, treat everyone equally.
  1. Anticipate Conflicts. Don’t be surprised – or take it personally – when a parent isn’t happy about something. As the saying goes, you can’t please 100% of the people, 100% of the time. All you can do is listen empathetically and respond with respect and professionalism. So be kind as kind to yourself as you are to your customers!
  1. Ask For Feedback. Once a quarter, ask parents to provide specific, constructive feedback about you and your studio either in the form of a free survey or email. This shows parents that you truly care about their opinions and gives them the opportunity to be heard.

Tell us teachers, how do you manage parents? Share your questions, thoughts, ideas, and advice with us here.