Tag Archives: Teaching Children

Social Media Marketing to Attract Music Students

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

Social Media Tips for Music Teachers

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

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

 

Getting Free Press for your Early Childhood Music Studio

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

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

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

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

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

 

Marketing Your Early Childhood Music Program

Lets Face it. Teachers of early childhood music are not necessarily marketers. Their focus is on inspiring young minds and their adults to love, experience, and learn how to make music. But making a living teaching early childhood music can be a daunting task. Studio owners must not only keep their current music students engaged in learning, they must also keep a steady stream of new students signing up for new classes. When thinking about marketing for early childhood music studios, focusing on parents and parent education is key. The introduction of early music education is almost always initiated by the parents, and in most cases, by the mother.  This conclusion is based on Musikgarten’s thirty plus years of experience in training teachers on how better to market their childhood music studios. Here are a few marketing ideas for early childhood music education programs:

  • Focus on Word of Mouth MarketingIt is often said that Word Of Mouth Marketing, or WOMM, is the most important social media. Mothers always talk to each other about what is going on with their child, and there is no better way to gain new music students than referrals from happy moms. Early childhood music curricula such as those offered at Musikgarten include participation from one or two parents, which creates a social circle within your studio.
  • Offer a Test Drive – For anyone who has ever bought a car, you remember how it felt when you actually sat behind the wheel and drove it. The same can be said for marketing early childhood music education. While a referral can be a powerful marketing tool for your studio, sometimes it takes a little something extra to bring the prospect in the door. Consumers are leery of signing up for a commitment without knowing how they (or their child) will like it, so a no obligation, free first class might be just what you need to nudge them in the door.
  • Combine Both Referral and Complimentary First Class – For music studio marketers, there is a low-cost way to create a program that provides incentive for both the referring parent as well as the new prospect. Simple, complimentary first class cards given to your current music studio parents, serves several purposes. First, by simply having them write their name on cards given out, they provide a means to accurately track which parents provides referrals. Second, they represent a tangible value that acts to remind both referral and parent alike of the complimentary lesson. Simple and low-cost business cards can be printed for this purpose.

Word of mouth is just one very powerful marketing tool for early childhood music studios, but it must be carefully nurtured. We’ve all heard the saying that a bad experience is shared ten times to every once a good experience is shared. It is important to make sure parents are comfortable and pleased with your music studio before asking them for a referral.

In this ongoing series of blog posts, Musikgarten will continue providing more marketing ideas for owners of early childhood music studios. If you would like to receive notification of a new blog post, please contact us by email here.

Benefits of Early Childhood Music for Your Studio

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

For children the benefits can be:

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

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

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

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

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

Click below to listen to the complete podcast:

Teaching Music using Musikgarten

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

How to Build an Early Childhood Program

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

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

Meet Musikgarten webinar

Introduction to Piano Partners

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!

 

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.