Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Jingle Bell time

I've been a little stymied on what to post lately because sometimes it feels like I've written on everything I can think of about music education.  Which I know is false, but I'm also hip-deep in actually just plain doing it. WonderGirl is doing amazing at both violin and piano and I'm a happy mama.

Christmas is coming soon and is a fabulous opportunity to get kids to practice.  Taking a break from their regular music and getting to play familiar and fun songs is great for revving their desire to play as well as sight reading skills.  I'll post the piano books I'm currently using for WonderGirl, but today I have a treat for you violin parents out there - I whipped up a version of Jingle Bells that I've been teaching WG.  She's pre-reading, so I used this easy notiation my mom used to use with me.

Blue notes are A string, E is red, and it's pretty easy to follow.  It's a lovely step to getting a student used to getting outside of their violin box without distracting them too much from developing their technique.  I use this kind of notation along with aural and verbal teaching songs until about the minuets in Suzuki book 1.

I started teaching this to WG last week and she has it memorized by now - it's a very simple tune for just about every instrument.  She's even going to be playing it for her school's Christmas program!  *squee!!*  If you want to see Christmas songs or other song examples in this notation, I'll whip some of those up too.  Have fun!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Rockin' the suburbs

Old McDonald Tune by user9552426

This isn't directly Treblemaker related, but it is musical - and hilarious.  I had some evening meetings for church last week so the husband and WonderGirl put this little ditty together.  They were inspired by this fabulous book Aunt Sarah sent us:

Go to the book website http://www.punkfarm.com for free punk farm song downloads.  Thank you Wisconsin (and Aunt Sarah)!!!


Monday, October 24, 2011

Violin hacker

All music teachers have little tricks we use to help our students develop certain areas of technique.  I thought I'd share two things I've been using recently with WonderGirl on the violin.  First, these:
These Dr. Scholls cushions are just perfect for violin teachers, and you can find the at any pharmacy or grocery store.  They are small, soft and have a light adhesive so we can stick them anywhere and they come off easily.  I use one for her left thumb here:

It gives her a tactile reminder of where to move her thumb and keeps it from creeping up over the fingerboard.

I also use it on her bow to keep her pinky in check:

The other thing I'm using lately is a Bow-Right:

It's guides her bow and helps her to notice the difference between using her elbow as opposed to her shoulder.  It's a handy thing to use, and it helps to have it there so I'm not constantly harping on her to use her elbow and I can focus on other things.

Do you have any tricks?

Thursday, October 20, 2011


The fabulous Desiree gave me a heads up to this wonderful blog chock full of music teacher helps and theory games.

How amazing is this idea for teaching meter with Duplos??  My mom actually has a game very similar to this that I've been planning on posting since forever, but I haven't taken the time to dig through the basement and find it since our last move.  Using the first Duplo to determine the time signature, you can have your kiddo find proper beats to fill the measure.  And the best part is, on the original post - the author included a free printable with all the notation you'd need!!  The possibilities are endless.  Thanks so much for sharing, Desiree!!!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

There's a first time for everything...!

I had WonderGirl do something today I've never had her do before...

She practiced violin by herself.


I know, she's been playing for at least 6 months - but I've never had her do it on her own.  Piano, sure, but violin is another beast entirely.  We spend so much time with beginning students playing games to teach the basic techniques that there isn't much they can do on their own - plus it's so easy to slip into bad habits that I like to be there at every step.  And honestly, it's a lovely bonding time for us.  I don't mind it a bit.

But today during the Dude's nap (her usual lesson time) I had to run outside and spray paint some furniture before it gets to cold to go outside (it's getting WAY too close to winter for my liking!) and I didn't have time to practice with her.  So I made her a list of things to practice on piano, then made another short list for violin.  I got the violin out and ready for her and told her to come tell me when she was done.

It went great!  She was thrilled with the novelty of it all, and we got in our daily dose.  I don't think I'll do it again soon, but now that she has at least 4 songs under her belt, she has enough she can review through.  I'm a veteran teacher, but a novice mom, so my official opinion now is that once a student has multiple songs memorized, they are ready for personal practice in moderate doses.

Sniff... she is growing up WAY too fast!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

H A Double-L O W Double-E N spells Halloween!

WonderGirl was drawing October-y pictures the other day and asked me how to spell Halloween.  I immediately started singing this song, shocked that I hadn't remembered to teach it to her before.  Do you remember singing it back in elementary school like I did?  It's catchy lyrics set to Camille Saint-Saens' Danse Macabre that have sat in my brain since Mr. V (only one of the coolest elementary music teachers EVER - mom, you rank right up there with him too:) taught it to our class back in the day.  It's from "Halloween: Games, Songs and Stories" by Wade Denning & Kay Lande (Golden Records, LP-242, 1969).

Play it even just once for your kiddo - I promise they'll never forget how to spell Halloween!


H-A-Double-L-O-Double-U-Double-E-N Spells Halloween,
H-A-Double-L-O-Double-U-Double-E-N Spells Halloween!

Halloween means ghosts and goblins,
Skeletons, monsters and howling cats.
Spooky masks and jack-o-lanterns
Witches and devils and big black bats.

H-A-Double-L-O-Double-U-Double-E-N Spells Halloween,
H-A-Double-L-O-Double-U-Double-E-N Spells Halloween!

Halloween means ringing doorbells,
Scaring the people who open the door.
Trick-or-Treat gets you candy and apples,
Then go to the next house and get some more

Side note:  Back in grad school, I had a listening test where we had to identify the difference between Saint-Saens' Danse Macabre and his Fossils from the Carnival of the Animals.  It's not easy because they are both incredibly similar - but it was easy for me since I knew the Halloween song.  I taught it to the other students in my study group and we all aced it on the test!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Creating a student

One thing that was difficult for me when starting WonderGirl on an instrument was getting rid of my expectations.  It has been almost thirty years since I was a beginning student and I remember ALWAYS standing politely and calmly during lessons.  My mom might beg to differ... ;)  But when I would try to get her to focus on something at the beginning, she'd wiggle and giggle like we were playing around.  She didn't know any different!  But the tricky part was how to turn her into that stands-at-attention kind of student, and not freak out and lose patience when she didn't immediately do it.

The breakthrough came when I decided to teach her how to read using this book:

It doesn't have anything to do with music, but it has everything to do with a super simple way of sitting down with your child and guiding the learning process.  I had heard raves about it for years from all different kinds of parents who swore by it, and it totally lived up to the hype.  It teaches new concepts in tiny spurts and gives the child the chance to use what they already know extensively, so it builds their confidence level as well as teaches them in a simply fantabulous way.  And it gives the parent every single thing to say so it teaches you how to teach.  My confidence level grew too!

After about a third of the book, I introduced piano with our budding teacher/student relationship.  Plus, piano is such a visual instrument that her being able to read really helped her progress and get into playing and learning it herself.  Once we had that structure, adding the violin was a natural step.

Little by little, bit by bit our relationship has grown in ways I am SO thankful for!  I love being her mom, but I never thought I could love being her piano/violin teacher as much as I do.  What a blessing it is!!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


The Dude's birthday party centered around a mattress on the floor.  It doesn't take much with that kid!
A few months ago WG and I made a video of 3-armed singing and I likened it to when violin teachers will play the bow or the fingers for the student so they can focus on their other hand.  Then yesterday, in order to get a feel for how she's progressing, her entire lesson was simply a recital of her 3 songs for her dolls and I, who had to be good audience members and cheer and NOT give constructive tips or suggestions.  It was TOUGH!  But she had fun because it was THE WG SHOW DAY! (she LOVES to throw a show) and I was able to get a really good look at which things I should be focusing on.  First up was her left hand.

So today, I announced it was LEFT HAND DAY!!!  I said it with the exclamation points too.  Today I would be the bow, and she was the fingers the WHOLE time, WHAT A DAY!!!  I thought she'd see through my thinly veiled trick, but it totally worked.  I put a mirror 3 inches from her scroll so she could see how she was doing, and her technique was just fantastic.  Afterward I asked her if she wanted to put both hands together tomorrow, or have BOW DAY!!! (again, with all the exclamation points) and she fell for it.  "OH YES, BOW DAY!!  PLEASE BOW DAY!!"  Heh heh.

My point is that sometimes, it's nice to have a random Wednesday be a special day, with lots of extra exclamation points.  To distract us from the fact that it is, in fact, work.  It even cheered me up to think that I had something to look forward to tomorrow - a lesson where she's totally jazzed just because she gets to play the bow only.  It's the little things.

And now, I plan on using this the next time she's having a tough time with a piano lesson.  A day where I play everything in the bass clef, and she plays all the parts of the songs on the treble clef.  I'll call it CONJOINED TWIN PIANO PLAYING DAY!  Maybe.  Just another thing to mix stuff up and add superfluous exclamation points to my weekdays!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Two Grenadiers trick

I follow a super nifty blog by a Suzuki cello teacher who has some great stories about her teaching processes.  Today topped it all though!  To anyone who has ever tried to teach Schumann's The Two Grenadiers, you have GOT to try her "texting" approach!!  Click through to see what her student came up with! :)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sunday inspiration: Letting go

"Life is a lot like jazz.  It's best when you improvise." 
 -George Gershwin
This reminds me of another quote my mom has shared with me:

"Blessed are the flexible, for they will not be bent out of shape."
Letting go of what I think should be happening in our lessons has been one of the best things I've learned as a mom, and as a teacher.  When we keep our minds and hearts open (and my impatience in check!) magical musical discoveries abound!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Living Room Dance Party #15

I'm finally getting around to tell you about my fun new LRDP (and car dance party too, for that matter) find!  I won a giveaway from the super awesome Cathy over at Music for Tots and got a CD called Popcorn Bopping.  It's a collection of remixes and pop versions of all your favorite LDS Primary songs that your kids will love.

My favorite pick is the fun version of Popcorn Popping on the Apricot Tree.  WonderGirl and I actually used it last night when we threw an impromptu dance party on the doorstep of teen girl from church that we were trying to cheer up.  It's silly, but you can't help but smile when you hear it (plus see 2 adult women and a preschooler doing the funky chicken to a boom box at your front door).  Mission accomplished!

It's sold through Deseret Book and I highly suggest checking it out.  I love most of the tracks (though there's a few I skip - the rap on I Hope They Call Me On a Mission especially ;) and you can even buy it from their website in MP3 format!  Here's a video some random person posted on youtube of their kid being cute with the tune Popcorn Popping in the background so you can hear it for yourself (I added it to the playlist too!).  Enjoy!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Worth it

WG and I, circa 2009

I'm settling into the fall routine.  I'm relishing all the one-on-one time with the now 2 year old Dude, but I miss WonderGirl all morning and I get a bit giddy when I get to pick her up from school.  Thankfully, the Dude still naps like a champ for 3 hours, so we get plenty of music/us time too in the afternoon.

Except - does the afternoon slump do something to you too?  As I put the Dude down to sleep and think about all I need to get done, I have this insane urge to join him.  Some days I do.  Especially recently, since everything has been all up in the air.  We had Nana visit, the husband and I had a fabulous weekend away in New York City, and all of us have gotten varying degrees of colds.  Some days you just have to give yourself a pass and know that it's okay to drop a few balls every now and then.

But I notice on the days that I end up lazying out and we don't do violin and piano lessons/practice, things tend to go south later.  Sure, I had a little more initial energy since I didn't expend any turning on my inner music teacher, but both our fuses seem to get shorter as the day goes on.  The light in our home dims just a bit.

Today when the afternoon slump hit, I sat on the couch, breathing through only half of my nose, and tried to psyche myself into gathering up WG for violin and piano.  "I don't have the energy today," I thought, and tried to come up with all the excuses I could reasonably cite without sounding too lazy.  But another thought came in loud and clear - "you know that no matter what the cost, it's worth it."

I got up.  As we bowed for violin and said our usual greeting of "konnichiwa," I added a goal of "I will be patient," and she said "I will try."  It wasn't a perfect lesson, but she tried the whole time, I resisted impatience, music was made and we invented a new game  to play.  When piano time was done, we went upstairs and painted our nails with glow-in-the-dark nail polish.

Now she's drawing pictures and doodling about on the piano for fun.  And I'm taking a blogging break, mostly to remind myself that it's worth it.  When it looks daunting from the front end, when the work is done - it feels wonderful.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

the Treble Clef song!

Every Good Boy was getting old, and trying to spell FACE with that silent E was a wee bit frustrating, so we wrote a song to help us remember the treble clef notes.  Enjoy!!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Theory is poppin'!

Music theory day over here.  I decided to spice things up by making a staff with pipe cleaners on a book.  Plus it was snack time, so we put our popcorn to good use.

We focused on the treble clef, and I came up with a great tune to remember the note names with a tune from a Jim Gill tune.  I'd sing it for you, but my video camera is MIA, so that'll come later.  I had her point to the "notes" as we sang.

I'd tell her she could eat the piece of popcorn on a certain note, and if she picked the wrong one I got to eat it.  Or I'd have her close her eyes, I'd eat one and she had to tell me which one I'd gobbled.

Or have her put the popcorn on the two Ds or Es or Fs... you get the idea.

We also dropped it onto the "staff" and she got to eat the popcorn if she could tell me what note she'd landed on.

Doing this with M&Ms is always a winner, but I'd  rather she eat a lot of popcorn or cereal over a ton of candy any day.  Really, the possibilities are endless.  And delicious!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Straight bows with a bow

I remember teachers putting pieces of colored tape under my strings to encourage me to follow it and give them nice straight bows.  So when I started teaching, that's what I did, to some success.  But the other day during WonderGirl's lesson, I almost went looking for the tape but I found some ribbon first.

It's so simple - grab some pretty ribbon and tie it around the fiddle.  It doesn't move, doesn't get in the way of the strings, and she  loves accessorizing ANYTHING, so it fits her perfectly.

I tell her to aim her bow over it, and she does.  Mostly.  She's a work in progress, but every day is better and better.  Teaching isn't an exact science - it's looking for what will click with each kid and hoping it works.  Ribbons for my little girl are the ticket - I think when the Dude starts violin, I'll have to wind a rubber snake around it for him.

I love my little fiddler :)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Sunday inspiration: appreciation

Hi out there!! How is your summer going? Between the family visits and swimming lessons I haven't been here as much, but rest assured piano and violin are a-happening around these parts. Honestly, I've noticed that our day and our attitudes are vastly better on days that we get our lessons and practicing in as opposed to days where we give in to our summer exhaustion. It's worth it :)

So for your Sunday inspiration, here's a video to share with your wee ones, or just to enjoy yourself - the Copenhagen Philharmonic doing a flashmob playing Ravel's Bolero. Was there ever a more perfect piece written for a flashmob??? It's fun to see it performed when you've played it many times yourself, and as a violinist, I would definitely appreciate the opportunity to arrive at my heart's desire, seeing as the first kajillion measures are either rests or pizzicato. This makes me smile to no end. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Make your own panpipe

WonderGirl was reading one of her science experiment books this morning and found a page on musical instruments, along with directions to make your own panpipe out of straws, cardboard and tape.  "It looks so easy mommy, can we please make it?? Please??  Please??" she begged.  It looked simple enough, so I found her some straws and a piece of cardboard, but my busy to-do list prevented me from doing anything else.  I told her to read the instructions and I'd get back to her when I had a free moment.

A few minutes later, she came to me and asked me to show her how to play it.  She'd read all the instructions,  found the tape (and cut it - a miracle in itself!)  and did it all herself!!!  I was flabbergasted!!!

I love having a 4 year old that reads!!  The instructions were super easy - cut pieces of straw into different lengths, tape them together on a piece of cardboard, and blow over the tops of them.

I asked her to tell me which ones made higher and lower pitches, and she had a fun time figuring it out (the short ones were higher pitches, the longer ones were lower pitches).

A science experiment that's so easy a kid can do it on their own!!  I love it!  Draw a prototype, write a few instructions and let your wee one try it themselves.  It was such a hit, she even had a rabid fan trying to rush the stage!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Practicing tip - timers!

I found this nifty science activity via Pinterest and then put it to good use.  It's pretty self explanatory - there's one empty glass and another with water and food coloring, and a piece of paper towel running from one to the other.  Give it some time, and the water walks from one glass to the other!  A loooot of time.... we started this about 2:30 this afternoon and it's about halfway done now.  But that wasn't our initial goal...

I set it up and we eagerly watched the color creep up the towel.  I put it within eye shot of the piano, and had WonderGirl work up two new songs in her book.  When we spied the first drops of water in the other glass, piano time was done!  It was a good 30 minutes of pure, excited practicing time, and no "when will I be done??" questions.  It wasn't up to me - it was up to science :)  I'll experiment with smaller glasses and shorter towels for quicker practicing days - and all different sorts of "timers!"

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Emergency musical intervention

I sewed these up for us to wear for the 4th from 2 tees!
Have you been having a lovely summer?  We were - and still are, except for an unwelcome visitor this week in the form of a cold for the poor 1 year old Dude.  I had to come home from a play group this  morning because of his hysterics - and it was just across the street!

When we got home, I knew I had one of two choices - turn on Nick Jr. or try to find something he wouldn't scream at.  I got out my trusty laptop and opened this page I'd pinned into my Kid-y board on Pinterest (are you on Pinterest??  I want to follow you!!!):

While he rolled on the floor screaming, I scrolled down as fast as I could and spotted this gem:
36. Bang on Pots and Pans with a spoon
I ran to the pantry, grabbed some pots and utensils, put them in the living room and waited.  It was about 3 seconds until the air was filled with a cacophony I far prefer to tantrums.

I grabbed some utensils of different materials and watched them experiment with the sounds.

Then they got clever and tried some of their own...

What about a truck, or a train whistle?

What about 3 different spoons they use regularly? (WonderGirl grabbed these from the drawer on her own!)

What about a hippo flashlight?

Or a puppy?  (the nose is plastic so that was a neat surprise for the Dude)

What about just using your hands?

WG put them in order of smallest to largest and tested out the pitches that way.

What about stomping with your feet??  (I only let that fly for a minute or so :)

And magically - I finally saw this again:

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