Monday, February 28, 2011

Make & Play a Rhythm Game

We encountered 3/4 time today in WonderGirl's piano lesson, and it sparked a discussion on rhythms and measures and such.  As we were talking, I noticed an unmarked blue file folder sitting on the piano, just behind WG's book.  Curious, I opened it up and discovered this:

My amazing mom sends me tons of goodies and music all the time, and somehow this gem surfaced at the perfect time!  It's a rhythm game that is fun but is not competitive (I have one that is - from dear mom, of course - and I'll share it later) and perfect for the preschooler and beginning student.  This basic version has 3 kinds of cards with symbols on them - one that stands for a quarter note, one for a quarter rest and one for 2 eighth notes.  The folder has 4 spaces for the 4 beats of a measure, and you put a card in each box and clap out the rhythm.  I did a few to give WG the idea, and then she had a ball creating her own rhythms over and over.  We covered up the last square and did 3/4 rhythms too, to tie in her new piano song.

The next level will be to move from the symbol cards to cards with the actual notes on them, and play the rhythm on an instrument, but this was the perfect place to start.  It reminded me of games we played in music camp as a kid where we would make up rhythms in teams and try to stump the opposite team.  I can see this working with multiple kids together or one on one.  The best part is the simplicity of it all - just some paper, scissors and a marker!  Thanks so much, mom!!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Living Room Dance Party #7

Today's featured music artist for a Living Room Dance Party is - YOU!

It doesn't matter if you are a professional, amateur or dabbler, watching you give a private performance in your own home is a thrill and a half for your kids, especially if there is moving and grooving involved.  Play a concerto, sing along to the radio, play the rockingest Twinkle your flute from high school has ever seen, it's all a fantastic learning and bonding experience for your family!  My husband and I regularly jam out with him accompanying my fiddle on Sunday evenings -  the kids sing, dance and spin, and all we play are hymns from church.  The content isn't as important as the context.

I'm knee-deep in practicing today because tomorrow I jet off for some shows in Atlanta with the amazing Celtic band, the Border Collies.

I was lucky enough to be a Collie for a few years but the husband's work took us away from my beloved South, and until the universe lets me return, I get to fill in when they are missing a fiddler now and then - and this weekend is sure to be an absolute feast for my fiddling appetite!!

If you are in the ATL area, click here for the deets and come say hi!
I'm thrilled to pieces but a little nervous - so I'm brushing the dust off all my jigs and reels, and the kids are playing around me.  The Dude is a huge fan of live music, and every few minutes he gets so excited he runs laps around my legs, laughing hysterically.  It's just a great reminder of how important live music is for the kids, and how lucky I am that I can provide that, even in our tiny snowed-in town in the Midwest.  Have fun this weekend, and turn your living room into the coolest live music venue in town!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Fiddler On The Roof

We are lucky enough to have a Very Important Person visiting us today - Nana!!  Our house is just one of the stops on her Whirlwind Grandchild Tour, and on her next stop she'll get to meet #11! In addition to getting a fantabulous husband, I also got fantabulous in-laws - and now my kids get a real-life Art Professor for a Nana!  WonderGirl's favorite activity with her Nana is doing art, and today she got a wonderful lesson on the art of Marc Chagall.  And then I talked her into sharing her lesson with US!  Aren't we lucky??  Enjoy!

Mom with a Monet Water lily
On the way to visit WonderGirl, I stopped in the Chicago Art Institute with a friend and was INSPIRED by the beautiful Chagall windows there. Today, WonderGirl wanted to do art with me, and immediately I thought of Marc Chagall who was a Russian Jewish artist who painted about his childhood as dreamlike memories.
  • First we played "Tradition" from Fiddler on the Roof, and soaked in that culture and gorgeous violin music (which incidentally sounds like her Uncle playing).

  • One painting has an X design, so I drew an X on her canvas and asked her to paint four little memories of her early days in Brazil. Here it is!

  • Reflections on a Brasilian Memory, acrylic paint on paper  2011
    What a treat - thank you so much Nana!!!

    Monday, February 21, 2011


    Daddy can do ANYTHING.
    My husband and I are polar opposites in many, many ways.  I was raised a proper violinist, he was .... well, here's a pre-me picture of him in action:

    So in our family, the instrumental education has been delegated to me, and the exposure to all things ska, punk, reggae and the drum set in the basement are his department.  The other night I was bragging to him about WonderGirl's awesome piano skills (in her hearing of course) and then brought him up to speed on the things that are trickier for her right now.  She's gone from using just three fingers to all five and it has thrown her 4 year-old self for a loop.

    "Hmm..." says the fix-it man that daddy is, and he sat down to the keyboard to try and play WonderGirl's newest song.  She lit up and raced across the room.

    "Daddy!!  You're doing it - you're playing my song!!" she squealed.  His piano skills are limited (he played keyboards in a ska band back in high school) but her current music isn't written on a staff and is pretty easy for an adult to pick up instantly.  Spurred on by her excitement, he played a few other songs in her book.  When he was successful, she was bursting with praise, and when he stumbled she loved helping him.  Then she started begging to sit at the piano and play him what she could - it was an impromptu concert that I couldn't have planned better.

    The novelty of her non-piano playing father trying to do what she did was incredibly thrilling for her - because as cool as I am, dad playing piano does have that "new" factor I lack.  Plus she adores him.  (Me too - it's nice have that in common:).  If you have a spouse who isn't pulling double duty as their music teacher - have them try playing your child's music.  It'll be a treat for the kid - and gives the other parent a chance to understand and have a respect for their child's latest technical triumphs.

    Sunday, February 20, 2011

    Sunday inspiration: Healthy Diet

    "Music is the 5th food group.  It nourishes the body and the soul."
     - My mom.

    Saturday, February 19, 2011


    Introducing the letter C!  Wow, maybe we'll get all the way to Z after all!

    Friday, February 18, 2011

    The Worst Band In The Universe: A Totally Cosmic Musical Adventure

    The Worst Band In The Universe: A Totally Cosmic Musical Adventure by Graeme Base is a feast of a book. Visually, it blows your mind.  The whole story is told in a rhyme that dances off the tongue, despite all the wacky words Base invents to tell his tale (Sprocc, splitwanger, Blippian, groob).  There is even an accompanying CD with songs from the Worst Band In The Universe contest participants that is rockin', kid friendly and insanely catchy.

    The story tells of a part of the universe where music is regulated - no one can change the ancient tunes, or write their own.  Young Sprocc searches for a place where he can "mesh" with other like-minded musicians and finds it at the Worst Band In The Universe contest - because in a world where there's little to no music, who wants to be the best??  It ends happily and dances along the way.  Last night after WonderGirl and I read it again, the reality of no one being allowed to make new music got to her.  She was horrified, and in protest, jumped up and announced she was going to create HER own music, and stood at the piano singing and composing for a good 15 minutes.  AWESOME.  Added bonus?  The songs are perfect for a Living Room Dance Party too!

    Thursday, February 17, 2011

    Living Room Dance Party #6

    There are a few musicians I love so much that I absolutely gush about them - for example, every blasted time I teach a student about Beethoven, I have to choke back tears.  And every time I mention Bobby McFerrin or Yo-Yo Ma I either start proselytizing or grab my violin and try to make my own musical magic.  I respect and adore these two musicians for so many reason that if I started listing them we'd be here all day.  My personal opinion is that every parent needs to own a copy of their 1992 collaboration Hush.

    McFerrin has developed his voice as an elastic, incredible instrument and matches the tone and beauty of one of Ma, one of the greatest cellists of all time (a child prodigy who got his degree in Humanities from Harvard because he wanted he wanted to truly understand the music he played... swoon!).  This album is soothing, exciting, amusing and wonderful.  You want to create a sweet atmosphere in your home?  Let this album be the soundtrack.  And if you want to dance, Hush Little Baby is something you (and your wee ones) will want to kick up their heels to.  Here's a live clip I found (joined by Mark O' Connor and Edgar Meyer - two musicians who I also adore who will also be appearing repeatedly as Living Room Dance Party artists) so you can watch the joy and genius in action.

    Also on the album, is a whimsical and awesome version of a Bach Musette.  As a kid, my brother and would listen to it and take turns lip/bow syncing the parts of the pompus announcer/vocalist and rockin' cellist - now I've started WonderGirl in on the tradition and we pretend to be the performers together.  There are so many silly and dramatic sounds to imitate!  I'm sure your little ones will love acting it out too.

    Wednesday, February 16, 2011

    Lesson/Practice Snacks

    One daunting part about teaching my own kid the piano is the consistency.  When you have a private teacher, the weekly lesson is something concrete that you are committed to that forces you to keep up at least that part of your schedule.  Since I'm the teacher - and I'm also the mom to more than my piano student child - carving out our lesson and practice times can be a challenge.  We have a spot on our week devoted to a lesson, but of course, life happens and that time gets whittled away frequently by doctor's appointments, the flu and hysterical little brothers.

    Our solution:  have a snack.  Some days we just can't devote a decent amount of time to a full-blown lesson or practice session, but that doesn't mean it has to be all or nothing.  If we don't have time for a lesson but have five minutes here or there, I tell WonderGirl it's time for a lesson snack and we sit down to do a few drills on her latest song together.  Or if I need to take care of something unencumbered for a few minutes, I tell her to have a practice snack and work on one piece (or piece of a piece).  Scientists say it takes 21 days to form a habit, so a bit of piano every day - even a snack - helps contribute to turning WonderGirl into a piano junkie!

    Tuesday, February 15, 2011

    Sweet skills

    Remember my idea for lesson motivation/using up holiday candy?  Today we were using some gummies she'd gotten from school, and they ended up having a dual purpose.  All piano teachers have spare change lying around to put on student's hands when their wrists start sagging.  The game is trying to see if the student can keep it there without slipping off - and a nice teacher will even let the student keep the coin.  Since our one year-old is into swallowing every chokeable he can find, spare change is not readily found lately - so I improvised with her gummies.  Delicious!  Motivational!  Squishy!

    Monday, February 14, 2011

    Living Room Dance Party #5 - Happy Valentine's Day!

    Isn't Valentine's Day fantastic??  The sun is shining, my daughter just gave me candy, we're all decked out in red and hearts for head to toe, and it's PERFECT for a Living Room Dance Party!  Such Great Heights by The Postal Service is one of my all-time favorite songs, and is open to all kinds of dancing from swaying in place with your wee one in your arms, to hopping all over the room.  One of the neatest parts of the song is how it the sound bounces from left to right on any level of speaker - it perks up my one year old who starts twirling in place the second it comes on.

    My runner-up is Michael Buble's Everything - it's a perfect love song, and begs to be danced to.

    What are your favorite love songs?  Or just songs you love to have Living Room Dance Parties with?

    Sunday, February 13, 2011

    Sunday inspiration: Educate

    Educate:  to provide schooling for, to train by formal instruction and supervised practice especially in a skill, trade, or profession.
    The definition of education I prefer comes from the Latin root of the word - educo - meaning to educe, to draw out, to develop from within.  It's not so much stuffing them full of what we know, but more of awakening the potential they have inside and introducing that to the wonderful things this world has to offer.

    Friday, February 11, 2011


    It's so cold and miserable here in the Midwest that I have gained a new appreciation for Valentines Day.  ANYthing that involves chocolate and red things is a welcome distraction during this time of year!  So why not add some sweet songs to the mix?  I realized I had never taught WonderGirl Skidda Marinka Dinky Dink, which is almost as much of a travesty as my spelling of its title, so that's my goal for the weekend.  Maybe for the big day I'll manage to get a video of us singing it - but I think just by our singing it with each other will lift our sagging snowed-in spirits.

    Here's a cute video I found of a bunch of school children singing it for Mother's Day:

    Sing it with your wee one this Valentines Day!

    Skinny marinky dinky dink
    Skinny marinky doo
    I love you

    Skinny marinky dinky dink
    Skinny marinky do
    I love you

    I love you in the morning
    and in the afternoon.
    I love you in the evening
    and underneath the moon

    Skinny marinky dinky dink
    Skinny marinky doo
    I love you!

    Thursday, February 10, 2011

    3-armed singing

    Sometimes, when a violin student is having problems with notes, the teacher will let them focus on their left hand by playing the bow for them.  Piano teachers do this too by playing one hand so their student can pay attention to their other hand.  This got me to thinking - the teacher and student become one musician, kind of like 2 people running a 3-legged race.  So WonderGirl and I tried this out with some hand motion songs - the Itsy Bitsy Spider and Do A I'm Doing.  It took a lot more concentration than you'd think, but it is now one of our favorite activities to do together.  Especially since it combines two of her favorite pastimes - snuggling and singing.  Give it a try!

    Wednesday, February 9, 2011

    Chicka Chicka Boom Boom

    You're probably familiar with this book, but for those who aren't, here's a fancy review from Publishers Weekly:
    In this bright and lively rhyme, the letters of the alphabet race each other to the top of the coconut tree. When X, Y and Z finally scramble up the trunk, however, the weight is too much, and down they all tumble in a colorful chaotic heap: "Chicka Chicka . . . BOOM! BOOM!" All the family members race to help, as one by one the letters recover in amusingly battered fashion. Poor stubbed toe E has a swollen appendage, while F sports a jaunty Band-Aid and P is indeed black-eyed. As the tropic sun goes down and a radiant full moon appears, indomitable A leaps out of bed, double-daring his colleagues to another treetop race. This nonsense verse delights with its deceptively simple narrative and with the repetition of such catchy phrases as "skit skat skoodle doot." Ehlert's bold color scheme, complete with hot pink and orange borders, matches the crazy mood perfectly. Children will revel in seeing the familiar alphabet transported into this madcap adventure. Ages 2-6. Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.
    Iit really is an awesome book that teaches the lower case letters, with an even better tune written for it.  Here's the video and song - but be warned - this will stick in your head for WEEKS.  The good thing it's actually pretty cool so you won't mind.

    This year for Christmas, my awesome sister in law sent us a Hawaiian luau party kit - including a 5 1/2 foot tall inflatable palm tree (only $11.99 at Oriental Trading!).  We used the kit to have a great New Years Eve, and then at the same time WonderGirl and I realized how similar it was to the Chicka Chicka Boom Boom tree.  So, we grabbed a bunch of paper scraps and yarn. and made a alphabet garland.

    We sang the Chicka Chicka Boom Boom tree the entire time.  WonderGirl wrote all the upper and lower case letters from memory - and as much fun as she was having, it was a great writing exercise.

    The garland is now hanging in the Dude's room.  WonderGirl is insanely proud that she made a decoration that's hanging in her brother's room, and the Dude is ambivalent.  For now :) 

    Tuesday, February 8, 2011

    B! buh buh buh B!

    We're working our way through the alphabet - we wrote the B song today. Enjoy!

    Sunday, February 6, 2011

    Sunday inspiration: The Think System

    Remember Professor Harold Hill's educational theory?  The idea that as long as you hum and think of a melody long enough, you should be able to play it the first time you pick up an instrument.  You think you can play, therefore, you can!  Oh, if only this worked outside of a musical...

    But take a look at Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer's study on the placebo effect.  She gathered a group of 84 hotel maids, who believed that they had a very sedentary lifestyle, and divided them into two groups.  One group was told how just by doing their job, they were meeting the surgeon general's definition of an active lifestyle, while the other was left in the dark.

    After one month, neither group had changed their normal routines, but the group that knew they were getting exercise had decreased blood pressure, weight, and waist-to-hip ratio — and a 10 percent drop in blood pressure.  Just by thinking.

    I bring this up because sometimes we can get overwhelmed by all the things we should be doing for our kids, and end up feeling like we're coming up short.  But really - there's a ridiculous amount that we do every day.  They see us singing in the car, they hear the music we play, and then they repeat it back to us incessantly.  Every time we take a second to sing the Itsy Bitsy Spider, we are letting them know that we love them and music is important enough for us to share with them.  When we focus on all we DO, and not what we DON'T, the good stuff starts piling up.  See?  We're kind of awesome.  

    Friday, February 4, 2011


    You'd think this would have occurred to me sooner, what with my history of playing and teaching jazz.  We had the greatest adventure yesterday and y'all need to try it - even if you aren't currently teaching your kid an instrument, this is a easy activity for everyone.

    Doesn't she already look like a hep cat?
    Yesterday, poor WonderGirl got a splinter in her fourth finger just before her piano lesson, and of course, it was the day we were going to start playing with the fourth finger.  She was pretty upset about the booboo and missing out on the lesson, so I tried to work around it.  We played her other three-finger songs and tried to go from there, but anytime she pressed a key with that fourth finger she yelped with pain.

    Then inspiration hit.  We couldn't learn a new song, but we could learn a new skill!  I turned on a cool patch from the drum machine function of the piano and we did some improvising.  I picked C and played it in one octave, she in another - and I would play a rhythm for 4 beats, then she would repeat it (trading fours for those in the know) and then I expanded to 8 beat patterns.  She loved trying to get the rhythms, and the awesome drum beat behind her made her feel like a rock star.  Then, I told her to make up her own and I'd follow her.  And then our favorite - really trading fours, where we both took turns making up our own rhythms, just on that one note.  She got so into it, she even expanded to two notes and added the D in there.  We had a ball playing together and she left the piano liking it even more.

    This could be done by anyone!  If you don't have an electric keyboard with built-in a built-in drum machine, one easy Google search  for "on-line drum machine" can get you a peppy background track, and then on whatever instrument you have - be it a the piano, a toy xylophone, kazoo, or even your own hands clapping - you can play a great game of call-and-response, although calling it improv makes it sound way cooler :)

    Thursday, February 3, 2011

    Wee Sing and Lean ABC

    I LOVE this book and CD!  Besides the obvious awesomeness of another ABC book, this also showcases a TON of instruments.  From "Abe the alligator plays the accordion" to "Zelda the zebra plays the zither" it covers just about every animal and instrument there are.  It's a large board book so it's easy for small hands to manage and there a lots of neat details for a older kid.  The CD has a short song about each letter and plays its accompanying instrument.  Great for shorter attention spans, and an awesome CD for the car.  It sparks lots of discussions about how each instrument is played, plus it's easy to sing along with.  You can find Wee Sing & Learn ABC book and CD here on Amazon.

    Wednesday, February 2, 2011

    Living Room Dance Party #4

    Day 3 of the Snowpocalypse is upon us, and Living Room Dance Parties are the only thing keeping us sane right now!  When preschooler and toddler boiling points were reaching their limit yesterday, I pulled this ace out and saved our morning.

    Short answer:  The Ivy Leaf Set by The Border Collies.  Press play and go nuts!

    Long answer:  The Border Collies are an Atlanta-based Celtic band who are supremely awesome.  I may be biased, since I've been lucky enough to be member twice (we keep moving, durn it!).  I got to collaborate and perform on their last album, Sticks and Stones, and The Ivy Leaf Set is one of my absolute favorite tunes on it.  It opens with a guitar line by the AMAZING Michael Robbins so exciting that the Dude can't help but start running in circles immediately.  Zac Leger is an emeritus member who came back to help record on a few tracks with the Aeolian pipes and whistles, and this showcases both.  Oh, and then there's a sweet fiddle that comes in near the end (yours truly:). You can get the album in hard copy or MP3 here on CD Baby.  The reason it's so great for a Living Room Dance Party is that it's a set of 3 tunes, so it changes things up right when a wee attention span starts to drift off.  LOVE IT.

    Oh, and did I mention I'm playing a show with them February 25th in Duluth, Georgia??  I'll give y'all more details as they come!

    Now a fun visual: - when I was in labor with WonderGirl and we were racing towards the hospital, we needed some racing music so we put this tune on - which was perfect!  To this day, I can't listen to it without hearing my husband shouting "Outta my way, my wife is havin' a baby!!"  just because he could.  Brings a smile to my face every time :)

    Tuesday, February 1, 2011

    A is the letter of the day!

    We've been hit by the Midwest weather insanity (or as one friend called it, the Bass Clef Of Doom ) so we started playing around.  The Dude doesn't know his alphabet yet, but he loves movies AND music, so WonderGirl and I combined the two and wrote a song about the letter A this afternoon. Maybe we'll even get around to the other letters!  But this was a fun start. I hope the Dude likes it!

    Piano hacking

    Here's a plus side to not owning a real piano - you'd NEVER do something like this to one!  In one of our stacks of teachery stickers from the dollar store (in the school supplies section) I found these two thumb stickers.  How perfect is this for middle C position??  Where do the thumbs go?  On the thumb, woohoo!

    Also, I used a dry erase marker when we first started to name some of the notes, but I kept losing it.  But we always have crayons everywhere - and they rub off cleanly on their own, or with a little Windex.  So now at the beginning of a lesson, WonderGirl gets the job of writing the names on the notes. It's good practice, and she gets the thrill of doing a little mom-sanctioned graffiti.  Do you have any hacks for the piano?

    Living Room Dance Party #3

    Anna mentioned to me that finding the right kind of classical dance-around-like-mad music can be tricky.  I completely agree - and for my next installment for the Living Room Dance Party, I picked a rip-roarin' good time!

    Who doesn't like Aaron Copland?  Is that even possible??  Everything he wrote - and I mean everything - makes my spirit sing.  Both of these ballet scores are must-haves.  Your kid won't recognize the Hoedown suite as the "Beef - it's what's for dinner" theme, they'll just love jumping around with the huge dynamic changes from super quiet to WOWEE LOUD.

    One of my favorites is the Buckaroo Holiday from Rodeo.  I found a video on Youtube of the Indiana University's working and dress rehearsals of it, and it's pretty neat to see the actual ballet moves.  I personally think they could benefit from some of our living room choreography, but it's impressive nonetheless :)

    I grew up listening to this recording from Leonard Slatkin and the St. Louis Symphony that gave me an early love and appreciation for Copland.  Another great recording is the Leonard Bernstein Copland collection - I heartily approve his tempi and style.

    This recording comes in a downloadable MP3 version as well as a regular CD, PLUS it also has Appalachian Spring AND Fanfare For the Common Man, both of which regularly make me weep.  Of course I'm already a seriously weepy person, but they are still absolutely amazing.  I'm saving those tunes for other Living Room Dance Parties as they are their own kind of awesome dance possibilities.  Now go get your rompin' and stompin' on!
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