Monday, January 30, 2012

Music theory on the web

Is there anything Pinterest cannot do??  I've found the most amazing recipes, activities for my kids and so much more - and now I'm finding some really fantastic music education gems!  I saw a link to the The Music Interactive and was amazed at the games they have - most of them for free!  There is a note name recognition that was cute and simple enough that my five-year-old had a blast playing it.

A rhythm matching game for strengthening those ears -again, very accessible for my kindergartner and up.

A note recognition game called Staff Wars that was tricky enough that it pushed me to my limit (I made it to level 7 :)

Rhythm math:

And a ton more!  You'll need to register on their forum, but then you can then download the games to your own computer for any time fun. I also found this site that has some of them - plus others - web-based and ready to play now.  I've seen and played with a lot of music theory computer games and these are absolutely fabulous!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Bow arm ideas

Months and months ago, Desiree asked:

I was just practing with Lizeth yesterday and I used the ribbon on her violin. I've noticed that she uses her shoulder and not just her elbow. Do you have any videos or visual ideas I have use to show her about the proper way to move the bow. Its especially hard since I don't play the violin myself.
I have put it off long enough, and since WonderGirl is home sick, I had time to beg her to be my model so I could SHOW what I mean.  Sometimes words just get in the way.  First, find a wall.

Have the student stand at a slight angle, with their right ride touching the wall and the other side at a 45ish degree away from the wall.

Their bow arm, from the shoulder to the elbow, should be touching the wall completely.  Then, have the student play open strings (A is best to start with), but their elbow and entire arm cannot come away from the wall.

They may try to pull the shoulder so the elbow swings away and bumps back into the wall, but gently touch/hold their arm just above the elbow to help their body understand.  Their elbow will begin to kick move the right way.  The next problem may be their bow is still sliding around the string - remind them that it is their wrist's job to help keep it straight.

It's not best to have them practice this way the entire lesson, but it's a great way to remind the body of how playing with a straight bow feels.  Come back to it from time to time as a refresher for older students too.

Also, as I've said before, I use a Bow Right with WonderGirl.  At first I was nervous that I was cheating, but I called my veteran violin teaching aunt and confessed to her, and she laughed and told me to use ANYthing that made it easier for WG to play and enjoy the violin.

I found a video someone made of a student playing with a Bow Right.  As you can see, it doesn't restrict them totally - they can still play with their elbow, but they tap into the device when they do and it reminds them to straighten out.

I grew up with devices my mom invented - from popsicle sticks to pencils rubber-banded to the violin in about the same way.  I've never been as good at makingthem, and since we use the Bow Right daily, it is easy to take on and off and store.  

Also - this is something I've never seen before -the video description says it's a Bow Right but it's not a generation I'm familiar with:

My sincere apologies to Desiree for my tardiness, and my thanks to WG for being my model despite feeling less than tip-top :)  If you have any other ideas, please share them with us in the comments!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Music experiments: perfect pitch

Last week I was busy doing something domestic, when I heard some clinking glass in the kitchen.  I peeked in to see what was going on, and saw this:

Thanks to Bill Nye the Science Guy, WonderGirl has been turning into a regular scientist.  I'm not complaining!  She was doing a pitch experiment that was seriously impressive and simple.  I grabbed the camera and started asking questions.
 To try this, you'll need:
2 glasses
a separate cup/pitcher of water
a metal utensil (she used a spoon)

Fill one glass halfway with water, then put less in the other glass.

 Tap on both glasses to hear the pitch of both.  Does the less full glass sound higher or lower than the other?  Then slowly fill the second glass, testing periodically by tapping, until both glasses are the same pitch.

 Then grab another spoon and start jamming out on both glasses.

Last step - wipe up the mess :)  What a fabulous, quick experiment!  Thanks, WG and Bill Nye!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sunday inspiration: How Music Warps Our Minds

This photo was taken by photographer Jack Bradley and depicts the exact moment this boy, Harold Whittles, hears for the very first time ever. The doctor treating him has just placed an earpiece in his left ear. Date unknown. 

I read a very interesting interview with Don Campbell, one of the authors of Healing at the Speed of Sound.  It covers the connection between music and the brain and body.  Head on over to Salon to read the whole article. I'll just share one extra-treblemaker-centric part:

From a neurological perspective, why is it important to listen to and play music from an early age?The more participation there is with music early on — through singing and movement — the more it simultaneously activates multiple levels of the brain. If you look at the corpus callosum [of someone who plays music] there are more connections made between right and left sides. A child who is moving, dancing and singing learns coordination between their eye, ear and sound early on. And [the experience of participating in music education] helps integrate the social, the emotional and the real context of what we’re learning. There are studies that show children who play music have higher SAT scores, that learning to control rhythm and tempo not only help them get along with others but plants seeds for similar advantages when we get much older.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Wii Music

Do you have Wii Music?  When the husband convinced me to let him get a Wii he found a few me-friendly games.  I'm terrible at most regular video games, but we have a few gems, like Wii Fit, Nickelodeon Fit, and  Rock Band.  I like games I can do with WonderGirl, and Wii Music is a perfect fit.  Especially on Monday night when there was an hour before bedtime and I was about to lose my mind - it just flew by!

There's a conducting game that is fabulous for not only rhythm but dynamics, an ear training game that gets pretty tricky, but starts out at WG level, a handbell game, jam sessions... okay, just watch the trailer:

Fun rhythmic fun.  4 stars in my book.. or 5, I don't have a set scale for these sort of things.

We also do Rock Band for fun - and if you haven't seen it, this is WG doing her thing to Yellow Submarine.  I may be her mom, but I think I can rightfully say this is totally epic:

So check out Wii Music for some good family fun!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Super-de-Duplo treblemaker style

 I was thrilled to be alerted to this nifty rhythm game (thanks Desiree!) and did it immediately.  I just realized I hadn't posted any of it yet!

 The original site was kind enough to have free printables for the game, but I can't figure out my printer so I used some mailing labels and a pen.  I did 3/4 and 4/4 time, and then drew a few quarter notes, half notes, dotted half notes and a whole note.
 I asked WonderGirl to build me a measure based on the time signature, or I'd start one and she had to add the remaining beats.  Or I made one all wrong and had her fix it for me.

Cool thing is, they are still on the Duplos, and the Duplos are ALWAYS out.  So every now and then I'll tell her to dig in the toy box, find the rhythm ones and build me a measure.  Not too shabby of a toy to have laying about.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Practicing made easy

We all have that ideal, right?  Our cherubic child waltzes to the piano without a single reminder from us and spends the next hour practicing their pieces section by section until they are perfect.  It's not a bad goal, but we have to understand learning to practice takes practice.  I have my masters in performance and I still have trouble practicing!  But aside from raising our voice and losing it when they are being distracted and unproductive, what do you do?

Mix it up!  Get them playing without them realizing they are actually learning!  There will be days where they are curious and focused, but for the days they aren't, here's a list of ideas to bookmark and use on the fly.  I'll be adding to them as I come up with them (and as you suggest your winning tricks!)

Check it.  Give a checklist of pieces to play with boxes to mark off, not a set time.  Visually they feel accomplished and they get everything done faster without the whine.  Other variations are to have them make a checklist of what they played and show you afterward (you can give them boundaries - such as to pick at least 5 songs, etc.)

Something different.  Take a vacation from their normal music and give them something new, easy and familiar to play.  You can download tons of fun free sheet music on the web, including here.  They take a break from their regular music but they are exercising their sight reading and self-teaching muscles!

Beat the clock!  Give them a timer - something they can see.  If it's short, you can see if they can play everything before the timer runs out.

Randomizer.  Put the things you want them to play - pieces or individual sections of a piece on slips of paper and then into a hat.  When they've played everything, practice time is done!

Make a fort!  Have the help you build a fort big enough to be able to play in and send them in.  It's labor intensive, but a treat for them - you can even use it as an incentive i.e.:  "If you do your chores, play really well today, etc., tomorrow you get to have a music fort!"

Have a snack.  Don't have a lot of time, patience, etc.?  Practicing doesn't always have to be a huge feast of time - some days it's just best to have a lite day - a practice snack.  Play something just once, just do a few favorite review songs, etc.  Wouldn't you prefer them to got at least some music in than nothing?  Any time invested regularly helps!

Change of scenery.  If your child plays a portable instrument, send them into the bathroom so they can see themselves and enjoy the acoustics.  Or outside if the day is nice.

Record it.  Give them a tape recorder (does anyone still have one??) or another kind of recording device (a smartphone iPod touch, probably) .  Designate a piece for them to record, with the instruction that they'll be playing the recording for you or the whole family over dinner.  The goal is to get it as clean and mistake-free as possible.

Stick it.  Give them a sheet of stickers and they get to put one on themselves for every time they play a certain something - a hard section, a review piece, etc.  Take a picture of the creative aftermath!

Skype.  One thing WG loves is showing her Gamma what she can do, so the promise of getting to play something on Skype for her motivates her to get something polished.  Plus Gamma cheers SUPER LOUD.    It's very gratifying.

Sweeten the deal.  My favorite teaching tool is to have them earn a treat from a good lesson or practice session. My go-to is to put 5 pieces of candy, pretzels, etc. on a table where they can see it, and they can have all of them at the end.  But if they lollygag, get up or act out, I silently walk over and eat one then go back to what I was doing.  They can have whatever is left, and if it's a tough day, at least I got a treat in me to cheer me up :)

Put on a show.  Make a makeshift stage out of a blanket to stand on, and have your child assemble an audience of toys.

Accessorize.  I LOVE my friend Becca's awesome post she did for us on the power of beads as a motivating tool and how adaptable it is.  At the end of good practicing and lessons, they also have something tangible to show just how much work they did.

Reward them.  We won't call it bribery because it is really them earning something by working.  I have a friend who gives his kids a quarter for practicing - he says it is because chores are jobs that are expected they do to contribute to the family and those are unpaid, but practicing is something extra.  And his kids have great discipline and are sweet as can be, so I'm sold!  Some days WG really wants to play a certain game or go somewhere fun or do some craft together - and I say she can earn it after music lessons.  Works every time.

Ask them.  What would they like to do?  When a child feels they have control over their situation, they take ownership and are more self-motivated.  And chances are, your creative child probably has some great ideas just right for their learning style.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

I'm here! I'm here!

the carnage post-Christmas morning
Are you recovering from the whirlwind that was the end of the year?  Do you have a few New Year's resolutions (like me) about being more consistent with music lessons and practicing?  Well, I fit both of those - plus I resolve to blog more consistently too!

My wedding anniversary is coming up this weekend (number 7!) and it also marks the first anniversary of a conversation I had with my husband on the way home from a wee anniversary jaunt to Iowa (there's a sushi place with a roll that is worth the 3 hour drive, along with some wonderful family to boot.)  As we drove through the frozen Midwest I was talking about blogging and motherhood - and trying to figure out how (and if) I'd teach my own kids after a career of only teaching other people's kids.

Then, as usual, my husband had the perfect solution.  Combine them all together!  He even had the title of the blog figured out too.  He's truly the brains of this operation!  We got home (after a flat tire in the middle of nowhere, of course!) and this blog was born.  I started teaching WonderGirl and shared what I knew plus what I was learning.

Now, every year for our anniversary I make a video for my husband.  I take pictures and videos as much as possible during the year and put them all together to help us remember our blessings from the past year.  As I was making this year's video, I was kind of surprised by how much I had of music in our home.  I've been a professional musician since before the beginning of our marriage and my husband already played a few instruments, but by teaching the violin and piano to WG, the whole family became more musical.  We started playing more together, singing more, and we even made a Christmas album!  The anniversary video is full of us making music, without intending to.

Also, I look at how we started the year - I was too scared to teach WG violin, but emboldened  by teaching her piano, I gave it a shot, and we're ending the year with her already on O Come Little Children!  (for non-Suzuki folk, that's the 5th song in book one!)  I'm feeling incredibly blessed, and I'm lucky enough to have others on the same journey sharing their stories too.  Thank you for listening and giving me the opportunity to grow!

I'll leave you with the video if you want to watch.  And also with a disclaimer - DON'T PLAY WITH FIREWORKS IN YOUR BASEMENT.  I do not advocate it.  I can say from personal knowledge that I now know where our smoke alarm is.

Year 7 from Reva Paget on Vimeo.

Have a musical day!
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