This week, I came across a great article that explains some different ways our brains react to music. Almost every part of our brain reacts when we make or listen to music! If you've ever been curious about the benefits of music study, you can see some specifics here. The web page includes a diagram of the brain, showing how music affects each specific area. One interesting highlight: since music engages the part of our brain that regulates coordination and rhythm, Parkinson's patients who need help getting around can be prescribed music as a treatment! Explore more for yourself here.
- Emily McMullin
Article: Your Brain on Music, published in Pegasus, the magazine of the University of Central Florida.
I've been hearing from parents lately about their child not really getting into practice and if I have suggestions. I do!!
#1: Try and make practice part of the schedule. It could be the same time each day or just part of the daily flow. Do you usually eat dinner around the same time each night? When whoever is cooking, maybe that's the time to remind your student to go practice! Or, maybe it's in the middle of homework and your student needs a break. Physically get up from homework (at the proper stopping point) and switching that part of the brain off to work on practice helps tremendously. Not only will practice be a welcome thought, but also when practice is done, your student will be ready and fresh again for homework! If your evenings are crazy, how about practice first thing in the morning before jetting off to school?
#2: Remember WHY you are doing this! Why do you feel music is good for your student? If there's no practice (or very little) your student is going to get discouraged. Keep the momentum going at the beginning establishes that habit of practice. Even if it's only for 5 minutes. I often think getting TO the instrument is the hardest part. It's kind of like working out, once you get to your mat or to the gym, you feel better working out! Just get to your instrument- make the effort, and the rewards will show themselves.
#3: Need a little incentive? This is part of the reason we begin Music Ball when we do!! (we are kinda smart sometimes). We like to wait a few weeks in and then throw in the super fun, competitive game of Music Ball. Students are put on teams according to their teacher and then we "play" against each other. Honestly, all you will have to say at home is "How's your team doing?", "Make sure you mark your practice so your teacher can see it!" , and I promise your student might go running to their instrument!! Then, check out the weekly newsletter each week- save the URL for Music Ball (only available to students) and check in on it at the beginning of each week. Viola! You're golden! Bonus point for not even saying "go practice!".
Many of my students this semester are brand new to piano. Several are the very first in their family to ever try playing an instrument! I love seeing the fresh waves of excitement that are always sparked at the beginning of a musical journey, and I’m not surprised that parents love seeing it too.
If you’re a parent with children in music lessons, you probably remember the nervous energy, beaming post-lesson faces, and growing self-assurance of the early days. You may be in that phase yourself! My goal today is to answer some questions I’ve heard recently from new-to-music parents.
How often should my child practice?
Throughout the journey of playing an instrument, consistency is vital to the learning process. At the very beginning, your child is learning a habit of daily practice that will be essential to their progress later. Practicing every day is a good goal – your teacher can give you a realistic expectation for daily practice session length.
Should I buy a real piano?
This is a tricky one, since every family’s situation is different. The best option for piano practice is an acoustic piano. If your family has access to one, your child should be practicing on it. If you don’t have one, consider making the investment. Pianos can be cheaper than you think, and there’s nothing wrong with purchasing a used piano! Talk with your teacher if you have questions about purchasing a piano that’s right for your budget.
If an acoustic piano is simply not an option, beginning students can still progress while practicing on an electric keyboard. The ideal keyboard will be as similar to an acoustic piano as possible – look for one with weighted keys. However, as your child progresses further, they will need to begin practicing on an acoustic piano.
My child doesn’t seem to be getting better lately. Should we keep taking lessons?
I’ve heard so many variations of this question, and it’s completely understandable. Playing an instrument requires a blend of so many different physical and mental skills. Every child acquires these skills at totally different rates! This means that progress happens slowly and then more quickly in cycles over time.
If your child is practicing consistently and still doesn’t seem to be making progress, don’t quit! They are probably in the process of incorporating a new mental or physical skill into their playing. Given time, those skills will “click” and a new era of progression will begin. It may also be that your child needs a new practice strategy. What works well in one season of growth may not always transfer perfectly to the next. Talk to your teacher about progression – no one knows more about your child’s musical growth than their teacher!
I’m not a musician. What’s the best way for me to support my child taking lessons?
I love hearing this question. It’s a sincere reminder of how deeply parents care about their children’s success. If you are asking this question, you’ve already got the right attitude!
One of the best ways parents can help their children is by giving gentle practice reminders. Young children can often forget to practice, and parents are in a great position to give reminders until the habit is established. Framing practice as an exciting after-school activity can keep children from dreading it as a chore.
Every child is different, and every parent can support their child in different ways. Specific encouragements or rewards could be great for one child and useless for another. Talk to your teacher about your child’s practice habits and overall attitude towards the instrument. You both can work out a strategy that’s right for your child’s temperament and experience level.
What questions did you have when your child first started lessons? Let us know in the comments!
In the spring of 2022, we threw out a huge campaign to get feedback on teachers and how parents/students were doing at Music SO Simple. I will say that most of the answers were right on point and I expected our feedback. For the most part, all of it was amazing!! I won't lie (and you know me better than that anyways), there were some things we needed to improve on. But, isn't that normal? We had about half of the families answer the survey. Below are the results.
When asked these questions, here is the percentage of the highest answer:
My child's teacher begins & ends on time for his/her lessons. 85.2% said yes
My child and teacher have a good relationship and work well together. 93.4% said yes
My child’s teacher is able to meet the particular learning needs of my child. 80.3% said yes
I believe my teacher has a high level of professionalism. 88.5% said yes
I feel like Music So Simple has a good reputation. 89.1% said yes
Here are some areas we want to improve on according to the survey:
What do you feel are your teacher’s strengths? Here are some awesome responses:
Lastly, on the survey were 5 important questions. I have copied and pasted them here!!
We LOVE that everyone refers friends!! That's honestly where we want new students to come from!!
One of my summer projects was to update our Music SO Simple School Policies. We had created our policies when we had 40 students 7 years ago. Needless to say, we are at a little over 200 students currently and they needed a freshening up!
I have attached a link to our new policy below, but I'm going to bullet point some of the main things to remember and let you know what has changed.
Our policies will need to be signed along with our photo release by August 31. This form will need to be filled out for all students before they can attend their first lesson of the school year! Access it below:
Borrowed from an online group- these are absolutely the best things about teaching music to our children!
"One of my friends asked "Why do you pay so much money for your kid to play the piano”? Well I have a confession to make; I don't pay for my kid to play the piano. Personally, I couldn't care less about what instrument they play.
So, what am I paying for?
I could go on but, to be short, I don't pay for piano playing; I pay for the opportunities that learning to play provides my kid with to develop attributes that will serve her well throughout her life and give her the opportunity to bless the lives of others.
From what I have seen so far I think it is a great investment!"
We always begin each new year with new goals or resolutions. The past couple of years, we really have just been trying to survive and "keep normal" as much as possible. And, have you counted how many times you have said, "I'm over it!" in a week? We all are. This pandemic just keeps throwing us curve balls- once we feel like we are reaching some sort of "normal", another wave comes through. It's nice to be making history, but I think I've had enough. So, I'm going to make some goals that force me to think further than just a few weeks out. Are you ready? Ha, me too.
Some of you know that my parents have a home in Agia Anna, Evia, Greece (where my father grew up), and we love going every couple of years. All was just amazing.! We enjoyed time with my parents and getting sun, sleep, and beach. But our amazing three-week trip in Greece came to a screeching halt a few days early because of the spreading wild fires.
The fires had been happening most of the week. Up till Wednesday, we were not really affected. But Wednesday late night, we had gone out for drinks with some friends at a nearby bar, and ash was falling from the sky.
Thursday morning, around 7:15am, Planes were flying non-stop and it woke me up. I got my mom up and we watched for a while, but then we went back to sleep. The air was real cloudy and smoky, but again, the fires were far off. After lunch that day, they had evacuated the "camping" area. My dad and Brian went up to the village and filled the car with gas and got more gas for the boat- all "just in case". We had put passports & money in a ziplock bag and packed up a couple of things, but when my Dad and Brian came back, they had told us that they went to look at the fires and they were nowhere close- 30 minutes plus from the village. No one was worried at all. We packed up and went to the beach to enjoy the evening. It was still smoky out, but the kids enjoyed a night of kayaking and playing with the jellyfish. (they don't sting)
Our friends had come down and they were going to stay at the beach that evening. So, they ran (drove, really) up to the village to grab their stuff while we changed for dinner. By this time, it's Thursday evening around 10ish, our normal dinner time. They came back and we went out for dinner.
At dinner, the lights in the beach village began to flicker on and off. Right as they brought our food, we lost all power at the beach. We packed up our food (and carafe of wine...still not super worried) and walked back to the house where his parents and my parents were watching the flames get closer and closer. Their family made the decision to get in the car and drive to Monduthi, a neighboring village through back roads. That was not an option for us. Not only did we not know the back roads, but we didn't want to be stuck on the mountain with the fires. We also had my aunt, uncle, and 3 cousins we needed to factor in.
Around 11:30pm, the fires came down so fast. We grabbed blankets, towels, masks, and our "go" bags and ran to the beach. My Dad and Brian ran back up to move the car out from under the house to the beach, where everyone had parked their cars. My dad did try to run back to the house again because he had left money there, but Brian pretty much pinned him down and didn't let him go. It was too late. Flames were everywhere, winds were blowing, it had to be at least 130 degrees, and flames were flying and landing all around us. We huddle together under 2 blankets and just prayed. Explosions were happening all around us. The fires never made it to the beach- if they had, I don't want to think about what would have happened to all of those cars parked. We could not get to the boat because the ocean was super rough. Also, because it wasn't just the 6 of us, it was 12 (!!), there's no way the boat would have held us all.
I think the fires started to wind down around 4 am....a few times Brian and my dad tried to go check on the house, but they couldn't get very far. By 5ish, my parents went back to the house which was still standing and basically okay inside. It did smell of smoke, but they both collapsed on the sofas. We went up around 6:15am, and tried to sleep a bit as well. At least we were out of the ash and winds. We had no power, no water.
Fast forward to about Friday 1pm- my parents left while we slept to check things out. There was a police officer in the village that said roads were open to Halkida (the capital of the island) and Athens if we left asap. My grandparents home was still standing, but about a 1/3 of the village was wiped out. We collectively decided to pack our things and get in the cars and try to head out.
7 of us in a Toyota Rav4, and 5 in a little Ford. Many roads were closed and it took us about 7 hours to get to Athens- through traffic, back roads, and even a ferry. Once we got close to my cousins home in Athens, they were in one car to their house, and we went on to the airport.
Friday 9:30pm: We got out COVID tests done, and somehow persuaded both of my parents to leave with us. My siblings got us 6 tickets to leave Saturday morning.
Friday 11:30pm: We got hotel rooms to take a shower and lay down for a bit.
Saturday 6am: we headed back to the airport and got on a plane.
The Pandemic has taught us so many things about what is important to us. This situation has taken it a step further for me. I am grateful for every single day we have on this earth. You never know when it will be your last. I'm also trying to make more time for the important things in my life- my husband, my kids, my family. We also could not have gotten through this without the amazing support we had in Dallas helping us through this- getting us flights back home, looking at road closures, and literally just being supportive and praying. My cell phone became our life line to getting out. Something was pulling me to be in Greece this summer. I needed to get away and unwind with my family. But, I think the real reason was one so much bigger than I will ever understand.
Here's my crazy story on my blue piano.
One night, I was scrolling through Instagram and came across a Steinway & Sons post about a special Boston upright that was designed my Alicia Keys. I was stunned and all googlie eyes at this piano!! It was simply stunning. Well, it was simply stunning. I found myself thinking about it for a while- like a year. When you think about things for that long...well, maybe you need to do something about it?
So, keep in mind, we are in the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic. But, things are going really well at the studio. By February, a lot of our students are moving away from virtual lessons and starting to come back into the studio. But we were starting to be out of room. The smartest thing for me to do is to add another piano room. The only place we really had room to use was my office, and I was not really excited about that. In the past, I had taught where I worked and I would look over at my pile on my desk and think about the work I needed to do while I was teaching. I liked the separation of leaving my office to go into another space to teach. I wasn't sure how I was going to make this work, but knew I would be willing to if it was a cool piano.
So, I thought, maybe a Steinway upright? This would be all mine. How cool would that be? But, as beautiful as those were, I couldn't get the Alicia Keys piano out of my mind. I think I wanted something with a little more pop!
After talking with the guys at Steinway Hall- Dallas, they had a guy who painted pianos for them. He's not just a normal painter, like he really knew what he was doing to paint a piano. So, I got to work on picking out colors and putting things in motion.
Once I got swatches, I took them to my office to check out the color scheme:
So, I anticipated having this piano by the beginning of April. We began moving things around at the studio. Ms. Gayle needed to have a space to work at in the front of the studio rather than in my office where I would be teaching.
The feeling of seeing the Steinway delivery truck in the parking lot was so amazing!!
It seems absolutely crazy that I am this excited about a blue piano. But, we have learned a lot from this pandemic. We appreciate the little things. This piano is so fun to play and it puts off such a fun energy with my students. They absolutely LOVE playing it!! Their faces light up! I'm so thrilled with this new addition and very grateful for being able to buy a blue piano. I'm in love and I'm beyond blessed!
for a little more on the colors and the "pop", check out the video below. I didn't have much of a voice when I filmed this, but I was so excited!!
We are wanting to encourage our students to listen to different and important musical works.
Your Assignment: Listen to the link below, share with your family, and add comments to let us know what you think!
This one is Mendelssohn's Songs Without Words: Spring Song
Time Period: Romantic, 1844
Originally written for solo piano, here is a lovely version with clarinet playing the melody. The second link is a solo piano version. Can you imagine lots of birds, butterflies, bees, & flowers swaying in the breeze?