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How To Know If Your Child’s Music Lessons Are Backwards?

The Joy of Music

One of the best parts of my job as a music teacher is witnessing the pure joy that music can bring. 

Here’s one of my young students who started her first lesson with me at the end of June.  We had a few lessons over the summer and then a break.  But she loves to practice.  This song was in our 3rd lesson and is her favorite.

Walking Before Talking?

As we ended the lesson, a student’s father said to me, “I took lessons in 2nd grade, but they started me with having to learn to read the notes and I just gave up.  I wish I had you as a teacher back then.”

Me too!

Back then, the only way to teach was reading notes first.  And, unless you were a childhood prodigy like Bach or Mozart, then, sorry!  Forget about any preschooler taking piano lessons!  You had to wait until you were at least 8 years old.

It’s like asking a child to walk before they can even talk!  It’s backwards!

Somehow, the child-centered approach to early childhood education never seemed to make it to the music education departments of Universities and conservatories.   

There is a natural growth cycle of human development.  And reading cannot come before speaking, ever.  So why expect it in a music lesson? Reading music notation cannot come before playing the instrument.

Everything In It’s Place

In the Musicolor Method™ curriculum, we have a strategically designed sequence of songs that build technique while disguised as fun sing-along songs.  There is a right time for everything.  We use several phases of Musicolor notation that is instantly readable and yet guides the student towards reading traditional music notation.  And we use a concept called direct-labelling, that comes from information design, to facilitate the entire process.

If your child is struggling with reading notes,  it’s probably not their fault.  It just may be out of sequence.

I Wanna Rock!

Recently, I met a father of a former student.  He was very complimentary about my students abilities.  He told me how his other daughter went to a big franchise music school that promised to teach kids to play in a rock band.  And yet when she came home each week, the father would ask her to play a song.

“Well I can’t remember.  And I only play one note in the whole song.”

That sounds more like playing a video game like Guitar Hero where you don’t actually learn the skills to play anything on your own.  You just play along with backing tracks or the teacher plays the real song while the kids get to play one note.  That doesn’t sound all that fun to me.  And judging from the father’s disappointment, not what he was expecting.  There was no organized method or curriculum.

As a teacher and a parent, I’ve never been a fan of this kind of teaching.  It’s more of an after-school activity to kill a few hours until dinner time.  Where’s the growth?  Where’s the mastery of skills?

Learning any new skills requires structure and organization.  Even with a million instructional videos on YouTube, how do you know what to watch next?  How do you have an organized path to mastery?

How Do You Know If Your Child’s Music Teacher is Effective?

Do you have your child in music lessons?  Do you see consistent growth every week?  Is your child able to play music alone without the backing tracks or duets and still sound like music?  Are they learning the life skills of focus, perseverance and practice?  If not, you may be experiencing the old-school, traditional method.  I call it walking before talking.

Send Your Teacher To This Unique Training

We can help.  Send your teacher to our training, you can learn more or sign up here.  We have a full curriculum to teach piano, guitar, ukulele, dulcimer, strumstick along with general music theory to children as young as 3!

Here’s a video of a 4 year old who worked with me for 9 months from the age of 3 1/2.

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Lesson Plan Ideas Mindset

Music Education And The Belief of “Control of Destiny”

As a parent, I have always wanted my son to have a music education.  It’s not that I want him to be a professional musician, it’s because

  • It’s so much fun and he loves it
  • the life skills accessible through music lessons

Brain Development and Music Education

There have been so many scientific studies and articles in the media over the last few years.  They have all proven the benefits of music education in brain development, personal growth, self esteem and success in later life.  

In my private teaching practice, “Life Skills Through Music” is clearly stated as my objective.

Part of this bundle of life skills is a “growth mindset.”  Growth mindset has become a buzzword in education and psychology these days.  It came from Professor Carol Dweck at Stanford who conducted a study of 5th graders in 1998.  

In the study, the students were given a challenging test.  At its completion, they were all told they did well.  

However, half the students were also told, “You must have worked really hard on this.”  The other half were also told, “You must be naturally smart.”

The difference in the next round of testing was startling.  

The kids who were praised for their effort and hard work, tried to live up to that praise and pushed themselves harder and longer.  The kids who were praised for their natural gifts, took less risks, and gave up quicker on challenging questions.   

All because of HOW they were praised.

In my training for music teachers, we discuss growth mindset with extensive resource videos.  So I was a little surprised to hear that the US Marine Corps are also using it.    

In Charles Duhigg’s best-selling book Smarter, Faster, Better: The Secrets of Being Productive, he tells the story of a young man with no ambition, drive, or motivation.  It seems this man was never made to do anything for himself.  Everything was given to him and after the structure of school, he had no idea of what to do with his life.  Somehow he found his way to the U.S. Marines which completely transforms him.

Locus of Control

Duhigg interviews the officer who reinvented basic training based on studies like Dweck’s that show the importance of an internal locus (point, position, or location) of control.  

U.S. Marines in Afghanistan
U.S. Marines in Afghanistan

“We were seeing much weaker applicants.  A lot of these kids didn’t just need discipline, they needed a mental makeover.  They’d never belonged to a sports team.  They’d never had a real job. They’d never done anything.  They didn’t even have the vocabulary for ambition.  They’d followed instructions their whole life.  This was a problem.  Because the Corps increasingly needed troops who could make independent decisions…We need extreme self starters.”

The officer discovered “studies the Marine Corps had conducted years earlier that showed the most successful Marines with a strong internal locus of control, a belief that they could influence their destiny through the choices they made.”

Duhigg continues:

“Locus of control has been a major topic of study within psychology since the 1950’s.  Researchers have found that people with an internal locus of control tend to praise or blame themselves for success or failure rather than assigning responsibility to things outside their influence.  A student with a strong internal locus of control for instance, will attribute good grades to hard work rather than natural smarts…

People with an internal locus of control tend to earn more money, have more friends, stay married longer and report greater professional success and satisfaction.  

In contrast, having an external locus of control, believing that your life is primarily influenced by events outside your control, is correlated with higher levels of stress, often because an individual perceives a situation as beyond his or her coping abilities.”

So what does this have to do with music education?

The entire process of learning an instrument with a caring teacher is like the perfect process of developing a strong internal locus of control:

  • Learning how to focus on playing a piece well through repeated practice
  • Linking cause and effect based on student choices
  • Persevering through difficult pieces – building grit!
  • Breaking down big problems into smaller manageable pieces
  • Trying different approaches in speed, rhythm, quality, etc.
  • Development of personal responsibility for practice
  • Public performance and presentation
  • Memorization skills

To name just a few.

Duhigg interviews Professor Dweck who says,

Carol S Dweck  - Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland

“Internal locus of control is a learned skill…Most of us learn it early in life. But some people’s sense of self-determination gets suppressed by how they grow up or experiences they’ve had.  They forget how much influence they can have on their own lives.  That’s when training is helpful.  Because if you put people in situations where they can practice feeling in control – where that internal locus of control is re-awakened, then people can start building habits that make them feel they are in charge of their own lives.  And the more they feel that way, the more they really are in control of themselves.”

Did you notice Dweck says practice?  

It’s as if she’s directly talking about music lessons!

And there’s some good news

The U.S. Congress recently passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) which has done away with the controversial No Child Left Behind.  So no more common core curriculum!  

Instead, the goal is for a well-rounded education.  And for the first time in 50 years, music is now a stand alone subject in that well-rounded mix.  

Hopefully, this means the demand for music teachers will increase.  Perhaps there will be a bit more respect, and most importantly, funding for programs like band, chorus, orchestra, and general music.  

Music is the practice of developing belief that we control our destiny through our actions.

So the next time your child brings home good grades on a test, don’t just say “Good job!” Take a moment to praise the effort.  And sign them up for music lessons! With some guidance, they just may turn out to be extreme self-starters.

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Lesson Plan Ideas Mindset Teaching Methods

How To Teach Music in The New Attention Economy

The Information Economy?

People sometimes say that we are living in the “information economy.”  I think that is only partially true.  Instead, I believe we are living in the attention economy.  Think about it.  There is nothing more precious than our attention — not time, money, or material possessions –and everyone wants a piece of it!

Mindfulness

There has recently been a lot of talk about mindfulness in the media,and I believe it’s exactly because of information overload.  We as a society need to stop and learn to filter out the signal from all the noise.

Fully Present

I specialize in teaching music to children.  One thing that I have done from the beginning is made it a point to be truly present while teaching or interacting with my students and their families.  At recitals, I give my unwavering focus to each child on the stage, to the point where I feel both emotionally and physically exhausted by the end of the performance.  It is as if I am willing their success through my 100% attention.

I didn’t realize that I was doing this until my wife mentioned it to me.  She said,

“I love to watch you at your recitals because you are completely there for your students.”

I believe that this total focus on each student in front of me is a big part of why I have such a strong rapport with them.

It is unfortunately so rare for a child to have that complete and total attention from any adult these days. Many parents are so distracted.  Not only is there the normal work/life balance, but now there is also the ubiquitous smartphone constantly beeping in the background.  Many children seem to never have full attention, and “act out,”  because negative attention is better than no attention at all.

An Audience of One

Each lesson is also a performance.  You have an audience of one, and you are fully engaged in listening, responding, and leading the student to new heights of understanding and ability.

What happens when you give a child your complete presence is remarkable.  You have complete trust;  you have a safe space where you can encourage, coax, or even cajole your student to move far beyond their previous internally-constructed obstacles.  When the student says, “I can’t do it”  you can say, “…yet!”  and they believe you.

I was so humbled to receive this comment from a parent:

“You have a unique capability to communicate, share and nurture enthusiasm for music…  you teach to the individual child.  You find a way to access each student where he/she is, and to find the music that touches him/her.  I have noticed with Mary* that (while she never wants to disappoint you) she does not fear judgment from you…you have created a safe place for the journey of learning.  While you gently push your kids, you are an incredibly patient and kind teacher.

Be Present

So the lesson is this: Stop trying to multi-task.  Be completely present, and it will enable you to move mountains and maybe even change the world.

*Student’s name has been changed

[box] This article originally appeared at the Music Teachers Helper blog.[/box]