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How Open-Minded Are You as a Music Teacher?

“A mind is like a parachute. It doesn’t work if it is not open.” -Frank Zappa

How open-minded are you?

It’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t say they’re open-minded.  But in reality, it seems very few teachers are.

Look at the glacial pace of change in education across the world.  Every other field is experiencing massive disruption and great leaps forward due to the embrace of new ideas, new ways of doing things, and new technology.

This is costing our very livelihoods as educators.  In school systems, music and arts are being cut everywhere- it’s seen as non-essential.  For those lucky enough to keep a classroom music teaching job, they are now being asked to cover lunchroom duties or schoolyard monitoring- non-teaching administrative functions!

And in private lessons, it’s not much better.

Students are looking to learn to play music because they listen to it everywhere.  But when they go to their first lesson, they are given complicated, boring exercises only useful for prodigies.  It’s no wonder so many students walk right out to never return!

The problem is that many of these old guard teachers believe that there’s only one way to teach.  It’s a traditional model that has lasted for hundreds of years! Just think of it, these traditional methods are the same method books that were being used when we were wearing wigs!

It’s a big disconnect.

Everywhere we turn, there’s music.  Every hip new restaurant has a hip new playlist.  Every retail store has a designed music ambiance. Even political candidates have a playlist.  Did you see the recent NY Times article that details each Presidential hopeful and their playlists?  Fascinating.

And yet, so many teachers can’t seem to deliver lessons that connect with the continued love and enthusiasm for music.

So what’s the solution?

Give the people what they want.

And that begins with opening the minds of music teachers.

I’ve been interviewing teachers for my school.  One of the questions I always ask is,

“What are you listening to these days?”

It’s a simple question, but if you ask many music teachers, it seems their playlists got stuck on their old Victrola.

It’s fascinating how many say they are open-minded, but upon further digging, it’s like they could be living in 1819, not 2019.

A simple way to start cracking open the door of your mind is to start listening to other types of music.

I read on another music teacher forum recently a teacher saying, “I have no time to listen to music!”

How sad.

If music has lost its spark for you, how can you light the candle of your student?

I encourage you to reinvigorate your musical life.  Listen wide, deep, and often. Subscribe to streaming services.  Did you realize how much music is available in your pocket?

And if you need some inspiration, here’s some recent listening according to my playlist history:

  • Bomba Estereo – Ayo
  • Harry Belafonte – Angelina
  • Eric Whitacre  – Lux Arumque
  • U2 – Sunday Bloody Sunday
  • Jeff Beck – Goodbye Pork Pie Hat
  • Louis Vierne – Messe Solennelle – Kyrie
  • Steel Pulse – Earth Crisis
  • Louis Prima – I Wanna Be Like You
  • Johnny Cash – I’ve Been Everywhere
  • Sebastian Yatra – Un Año
  • MC5 – Kick Out The Jams
  • Santana – Soul Sacrifice from Woodstock
  • Pedro Capo & Farruko – Calma remix
  • Benjamin Britten – Peter Grimes

Listen to something different today.

I’ve been mentoring music teachers and business owners for years.  I have a few openings.  If you’d like to book a free breakthrough call with me, click here.

It’ll be the best 45 minutes you’ve ever spent on your business.  It’s free.

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Carol’s Students Learn Faster and Have More Fun With Color

Though she had already been working with young music students, Carol found that it was often difficult to transition them from early childhood classes to learning to read and play instruments. That’s when she came across the idea of using color as learning scaffolding and The Musicolor Method Masterclass.

Carol has since adapted the Musicolor Method to work with her youngest preschool students, as well as some of the elementary school kids. She loves how they take to color and can learn to play faster and with more fun.

Carol Koczo
Manassas, VA

First instrument: Piano
Age I started playing music: 8
Other instruments: Voice
Number of years teaching: 35+
Number of current students: 15 

Interviewer: Christy Goldfeder

Currently listening to:

All kinds of music: pop, Broadway, classical.

I’ve taught music as a side job for years

Many times, I was also involved in choral groups. I have always been involved in music in some capacity. For a long time, I might have just one music student while I was working outside the home.

I got really interested in History Preservation, and I got a degree in it, but it didn’t really help me get into the workforce. I kind of fell back into music again and started focusing on it more.

Right now, I teach all levels

I know one of Andrew’s philosophies is to focus your attention on one set of students.

For a while, I has a school like that. I had been focusing mostly on the 8-12 year olds.

When I started as a private contractor with Take Lessons, it opened the door to any age from as young as 5 to 60. That kind of changes with teaching also. In some ways, it makes it more challenging and a little harder to keep track of who is where and when.

I wanted to focus more on younger students.

I started searching for something to make it easier for me to teach younger students, because they were so challenging. I hadn’t really taught that age before. So, that is what led me to The Musicolor Method Masterclass.

I spent a lot of time looking at and reading some of his articles about his philosophy and his approach.

I was searching for something that would help me, and I think it was during those articles I began thinking this may be something I am interested in.

I just knew it. It was a gut feeling that this was something that I thought I could work with, I liked the overall approach, the structuring of the program. I think it was, you know, I think I just thought this is pretty neat. So I am going to jump out of my box and try it.

I started using the color for different ages

I started using it with 8 year olds and even one of my 12 year old students. I adapted The Musicolor Method to different ages. Most everyone of them really took to the color really quickly. It was like “Oh, that’s easy. I can identify that the red is C and I can look at it and match colors.”

It was so easy for the kids, and I kind of thought they would take to it easily.

Prior to finding The Musicolor Method, a lot of what I had seen with the color was connected to rhythm—like with Boomwhacker sticks. They’re long tubes, and what you can do is use them for counting and for music.

That is another reason why I decided to take The Musicolor Method Masterclass. I realized that Andrew had actually put color into a piano format and he had evolved it so that we could use both hands.

The business lessons helped me think differently about my teaching

I am an analytical person. I think reading some of his thoughts, how he wanted to approach and structure the program and the philosophy behind it was beneficial. It helped me organize and look at my teaching in a different way.

I noticed right away that the program was very organized. Very thoughtful in the way in which he put together his program. I did like the approach overall.

It’s been well worth the investment

I know he has added things since I took the Masterclass, for example, when to buy your first piano and a few other things. All of this is helpful.

He created the whole package. He is always making changes too, and he is always presenting information differently. I couldn’t quite believe how much information and work he had put into his program. It’s been worth the investment.

Overall, I am a big fan.

Another thing that I liked that I haven’t done, is I like that he included some of the other string instruments in the program. It’s something that’s just a little different for younger students to be exposed to. I like that the information is available if I do want to use it.

I know this is a complicated process, but I am very pleased with everything he has done and continues to do. I am glad I did it.

Why I’d recommend The Musicolor Method Masterclass

I never realized when I was taking piano that it was that hard to teach. There have been a few times that I have looked at students and said, “Hmm. How did I learn this?” I think it is harder to teach than one would think.

I think Andrew’s approach has made it easier. You don’t have to use so many words, you rely more on the visuals.

There are a lot of layers to the Musicolor Method. Andrew has put a lot of thinking into, how and when you want to bring a certain idea into the lessons.

I think putting all this together into this format has been really good. I don’t think I could have done it.

Learn more about the Musicolor Masterclass here

Read Carol’s product review of The Musicolor Method Masterclass on Tim Topham’s website 

Click here to see Carol’s profile

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My interview about the Musicolor Method on Tim Topham’s podcast

I was recently interviewed on the influential Creative Piano Teacher podcast with Tim Topham. Tim’s a wonderful educator who has a very active blog, podcast, and a membership site. If you’re a teacher and never heard of him, you’re in for a treat.

In the interview, I discuss

  • How and why I decided to create a method book
  • How color is used in the method
  • Why the Musicolor Method starts with vertical notation
  • How it avoids position or finger number based thinking
  • My 7 core principles of music teaching
  • Which type of student this method is particularly suited to

I also talk about a special offer on our newly updated Musicolor Masterclass

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Anne Reinvented Her Career With The Perfect Part-Time Piano School

After a long recovery from surgery, Anne was wondering if she would ever be able to have the stamina and drive to teach music again. She reconnected to her love of early childhood education, and her passion for playing, when she came across the Musicolor Method.

Now, Anne has reinvented herself as a private music teacher to preschool and elementary age children. She’s got a thriving, part-time business with a waiting list of eager students.


Anne Vardanega
Sydney, Australia

First instrument: Piano
Age I started playing music: 7
Number of years teaching: 38
Number of students before The Musicolor Method: 3-4
Number of current students: 14, plus waiting list

Interviewer: Christy Goldfeder

Currently listening to:

Bohemian Rhapsody movie soundtrack.

I’ve loved music since childhood

I started learning piano at 7 years old. I studied for 5 years, and I took exams for it in high school for what we call here in Australia, the HSC. In the U.S., I suppose you would call it your high school graduation.

I didn’t actually think I was clever enough to study music to graduate from high school. But I was encouraged by an inspiring and dedicated teacher who told me that I could do it.

I always knew I wanted to be a teacher

At University, I studied early childhood education, and I included music in my teaching studies.

I was actually a musicology major. I didn’t have to actually do a performance, but I had to do musicology arranging and composing. I absolutely loved it.

Professionally, I focused on classroom music. I played the piano, the guitar and sang with my students.

I had my son when I was 30. I taught early childhood music classes with him. He was able to come along when he was 2-5 years old.

My son’s early music lessons were a disaster

He started at age 4 with the piano, and it really didn’t work. At that time, there didn’t seem to be childhood classes that bridged early music and formal lessons. If he had the Musicolor Method back then, he would have loved it.

My son started studying guitar in school. Now, he and his wife are professional musicians living in New York.

I started performing later in life—teaching was always first

My son inspired me to learn bass guitar and voice and start performing in my 40’s. I was the bass player, backup singer, and music director of the church.

When my son was older, I got a job at his school teaching High School music and as the performing arts convenor. It was a role that I loved.

I was helping students perform for their exams, their performances and prepare for their graduation. At the end of the year they were doing performances.

My son and his fiancee (now wife) said, “Why don’t you start off because you have your early childhood background, your general education background. Why don’t you start teaching piano?” So I taught Kinder Music and Music Theory after the school year was over.

The Musicolor Method created the next phase of my career

I was recovering from hip replacement surgery, and I was actually feeling quite down and out. I was thinking that I might not be able to teach any more.

Andrew contacted me through LinkedIn, and he sent me information about his program.

As a parent and a teacher, I already knew there was a gap for young musicians. That’s what I had experienced with taking my son to piano lessons at age 4 – they were way too hard and really turned him off learning piano.

I could see the value in the Musicolor Method right away.

Plus, I have always loved color. If I showed you around my house see you got  bright color paintings. The creative use of color in the Musicolor Method really appealed to me too. And  it has been fantastic.

The kids are engaged and excited by the colors

I just loved the colors, and the children took to it straight away. My students started singing a lot more, which appealed to me as an early childhood teacher.

We love singing songs and they loved collecting the ribbons. I made a fun folder for them. We could go slowly through it, it didn’t matter how long a child had to stay. I could slowly go with the child depending on how they were developing.

It bridges beautifully with the early childhood years of music with 3-4 year olds. It’s the perfect solution until they’re a little older and can go on to reading music.

I believe there are still not a whole lot of good resources that bridge that Kinder music phase in young children. A lot of books have young students playing on the black keys. I do utilize that as one tool for visualizing different positions on the piano, but it gets boring, and it is not as creative as the colors.

The colors inspire creativity and compositions

I do integrate composition a lot in my lessons as well because the colors make it so easy for the children to write something. I am putting together a book actually, to show Andrew what our studio here has composed.

The kids get inspired by something that happened at school, or being on a holiday, or even by the stuffed toys I have in my studio. They use all of them to write song.

Even if they are struggling with playing with five fingers, they can still be creative. I love that. If they were learning traditionally they wouldn’t  feel so good about themselves as musicians.

My part-time roster is full

I have students from age 4-9 on the Musicolor Method, and I have some older students who have gone on to other instruments but they come back to practice with me. But they actually started with the Musicolor Method.

I use it to build that transition solidly so that my students don’t lose that love for music or say it’s too hard.

The Musicolor Method helps connect with older students too

One student is turning 11 this year. I have actually said to him, “I think you need a better piano teacher now because I just focus on early childhood.”

But he’s still with me, learning harder songs like Star Wars and Harry Potter. We’re also learning chords, Beatles songs, and having fun singing together. I think that is quite interesting that he could really go to a different teacher, but for him, it is about the connection and the fun and creative process. He can play without the colors, but he still enjoys that creative side.

There are two older girls, and they are playing clarinet and saxophone. They are in grade 6. They are both in bands and they come back to me to practice. I don’t play clarinet or saxophone, but they feel confident enough with me to come back for me to help them practice. Their moms pay me to help them, I feel that connection is there to support them in their music journey.

Learn more about the Musicolor Masterclass here

  Visit Anne’s studio website here. 



What Happens When You Ask A Preschooler If They Can Do Anything

Ask a preschooler and see what happens.

Imagine this scenario.

You walk into a preschool classroom of three year olds and pose a series of questions to the children:

“Who here knows how to dance?”

Every hand shoots up.

“Who here knows how to sing?”

Again, every hand is in the air.

“Who here knows how to draw?”

The process is repeated over and over with virtually any subject.

Then, you walk into a classroom of 8 year olds and ask the same questions.

“Who here knows how to draw?”

One or two hands go up.  

“Who here knows how to sing?”

Maybe two and a third tentatively rises.

And it goes on with less and less hands going up to each question.

What happened?

About a dozen years ago, I was spending a lot of time in a preschool classroom. My son was three and he was experiencing a high degree of separation anxiety. The school’s policy was to not leave the child in distress and thus, I was in the class everyday.  In fact, it’s as if I enrolled in preschool all over again. I didn’t interact with the class, I just sat in the corner where my son could see me, and I observed.

The preschool teachers were kind, compassionate and patient.  They were in control of the room without resorting to yelling or scolding.  There was structure, order and everything just flowed.

I observed firsthand the incredible confidence of three year olds.  They thought they could do anything. The kids would try anything.

Shut Down By 8

In my music school, we have students in a range of ages, though most start at around four or five.  

What I’ve noticed is by the time a child reaches third or fourth grade, self-doubt has begun to creep in.  Even students who previously were fearless and brimming with confidence began shying away from certain activities.  

“I’m not good at singing.”

“What?!” I would exclaim.

“Who told you that?  You just sang beautifully at the last recital.”  

“No, I’m just not good.”

Sometimes I would dig deeper and find that an older sibling, a cousin, a neighbor or someone who had told them they should stop the activity.

It’s incredibly heartbreaking.

Some of it is a growing consciousness – an awareness in the child’s personal development.  And of course, we can’t all be good at everything.

But much of it comes from external factors.

I know this firsthand

When I was in second grade, I was cast as the Artful Dodger in our class production of the musical Oliver.  I would belt out that song clearly with full conviction. I was fearless.

The day of the show came.  My parents were in the audience.  I was on stage and my song came on.  I sang it to the back of the school gym to and received a thunderous applause.  But as my final notes were ringing out, I spied someone in the crowd. He was a boy who had bullied me, who was snickering and whispering to his friend.  My voice caught. I shrank inside. Something shifted. I forgot my stage directions. I mumbled through the rest of the show.

That day, I stopped singing.*

“I’m not enough, so why even try?”

This mindset is poison.  

One of the reasons I’m so passionate about teaching preschoolers music is the power to prove “you are enough.”  By teaching life skills of perseverance, practice and focus, you can truly surmount any obstacle.

If we, as a society, can teach in a way that breeds confidence and self-worth, hopefully, this poisonous mindset will dissipate.  It will give enough protection to guide these children to adulthood.

It’s the difference between mindsets.  Scarcity versus abundance. Givers versus takers.  Rescuers versus victims. Contributors versus the welfare state.

I think one of the reasons we as a society worship celebrities is that on some deeper level we recognize they have broken through this limiting belief.  

Who gave these people permission to believe that they are enough?

It comes down to just one person – yourself.

Of course it’s easier if you have a support network of family, friends, church, sangha, mastermind, coach, whatever.  

But in the end, it’s yourself.  I’ll talk more about igniting cognition rapidly in a future post.

*By the way, I do sing now, quite a bit.  I’m an active member of my parish choir.  But it took me years of unwinding that internal misplaced belief.

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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.


What is the best mindset for music educators?

True or False: There is usually only one right way to do something.

Try to answer that quickly and without much thought. Which are you? I’ll get to why in a second.

I just returned from my fourth trip to Colombia, South America, where my wife has a very large and loving family – what a beautiful, magical country! It was a nice break and it gave me a lot of time for reflection, meditation, and reading. It gave me the mental space to get curious again about things I had forgotten about. One of these things was how I’ve noticed the shifting attitudes on music education.

In the USA, I’ve been seeing more media coverage about the positive aspects of music education. But at the same time, I’ve been noticing a difference in mindset among music teachers, parents, and society in general.

The first mindset is like this:

  • Music education is a nice way to give a rounded education and especially if you want to be a professional musician
  • You should teach classics first… and then branch out from there
  • There are strict technical exercises that produce the desired results
  • There is usually only one right way to do things
  • There are tried and true methods that have been handed down through the centuries

The second mindset is like this:

  • Music education is a great way to teach life skills regardless of professional career choice
  • Music lessons are like exercises for physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development
  • All music styles/genres are valid
  • Technique can be very personal
  • There is no single right way to do anything
  • Music is constantly changing and so is the art of teaching with new methods coming online everyday

And it is the two mindsets that can sometime cause friction. I’ve seen it in forums where teachers have criticized and bashed each other based on difference of mindset. In many ways, these two mindsets are the basic differences in society. The first  is “change is uncommon – let’s stick with the good old days” and the second is “Change is the norm – let’s embrace change.”    

What Factors Contribute to Each of These Mindsets?

When I was young, my parents were more of the first mindset. They saw music as a way to a “well-rounded education.” But when I started to get “obsessed” with music, they became concerned. Being immigrants from Thailand and Korea, they wanted a safe and secure career for me. I had been brainwashed with a mantra. If someone asked me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I would just blurt out, “A doctor, lawyer, or an engineer.” It was automatic. My parents kept trying to instill in me that music was just a hobby. And yet, you can’t deny your true calling. My brother, sister, and I are all actively engaged in the arts! It’s kind of funny now, but it was pretty hard as a teenager.

In Colombia, I asked some of my wife’s relatives about music instruction and it was still a pretty rare thing. While Colombia is booming and getting international attention as a top destination for both travel and business, life can still be hard. Good jobs are in demand. I heard many stories of young graduates waiting years to get a job in their chosen profession or going back to school to switch professions. It seemed that getting a job came down to luck and knowing the right people. So in an environment like that, who has the time and money to put towards music education? This is the first mindset.

Contrast that mindset with the one prevalent in my neighborhood of Park Slope, Brooklyn, New York, where there is almost a de facto understanding that private music instruction is just a standard part of growing up. There is no question you will be enrolled in music, dance, art, sports, or a combination of all of them!  Most of my students are so fully booked that switching a time slot is a major hurdle. It’s like those puzzles where you can only slide one piece to move another!

Why Has Music Education Become an Afterthought?

I am more of the second mindset and would like you to consider shifting with me.  As a parent, I believe that music education and arts instruction are an essential part of my child’s life. I began my whole teaching studio focused on children because of this. My wife also shares this thinking and has made it her life’s mission working at multiple non-profit organizations throughout her career.   Currently she is Senior Director of Operations at ExpandED Schools whose mission is to expand the school day to include more extra-curricular activities that are just as important as math, science, and reading.  

You may have heard of a movement known by the acronym STEM – which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. There has been a cry for more of this educational push in the United States as they say we are lagging behind in these skills in the workplace. This to me is like the first mindset.  

STEAM is a counter-movement which adds an “A” for Arts. But I would still include the language arts of writing and reading which are inextricably linked to thinking. And of all the Arts, music alone has been proven to be the most beneficial for brain development.  As the late Steve Jobs was quoted as saying on what makes Apple great, “it’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — that it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing.”

What Makes Music Education So Important?

Besides all the things you’ve heard before like life skills of focus, discipline, persistence, grit, and study skills, I believe music is just part of our world. It is in our DNA! It is the voice of God that is vibrating through us to create everything we experience. By learning the laws of music, you align yourself with the universal principles of creation. It’s like the sea we swim in.  

Music is pure emotion and we all have our own music. By connecting the internal music with the external mechanisms of creating, producing, and sharing music, we are surely becoming more harmonious, beautiful, and sensitive people. And isn’t that what we all want? World peace. Our peace. A beautiful heart.

So if you are more of the first mindset, here’s a challenge. Try on the second mindset as if you were trying on a new coat. Wear it for a few days, weeks, or months. Then, decide whether to keep it.

I leave you with a quote from Heraclitus: “The only thing that is constant is change.”

Let me know how your “coat” fits.

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The #1 Secret To Teaching Young Children Music

Teaching Young Children Music

As a private music teacher, you want to teach music to children.  You know they love it and there seems to be a plentiful supply of them asking for your help.  Besides, lately all your adult students seem to be canceling at the last minute while your teens are more interested in their social media feeds than practicing.  Maybe you should teach younger kids?

But Teaching Young Kids Is Hard

It does seem hard, doesn’t it?  Young children have limited attention spans, some lack fine motor skills, and some can’t even spell their names, let alone read a simple word.  How do you present the many complexities of music, technique, reading, and playing songs they like  in a way that’s simple, fun and won’t  drive you crazy?

What About A New Age Group?

But what if you could take a 4 year old as a student?  What if you could successfully take on a whole bunch of them and keep them for years?  Your studio would be instantly full and overflowing for a long time with this group.  You might even have a waiting list.  But this would only happen, if you were effective, and fun!

So, what is the #1 secret to teaching young children music?


The secret is a term that we usually associate with construction.  Here in New York City, I see it every single day.  It’s “scaffolding.”  Scaffolding is the temporary structure that assists the workers in building the building.  In the western world, most of it is metal, but in Hong Kong, where I lived for years, it’s still made of bamboo!

Metal scaffolding
Metal scaffolding
Bamboo scaffolding in Hong Kong
Bamboo scaffolding in Hong Kong



But the term scaffolding has been appropriated by educators to mean a similar thing.  In education, you offer support while the student learns a new concept or skill.  


The Balance Bike

This reminds me of the time I was teaching my son to ride a bicycle.

balance bike


When my son was a toddler, I began seeing beautiful handmade two-wheeled, push bikes without pedals.  The concept was that the child could focus on balance before learning to use pedals.  

It was a phased learning process.  


But why not training wheels?


Well, these have been proven to be more of a crutch than a scaffolding.


So, I bought a $30 kid’s bike and adjusted the seat as low as possible without adding the pedals.  As soon as my son began to develop balance, which he demonstrated by lifting his feet while rolling along, I knew he was ready.  So, one day, when he was 4 years old, I pushed him down the slope of our Brooklyn sidewalk with the pedals turning.  He grabbed my hand saying,

“Papa, do NOT let go of me!”  

I began to push and run alongside him, holding on as I had promised.   Before we had travelled  twenty feet, he began yelling, “Let go!  Let go!  I can do this!”

And sure enough, he pedaled down the block with the most triumphant smile on his face.

Applying Phased Learning & Scaffolding to Music

In teaching music to preschoolers, I realized that there needed to be something similar.  I needed a phased-learning process, some kind of thoughtful scaffolding so  the student does not  get hit with a multitude of new abstract concepts at the same time.

A Limited Data Set

I started kids with a limited data-set, just five  notes on the keyboard that match their  five  fingers.  For the guitar, I taped off three of the strings and just used the three  higher strings,  using  one for melody and the others as drones.

Use of Color

I began to use color as a temporary scaffolding.  By directly labelling the keys, the fingering and the notation, I could work on playing songs which they loved while gently correcting their technique over time.  Then I could start sneaking in some music theory through games.  Eventually, we would start tackling learning to read music on the staff.    

Parallel Paths

My teaching started to break down into these separate but parallel tracks.

1) Playing comes first – but with a limited set of notes that match the middle of the human voice frequency range.  This allows the student to engage their voice in the process.

2) Technical facility is gradually developed over time in service of a song

3) Reading of music notation is taught in a 6 stage process from simplest to traditional music notation.

4) Conceptual and abstract music theory is gradually delivered in small gradual steps, usually through games.

Here’s a video of one of my students at a holiday music party after only a few weeks of lessons.

In my ten years of specializing in teaching children, I have consistently had a full roster with a waiting list and the results have been amazing.   Last Fall, I began teaching a few other music teachers this method and they too have been experiencing great results.  In a few weeks, I will be launching the online course for the Musicolor Method™.  If you want to be on the early bird list for notification when it’s ready, you can click here.  

Growth Mindset of Children “I Can Do Anything”

One of the greatest joys of teaching kids music is that young children have  complete self-confidence and belief that they can do anything.  They truly embody the growth mindset.  Unfortunately, it seems they begin to lose this the older they get, so starting music lessons at this age dovetails perfectly with their confidence.  

Music Is For Everyone

I believe that music should be for everyone.  It is in our very core – we are all vibrating at frequencies.  Let’s share the joy of music with as many people as possible.  

I would love to know your thoughts on scaffolding and if you have any similar techniques?  Please share in the comments below and thanks for reading!


About The Method Lesson Plan Ideas Mindset

Learning Life Lessons Through Music Lessons

This past week my 13 year old son performed in the NYC Opera Renaissance production of Tosca.  We luckily got to see it before the blizzard (Snowmaggedon 2016) hit on the weekend and the show was lovely.  For my son, I think it is one of those experiences in which he was irrevocably changed.  It was a life changing experience, one in which you can never be the person you were before it.   It was like walking through a door that closed behind you to the life you had before.

Life’s Doors

Novelists and screenwriters know this concept well as this is what has to happen in a successful story.  Their character needs to move through some life-changing turning points, a door that closes behind them.  But, we can do this for ourselves.  We can be the heroes in our own story that is still unfolding before us.  We can choose the red pill or the blue pill as Neo had to in the Matrix or “Follow the yellow brick road.”

What Are Your Turning Points?

Think back on your life.   Go way back to your childhood – maybe 6 or 8 years old.  Now spend some time and write down every turning point going forward.  They could be singular events or an experience of a person you met that changed you over a period of time.  Maybe a recital performance?  Or a track meet?  Or maybe you had a speech or lecture?  Or perhaps it was a first job, or a firing from a job.  I’ve had a bunch of these.  Or it could be a physical move to a new geographic location.

Positive or Negative

How many turning points have you experienced?   Was each of these points positive or negative?  If they feel neutral, that would mean they are not changing you in a significant way.

What is your Life Purpose?

By becoming aware of your own life story, you can begin to see your own greater meaning.  They say that hindsight is 20/20, but only if you examine it and find the links in your story.  What has your life been leading up to?  What is your life purpose?

In looking back at my life, I have had at least 25 turning point moments.  Most adults will have at least a dozen if not more.  And I didn’t always know these were turning points at the time.

There was the birth of my son.  To think I was terrified of being a parent and yet it has forever changed my life.   There were the numerous times I was fired from jobs.  (Finally a wakeup call that I really needed to honor my entrepreneurial side.) There was the time when I made it to a 3rd callback for Miss Saigon on Broadway.  Or the year I wrote down the craziest outrageous goals and they all came true!   And so many more…

The Past Can Hurt

And then there were the difficult times like my mother’s passing from cancer and the times I hurt others with my words or burnt relationships out of ignorance, arrogance, and vanity.  Or the years I crawled back inside myself and tried to hide from the world.  Some of these doors closing made me more aware of my conduct, words, and attitude; and thus can be seen as positive in the end.  But they still hurt.

One of my favorite moments in the film, the Lion King illustrates this perfectly.  Here’s a short video clip.

Guiding Students Through Turning Points

In our jobs as music teachers we play a larger role which may not always be recognized by the student or even ourselves.  That role is a mentor/coach who can help our students become more aware, more conscious.  Music begins by listening to external sounds, but leads to listening internally to thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Every day, as I teach my students, I keep an eye out for “conscious moments,” moments where I can connect the dots between learning music and learning life.  Not every lesson can be a turning point, nor is every recital.  But as you probably know, there are things you heard your teacher say, or something they did, that has indelibly made a mark on your own life.

I remember in preparing for a recital years ago, I taught a young student to visualize themselves playing her piece perfectly and really making note of the feeling in her body, the sounds in the room, the feeling of the lighting on her shoulders, the squeak of the chair, the temperature…everything.  She really took this to heart and years later, she still mentions how powerful this was and how she uses it in school.

Advice To My Younger Self

There’s a popular question interviewers love to ask:

“What advice would you give your younger self?”

I think I would tell my 20 year old self to start asking:

  • “Am I experiencing a turning point in any of the activities I’m doing right now?”
  • “Is there a shift in mindset that I can help transmit to my colleagues, clients, and loved ones?”
  • “What am I most grateful for?”
  • “What am I looking to do with my life?”
  • Ask these of yourself every day and reflect deeply on what comes back

Consciousness is the start of growth. 

Your music lesson may be the spark that leads to a blazing fire of passion, curiosity, and growth in your student…and mankind.

I welcome your comments and feedback below.

About The Method Lesson Plan Ideas Mindset

A Growth Mindset for Music Teachers

As teachers, I’m certain we are all believers of the “growth mindset” – meaning we believe people can change. But, do we truly live this by example?

The results in your life – good or bad – are the direct results of your thoughts and actions.

As we all tend to get a bit more reflective on our lives at the end of the year and start planning our goals, here are some beliefs that I want to fully embrace.

1) Negative emotions are change signals.

When you are feeling negative emotions, it’s like a warning light on your mental dashboard for a change. Something needs to change, whether it’s an action you are taking (or not), the environment you are in and the people you are surrounding yourself with.

2) The fog of confusion precedes the calm of clarity.

There is always a period of confusion right before the epiphany, “the a-ha moment.” If you are feeling confused, stop, take a breath, meditate, get calm enough to see the ripples on the surface of your mental waters, and reflect.

The clouds of confusion are burned away by the sun of awareness. A path forward is revealed.

3) You are responsible for ALL your results.

I remember when I first heard this and it was a feeling of shock.

“What do you mean I’m completely responsible for everything?” I was so used to blaming the world for my problems. And of course, the more you indulge in this kind of personal un-accountability, the more “proof” you get.

The traffic cop pulls only “you” over when everyone else is going at the same speed. Or the TSA official picks only you out for a random strip search. Of course the world is against you! Changing your mindset is akin to magic. By taking personal responsibility for your entire life, your health, your finances, your living environment, everything…it radically changes your world. And at first, it’s scary.

Start in one area. Pick a specific activity where you absolutely believe that you are responsible for your results like a sport, or a musical instrument or a language. By holding yourself accountable for your results, you begin to live in this belief. From there, you can expand to all other areas of your life.

4) Everyone is doing the best they can with what they have.

I used to have a lot of anger and frustration. Taking on and conditioning myself with this belief has been a struggle, but produces fruit everyday. It really is unlikely that the world is conspiring against you. In fact, everyone is too caught up in their own problems, insecurities, and limiting beliefs. Hold your judgment and realize, they’re doing the best they can with the resources they have available at the moment.

5) There is no permanence. Success or failure are a temporary state.

If you look around you, there’s the illusion of permanence everywhere. The furniture in the room. The buildings, the mountains, the lakes, and the trees. But look deeper and you see that all is temporary. A snapshot in time. Apple is the biggest company on the planet…at the moment. But remember US Steel, one of the largest employers in the world in the 1950’s? Today they are a mere shell of what they once were. Or what about Pan American Airlines? These were seen as bedrock, unstoppable successes, for a while. Nothing is permanent. We are all in a state of motion.

Even the most solid of materials, at the quantum level, are in motion.

If we are not growing, we are dying. Keep moving, evolving, reaching for higher and higher levels. It’s the only way to stay in a state of success. Don’t be misled that it’s all sunny days from now on. There will be failures (or you can call them learnings) along the way. But as long as you are aware of the learnings, incorporate them, and move on, you will be in a more consistent state of success.

6) “My Actions Are The Ground I Stand On.”

I borrowed this quote from the Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. Without action, it’s all just daydreaming. And the most amazing thing is that you don’t have to know all the steps, just the next one or two. From there, you arrive at a higher place where you can see new things and new opportunities arise. New people come into your life. And the next two or three steps are revealed and so on and so on.