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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. 

 

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Professional Development

Rapport and How To Teach A Student Who Doesn’t Look Like You

“I’m black so my teacher needs to be black.”

Nobody said this, yet.  

But, a study has found a correlation between the performance achievement of black children and whether or not they had a black teacher.  The results seem to suggest that black children would fare better if taught by a teacher that looks more like them.  

“There’s mounting evidence that when black students have black teachers, those students are more likely to graduate high school. That new study takes this idea even further, providing insight into the way students actually think and feel about the teachers who look like them and those who don’t.”  Read more at NPR.org

While still not conclusive, the studies do suggest something more than chance is happening.  

But hold on.

Is it just the race and color of the teacher that is truly affecting results here?   Because if so, it sounds like we should all be living in segregated communities!   

Looking deeper, I’m wondering about several factors.  

First, the curriculum that was used by the teachers – was it any different for different populations?  Could it be that the curriculum was better suited because the teachers understood their students deeper?

What about rapport between the teachers and students?  

Not every teacher knows how to take time to build rapport.

It’s like a salesperson who doesn’t take the time to know what you are looking for and repeatedly shoves their product in your face.  If the teacher were to be successful with selling their information (the coursework), they would need to take some time to understand their customers (the students.)

Start With Rapport

In the Musicolor Method®, we begin with seven core principles.  It’s a framework for teaching.  Number one is the importance of Rapport.  Without rapport, you have no trust and no flow of information.  We discuss this in detail in the training.  

Think about the best teachers you have had in your life.  No doubt, there was a rapport between them and you.  Rapport is more than looking like your teacher.  It’s about caring, honesty, and trust.  

Mr. Andy Blackett

The teacher who made the most difference in my life was not Asian, not Caucasian, but African-American.  I’m Asian.  Maybe I was attracted to him because we were one of the few non-whites in the building.  But why he so thoroughly affected me and changed my life was all down to one thing.

He cared.

He cared about me more than just doing well in his class.  He cared about me as a person.  And thus, he knew how to help me with issues far beyond knowing the correct voicing of chords or how to read figured bass.  

He gave me confidence and helped me to build a mindset of competence and perseverance.  And through this trust, I flourished as a student in his class and all of my classes.

Here’s what I think.  

If you’re looking to make a difference in the lives of your students, it doesn’t matter whether you look like them.  It matters whether you care about them.  We’re all human with the same needs, desires, fears, and dreams.  Show your love and it will transform their lives and yours.

What are your thoughts?  

Please share in the comments below.

 

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Lesson Plan Ideas

How To Be A Better Music Teacher Part 2

Ever tried to interview and hire a music teacher?

Recently, I combed through hundreds of resumes responding to a simple offer for a part-time job.   It shocked me to see so many Masters and PhDs graduates responding to an offer for a $20/hour, part time position.  

It was puzzling.

To me, learning to be an effective music teacher is like building the perfect home-based business.  You can literally do it from your living room, a rented closet, or at the customer’s home.  And yet, here were hundreds of resumes from obviously talented musicians, seeking a job for which, some might argue, they are overqualified.  So what’s going on?

A Pattern Emerges

As I interviewed candidates, a pattern began to emerge. It wasn’t obvious. It wasn’t that these teachers were not able to play or teach well.  It was far simpler than that.

These music teachers were lacking one basic thing.  

What was it?

It relates to an experience I had recently.

My teenage son loves to explore the city.  One day he returned home and told me about how he checked out this amazing new shopping mall at Ground Zero in Manhattan.

My Sharpen The Saw Day

“It’s called the Oculus.  The architecture is really cool and it looks like a gigantic eye on the ceiling.  It’s filled with amazing stores like the Apple store and Gucci and other high end shops.”  So on my “sharpen the saw” day (learn about this phrase in last week’s post), I decided to have a nice lunch, write in my journal and check out this interesting spot.

He was right. It was amazing.  Here’s a photo.

The Oculus Mall near Ground Zero Manhattan
The Oculus Mall near Ground Zero Manhattan

Everything Begins With An Idea

What really struck me about The Oculus was the fact that everything I was seeing, enjoying, and experiencing had started as an idea.  Somebody imagined this and organized people, resources, and money to create it.  Everything in this building was impeccable.  The shops were beautiful, and in their designs, it was obvious that someone developed a specific plan to sell men’s shirts or high end bags for wealthy women. Even the restaurants lining the marina were structured and organized. No detail was overlooked.

My Epiphany

It must have been something in the air and the light that day.  It was unseasonably warm.  For whatever reason, I was bowled over by this epiphany.

I felt so small. Here I am, organizing content for my students, my teachers, and for you, the readers of this post.  How amazing is it that someone organized an entire mall for so many people to enjoy? Where does one even begin?

Structure

The answer to that question, and to my question about what so many of the applicants I met with were missing is: structure. It’s all about structure.

As I sat in the late afternoon sun recording these feelings in my journal, I realized that from chaos, order emerges.  We humans long for order and organization.  We seek it here on earth, in the cosmos, and when we recognize it, we rejoice. 

Fractals & Fibonacci

The fractals and the waves and the fibonacci patterns all give us a sense of order. We can believe that all is well in the universe.  From science and biology to technology and economics, we crave structure.  Even in the most trivial and mundane tasks, we search for patterns.  As I completed the seemingly arbitrary task of interviewing candidates, I realized that these candidates all lacked structure.  They lacked a coherent way of organizing their offerings to the world.

Something Lacking In These Music Teachers

For some, it was a lack of training in the ways of marketing and business.  For many others, it was a lack of understanding how to structure a lesson for a cohesive body of students.  Many of these teachers had one or two students who were five year old beginners, a couple of teenagers, and a few seniors, but had no idea how to appropriately communicate these lessons to a large body of diverse students.  Everything from their presentation of themselves to their proposed teachings methods lacked structure.  Many admitted to making up lesson plans on the spot.

Course of A Race

An educational plan is called a curriculum.   It comes from Latin and literally translates as the “course of a race.”   Over time it was used to describe the “course of study” and now is generally understood to describe the content, organization, and structure of a learning experience.

A Curriculum For Music Teachers

A curriculum can be rigid or loosely pulled together.  Though most of these teachers said they followed a curriculum, theirs were haphazard at best.   Most had no thoughtful process, and some just relied on what the next page of the current method book called for.

However, this isn’t necessarily always the fault of music teachers. Many of the teachers I interviewed were working as teaching artists in after-school programs, where they were given little or no guidance as to what to teach.   And yet, parents were paying to send their children to music and arts programs which advertise a “robust and student-centered curriculum.”  

It’s stressful.  The anxiety of always trying to figure out what to do next — especially for younger, less experienced teachers — was palpable.

So how do you know whether your music curriculum is doing the job?  

Next:  6 Questions To Ask If You’re Curriculum Is Effective.

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Lesson Plan Ideas

How To Use A Focus Window to Combat Overwhelm in Students

In the jungle that is music education, there lives a beast.  

A terrifying dragon that lurks behind every chair, instrument and music stand, it is the Distraction Dragon.  This beast is the greatest and most common enemy of all teachers.  

We tremble upon sensing the slightest breath of distraction rising up among our students.

And though many have logged years of training, this beast still haunts us.  You will never slay the dragon completely.   

But with some practice, you can corral it with a few effective dragon-wrangling techniques I will share below.  Let’s get started!

Dragon Bait

A common lure the dragon of distraction uses is the “shiny ball.”  The shiny ball is anything that is more interesting than what you are saying, doing or demonstrating at that moment.  

If you teach children, you know there is a problem of focus that is just not part of teaching teens or adults.  Young children have shorter attention spans and are easily distracted!

Corralling the Dragon of Distraction

Steps can be taken to keep the distraction at bay.  Some of these things may seem obvious, but you must look out for them

  • Limit clutter in the teaching space
  • Remove potentially attention-grabbing toys or objects
  • Have  a policy that  phones must be set on vibrate
  • Limit the seating to discourage too many siblings in the space
  • Don’t allow eating in the studio
  • Limit or remove pets
  • Use music notation that is visually clear and clutter-free

Music Notation That Is Dragon-Free

As so much of our visual attention is placed on reading music notation, the following can greatly assist in attaining focus.

When presented with traditional music notation, students are often overwhelmed by how complicated it all looks.  And it is complicated!

Reading music is a high-level skill.  It takes a long time and a lot of practice  to understand all the symbolic language and the nuances.   

In the first few stages of our Musicolor Notation, students begin to learn structure.   They begin to notice the patterns of the entire piece as a whole and which parts are slightly different but mostly the same.  Then we dive into the smaller details.

With traditional music notation, we do the same.  But so often, students still feel overwhelmed by all the abstract symbols on the page.  

To help with this, we developed a Focus Window.  

What’s a Focus Window?

A Focus Window is a way of directing the student’s attention to a specific portion of the page.  You can use a Focus Window for not only  reading music but also for teaching reading words to young children or to place attention only on a portion of a large picture, graph, map or chart.  

By using a Focus Window, students can work on a smaller area  than they would naturally reach for.   It limits the information overload.

Constructing the Focus Window

There are a few ways you can construct a Focus Window.  

Originally we tried to use flashlights by focusing light beams on  certain areas of the sheet music.  That didn’t work too well with young students.  The dark room was too extreme and all sorts of hilarious screaming ensued!

Paper and cardboard cutout windows were mildly successful.  

Our Recommendation

Our favorite and simplest method of constructing a Focus Window involves Post-It notes.  These wonderful little 3” by 3” yellow squares of paper with the light adhesive made by 3M have been an essential part of our studio for years.

By using the Post-Its to block certain areas of the page, you can quickly create an area in the middle that is the Focus Window.  

Here’s an example of how to block out a small Focus Window from a larger piece of music.

What Is A Focus Window?
Focus inside the window

The Mental Desktop

Too often, students try to play an entire phrase which it too much for them to  hold in their mental desktop.  By making that phrase smaller, (much smaller!) and only showing a small portion visually, we can control their focus.

The benefit of using removable Post-It notes is that you can quickly resize the Focus Window or even move it as your student progresses through the piece.

Cluttered Page Layouts

Some Focus Windows are quite large and are made by covering up all the extraneous information many method book publishers clutter the page with.

So often there are instructions meant to be read by a teacher or parent but not the student.  This type of text is very overwhelming for young children.  The same is true of the small duet parts often printed below the student part.

Also, many times there are beautiful illustrations and graphics on the page.  These can be charming and helpful.   For pre-literate children, the illustrations can be the way they remember which song is which as they can’t read the titles.

But the graphics should be limited as they do pull away focus.

Focus Windows at Home

We also teach the parents of our students how to do this at home.  It allows us to send home lesson notes that say, “Work on the one measure in the Focus Window and then enlarge it to include 2 measures.”

Learning how to practice is a skill that affects a student’s life forever.  By teaching students  how to effectively practice by limiting data and concentrating repetitively on small parts at a time, we can teach mastery skills.

The Itch of Curiosity

By using a Focus Window we limit the data.  We obscure parts of the whole.  This can be used to our benefit.  It triggers a universal psychological effect known as the information or knowledge gap.  

In the 1990’s, Carnegie-Mellon researcher George Lowenstein put forth the “Information Gap Theory of Curiosity.”

“It comes when we feel a gap “between what we know and what we want to know”. This gap has emotional consequences: it feels like a mental itch, a mosquito bite on the brain. We seek out new knowledge because we that’s how we scratch the itch.” (Wired magazine)

No Peeking!

If you tell your students “you can’t peek under this until next week,” you have effectively created some curiosity.  Many of them will actually look just to see what’s there.   

Some have even “figured it out themselves.”

Others have practiced even more to make sure they get to “open the window.”

The Hidden Answer Window

The inverse of a Focus Window is a Hidden Answer Window.

Do you remember those interactive children’s books that have hidden flaps that allow a child to discover more content?  These were fun and engaging because of the curiosity invoked by hiding answers or parts of the story.

You can do this with music too.

Sometimes students are just not ready to work on certain phrases or maybe a left hand piano part is too tricky right now and you want them to work only on the right hand.  

By covering the tricky bits with a little Post-It flap, you create a Hidden Answer Window.  They remind us that there is still unfinished business on this page, but we will discover it  together in future lessons.  

A Hidden Answer Window in Music
No peeking please!

This  lowers the stress level of students who are desperately trying to seek your approval by playing everything perfectly.  It lets them off the hook.

It’s funny how some simple this is and yet kids find it so fun and engaging.  Of course they’ll peek, but they know that they’ll get to it soon.

Where’s the Dragon Now?

And best of all, there have been no sightings of the Distraction Dragon.  

So from one dragon-wrangler to another, go forth and teach without fears of dragons!

Download the Accompanying Resource

If you found this useful, check out the free download:

10 Tips To Make Music Practice Easy, Effective and Fun!.

Categories
Best practices Lesson Plan Ideas Mindset Music and Science

How to get concepts to stick for music students

What cognitive disfluency teaches us?

I’ve been thinking about this for a while.

We are drowning in information these days. There’s so much information that our eyes glaze over.

The boards of education of every school district in America are touting the importance of having information about student attendance, test scores, reading ability, curriculum, assignments, and so on. And everywhere, we see charts, graphs, and tables. How can we keep up?

It’s so easy to put all this information into a pretty chart, but do we really understand it?

The Educational Benefits of Ugly Fonts

A few years ago, I read an interesting article in Wired called The Educational Benefits of Ugly Fonts. They discussed a research study where student volunteers were told to read some information. In one group, the information was easily scanned and read with a clear and legible typeface. In the other group, the same information was presented in an ugly, hard to read font. The students had to really work at making out what was being said.

The results?

The students faced with the ugly fonts actually remembered and retained the information better than those with the easy-to-read fonts. This is called cognitive disfluency.

“People process new information along a continuum, from very fluently (with great ease) to very disfluently (with great difficulty). Researchers have long recognized that people prefer fluently processed stimuli across a broad range of dimensions. A more recent stream of research suggests that disfluency sometimes produces superior outcomes.” – Adam Alter, a professor at NYU. See an interview here.

I was once given an assignment to copy the music for a Beethoven string quartet by hand. This was for a composition class at Juilliard School of Music. By the time I had written a few measures, I began to really get into the structure of the piece. It also helped me to retain some of the phrasing ideas that Beethoven was using.

I’ve done this kind of exercise before with creative fiction writing. I copied by hand the opening chapters of some of my favorite novels and short stories. “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a favorite. After a few pages, my mind started to flow with the longer, mellifluous and magical phrasing he is known for.

In advertising classes, copywriters are given sample sales letters and told to write them out by hand for at least 30 minutes a day. After a few weeks, they are ready to start writing their own sales copy.

These are all examples of cognitive disfluency in action.

Smarter, Faster, Better

In Charles Duhigg’s book Smarter, Faster, Better, he describes how a Cincinnati public school turned itself around using cognitive disfluency.

“In 2008, the Elementary Initiative was launched. As part of that reform, Johnson’s principal mandated that all teachers had to spend at least two afternoons per month in the school’s new data room. Around a conference table, teachers were forced to participate in exercises that made data collection and statistical tabulation even more time consuming.”

Teachers were required to make handwritten index cards with each student’s data and then transfer the information to long rolls of butcher paper lining the walls of the data room.

“It was intensely boring. And frankly, it seemed redundant because all this information was already available on the students’ online dashboards… ‘The rule was that everyone had to actually handle the cards, physically move them around.’… “Handling the cards, she found, gave her a more granular sense of each student’s strengths and weaknesses..”

This made me think of my process for music lesson planning and notes.

I have been writing lesson notes by hand after each lesson for the last six years or so. I then transfer them into my Music Teacher’s Helper to send to the parent and keep a running record for myself.

What I’ve noticed is that I am incredibly cognizant of where each and every student is on their path and what the right next step for them is. I’ve been training a few teachers in this method, and they too are getting wonderful results. The fact that I’m handling the data gives me that deeper understanding.

So the counter-intuitive act of making it harder to input data to a system (and my brain!) has enabled me to retain it in a more readily available form.

When To Use Cognitive Disfluency

Cognitive disfluency is an advanced technique.  It is best used for understanding big conceptual or structural knowledge like in the understanding of how Beethoven composed a string quartet or Picasso created a cubist portrait.

For basic concepts, you want to be very intuitive and easy to understand.

Once your brain understands the basic building blocks of any activity –  it chunks the information together.  This is how you can drive a car and listen to the radio without getting into an accident.  The small blocks have been made into habit routines that are chunked together.

However, this is exactly when many people miss information.  They back the car over the tricycle because they are not as carefully monitoring the environment the way they did in the first month of driving.  The same is true when viewing the fancy charts of data or understanding a finished piece of music.  You can easily gloss over the real details without internalizing any of them.  And…forget about retaining the information as it was never stored in the first place.

What do you use for your lesson planning?

You may want to try the harder, less convenient way for greater results.

Feel free to forward this to your friends, music teachers, clients.

A version of this article first appeared at the Music Teachers Helper Blog.

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About The Method Best practices Lesson Plan Ideas Mindset Music Teacher Secrets Professional Development

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?

Scaffolding

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!

 

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Lesson Plan Ideas

Why The World Hates Teachers

“Those that can’t do, teach.”  

This loose remark ended up turning me away from teaching for close to twenty years!  I was exposed to it during my sophomore year as a Music Education/Jazz Performance double major at NYU.  It started to color how I looked at my peers in my Scholars in Education program.  

No Respect For Teachers

Teaching gets no respect in today’s society and somehow and somewhere this statement, “Those that can’t do, teach” was spread and effectively turned off our highest performing graduates from ever going into education.  

It took a long time for me to realize how stupid and wrong that statement is.  Does that mean that the inverse is true?  “Those that can do can also teach?”  Absolutely not.

There are so many examples of excellent sports superstars, business leaders, and amazing musicians who cannot teach.  It takes skill to be a teacher.

Teaching requires self-confidence without arrogance, openness, wonder and gratitude before one can be generous with their knowledge.  But to write off all teachers as do-ers who failed is just tragic.

My Awakening

I’ve been a “multi-potentialite” – a renaissance soul, all my life.  (See the excellent TED Talk on this.)  It basically means I was able to go off on many adventures in my career – from being an actor on stage and television, to journalist, to film composer, to financial salesman to advertising creative director to teacher.

Along the way, I took many personality and aptitude tests, met with counselors, astrologists and even psychics in my vain search to find my one true calling.  Again and again it showed that I was not a one path kind of guy.  I was definitely a creative with an abundance of ideas, energy and passion to create new things and a gift for teaching and writing.  I feel blessed to be able to share so many diverse experiences and examples with my students.  But I’m not alone.

The Greatness of Teaching

What I want to show today is that there is a role for you as a teacher no matter what your skill level or experience.  Teaching is a learnable skill.  It does require one thing:  passion for sharing.  That’s it.  You need to be generous and giving.  What you learn and know can make a huge difference in someone’s life.  And it may not be what you think it is.

Teaching is the reason why the world is what it is today.  We’ve passed on our skills, knowledge and experience generation after generation creating the awesome wonder it is.  

 

Three Kinds of Teachers

When I was starting out as a music teacher, I had a lot of self-doubt.  Who was I to be the one to introduce the world of music?  And yet, this was just an internal limiting belief.    

What propelled me forward was my then four-year-old son who began asking for piano lessons.  I interviewed local teachers to find the right fit and what I found was disappointing, uninspired and definitely not fun.  So I started a deep dive back into pedagogy and rediscovered my love and passion for sharing  and because it was for my son, it made it even more special.  

What gave me confidence was an insight I had along the way;  it was the idea that there’s not just one type of teacher.  In fact, I believe there are at least three.

1) The Foundation Builder – this teacher is the one who teaches the basics and exposes the student to the world of your subject.   Usually a generalist, s/he has a lot of passion, patience and loves to unveil the mysteries and wonder of their chosen subject.  

2) The Next Level – this teacher can be a combination of generalist and specialist working with a student who has had the basic foundations already.   For a music teacher, s/he could expand the foundational skills and concepts while perfecting technique, expression, hearing finer details, and adding more complexity.

3) The Wizard – This teacher is usually a specialist who propels the student into the highest levels by concentrating on minimizing specific weaknesses and accentuating the natural gifts of the student.  S/he may also help the student to find their unique “voice” to go on to be a presence in the world.  In sports, this would be like a Phil Jackson coaching the Chicago Bulls, especially the young Michael Jordan.  In music, this could be Nadia Boulanger teaching and mentoring so many greats from Aaron Copland to Quincy Jones.   Or it could be like Alberto Guerrero teaching the young Glenn Gould with a powerful new technique.

Finding your place in the world as a teacher is important.   It can give you a sense of comfort, validation and identity.   I definitely resonate with the Foundation Builder as a music teacher with my preschool students.  I’ve sent many student on to a Next Level or Wizard when I felt the time was right.  What kind of teacher are you?

 

Parents are already teachers whether they know it or not.  

Last year, only months before her death, writer Maya Angelou said, “At our best, we are all teachers now, whether we know it or not.”  I’d like to propose we use this as our new mantra now, striking out that old ignorant phrase of “Those that can’t do, teach,” replacing it with “We Are All Teachers Now.”

Do you have any personal stories about teachers and teaching?  Please share in the comments below.

And if you are a musician or music teacher who would like to know HOW to teach I’m preparing to release the long-awaited training course The Musicolor Method™ sometime in early November.   It is by far, the easiest, simplest method to teach anyone a musical instrument – even preschoolers.

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Lesson Plan Ideas Mindset

How To Teach Perseverance, Grit and Success

Soft Skills Vs Hard Skills

There’s been a lot of talk in the education world of late about the value of the soft skills, emotional and psychological.  These are the skills that are traditionally not tested.  Unlike math or reading or science, these skills are more nuanced.

Because I’m a music teacher and my wife is a long-time educator, I read lots of articles on this.

Grit & Self Control – 2 Determinants for Success

One of the researchers at the forefront of this movement is Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth.  Her passion is in discovering how self control and grit can predict future success.  Her research has shown that grit is a better determinant of future success than academic scores and achievement.   See below for her excellent TED Talk video.

And if you didn’t realize already, music lessons are a long term sustained pursuit towards goals.  They are the perfect example of a grit-enducing activity!  It’s less about talent and more about the “stick-to-it-ness” that determines success in music…and life!

How To Praise – Right and Wrong Ways

Since reading about these studies, I’ve been more careful about how I praise in my private music lessons.  Of course, praise is wonderful, but if you just say “good job” automatically you are sending a signal that any effort or any result is good.  What I’m trying to elicit is a long-term grittiness.  By praising the effort, focus and patience, I can now subtly influence how they are working towards their goal.  Some of my best students are a challenge because if I give them a piece and they play it very easily – they love it.  But if it’s just a bit too far out of their reach, sometimes they will shut down completely.

The never-ending process is finding the appropriate material that is just a single rung or two up the ladder of complexity.  This can be either conceptual like introducing a new concept such as chord inversions or a challenge technically with a certain stretch or position of the fingers.  By matching the material to a small enough distance, anything is possible.

With particularly challenging music, I have the student focus only on a single measure or sometimes even a few beats.  I like to use Post-It notes to cover up the rest of the page to truly give them nothing else to focus on.

So as you work through my lessons with your kids, think about how you are teaching life-long skills of persistence, patience, and focus while learning the beauty of music.

 

Watch These Short Videos

Congratulations Dr. Duckworth on yesterday’s MacArthur Genius Award!  Wonderful

Further Reading

“So-called noncognitive skills — attributes like self-restraint, persistence and self-awareness — might actually be better predictors of a person’s life trajectory than standard academic measures. A 2011 study using data collected on 17,000 British infants followed over 50 years found that a child’s level of mental well-being correlated strongly with future success. Similar studies have found that kids who develop these skills are not only more likely to do well at work but also to have longer marriages and to suffer less from depression and anxiety. Some evidence even shows that they will be physically healthier. This was startling news. “Everybody said, Oh, it’s how kids achieve academically that will predict their adult employment, and health, and everything else,” recalls Mark Greenberg, a Penn State University psychologist. “And then it turned out that for both employment and health outcomes, academic achievement actually predicted less than these other factors.”