Category Archives: Music

Music-Themed Ideas for Core Subjects

In my last post, I mentioned a few ideas of how to work music into your homeschool day. However, all of those examples were only good for non-core homeschool hours. What should you do if you really need more core hours, but you want to work music in somehow? Here are a couple of  ideas.

Rhythm worksheets: You can replace number values with notes and rests and create math worksheets for all levels. Addition and subtraction are the simplest, but there’s no reason why you can’t do multiplication, fractions, and even algebra! (Tie notes together for larger values). Be really creative, and try to make the worksheet fun. These exercises will help your child learn to instantly recognize note and rest values.

Research paper (history, social studies, or language arts): Teach your child how to conduct research, take notes, and write a paper. They could choose a composer, a musical genre, the invention of an instrument, etc. If you look up music appreciation topics, you’ll see many good ideas to choose from.

If you need help teaching your middle- or high-schooler how to get from square one to finished paper, I teach classes for that in my hometown, and would be willing to teach it via email. If you would like more information, just email me, and I will get back with you. (My email address is included on the syllabus below.)

Write an Outstanding Paper Syllabus

Writing: Write the first half of a story using notes instead of letters as often as possible. Have your child finish the story on his own. Provide him with staff paper that you can print for free online. Try to create a good mix of treble and bass clef notes.

Spelling: Have your student choose the correct spelling of a word (from among 2 or more misspelled ones). Use notes instead of letters anywhere you can.

I am sure there are tons of activities like this floating around. Can you think of any more?

FreeImages.com/St. Mattox

FreeImages.com/St. Mattox

Non-Core Hour Ideas: Music

Okay, so we Missouri homeschoolers all know we need 600 hours of core subjects per year, but how do we fill the 400 non-core hours? Sure, you could just have your child reinforce core skills – we aren’t required that the remaining hours be something other than math, language arts, social studies, and science. But why do that to your children? Give them a much-needed break and allow them to enrich their lives by offering some creative topics for study. Some areas are rich with classes for homeschoolers. In our immediate area, we have gymnastics, archery, art, choirs, and bands. These are just the non-core offerings, and there may be even more that I am not aware of. Whether or not you have access to homeschool classes, almost every area will have a music teacher of some sort.

Putting your children into music lessons is a sure-fire way to fill some of that time. Here’s what I recommend: a 30 minute lesson once a week and 30 minutes of daily practice time. (Including lesson day, and here’s why: the sooner the student gets to the piano after his lesson, the better his retention will be – thus making it easier on him in the long run and improving his progress overall.) That totals an hour of music on lesson days, and 30 minutes on subsequent days.

If you would like to stretch those daily half hour sessions to an hour, I have come up with a few ideas for you. (If an hour or 30 minutes is too long for your child’s attention span, you can easily break the practice and extras down into 15-minute increments.)

Piano Play: Allow your child to sit in front of the piano and just make things up. Show him how to make simple chords (you can YouTube it or ask your music teacher) and improvise a melody. Or just let him experiment and see what kinds of sounds and rhythm he can come up with on his own. Children often enjoy this unstructured play time, and it can be a great stress reliever (especially if you allow them to express their emotions through the volume and tempo).

Flashcards/Theory: If you really want to get your children’s music lessons off to a flying start, flashcards are a great way to reinforce primary concepts. You can help your child make some (look for tutorials online), you can download them for free, or you can find an app that quizzes your music-learner. You could even go all-out and buy a pack. 😉 Spending time with flashcards each week will greatly increase a beginner’s sight-reading capability.

Listening: Choose some classical music (or any other genre they are interested in) and allow your child to soak it up as they eat, play, or do homework (best if there are no lyrics). I would even count contemporary music listening as non-core hours if I were making it a point to analyze it in some way after listening: what makes country music different from pop? What instruments, rhythms, or techniques does this specific genre use that gives the listener a clue to what kind of music he is hearing? If the student is advanced, you could even discuss chord progressions and voicing.

Singing: Find some songs on YouTube or a sing-a-long, and have your children learn the words and melody. This reinforces their memory skills and can be quite enjoyable. Also, you could look for songs that would benefit other subject areas, such as math, science, history, etc. (If you have several kids, they can play musical chairs while learning by rote. I use this technique with my choir kids, and it’s a great way to get them to sing the same words over and over and over again without showing the slightest sign of boredom!)

Make Instruments: Help your kids make a cigar-box guitar or a bean shaker. You can find tutorials online. Percussion instruments can be made from almost anything. Next, model rhythms for your child, and have them mimic you on their very own hand-crafted instrument. (You can play the same game with melodies instead of beats if you feel like singing, lol.)

FreeImages.com/Adriano Carvalho

FreeImages.com/Adriano Carvalho

These are just a few non-core activities off the top of my head. I’m sure there are many more that I am missing. Subscribe to my blog, and be on the lookout for ways to get music-themed CORE hours.

 

Can you think of any more non-core ideas? Leave them in the comments below.

Why Take Piano Lessons? My Personal List

Child Piano

FreeImages.com/Carlo Lazzeri

Several years ago, I stopped teaching piano lessons after having taught for over 15 years. I was burned out; my students were burned out. We just weren’t having any fun! Not long after that, I began attending a new church and immediately assumed the role of church pianist. Even though the idea of sight-reading in public scared me to death, I had never had so much fun playing in all my life! A year or two down the road, my playing had drastically improved, and I was teaching music to anyone who would sit still and listen: children and teens from church, nieces, nephews, visitors. I just couldn’t instill enough knowledge and fun ideas into those around me. As of last July, I have been teaching again and loving it! My students are enjoying their lessons and progressing quickly, and I am happy.

I have put together a short little list of personal reasons for taking piano lessons. Here they are:

  1. Creative Outlet. From day one, you begin learning the elements you will need to make music for the rest of your life. Some teachers even incorporate creativity into their lessons. I have seen some great improvisation methods that are geared for beginners, and the piano method I use has several improvisation opportunities sprinkled throughout the theory books. It won’t be long before a new student is sitting at the piano and conjuring up melodies of his own. Children are very creative; I think mostly because they aren’t so self conscious and don’t put as much stock in “perfection.” However, as a musician practices and grows, he will expand his musical horizons, thus allowing him to improvise with ever more confidence and technique.
  2. Discipline. I strive for discipline in my own life. Discipline to keep the house clean, to cook meals at home, exercise and eat right, and improve my skills and knowledge. Playing the piano gives me a way of practicing discipline. I must discipline myself to sit still and break down a complex passage, or figure out how I want a specific song to sound. As a mom, I also appreciate music for the perfect way that it fits into my son’s life, providing him a form of discipline. Even when he doesn’t have homework or chores, it gives him something productive he can do every single day.
  3. Distraction from Distractions. Believe it or not, I have a lot of trouble coming up with ideas for my son when it comes to how he spends his free time. Like most kids his age, he plays his fair share of video games and enjoys watching shows on Netflix, but I also like to make sure he gets completely away from technology from time to time. Sometimes I just make him turn off the TV and allow him to have unstructured playtime, or invention time, or whatever he can come up with. However, one of his favorite things to do during this time is play the piano. He loves to sit and pick out melodies that he has been listening to throughout the day.
  4. Fun and Relaxation. Just listen to a few piano tunes on YouTube, and imagine yourself being able to play them. This should help you understand how addicting it can be to increase your skill with a musical instrument. Every time you play well, you can feel good about the effort you put into learning and practicing. In addition, as the sounds wash over your soul, you get to enjoy the results of all your hard work. Playing piano is also a fantastic way to unwind or de-stress; it’s one of my favorite things to do when I find myself worried about something, and I just want to escape for a little while.
  5. Unique You. Ok, well, you’re already unique. But imagine throwing a piano into the mix. Just think about the ideas and personality that you will bring to the table while picking up a skill such as this one. It’s even possible to develop your own playing style that no one else can lay claim to. On top of all that, there probably aren’t that many people in your area that play the piano really well. You could be one of the few. All it takes is dedication and consistency, and you’ll find your skills improving in leaps and bounds.
  6. A Skill to Pass Along. If you’re anything like me, this is the best part. I love showing someone how to play almost any song with just three or four chords. I love showing them how to use a fake book, how to read sheet music, how to add dynamics and make the music speak. Broken down, the steps are all so simple and easy to grasp. Even when I’m not teaching an official lesson, I just cannot wait for the next person to come along and ask me a musical question so I can open his world to the magic waiting at his fingertips. And, if you become skilled enough, and love teaching as much as I do, you might even make a living at it!
  7. Endless Possibilities. The beauty of learning to play the piano is that there is always something new to learn. Even if you become a top-notch sight-reader and can play classical music like the great composers themselves, there will always be more territory to cover. Jazz, blues, Latin, improvisation, composition, lead sheets. You will never run out of things that pique your interest. This is fabulous news for those of us who love learning for the sake of learning.

What do you think? Do you agree with this list? What reasons would you add?

Sight-reading

PianoIt has been forever since I’ve taught voice lessons, until recently. I am enjoying them so much more than I used to, and I am not sure why. Maybe it’s because I am working outside the home as well and therefore enjoying music lessons because I get to teach them from my own house. Or maybe it’s because I just plain enjoy people and their company more than ever.

But it could also be due to the fact that sight-reading is much easier for me now that I have been our church’s pianist for two years. One of my good friends, who also happens to be my employer and former piano teacher, always told me that the best way to improve sight-reading is to play under pressure. She was totally right! Teaching voice is so much simpler when you don’t have to worry much about the accompaniment.

So, for anyone interested, here’s what I know about sight-reading:

Play new music every single day – music you’ve never seen before, or that you only see rarely. A good way to do this is to play through a hymnal, covering maybe one or two songs per day. To get some experience reading other types of music, try reading from octavos. They come in all styles and range from very simple to very difficult. I was lucky that my piano teacher had a huge collection of octavos to choose from, and about once a week, I would bring twenty or thirty new ones home and just play through them and take them back. So if you know any other musicians, you can borrow music from them for this purpose.

It’s important to play pieces that are just above the level that you already sight-read well.

Also, be sure to turn on a drum track or a metronome to create some pressure to stay in time. Also, drum tracks are just fun to play with. 🙂

Always look ahead in the music so you can see what’s coming up.

If you have to drop notes, retain at least the bass note and the melody.

And if you get really confused, just play the chord structure until you can jump back in to the accompaniment.

So that’s what I know. Not, much, but perhaps it will help someone out. If you all have any other tips, leave them in the comments!

Voice Lesson Binder

All right, so the other day when I was writing about my Current Projects, I mentioned the voice lesson binder that I had finished up. Well, it isn’t exactly finished yet, as you will see.

The first thing I did was fill up the binder with kid-friendly songs like “Let It Go” and “Somewhere over the Rainbow.” Then I supplemented those with songs that had a limited range, just to give the students a way to have immediate success matching pitch. (I have found that almost anyone can match pitch, as long as the music is in their range. Some ranges are very limited, and so it sounds like the person is always singing off-pitch. This usually has nothing to do with a person’s “ear” and everything to do with range.) Thankfully, I have a transposition button on my piano, so I can reuse the same songs for students with very different ranges.

Next, I Googled “how to teach voice lessons” or something similar. I have taught hundreds of voice lessons in the past, but because it has been a few years, I didn’t want to miss anything important. I typed up the things I thought were important, adding a couple things and deleting a couple things, and rearranging the activities to work for short attention spans. Here’s what I ended up with:

Voice Lesson FormatVoice Lesson Format (Word)

Voice Lesson Format (PDF)

If you teach a choir, you could use this format for that as well.

I have been using some of the same warm-ups with my choir for years. I usually have my students begin with a hum, descend for five notes, and then hum back up to the starting pitch. Then we start the exercise again, starting a half-step lower each time.

The ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma denotes a five-note scale ascending and descending. I usually ascend by half-steps with each repetition. Alternatively, you could change this one up and use other syllables, or even a silly phrase: mommy made me mash my M&M’s.

Siren is just what is sounds like. Students imitate a yawn to open the back of the throat. Then they wail up and down a couple of times, reaching very high and ending with a vocal fry as low as they can go. The most important thing to remember with this exercise (and with any vocal exercise) is not to strain the voice at all. I always tell my students, if anything hurts or feels strained, stop immediately.

Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha denotes a staccato major chord arpeggio. I always wait until after the siren before using this exercise, as students can usually sing quite high with these. The siren helps warm up the voice for the higher pitches.

On the back of the lesson format page, I designated a place for student names and ranges (with dates – so I can see how they progress). As I gain more students, I will probably make a page for each one so I can list songs they are working on, vocal exercises, etc. So you see, I will never be quite done with this project. 🙂

Last of all, I found a nice cartoon pic of kids singing online and printed it on the top half of a sheet of paper. I borrowed some awesome colored pens from my sister (thanks, sis!) and wrote “VOICE LESSONS” in big block letters underneath, using a different color for each letter. So now the folder looks appealing and is ready to go to work for me and my students!

Bible Verse Songs

Well, I have been writing my piano curriculum, but not in any particular order. I went through Psalms the other night, and arranged eight or ten verses to rhythms. Yesterday, I went through my favorites and put them to music.

When I eventually complete the curriculum, I’d like to dedicate several pages to just middle C and D in the treble clef, followed by middle C and B in the bass clef. I’m going to be sure that they are actually learning to read the notes, instead of finger numbers. In fact, I don’t intend to include finger numbers at all until the music gets more complicated – not even initial fingering because I’m going to have them play the two- and three-note songs beginning with different fingers. I am really tired of having kids get stuck in hand positions.

When I say that I’m going in no particular order, I mean that I am choosing a Bible verse and deciding whether it would sound okay with just two melody notes, or whether it needs three, four, or five. Then I arrange the song the way I like. I’m really lacking two-note songs, but I will find some eventually.

Anyway, it occurred to me that these songs would also be good for voice students who have a limited vocal range of a fifth or so. I have six songs so far; here are the two that I like best: one for voice (although I also made the simplified right-hand only arrangement for piano students) and one for piano. (The piano one can also be sung as a round, so it will work for voice students too, especially with groups of siblings or friends.)

I own a copy of Finale from my university days, but my computer that has it installed isn’t working right now. So the other day, I downloaded a copy of MuseScore 2, and I must say that I like it very well. After using Finale, it was pretty intuitive. A few things were different, but it is less complicated and I actually like it better for my purposes. Best of all, it’s a free program!!

He_That_Dwelleth-1He_That_Dwelleth (voice PDF)

 

 

 

 

 

 

In_the_Beginning (piano PDF)In_the_Beginning-1

 

Playing by Ear

PianoIan surprised me the other day. I was practicing for an upcoming gig, and he came into the music room and started playing his own song in the top octaves of the piano. I always let him play whatever he wants while I play because it doesn’t really distract me, and I figure it’s good for him to be creative. Slowly, it dawned on me that I recognized the tune he was playing; it was Ode to Joy. When I asked him where he heard the song, he replied, “Peggle.” I guess it’s a video game he’s played. On the next day, I overheard him working out the harmony in thirds. I showed him where to add in a few fourths to make it fit the chord structure and explained the reasoning behind using different intervals in harmony. Now I am kind of excited about the fact that his ear is so good. I’ve played piano since I was nine, but I have only rarely worked out melody and harmony to an existing song, and the first time I did, I was a teenager. So, of course, I would like to help him improve his existing skills, but I don’t want to ruin it for him by forcing yet another instrument on him. So, of course, being me, I have concocted a sneaky plan.

I found a book in my closet that I’ve owned for years but never used. It’s called Performance Jams. Each song starts out with eight measures of a simple melody. Two of those measures (at least in the first song) contain a single harmony pitch that lasts the entire measure. The next eight measures of the book are completely blank, in which the student improvises using prescribed pitches played in any order in any octave. The last eight measures bring back the original melody and finish up the piece. There is also an accompaniment included for the teacher, so the melody and improv parts will have a nice background. I am going to:

  • Record the song into the song bank on my piano
  • Have him mute MineCraft for at least an hour of his playing time
  • Loop the song over and over and turn it up where he can listen
  • Have him spend five minutes a day at the piano until he can work it out on his own (I may help him with the harmony at first)
  • Once he can do this, I will show him the parameters for the improv section and have him try

I’m pretty sure he will think this is fun, and not a horrible waste of his time. Wish us luck!