Category Archives: Teaching

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.

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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?

Research Paper Tutoring

I have recently begun to reach out to my community as a tutor in a couple of different  areas. While most subjects work best with face-to-face interaction, I think that RESEARCH PAPER WRITING, since it includes deadlines, would be well-suited to an email course. Here is my reasoning for that: I am afraid that if students realize how friendly I am, they may turn in late papers, make excuses, etc.

Part of college prep is getting your student used to working within someone else’s parameters. It is important that they learn to follow instructions for page format, source stipulations, note-taking, draft requirements, length of final document, etc.

However, in these times we’re living in, I realize it is difficult for homeschool families (or anyone else) to squeeze even one more item into their budgets, no matter how much they believe their children really need the class. So, in lieu of offering weekly classes where everyone comes together to meet, this is what I have come up with:

I can create a five or ten week course that your child can take via email. I would help them every step of the way, from narrowing down a topic, taking good notes, avoiding plagiarism, arranging the outline, all the way through to the rough and final draft. I would charge $10 per project if the parents want to help their kids correct grammar and punctuation on the two drafts, and $15 if they wanted me to do it. (I don’t mind, but it is the most tedious part.) At the end of the class, I will send you a PDF copy of my ebookWrite an Outstanding Paper, for free.

The class could be taken one of two ways: via email or Eliademy (especially helpful if you want your college-bound student to get a taste for online classes).

I would like to open this opportunity up to not only my local homeschoolers, but anyone who would be interested here as well. Folks could pay for the course via PayPal (all you would need is my email address). Let me know what you think! Comments and suggestions will be greatly appreciated!

Christ-Centered School Subjects

Last week, someone asked me what I liked the most about homeschooling. It took a little bit of thought on my part, but I would have to say that I like being able to prioritize whatever I want. I also enjoy being able to teach the different subjects around a particular theme. Some folks call them unit studies, but I have never tried those in the traditional sense. Nope. What I am talking about is taking a Christ-centered approach to homeschooling. I have gotten a lot more serious about this over the summer, since Ian revealed to me his desire to be a missionary. All of a sudden, I’m in panic mode. I only have seven years left to train him!! I feel like I’m very far behind.

In an effort to help him learn as much about the Bible as he can, without sacrificing his other studies, we have been trying to come up with some creative ways to incorporate the skills he will need as a missionary into his daily homework. Here’s what Ian and I have come up with so far:

For writing and spelling practice, I use a dictation method. If you’re interested, you can read about it here. However, this year, instead of reading to him from literature books, he has asked me to read from the Bible. He can practice his handwriting and his spelling this way. I thought it was a pretty cool idea, so I agreed.

In an effort to get him to write even more, I have begun to show him what sermon notes would look like. I wrote down a few notes from the Bible chapter we had read together earlier that day, and I let him practice giving the tiny sermon (more like a Sunday School lesson at this point) to me and Jesse. I’m going to get him to the point where he can write his own outline as he reads through a chapter, and then expand it to draw from other passages to support his main idea. He’ll be using cross references (thanks for the idea, Pastor Mike!) and a topical index (I still have to purchase one though), and he’ll also be learning how to deliver a speech.

Science always makes us think about God, no matter what we’re studying. I’ve always told Ian that science is the study of the way God thinks. I read a great quote in a chemistry book a couple of years ago. It said: “Human beings, especially scientists, but also philosophers and theologians, are always suspicious. They have a deep down feeling that things are not just put together randomly, a strange intuition that, underneath it all, there is a conspiracy going on, a great conspiracy of order. That is why chemists started to wonder, and wonder (as Aristotle said long ago) is the beginning of all science.”

For Bible right now, we are reading Begin, a book for new believers that has key passages from Genesis, Exodus, John, Romans, and Revelation. We read a chapter each day and discuss. We are also reading a biography written by a man who (along with his family) was a missionary to the Philippines. This man also happens to be our pastor! (Thanks for the great stories, Pastor Doug!)

So those are the Christ-centered ideas that I have so far.

Here are a couple of extra things I am thinking about to prepare him for his future: Eventually, when I can afford a Rosetta Stone program, he wants to learn Urdu. It’s nice being homeschoolers because his options are so much better. I don’t think Spanish or French or German would serve him well in the mission field he has chosen.

The last idea I have had is to get him tabla lessons. Indian raga have always been fascinating to me, so I was thrilled when I discovered that Pakistan uses the same ones as Northern India.

Do you all have any more ideas? Either for creating Christ-centered studies or for preparing for missions?

Train Up a Child: Prayer

Ever since Ian told me that God has called him as a missionary, I’ve been taking his training a lot more seriously. I know that I should have been diligent to train him all along – it’s not like he will always be surrounded by like-minded folks, or that he will never fall into temptation – but suddenly, his Christian development has taken precedence over everything else. For instance, we’ve been praying out loud together every day. The first day, I prayed out loud; the second day, he did, etc. By doing this, I hope to accomplish a few things:

1. Give him an idea about the variety of things we can talk to God about (aka, everything).

2. Teach him to be thankful and worshipful above all things – that these are the most important aspects of his communion with God.

3. Train him to only ask for personal things occasionally. This is not the sole purpose of prayer. I have said before – God is not a vending machine. However, we pray for salvation of the lost pretty frequently.

4. Show him that prayer is not meant to be mindlessly repetitious or ritualistic. Every approach to the throne of God should be fresh and unique to that moment, and our hearts and minds should be focused on Him.

5. Get him in the habit of taking the time to pray. Every. Single. Day. It should be non-negotiable, just like brushing his teeth.

6. Increase his comfort level in praying out loud. As a man, he will be called on to pray in church with some regularity, and as a missionary, he will have to take the initiative and teach others how to pray.

7. It just occurred to me – I should also teach him to be silent for a few moments as well – to give God our undivided attention, and allow Him the opportunity to answer back.

8. We haven’t done this yet, but I also need to emphasize the importance of searching our hearts, admitting to sin, and earnestly repenting.

Bible Memory Book

It was my turn to teach Children’s Church this week, which I’ve only done once before. While looking for an object lesson, I remembered a method that a former Children’s Church teacher of mine had used to help the class memorize a Bible verse. So I decided to try it with our class. Here’s what you do:

Write the memory verse out on a dry erase board. Have the class read it several times. It helps if you use a sing-song voice because they get the rhythms in their heads. Then, once they know a few key words (like nouns or verbs), erase them two or three at a time. Keep going until you have erased the whole board. The kids really like this activity because it challenges them! I only had three boys in my class at the time, and they were competing with each other to say the words first.

Bible Memory BookIt went over so well, that I thought I would use the same technique at home to help Ian begin to memorize verses on his own. At first, I contemplated purchasing a white board, but I really couldn’t justify the five dollars. So I took a notebook that I already had laying around and taped an envelope into the front cover. I wrote out this week’s memory verse, only three words per line, spacing them out so they were on the left hand, in the middle, and on the right hand of the page. I also skipped every other line. After that, I cut out a bunch of pieces from cardstock that would be large enough to cover any word that could be written in a space but not large enough to overlap the other words.

Now, he has the ability to recreate Sunday’s activity with any verse he wants! I am going to dedicate the entire notebook to memory verses, and have him review them occasionally. What do you think?

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!