Archive for April 2012
Many people think that musical giftedness is a single ability, such as perfect pitch or being able to play tunes by ear. Yet, the reality is that there are several types of giftedness in music, some skills even having subcategories. While some skills are required for most if not all successful musicians, others are required in only certain types of music or certain instruments.
There are a few different subcategories for having a good ear for music. One of these is the classic example of perfect pitch, when a person can sing a given note just given the note name, or can identify any random pitch on the keyboard. In some cases, however, it is instrument-specific, that they can identify the pitch on say, a violin, but can’t name it on a trumpet. Another type of ear skill is having a knack for being expressive on the instruments one plays. A third type is being able to produce a beautiful tone quality on an instrument. A fourth type is being able to pick out melodies easily. A fifth is being able to name any interval.
A second type of musical talent exists in how well musicians are able to sing. Most successful musicians can sing reasonably well, however, there are many instrumentalists who sing off pitch but play an instrument very well.
A third type of musical talent is in physical coordination. Some people, for unknown reasons, are not able to produce a sound, or a very poor one, on certain types of instruments. Other musicians have difficulty coordinating their hands, feet and eyes, as in playing a keyboard instrument or drumset. Still others find it very difficult to hold a bow of a string instrument correctly.
A fourth type of musical gift is the ability to analyze and solve problems. This one is especially important for musicians who teach, especially those who choose to teach private lessons.
A fifth musical ability is the ability to arrange music, sometimes for unusual combinations of instruments, such as violin, trombone, and clarinet. The larger the ensemble, the more you need to know in when to leave out certain instruments or voices.
A sixth ability is the ability to perform music. Some people rarely if ever have successful musical performances; others produce consistently very high quality performances where they have no sense of nervousness.
A seventh type of musical talent is the ability to compose music that are interesting and pleasing to listeners. Some people have difficulty coming up with an answering phrase even if you give them a fragment of a possible melody; others come up with at least one new melodic, harmonic, or rhythmic idea almost every day.
The ability to understand and write harmonies is another type of musical talent. Some people cannot do this satisfactorily to any degree, others come up with interesting or pleasing harmonies soon after learning about them.
Finally, rhythmic ability exists in various degrees and forms, from those who play with almost no rhythmic mistakes even in their earliest development as musicians, to those who don’t understand it for years. Another form of it is in the ability to decipher printed rhythms in musical notation, many amateur musicians can do simple rhythms accurately, but have difficulties if rhythms are complex or in a fugal style, whereas professional musicians, especially classical ones, often must be able to read and play difficult rhythms upon seeing them.
- In: Uncategorized
- Leave a Comment
I recently had the good fortune to be able to purchase an entry-level SLR (Single Lens Reflex) camera, as my old digital camera, a high end consumer model, was on its very last legs since I got it as a birthday gift 5 1/2 years ago and 3500 photos later. But, the new camera has enabled me to do things that I have not done before.
One of the things I was not able to do before was to zoom in on student’s hands when playing their instruments, which I took pictures of their hands showing their correct hand, wrist, and finger position, and when they were showing a not-so-good one. These photos I then sent to parents of students or the student themselves if they are older teens and adults.
Another way I am using my new camera is to take portraits of students, especially students who are doing a solo recital, or need them for promotional purposes. A few students I have had (they’re now in university for music) were not able to afford a professional photographer, but we got some creative photos that were excellent.
A third way I am using it is by creating a photo album of various moments. For example, one piano student likes to balance her 5 books in the level she is at on her head. Some of the clarinet students, especially the males, sometimes like to pretend their clarinet is a gun. Occasionally I’ll think of a particular idea of what students could do, like one that I’m planning is for a piano student to pretend their books are like giant playing cards and hold them as such while I take photos.
A fourth way I’m using it is to take photos of the teaching tools that are incorporated. My favourite is one of the treasure box I use for the students who are 10 or under when they have a great lesson.
Finally, a camera can be used to take videos before one has the funds to get a camcorder; however, some digital cameras now are capable of zooming while doing video so that a camcorder may not be necessary.
Posted April 20, 2012on:
- In: Uncategorized
- Leave a Comment
If a child is behind on their writing skills, music students get additional practice writing numbers and letters, and writing musical symbols which take practice
If a child is behind on their fine motor coordination, learning a musical instrument helps them develop them further, by learning to coordinate their fingers and other parts, as well as writing activities
If a child is behind on learning to read, or is just getting started, they learn to understand the numbers, letters, and words
If a child has difficulty telling left from right, they will usually master this skill within 3 months of lessons
If a child has difficulty making new friends, music lessons can help them make friends in a controlled environment
If a child is introverted, they can form a close connection with an adult who is not related to them
If a child is lacking in listening skills, music lessons can help them develop this skill by identifying differences in rhythm, tempo, and pitch
If a child needs to develop a longer attention span, music lessons will help them learn to focus on small tasks
Posted April 12, 2012on:
- Have a piano in the home, and let young children experiment with it under supervision
- Provide good-quality percussion instruments (you can get a basic kit from about $20)
- Provide a real glockenspiel, one is available for about $30 CDN is the Angel Glockenspiel.
- Take them to concerts that are no more than about 1 hour long, like solo instrument recitals, or those offered by some orchestras
- Provide and play good quality music of a variety of genres, especially jazz and classical
- Listen to recordings of fine children’s choirs from all over the world.
- Take them to see excellent children’s choirs perform; where I am, the main ones are the Bach Children’s Chorus and the Toronto Children’s Chorus
- Provide a good-quality recorder to blow into and teach them a few pieces. (get at least two, one for you and one for the child)
- Buy good-quality toy instruments that they can blow into and play notes (The Italian company Bontempi make a really good toy trumpet, sax, and clarinet)
- Play call-and-response singing games, when sometimes they provide an identical phrase, and other times a different answering phrase
- Take lessons yourself, especially if you never had the chance to experience them when you were younger.
- Play the instruments you play in your children’s presence
- Take them to musical instrument “petting zoos” if you find out about them, sometimes held at music stores, community music schools, and conservatories
- Watch videos of famous ballets and ‘program music’, such as Carnival of the Animals by Saint-Saens
- Read books about music, musicians, and composers.
- Befriend quality teachers of the instruments which you might like your children to study.
- Provide a small electronic keyboard for them to play on and experiment with musical sounds.
- Enroll your child in a group music class.
- Play games that require children to follow a series of instructions.
- Play games that have them learn to identify the highest note, the lowest note, and the middle note.
- Experiment with objects around the house as percussion instruments, such as yogurt tubs for drums.
- Provide music software that is appropriate to children’s age and development, Sesame Street Music Workshop, Morton Subotnick’s Make Mine Music, and for slightly older children, Music Ace Maestro are fun for kids. Generally these can be used for kids from about 6 and up.
- Sing well-known nursery rhymes to and with children.
- Watch videos of famous musicians and composers.
- Have children play “name that tune” with pieces they have heard
- Have children play or sing back the next line after giving them the first line.
- Have pictures of common musical symbols in different areas of the home (eg: staff, bass clef, treble clef, quarter note, eighth notes) and teach your children about them. (what is covered in the first book of a piano method for 7-9 year old beginners is a good guide.)
Over the past several years, I’ve noticed that there are streets in the Greater Toronto area, many within Toronto itself, that have a musical connotation. I also wonder if there’s a number of musicians and music teachers who live on those streets because of the musical connections of the street names. Here are some of them, hardly in any order, at least the ones I could find thanks to Google Maps:
Mozart Ave (Toronto)
Sonata Crescent (Toronto)
Sonata Ave (Hamilton)
Elgar Ave (Toronto)
Elgar Court (Mississauga)
Handel Street (Toronto)
Handel Court (Brampton)
Chimes Lane (Toronto)
Flute Way (Mississauga)
Trumpeter Street (Toronto)
Trumpet Valley Boulevard (Brampton)
Drum Street (Whitchurch-Stouffville)
Horn Street (Whitchurch-Stouffville)
Melody Drive (Whitby and Mississauga)
Melody Road (Toronto)
Harmony Hill Crescent (Richmond Hill)
Harmony Crescent (Vaughan)
Harmony Ave (Toronto, Burlington, and Hamilton)
Harmony Road (Oshawa, two sections, South and North)
Woodwind South (Barrie)
Brass Drive (Richmond Hill)
Brass Winds Place (Mississauga)
Conductor Lane (Brampton)
Symphony Place (Toronto)
Reed Drive (Ajax)
Steinway Boulevard (Toronto)
Heintzman Street (Toronto) —Heintzmann was a major maker of pianos for the Canadian market up to about 20 years ago
Symphony Gate (Markham)
Mozart Crescent (Brampton)
Celeste Drive (Scarborough)
Chopin Ave (Scarborough)
Overture Drive (Scarborough)
Schubert Drive (Scarborough)
Schubert Crescent (Brampton)
Ravel Drive (North York)
Ravel Ave (Vaughan)
Brahms Ave (North York)
Rameau Drive (North York)
Beethoven Court (North York)
Liszt Gate (North York)
Many people who are not working in the arts believe that many people who are in the arts really are “starving artists”. Yet, I have found that almost all of my artistic friends, especially the musical ones, are living a decent to comfortable level, some that even have a home that they own instead of rent, and not necessarily with contracts with large professional ensembles. In contrast, a number of those people who never got seriously involved in the arts, or quit while they were still developing and had potential, are having difficulties paying rent and putting food on the table, and often are working at as many as three low-wage jobs to support themselves and/or their families.
How do they survive? Through a number of different types of jobs, some long-term, and many short term ones. Long term jobs include being the music director and organist at a church, or as a regular accompanist for a teacher with several students for a particular teacher. Others have an itinerant school music teacher position, which they teach music in up to 5 or even 6 schools per week. Medium term jobs may include working as a pit orchestra musician for a few weeks to a few months for musicals, or teaching private students. Short term jobs might including playing for a wedding ceremony, funeral, dinner party, or corporate function. Orchestral instrument players sometimes have nearly-weekly jobs performing as soloists in various churches, or as orchestral subs when a regular player becomes too ill or injured to play. Some of the short term jobs pay as much as $500 per service, though $100-$250 is more typical. Those musicians who are composers or arrangers have been known to earn exceptional amounts of income from their scores, especially if a work is a commission from a well-off musician or organization, or the music is being used for TV and film, in which case they may earn royalties for years after the show or movie was produced.
8 things parents should not say and do to a child who is studying an instrument (especially one that’s really passionate about it)
Posted April 2, 2012on:
(note: my parents, especially my dad, are guilty of most if not all of these)
- Threaten to break their instrument. Especially if it’s owned by the school, which you will be responsible for damages.
- Threaten to pull them from private lessons or their ensembles for ANY reason.
- Fail to go to their performances.
- Fail to provide private lessons with a quality teacher, especially when your older child or teen DEMANDS them
- Complain that you do not want to hear the child practice, even if they are playing at a high level. And be tolerant of the squeaks and scratches during the first 2 weeks to 2 months or so, it takes some time for people to learn to use their bodies in a new way.
- Discourage them from making it a career if they so desire, especially if they are the top chairs in high level ensembles or earn extremely high marks in music exams
- Fail to purchase a quality instrument, a professional grade one if the student is seriously thinking of it as a career.
- Make fun of the fact that they can’t play by ear or can only play from written notation. (most musicians making a decent to comfortable living are strong music readers, while only a very small number of those who only play by ear make enough to cover their expenses!)
So your parents don’t want to hear you practicing (even though you are a good to very good player)? Some ideas on how to still get it done
Posted April 2, 2012on:
Strange as it may sound, my parents didn’t want to hear my practicing. My dad once or twice even threatened to break my instrument. (and it was not my own, it was the school’s, and I had wanted my own instrument since I was 16, I even asked for one for my 16th birthday!) I can understand why some parents might not want to hear much of a beginner’s practicing, though they should try to tolerate it for a few weeks to a few months while their hands and mouths learn a different way of being used. Even when I had become a very good player for my age and number of years I had been playing at the time. The most amazing thing, however, was that my parent’s neighbours ENJOYED hearing my playing!
So what did I do? Well, one way I got lucky was that my parents worked the afternoon shift (my dad) or the night shift (my mom), so as a break during the time I was doing my homework, or after doing it if I didn’t have much on a particular night, I would practice clarinet, usually from about 8:00 pm to about 9:30 pm, sometimes to 10 pm, unless it was all-city ensemble night.
Not only that, my parents were away a lot on the weekends, visiting my autistic brother who lived in a group home about a 2 1/2 hour drive away. While doing my homework and doing the tasks my mom had asked me to do, I would make sure I got at least an hour and a half of practice while they were out.
When those solutions weren’t possible (because of my dad working the day shift and/or my mom having been in an accident as a pedestrian), and had the freedom to travel anywhere in the city, I would use the practice rooms available at the conservatory or university music faculty if I could find one available that was unlocked, or failing that, pay $1 an hour to use a practice room during the day at a community music school.
Because of lack of access to a piano at home (my next-door neighbour owned one, however, and I was friends with the daughter), I used to practice during lunch hour in one of the two music rooms and sometimes after school, depending on availability, which usually was available during those times.
Yet another solution is to do ‘silent practice’. You can practice challenging rhythms away from the instrument for example. Another way that is possible for wind players is to blow into the instrument, but not make the instrument-specific sound, and ‘play’ the music by fingering the passages.
A solution that was not possible for me, being a woodwind player, and no such system available, but possible for string and brass players, is to use a mute (for string players) and Yamaha for brass instruments makes a Silent Brass system so that you are the only one that hears the playing, and maybe people sitting or standing really close by.
The last solution is to simply move and live on your own. Especially if you can find a supportive partner, especially one that can help you grow much further, and even be willing to pay for lessons and instruments you need and want.
A couple of days ago, my husband told one of his relatively advanced piano students, who is 14 years old, to practice while he was marking her theory assignment, which the theory assignment was part of her preparations for her advanced rudiments exam early next month. To his surprise, the student was practicing the tough passages not in a random, relatively disorganized manner with insufficient repetitions like most students (and had done in her past, like almost every child learning an instrument, though it was more controlled due to both parents being serious about the music study of the 3 of the 4 girls that he taught), but she was practicing each passage that they worked on earlier in the lesson using the methods and number of consecutive repetitions my husband had showed her over the past 4 years she has taken lessons with him.
This led me to think about when I really learned how to practice, and the point when most of the students I’ve had learn to analyze and organize their practicing. For most students, this seems to happen between 13 and 16 years old, with most students happening at 14 or 15, but the rare student learning how to do this as young as 11 or 12 years old.
Around 14 years old, I was given an article on various practice techniques from my school music teacher in Grade 9. I began trying some of the techniques soon after, and by the middle of Grade 10, I was regularly using several of those strategies. At that time, I was also seriously thinking about studying music after high school and I had auditioned successfully for the school board’s top high level ensembles, the top band and the symphony orchestra. Starting the summer after Grade 9, I practiced up to 2 hours a night on school nights, though typically about 1 1/2 hours, and 2-3 hours in the summer.
With the students that I’ve taught, most of them that are serious about it up the amount and quality of their practicing significantly, and use the techniques I have taught them to get them through the increasingly difficult pieces successfully. Within a year after discovering their fire and drive, several of them get into an ensemble that they’ve wanted to play in since they first heard about them, and get into a special music program that they applied for.
If a student discovers their passion for themselves, then it means the parents can back off in many positive ways, such as minimal to no practice reminders, limiting themselves to providing quality instruments, teachers, paying for additional courses, exams, auditions, and competitions, and if they get interested in teaching, providing them a few students.
After the first few weeks to few months of learning, many children practice less, or not at all. Here is a collection of tips that I have mostly gotten from parents of my students on how they get their children to practice.
The one that most frequently came up as a practice incentive is music practice in exchange for computer, video game, or TV time. For younger children, this is probably done best as a 1 minute of practice for 1 minute of computer time, but for older children, it might be better to do it for 2-3 mins of practice for a minute of computer, video game, or TV time. This tactic especially works for boys, who are more likely to be into video games and computers than most girls.
Another one that works well, though generally with older children, is goal-oriented practice. The object is to achieve all the goals the teacher has outlined for the lesson and long-term progress, but a student can take as much or as little time they need to achieve those goals. But to make this work, they have to prove to you that they can perform them well and consistently.
A third idea is to give them a choice between a household task they don’t like or to practice. So far the children who were given such a choice that I’ve taught always have chosen practice!
A fourth idea that I have tried mainly with students at least 10 or 11 years old, is a practice journal, where they are to write down their thoughts, discoveries, and questions. One of my highly gifted 11 year old piano students loved this idea so much after I introduced it to him and shared my practice journals, that he consistently has up to 2 typed pages per week. (and it builds their writing and spelling skills too!)
Fifth, you can use practice logs. There are a number of styles of practice logs, from one that you fill just the amount of time you practice, to those where you colour or shade off the goals achieved. I prefer the latter.
Sixth, and this is considered a controversial one, is to pay children to practice. Either tie part of their allowance to practicing (and earning bonus money if they exceed expectations) or have then earn say, $2 per hour practiced, up to a maximum of say 15-20 hours. This one, however, should probably only be used with children who are extremely reluctant to practice.
Seventh, provide additional opportunities to perform beyond what the teacher provides. Encourage them to perform in school talent shows, put on mini-concerts for friends and family, perform in a church, or perform at a cultural center.
Eighth, take them to see performances of slightly older children or adults who play really well. There are a number of fine high level bands and string ensembles in many parts of North America, even for kids in elementary school, and some places, especially in larger cities, have at least one high-level youth symphony orchestra. For piano students, don’t just take them to solo piano recitals, take them also to recitals where the pianist is playing with a solo instrumentalist or concerts where they are part of a chamber group, especially piano with a string trio or quartet. The point here is to inspire them with what they can achieve when they stick with it for a few to several years.