New Year's Resolution: Words your child needs to hear

These very short phrases can work wonders!











Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful!

These lyrics and the idea of snuggling up in the winter make children feel wonderful! Snowy or cold weather does make extra time for new music exploration, practice of older pieces and playing for visitors. Many religions use sounds and musical/rhythmic traditions to shape practice and worship. At this time of year we pull out old standards, carols, hymns and ancient Gregorian chant. Attending children's recitals in December give everyone a chance to get decked out, make or share some special food and play for others.

I encourage you to pull out the songs secular or religious - even if rusty - and enjoy making music with your families.  At earlylearnerpiano each student is encouraged to find one or two wintry or holiday pieces to learn, perfect and play for family at this time of year.

"And since we've no place to go, let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!"  Gravitating to the instruments will warm everyone up - give another dimension to the Holiday break from school and work schedules, and a simple excuse to be delighted with 'no place to go'!

On Jamming....and our mother tongue

 "Did you speak English (insert your own mother language) every day when you were a baby?" he asked.

"Well, not exactly." Apparently there was more. 

"Do you need to speak English every day to get better at it?" he asked. 

"No, I don't." 

"Then what's missing?" 

"I don't know." My frustration grew. "Just tell me." 

"Jamming!" he stated with a slight nod of his head. 


"Jamming!" he repeated. "That is the missing element. When you were a baby, you were allowed to jam with the English language. From day one, not only were you allowed to jam, you were encouraged to. And better yet, you didn't just jam; you jammed with professionals. Just about everyone you communicated with when you were a baby was already a master of the English language. And because of that you are now a master." 

"A master?" I inquired. 

"A genuine master," he confirmed. "The only reason you are not called a master is that everyone else is just as good at it as you are. Everyone is a master. Think about it. If you were as good at Music as you are at English, you would surely be considered a master. Would you not?" ....."There are only two elements that allowed you to become a master of the English language at such a young age. Only two: being surrounded by it, and jamming with it. That's it!" 

 -----Conversation between teacher and student on the nature and effect of an environment filled with excellent music where the student is encouraged to jam.

Excerpted from "The Music Lesson" by Victor L. Wooten


Helping Kids Deal with Their Feelings: Empathetic Parental Listening

The new routine of music lessons, practice and listening to the CD will be fun and doubtless challenging at times too!  These ideas never cease to amaze, even as the 'kids' get older! 

4 Ideas to try if a child seems in distress

1) Instead of listening with half attention, stop other activities, put cellphones on silent and out of sight,  turn off other ambient noise, turn to the child and give full, patient/silent attention without jumping in to answer right away. 

2) Instead of questions, blaming and advice, acknowledge the situation (eg. a misplaced piano book) with a word: "Oh?"  or Mmmmm or Uh huh.  "I see..."   The child might reply, 'maybe it's near my book bag on the floor by all the shoes' or 'No one would take my piano book, it must be in the pile of library books' 'May I use that orange canvas tote from now on, it's so bright?' By using simple words while listening with a caring attitude, the child can explore her own thoughts and feelings, possibly come up with solutions of her own. 

3) Instead of denying a child's feeling, give it a name. Parents don't usually give this kind of response for fear that by giving a name to the feeling, they'll make it worse.  Just the opposite is  true. The child who hears the words for what he is experiencing is deeply comforted. Someone has acknowledged his inner experience. (This works for adults too!) Example: On death of pet turtle, instead of saying, 'Don't cry its only a turtle' say, 'oh no! what a shock! Then, instead of 'now don't get so upset' or 'Stop it, I'll buy you another turtle' try: 'To lose a friend can hurt' and 'You really cared about that turtle.'

4) Instead of explaining and logic, give a child his wishes in fantasy. Sometimes when children want something they cannot have, adults reply with logical explanations of why they can't have it.  The harder we explain, the harder they protest. Example: Child wants cranberry juice which the family has run out of. Instead of 'I just told you we ran out! Why can't you listen?' say, 'I hear how much you want cranberry' 'I wish I had the magic power to float a thousand cranberries in here for crushing to make juice' Sometimes having someone understand how MUCH you want something makes reality easier to bear.

Excerpted from Faber and Mazlish, "How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk"






Listening effortlessly (while doing family life)

Begin with the notion that background music is delightful.  My own son often hummed without any prodding or 'reason', repeating little tunes from his cradle and playpen. (At 18 he is still humming (now it's his playlist of different genres of classics!) 

When your toddler or young child plays before and during the bath time, add in the background of the CD. Perhaps you rotate it with other favorite music.

Routine car trips to and from the market, school, the park, provide perfect times to listen. Not so loud you cannot talk, but in the background.  If you manage regular cleanup, pickup times in your house, the CD in the background can turn into more dancing and physical play fun.  Please do not plug ear buds into the child's ears, this tends to isolate the child.   Instead, remember that this adult driven effort to listen together is a gift: you include him or her in a wonderful activity which requires no 'effort' of the child. This easy absorbing as with the language you first spoke around, to and eventually with your child, is an environmental feature of your family life.  Later, when a middle school age piano student is memorizing something, this deliberate individualized focus is of course useful and a feature of the quiet listening with ear buds!

Becoming familiar with the tunes and rhythms in Book I is as important for the parents as for the child! If the music is often 'just on' during times when the child arrives back to the home, it becomes part of the fabric of the household. No effort required.

WHO instigates the listening?  Always the parent! We cannot expect the child to setup the environment at such an early age. The idea is to listen as often as possible, and with little fanfare, expecting nothing and getting everything. As children grow up, we often cringe or gloat when a pet word or epithet is repeated by a child in the perfect context.  We can't remember 'teaching' it to them. Everyday environment is where they absorb.

WHAT if my spouse or other family members get 'tired' of listening to the Twinkles and Lightly Row etc?  Take a moment and explain that this background listening is creating a huge desire to play a difficult instrument and is giving 'body awareness' of these tunes.   Then put on other CDs! #2 or #3 to vary the songs your child will later be itching to sound out on her own.

 Exactly what is body awareness?  When you instinctively tap your toe or rock back and forth to a great piece of music, you're feeling it. The physics of music in our body will be topic of another post - a great discussion of the interplay of art and science which results in variations of timbre on a keyboard and therefore the emotional interpretation of music.  Made or heard: Croon. Lull. March. Fly. Rock out.

Create ease, Approaching 1st lesson

For parents, no need for tension

Success on anything we teach depends on preparation. When a young child comes forward for his or her first piano lesson, the success in that lesson depends on everything that happened before. If the student has been surrounded by good music, including the Suzuki repertoire, has watched other children having lessons, has developed his inner desire by attending student recitals and group lessons, then when he is ready to receive his first lesson, it will be a successful experience. All the preparation period guarantees success. Success means that the student will accomplish something in the lesson and feel good about his or her accomplishment. Then he is ready to proceed to the next step with a a sense of joy and confidence.

How to banish tension from playing

"Pianists must train themselves to take their fingers with them when the play broken chord patterns. Rather than keeping a prepared position and stretching to cover simultaneously all the keys used in a broken chord, it is better to play one key and then move to the next, releasing the extended position of the previous finger as soon as the following one is played.   Avoidance of useless stretching or twisting in order to keep fingers over keys that need no longer be down, eliminates tension. If repeated chords are played with fingertips moving in slightly, assisted by a small forward up movement of the wrist or forearm when appropriate, it eliminates tension".    -Blanche Abrahm