From first lessons as a 6-year-old to training sought as an adult, music memories have a way of sticking around. I remember each of my teachers by each musical gem they revealed to me, and I still use those gems, recalling the faces and motives of those who shared them. Choosing a music instructor is an impacting investment, influencing even beyond the instruments.
Many have no idea what to look for in a teacher when they decide to begin (or continue) their musical education. As you interview potential instructors, consider more than just scheduling, credentials, and cost. Get a real feel for the practicality and lasting values of your new teacher (and make them smile!) with these 8 out-of-the-box questions.
1. "What do you expect from me as your student?"
Find out if you can be the kind of student they work best with. Some music teachers only want to work with certain ages or skills levels, and some have requirements to reach certain practice goals in a certain amount of time. Find out if they will be the kind of teacher that motivates and challenges you to the degree you're looking for.
2. "If on some days I only have a few minutes to practice, what's the one thing you think is most beneficial for me to work on?"
From this, you will find out what they believe is a major key to success. Know that they will emphasize this kind of exercise or technique, and picture how it will affect your musicianship. (Bonus: you get to see their reaction to the words "only have a few minutes to practice"! The practice element in student/teacher relations is real... Might as well get the conversation started -- let them know the amount of time you can realistically devote to practice each day/week, and get their thoughts before starting lessons.)
3. "What are some accomplishments your students have made?"
An important one. You get to find out what they capable of inspiring in others. While a wow-factor like helping students win competitions is a good sign, look for other good signs like helping special needs students find courage at their first recital, or getting siblings to enjoy playing duets together.
4. "When you are not teaching, what are your personal music projects?"
This enables you to see what is musically on the teacher's mind and ways they are actively growing and interacting in the industry. Since many teachers eventually invite their advancing students to be part of their projects, it also shows you potential opportunity for you to work toward. Are the teacher's personal music projects ones you might be interested in supporting? Part of the role most teachers provide for serious students is to open a door into the professional community of musicians.
5. "What were some of your musical struggles as a student and how did you overcome them?"
Teachers teach from experience. Empathy is key.
6. "What kinds of music do you listen to?"
It will ultimately influence the way they guide you. Can you share admiration for any of the same artists and genres? They will likely recommend songs for you to learn from their range of listening. And will they already be familiar with the type of music you want to learn?
7. "What is the most thrilling experience you've had as a musician?"
You want to know what lights their musical fire, and they will want to tell you! This can also be a fun way to find out notable achievements they've reached themselves.
8. "If someone could gather only one truth from lessons with you, what would you want that one truth to be?"
This is a way to hear their musical "mission statement." It may go a bit deeper beyond technique and notes, and that is inspiring to consider.
There are many music teachers out there. Don't settle for one until you feel they are right for you. And don't be afraid to move on to a new teacher if your interests and goals move toward another direction.
If you already take music lessons with a teacher you appreciate, spice up a lesson with one of these questions sometime! Everyone can use a short break from discussing exercises and assignments. Let the questions open a conversation and grow your student/teacher bond stronger.
Perfectionism says, "What are people thinking?"
Joy says, "What am I feeling? Can others feel it, too?"
Perfectionism says, "Will they like it?"
Joy says, "Will I love it?"
Perfectionism says, "Is someone out there better than me, looking 'down' on me?"
Joy says, "Someone out there will be blessed and inspired through it."
Perfectionism says, "Why am I even doing this?"
Joy says, "I am doing this in gratitude for the gift it is!"
Perfectionism says, "I'm not as good as I could be."
Joy says, "Each time I'm better than before."
Perfectionism says, "There are so many performers in the world; to be of any value, I must strive to be the best."
Joy says, "There is no best, no value, except for the one who throws heart and soul into present place and time. The only one in this here and now is me."
Perfectionism looks at past mistakes.
Joy looks forward with assured hope.
Who doesn't love to sing while driving? These fun and simple games can fill your mobile-on-wheels with tunes as creative as your whole car load combined.
Once again, do you have to "practice" in your room with the door closed in order to improve your musical skills? Not always! Practical music skills are most often built through common use and joyful interaction. Why not turn the next car ride with family or friends into an opportunity to improve musically together?
The 9 game ideas below are listed in order of difficulty. On longer car rides, you could even try all the games one after the next for a full practice routine.
Section 1: Voice Strengthening Games
1. Be a Bee
Buzz like bees -- the louder the better! First fly ("bzzzzz") in a straight line on the same note, then change the pitch to fly upward then drift downward, smoothly back and forth. This is a gentle warm-up for vocal cords. As you warm up more and more, your bee swarm will be able to zoom up higher and swoop down lower. Hold each buzz for as long as you can, and even have contests for who can hold their buzz for the longest time.
Put your hands on your belly and laugh as hard and as deeply as you can. Maintain a steady beat with each burst of air, everyone together. Say "Ho, ho," and "Ha, ha," with strong movement. This is a diaphragm-strengthening exercise. Slight muscular soreness at first is a sign of good practice going on. The fun of this game is seeing who is the last person to "actually" laugh.
Choose a favorite tongue-twister to put to song. In singing it together, let the mouth open wide to help the words come out clearly. Start with a rhythmic chant on the same note, progressing to a simple melody if desired. This is an exercise for articulation. Control of the tongue allows for more resonance in the mouth and helps listeners better understand any words when they are sung. See how fast everyone can sing each tongue-twister without any tongues stumbling.
Section 2: Melodizing Games
4. Melody Memory
One person sings one note. The next player echoes it back, and adds one more new note after it. Thus the melody goes around, being built longer and longer until the whole melody can't be remembered anymore. Decide whether you use the same syllable for all the notes ("La," or "Da," etc.) or, for more of a challenge, if each new note gets a new syllable.
Take an existing poem and create a melody for it. Each new person sings the next line and gets to decide how their line's melody sounds. Keep a steady beat in the background with claps or taps or stomps so that every singer must keep in time. Think "popular song" and make it simple, using a similar melody to the line before yours with only slight variation.
6. Phone Numbers
Memorize people's phone numbers by singing them as pitches of the major scale. 1=Do(C), 2=Re(D), 3=Mi(E), 4=Fa(F), 5=So(G), 6=La(A), 7=Ti(B), 8=Do(highC), 9=Re[highD], 0=rest. (If you'd like help finding what note each note of the scale would sound like, you can download a free piano app or tuner app.) Some phone numbers are easy to sing, some are quite difficult. The more people in your car, the more everyone can help each other out!
Section 3: Harmonizing Games
7. Tuning (Harmonizing Level 1)
The first person sings one note (any note) and holds it. (Whenever they run out of breath, start the note again). One by one, each next singer adds in on the same note. The goal is that everyone is singing the same note in such perfect tune that no one's voice stands out -- it's as if it's all "one voice."
8. Chord Building (Harmonizing Level 2)
The first person sings one note (any note) and holds it. One by one, each next singer adds a different, harmonizing note. The goal is to find as many different notes as there are people and have them all build a chord that sounds pleasing to everyone.
9. Harmonic Rhythm Section (Harmonizing Level 3)
This game works the same as levels 1 & 2, only instead of singing long tones, sing fun syllables in rhythms (e.g. "Go," "Be," "Hey," etc.). Establish a steady beat with tapping feet or hands. Each singer can then use their own rhythm that fits in, or everyone can keep to the same, unified rhythm. Once you get the feel for it, this Harmonic Rhythm Section game can sound truly thrilling.
Questions or additional thoughts on the games above? Leave a comment!
Infants can learn to sing before they learn to speak. By encouraging music in your pre-verbal infant, affirmation and communication can be promoted in a way that pre-reasoning minds are able to understand.
Here are 3 simple ways that any parent (whether or not they consider themselves musical) can grow music in their new child.
1. Sing back the notes that your infant coos to you.
The first sounds that infants make are pitched notes. While these are real notes that could be found on an instrument, you don't even have to know what the notes' names are in order to sing them back to your child. When your little one coos "ah, ah, ah," listen them out until they're finished, then sing it right back to them. Sing the same pitch(es) they sang, with the same rhythm (timing), on the same vowel sound. Not only does this affirm to your infant that you are listening carefully to what they have to say, but it also builds confidence that what they said was valuable. Most of all, it creates awareness that music exists and that music exists inside of them. As a music teacher, I can testify to the fact that much of my job is about convincing students of this fact. Imagine, though, on the contrary, what musical journeys the next generation can experience if they grow up knowing they are musical. The musicality of every human being is a truth. It is each parents' responsibility to simply keep mental roadblocks from obscuring this truth.
2. Have a short song for every activity you and your infant engage in together.
By turning ordinary, everyday experiences into a smiling song, children's worldviews develop with the assurance that life is good.
Try to be as consistent as possible with singing a specific song every time you do an activity. It does take some focus, but as much consistency as you are able to put into it, you and your child will reap back the results. It's also important to have the melody be the same each time because that signals recognition, and recognition signals security which signals peace and joy.
The good news is that you ARE musical enough for this task. Even if you haven't sung much in your life before, singing to your baby seems to be one of those skills that comes out of nowhere -- simply through the act of becoming a parent. The melodies you come up with can be "silly," but they belong to you and your child alone, and that's what makes them wonderful. If you're like me and you find difficulty remembering the tunes you make up, try using a voice recorder to help you remember. Here are some short rhymes for everyday activities to get you started:
-"We put the socks on toes; that is how it goes, put the socks on toes!"
-"Listen to the crunchy pants; come on, do the diaper dance!"
-"Oh, what yummy food, oh, what tasty tastes -- chew and chew and chew, so no food goes to waste."
-"Is there poo inside of you?"
-"In the bath we splash, we splash!"
-"We rub the toes, we rub the feet; we scrub the legs, we scrub the knees. We rub the back, we rub the neck; we scrub the arms, we scrub the chest."
-"Crawl, crawl, crawl, one and all!"
-"Let's clip, clip, clip, clip the nail on your fingertip. Oh, oh, oh, oh, [nine] more to go..."
-"We're going back in the car seat, going for a ride; where will we go, will it be a surprise?"
-"Walk and talk, let's go walking while talking!"
-"Time to climb, time to climb, how high can you climb?"
-"Kisses and zoobers, let's wipe up the goobers!"
-"Meeting new faces, going new places..."
-"Going up the stairs" (sing an ascending scale)
-"Going down the stairs" (sing a descending scale)
-"What do you think? Is it time for a drink?"
3. Place an instrument in every room and have supervised exploration time daily.
It is naturally built into infants to be fascinated with objects that make sounds. At a very early age they will be able to recognize what a musical instrument looks like and reach for it. My daughter was first starting to identity instruments on her own at three weeks, and now at seven months she shouts delightedly when she sees one! When we sit at the piano together, she bangs both hands on the keys in rhythm with my playing. All I do from day to day is make sure we try out an instrument when we see one.
By gently exploring instruments with your little one, their worldview forms that music is normal and it is a joy. If they are told "no" when they want to touch an instrument, it causes them, at a very deep subconscious level, to fear instruments. (And then we wonder why piano lessons are such a dread at age 7!)
Instruments look lovely to have around and are easier to acquire than it may seem. They are designed logically where new minds will pick up fundamentals about them through frequent exposure. For instance, it goes a long way toward future study of an instrument if a child already knows that smaller strings and smaller distances make for higher notes.
You do not even have to have special instruments designed for little children. As long as you are exploring the instrument with your child, it can be safe for the instrument. Your excitement will make it extra exciting for the child on top of the fact that it's rewarding to hit, blow, or pluck something and it creates a sweet sound. Parents can learn any instrument right alongside their child and then no one has an excuse for NOT enjoying the making of music.
Do you and your infant have a special way of bonding through music? Share your stories in the comments below! And please pass along this article with the goal for the next generation to more clearly experience the joy of music.
"He's so talented!"
"I'm just not talented..."
"What a lot of talent you have!"
We've all heard the rhetoric. Maybe we've found the words fall awkwardly from our own mouths from time to time.
The effect is intended to categorize and separate people. You over there... me over here... depending on who seems to display more of that so called "talent" or not. One place is on a pedestal. They call it a stage. The other is in a chair. A chair you slump way down into while you watch the other person up on the stage. "Talent" is a concept that has separated many a friend.
I don't think this is what music is all about.
Music is a way that any human being can connect with any other human being, regardless of abilities and styles. Each person has a voice all their own to contribute, and something to teach whether they know it yet or not.
Stated simply, the idea of "talent" gets in the way of musical growth. Here's how:
1. Perceived talent is not necessarily useful skillfulness.
Some kinds of "talent" attract a "Wow" but little else. A person (or a monkey) can learn to put on a show and yet not have mastery over any of the elements of their show. They can learn one trick but it doesn't make them a magician. In the same way, don't be fooled by someone who looks like they are playing an instrument. It is possible they have only learned to play a song.
I was amazed to discover that this kind of musical foolery was even possible. As a kid, I had a friend who liked to play Rachmaninov piano concertos. At a musical party, he played one, and immediately he was surrounded by other musical friends with music in their hands: "Play this, play this!" they requested. He turned down every request until someone finally convinced him to give one a try. He shakily struck the first chord but then it was nearly another whole minute before he was able to figure out the next chord. This was not sounding like a song. I peeked at the sheet music and it was no more than beginning level difficulty! Had he forgotten the basics? I thought basics were impossible to forget. Then it occurred to me that maybe this was a case where the basics actually had never been learned. It's a kind of "talent" that is more of an illusion than a skill. As I went on to meet and work with many other so-called "advanced" musicians, it became clear just how many out there are taught to learn a few fancy songs like tricks, yet have no mastery whatsoever over their instrument or musical understanding.
2. True skill is grown, not born.
Someone who has put thousands of hours into refining a skill may find it insulting to be called talented. "You're so talented," they hear time and again after every concert they put on. Not only do the words get old and dry fast; it's that a hint of jealousy can be heard in the speaker's tone. It's a speaker who doesn't understand what the performer went through; it's someone who likely hasn't discovered their own path to music yet, someone who hasn't noticed how stained an accomplished musician always is with their own "blood and sweat."
3. Talent is supposed to mean perfectionism.
I once watched a beautifully dressed teen sing a song she'd written with her harp. Her hair was fixed so flawlessly that she didn't move her head, and it almost looked like her facial expression itself had been painted on with makeup. She got a standing ovation and clicked her way offstage while someone else carried her harp for her. "What are you going to DO with all her talent, Dean?" I heard someone gush to the harpist's father after the show. The father frowned and shook his head, looking down. "No, no," he muttered, "This was no good. She does it better at home." It was then that I noticed the harp girl was standing nearby. She was looking at the ground where her tears were falling.
This is the price of talent. We find it hard to recover from everyone's expectations.
4. The air of talent separates people instead of drawing them together.
Someone with an air of "talent" has a mind on themselves and how impressive they are, more than on drawing the audience into a great song. While music is something all people can do together, there is still often a great time for performing when most people want to listen and it's your time to play. That's when a wonderful responsibility is yours to involve the listeners and make them an interested, active part of the music whether they know it or not.
5. There are as many approaches to music as there are people. (The "talent prerequisite" is a myth.)
Everyone has a natural ability of some kind. Are you a strong communicator? Kinesthetically adept? Artistic? Detailed? These are all elements within music, and anyone can start from their strong point and improve from there. Additionally, anyone can find the facet of music that appeals to their physically natural abilities and pursue that facet. For instance, an introverted, conscientious manager type may be best suited to compose for orchestra while a fidgety and outgoing person who is a good listener would do better as a fiddler.
Call ALL of the approaches "talent," or don't call ANY of them "talent" -- it's up to you. But the illusion of talent being exclusive is a barrier. And sadly, too many rely on this barrier as their excuse for NOT putting effort into music.
Shadow a child. Children are eager to get their hands on an instrument and make a sound in the way that makes sense to them. If they are forced into learning a specific instrument or method, sooner or later some adult will assign whether or not the child is "talented" in that narrow capacity, but without that assignment, the concept of talent is nowhere in the child's mind. The child will continue to pursue the making of music in the way that most encourages them. It's a perfect example of what we can call natural and enjoyable.
Find your approach and pursue it unashamedly. Surround yourself with people who support your approach, understand it, and help you grow in it.
Has the concept of "Talent" ever been a barrier between you and discovering a new form of music? Feel free to share about your own journey toward musical skill in the comments below!
Please share this article so that others may be inspired to shed the barrier that "talent" can be.
It's no wonder that there can be some complaining when "Music" has to fit into a 30-minute practice box. Is that really all there is to music? If you want to have music fill your whole heart and life, check out these 16 fun and simple ways to bring music into your home every day.
1. Sing an ascending scale when walking up stairs, one note per stair. (How many steps up can you go up before it's too high to sing?) Sing a descending scale when walking down stairs.
2. Whenever you walk, walk in time to a steady rhythm and simultaneously carry out a melody in your head -- or aloud. (Some people do this subconsciously all day long. Are you one of those people?)
3. But then again, why walk somewhere when you can dance there?
4. Listen creatively to life. Ask each other fun questions like:
- If that person was an instrument, what instrument would their voice sound like?
- What genre of music does this rushing river sound like?
- If that painting became a song, what would it sound like?
5. Listen intuitively to music. Ask each other fun questions like:
- How many/which instruments can you decipher?
- What personality traits are conveyed through that fiddle line?
- What story is the song itself telling (music only, lyrics aside)? Tell the story as the song plays.
6. Play recorded instrumental music on speakers throughout the day, sometimes very familiar albums, sometimes songs entirely new to you. Let the music naturally fade in and out of your consciousness. From time to time, sing or pick up an instrument to play a few notes that work with it.
7. Own at least one instrument from each category of: Blowing (whistles, woodwinds, brass), Plucking (bowed strings, guitars), and Striking (piano, percussion).
8. Trade the word "practice" for "play." Place an instrument in each room and encourage playing at any time of day. (By the way, an "instrument" can be a small thumb piano or nose flute -- no need to make a big investment in order to have an instrument in every room of the house [yes, especially the bathroom, no kidding].)
9. Make a list of every different instrument you've ever gotten to try playing. Add to the list as often as you can. Go on a hunt visiting friends' houses and music stores.
10. Use any voice recorder to play back your singing and playing instruments. Sound your "best," sound your "worst" -- either way, laugh and talk about it. Make a list of how you'll try it differently next time. Were you successful in making the second recording sound different like you aimed for?
11. Invite musician friends over to give concerts and have jam sessions in your living room or on the lawn.
12. Try to sing the note made by constant frequencies around the house, such as: a fan, a blender, a car horn, etc. Then find the name of the note by singing it with an instrument or to a tuner.
13. When you count, count in sets of threes, fours, sixes, etc. It can help you internalize the rhythmic form of measures (and, bonus: supports the use of multiplication!).
14. Find the "Resonant Pitch" of your shower (the note that sounds the loudest when you sing it at normal volume level), and while showering, make up songs that center around using that note a lot.
15. Notice steady rhythms in nature (water drops dripping, insects chirping, etc.), and add your own part.
16. Make your everyday conversations feel like music: choose "lyrical" phrases and use warm, pleasant tones when talking with each other.
. . . And just like that, another day passes, and whether you realize it or not, it was packed full of music. Kids have a point (and all busy, learning adults get it, too): You don't always need to "practice" in order to grow your music skills!
There are countless ways to experience music. Force-feeding the notes can drain out desires and valuable energy. Let love and joy be your motivation to make a sound.
Which is your favorite idea listed above? What ways have you already been turning everyday activities into musical ones? If you have further thoughts on having a home of harmony, please share in the comments below!
An accomplished performer on over 20 instruments, Danika finds the greatest joy by sharing her love of music with others. She is a recording artist and trusted music mentor who writes and composes from her California country home.