Tag Archives: music

A GUIDE TO TEACHING CHILDREN MUSIC: An Interpretation of Aletha Solter’s “Principles of Learning”

Orchestra students at the Mitch Carter school play instruments from Kennedy Violins.
Fifth grade students at  M.I.T.C.H. Charter School play instruments from Kennedy Violins.

As parents, teachers, and musicians, we hope to guide both our children and students to learn in the most effective way. But how can we encourage

  • a desire to learn
  • discipline to practice
  • enjoyment
  • and a sense of accomplishment

when teaching children to play an instrument?

Quite often children

  • equate practice with punishment,
  • experience boredom during lessons and practice sessions,
  • don’t understand what is being taught,
  • resist being encouraged (or forced) to practice,
  • lose interest in their instrument,
  • and/or don’t believe music can be enjoyable.

How can we keep children from these pitfalls and stumbling blocks during what could otherwise be a fulfilling, effective, and FUN learning experience?

Understanding how children learn is absolutely imperative when you are a teacher or parent introducing a child to music. Parental involvement is very important in the process, which is why all private instructors at Kennedy Violins encourage parents to participate in and be aware of their child’s learning experience.

The following series is a guide expanding upon eleven points from “Principles of Learning,” an article excerpt from Helping Young Children Flourish by developmental psychologist Aletha Solter, Ph.D. This series will expand on the eleven principles of learning in terms of how children can learn to play a musical instrument.

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Please check back as sections of “A Guide to Teaching Children Music” are added to this series!

  1. “The Ability and Desire to Learn”
  2. “Self-Initiated Learning vs. Imposition”
  3. “Hands-On Self-Discovery” – Coming Soon
  4. “Learning Through Play” – Coming Soon
  5. “Appropriate Stimulation” – Coming Soon
  6. “Inspiring Imagination and Creativity” – Coming Soon
  7. “Children Learn at Their Own Rate” – Coming Soon
  8. “Children Have Different Learning Styles” – Coming Soon
  9. “Screen Time: Stifling Creativity” – Coming Soon
  10. “Stress Interferes with Learning” – Coming Soon
  11. “The Parent/Child Relationship Affects Learning” – Coming Soon

Poetry Contest is Back!

heart-music
Last year, we asked our readers to submit a poem about how much you love music or playing music.  The outpouring of prose was lovely and we felt all warm and squishy despite the harsh Pacific Northwest winter weather we experience each year.  Well, the temperature is dropping and the need for poetic verse is rising, so we are bringing back the Poetry Contest for it’s second year!
The contest is simple.  All you have to do is post your poem to our Facebook page.  The poem can be a haiku, limerick, sonnet, ode, or any other form of poetry as long as the subject matter has to do with your love of music and/or playing music.  The winner will receive the Premium Package of accessories.
Participants may post up to 3 entries.  Please note that since the contest is present on Facebook, the terms and conditions for using Facebook will apply to all submissions.  Additionally, all entries must be an original work of the author that has not be previously published anywhere else.  Contest starts at 12:00 AM Pacific on February 1, 2013 and ends at 11:59 PM Pacific on February 14, 2013.
Please e-mail support@kennedyviolins.com or call us at 1.800.779.0242 if you have any questions about the contest.

Music Theory Basics (Part 2)

In Music Theory Basics (Part 1), we discussed the musical staff, clefs, and note names.  Today, we will cover the basics of rhythm and note duration.  There are lots of charts in this one!

The term rhythm has come to mean several different things in today’s culture, but for our purposes, we will use the following definition:

Rhythm: The controlled movement of music in time usually divided into strong (or accented) and weak (or unaccented) beats in a piece of music.

  • Beats: The regular pulse of music.  Often, beats are dictated by accents in music, a metronome, or a conductor.
  • Strong (or accented) beat: The effect that occurs in music when one note or syllable is stressed or emphasized more than others.

Duration: The length of time that a note is sounded. This length of time is determined by the note value.

  • Note value: is the duration of a note in the context of a measure/bar of music as determined by the time signature.  Here are some common note values.

Common note values chart from Music Theory Basics (Part 2) on blog.kenneedyviolins.com.

To avoid confusion with note names, it is important to think about them in relationship to a whole note.  A half note is half the value of a whole note, a quarter note is one-fourth (or a quarter) of a whole note, and an eighth note is one-eighth the value of a whole note.  Here is another chart to break it down.

Note Values Chart #2 from Music Theory Basics (Part 2) on blog.kennedyviolins.com

  • Measure/Bar: a term that signifies the smallest division of a piece of music marked by vertical bar lines on the staff.  Each measure contains a fixed number of beats.  The number of beats is determined by the time signature.

Picture of Measure and Bar Lines from Music Theory (Part 2) on blog.kennedyviolins.com.

  • Time Signature: A symbol placed at the left side of the staff indicating the meter (or measure of time) of the piece of music.  A time signature is made up of two numbers.  The top number tells you how many beats are in each measure and the bottom number tells you which note is the beat.

The top number is pretty straightforward. It always signifies how many beats are in a a measure.  If it’s a 4 then there are four beats, if it’s a 6 then there are six beats, and so on.

To “crack the code” of the bottom number, you need to be familiar with factions.  The bottom number is the denominator of the fraction of the note that it represents.  For instance, a quarter note is one-fourth or 1/4 the value of a whole note. So, if the bottom of a time signature is a 4 then the quarter note gets the beat.  Likewise, an eighth note is one-eighth or 1/8 the value of a quarter note.  So, if the bottom of the time signature is an 8 then the eighth note gets the beat.

Here is a chart of common time signatures you will run into.

We will stop there for now.  You can now take the concepts we have learned in these first two parts and apply them too some of the basic songs in the repertoire!  Why not try this part of “Jingle Bells.”

 

Online Music Lessons: Helpful or Hurtful?

We live in an interesting age, musically speaking.  Through the avenue of the internet, so much is available to us in the way of recordings, videos, articles, pictures, etc, etc.  From this sea of information, any aspiring musician with a computer can find tools and resources for online music lessons and often times for free.

Learning music online is vastly different than what teachers and players have been used to in generations before the world wide web making some wonder if online lessons are truly beneficial for budding musicians or if they just cause confusion and poor technique.  Before investing any serious time in front of a computer screen, there are a few things to consider when it comes to music lessons.

When it comes to learning anything, I think the most important thing to consider is how you or your student learns.  For instance, I am a kinesthetic learner.  I learn best by doing or using my hands.  Sitting around watching videos online, does help me as much a having a teacher guide me during a lesson and then practicing it on my own for several hours.  Yet, I have a student who is a very visual learner and online videos are a great reference for the days in-between lessons.  Likewise, I have a family member that can read a car manual and just build an engine in a weekend.  I’m sure that if he wanted to, he could play the violin after a day of reading “How-To” blogs online.

If you decide that using online music lessons are something that would be helpful for you, the next thing you need to consider is where the information is coming from.  The good news is that there are hundreds of thousands of videos, articles, and blogs to choose from.  The bad news is that pretty much anyone with a computer and 5 minutes of free time can post something.  When searching for music lessons, it’s best to use media produced by a professional or teacher with years of experience.  Generally, they will have tried and true methods to share that won’t lead you or your student astray.  If you are unsure about the validity of something you found online, it’s best to double check with your teacher.  Send them a link and have them check it out.  If you are teaching yourself how to play, you can always check with other members in the music community.  Contacting a local music store to see if they have come across something useful is a great place to find sound advice.  You can also check with other players through online forums like Violinist.com or Fiddle Hangout.

If you aren’t sure where to start looking online, a great place to start is our blog.  We are all professionals and teachers here, and we work hard to provide our readers with quality and useful educational articles that anyone can access.  We also have a Video Library on our website.  You can check it out here.

Playing While Pregnant

When I found out this last summer that I was pregnant with my first child, I knew that I would have to make adjustments to my everyday life.  I wasn’t sure exactly what all of those would be since  I had never been a mom before.  Luckily, there is a lot of information available online and in print for curious new moms like me.  I discovered I would have to change what I was eating, start taking a pre-natal vitamins, not ride roller coasters, things like that.

Pre-Pregnancy Playing

When the fall approached and the music groups that I had been playing in started new rehearsals after the summer break, I found myself asking a new question: how do you handle pregnancy as a musician?  I knew I wasn’t the first woman to try be a musician and pregnant at the same time.  I spent hours online and reading books trying to find any information about playing string instruments while pregnant.  All I could find were more first time moms with questions like mine.

What’s a girl to do?

Well, I decided to just “go for it.”  I would play like I usually had each year before and make any adjustments I need to along the way.  Now that I am in the last few weeks of pregnancy and having just finished the last concert I would play before my little one appears, I thought I would share some tips for other pregnant musicians that want to know how to make it all work.

1.  Know where the bathrooms are.  There is nothing like a full bladder to throw off your concentration, timing, intonation, and everything else.  Most people that you are playing with will understand if you disappear for a few minutes.

2. Drink lots of water.  This might seem counterproductive (especially considering the previous tip) but studies show that when you are well hydrated, the swelling and muscle aches that can hinder a musician from playing their best are lessened.

3.  Invest in the appropriate brace.  Personally, I spend most of my time playing the cello and violin and I developed pregnancy related carpal tunnel in my left hand.  I found that wearing a brace during the day when I wasn’t playing or night when I slept prevented or reduced any pain associated with this while playing.

My husband and I after a trio recital at 6 months pregnant

4.  Stretch and take breaks.  For pregnant gals, it is recommended that you take a break from sitting/standing every 20 minutes.  I like to incorporate some yoga as the stretching portion. There are positions for sitting and standing that will give your joints relief.  The 20 minute rule works well for practice sessions.  It can be difficult to keep this up if you are playing a concert/gig and when the program/set usually doesn’t have a break for 30 minutes or more.  If you find yourself in this situation, prior preparation is key.  Get plenty of sleep the night before and stretch beforehand.

5.  It’s okay to say no.  This is one I struggle with.  I used to play music with every one that would let me,  but it is very important that you don’t try to do it all.  The baby takes up a lot energy and during pregnancy, you can’t do everything like you used to.  Besides, if you are exhausted, you will put yourself at greater risk for injury and you will your baby under stress.

6.  Know that every pregnancy is different.  You may not experience joint pain or get carpal tunnel but you may get nosebleeds or some other weird pregnancy symptoms that would effect how you play.  Just know that there is a way to deal with any symptom out there.

7.  Remember that pregnancy doesn’t last forever.  All the aches and pains associated with pregnancy end after the baby is delivered.  For some women, they are back to normal with in a few days, some it takes a few moths.  Either way, you will be back in prime playing shape.

If I knew at the beginning of my pregnancy what I know now, there are a few things I would do differently.  For instance, I took on way too many gigs this holiday season, but I still survived.  Hopefully these tips provide some encouragement to other musicians out there embarking on motherhood.

Gifts That Will be Music to You (or your loved ones) Ears…

In case you haven’t noticed, the Holiday season is upon us and for many families out there that means exchanging gifts of some kind.  If you read this blog, I assume that you or someone close to you is a string musician.  So, what do you buy for a musician and where do you get it?  Stuff Mart doesn’t usually have aisles flowing with merchandise to match a musician’s need. *NOTE:  If you ever find a musical instrument for sale at the same place you can buy your toothpaste-just say no!*

1.  Strings-These are often overlooked as a gift.  String musicians will always need strings.  Even if the current ones they have are not worn out, back-ups are always welcome.  Plus, many string musicians (including myself) find it a fun adventure to experiment with different types.  The cost for strings varies a lot so you really only have to spend as much as want to.  Sets of violin strings range from about $10-$100+, viola strings range from about $20-$150+, cello strings are in the $40-$200+ ballpark, and bass strings you can expect to pay $90-$300+.  New strings are also a great way to upgrade the sound of an instrument without having to buy a new one altogether.

2. New Case-This is another item that a musician will almost always have use for.  Of all the parts in a string instrument outfit, the case probably receives the most wear and tear (as it should!).  Most cases these days come in a variety of shapes and colors that can match the recipients personality.  A new case is a great way to revitalize the instrument outfit without having to break the bank.  Cases have a wide range of prices too.  Violin cases are usually $20-$500+, viola cases range from $50-$500+, a good soft cello case starts around $40 and a good hard cello case starts around $200, while bass cases start at $100.

3. New Bow-Like the previous two listed, a new bow is another way to “upgrade” a string instrument without buying the whole kit and kaboodle.  If you don’t know anything about buying a bow, I would check out last week’s blog by Liz.  She has a lot of great information.  Bow costs range greatly.  For most string instruments, the cost for a new bow starts around $40 and can go into the thousands of dollars.  For this item, I would pick a budget first and stick to it.  The $500 bow will always sound better than the $100 bow.

4.  New Instrument-This is a great idea if you or your loved one wants to start playing a string instrument or if they are progressing to the next level.  A new instrument can be a more expensive option, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get a good deal.  Most instruments come as part if an outfit which means that many of the accessories included (case, bow, rosin, etc.).  There are instruments available for less that $100…but those are usually glorified paperweights.  For a decent student violin, I would expect to pay around $200 for the outfit, a good student viola would go for $400,  a nice student cello outfit should be around $600, and for a student bass I would pay around $1500.  If you are upgrading the instrument, I would get the player’s input.  See what it is about playing that they like.  Do they prefer a warmer sound or brighter sound?  You may even consider taking them with you when you make the purchase to play a couple of instruments.  If you want it to be a surprise, you can always get a teacher’s or professional’s opinion.  At Kennedy Violins, we are all professional string players here any we love to talk shop so feel free to call us.

5.  Novelty Accessories-A lot of the accouterments that go with string instruments are pretty mundane.  Lately, businesses have emerged on the market that feature more dazzling accessories.  They may not be the highest quality, but they are sure to bring a smile to any players face and a little bling to their instruments.

6.  Sheet Music-This is one of my favorites, but it can be touchy one.  For instance, if you gave your loved one a book titled “How to Play More in Tune,” that could back fire.  I would choose something that is lots of fun for the player.  The technical sheet music will usually come from a teacher.  Look for sheet music featuring songs from something like their favorite bands or a favorite musical.  Sheet Music Plus is a great resource.

The only other advice I feel I should offer is this:  Don’t buy a string player something just because it has a violin, viola, cello, or bass on it.  Over the years, I can’t tell you how many picture frames, clocks, dishes, jewelry, and other knick-knacks I have received with string instruments on them and sadly I have no use for any of them…especially the creepy violin playing cherub statues.  Mom, if you are reading this, I’m not talking about any of the gifts you got me.

Listen and learn

Listening ears

I’ve been reading a lot about our brains on music, and how supremely intertwined music is in our very being, as humans. As we listen to music, it’s not our ears that actually hear music – it’s our brains. Our ears merely convey the vibrations to our brains, and our brains, through synapse, social conditioning and training, interpret those vibrations and give them meaning and context.

Research into our perception of music and its effects on our brains has made enormous progress in the last five to ten years, with the advent of fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging – where the subject’s brain is examined in real time while being stimulated or while the subject is performing a prescribed task, such as playing an instrument or listening to music). Through the use of this investigative technique, our knowledge of the brain and how it perceives and processes music has been rapidly expanding to the point where we know things now that we had no inkling of just a decade ago. For example, making music stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain, releasing endorphins, much the same way physical exercise, sex or drugs do. So it really is sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll.

Studies of the cultural effect of music, from the time we are in utero, and as we mature, show our predilection for certain kinds of music endemic in our particular cultural surroundings. We in North America and Europe have a natural affinity for Western music because it’s the music we grew up hearing, for the most part, whereas societies in Asia, for example, have a natural affinity for the music built on different systems of musical organization and which for Western ears carries little or no cultural meaning.

A fascinating documentary was made a couple years ago, “The Music Instinct: Science and Song”,   whose chief consultant is Daniel J. Levitin, a prominent American cognitive psychologist, neuroscientist, record producer, musician, and writer. He is currently James McGill Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Neuroscience at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada with additional appointments in Music Theory, Computer Science, and Education. This documentary takes us on a journey that shows us the relationship between humans and sound, and along the way we hear from some heavyweights in the neuroscience field, famous professional musicians, anthropologists, neuropsychologists, and music therapists who are putting music under the microscope.

It shows us that the human fetus starts to hear at between 17 and 19 weeks. Through a series of experiments, researchers were able to determine that a baby in utero can hear music and reacts to it in much the same way young children and adults do. And so we start our relationship to music very early, when our mothers listen to music or sing, or play an instrument. Naturally, the music the mother listens to is typically culturally prevalent and is the very beginning of our cultural conditioning to a certain kind of music (i.e., Western traditional music versus Indian raga, or Lebanese classical).

Research finds that the brain actually becomes wired to hear that certain kind of music. And so, we have the very beginnings, the foundation of our musical perception. Our brains are sponges, really, throughout our lives. We’ve all heard the old saying that as we get older we can’t learn new things, but research into this field has disproved that notion. In fact, it is through music that we can affect healing by rewiring parts of the brains of stroke victims, and those suffering from neuro disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and the like. By use of music and rhythm, barriers to movement and communication can be overcome in these patients who otherwise have no other way to move or express themselves verbally. So our brains are constantly learning and adapting.

In the end, music isn’t just an academic pursuit or another activity to get your kid into. It really is part of who we are as humans. This post is just the tiny tip of a huge iceberg on the subject. Take a look at the video below, and maybe check out the whole program and find out what’s really going on in your kid’s head when she practices the cello, or learns a new scale. It’s really quite amazing.

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Diverse Genres

There is a multitude of diverse musical genres that can be played on the violin, but some of the most popular are classical violin music and fiddle music.

With its rich history and complex form, playing classical violin music can be a challenging and rewarding experience. Playing with others in an orchestra is an excellent option once the necessary skills have been achieved. Opportunities to play as a soloist can range from recitals, alone or with a piano, or soloing with a full orchestra.

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There are many styles of fiddle music, and some of them include celtic, texas, bluegrass, and canadian. With fiddling, there are often different techniques involved depending on what style you are playing. There are numerous opportunities for playing different types of fiddle music, on your own or with others. Festivals, contests, and jams are just some such chances to play fiddle music.

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You do not have to limit yourself to one style, either. It is great fun to play a variety of different musical styles on the violin. Whatever type of music you choose to play, you will find it to be an extremely rewarding experience. Kennedy violins offers violins for any price category. Visit www.kennedyviolins.com to view our selection of instruments, and begin your musical journey today!

Learning the Violin: Beautiful Brainpower

The nimble fingers of the violinist appear to dance as they fly over the fingerboard, and the violin itself seems to sing. The musician and instrument almost become one, as the beautiful music lifts your spirits and carries you away. As you watch and listen, an interest in playing the violin yourself is sparked. Or, perhaps, you think of your child, and want to give the gift of music to them. Mastering the violin is a most satisfying and rewarding endeavor, but did you know that there are numerous other benefits to learning the instrument?

Learning to play the violin, especially at a young age, helps to promote neuron and brain cell connection, and assists in the development of creative cognitive skills and abstract thinking. Children who are taught to play the violin learn important skills at an early age, such as concentration, mental focus, discipline, and patience. Studies suggest that musical training helps the development of the areas of the brain that have to do with language and reasoning, and enhances and stimulates creativity. In some of these studies, students of the arts were more successful on standardized test scores. Since much of the music we study today was written many years ago, students who learn to play major musical masterpieces are connected to past historical events in ways they otherwise might not be. Ensemble playing teaches musicians teamwork and discipline. For violin students of any age, learning the instrument keeps the pupil mentally fit.

Children playing the violin
Children playing the violin

Some of the capabilities enhanced and acquired when learning the violin include the development of fine motor skills, dexterity, and control. The mind and body are encouraged to develop coordination at a high level. Specifically, playing the violin is excellent in aiding the connection between the right and left sides of the brain, since both sides of the body are used.

Mastering the violin provides the musician with a very important opportunity: the means to express themselves. Confidence and self-esteem are developed, as well as a love and appreciation for music. Playing for fun promotes relaxation and releases mental tension. As well as being both satisfying and challenging, playing the violin can be a refreshing pastime for anyone of any age who loves the instrument. Adults who decide to start learning the violin make an excellent choice, as there are few experiences more valuable than becoming a beginner again.

Encouraging an interest to play the violin in your child, or deciding to pick up the instrument yourself is a wonderful way to bring the joy of music to your life and the lives of others. Kennedy Violins offers an extensive variety of affordable student violin outfits for any price range. Stop by and view our selection of instruments today.