3 Tips to Turn Students into Music Theory Rockstars – Guest Series by Kristin Jensen

3. Apply it
What is the one thing you could do that would best give kids the internal drive to master music theory? Teach them the application.

When kids realize that music theory empowers them to create their own fun songs they’ll want to learn everything they can from you.

Far too often kids study the piano for years and years, but then can’t play a thing if they don’t have a piece of sheet music in front of them. What happens if they get asked to “play something” when they don’t have a piece worked up? They’re embarrassed and find themselves feeling that their lessons have failed them to some degree.

If a student really understands his instrument, he should be able to make music—even if he doesn’t have a sheet in front of him.

Music theory teaches us how music works, and if you can help your students realize that applying their theory will open a whole new world of enjoyment at the piano, they will thank you forever.

Kids can start applying their theory even as young beginners. When you introduce a new concept, ask kids to go home and create a song that uses this new principle. You’ll find that kids learn the concept faster, are thrilled to play their song for you and their confidence at the piano skyrockets.

For some fun exercises that get kids creating impressive songs using their theory knowledge, you can check out these piano improv activities. You definitely want to teach the “Snowflake Technique” to your students—it’s super easy and sounds awesome:

When your students know their theory well they’ll make faster progress in their lessons, learn new songs with less frustration and spend hours at the piano having fun creating their own music. Remember these three tips for getting kids excited about learning theory: make it fun, make it social and teach the application. Before you know it, your students will become music theory rockstars!

A huge thanks to Kristen Jensen for sharing her wonderful tips and resources with us in this series, 3 Tips to Turn Students into Music Theory Rockstars. Kristin Jensen is a piano teacher who specializes in teaching children to create their own music. Kristin is supported by a wonderful husband and two darling boys (ages 3 and 1) who keep her on her toes, but make life lots of fun. Check out her website at EarTrainingAndImprov.com for lots of free resources and downloadable worksheets.

3 Tips to Turn Students into Music Theory Rockstars – Guest Series by Kristin Jensen

2. Make it social

Studying piano can be kind of lonely. Kids practice by themselves. Then they sit in a small room with an “old” teacher who for 30 minutes tells them everything they’re doing wrong. Then they go home and repeat.

One reason why so many kids end up choosing sports over piano is that their friends are there with them. And when friends are together, there’s laughter, camaraderie and the desire to succeed together.

There is a way to make piano a more social experience, and that is to offer group theory lessons. You could do a group theory class once a month, or maybe offer a special theory master class anytime there is a 5th Monday in a month. Maybe you could get even more creative with your scheduling. I provide a group theory class almost every week–my students love coming, have developed strong friendships and are learning a ton.

Plus some friendly competition goes a long way in motivating kids to nail down new concepts! When kids are playing a game with their friends they have much more incentive to master the principles because they want to be included in the fun and they want to do well in the game.

Here’s a favorite group activity that is as old as the hills and has a million variations, but is really effective. Knowing note names is a foundational skill that kids will build upon for virtually everything else we do in music theory, so it’s always my goal to help students learn the names of the notes on the staff as quickly as possible. We do this activity a lot! To play, place a printout of the grand staff in a page protector and give a copy to each student. Then give each student a mini marshmallow and call out a note name. All students who place their marshmallow on the correct line or space get to eat it. You’ll be able to play many rounds of this “note name drill” because your students will want more treats!

Ear training is also great in a group. Ear training is something can easily be neglected, but it makes a world of difference in students’ musicianship. When your students are just getting started, use simple ear training games like playing two notes and asking students to call out if the notes are the same pitch or two different pitches. Gradually work your way into more advanced exercises (using fun activities, of course), and before long, your students will have a well-trained ear that helps them quickly learn their favorite songs.

Come back tomorrow for Part Four in the series 3 Tips to Turn Students into Music Theory Rockstars by Kristin Jensen. Kristin Jensen is a piano teacher who specializes in teaching children to create their own music. Kristin is supported by a wonderful husband and two darling boys (ages 3 and 1) who keep her on her toes, but make life lots of fun. Check out her website at EarTrainingAndImprov.com for lots of free resources and downloadable worksheets.

3 Tips to Turn Students into Music Theory Rockstars – Guest Series by Kristin Jensen

Now that you know the three steps, let’s dive a little deeper into each one and learn some specific action steps you can take to implement these practices in your studio.

  1. Make it fun

When I was a student, learning theory meant doing written assignments out of a workbook at home. I always completed my assignments, but I usually put it off and had to race to quickly fill in my answers right before my lesson started. Theory was boring and I didn’t put a lot of thought into it.

I’ve learned that theory doesn’t have to be boring. And when we make it fun, kids eat it up!

My students who are working on key signatures have a blast with this Paper Airplane Review Game that is super simple to pull off in a group lesson. We first do a worksheet to review the key signatures, and then I give each student a blank grand staff and a plain white sheet of paper. Students write the name of a key signature on their plain paper and then fold it into a paper airplane. On the count of three everyone throws their airplane into the air and then races to catch another plane. Students then go to their grand staff and draw the sharps or flats needed to complete their key signature.

Here’s a game that my little students enjoy when they are first being introduced to the names of the piano keys. I call it Twist and Play. The student stands with her back to the piano. I call out the name of a piano key and she quickly turns around and plays the key. We’ll repeat the fun, silly twisting until we’ve reviewed all the keys, and it’s so fun to see these little ones giggling during a “drill.”

I love to issue challenges and tie those challenges in to our unit’s theme. For example, if we’re doing a cowboy theme and I have a bunch of students working on interval recognition, I might issue the “Bucking Bronco” challenge: everyone who can identify 5 intervals from our flashcards in 30 seconds *without counting lines and spaces* at next week’s lesson gets a prize.

I also like to use fun worksheets with my students. The key word there is “fun.” Kids decide whether or not they’re going to like something within milliseconds after first seeing it. So if a worksheet looks boring, kids immediately decide they won’t like the exercise.

But if a worksheet looks fun, kids will be excited to complete it. I’ve created tons and tons of fun, colorful, kid-friendly music theory worksheets and you are more than welcome to use them with your students.

Don’t forget to capitalize on kids’ excitement for the holidays! Reviewing the same old concept again can suddenly become interesting if it’s tied into a holiday theme. I have lots of printables and game ideas for Christmas, Halloween, and Valentine’s Day that you are welcome to incorporate into your lessons.

As you can see, it really isn’t all that hard to make learning music theory fun. Five minutes away from the bench during a lesson for a game or a kid-friendly worksheet can work wonders, making your students much more excited for their lessons and setting them on their way to becoming music theory rockstars.

Come back tomorrow for Part Three in the series 3 Tips to Turn Students into Music Theory Rockstars by Kristin Jensen. Kristin Jensen is a piano teacher who specializes in teaching children to create their own music. Kristin is supported by a wonderful husband and two darling boys (ages 3 and 1) who keep her on her toes, but make life lots of fun. Check out her website at EarTrainingAndImprov.com for lots of free resources and downloadable worksheets.

3 Tips to Turn Students into Music Theory Rockstars – Guest Series by Kristin Jensen

It was a special day when my first two 4 year old students aced the first grade level theory exam. Kids have proven to me time and again that they are capable of doing so much more than we realize.

Those two four year-olds really stretched my creativity as a teacher as I realized that they could go far, but needed to be taught with an approach that capitalized on their fun-loving nature. Now all my students are benefiting from this new approach and learning at an accelerated rate. I’d like to share three tips I’ve learned along the way that help kids become music theory rockstars.

  1. Make it fun

Theory really can be fun, and kids learn so much more when they’re enjoying the experience. Continue reading for ideas and games you can easily fit into your lessons.

  1. Make it social

Consider teaching theory in a group setting. Kids love learning alongside friends and a group of peers can motivate each other to excel.

  1. Apply it

Help kids understand why theory is important. The best and most fun way to accomplish this is to teach them how to create their own songs.

Now that you know the three steps, let’s dive a little deeper into each one and learn some specific action steps you can take to implement these practices in your studio…

Come back tomorrow for Part Two in the series 3 Tips to Turn Students into Music Theory Rockstars by Kristin Jensen. Kristin Jensen is a piano teacher who specializes in teaching children to create their own music. Kristin is supported by a wonderful husband and two darling boys (ages 3 and 1) who keep her on her toes, but make life lots of fun. Check out her website at EarTrainingAndImprov.com for lots of free resources and downloadable worksheets.

Free Printable Music Note Name Worksheet – with a sweet bonus!

The great folks over at MakingMusicFun.net recently linked to a simple, but fun music note name challenge and worksheet. It’s called the M&M Note Name Challenge. I have more than a couple of sugar-holics in my studio (a.k.a. my children!) who would eat this up. Literally. 😛 I might have to give it a try at our next group class!

NoteStars – A Fun Challenge for Learning Music Notes on the Piano!

As I mentioned in my last post, we’ve been devotedly working on note identification and music reading fluency in our studio this past month. The first thing I started my students with was this NoteStars challenge:

I just printed out this worksheet on white cardstock (you can click on it to download it for free!), filled in the name of each student in the left hand column and then used a pencil to track their progress in the corresponding column. Using the Student Flashcards, I separated the deck of notes into four levels as follows (one of the things I love about this set is how many ledger line notes are included!):

Level 1 – Treble clef notes on the staff (11 cards)

Level 2 – Bass clef notes on the staff (11 cards)

Level 3 – Treble clef ledger lines (10 cards)

Level 4 – Bass clef ledger lines (10 cards)

How the challenge works:

Set a timer for one minute. Supply small game pieces or blocks that can be placed on the piano keys. Give the student the level of cards according to where they are at (I started everyone at the beginning of the orange tier). They must go through the cards and place a game piece on the key that corresponds to each note on the staff. However many they get correct before the timer goes off is their score. They can try for as many levels within the tier as they’d like, but they may not advance to the next tier until they successfully complete every level within the first tier on the same week. Please note: For this challenge the student doesn’t have to name the note, just correctly place the marker to show that they can correlate the note on the staff with the key on the piano.

Why this is important:

If a student cannot complete this challenge in the designated time, they do not sufficiently understand the staff in order to fluently read music. The more I work with my students, the more I believe this. It’s been amazing to watch their understanding grow exponentially as they diligently strive week after week to improve their speed and accuracy!

 

An Embarrassing Confession

I’ve known this for a while, but it’s one of those things that’s easy to ignore as a piano teacher, perhaps supposing that eventually there will be an epiphany and the student will automatically know it. But sometimes you have to confront the truth. Embarrassing as it may be. I recently decided that it was time to own up to the reality.

What reality, you ask?

The reality that most of my students do not read music fluently.

Are you shocked? Rightfully so.

In my preparations for my most recent workshop (Facts and Fun: Great Games for Teaching Music Theory) that I presented to several local associations, and honest reflections on the quality of performances at our Christmas Recital and Dinner, I finally had to face this reality. Granted, I have a relatively small studio now of students who have only been playing for several years (or less), but I realized that I have no business giving them printed music with notes, terms, symbols, and more that they cannot readily identify and execute at the piano. I’ve always been of the mindset that it’s good to give students a challenge and let them rise to the occasion. But the truth is that I’m not being fair to them when I take this approach. I am not adequately preparing them to successfully play (let alone perform!) some of the printed music I’ve been either assigning them or letting them tackle on their own. In truth, it’s like giving them a Russian novel when they are still struggling to learn the Russian alphabet!

Now, don’t get me wrong; I am a huge proponent for creativity, improvisation, and rote technical skill at the piano (none of which is dependent on the ability to read music). But if one of my primary goals is that my students are able to play printed music well, then I needed to make some drastic changes to my teaching approach.

And that’s what I did.

At the beginning of January, I sat all my students down at the beginning of their lesson and asked them to evaluate their own level of fluency in identifying and playing any note on the staff. Most of them knew that they were sorely lacking. The one who didn’t was quickly proved wrong by a brief activity designed to evaluate the aforementioned skill. I continued our heart-to-heart by asking them whose fault they thought that was. Some of them sheepishly mumbled, trying to take the blame. All of them were shocked when I confessed that it was my fault. And one told me that it was okay, that she still thought I was a great teacher. :-) Anyway, I told them that I was putting a halt to the learning of any new pieces of printed music until they had fully mastered every note on the staff (for starters). They nodded in understanding, and we’ve spent the last month working our tails off to learn and master identifying and playing every note on the staff. This is our first step, but I am already seeing such tremendous results that I’m excited to continue in this path to ensure that every one of my students becomes a successful and fluent music reader.

In the hopes that I’m not the only teacher guilty of such notational negligence, I thought I would begin posting the activities, games, and approaches we are using to make this goal of musical fluency a reality (and even have a little fun along the way!). So, stay tuned for fun and practical ideas you can implement in your studio. And if you find yourself at the same point I was and are ready to get serious about making this skill a priority for your students, I highly recommend ordering a box of these Student Flashcards (you can order one box for every two students because there are two of every note in it). I’ll explain how we divide them up and start working step-by-step toward mastery.

Resources that Private Music Teachers Love

Music Teacher’s Helper (one of my favorite resources!) recently conducted a survey asking private music teachers what their favorite resources are. They compiled the results into this handy, hyperlinked infographic (including yours truly :-) ):

View the infographic here as well: http://www.musicteachershelper.com/blog/resources-music-teachers-love/

Review of Good Music Brighter Children by Sharlene Habermeyer

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and New Year’s! Reviews have been absent for a while here on the blog this past holiday season for the sake of regrouping, spending time with my wonderful family, and for the sake of meeting my goal to thoroughly go through the aforementioned (in the title) book so it could be the next review.

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I was quite intrigued by “Good Music Brighter Children-Simple & Practical Ideas to Help Transform Your Child’s Life Through the Power of Music” after reading the overview of its content, and I was most definitely not disappointed once I got my hands on the book and began reading it! Originally published 15 years ago, this revised and updated version is the culmination of 25 years Habermeyer has spent researching and studying the positive effects music can have on humans.

One thing I really appreciate about this book is that the findings documented in the book are not just credible because of the plethora of stories, studies, practical applications, and personal experiences, but because of the passion and devotion with which Habermeyer writes and lives. Even though it’s over 350 pages long, it’s very nicely laid out into 5 different sections/topics (see below), and I found it very easy to read and understand which was so nice! Plus, it was really refreshing that the book just focuses on the effects of classical music/learning an instrument vs. creating a debate over “good” and “bad” music.

Separated Into Four Sections:

Part 1-Why Music:
Overture: The Power of Music (Chapter 1)
Music and the Brain: Nothing is Minor About Music (Chapter 2)

Part 2-Music In The Home:
Home: Set the Tone with Music (Chapter 3)
Making Sound Choices: Choosing an Instrument & Teacher (Chapter 4)
Practicing: Keeping the Tempo (Chapter 5)
Noteworthy: Learning Values Through Music (Chapter 6)

Part 3-A Need for Advocacy: Music Ed in the Schools:
A Dynamic Movement: Music’s Power to Educate (Chapter 7)
Striking a Chord: Music’s Impact on Cognitive Delays & Physical Disabilities (Chapter 8)
Improvisation: Creativity and the 21st Century (Chapter 9)

Part 4-A Cultural Heritage
Voices in Unison: Supporting the Arts in Your Community (Chapter 10)
The “Do Re Mis” of Starting an Orchestra” (Chapter 11)

Part 5-Finale
Building a Legacy: A Parent’s Responsibility (Chapter 12)

After the final chapter you’ll find 50 pages worth of RESOURCES (some of them mentioned throughout the book), followed by 22 pages of NOTES, and then an INDEX section. It’s definitely structured in such a way to be a helpful tool and enable readers to easily reference specific things. The book was also designed in such a way that each chapter can stand on its own which I think makes it much more appealing for someone who’s only interested in certain topics.

Because I work so much with kids I was quite fascinated by the chapter, Home, which discusses the long term effects music-specifically classical music-can have on children’s brains, even while they’re in utero. As a physically disabled musician myself, Striking a Chord definitely hit home for me and was very relatable and had some very inspiring stories. The emphasis on the need for creative thinkers in the Improvisation chapter was very eye-opening and interesting-particularly all the quotes from those in the business world. The final chapter, Building a Legacy, was one I greatly appreciated. Not because it exhorts parents to be involved in giving their children musical exposure, but because it points out one of the key elements of good parenting that I believe the majority of couples lack: building relationships with their children. On the matter, Habermayer says, “Material possessions, these ‘things’ that permeate our culture, ultimately do not make children or adults happy or fulfilled. When we lose the things in life that really mean something-like a warm relationship with our children-nothing else matters.”

Here are a few other excerpts from the book that were quite fascinating and inspiring:

“Dr. Frank Wilson…reports that learning to play an instrument refines the development of the brain and the entire neurological system. It also connects and develops motor systems of the brain in a way that cannot be done by any other activity. Dr. Wilson believes that learning a musical instrument is vital for the total development of the brain and individual.” (Page 25)

“Thomas Verny found that the unborn child ‘can see, hear, experience, taste, and, on a primitive level, even learn in utero…Although musical studies on babies in utero are continuing, the research suggests that by singing, talking, playing classical music and lullabies, and reading to the unborn child, parents can give them a significant advantage in early language, memory, and music development.” (Page 40; 41)

“When a child learns a musical instrument, most of his senses are being utilized. For example, a child learning the piano is using his eyes to read the music, his ears to hear the correct notes, his hands to play the notes, and his feet to coordinate and play the pedals. All of this requires a level of concentration, memory skills, motor coordination, and symbol recognition. Both sides of the brain, as well as the front and back portions of the brain, are being used to accomplish this incredible feat. Not only is the child experiencing the enjoyment that comes from learning a musical instrument, he is also learning skills that will help him succeed in school and beyond.” (Page 55)

“…But my expectation for them is more than what they accomplish in school and in band-I expect them to represent what they have learned in my program at home, at church, on the job, and in the community…” (Barry Trobaugh, Director of Bands at Munford High School-Page 92)

“‘Even today, I do not love to practice but I do it knowing how important it is.’” (Jenny Oaks Baker-Page 106)

“You could be a genius, but if you can’t cooperate and work with others, your intelligence will not be your greatest asset.” (Page 131)

As I was reading this book and would tell others about it, the word I found myself most often using is, “fascinating.” And though there were certain chapters, philosophies, and viewpoints that I didn’t love, looking back over everything I learned from this book, I can’t get over just how fascinating and phenomenal music is. It’s such a beautiful masterpiece of creation! Toward the end of the book the words of J.S. Bach kept coming to my mind, “I play the notes as they are written, but it is God who makes the music.”

Whether you’re a parent, music educator, student, professional musician, school teacher, I believe there are things within “Good Music Brighter Children” that every one of you would find profitable. :)

To learn more about Sharlene Habermeyer and her research visit her site: www.goodmusicbrighterchildren.com
From there you can also purchase your own copy of the book!

2014 Christmas Piano Recital and Dinner

Last night was an evening of tradition and new beginnings. It was our 17th annual studio Christmas recital, but it was also our 1st annual Christmas dinner! Thanks to the vision of my creative husband, we decided to combine our studio recital with a special Christmas gift to our studio families – an evening of dinner, fellowship, and inspiration. Here are a few snapshots from the occasion:

Our theme was based on Matthew 1:23, ““Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

We used the Fireside room in our church building – a warm, cozy escape from the blistering winds and snow flurries that started falling in the afternoon!

Once all the families arrived, they were directed to their tables and offered hot drinks. My four kids were each assigned to serve a table, and did a fabulous job keeping drinks filled, serving each course, and making everyone feel welcome! You can see my husband attired in his kitchen apron also checking in on guests – he and my mom manned the kitchen and dished up plates of food to be served to the guests.

The courses were interspersed with musical selections – a variety of solos, duets, and ensembles – and a time of sharing testimonies of how we have experienced “God with us” throughout this year. I was so encouraged and blessed by all that was shared!

All of the students collaborated on a “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” ensemble (from A Christmas Gathering by Lynn Freeman Olson). Fun!

A group shot of all the students, plus a few guest artists (a.k.a former students) who contributed to the musical program.

I wasn’t sure how everything would work out, but thanks to the help and participation of each person, it proved to be a wonderful success! We look forward to many more years of Christmas recitals and dinners!