Five Ways to Introduce Concert Music to Children By Robert Greenberg

Robert Greenberg, author of How to Listen to Great Music: A Guide to Its History, Culture, and Heart, has written a humorous and helpful article for those looking for ways to introduce children to concert music. I’m looking forward to reading his book and gleaning new ideas for myself and my students! Enjoy the following guest post: Five Ways to Introduce Concert Music to Children by Robert Greenberg:

“Concert Music” is music written by primarily dead Euro-males between roughly 1650 and 1900, music typically heard in the rather formal environs of a concert hall. Yes, this music is often referred to as “classical music”, which is as useless and misleading a phrase as “real imitation margarine!” When we call something “classic”, we are identifying it with the ideals and restraint of ancient Greek art, which immediately rules out the great bulk of concert music, which as often as not is filled with       schmerz und schmutz, sturm und drang, angst and exaltation. Even if we use the word “classic” in its loosest permutation — to indicate something exemplary — who’s to say there isn’t such a thing as “Classic Jazz”, “Classic Rock” — and even, painful though it may be to contemplate, “Classic Death Metal/Grindcore”. So: a pox on the phrase “classical music”. Concert music it is.

And why, pray tell, should we want to introduce our children to concert music? Because it constitutes some of the greatest art our species has ever cooked up, musical art that informs, educates, entertains, inspires, and ultimately packs a toy shop’s worth of joy that will stick with them for the rest of their lives.

1. It is a truism that children will read if they are read to and if they see their parents read. It is incumbent upon parents to set an example by listening to concert music at home and in the car (the latter might require some negotiation, but it CAN BE DONE). Don’t be afraid of playing the same piece over and over again; familiarity breeds affection.

(Having said all this, don’t play one type of music to the exclusion of all others. The distinctions we have created between “concert music” and “rock ‘n’ roll”, and “jazz” and so forth are generally meaningless to children. They tend to just like music — all music — which is how it should be.)

2. Invest in some decent percussion toys and encourage your kids to “play along” with recordings and videos. Yes, I’m aware that this can drive an adult up a wall, which is why we should do it with them. This makes us active, not passive participants in the musical process, and it’s more fun than you might think. As for “insulting” Bach or Mozart or Beethoven by doing this; my friends, they’re dead and beyond insult. Besides, do you really think playing along with a recording is more insulting than the disco arrangement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony that was featured in the movie Saturday Night Fever? I rest my case.

3. Rent/buy/download and play cool movies like “Beethoven Lives Upstairs”, “Mr. Bach Comes to Call”, Disney’s “Peter and the Wolf” and “Fantasia 2000”. Each episode of Disney Junior’s “Little Einsteins” series focuses on a different piece of concert music and teaches all sorts of musical terminology as well. My three year-old son and five year-old daughter love them.

4. Go to local orchestral concerts TOGETHER, in particular children’s/family concerts. Outdoor festival concerts are even better, because the kids can run around and move to the music. Try to listen to the pieces on the program before hand. Music literacy is akin to written literacy, and a little (even a tiny!) bit of preparation pays off big time in terms of intensifying the experience.

5. Get a piano. It doesn’t have to be a 8’11¾” Steinway “D” (list price around 130k); a little spinet will do. Put it in a place where the kids can bang on it without making the rest of the family crazy. When it’s time for piano lessons (at age 6 or 7; no need to rush) the piano will thus be an old friend and not a new torture device. (A “piano” is made out of wood, medal, leather and felt. It breathes. It is real. Its mechanism follows the will of the player’s body. An electric keyboard is made out of plastic and circuitry. It is not real. It does not breath. It has no place in your house or apartment. “But it makes so many different sounds!” So does a cat in a microwave: does sonic variety justify putting little Boots in the micro? “But we don’t have room for a piano.” Yes you do. “But my child can practice a keyboard wearing earphones, so we don’t have to listen”. Oh, that’s a GREAT message to send your child: go practice, but don’t make us listen to you.)

Recording starter kit. Here are some great works wonderfully performed to start out with.

  • Johann Sebastian Bach, Brandenburg Concertos; Trevor Pinnock conducting, on Archiv
  • Wolfgang Mozart, Symphonies Nos. 39, 40, & 41; Neville Marriner conducting, on EMI
  • Ludwig (“my friends call me Louis) van Beethoven, Nine Symphonies; John Eliot Gardiner conducting, on Archiv
  • Camille Saint-Saens, Carnival of the Animals; Charles Dutoit conducting, on London
  • Sergei Prokofiev, Peter and the Wolf; Carlo Rossi conducting, narrated by Boris Karloff, Vanguard

© 2012 Robert Greenberg, author of How to Listen to Great Music: A Guide to Its History, Culture, and Heart

Author Bio
Robert Greenberg, 
author of How to Listen to Great Music: A Guide to Its History, Culture, and Heart, is a speaker, pianist, and music historian. He has served on the faculties of UC Berkeley, California State University East Bay, and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where he was chairman of the Department of Music History and Literature and director of the Adult Extension Division. He is currently music historian-in-residence with San Francisco Performances and also serves as the resident composer and music historian to NPR’s Weekend All Things Considered. Since 1993, he has recorded over 550 lectures for The Great Courses.

Founded in 1990, The Great Courses produces DVD and audio recordings of courses by top university professors in the country, which are sold through direct marketing. It is a nine-figure-a-year business and they distribute forty-eight million catalogs annually. They offer more than four hundred courses on topics including business and economics; fine arts and music; ancient, medieval, and modern history; literature and English language; philosophy and intellectual history; religion; social sciences; and science and mathematics.

For more information please visit and and follow the author on Facebook.

This Quote Should Be on Every Wall in My Studio…

“If it is important to you, you will find a way.

If not you’ll find an excuse.”

I’m still pondering the results of the Practice Survey I conducted in my studio last week. It’s interesting to see how many of my students selected the option, “I am too busy; my schedule doesn’t allow time for me to practice.” I know that some of my students do have pretty crazy schedules, but I wonder if our fast-paced culture has conditioned kids to think that they’re too busy to do things that they really could fit into their day if it was important enough… In going above and beyond the call as a teacher to keep piano lessons fun and engaging, I wonder if we sometimes forget to tell students the reality:

* Sometimes daily practice will be hard.

* Sometimes you will fall short of what you want to achieve.

* Sometimes practicing will not be fun.

* Sometimes you will feel like quitting.

*Sometimes you will wonder why you are learning to play the piano.

This is normal. It’s okay to feel these things. But you must press on. You must be diligent to practice every day. You must put your whole heart into doing the best you can. Because it will be worth it. It is worth it!

Quote HT: Artiden

Monday Mailbag – Help for Parents Teaching Their Children Piano

There are no piano teachers here in our area that will teach kids under the age of 7 or 8. Do you have any lesson and/or book recommendations…teaching approach recommendations for beginning teachers and learners?

Occasionally I receive questions like this from parents who really want their children to have a music education, but just have no opportunities for them to take lessons from a dedicated piano teacher. I believe wholeheartedly in the importance of getting a solid start with an excellent teacher, but I sympathize with parents in this predicament and applaud you for wanting to find the best materials/resources for working with your children.

For starters, there are some great musical things you can do with your children that will prepare them for piano lessons even if they are not specifically starting in piano lesson material yet. Here are a few resources that might be helpful:

13 Ideas for Parents to Prepare Their Young Children for Piano Lessons – a post I wrote a while back that gives some helpful ideas for a well-rounded musical start.

Fun and Easy Musical Activities for Young Children – a video interview I did that gives practical suggestions for parents wanting to work with their children.

Pre-Piano Camp Package – this is a course I put together specifically for children ages 3-6, and it should be very easy for a parent with minimal music background to use with their children.

As far as specifics, here are some of the books I use with beginning students:

My First Piano Adventure – This is especially designed for young beginners and comes with a CD that has lots of fun music and interaction for the students. It’s fabulous for several students at once, too, because they can clap or tap along and enjoy the music, even if not all of them will be specifically learning to play the piano right now. There are three sets in this series (A,B, and C) and by the time a student goes through all of them, they are ready for level one of the Piano Adventure series (and have a great musical foundation!). There’s a writing book that goes along with the lesson book so that students can do fun activities and learn theory concepts as well.

Piano Adventures Primer – This is good for a student who is already reading and is ready to jump right into learning the piano without a lot of other supplemental activities. The layout is clean and easy-to-follow. I usually use this along with the corresponding Technique and Artistry book to help students develop good technical habits right off the bat.

Flashcards-in-a-box – This is my favorite set of flashcards. I love using these with students and try to develop fun games that will make it exciting to learn the concepts, terms, symbols, etc. You can find some specific game ideas in my book, 5 for Fun!

Premier Piano Course – This is a newer series that I enjoy using for some students. It has appealing music, is similar in teaching method to the Piano Adventures series, and also includes an At-Home book with a fun story and specific practice suggestions for parents who want to work with their children. It moves a little faster than some of the other methods, so I recommend this more for an older beginner, but I could see even just getting the At-Home book and adapting the practice ideas to whatever else you’re using.

If anyone has other suggestions, please feel free to share, especially if you’re a parent working with your own children!

Remember, if you have a question you’d like to contribute to next week’s Monday Mailbag, leave it in the comments below or send me an e-mail sometime this week with Monday Mailbag in the subject line!

Monday Mailbag – Practice Tips for Young Students and Parents

I recently started a few new kindergarten students and I was wondering if you might have any practice suggestions for that age.  I would especially like to give some ideas to their parents about how they can help their children practice.

I’m finding more and more that the best approach to teaching good practice habits is to take the time to have the student model them in the lesson. A lot of times we look over a new (8-measure) piece and see if they can tell which measure will be the hardest. Then we start with that measure and master it until it feels easy. Or we start out clapping and counting, or air-playing the finger patterns, etc. It takes more time this way, but usually neither the student nor the parent really “gets” it if you just tell them what to do at home. They have to observe and experience it so that they actually understand what it should look like when they practice.

Here are a few other links that you may find helpful:

It is amazing what a difference it makes for young children when they have a dedicated parent who attends lessons and practices with them during the week! I would love to hear any other ideas from teachers or parents on how to develop good practice habits for young students.

Remember, if you have a question you’d like to contribute to next week’s Monday Mailbag, leave it in the comments below or send me an e-mail sometime this week with Monday Mailbag in the subject line!

Time for Year-End Evaluations – Free Downloadable Forms

It’s hard to believe that the spring semester of lessons is coming to a close. One of the most helpful things I ever started doing was scheduling Year-End Evaluations at the last lesson of the spring semester. Last week I sent home Student and Parent Questionnaires with each of my students. Next week, parents will attend the lesson with their child(ren) and we will use the time to discuss their questionnaire answers, go over my evaluation of each student, figure out summer plans, and discuss future goals and ideas for each student.

A handful of my studio parents attend every lesson, so I see them all year long, but for those who don’t, this is a great opportunity to catch up and make sure we’re all headed in the same direction. It also gives them a chance to voice any concerns or share ideas for working more effectively with their child(ren). I really love spending this time with the families and would highly recommend it for any teacher!

Here are a few links for free forms that you are welcome to download, adapt, and use in your own studio:

Year-End Evaluation Forms – this is a generic form that I use for every student. It takes a good bit of time for me to do this, but it is so helpful to think back over the past year and be intentional about future planning.

Year-End Student and Parent Questionnaires – a sample form that I used several years ago.

2011 Year-End Parent Questionnaire – I like to tweak the forms a bit each year to solicit specific feedback. This is what I’m using for the parents this year.

2011 Year-End Student Questionnaire – this year’s version.

The Case Against Offering Make-up Lessons

When I first started teaching I knew nothing about operating a business, establishing professional policies, or setting personal boundaries to help maintain sanity and avoid burnout. That’s probably why I hated teaching. Thanks to the influence of many wise teachers who have mentored and advised me since then, I now have well-formulated policies that enable me to invest my energy into teaching and planning creative endeavors for my studio. It’s amazing how quickly conflicts over the business-side of running a studio can zap you of enthusiasm. I was reminded of this recently when one of my studio families expressed disapproval of my make-up policy (if a student cancels, his spot will be made available to other students for make-up lessons; otherwise, no additional make-up lesson times are offered).

As tempting as it is to get defensive when someone disapproves of a policy or decision, usually the best course of action is just open communication. I don’t ever want to be unfair to any of my students or their families, but sometimes our perception of what is fair differs greatly from one another. These wise words found in Romans 12:18 are great to keep in mind! “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” My goal is to promote peace and understanding. The issue of make-up lessons is a difficult one for many of us. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about it recently and thought I would share with you the e-mail that I composed in response to the family I mentioned above:

Dear [Family],

Thank you for taking the time to talk with me and let me know about your concern with the studio policy regarding make-up lessons. One thing that might be helpful for you to know is that the monthly lesson fee factors in not only the regular lessons, but also the group classes, recitals, additional opportunities, lending library, and various other overhead costs (insurance, professional association fees, taxes, etc.). I reserve the specified lesson time for each student as set by the studio calendar at the beginning of the year, and I am committed to providing every student with a comprehensive music education. One of my goals is to provide a great value for every family, which is why I put in so much additional time to plan events, work on creative projects for the students, help them with compositions, and so forth.

As I mentioned to [parent], my policy is that I will gladly offer canceled lesson spots to other students who would like to schedule a make-up lesson for a lesson that they have missed. If I know that you are interested in scheduling an additional lesson, I will keep that in mind and let you know when I have a cancellation. Sometimes families feel that the additional lesson would be beneficial; other times, due to schedules and other responsibilities, people prefer to just skip the lesson and resume the following week. Also, for those who are interested in doing a lesson long-distance, I offer Skype lessons by computer. This has worked well for extended vacations so that students can still benefit from the weekly accountability and new assignments. I’ve even done a lesson over the phone before! In short, this time is yours, and I’m willing to get a lesson in however we can.

It would be nice if I had the flexibility to re-schedule lessons whenever a student is unable to make it (sickness, vacation, weather, etc.), but since I don’t have that much time available, I’ve set in place the current policies (as posted on the studio website). And since my income for lessons is derived from working with the same student over a period of time, I can’t just offer refunds and fill unused times with one lesson at a time. These studio-wide policies apply to every family, and I make it a point to be fair to everyone in maintaining the same standards. Again, my hope is that you will always feel like you’re getting a great value for your money.

Hopefully this will help give a little more explanation about why the policy is the way that it is. Feel free to let me know your thoughts as well. I love your family and having [child] as a student, so I want to be sure that we are able to communicate openly and understand each other. Also, here are the times that I mentioned to you that I know I have available right now if you want to schedule an additional lesson: [times]. Let me know if you want to take either or both of those slots. I can also let you know if any others become available.

A couple days ago, I was catching up on music blogs and was thrilled to find a link on Sandi’s blog to this article about make-up lessons written by a parent: Make-up Lessons From an Economist’s Point of View. Ultimately, as Independent Music Teachers, we have the freedom to establish policies and run our businesses in the way that works best for us and the needs of our studio families. Some teachers may not mind offering make-up lessons whenever requested, but I suspect that most of us would be better off (for the sake of ourselves and our students!) adhering to a no make-up lessons policy.

Music Lessons – The Parents’ Perspective

From the Top, a non-profit organization that produces a weekly NPR radio show featuring the best young classical musicians in the country, has been posting a series of blog posts called The Parents’ Perspective that are full of inspiration and practical advice from parents of some of the country’s top classical musicians. Here are the topics that have been discussed so far:

  • Musical Beginnings – thoughts about determining your child’s interest in music and helping them get off to a good start with formal lessons.
  • Now What? – thoughts about finding the right teacher.
  • Practice, Practice, Practice! – thoughts about establishing an effective practice schedule and maintaining motivation.
  • Skipping School for the Sake of Music – thoughts about how to handle conflicting demands between school and music-related activities – from great relationships to difficult teachers to homeschooling.

This is an ongoing series, so I encourage you to check it out for yourselves and consider sending the link to parents in your studios!

A New Idea for Young Prospective Students

One of the things I’m always trying to think about is ways to add value to the families in my studio. Of course, I need to make enough to pay my expenses and run a business, but I want them to feel like they are getting a great deal for their money. So, here’s an idea I thought of the other day when I was contacted by the mother of a little girl who is on my waiting list. She was hoping to get her into lessons this fall, but I ended up not having an opening for her, so they’ve decided to wait until next fall. The thing is that her daughter is so excited about starting lessons NOW.

Instead of just waiting a whole year and risking the loss of some of her enthusiasm, I thought it would be cool to offer some sort of Piano Lesson Prep Course that the mom can do with her daughter to start giving her musical experiences. The Mom really liked that idea, so I sent her the Pre-Piano Camp Package that I put together this summer. She can print off the student workbook and use the lesson plans to help guide her daughter through the course. I’m so excited to see how this works! If it works well, it’s probably something that I’ll list on my website as an extra studio “perk” – families who want to sign up their children for beginning piano lessons will have the option of receiving the Piano Lesson Prep Course to use as a fun introduction to music and the piano.

This particular mom is a pianist herself, so I know she won’t have any trouble utilizing the curriculum. But for those parents who don’t have a musical background, I think I would put together an easy reference sheet with things like a picture of the piano keyboard with the names printed on it, definitions for basic music terms, etc. It seems like it would be a fun way for the parent and child to start the learning process together. I guess we’ll see how it goes with this first family and then go from there! I’d love to know what you think, especially those of you who are parents. Would something like this be of interest to you if you were enrolling your child in a new activity?

How Early Do Children Benefit from Music?

Several months ago I was contacted by BAM Radio Network about being an on-air host for a new Thought Leaders and Change Agents channel they were launching. A couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a broadcast titled, “Starting Too Early, Starting Too Late? What’s Right?” The show primarily featured Carla Hannaford, Ph.D., educator and biologist.

The information Dr. Hannaford shared from her research was absolutely fascinating! I am familiar with some of the studies regarding a baby’s capacity to hear sound even while still in the mother’s womb, but I was in awe of the specific statistics that she shared. The show is a short 15 minutes or so in length, so it’s a quick listen, but I think every parent, musician, and teacher will benefit greatly from it! You’ll have to let me know what you think.