by Jessica Solares, AFA, BM
I've been teaching music lessons for 20 years. I've taught voice, violin, piano and Kindermusik (early childhood music), and have been running our studio along with my husband Luis since 2008. When COVID-19 turned everything upside down this year, needless to say I was not at all excited about the prospect of moving our entire studio to an online format. I was concerned about distractions in the home, internet connectivity issues, out of tune instruments, lack of attention and focus, and concerns about one more thing to do on-screen. Then, something very interesting happened. I noticed my 8 year old daughter thriving in her virtual piano lessons in a way that she hadn't been when we were doing in-person lessons. Here is what I am absolutely loving about virtual lessons from a parent perspective:
1. No more driving to and from lessons means we get hours back in our day. This was a game changer!
Before, on piano day, my husband or I would have to leave work early to go pick her up from school and then drive to the studio for her lesson, then drive home and prep dinner and the other evening things we have to do. The 30-minute lesson was more like 90+ minutes of running around when you factor in all of the driving. Now we just log on from home, so easy!
2. My daughter has taken more ownership of her practicing.
She knows not to even ask about watching TV or other screen time unless she has practiced piano. This has helped her be more responsible about finding time in the day to practice. Sometimes it's first thing in the morning, and sometimes it's during virtual school break. Either way, my nagging has been cut way back! I've also noticed her creativity budding even more when practicing is not a chore, but just something she does as part of her day. She's been making up her own songs and trying to figure out songs she likes from the radio or TV.
3. I can keep an "ear" on the lessons and know what she needs to be working on.
It's helpful to be in more communication with her teacher, and also half listen in from the other room to hear how the teacher explains things to her in the lesson, so that if she does get stuck on something, I'm better able to help her in the same teaching style that her teacher is using.
4. She is occupied for a half hour so I can do something else!
It's usually something very exciting like clean the kitchen after dinner, but still. Enough said.
5. Out of town friends & family can tune in to virtual recitals and see her perform.
We normally hold our recitals at the beautiful Fine Arts Building in downtown Chicago. I do really miss the grand piano and views of Lake Michigan and Buckingham Fountain, there is something magical about performing there. However, the silver lining of hosting virtual recitals is that we don't have to limit capacity and people can join in from anywhere in the world! We have had grandparents tune in from other states and even other countries.
I was so hesitant about virtual lessons but they have really been a great option for our busy family. In fact, we like the virtual lessons so much that they are something that we will keep as an offering at Bucktown Music even when things are back to in-person. We offer lessons on most instruments and voice, for kids and adults, we hope you can join us! Music lessons also make a wonderful gift as we enter into the holiday season. We hope you have a healthy, safe and musical day!
Resilience, or our ability to cope and move through difficult times, is incredibly important to focus on as we continue getting through 2020. Building resilience is like building a muscle: it takes time and intention. I began to ponder the relationship between music and resilience. More specifically, I began thinking about how the Bucktown Music Kindermusik classes that I have been teaching and engaging in with my daughter are helping families build resilience during this year filled with loss, anger, and anxiety.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), the components of resilience include connection, wellness, and meaning. We can build these skills through intentional engagement with music, both for ourselves and for our children. Here are some examples of how we can work with music for ourselves and how the activities in our Kindermusik classes support fostering resilience in our children.
Though we are socially distant, we can still build connection through music. through shared experiences, or more specifically, engaging with each other within a musical experience. You can do this at home with your family by exploring new instruments, discovering new songs, or moving together to music we love. With virtual classes right now, we are finding new ways to connect even though we can’t be together in the same room. For example, in our classes, the children get to connect with each other by showing each other the instruments they own or have made at home and then play together to the same piece of music. Children also connect to each other by sharing unique movements during a greeting ritual and seeing classmates join them in the movement they’ve shared. It’s such a joy to have even 1 year olds recognize their “friends” on-screen and learn each other’s names!
One of the ways that the APA suggests fostering wellness is practicing mindfulness, or working to ground ourselves in the present moment. An important part of every Kindermusik class is intentional music listening. This is one of my favorite parts of class, as it encourages our kids to just be in the moment with the music, by relaxing our bodies with our breaths and sitting with the music. When it comes to music and mindfulness, I also think of the steady beat as a way to ground, not only into the music, but into the moment. Each Kindermusik class involves building steady beat awareness through sound and movement.
TRY THIS: Here is a grounding exercise that you can do at home for yourself or with your family that focuses on the music of our bodies: Find a comfortable place to sit. Once you are settled, take three deep breaths, allowing the sensation and sound of your breath to help you relax. Once you are in this quiet space, put your hand on your heart and pay attention to your heartbeat. Spend some time feeling your heartbeat. Allow the rhythm of your heartbeat to ground you into the present moment. Spend as much time here as you need, and when you are ready, play this steady beat on a drum or instrument of choice.
Learn more about mindfulness & music
According to Dr. Brene Brown, "We are a meaning-making species-we need to make meaning out of experiences. Music is a creative medium that can satisfy our human need to make meaning." Nurturing creativity feeds this part of ourselves that can help us get through hard times. Both at home and in a Kindermusik class, you can encourage creativity by entering the music experience with your kids through scaffolding, co-creating imaginative play within a music experience, and supporting vocal and instrumental exploration. It doesn't need to be musically perfect to be meaningful. Additionally, music making is one of the first ways infants can engage in meaning making. With even the littlest babies, you can observe signs of musical engagement, such as tracking an instrument with their eyes, reaching out to touch or explore it, or vocal play by exploring new sounds with their voice. We may not all be musicians, but we are all musical beings. Cultivating our intrinsic relationship to music engages us in a meaning making experience, which builds resilience.
Join us for some joyful virtual music-making!
One of the most common questions we hear is “when should my child start music lessons”? The best music classes will consider your child, your family, your goals, and the amount of time you have to commit. There are a lot of music lessons in Chicago, I hope this post helps you find the right one!
Yes, it's true! Music makes you smarter and it's good for reading and math...BUT...
What we’ve found is that young children thrive in a research-based group class (such as our Kindermusik program), and the LATER the child starts private lessons, the more likely they are to enjoy lessons and want to continue.
Anyhow, these inquiries made me start to wonder when all of my musician friends and our studio teachers started “officially” studying their instruments, so I turned to the professionals. I wanted to try to find the sweet spot, that magic age of when it seems to “stick.” So I interviewed all of the musicians I know to see when they started, and here's the result:
Make sure you and your teacher are on the same page, and that your teacher is comfortable teaching the kind of music that you want to learn. You'll probably need a beginner book so that you can learn the notes and some basic theory behind what you are playing. After a few weeks of learning the fundamentals, you will probably be able to play a few simple songs. On guitar, for example, if you learn 3-5 chords, you can play a TON of different pop songs (of course, it does take a lot of practice to change between the chords!) Piano students will be able to play simple melodies and have their teacher (or guitar playing friends) accompany them. Voice students will work on pitch matching, breath control, placement, vowel shapes, and contour. Your teacher will be able to help find music that matches your voice and range. Ultimately your progress depends on: natural ability (a little), determination and perseverance (a lot), and how much time you have to practice. You should see a definite improvement within a few months, and like anything, the more you do it, the better it gets!
Young Students: Parents should be actively involved in young children's lessons. Children who can't read yet will need help going over their assignments and understanding what is expected. It helps to bring in a notebook and your teacher can write down what you should be working on and any helpful tips (rhythm, posture, hand position). The most important thing with music lessons is that it is not only a mental skill, but a physical one as well, that needs to be practiced over and over to master the muscle memory needed to be successful. At the beginning, your child should probably be practicing 10-15 minutes most days. Don't leave practicing until the day before your lesson, you really can't "cram" it in. You'll definitely want to practice the day after your lesson, when your teacher's tips are fresh in your mind. Piano students will generally use a series of 4 books (Lesson, Theory, Technique, and Performance) which work together, and gives your child several different ways to practice one skill, which keeps it more interesting. Guitar, violin, voice, and other instruments will usually have 1 or 2 books to work with. Another tip for practicing is to have your child play each song the number of times of their age (7 year olds will play each song 7 times.) Be sure to listen in and make sure they aren't just rushing through! The goal is to improve at least one thing each time you play.
I know, it doesn’t seem like something that an early childhood music teacher would say, especially one who plays violin! BUT, studies have shown that babies learn more from live interaction with their caregivers over a recording (imagine that!). A cappella singing (without instruments) allows baby to focus on a single sound at a time. Think about books that were designed for infants: they are simple, have clean lines and bold colors so that infants can learn to decipher the images and put them into context (this is a dog, this is a story about body parts, etc.) By singing a cappella, you are simplifying and breaking down the sounds of language into a format in which your baby can more easily relate. I would compare listening to a Mozart symphony as the equivalent of showing an infant the Sistine Chapel. It definitely doesn’t hurt, but it’s probably not going to help much either, since your baby is not actively involved.
Jessica Solares is one of the founders of Bucktown Music, along with her husband Luis. She holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Elmhurst College, and is a licensed Kindermusik educator with Top Program distinction.