Helpful tips and funny thoughts from a musician's mind

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Five ways to jazz up your summer music lessons

Five ways to jazz up your summer music lessons

Are you struggling to keep music lessons fun and exciting during the summer? Here are five easy ways to jazz up your studies, keep learning, and make the summer months feel fresh.   1.  EXPLORE A NEW GENRE OF MUSIC.   Are you a classically trained […]

How a summer camp helped me see the FUN in violin lessons

How a summer camp helped me see the FUN in violin lessons

In last week’s post, I said that I did not start playing violin in a community-oriented way until I had been in private lessons for thirteen years. That’s a partial truth. My middle school and high school did not have onsite music programs, so until […]

Thoughts from above a stage

Thoughts from above a stage

This week, Miss Haleigh shares a little bit about the important role music plays in live theatre. 

 


 

This spring, a number of the Learning Allegro teachers, myself included, have been playing in the pit for local theatres. If you’re not familiar, “playing in the pit” is a term we use to describe a small, live orchestra that plays for the actors in musical. Normally, pit musicians are literally seated in a pit in front of the stage, but that’s not always true. My “pit” for Titanic: the Musical at SALT Performing Arts was actually in a recording booth above the stage.

I’ve played in orchestras and wedding quartets before, but this was my first experience playing in a pit for live theatre. Here are a few of my observations.

 

MUSIC IS IMPORTANT. LIKE, SUPER IMPORTANT.

I often tell my Learning Allegro students that language is largely effective because of its musicality. I can say something as simple as “Yes, mom!” with many different tones behind it…and in my younger years, some of those tones might even have gotten me grounded! How we say something is often just as important as what we say.

Playing for a live show really underscores the musicality of simple speech (pardon the pun). It gives the actors an idea of what emotions to put into their words, and it gives the audience a framework for interpreting the mood of the story.


LIVE MUSICIANS HAVE A TOUGH JOB. 

While the actors are delivering lines onstage, the pit musicians might have to speed up, slow down, or repeat segments of music to accommodate the speed of the actors’ conversations. The orchestra has to stay attuned to what’s happening onstage and be prepared for sudden changes.

In a normal orchestra setting, the music is the main event; in a pit, the story is the main event. That means the role of a pit musician is much more interactive than that of an orchestra violinist. You have to stay flexible and make sure the emphasis stays on the actors — all while playing beautifully.

FORMAL MUSICAL TRAINING HAS FAR MORE APPLICATIONS THAN MOST PEOPLE REALIZE.

Playing in the pit has reminded me how many ways a trained musician can truly use his or her skills. When we think of violinists, flutists, or cellists, we normally associate them with classical orchestras. We sometimes fail to remember that classical training will benefit a musician in tons of different performance situations. Wedding quartets need trained musicians. Pit orchestras need trained musicians. Cruise ships, black tie formals, big-shot recording artists, film scores, and even simple, local functions need trained musicians.

When we put our kids in private violin or piano lessons, I think we fail at times to remind them that their talents have applications beyond school band — applications that are fun and exciting! Which leads me to number four…

PLAYING IN A PIT ENCOURAGES COMMUNITY.

As a kid who grew up in music lessons, I almost never heard about community-oriented ways I could use my instrument. My middle and high schools did not have an onsite arts program. I took private lessons for 13 years before I ever got a chance to play in a group setting. And I have a feeling that many young students today have a similar experience. They know music academically, but have no idea how much fun it can be in a group setting.

In three short weeks of playing at SALT, our orchestra pit has become full of inside jokes, hilarious mishaps (that the actors hopefully didn’t hear!), and a general sense of community I never expected. I hope my students find that musical experience earlier in their careers than I did!

 


Thankfully, kids don’t have to wait until they’re orchestra-ready to see the community side of music. Sign your child up for a summer camp. Look into a youth orchestra. When your child insists that there’s nothing to do, encourage him to go write a song. There are many ways that you can convince your child to see music as fun and interactive. No pit required!

Learning Allegro offers fun, interactive summer camps for musicians of all ages. For more information, visit our main website

Why summer is the best time to try a new instrument

Why summer is the best time to try a new instrument

Here’s what we’ve noticed at Learning Allegro when our students try out new instruments during summer break.  In the last few years, we’ve seen a surge of students at Learning Allegro who try a new instrument over the summer. We don’t blame them! Here are […]

Why do so many schools downplay the arts?

Why do so many schools downplay the arts?

Many public schools treat art and music extracurriculars. In fact, the arts are often defunded before subjects that really are extracurriculars, like sports. Why? In the scheme of global history, we’re really the first era to downplay art education. Our ancestors treated the arts just as […]

Seven ways to help your child practice more effectively

Seven ways to help your child practice more effectively

It’s no big surprise that most kids love music, but hate practicing. We often sell practice negatively, whether we mean to or not. We paint it as work (which is true), but fail to emphasize the room for discovery, improvement and fun within that work.

Like any good habit, practicing won’t be fun or convenient every single time your child picks up his or her instrument. However, with the right attitude, it can be not only enjoyable, but a creative outlet, a stress reliever and a channel for personal growth!

Here are a few quick ideas to help your young musician stay on task.

 

1.  SCHEDULE PRACTICE TIME ON YOUR FAMILY CALENDAR. We understand how busy a week can get, but don’t let practicing fall through the cracks! Writing something on the calendar reinforces the importance of practicing to your child. It will also remind you, the parent, to check in and keep your child accountable!

 

2.  BUILD UP TO LONGER PRACTICE TIMES. Is your child a wiggle worm? Start by having them practice in small increments and build up the time as they become more self-motivated. Even ten minutes a day can make a big difference! As your child can handle more time, add five minutes to the clock. Can you build up to twenty minutes a day? Thirty?

 

3.  ENCOURAGE THEM TO EXPLORE — AFTER THE WORK IS DONE. If your child is playing the same two or three songs in lessons, he or she might be getting bored. Help your child find something fun to learn on his or her own–maybe a pop song or a clip from a movie soundtrack. After they’ve practiced their assigned songs, let them play around with the “fun music.” You can even encourage them to make up their own tunes! A bit of creativity can make practicing more fun–and your child will be refining his or her technique along the way.

 

4.  HANDLE “BURNOUT” CREATIVELY. Everybody’s brain checks out eventually. Would a healthy snack help your child focus? What about stretching beforehand? If your child has had a long day, maybe he or she needs a “wiggle break” in the middle of practice time. One of my students practices 20 minutes per day–ten when she gets home from school and ten after dinner. Her parents have found that when they split up her practice session, she spends more time focused on the music and less time watching the clock.

 

5. FRAME PRACTICE AS A PRIVILEGE, NOT A CHORE. Instead of “You have to practice more,” try saying, “You get to take a break from homework and play some music!” If you frame practicing as a break, reward, or enjoyable task instead of one more thing on the laundry list, your child may be more enthusiastic about that thirty-minute window.

 

6. BE A CHEERLEADER. Total disclosure–even music teachers get tired of hearing the same song 75 times a day. It can be easy to “check out” while your child is playing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” in her room for the seventh day in a row. But don’t! Instead, find honest ways to praise your child– “The song is much smoother now!” or “I like that melody!” A little bit of praise goes a long way!

 

7. TALK TO YOUR CHILD’S TEACHER. If you’re really struggling to “find a groove” for practicing at home, reach out to your child’s school instructor or private lessons instructor. Most teachers interact with dozens of students per week–including kids who don’t practice much. Ask those teachers for advice! I guarantee they can help.


 

At Learning Allegro, we encourage students to love music in every situation, including school bands, private lessons, and independent study. For more information about toddler music classes, private instrument lessons and art sessions at Learning Allegro, visit our website.

Music facts we’re sure you will love

Music facts we’re sure you will love

In (belated) honor of Valentines Day, here are a few facts about music that we’re sure you will love. –  Music is linked to the release of dopamine, a chemical in the brain that makes you feel good! –  1 in 10,000 people have “perfect […]

Watch the Philadelphia Orchestra Play “Fly Eagles Fly”

Watch the Philadelphia Orchestra Play “Fly Eagles Fly”

Who are we kidding? You don’t want to read a long article about the benefits of music today! It’s Superbowl weekend and the Eagles are ready to win! Has anyone else enjoyed the camaraderie in the Philly region lately? It seems like ever since the […]

When should my kid start music lessons?

When should my kid start music lessons?

IN TODAY’S POST, MISS HALEIGH TACKLES A COMMONLY-ASKED MUSIC QUESTION.

One of my favorite parts about working at Learning Allegro is the diversity of the people I encounter every day. Music is one of those rare things that manages to pull people out of every walk of life and put them under one roof.

Diversity is not just a matter of language or background, though. It’s also a matter of age. Every week, I sit down at the piano with pupils as young as five and as old as…well, old enough that they don’t have to tell me their ages. *wink wink*

That being said, I’m often asked “When is the best time to start lessons?”

Scholars and critics are all over the place on this one. Some people insist that you should start young, citing a child’s powers of retention and motor skills. Others say you should wait a little while, citing the importance of self-discipline and initiative.

PERSONALLY, I FIND THE QUESTION — AND ITS PREMISE — KIND OF FUNNY. 

The question seems to imply that there’s a magical age that somehow makes music lessons more valid or worthwhile. It also assumes that people are cookie-cutters, uniformly developing in every possible way. And both of those assumptions just aren’t true.

The best answer I can give you is this:

THE BEST TIME TO START IS WHEN YOU ARE GENUINELY INTERESTED IN MUSIC. 

Maybe that’s too simple for the scholarly community, but really, I think that’s what the issue boils down to.

It takes time, patience, and practice to become a musician–and from personal experience, you won’t care enough to “stick with it” unless you have some baseline interest in what you’re doing. But that baseline will be different for every person.

I started taking violin lessons somewhere between the ages of three and four (yep!), and although I wasn’t always a diligent student, I stayed engaged in lessons for fifteen years. My sister, who started at the same time, swore off the violin at the ripe age of five–and my parents never made her play again. It just wasn’t her thing.

On the other side of the spectrum, we’re starting to see more and more parents take lessons at Learning Allegro. People are finally getting over the “too late” stigma and treating music lessons as a chance to “learn for fun.” Imagine that!

ARE THERE BENEFITS TO STARTING YOUNG? SURE — BUT I WOULD RATHER TEACH A 64-YEAR-OLD WITH GENUINE INTEREST IN MUSIC THAN AN 8-YEAR-OLD WITH PHOTOGRAPHIC MEMORY. 

Why? Because the person with interest is the one who will practice, push themselves, and value the end goal: great music!

So what’s the right age to begin music lessons? It’s really a matter of personal discernment. Know yourself (or your child)–and if you see that glimmer of interest, give it an outlet! Whether you’re four or four hundred, a little bit of personal desire can go a long way.

Don’t be the 40 percent!

Don’t be the 40 percent!

Here’s a discouraging fact: although many of us will make “new year resolutions” in 2018, about 22 percent of those resolutions will fail within a week. In a month, that number will have doubled to 40 percent. We imagine it continues to go downhill from […]