Sunday, February 27, 2011

Online Piano for Preschoolers - Susan's Review of KinderBach

Have you ever heard of KinderBach?
It's a piano program for preschoolers that is available online at KinderBach .com and can also be shipped as a package to your home.  There are packages for use at home and also for preschools and daycares.  I watched the videos available to families but do not know what is offered for preschool centers.  If you run a preschool, maybe you'd like to check it out.
Meet Dodi the Donkey from KinderBach!
Now, I haven't used this program with children but I am always interested in programs that use modern technology and animation.  I can not see myself using any of them for many reasons...most of them being lack of "musicality" and "healing" reasons.  (I think of healing as "wholing" or "making whole" or "whole learning".) 

I think there are many families that could make good use of these kind of home-study programs with their children. With a "daypass" from KinderBach you can watch and listen to almost every lesson available for one day.  I did this.  (yes...I probably could have found things more interesting to do on a Sunday...but this is what I ended up doing...and it was fun:).

Here's my initial take on the home program:
  1. I think many children (preschool and primary ages) would love this kind of fun, animated, colorful program.
  2. Inexpensive due to the fact you revisit and rewatch any lesson at any time and several children can watch the lessons simultaneously.
  3. Inexpensive due to the fact parents can provide a small electronic keyboard or even a paper keyboard to start .
  4. Lovable characters that help to teach every concept from beat, rhythm, melody, notation
  5. Some catchy tunes/arrangements.
  6. PDF downloads for children to color that support concepts taught on the online video.
  7. It's a discovery program not a performance program which keeps learning fun and playful.
  8. Excellent alternative for parents who are housebound (for whatever reason) with small children and can not get out the door to a real teacher.
  9. The child does need an adult to assist with organization of some materials.  I think this is a good thing.  For some parents this will be a con!
  10. I enjoyed Karri Gregor.  She is the creator and voice behind the lessons.  I like her pink crocs!
  11. Lessons progress very slowly and for most young children this will be great.
  12. Excellent method to convey extremely basic music theory concepts regardless of what instrument you are learning.
  13. Offers a more valuable way to spend time in front of screen than watching most children's TV shows. 
  14. Even adults could learn about music with this program. My husband was riveted by Dodi the Donkey and his home in between the 2 black keys.  :)
  15. There is an introduction to composing through "Bach Talk".
  16. I LOVE finger football...the coaches help children learn about made me laugh!
  1. My personal dislike of the kind of electronic music in this program is that there is nothing really "healing" about it.  My husband asked to turn off the sound after a few I used headphones...but even I turned off the sound and ended up reading some of the lessons.  
  2. Acoustic learning offers something that is just unavailable with modern technology at this point.  So this program doesn't fall into my sense of acoustic instrumental learning.
  3. To complete this program you have to sit with a computer screen or TV.  The physical vibrational and emotional effects of sitting with a real person (as opposed to a computer or TV) are healing (even if you don't think you need any "healing") and unless an attentive (key word here is attentive) parent sits with the child during the whole program you don't get this healing with the program.
  4. To complete this program you have to sit with a computer or TV.  The physical vibrational effects of touching and hearing an acoustic keyboard are healing (even if you don't think you need any "healing")  and you don't get this with the screen program KinderBach.
  5. The immediate feedback a child receives from a real teacher just can not be offered by a computerized program
  6. No real experience improvising or playing in real time with a real musician.  All those non-verbal cues and emotional learnings are most effectively learned from a real person and are some of the most valuable skills a musician can possess.  Children improvise right from their very first lesson if I'm involved.
  7. Learning to play piano this way is primarily a "visual" learning and not so much "auditory" learning.

Would I recommend this to parents?
More Pros than Cons according to my review EXCEPT for me the cons carry more weight than the pros.  I will definitely tell the parents at my studio (even parents of my piano students) about this program.  It may be interesting to some of them and a nice resource to have in the house...rather than watching TV.  I  know it's not going to be that attractive to them though.  They are choosing to make the effort to leave their homes so their children have the opportunity to

If you are a teacher...I recommend letting as many people as possible know about these programs because it gives so much more value to the developmental-people work you are doing and that you are excellent at doing!

Learning technique and theory are valuable and really can be conveyed by machines and computer programs but the intangible learnings seem to be absorbed by hanging out with real people.  

Ever wonder why piano is always offered in these kinds of computerized children's programs and not violin? harp? cello? ocarina?   

I think it's because piano can be taught visually and music theory is easier to teach with visuals.  Often the most musical musicians don't play piano...they've had to learn music with their ears and hands not as much with eyes.  

Just interesting to me!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Spectacular Story!

Adrian Anantawan Talks About Easy and Hard
Adrian Anantawan is a Canadian violinist born with only one arm. He has clearly overcome his disability!

Earlier this week my husband and I watched a documentary about Adrian. It was uplifting and inspiring.

Adrian began music lessons at the age of 9.
I love that. All the early childhood research tells us our ability to learn music begins to decline after age 8 and if you wish your child to retain their natural music ability, start before age 8.

Even though I am a complete supporter of early childhood education, a passionate enthusiast and highly trained to work with young children, I too believe beginning sooner rather than later is the way to go.

Having said that, I just love hearing the stories of musicians who began their musical education at later ages.

It's never too late!

Oh...and if you enjoyed this video you might also enjoy this piano/violin duet.

Have a great weekend!


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Boats are are sinking

Are you sinking?  Are you sinking?
On your boat? On your boat?
When the snow is heavy, captains on the coast say,
Down you go!  Down you go!
(sung to the tune of Frere Jacques)

Can you believe that sailboats have been sinking from the weight of the snowfall yesterday?
Snowfalls are so wet here that flattop roofs may cave in and boats sink.
The city doesn't have much snow removal equipment so it's actually unsafe to travel the roads.
By Saturday though...we should be snow-free.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Snow! Snow! Snow! Snow! Snow! Snow! Snow!

Snow, snow, lots of snow
Falling all around!
White and floating,  thickly coating,
Sticking to the ground!
 (sung to the tune of "Row Your Boat")

It's snowing!  It almost never snows here in Victoria, BC.  And even when it does, it never sticks!  What excitement!  Schools are closed.  Kids are happy.

Drivers are's not a town where anyone seems to get used to the white stuff.  The road in front of my studio is usually "high traffic busy" but not today.
I've cancelled classes today, although I'm here because I live a block away from my studio, so I can walk.

What I love about snow is the quiet it brings to the air.

Love it! 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

"I didn't even know she could do that!", says her father.

Last week the fire marshall inspected my studio and we found out an emergency light was not working.  Luckily, it's till under warranty and so the electrician came today and replaced it.  

I ask the electrician how his family was doing and he comes to life with excitement about his teenage daughter who is (he recently discovered) a singer.  She secured a lead role in the high school musical this past fall and he had no idea she could sing!

He has done all the electrical work here at the studio and from past conversations it was clear to me he adores his family and supports his children to get involved in activities they enjoy.  He loves music himself and is active in a local Swiss cultural organization.  

He doesn't try to "push" music lessons on his child but he decided after hearing his daughter in such a public venue to invest in voice lessons. 

He is taking an active (pull-out-the-wallet) role in his daughter's music education now.

I don't think he's someone who would pursue reading a blog about music education, yet he is experiencing the joy of letting his child lead the way and just following that child's passion for the arts.  

I'm not necessarily a practioner of "wait and see" if the child has talent or interest.  I know too much about the brain and the development of whole personality to do that.  

I am thrilled for this father and his daughter though.  This story is what I might refer to as "chance discovery".  
It's like a lightbulb suddenly lighting up the place.  Love it!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Beat Competence: A Natural Ability or a Learned Skill? (post No.3)

If one of your students or your own child can not keep a beat, what do you do? 

I love learning strategies that support learners and one of the ways I support children to become more "beat competent" is with "floor work" or "tummy time".  I also do some other things...but I'll talk about those in another post. 

If this is of interest to you, I recommend reading some science-based research.

Science Supports This
Dr. Carla Hannaford, neurophysiologist and educator, has written a wonderful book called, "Smart Moves: Why Learning is Not All in Your Head".  I have this book listed here, on Susan's Bookshelf.  I highly recommend reading this, if you haven't already.  

I have several copies.  One for me and extras in my studio for the parents and any teaching colleagues to borrow.  It is packed with information about the emotional, physical, developmental underpinnings of learning.

Carla Hannaford suffered from a form of dyslexia growing up.  She attributed her disability to having missed certain developmental stages.  When her own daughter was going through the developmental stage of crawling, Carla describes how she was so concerned her daughter would miss the crawling stage (and suffer learning consequences) that she made her daughter crawl around while Carla crawled over-top the daughter to be sure enough time was spent actually crawling.

Ms. Hannaford knew her science/research and she was making sure her own child would go through the "readiness" developmental stages.   

Now, I haven't met her daughter so I have no idea if she was beat competent but what I love about that story is the mother's awareness that she could make a difference in her daughter's development and she took action to do this.

Obviously, I'm someone who believes learning to keep a beat is possible even if it appears that keeping a beat is impossible.  
I believe this because of the research I have read.  
I believe this because I have used physical "recovery" methods to nurture growth in this area.

I just love not giving up on a child!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Power of Song - A Real Life Story

Just this past week I was reminded of the power of song.

I mean...I am reminded almost daily of the power of song with the families that attend classes at Musicalia.  What I mean is the POWER of song to relieve pain and give comfort.

My grandmother (I call her Baba) was admitted to the hospital last week.  My Baba was diagnosed with pneumonia and because she is 96 years old, the doctors were not so encouraging.  They were telling us she would "go downhill" and that would be the end.
Here's Baba!
Her photo taken at my birthday breakfast last Sunday
showing Baba, my mom and myself just 2 days before she was admitted to hospital.
Strong family resemblance between us all!

Thankfully (with the help of antibiotics & modern medical testing) she is a strong person and seems to be recovering!

While we were waiting for a bed for her, she remained in an emergency treatment room at the hospital.  I went into this room early one morning before work.  She was in pain and uncomfortable.  Baba is also blind so relies on others to let her know what's going on.

After making sure she was warm enough, had some moisture on her lips, the bed was at just right angle, a cold cloth to bathe her brow, she tried to relax.  It was pretty noisy in the emergency room though and as I was to be standing at her bedside for a couple of hours, I started to sing very softly.

I sang a Ukrainian folksong she used to sing to me when I was little.  Now, I don't speak Ukrainian but I do know this song in Ukrainian.   I sang it softly so as not to wake the other patients and I wasn't sure she could hear me.  I was a little worried my singing might be an irritant with all the pain she was in and with all the other noises around her.   

By the third word, a huge smile broke out on her face!  
"Oh! My favorite song!  Is that you Susie?"
I said it was and she actually went to sleep with a huge smile on her face. 

I kept singing but with tears streaming down my face.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Beat Competence: Natural Ability or Learned Skill? (post No.2)

The Surprise
My first instinct when I am working with a child who clearly can not keep a beat is to do something that is not obviously musical.

I want to have them immediately on their tummy.  
I call it "floor work" or "tummy time".
Parents and most teachers are surprised by this response. I know it's not obvious but I also know it's one of the ways to bring children to a place of readiness for keeping a beat.

I know that children who can not keep a beat have missed a piece in their development and that it is recoverable.  We just have to incorporate developmental movements as often as possible in class and in activities outside of class.

As I mentioned in my first post earlier this week about beat competence that I am not including children here with severe cognitive, physical, developmental challenges...those challenges require a more complex response.

Getting Ready
We slither and lizard around.
We crawl on all fours and roll on the ground.
We pull ourselves on the floor using just our hands and legs with the full weight of our bodies on our tummies.

I touch on some movement games in previous posts, and also in a 5-part blog posting about why we use movement in a music class.

All this crawling and slithering is physically demanding for children who "need" it.  They often resist it.  
Children who don't really "need" it, usually love games with these movements in them.  
Children who DO NEED it, complain and resist and generally try to get out of playing this way.

Interesting, no?!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Beat Competence: A natural ability or a learned skill? (post No.1)

Beat Competence
So...beat seems like such a natural thing, yet some kids/people just don't have it.  They just can't keep a beat. 

You know those kids...they seem to be happy, energetic, love to sing, enthusiastic, throw themselves into whatever musical expression they love and they just can NOT keep a beat.  

I feel it is spectacular!  Almost unbelievably spectacular!  wow...
I have trouble trying to intentionally NOT keep a beat and they can't keep a beat to save their lives.  

The Download
I've had students like this.  What I notice about the kids who have difficulty keeping a beat is that they usually did not attend baby music classes, not mine or any music classes. 

Those first 2 years seem to be the natural developmental period when beat competence is "downloaded" and "installed" in the body and they missed out.

Of course, there are children with obvious developmental, cognitive or physical challenges and while some of them are beat competent, we do not have the expectation they will be beat competent.  Those are not the children I am thinking of here.

Benefits of beat competence
I spent the first year of public school teaching as a learning assistance teacher.  I worked with kids (K- Gr.10) who couldn't read, couldn't do math, couldn't print, couldn't spell.

What I noticed (because I was also a music teacher) was that these kids all seemed to struggle with keeping a beat as well.

When compared to kids who ARE beat competent, kids who have trouble keeping the beat also seem to have challenges with:
  • learning to work the scissors, 
  • holding a pencil, 
  • learning to print/handwrite, 
  • skip with a skipping rope, 
  • move through the space without smashing into other people and 
  • some have trouble learning to read books.
If you are interested in beat competence from a practical perspective 
  • can it be nurtured? 
  • or is it one of those things handed out at birth?
then stay tuned because I'm going to write a few posts about this very topic. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Drum Concerto No.1 for children

After my Symphony experiences the last couple of weeks, we've been playing a variety of "concertos" in the classes.   
A concerto being: the orchestra playing beautifully with a featured instrument performing a solo.

One of my favorites was Drum Concerto #1 with Orff Orchestra.

We set up the Orff Orchestra in C pentatonic kind of like this...
The children practised playing beautiful beats on the C and G bars.
We tried solid borduns (C & G together)
and broken borduns (alternating C then G),
and then cross-over borduns (low C, then G, then high C and back to G).

Everyone chose their favorite borduns and we all played together as an ensemble.  With the orchestra set up in a pentatonic scale, even if someone played outside the bordun, it still sounded lovely.

Then...the piece de resistance!...we added two drums.

the tympani and the native frame drum

2 drummers played their drums in the middle of our circle while the rest of us accompanied them playing our beautiful beats as softly as we could...which wasn't as soft as I hoped for.  We couldn't hear the drummers!

This was definitely a process...:)

I think my words went something like this...
"Can you hear Susan?"
"Try to play more piano...can you play softer so we can hear the drums?" 
"Can you hear the drums?"
We tried using bigger motions with our arms and then smaller motions with our arms to explore forte and piano sounds.

We added a cello (just the low C and G strings, please!...those are the fattest strings)

We added finger cymbals (for a ringing intro)

We added temple blocks (because we saw them just standing nearby)

We played and processed for about 40 minutes, everyone taking turns with the different parts.  They were relaxed and happy.  It was just right!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Playing a Paper Piano

Recently I read about a young gifted pianist who first learned to play piano on a paper piano.

was written up in Canada's, Globe and Mail.

Yes, learning to play on a paper piano means a piano keyboard drawn onto a piece of paper.  The paper lays flat on a tabletop and the child plays on the sound.

This is a commercially-produced paper piano... 

I have a feeling Mr. Ghazi (above) had a hand-drawn one though...and look how far he has come!  

I did have a piano student once who learned this same way.  
The only time he heard his pieces were the days he had a lesson with me at my studio on my piano.  The rest of the week he played his tabletop paper piano.  His progress that year was comparable to children who played on real pianos at home.  

It was not my expectation...I mean...would you expect a child to make much progress when they can't even hear what they are playing?  Amazing...

I know another pianist (he loves to play Chopin) who first learned on a paper piano.   His first year learning to play as a little boy was on a paper keyboard at home.  He only played a real piano at his lessons.  He is a grown man with children now and has a real piano. 

I wonder how many other children there are out there who play on paper pianos?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Playing Piano

I'm into a new book and loving it.
Actually, it was published in 1978, so it's not new-new but it's new to me.  It's been sitting on my shelf for 2 years and today I had a chance to open the cover and dig in.

(Complete Edition) 
by Dan Haerle

I played for an hour through pages 1-12, creating melodies, improvising with chord tones and scale tones.  It was relaxing and satisfying.  

Next week my lessons with tweens and teens will be infused with some of this.   I'd like my students to experience this relaxed feeling and I think this is a way to get there.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Ta daaaa!

...drum roll please!

Today is the official unveiling of MakeMeMusical's new blog design!

For the last few weeks the awesome DreamTeam at 
Dream Up Studios has been creating a new look for the MakeMeMusical blog.

I love the new design!
Thank you thank you thank you to Dream Up Studios!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Presto! and Adagio...for children

Presto!'s not a magic trick
...presto is just the Italian musical term for fast.

Meet Presto Bunny...

Presto Bunny!
Presto Bunny!
She's fast!  She's quick!
She's oh so funny.

Yesterday, after meeting Presto Bunny (fingerpuppet) one of the kids actually said...
Let's run presto!  Let's do the running game and hit the drum! 
I suggested the Spiderman theme song music, they agreed and off we went!

I stood in the running pathway holding a drum out.  

The children hit the drum as they ran by.  

(It's an African dance class activity...and we all love it)

We've been hitting the drum for a few months now and the children are so accurate at hitting the drum as they run by,  they are
beginning to get some loft as they move thru the hit!  

It's absolutely thrilling for them and beautiful to watch!
When the running is complete it's time to bring out Adagio Bird.

Meet Adagio Bird...

Adagio Bird 
Is slow and sweet
Be gentle with him
Don't tangle his feet!

Because Adagio is a marionette, he must move slowly or his strings get tangled.

After Adagio meets the children and sits with them,
we all try to walk with Adagio using our own "Adagio Feet". 
This is quite a challenge.

We listen to Mozart's Piano Concerto #23, Adagio movement (check out yesterday's post to hear this beautiful adagio music)  moving with our adagio feet.

Of course, we all take turns holding the controls.  

What they don't know yet is I have a class set of Adagios and 
next week we will move as a flock of Adagios!  

In classes here at Musicalia the children move...a lot. 
I believe movement and language are connected 
and when we design activity that can incorporate both, 
very young children have a more integrated learning experience.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

How to relax...Amadeus Mozart: "Piano Concerto #23 Adagio"

Mozart, Piano Concerto #23, Adagio movement
Last night my husband and I enjoyed a night out at the symphony and heard this! It's one of my favorites but I'd never heard it played live before. 

My aunt plays violin with the Victoria Symphony and we often receive tickets to enjoy interesting and beautiful performances at Victoria's Royal Theatre.  This was one of the movements we floated home to.

I'm thinking this movement would be a great creative dance piece for young children...or to inspire a mimed puppet show.  I'll let you know if either of those ideas really work with young a future post!
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