Music Teacher's Helper Blog

Dear MTH blog readers,

First of all, Happy Holidays! I hope this post finds you well, and I hope you are all going to have a well deserved break! I sure am looking forward to mine!

I am pretty sure all of us have recorded our students in some form or another. I remember when I first started teaching (many years ago), recording was a big deal. Cassettes and CDs were the norm. Eventually I acquired an MD recorder. The audio quality was good, but no video. Then I got a camcorder, so I finally could get video, but the audio quality was not desirable. Then I got my first Apple laptop, then I got an iPad. Fast forward to today, I now record my students with my iPhone, on a daily basis. 

I am still no recording expert, and this post is not about how to make a top quality recording. This post is about the benefits of frequent, everyday recordings of students. 

Most of us record our studio recitals. These are always a big deal, and we know more or less that the students are going to perform their best. And that’s what I did before – only recording students when I knew they would be good. So we recorded recitals, festivals, and especially competitions.

But for some time now, I have been recording my students much more regularly, and often during their lessons. We also don’t wait until their pieces are “perfect”- we record while their pieces are still very much work in progress. Moreover, I have been using Facebook “LIVE,” so the recordings are live recordings of their actual lessons. 

I have found this to be tremendously useful:

  1. It gets them used to the idea of performing. They used to get nervous when the camera is on. Now it is not a big deal. This means they get used to dealing with their nerves, and they do better in recitals and other performances. 
  2. They get to watch the recordings later. This is the biggest benefit. They get an opportunity to review what we talk about in the lessons so they are more likely to remember what to fix.
  3. The recordings are online for all to see – parents, grandparents, uncles, friends, and the public. Of course this means the parents must give consent to the recording in the first place. So far my students’ parents are totally on board (I did have one parent question it, but they left now!) Usually, the parents are very proud to share the videos, and other family members get a glimpse of what happens in the lessons. It is also easy to make the videos private or only viewable for selected people, should that be a concern for some. 
  4. It increases your studio’s online presence. I have received many lesson inquiries, because someone stumbled across one of my lesson videos, they witnessed how I worked with a student, they like my approach, and they want to be my student. 

Of course, there are many other recording platforms these days, and YouTube is another indispensable social media tool. I prefer Facebook Live for everyday recordings, because it does not take up any memory space on my phone, which now has three years worth of videos and pictures of my daughter since she was born. I also find YouTube to be more clumsy to use, and Facebook LIVE is just one click away. I still use YouTube for more “serious” recordings, such as for competitions, where it is standard to include a YouTube link of the student’s performance. 

Another something I discovered, just today, is how interesting and beneficial it is, for students to record one another. I had three students come in to the studio today to record, because they are entering one of these video competitions, and today was the deadline. We had been recording at their individual private lessons, but as you all know it is so hard to get that “perfect” recording, so we weren’t satisfied that we had the best recording yet. They did not have any private lesson time left, so I suggested that they all come and take turns to record one another. I set up the phone, showed them what to do, and I closed the studio door and went upstairs to spend time with my daughter. I could hear them. It took them each several takes, but did they do so much better knowing their peers were in the audience and that everyone’s time is precious! I am sure all of our other lesson recordings helped, but it was so interesting to see how well they did. They gave one another support, encouragement, and the comradery between them was endearing and so heart-warming. I had told them to take turns, so if they messed up, they were to let someone else go next, so it was fair for everyone’s time. I could hear from upstairs, that they did not follow this rule, but encouraged their peers to just try again – “it’s ok, don’t worry about us” – when it was clear someone just got nervous and made silly mistakes near the beginning. I was so proud of them and after about an hour and half, all three managed to make the best recording of their piece that they will submit for competition for a chance to perform at Carnegie Hall. 

Whether they win the competition or not, it does not matter. That is not the point. The point is they worked so hard on their piece, they went above and beyond trying to get a perfect recording which, as we all know, is like chasing a unicorn. They had a glimpse of what it takes to be truly amazing at something. I have a feeling what they experienced this afternoon will remain in their memory for many years to come.

If anyone is interested, my live lesson recordings can be found here.

Have a great holiday season, everyone, and happy recording to all of your students!

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It is no secret that playing a musical instrument not only bolsters a child’s physical and emotional development. It can also help in the more systematized development of his or her brain which can have a significant impact in the child’s academic activities and social endeavors. But just how can playing music benefit a child’s brain? Let’s learn more.

Improves Math Skills

We’re not talking about turning your child into a math wizard. What we’re talking about is the ability of music to help children better appreciate simple concepts in math that they can use to understand more complex numerical concepts in algebra, trigonometry, and calculus. The thing is that even a simple activity as playing the drums can teach children about the concept of measures as exemplified in musical rhythms or beats.

Studies show that children who played musical instruments fared a lot better in math tests especially on estimation and computation than those who aren’t musically-inclined. You can always start your child on any music instrument, but one of the easiest to master so far is playing the drums. You can also learn from a website how your child can play such a musical instrument and start his or her way to becoming skilled in numbers.

Enhances Memory

Did you know that memorizing music pieces can help improve the brain’s ability to process and integrate information in a process we call memory? Researchers have found that children who played musical instruments and had to memorize their piece demonstrated better working memory. It is believed that music challenges the way the child’s brain processes and integrates new information, allowing for more efficient neuronal activity.

This improvement in memory can also translate to a host of other benefits. Children who have better-functioning working memory will fare a lot better in academic pursuits that require such skills. It also lays the foundation for the brain’s ability to solve complex problems.

Facilitates the Processing of Language

While it is true that playing music doesn’t necessarily involve the use of words, it nevertheless helps the child’s brain in the development of language-related skills. Learning the different parts of a drum set and how each component can bring about a wonderful rhythm can improve the vocabulary of children learning to play the drums. The same is true for those who will be uttering the words that they have learned while learning to play these musical instruments. They can process phonemes a lot better.

Neuroscientists have discovered that music has a very unique way of improving the manner in which the human brain integrates and processes parts of everyday spoken language. When this is applied to children, music can potentially benefit those who are having a more difficult time with reading and language. This can help them in their academic activities.

Develops Spatial Reasoning

Several studies show that playing music can also enhance a child’s spatial reasoning or the ability of the brain to understand, remember, reason, and interpret the unique relationships among objects in space. This is all the more evident in children playing drums as they get to move not only all of their limbs but also the rest of their body. Knowing the distance of the drumstick relative to the surface of the drum is a function of the brain’s spatial reasoning abilities.

Children playing music will do well in activities that require spatial-temporal measures. This allows them to function a lot better and more efficiently across any activity that they choose. For instance, if they engage in sports, their spatial reasoning will allow them to shoot the basketball with greater proficiency or perhaps even aim for the bull’s eye in a game of darts. Whenever objects in space are involved, one has to rely on the brain’s spatial reasoning.

Protects against Dementia

Dementia is known as a degenerative disease that affects the elderly, but can always present in young to middle-age adults. It is degenerative, meaning it is a very slow and insidious process. Studies show that playing music can be a protective factor against the development of cognitive impairment and dementia.

One can never be sure if one’s child will grow to have dementia, given the fact that this condition is very common among the elderly. Because music can engage different parts of the brain at the same time, it can help prevent the disuse of brain cells enabling them to retain their optimum functioning a lot longer.

Playing music can be greatly advantageous to a child’s brain. Starting them today even with as simple as playing the drums can pave the way for better cognitive development.

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I have learned a lot from my dog, and I realized recently that some of it ties right into teaching music!

There are the stern dog trainers, intent on reducing the dog to an obedient creature paying as little attention to other dogs and the world as is convenient for the owner. But then there are the dog whisperers, the ones who know their dog so well that they know the right time to ask the right thing of them, knowing that dogs want to please when they love their owner.

In my case, I learned that if every single interaction with my dog was positive, she was open to anything I wanted her to do.

If you apply that philosophy to teaching music, you end up with a very observant and carefully crafted system of working with students. When a student doesn’t do things you want — practice, follow your advice, or even do what you just asked them to do, for example — what do you do? Intimidate? Stress that you know what they should do and they don’t? Lay down an ultimatum?

There is certainly a place for challenging students and seeing if they can rise to the occasion. However, if they don’t do what you want, there are more interesting and constructive options than applying force (repetition, punishment, intimidation, contracts, etc.).

If you decide you are going to make every interaction a positive one, this does not at all mean praising where no praise is due. What it really means is   [···]

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