Articles, Reflections

It Takes a Village…

My post today is in response to this article blogged on Today’s Reva Seth writes about her experience embarking on home school for her son, much of what she mentions is valuable to reflect upon as parents. It speaks about an “Education Tribe” or “Parent-Led Team.” You can read her full blog here.

We have all heard the phrase “It takes a village to raise a child,” but if you’re anything like me, you’re wondering where that village exists in this day and age? Who are the villagers, and what are their roles?

I can speak directly about music class and the MYC experience being a part of that village.    You are probably sending your child to music classes because you want them to learn about music or learn to play an instrument. Perhaps you don’t know too much about music, or you do know a lot about it, but you feel that another adult will get better results out of your child. At any rate, your music class, and my studio community, has many citizens in this village. There are your classmates (parents and children) and there’s me, your teacher, and there are many other children taking MYC in the city. We see them when we attend events such as the Rhythm Festival.

But you can build your network beyond this: perhaps grandma or an uncle plays an instrument? Maybe your child’s teacher at school has shared music instruction with them? Maybe there is a school church choir your child can join? There may be an upcoming talent show your child can audition for.

At any rate, I hope that I can be a helpful member of your “Education Tribe” and a suitable leader for the Music Village your child attends weekly.

Who is part of your child’s village? What leaders are in place to guide them, and in which subjects? Sound off in the comments below.



Reflections, Uncategorized

MYC’s International Conference

Good Morning!

Recently, I spent a lot of time in downtown Ottawa, which is very rare for me. What could draw me to the busy hub, you ask? It was Music for Young Children’s International Conference. It is usually held every two years across Canada. In 2010 I went to Banff, in 2008 I went to Niagra Falls. I can’t wait for 2015 in Halifax! MYC will be celebrating 35 glorious years in it’s “birthplace” of Nova Scotia.

I’m not sure what kind of conferences you may have attended, but this one was action packed. They are specifically tailored for MYC teachers, and this year, as a conference committee member, I got a sneak peak into what would planned. We had workshops ranging from conservatory exam prep, music history, puppetry, technology for music teachers, child psychology, neuroscience, dancing, and more! It was hard to choose sessions.

I met with teachers from Calgary, parts of BC, and even South Korea. I met with Roland Canada’s president, Paul Coates from Conservatory Canada, and of course, Frances Balodis, creator of MYC.

Mairéad on Parliment Hill before the group singing of O Canada and the MYC Theme Song

Every morning we sang in harmony, and every evening we partied! Check out MYC’s facebook page to see photos from this year’s conference. I learned and reviewed so much, but I’m going to put in brief some things that you may find interesting:

On Music History…

  • In the classical era, hair (or, powdered wigs) went to extremes: horse hair was used to make hair dos over 5 feet high!
  • In the Romantic era, virtuosos like Franz Liszt and Nicolo Paganini had groupies: adoring women would swoon and faint when Liszt threw his gloves into the audience!
  • As soon as Bach died, his music died too. No one played it until it was re-discovered and performed almost 80 years later by Mendelssohn.

On Exam Taking… 

  • Conservatory Canada wants to open e-exam centres for students to take “distance” exams using MIDI, skype and specialized music software. Would you come to an e-exam at my studio? Perhaps I’ll open a centre…
  • “The Practice Monster” affects students and teachers. Why do we keep pushing ourselves with critique? Can we phrase such changes differently? How can I recognize my students’ awesomeness and still demand a high level of performance?
  • Examiners ARE looking for proper fingering, so nya nya! I’ll keep demanding it 🙂

On Children…

  • The “Pampered Child” (arguably a generation of children in generation Y and beyond) has no tolerance for boredom, a sense of entitlement, and is dismissive of adult authority figures. Sadly, they are given the authority to make decisions that we should be making on their behalf. As parents and educators, we need to 1. Be the Adult; 2. Teach. Don’t punish; and 3. Communicate Clearly.
  • Some children with special needs require proprioceptive treatment- a firm touch or stomping movement to begin a self-calming process. This below my mind because as a teacher, I don’t really “touch” students.
  • The homework keyboard pages MATTER to your child. They can choose any colour, combination of colours, or patterns to show what they have been working on that week. I will be more diligent in checking these pages! And please, this is your child’s job. Not yours.
  • We make assumptions and place them on children. I will try to ask more questions and make less assumptions.
  • I can manipulate a puppet’s mouth, eyes, hands and body to communicate effectively with young children. And I need to get all those voices straight! PS: Can’t wait for you to meet Mrs. Treble Clef and Mr. Bass Clef!

On being Digital Citizens…

  • It’s heeeere! Don’t fight it- understand it!
  • Canadians are the #1 viewers of YouTube
  • Canada ranks #1 (per captia) among countries with people who  purchase musical instruments
  • In 2011, digital music sales surpassed CD sales for the first time. Apple tallied 12 billion downloads that year.
  • 36% of parents report that their children ages 2-11 have watched TV and surfed the Internet — simultaneously. (Not sure how to feel about that one!)
  • Given this information, if I don’t meet children and families with these needs, I am going to be way behind! I sure hope I do meet your technological needs 🙂

Professional Development is something very important to me. I like to be a student as much as I enjoy being a teacher.

I hope you are all enjoying your Summer! Love to hear your thoughts on the above post.


Articles, Reflections

Thoughts on Gold Stars and Overscheduling

My post today is in reference to two articles. The first is from Today’s Parent and it’s about over-scheduling your child. There are some great tips like watching for burnout, selecting things that the child is truly interested in, and just as important, making sure that you as a parent are not too exhausted either.

I wish they had mentioned something about commitment though. It’s a great value to impart through our actions and expectations. And speaking of our values, how many of us parents have our child learning music because we feel it is an important thing to learn? How badly did we want to (but perhaps could not) do it as a child? Perhaps we quit music lessons and wish our parents had encouraged us to continue. I don’t think that’s a negative influence on our decisions regarding our child’s programming, as long as you don’t take it too far!

I admire every single one of my music families because I know that music lessons are a very big commitment, and it’s even bigger in and MYC setting. The parent goes to lessons, regulates practice at home and is expected to understand the material right along with the child. I guess it would be considered a two-for-one, but what a lot of work! It’s just not as simple as dropping off your child and coming back in 30 minutes.

But I do believe the method is worth it. I have now taught some of the same children for 5 years and watched them grow from wiggly toddlers or precocious pre-schoolers into confident young musicians. And I know the path wasn’t all roses- sometimes thorns! I hope that parents can see the transformation and will celebrate the successes at the recital this year.

This brings me to the next article about “Giving Gold Stars”  or rather, praise. Children need it; they crave it. And I like to give it 🙂 Sometimes it’s stickers, sometimes a party (like the Movie Night coming up) but more often it’s words about their progress. “I like the legato you put into that song” or, “The was really forte! Wow!” And I also like to notice progress. “Can you believe how well your bridges are coming a long? Two weeks ago you didn’t even know the C-A and now you’re doing ALL of them in the scale!”

I really prefer words to stickers. I mean, I won’t sticker EVERY single thing. They’ll become meaningless. Don’t get me wrong, they’re fun, but a pat on the back (literally!) or saying specifically where the improvement has happened makes more sense to me.

How do you offer praise? What are your thoughts on over-scheduling for children and the rest of the family?


Reflections, Resources, Uncategorized

Acoustic piano vs. Digital vs. Keyboard

I have had a request to share some of this information in a post, so here it goes…

The “Bare minimum” for lessons with me is a touch sensitive keyboard with at least 62 keys. A standard keyboard/piano is 88 keys. Touch sensitive means that you can press softly on a key to produce a quiet sounds, and harder to produce a loud sound (and many shades in between).

There are several considerations and realistically I would have to say that budget is the defining and deciding factor. What are you willing and able to spend? Will that be worth the life of the instrument – how long will it be used and by whom? Will all or one child/ren take lessons? Do you like to play sometimes?

On a used keyboard, you can expect to spend anywhere from $60- 200. But it is important to make sure that it has the minimum requirements. You can always email me to ask, but to be sure, see the keyboard in person before you buy.

For a used piano it’s buyer beware! The range here is anywhere from FREE to $5,000 (or more depending on the brand). Always remember there is a reason that the person is getting rid of the piano. Are they moving, want more space, don’t have children living at home who play anymore?  The same thing applies to pricing: is it overpriced because there is an emotional attachment to it?

Don’t forget the care and maintenance of the piano. It will need tuning (at least twice a year) and the temperature that it sits in should be monitored. Too much humidity will cause the wood to absorb moisture, swell up, and cause the tuning to become sharp. Too much dryness can crack the wood and cause a vibrating bzzzzzzz effect. Here are some tips for keeping a piano in tune through it’s environment.

The most important thing to do when buying used is to see, play, touch and hear a piano. You don’t buy a car without a test drive, so this is the same. In fact, the safest thing to do is have a technician inspect it (look up piano tuner/technicians in the phone book and ask if they have this service). It’s very easy to fall in love with an beautiful antique, but remember that it’s function is vital to your child’s learning. It will be mighty annoying for your child to press a defunct middle C each time they play! (I am speaking from experience– BEFORE my parents had our original piano professionally restored). My upright piano on the main level is simply a piece of furniture for my daughter to discover. If I want the best tuning, I’ll go downstairs and play a digital…. it can’t fail!

So, let’s discuss digital pianos. I think it is a practical compromise. Many people will argue that they can NEVER recreate the warmth of an acoustic sound, but those people have underestimated new technology. I’d have to say the sound is definitely getting closer. Roland digital pianos, for example, record the sound from a concert piano- like a Steinway, in a concert hall, played by a professional musician – painstakingly note by note. See this video  (go to 1:35′ to see what how they’ve taken sampling to a new level).

Furthermore, if you play a high quality one, you’ll feel the weight of the keys similarly to a real piano. Some prefer the touch of ivory under their fingers, but that material has been out of use in piano keys since about the 50’s.

Let me remind you that some teachers will REQUIRE the use of an acoustic piano for study with them. This usually applies to those studying at higher, performance levels. If only we could all look into the future and see what our little ones will be doing when they’re 16 year old Mozarts… Another decision for you to make!

What do you use at home? How did you come by the instrument? Any tips or suggestions for your fellow music parents? Please comment below.

Practice Tips, Reflections

Practise like the Pros

Canadian pianist, Angela Chang

I’ve stumbled upon a few radio interviews (check them out here) with great performers, some Canadian gems. I find it weird (okay, kinda appalling) that some were bribed with candy to practice as a child. I may have a pizza party now and then, but sorry, I won’t be handing out sugary junk every time I hear a C scale. Many have horrible memories of it, or some no memories other than the daily habit of it- waking up at 6:30 to get some time in before school (Louis Lorite). Practicing is not an option- a commitment has been made. But how can we make the most of it? Quality over quantity rules supreme.

The interview with the Kiwanis Festival participants (children ages 10 to 12 in this case) is very interesting. These are children who may be the next Angela Cheng, or Jamie Parker. One boy LOVES scales for the patterning (well, duh, he also loves math!) And another can feel happy about the changes and improvements made through practice. This is not an easy achievement for young children. We can assist by asking those open ended questions, “How did the left hand feel today? Is it better than three days ago?”

Isn’t it a relief that these guys can admit to procrastination, distraction and avoidance of their practice?  Yes, we’re all human!  Lara St. John has figured out a huge key to success: get to your instrument before 2pm! For some kids, it may even be 11am, or 9am. You’ll know your kid best.  And yes guys, I understand evading it every once in awhile. But overall, we know that the pros conquered that, and put the time in just like everything else. Heck, Angela Cheng LOVES to practice and does so for 6 hours a day. How? In 1.5 to 2 hour intervals. So why would you put all your practice until after supper, after homework, after school. How looooong would that take. Yuck! Break it up guys!

Finally, the fact that these accomplished musicians today ENJOY practising, or feel no guilt about taking a month off only to return refreshed, points out (to me, anyway) that all of the early work and dedication must have paid off. We’re not all going to take this pathway to performance, in fact, many will not. But to get the difficulties of practice out of the way early and arrive at a place of enjoyment? Now, therein lies one of my fundamental goals for my students.


I’se the B’y

On Tuesday night my Moonbeams 3 celebrated their final class with Newfoundland flair and a good old fashioned “Kitchen Party.” Until now I had only heard of the tradition and thought it sounded like great fun. It really was!

I learned a lot of about a place in Canada that I have not been able to visit yet (one day, hopefully!) We also celebrated Mummering by dressing up disguised (as “Mummers”) and guessing who’s who. After that we had a “Screech-in” ceremony with Purity Syrup. Of course a kitchen party wouldn’t be complete without music, so we played the upright piano (Lots of MB3 Canadian Folksongs), sang and even played some guitar.

We all had a great time, and I’m very pleased that like me, these children have learned more about our Canadian Heritage.

Congratulations Moonbeams 3- class of 2011! All of your hard work has paid off!

-Mairéad (Mrs. Frizell)

Reflections, Uncategorized

Springtime: winding up or winding down?

As I reflect at this time of year, I can view in two ways: 1) We are gearing up for summer; time to relax, plan outdoor activities, or look forward to a “non-schedule.”

And 2) We are winding down from a hard year of work. Or maybe it was a great year with many goals reached. Overall, I hope it was a year where you felt that the time we spent together in music class was a happy and productive time.

Which are you doing? Winding up, down or both?

-Mairéad (Mrs. Frizell)