When parents and teachers first think about fiction titles for children on the subject of music, the ones that first come to mind are likely to be picture books. But there are also a wide range of absorbing novels for middle-grade readers, each bringing the world of creating and performing music to life. Here are only a few:
1. The Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White
White is better known as the author of Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little. However, The Trumpet of the Swan is a worthy addition to a young reader’s bookshelf in its own right.
The novel’s protagonist is Louis, a young trumpeter swan that the author named after legendary jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong. Louis is broken-hearted because he cannot make a sound. He wants to be able to communicate with Serena, a beautiful swan who has won his heart.
When Louis learns to read and write, aided by his friend Sam Beaver, he only confuses his swan friends. But when Louis’ father steals a trumpet for him to play, the young swan shows that he is more than a voice. In this, his final book for children, White conveys the joy of music and the equal joyfulness of self-expression.
Director Richard Rich created a 2001 animated film adaptation of White’s 1970 masterpiece.
2. Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
This Newbery Award-winning title also earned a Coretta Scott King Award for its vivid portrayal of the title character, an African-American boy living during the Great Depression. The 10-year-old Bud, whose mother died when he was only six, sets out on a train to find his missing father, as well as to track down the famous jazz musician Herman Calloway. As he learns about his family’s history, Bud also falls deeply in love with the rhythms of jazz.
Curtis’ 1999 book was later turned into a jazz-flavored musical that has delighted young people all over the country in touring performances.
3. Hidden Voices by Pat Lowery Collins
This 2009 historical fiction title for mature young people ages 12 and up is subtitled The Orphan Musicians of Venice. It is the story of three teenage girls who live in an orphanage in the early 18th century.
However, this particular orphanage has built up an extraordinary program of music education, and that theme pervades the book. The three girls all begin their lives searching for love. They find it in their growing devotion to the musical arts under the tutelage of composer Antonio Vivaldi.
But there is danger outside the orphanage walls. Each of the main characters experiences the complexities of life, love, and personal trauma in different ways. The book is a rich depiction of the capacity of rigorous musical study to strengthen the human spirit.
4. Second Fiddle by Rosanne Parry
Parry’s exciting, sensitive 2012 book is a look at the adventures of Jody, a 13-year-old girl in Berlin in 1990 in the wake of the fall of Communist governments across Eastern Europe and the destruction of the Berlin Wall.
Jody, a violinist, lives with her family on an American army base. She and her two best friends are the members of an ensemble string trio who hope to perform in a competition in Paris. But their plans are derailed when they are the only ones who can rescue a young Russian soldier who becomes the object of attempted murder.
As the girls try to save the young man by helping him reach Paris, they become embroiled in political intrigue and learn the strengthening and revitalizing power of the art they have chosen.
5. Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan
The harmonica is the star of this well-researched and deeply moving novel about musical vocation, identity, courage, and compassion.
Ryan follows the story of a particular harmonica through the lives of multiple children at multiple times and places. Their musical stories touch on the tragedies of the Holocaust, the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II, the prejudices against Mexican migrant laborers in mid-20th century California, and the harsh lives of children in an orphanage. Ryan received a 2016 Newbery Honor Award for the book.
The audiobook version of Ryan’s beautifully-written historical and contemporary fable is made richer with accompanying musical performances.
6. I Am Drums by Mike Grosso
In Grosso’s 2016 book, middle school student Sam not only plays the drums, she lives the drums, hearing the beat even in her sleep. Unfortunately, her parents don’t have the money to support her dreams by buying her a drum set of her own. Additionally, her school loses its music program due to budget cuts.
Sam creates a drum kit out of old magazines and books while coping with her father’s job loss and her parents’ constant arguing and lack of understanding of her passion. Her love of music prompts Sam to test the limits of what she is prepared to do to achieve her goals. She even lies to her family about starting a lawn-mowing venture to earn money.
The author, a music teacher himself, creates a story based on the real dilemmas many kids like Sam face. He establishes reader empathy for his central character, her missteps and successes, and her dream to be a musician.
At the center of today’s symphony orchestra is the string section. The family group of stringed instruments includes the violin, the viola, the cello, and the double bass. This group’s defining features are strings, frets, and bows.
The word “violin” is actually a diminutive term for “viola,” meaning that the instrument descends from the older viol family. The original Italian term for the latter instrument is “viola da braccio,” or “viol for the arm.” Held against the musician’s shoulder, this is the type of viol from which the modern viola developed.
The following are some interesting facts about the always lyrical, expressive, and resonant violin:
1. It came into being during the Middle Ages.
Some experts believe that the introduction of the violin into Europe began with the stringed instruments of Arab-ruled Spain in the early Middle Ages. The instruments of the cultures of the Iberian Peninsula at the time included the rabab and its descendant, the rebec. The latter had three strings, was shaped like a pear, and was often played with its base resting against a seated player’s thigh.
Musicologists consider Central Asia the most likely ultimate origin for the bowed chordophone instruments that began to proliferate throughout Europe and Western Asia by the early Middle Ages. The Polish fiddle may be one of the direct progenitors of the violin.
In addition to the rebec, other medieval instruments that led to the development of the violin included the lira da braccio and the fiddle. The shape of the lira da braccio, in particular, with its arching body and low-relief ribs, prefigured today’s familiar violin.
The lira da braccio’s shallowness of body likely led to the addition of a sound post, a device particular to the violin and later to the viols. The sound post is a small, vertically positioned dividing wall that separates the instrument’s front and back in order to keep the pressures exerted on the strings from causing the belly arch to cave in. Musicologists point out that this sound post contributes to the richness of the violin’s lilting, singing tone, as it harmonizes the workings of the body and strings as a unit.
By the end of the medieval period, a fiddle of a type that would be recognizable today appeared on the scene.
2. The Amati family refined the violin during the Renaissance.
According to paintings of the time, violins with three strings were being played by at least the early 16th century. Lute-maker Andrea Amati of Cremona in Italy produced several violins with three strings at about this time. At about the middle of the 1500s, violins with top E-strings had appeared. It was then that the cello—or “violoncello”—and viola also branched out of the viol family.
Bowed instruments developed further in tandem with the Renaissance, particularly in Italy, with the Amati family being the most famous violin-makers of the 16th and early 17th centuries. The Amatis’ great innovation was the development of the thinner, flatter, violin body that produced a particularly appealing sound in the soprano register.
3. Stradivari established impeccable standards.
While the Amatis played a major role in standardizing the general size and proportions of the stringed instruments we know today, one of their apprentices, Antonio Stradivari, would carry forward and expand on their technical skills. By the late 1600s, Stradivari had created a wholesale alteration in violin proportions through elongating the instrument. His now-standard form for its bridge and general proportions has rendered it capable of producing sounds of extraordinary power and range.
At one time, it was believed that Stradivari’s violins drew their range and depth of tone from the secret formula he used for their varnish. No one, then or now, has ever figured out that formula.
Today’s music historians note that the distinct sound of Stradivari’s violins most likely derived from the quality of the vibration facilitated by thicker wooden top and rear plates, as well as from the configuration of miniscule pores in the wood. However, many experts additionally point out that the master’s varnish did indeed contribute to the overall quality of the sound.
4. Virtuosity became the goal for violinists in the 19th century.
Into the 1800s, violin-makers continued to try new ways to construct the instrument and refine its proportions, angles, and arches. At this time, the repertoire for solo and accompanied violin began to require high levels of skill and dexterity, and violinists such as Niccolò Paganini became known for executing tremendously complex passages. Paganini, who cultivated the image of the composer-musician as a wild Romantic, amassed an enormous and devoted fan following in his day.
Such virtuosity was further enhanced when Louis Spohr invented the chin rest sometime around 1820, thus enabling a player to more comfortably hold and manipulate the instrument. The addition of a shoulder rest additionally contributed to this ease of handling.
5. There are many modern-day virtuosos.
A number of 20th- and 21st-century players have rivaled Paganini in skill and popularity. Among these are the child prodigy and older grandmaster Yehudi Menuhin, who died in 1999 at age 82. Menuhin’s technical proficiency dazzled audiences, and he became known for his championing of contemporary composers such Béla Bartók.
Itzhak Perlman, born in 1945, remains one of the world’s finest living violinists, known for his focus on detail. While still in his teens, Perlman made his debut at Carnegie Hall. A Grammy Award winner for lifetime achievement, he has since played with jazz and klezmer groups, and performed music for motion pictures. In addition to his work as a conductor, he has also served as a teacher of gifted young musicians.
6.Today, the violin encompasses a mosaic of musical cultures.
Like Perlman, today’s violinists perform not only classical music, but also an entire world of country, bluegrass, folk, rock, and world music. Throughout North Africa, Greece, the Arab world, and the southern part of India, the violin and viola continue to be very popular. The Roma have a long tradition of using the violin in communal music-making, as do the Jews through the tradition of klezmer. The violin remains widely used in American and European folk compositions as well.
Pythagoras might have been speaking for numerous others when he said that he found music in the spacings between the planets and geometry in the sounds of strings. Plato wrote of harmonies in mathematics and how they parallel harmony in a just society. Confucius also found numerous eternal truths in the unfolding of pieces of music.
These ancient philosophers grasped truths about the interconnectedness of music and mathematics that have become even more clear over the centuries.
Here are only a few insights, based on the experiences of musicians and mathematicians, about this close relationship:
1. Activation of analogous skills
Music students, when tested, tend to show more skill in mathematics than their non-musical peers. High levels of cognitive processing ability and executive function—which involves self-regulation and self-management in order to achieve a goal—are essential for success in both fields.
Research also supports the notion that executive function, even more so than overall intelligence, has been shown to influence academic achievement. Learning math ties into the development of executive function by calling on a child to analyze, identify key concepts, and proceed through a series of logical steps. Likewise, learning to play a musical instrument enhances this capacity by, among other factors, drawing on the ability to calibrate motor movements in response to changes of time signature and key.
2. A beautiful symmetry
Some mathematicians explain their field by focusing on how they work to extract the essential elements of any given thing and study the characteristics and interactions of those elements on an abstract plane. This type of learning can help students to understand music and can lead to a deeper engagement with the essential elements of a musical composition.
Music can inspire students to learn more about mathematics through studying, for example, the properties and manifestations of sound. Innovative mathematics teachers have even brought opera singers into their classrooms to show students how the patterns of mathematics are part of the essence of music.
3. Simplicity within complexity
Every note a composer writes or a musician plays is involved in an intricate web of harmony, rhythm, and mathematical patterns.
These patterns tend to be built around elements of symmetry. For example, just as the shapes of regular geometric figures remain the same when rotated, a musical tune can be transposed to another key in a composition such as a fugue.
In a Mandelbrot set, a famous fractal, a smaller replica of the entire patterned set can always be found hidden at the core of any other image in the set. So, we might also say that a musical fractal occurs when one theme harmonizes with a slower version of itself. Johann Sebastian Bach, for example, showcased a talent for repeating his themes numerous times throughout a variety of permutations.
4. A composition made possible by math
In fact, thanks to an extraordinary mathematical insight, Bach had the tools he needed to compose The Well-Tempered Clavier in 1722. The piece consists of a set of masterful preludes and fugues, one in each of the major and minor keys.
But Bach could not have created this much-loved work without mathematics. In 1636, the French monk and mathematician Marin Mersenne successfully solved a difficult problem by deriving the twelfth root of the number 2, thus paving the way for the division of the octave into 12 equal semitones.
Before this division and the associated method of equal temperament of musical instruments, pieces transposed into new keys often sounded uneven and unpleasing. But after Mersenne’s achievement, musicians were able to work with a 12-part octave, evenly spaced and divided into ratios. They could then write music in every key and transpose easily from one key to another. Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier was the first noteworthy example of this musical revolution.
5. How math determines pitch
A discussion of pitch is only one way to demonstrate how math undergirds sound.
Pitch is based on wave frequencies. All audible sounds are produced by changes in the air pressure of the pockets surrounding a sound wave. The frequency that hits the human ear translates into the perceived pitch. Each note possesses its own individual frequency.
For an example of sound waves in action, think of a train whistle. Notice that the sound seems higher-pitched as the train approaches. But after the train goes by, the sound seems lower. As the train speeds toward the listener, the forward movement compresses the arriving air pockets against each other, thus pushing them forward more frequently. As a result, the sound seems higher-pitched. Then as the train recedes into the distance, the air pockets slow in their arrival to the ear, giving a lower pitch.
We perceive the most pleasant-sounding chords when we combine notes with sound waves that reverberate in analogous patterns. The mathematical ratios of the intervals between notes give the means of calculating which note combinations produce harmony and which create discord.
Frequency is measured in terms of hertz, and notes with higher pitch have a higher frequency. Middle C has a frequency of approximately 262 hertz. This means that, when middle C sounds on a piano, the sound waves that reach a listener’s ear consist of 262 pockets of higher air pressure striking against the ear every second. As a comparison, the E just above middle C sounds at approximately 329.63 hertz.
Building an understanding of the physics and mathematics behind pitch also leads students to a fuller understanding of octaves, chords, and other musical elements.
6. Pairing music and math in the classroom
When teaching music in the classroom, teachers can incorporate math in a multitude of ways. One is to ask older children to identify the parts of a musical pattern, then to restate the rule governing that pattern. They can go on to use their analysis of patterns to make predictions about the future direction of a composition. An exploration of time signatures and chords can also be the basis for lessons in how math and music work together.
Before younger children even learn the formal concepts of mathematics, they learn through experience about rhythm, repetition, and proportional relationships among musical concepts. They can clap out the syllables of their names, and then see if they can match the number of syllables in their own names to those in other students’ names. They can also echo their teacher, with voice or movement, as he or she calls out and varies notes, beats, and tempos.
Musicologists define perfect pitch, also known as absolute pitch, as the ability to independently identify the pitch of any musical note, or to reproduce any specified note. Some studies have indicated that perfect pitch is relatively rare; only about one person in 10,000 possesses it.
Here are a few facts and theories about perfect pitch, and how human beings—particularly children—might be taught to develop it.
1. What is the science behind musical pitch?
Every sound consists of sound waves. These vibrations reach the ear, and then the brain, via nerve impulses. The unit of measurement for sound waves is the hertz, with a single wave per second designated as one hertz, 100 wave vibrations per second as 100 hertz, and so on. The human ear can perceive sound waves vibrating along a scale of approximately 20 to 20,000 hertz.
When musicians talk about the pitch of a sound, they are referring to the sensation of its frequency. Lower frequencies equal lower pitch, and as the frequency gets higher, so does the pitch. A highly trained musician with excellent pitch can distinguish very subtle differences between sounds that vary by as little as 2 hertz.
2. What’s the difference between perfect pitch and relative pitch?
People with perfect pitch know, for example, that the first musical interval in the children’s song “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” represents a perfect fifth on the scale, and that the iconic vocal “way up high” jump in Judy Garland’s rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is the interval of a major sixth.
A musician with perfect pitch can instantly determine the relation of any one note on the scale to any other. He or she can also reproduce notes at specified intervals without looking at the instrument being played or any other external source.
With relative pitch, a musician can identify the intervals between notes, but not necessarily the notes themselves. Most experts believe that perfect pitch cannot be taught; however, most musicians can develop some degree of relative pitch through application and study.
Experts point out that perfect pitch and relative pitch are complementary, and that it is possible to possess both. One way of describing the difference is to say that perfect pitch is analogous to creative, artistic, “right-brained” ways of understanding the world. Relative pitch is in line with more “intellectualized,” “left-brained” means of perception. After developing relative pitch, musicians are better able to name and describe the elements of music verbally, whereas those with a sense of perfect pitch have an instant, innate understanding that transcends words.
3. Which famous musicians have had perfect pitch?
5. Pitch can be associated with meaning.
Other techniques exist for assisting young children in the development of relative pitch.
Children can listen to a story about, for example, animals of different sizes and temperaments, and can learn to associate a specific pitch with each one. For example, one instructor would ask children to imagine a big, powerful elephant lumbering alone. As the image unfolded in the children’s minds, the instructor would play a combination of low notes on the piano. Then a monkey would appear in the story, accompanied by notes in the piano’s middle range. A series of lilting high notes would go along with a section of the story about light, high-flying birds.
6. New research suggests perfect pitch can be learned.
It was a long believed that perfect pitch was inborn and not able to be taught or learned, but some contemporary researchers believe otherwise.
Diana Deutsch, a University of California, San Diego, psychology professor and researcher into cognition and musical ability, believes that the secret lies in helping young children make connections between pitch and meaning. Dr. Deutsch, known for her discovery of a range of musical illusions and paradoxes, has focused in particular on the phenomenon of perfect pitch.
Dr. Deutsch has written that all people are born with an inherent form of perfect pitch, but that most never learn to recognize or use it. People may recognize a note but be unable to name it. But she also believes that timing is everything. If a child has not had in-depth musical training before beginning elementary school, he or she is less likely to discover that hidden sense of perfect pitch.
7. The identification of tritones can help develop perfect pitch.
Dr. Deutsch grounds her theory about developing perfect pitch partly on her work with musical illusions and conundrums, including her discovery of the “Tritone Paradox.” A tritone indicates the interval where an octave—a series of eight notes—divides evenly into two halves. An example: C and F-sharp form a tritone pair.
Every musical note has a companion, as in the C-F-sharp pairing, located precisely one-half octave away. The paradox lies in the fact that individuals may hear the same tritones as either ascending or descending when they are played in sequence. People are often astonished to find that others hear the opposite.
Dr. Deutsch’s research showed that everyone has some ability to remember these fixed tritone pairs, which she defines as one innate form of perfect pitch. She further discovered that working on this type of fixed pitch just might enable an individual to go on to acquire perfect pitch, if such instruction starts early enough.
8. Speaking a tonal language may help with the acquisition of perfect pitch.
Native speakers of tonal languages, such as Vietnamese and Chinese, seem to have a particular advantage when it comes to developing perfect pitch. Dr. Deutsch theorizes that this is because their brains were wired around distinguishing fine gradations in spoken tones, and because perception of tritone patterns in these cultures tends to be the same for all speakers. By contrast, individual speakers of American English tend to have their own individual perceptions of whether any given tritone is ascending or descending.
9. Creating a DIY tonal language may help young children develop perfect pitch.
Dr. Deutsch suggests that parents who want to give their young children perfect pitch try to recreate a tonal language at home. An easy way to do this is to label each note on a keyboard with a different sticker showing an animal. For example, every C note can be labeled with a dog, every F-sharp with a cat, and so on. Children can then more easily mentally associate each tone with a meaning. As they learn the abstract notes of the scale, they will substitute them for the animal pictures.
There are a number of methods and sets of practices, some generations-old, for teaching the techniques - and the enjoyment - of music to children. Here are brief summaries of four of the best-known and most widely used of these methods throughout much of the world.
1. The Kodály Method
In 2016, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization placed the music teaching method devised by 20th-century Hungarian composer and musicologist Zoltán Kodály on its UNESCO World Heritage List. The method’s ability to help preserve traditional folk music and make it easier to learn earned it a place on the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage practices.
This experience-based teaching method is comprehensive in its teaching of how to read and write music as part of a basic musical curriculum. Singing, folk songs, and solfège - training the ear to understand pitch and pattern - are all central components of the curriculum. Kodály believed that learning to express oneself through singing the songs of one’s native land should be a foundation stone of a child’s musical education.
The Kodály Method begins with helping children develop a sense of rhythm, and with teaching sight-reading and basic pitch through a series of hand signals that assist in demonstrating the relationships between musical notes.
Kodály, a collaborator with his fellow Hungarian composer Béla Bartók, gathered and published major collections of Hungarian folk songs. He was an important figure in the spread of music education throughout Hungary. His method puts such strong emphasis on folk songs because he believed the genre possesses every quality necessary for inculcating a deep love of music in each child.
2. The Suzuki Method
The Suzuki Talent Education Method starts music training early, with teachers striving to ensure that children learn mental focus and fine muscle control when they are young enough to make these skills an integral part of their personalities.
This method involves parents in their children’s music education as co-educators and co-learners. Parents may learn to play an instrument before their child does, and they serve as reinforcing influences in the home for the lessons provided by the classroom teacher.
The Suzuki Method concentrates on teaching music the same way that children acquire language: through listening and repeating. Every day, a Suzuki student listens to recordings of the same piece of music he or she is engaged in learning. Regular review allows students to incorporate new techniques into material already mastered. Reading music waits until the student has begun to master actually playing an instrument.
The method’s inventor, Japanese violinist Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, based his method on the way children naturally acquire spoken language, calling his program a “mother tongue” approach. He emphasized the joy involved when children, parents, and teachers participate in studying music together. He was less concerned with training professional musicians than he was with enriching children’s lives so that their natural sensitivity and awareness of the world around them would blossom.
3. The Orff Method
In the Orff Method, a child learns music through movement, singing, and acting out musically-themed stories. Students may use xylophones, drums, maracas, tone blocks, and numerous other percussion instruments to practice melodies within a learning framework that emphasizes the importance of play and fun.
Teachers also encourage their students to compose their own pieces of music, and to practice improvising already-known pieces. Student improvisation is, in fact, one of the cornerstones of this method, as children have the chance to follow their own creative ideas during lessons.
The Orff Method is known in the original German as Orff-Schulwerk (Orff Schoolwork), and also called simply “Music for Children.”
The 20th-century composer Carl Orff is today best known for his 1937 oratorio Carmina Burana, a work that exemplifies his passion for strong rhythm and movement. He also assisted the gymnast Dorothee Günther in establishing a school focused on music, gymnastic training, and dance. During his time working with the school in the 1920s and 1930s, he came up with the ideas that would form the basis for his own musical education system.
His book, entitled Orff-Schulwerk, which appeared in English translation as Music for Children, is based on the lessons he devised in collaboration with Gunild Keetman, a former student at the Günther school. The method is now taught in dozens of countries and is the subject of increasing interest around the world.
Teachers using the Orff system create their own lessons based on the needs of their individual students. A typical lesson might begin with a teacher reading a poem aloud to the class, followed by students acting out a short drama based on the poem. The students then repeat the poem, this time adding sound by accompanying the story with musical instruments.
4. Dalkroze Eurythmics
Dalkroze Eurythmics is a music instruction method anchored in using ear-training, movement exercises, and improvisation to awaken and develop a child’s inborn gift for music and rhythm.
Created by Emile Jacques-Dalcroze, a 20th-century composer and professor of harmony in Geneva, Switzerland, the method is centered on its author’s tenet that rhythm-based, ear-training process cements musical concepts into a student’s muscle memory. This increases musical proficiency and builds a deep understanding of the physical demands on the musician. Dalcroze believed that students learn best through engagement of multiple senses, and that in order to gain a true understanding of his method, it is necessary to actually experience it.
Dalcroze designed his method to teach music on a deep level, building an understanding of how it works to express a range of meaning and emotion, as well as how it relates to other arts and to the daily life of human beings. His work has been influential in the development of the performing arts and art therapy.
Over the years, numerous educators and other experts have weighed in on the importance of music education to the intellectual, emotional, and social development of young people. Yet the depth and breadth of music education programs as part of the standard school curriculum varies significantly from one nation to another. Following is an overview of the state of music education in selected countries and regions around the world.
The Scandinavian countries—Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland—offer robust music education programs both in and out of the classroom, all supported through government funding.
One example of this commitment to music education is the fact that Finnish instructors training to teach the subject receive 350 hours of government-supported education.
Finland’s commitment to music education is also notable in that it blends the great music teaching traditions of the Russian and Hungarian educational systems with the full complement of financial support available through the modern Finnish democratic social welfare state.
Finnish music programs integrate the teaching of the subject closely with other academic disciplines with a focus on quality. Music teachers and students also enjoy the advantages that come with Finland’s long-standing respect for the value of music and art. Young children study music as a form of play and exploration within a systematic curriculum that has earned worldwide renown.
Australia offers an example of how a national music education program can look when there is inconsistency in funding and support for it.
One study, administered under the auspices of The Music Trust, an organization that advocates for better music education programs, found that more than 60 percent of the schools that responded did not provide access to music education. Of the schools reporting that they did offer it, less than one-quarter of government-run schools were led by teachers with specialist qualifications in music. The figure is at variance with that of privately supported schools, of which 88 percent of the music programs were taught by specialist instructors.
Australian music education typically focuses on developing students’ general knowledge of the history and practice of music, as well as the ability to express themselves creatively within a musical tradition. Moreover, there is an emphasis on the country’s own musical traditions of the past and present, including those of the Aboriginal people.
In order to increase the quality of Australian music education, a national organization for teachers of music has initiated a government-supported program designed to narrow the gap between private and state-run schools. The program aims to expand the ability of music teachers to obtain ongoing professional development through a mentoring program.
Music education in Canada, like that in the United States and the United Kingdom, presents an inconsistent picture in that the level of commitment to it can vary widely from one school district to another. For example, more than one-third of Canadian schools responding to a recent survey reported that they either had no music program or had one taught by instructors without any background in the subject.
Canadian experts have pointed to several roadblocks that stand in the way of further development of the music curricula, including a lack of funding and qualified teachers, as well as time to develop music programs properly. As in the US, parent groups often hold fundraising events to support their schools’ music programs.
Additionally, Canadian schools typically emphasize the development of music listening skills for younger elementary students, the expansion of the curriculum to include learning performance skills, and visits to local musical performances for older students.
The United Kingdom
In the UK, financial constraints can also be a problem. Yet recent progress includes a 2012 nationwide government initiative that established more than 100 hubs for music education to provide more than 1 million students with the opportunity to use musical instruments.
Critics of the UK’s music education programs have noted that the emphasis on learning to play an instrument takes up most of the average student’s time. Consequently, few students actually study music theory, music history, or the role of music as a vital cultural product.
As in the UK and Canada, many public school districts in the US are inadequately funded. And when budgets do need to be cut, music and arts education are often the first programs to be discontinued.
Parents and music teachers are well aware that their fundraising efforts are often the most significant factor in determining whether their schools can offer a high-quality music program—or any music program at all.
When parents encourage their children to take music lessons from a young age, the piano is one of the most popular instrument choices. There is no definitive age at which experts suggest children begin music lessons; young musicians only need to be large enough to reach the keys and have enough hand dexterity to manipulate them.
If you are a parent who is thinking about introducing your young child to music through piano lessons for the first time, there are certain things you will need to do in order to prepare your child and your home for the experience before the first class. Listed below are six things to do before your child attends his or her first piano lesson.
1. Invest in a piano for your home.
The first step that you can take to benefit your future music student is to purchase a piano for him or her to use. Ideally, this should be done months or years ahead of time so that your child can grow up around the instrument and develop a familiarity with it prior to learning to play.
At the very least, make sure to invest in a piano right before he or she begins lessons. While there are ways to obtain free access to a piano outside of the home, nothing will be as accessible or as beneficial to your child’s learning experience as having a piano to practice on in his or her immediate environment.
While a new piano can be a significant investment, there are many websites where you can find gently-used pianos for affordable prices. Once you’ve found a piano that suits your budget, make sure to get it tuned by a professional so that the notes your child plays as he or she learns are in key.
2. Create the ideal practice space around the piano.
Where you place the piano in your home will affect how your young music student feels about the act of practicing. Professionals in music education suggest situating your piano in an area of the home that is neither too isolated nor too close to distractions like a television or computer.
The area should be warm and welcoming with adequate lighting. It must also include all the equipment that your child will need for practice sessions, including music sheets, pencils, and a comfortable piano bench. The more positive the physical practice area is, the more likely your child will feel enthusiastic about practicing when the time comes.
3. Listen to music together.
Spending quality time listening to music with your child can help him or her to develop a positive relationship with it as they grow up. While they listen, try to introduce them to basic musical concepts like rhythm by having them clap along to the beat of a song with you.
It can also be helpful to look up exciting videos of piano performances on YouTube, such as those made by the Piano Guys, to give your child a visual of what it’s like to play the instrument. Having this kind of familiarity may help children feel more comfortable with the instrument when they begin their first lessons.
4. Help your child learn the ABCs.
If your child understands the alphabet by the time that he or she takes up piano lessons, that ability will help them to identify and understand the names of notes. The musical alphabet spans notes with names from A to G, and a child who can remember the order and recognize letters when written on a music sheet will be in a better position to learn.
It can also be helpful to teach your child how to distinguish between his or her right and left sides as way to improve his or her ability to interact with a piano’s keyboard. Helping your child become aware that he or she can mirror the action of one hand on a side of their body with the other will facilitate the development of better spatial awareness. Additionally, it will help him or her better understand directions given during lessons.
5. Have a discussion about lessons and expectations.
While your child may be excited about the prospect of learning to play the piano, it’s important that you as the parent communicate your expectations for him or her at the outset. Make sure that your child knows that learning an instrument will be a fun experience, but that it requires practice and dedication. Talk to your child about the importance of daily practice, and make a verbal agreement on how often, when, and for what minimum amount of time your child will dedicate him- or herself to the practice of the piano each day.
6. Have a meet-and-greet with the instructor.
When choosing a music instructor for your child, try to schedule a meeting with prospective teachers before you make a decision. Once you find the right instructor, make sure to discuss the goals that you would like your child to accomplish through lessons and get feedback on the best ways that you can foster your child’s musical development at home.
The guitar has captured the interest of both young aspiring musicians and older learners alike since it first gained popularity in its electric form during the mid-20th century. Arguably one of the most popular instruments in the world, some people choose to take up the guitar as a form of relaxation or creative expression, while others choose it because it allows them to entertain both solo and with other musicians.
Still another reason that people choose to play the guitar over other instruments is because the guitar allows musicians the freedom to play and sing at the same time. There are few better instruments to learn to play for a musician who wants to sing along to music, but doing both at the same time can be difficult for beginners. Listed below are seven useful tips that can help new learners develop the ability to play the guitar and sing along.
1. Focus on your guitar-playing first.
Before you attempt to play and sing at the same time, you must first focus on developing the ability to play basic chords. As a new guitarist, your ability to recall the fingering for standard chord structures without much thought and to change quickly between these chords are the first steps in singing along to a song on the guitar.
2. Work with a metronome.
Keeping rhythm while performing a song is crucial to sounding natural—and it also makes singing along to the guitar easier. One way that guitarists can work on this form of timing during a song is to strum an easy pattern along to a metronome for about 10 minutes each day. If you’re committed to this practice, you’ll see a gradual improvement in your ability to play a song on beat over time—sometimes in as little as a few weeks.
3. Start simple.
If you’re just starting out, don’t choose a song that requires you to play advanced chords or sing complicated lyrics. Instead, you should look for songs with simpler chords and a basic rhythm that is well-suited to the beginning learner. Of course, you can develop the ability to sing and play any song with enough dedication and practice, but choosing a song that is overly complicated from the start can lead to frustration, which may take the enjoyment out of the experience.
4. Memorize the music and lyrics separately.
You should know the chords and the chord changes by heart before you sit down to sing along to a song. You can gauge your familiarity with a song by how well you’re able to play the chords while you’re distracted, such as when you’re carrying on a conversation or watching a TV show. Likewise, you should be able to sing the lyrics and the tune of the song from memory. The more that both elements of a song are second nature to you, the easier it will be to combine them.
5. Take it slow.
The excitement of learning to sing and play at the same time can cause some beginners to try and perform the song as quickly as possible at the start, but this actually does more harm than good. Start out slowly, learning to play and sing the correct parts one measure and lyric at a time—performing with speed will naturally come with time. People who rush through chords, rhythms, and lyrics to try and learn extremely quickly risk developing bad habits that can be difficult to break. It may even be a good idea to start out humming the song along with the chords instead of attempting to sing right away. Humming can help you figure out where the chord changes are in a song, since they don’t always line up with the syllables of the lyrics.
6. Change the key if you need to.
Though you can learn how to play a song in its original form, the notes may not suit the range of your voice. In this case, it’s important to remember that you can always change the key of the song to suit your range. This can be done by transposing the chord structure to a higher or lower octave using a transposition chart. Alternatively, you can use a capo, which allows you to play the original chords further up the neck of the guitar while changing the vocal register. Both ways of altering a song’s key have their advantages, so choose the method that you are most comfortable with on a case-by-case basis.
7. Put in a lot of practice.
As with any musical goal, learning how to sing and play the guitar simultaneously requires practice and patience. Don’t expect to be able to accomplish this feat right away, and try not to feel discouraged if you can’t master this new ability as quickly as you had hoped. It’s important to avoid rushing the process. In addition, recognize that even the most talented guitar-playing singers did not develop their abilities immediately. As a beginner, you should consider this goal a long-term project, and remember to take pride in your accomplishments when you master a song.
Research proves the incredible effects that music education can have on the minds of children. Apart from aiding skill development in areas like language, test-taking, and spatial intelligence, learning music can also help children develop socially and emotionally, and allow them to explore their creativity in a way that is both fun and cathartic.
Today, it seems more imperative than ever for all children to have access to an education in music, but not all parents or schools can afford to connect kids to these programs. To help promote music education, consider donating to nonprofits and foundations dedicated to this cause. The following organizations are some of the most visible in this field, but many other groups exist as well.
VH1 Save the Music Foundation
Established in 1997 by the eponymous music television network, the VH1 Save the Music Foundation has since raised $50 million to buy new instruments for music programs at over 2,000 public schools. Altogether, this work has directly impacted the lives of roughly 2 million American children. The foundation believes that music is a key part of kids’ healthy development, and suggests that lessons in the subject can boost children’s interest in attending school, promote valuable life skills, and help kids grow into well-rounded adults. The group’s ultimate goal is to make sure every child in the United States has the ability to play an instrument if they want to. VH1 Save the Music Foundation encourages people to support its work by donating directly to the cause or by hosting a fundraiser on the organization’s behalf. Details about hosting or giving to a fundraiser can be found here.
Fender Music Foundation
Another nonprofit sponsored by a major music industry corporation, the Fender Music Foundation is a charitable organization established by musical instrument maker Fender in 2005. This grantmaking organization guarantees that 100 percent of all donations from supporters go directly to paying for instruments used in music classrooms around the country. To date, the foundation has helped more than 187,000 students by donating a wide range of instruments, including guitars, drums, keyboards, brass instruments, pianos, woodwind instruments, amps, and recorders. Supporters can donate funds and, in some circumstances, instruments to the organization. Monetary donations can be made online via the Fender Music Foundation website. Donors who give $30 or more receive a collectable metal keychain in the shape of a pick or a Stratocaster guitar.
National Association of Music Merchants Foundation (NAMM Foundation)
The NAMM Foundation is the philanthropic arm of the National Association of Music Merchants, which brings together professionals from the music, sound, and event technology industries around the world. The foundation was created in 2006 with a three-part mission: to advocate for music education, to fund and promote research on the effects of music, and to make music instruction accessible to people of all ages and backgrounds, including veterans and the elderly. The NAMM Foundation awards grants to a wide range of music-based organizations in need of support every year, and partners with groups such as The Kennedy Center, Americans for the Arts, the Music Achievement Council, and the aforementioned VH1 Save the Music Foundation. The group’s online donation portal can be found here.
The Roots of Music
A regional nonprofit focused specifically on the needs of students in New Orleans, Louisiana, The Roots of Music promotes the idea that music education can make a significant difference in the life of a child. Through the organization, kids between the ages of nine and 14 from disadvantaged backgrounds in New Orleans gain access to education in music history, theory, and instrumentation. Lessons provided by the group have a special focus on New Orleans’ rich musical heritage and its history as the birthplace of jazz. The most unique aspect of The Roots of Music, however, is that the group goes beyond music lessons to also provide participants with hot meals and transportation to and from classes—two things that could otherwise bar some children from participating in a music education program. To help the work of The Roots of Music, supporters can donate, check the website for volunteer opportunities, or attend charitable events throughout the year that benefit the organization.
Little Kids Rock
Little Kids Rock was formed by elementary school educator David Wish in 1996 as a response to a severe lack of funding for music education at the school where he worked. It began with Wish offering free after-school guitar lessons to students and has since evolved into a nationwide organization that provides 650,000 students from underserved communities with access to instruments and modern band classes. The nonprofit accomplishes this primarily through financial support for schools that have seen their music programs shut down and by training volunteer teachers to conduct the modern band lessons developed by Little Kids Rock. The program currently operates in 37 states and serves more than 200 school districts. Many celebrity musicians are public supporters of Little Kids Rock, including Carlos Santana, B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt, Lady Gaga, Bruce Springsteen, Joan Jett, and Gene Simmons, among many others. Interested parties can donate via the organization’s website at www.littlekidsrock.org or learn more about becoming a Little Kids Rock volunteer teacher on the organization’s FAQ page.
The piano is a much-beloved instrument that has been at the center of many family homes for generations. Though it has declined in popularity in recent years, having a piano in your home can be an effective way to encourage children’s musical interests and bond with loved ones during social gatherings.
If you already own a piano or are thinking about bringing one into your home, make sure to familiarize yourself with the following care and maintenance tips to keep your instrument in prime condition.
Keep your piano in the right kind of physical environment.
Like most instruments, your piano is sensitive to environmental factors like temperature and humidity level. It’s important that to situate the instrument in a room with an even temperature, ideally between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit with 42 to 50 percent humidity.
If a piano is exposed to extreme temperatures or climate fluctuations, its parts may shift, swelling in the heat and shrinking in the cold. This can cause the glue to come undone and the soundboard to crack. Intense moisture can rust and corrode the instrument’s metal components as well.
To further protect the piano from extreme environmental factors, make sure that you place it in a part of your home away from direct sunlight, out of the way of air currents, and backed up to an inner wall of the house so as not to allow it to absorb too much heat or cold from the outside.
Invest in regular piano tuning services.
Experts recommend that all pianos be tuned at least once - if not twice - per year. Strings naturally fall out of tune over time, but seasonal weather changes or moving a piano can accelerate the process. Regular tunings allow your instrument to sound the way it was meant to sound when you play it.
Tunings also offers an important benefit for a piano’s long-term health. Keeping your piano in tune can prevent damage caused by uneven string tension when the keys of the instrument go flat at different rates. Additionally, a well-qualified piano tuner will be able to detect many small signs of damage that could later cause much more expensive problems. This allows you to seek out repair services while the problem is still affordable to fix.
Cover your piano keys.
For the most part, it is a good idea to keep your piano key lid closed whenever you aren’t using the instrument. This helps prevent dust and residue from settling between the keys, which can cause problems with their mobility. Keeping the lid closed can also help prevent plastic keys from turning yellow over time.
However, it’s important to also leave the key lid open for a few hours during the day once or twice a week. This allows warm to air circulate, discouraging the growth of mold within the piano.
Find a qualified piano technician.
In the event that your instrument needs repair, make sure to choose a dependable piano technician to service it. The Piano Technicians Guild (PTG) website has a search function that can help you find registered professionals nearby who can provide a quality level of service.
Professionals in this field can provide routine maintenance such as voicing, which helps maintain the instrument’s tone, and regulation, which maintains the piano’s action. These services do not necessarily need to be performed as regularly as tuning, but are an important part of helping your piano maintain its responsiveness and sound.
Keep the exterior of your piano clean.
Your piano’s cabinet should be regularly dusted and polished with a lacquer or polymer finish to prevent cosmetic damage. Make sure that when applying polish, you never spray a product directly on the piano. Instead, spray the polish first on a soft, lint-free cloth that you can use to wipe down the instrument’s surfaces.
Likewise, clean your piano’s keys with a damp cloth on a weekly basis to help keep dust, grime, and oil from impacting the playability of the instrument. To avoid potentially damaging messes, do not allow any drinks or liquids near the piano, and don’t use the instrument as a shelf to place personal items upon. If you must place an item such as a lamp on top of the piano to help you see the music that you play, make sure that it has a base covered with a soft material, like felt, to prevent scratches.
Never touch the inside of your piano.
While routine cleaning of your piano’s exterior is important, remember to leave any necessary interior cleaning to a professional. Parts like the soundboard, strings, action, and other internal components are delicate, and need to be cleaned using special equipment so as not to cause damage. In general, consider paying for this service about once every two to five years to keep the piano in excellent condition.
Enlist the help of a professional if you need to move your piano.
If you are in the position of needing to transport your piano to another location outside of your home, don’t attempt to move it yourself. Always hire a professional to get the job done. Experienced piano movers have the correct tools to move the instrument to a new location while keeping both you and your piano safe from harm during the process.