Why is being in a musical ensemble so important for a child?
Two weeks ago I had the absolute pleasure of attending Hawthorne Village Public School’s Arts Day. When I booked this gig, I could not have imagined the magnitude of what this day entailed. From the moment I arrived I was greeted in the parking lot by a staff member and shown where to go (something that rarely happens) I was given a welcome packet including school map, programming schedule (they brought in around 20 presenters all for the arts) and a gift of homemade cookies! Every staff member I met was extremely kind and excited to have me there. They worked as a team and had to communicate well to pull of this massive day for their kids.
The students were polite and engaged and all 3 of my workshops went without a hitch. However the real highlight of the day was a provided luncheon for the presenters in the gym that featured a full hours worth of live entertainment PROVIDED BY THE STUDENTS!!! It was amazing! Junior choirs, drama club, spoken word, poetry, live band and dance teams. There must have been close to 200 kids participating. It was beyond incredible and I could not stop smiling. The kids were having a blast and the teachers were so proud. Upon leaving the school i reflected on why the atmosphere was so different and the answer was obvious. The schools principal, Carolyn Lewis, was a former music teacher.
It all made sense. Hawthorne Village was a prime example of what happens when arts are put at the forefront of a students education. The community and team mentality of the school was impossible to miss. It seemed that everyone in the school was involved in some arts extracurricular, and it showed. The halls were filled with life and vibrancy. Students and staff who worked as a team and had created a community they were proud of. You could tell they all love coming to school everyday, well more days than most.
Carolyn Lewis and her team at Hawthorne Village do not take their responsibility lightly. There jobs are to create amazing human beings and they are doing that through the arts. I am still today inspired and beyond impressed. I hope to return someday soon!
You have heard it time and time again, “practice makes perfect”. However if you or your child are not practicing properly, then practice can be detrimental to your progress and development as a player. Here are a few tips that you can pass on to your child when practicing.
Stretch! Each instrumentalist has their own prep before playing. I can speak mostly for drummers when I say that stretching is very important. Just like when playing a sport, you want to give your body the prep it needs to play.
Start with an exercise that directly relates to music you want to work on that day. For example if you are working on a piece that is in the key of Bb, prep yourself by doing some Bb scales. For drummers always start with 8’s (8 eighth notes on each hand) to stretch out then do an exercise working on accent taps or doubles or meter changes. Whatever will help you prepare for the piece you are working on.
Quality over Length. Short practices everyday go a lot farther than long practices every other day. I tell my serious students to practice 15 minutes every day. Stretch, do 8’s at 2-3 different tempi, then an exercise that focuses on what they are working on that week then spend 10 minutes on a piece. I tell students to set a timer to ensure that they dont end early and are forced to use their time.
Remembering to follow these three tips; stretch, run applicable exercises, and short, quality practices) Will help to make sure you or your child are using your time wisely and becoming the best play you can be!
Most parents expect obvious results from their child's music lessons. They want to see some 'tangible' progress, such as learning repertoire, reading ability and theory. While I do think that these aspects of education are important, I find that when made the entire focus of the lesson, they hinder progress. This is why when I create a curriculum for a student I look at what the product should be and I make it very clear to the parent that we are creating a love for music as well as a well rounded musician, not just a technically proficient percussionist/pianist.
The word product can mean many things, however in this case I define it by asking the student a few simple questions; What do you want to learn? What interests you? What do you want to be as a musician? There answers help me to form a curriculum that combines musical theory as well as aspects that will be fun for them and hold their attention.
This usually leads me to focussing on compositional techniques (which help with reading music), Jamming and non verbal communication (which helps with performance and musical understanding) as well as letting the student choose their repertoire (we often write our own or pick popular songs or I write repertoire to fit their needs). Through all of this the product is not only a more well rounded musician, but also a student who enjoys what they are learning.
Anyone who practices or studies community music is constantly asked to define it. Most of my colleagues and I agree that everyone's definition is different and subjective to their own experiences. For example my idea of community music is focused on the educational benefits. However there are many aspects to community music that most would agree on. Let me outline what community music means to me and how I apply it to CRASH.
The first is that community music focuses on experiential music making as apposed to study. At CRASH we learn about music through doing. The students write their own exercises, with my guidance, in order to learn theory and playing techniques. I find this is not only a fun way to learn about music, but is also extremely engaging for kids. Another aspect to community music is the difference in hierarchal learning. CRASH Rhythm classes allow collaboration between the students and I instead of a more formal lecture style. This allows the students input to be heard and gives the students pride in what they are learning. They are invested in the classes because they contribute to the material.
Community music also preaches diversity and inclusion stating that music making and music education is for everyone. I heard an analogy comparing community music to cooking from composer, performer and educator Peter Moser that I found very enlightening. He said that cooking is a way of expression. Just because a recipe is written in english does not mean that someone who only speaks spanish cannot make it. And we never judge those who cook for leisure as apposed to profession. Music should be viewed the same way. Anyone can make music and contribute to the recipe. That is what community music is all about!
I had the absolute pleasure of going to Pasadena, California this past New Years to cheer on my alma matter marching band in the World famous Tournament of Roses Parade. 10 years ago, when I was in the band as a Snare drum player, I had the opportunity to march in the nearly 9 km parade on New Years Day. The band represented Canada beautifully this time round with an amazing version of Big Noise from Winetka as well as an amazing visual and musical display of West Side Story during their field show performance earlier in the week. However there was a moment for me on this trip that was absolutely breathtaking, and it was Kyoto Tachibana High School Green Band.
The Tachiban band was one of the most moving musical experiences I have witnessed live. Their perfection and musical ability almost brought me to tears. Allow me to put their talent into perspective. This band has approximately 125 members and is the oldest female marching band in Japan. The group is now 95% female which was a nice little cherry on top of how amazingly talented they were. The average band does between 120-140 movements a minute during feild show. Tachibana destroys this statistic by doing approximately 244 per minute! They look like a professional dance troop who has the almost magical ability to play instruments at the same time. Their movements and music were flawless and perfectly in sync. Their field show and marching order was littered with skill, humility and humour. They do all this with the largest smiles on their faces. They perform not to be the best, even though they were; they do it because they love it, and it is obvious! On top of all that they are all teenagers. I seriously suggest everyone take time out of their days to watch a few videos and if they ever come to town, see them!!
At the beginning of every group class I set what the students and I call the Jam alarm. This alarm is scheduled to go off 5 minutes before the end of class. My rule is that when the alarm goes off we drop whatever we are doing and jam. The children look forward to the jam because it is fun and has a looser structure than some of our lesson content. I also use this opportunity to give the students a chance to learn how to communicate through music (whether they are aware of it or not). Each class I will give them one limitation such as picking only one instrument, only percussive instruments (drums, buckets, tamborines etc.), only pitched instruments (piano, boomwhackers, xylophone etc) or a type of song structure. This makes them think more critically about how to create their voice. The different instrumentation also insures that each jam will have different characteristics. It is amazing how the Jams improve from week 1 to week 8, purely because the students are learning how to listen and how to contribute.
These skills are invaluable to any musician. Not only is jamming and improvising fun and kid friendly, but it also assists in learning how to speak the language of music. If you want your child to be a musician it helps to not only read the language, but to communicate with it as well.
One way to communicate through music is using body language in conducting. I sometimes do this with younger ages in 1 hour workshops. In our weekly group classes, I give each student the ability to lead the group in conducting. I first explain to the kids that there is much more to conducting than just waving your arms around. You have to show with your face, stature and movement that you want the group to play X or Y. We first decide as a group what a few gestures will translate to, such as forte (loud), piano (quiet) or keep a steady beat. Then I leave the rest up to the conductor. I encourage them to come up with their own gestures and movements to see if the group will follow along without verbal prompts. 9/10 times, the students and I can follow along with the conductors intentions. This teaches the students the importance of leading and listening. They learn to make eye contact when they want something to change and how different movements can be interpreted. In this way they are learning how to speak the language of music.
Music is undoubtably a type of language. I am sure anyone who has made music with another person would agree. This is especially evident when improvising or jamming, where a piece of music can fall apart if there is not some form of communication between performers. Something amazing happens when a simple nod, look or chord progression can completely change the mood of a piece.
I always tell my students that the most important component to group jams is listening. Listening to each other as individuals and to the group as a whole. It is in listening that a performer can find their role in a piece. Should I play out? Should I sit back? Should I change my surface tempo or chord progression? It is also very important to know when it is time to lead or when it is time to follow. Knowing when to do these things and how to do these things is so important in being a well rounded musician. This is why I feel it is important for the students of CRASH to be exposed to improvisation in group settings as frequently as possible. The skills that are required to communicate with each other in improvising is crucial in interpreting music in any setting. Stay tuned for some of the methods I use with the students of CRASH in order to help them learn how to communicate through music. Stayed tuned to learn more about these methods.