A Parent’s Guide to Music Practicing

Kinhaven 7-5-16-22This is a guest post by John Skelton.  He is the author of “Best Practicing: A Parent’s Guide to Beginning Strings” and the soon to be released “Take Note Method” for beginning strings. He has over fifteen years of experience teaching in private and public schools at all levels. Since becoming a professional educator, he has dedicated his career to finding better methods of instruction for school and home.

There are many questions that parents have when their child brings home an instrument from school for the first time. Will my child enjoy learning this instrument? Will they get anything out of it? How far will they go with it?

The reality that quickly sets in after the first or second lesson, however, is that these philosophical little questions give way to more practical concerns: Are they practicing enough? Are they practicing the right thing? Are they doing it the right way?

From my experience as a teacher and a parent, practicing boils down to six main questions:

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3 Reasons Why Brain Research Should Guide Arts Scheduling in Schools

Kinhaven 7-6-16-33There have been more studies of the brain completed in the past twenty years than perhaps the past 200 years combined.  We all have more access to knowledge about how humans learn that we have ever had before.  These brain studies have shown us many things, including how children learn in different ways, how learning changes physical brain structure, and that “talent” as we know it is generally learned and developed — not inborn and inherent.

Yet our public school schedules and offerings have remain unchanged, for the most part, for decades.

As far as school subject offerings are concerned, an abundance of research continues to show that arts education has a profound effect on a child’s life, both within and beyond school walls.  But here is the rub: Some of the most crucial life skills that studying music imparts on a child is not quantified and reflected on the current iteration of local and state report cards — therefore, science has been all but ignored by legislators and administrators.

Regardless of the many reasons to study art for arts’ sake, brain research (and the subsequent data from it) should be more than enough to ensure that the arts are not only offered in their unfettered forms, but are infused into every nook and cranny of school curricula.

Here are three vital human characteristics that research of the brain has shown music provides all students in their school day:

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An Important Truth: Musical Talent is not Born — It is Learned

Kinhaven 7-4-16-14This is a guest post by Dr. Anita Collins.  Anita is an award-winning Australian educator, academic and researcher in the area of music education, particularly in the impact of music education on cognitive development. Anita is a communicator, a conduit between neuroscientific researchers, music educators, musicians, parents and the general public, and works to update our understanding of the purpose and benefits of music education to overall cognitive development and health.  In 2014 Anita was involved with the TED.com network through two project; as author of a short animated film for TED Ed and as a presenter at TEDx Canberra. Both of these projects have been very well received with the TED Ed film reached 14 million and TEDxTalk reaching 1 million views to date.  You can read more about Anita and her work here.

This title could lead you the think that this article is going to be along the lines of “your child can do anything if they put their mind to it”.  Well it is and it isn’t, but I will let you decide where you stand on the question of musical talent after you finish reading.

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How to Advocate for Music Education (Even When You Have No Clue How to Do So)

kinhaven-7-10-16-140Whether you realize it or not, if your child is starting music study through their school’s music program this year, you are now a potentially powerful advocate for music education.

Since your child expressed an interest in singing or playing an instrument — and you said “yes: — you, and hundreds of thousands of other parents around the world, stated loud and clear that you value music as part of your child’s education.

Those of us who have enjoyed an education rich in the arts are aware of its many benefits. Although I developed high-level musical abilities and a lifelong appreciation of music with the help of my school program, research has proven that music education does much more than that: it develops creativity, responsibility, discipline, perseverance, composure, pride in results, collaboration, confidence, social and communications skills, and emotional maturity for all students, not just a chosen few.

Still, music education finds itself on the “danger of extinction list” each year due to budget constraints, scheduling trends, and — perhaps most concerning — public apathy.  A general lack of awareness of the importance of music in every school day can (and will) lead to an erosion in that school’s program. Even in districts where most students start an instrument in school in 4th or 5th grade, teachers and parents continue to search to find strength in numbers when it comes time to advocate for their programs.

As I have written before, it’s important for students to study and enjoy “art for art’s sake” — and for us to advocate for music education using this mantra, at times.  But the sad truth is that ironically, due to decades of attrition in school music programs, most parents, teachers, and administrators have not experienced the intrinsic joy of music making and the value it could have offered in their own school lives.  Therefore, it is up to this generation of parents and students to create a new level of understanding utilizing a viewpoint school administrators and boards can understand — albeit narrow and sometimes short-sighted.  And that is the effect of music education on the whole child, including test scores.  The more data parents can gather regarding the benefit of music education on all aspects of humanity, the more we can build advocacy efforts by creating dialogue that best relates to those who will determine the future of our music programs, sad as that me be to some of us.

Being a music advocate is not always about selling brownies at a music concert, helping wash band uniforms, or attending countless Board of Education meetings to give a speech on the value of music education (although all of these things are important!).  Rather, supporting children in their musical instruction, understanding the value it has on their human development, and being present when it counts is sometimes all that is needed to create a powerful force for music education in schools.

Here are 3 ways you can be a music advocate without completely changing your life around:

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3 Awful Things That Happen When Children are Denied Daily Arts Instruction in Schools

Kinhaven 2014-316Regardless of the social and economic circumstances of our time, the arts have an essential place in the balanced education of our children.

In all the education discussion I hear and the literature I read, the arts are consistently given little to no attention.  At the same time, a large portion of our population is tired of having to plead to make the case for arts in schools.  We all want an education system that delivers a broad-based curriculum that takes into account the continuing and varied needs of our children — not a system obsessed with academic learning alone.

While many in our world still think that the arts are for a chosen few and that “artists” are simply “born that way”, I believe that our narrowed thinking of creativity is more due to a lack of contact time of creative subjects in schools.  To get people to think about the issue of arts in a child’s school life, I start with a basic question:  What would happen if any subject was delivered only once a week in school?  And doesn’t that mean that there aren’t more creative people in our world simply because we do not cultivate that creativity in school on a daily basis?

Here are three awful truths about the adverse effects from a lack of arts in schools has on our children:

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Why Your Musical Instrument Demonstration Means Everything to Your School’s Program

unspecifiedThere is no more exciting or important time in a child’s musical life than the day they choose which instrument they want to learn to play in school.  More often than not, this choice occurs on a day where the instruments of the band and orchestra are introduced to students during an assembly or some other format.

In order to ignite the proper spark in students, it’s crucial that their first exposure to instruments that are offered is well planned and extremely well executed.  The more thought and preparation that goes in to the presentation, the more rewarding the musical experience will be for years to come for students, parents and teachers.

The instrument demonstration is also a unique opportunity for children, teachers, and professional musicians to come together in mutually beneficial ways — this “trifecta” of arts immersion is the key to a successful school arts programs.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when introducing instruments to children on a “recruiting day”:

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A Recruitment Letter to Potential Music Parents’ Association (Booster) Members

Kinhaven 2014-222Dear Families:

As our school year comes to a close, we want to congratulate you on embarking on what we hope is just one of many years of your child’s (and your own) musical journey.

Perhaps you were thinking that this year may be your last as part of our music program.  Maybe you feel as if you “tried” music and now it’s time to move on.  But before you make that rather drastic choice, we believe it’s important for you to understand some things your child experienced and learned this year through music — whether you know it or not.  Additionally, we are asking you today to join hundreds of parents in this district –and thousands across this nation — in building our music parents’ association in order to come together and strengthen what we believe is an essential part of the core of our children’s education and our community.

We are not necessarily asking you to run bake sales or fundraisers, although we would appreciate if you choose to become involved in that way.  We are asking you to be a part of something more enduring and powerful than that.  We are asking you to be mindful of the power of music instruction in your children’s K-12 life and come together to form a grassroots movement which powerfully states that music education is a crucial component to your child’s education.  Just to know that you are all behind us and will consistently advocate for what we do gives us comfort and strength during difficult times, both today and in the future.

Here are 4 things you are saying — loud and clear — when you join our music parents’ association:

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3 Reasons Music and Arts Education is a Shining Light in a School System that Values “Sameness”

Kinhaven 2014-422Somehow, some way, our school system has become completely standardized — yet our children are anything but that.

Instead of valuing children as individuals, our school system has designed itself to measure children against one thing — an average.  Students are ranked by comparing their performance to the average student in their grade.  Even grades and test scores are compared to an “average” ranking when applying to college.  A constant comparison to mediocrity abounds in our schools — and schools therefore strive for mediocrity as a “safe haven” from punitive measures by government and even community members.

Most of us truly understand that a standardized test score or GPA isn’t what defines our children.  But this concept of comparing our kids to an average yardstick has been beat into our skulls for decades, and I am shocked that more of us don’t question it more seriously.

The truth is, not only is mediocrity and average a dangerous thing to strive for, no human being is truly average or mediocre.  Yet schools can’t help but to design their curriculum this way — except for when it come so the arts.  Thank goodness teachers of the arts have always recognized that children have unrecognized and untapped potential.  They know that students do not get the chance to show what they are truly capable of in most of their classes, and they provide them ways to do so.

Here are 3 reasons music and arts education escapes “teaching to the middle’ in our education system:

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3 Ways It Takes a Community to Develop Great Music Program

IMG_4672I have had the pleasure of meeting thousands of music educators while speaking at our nation’s music educator conventions this year. These teachers all are consistently and passionately engaged in looking for ways to develop themselves as educators and musicians.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of students learned to play an instrument for the very first time through their school program this year.  But if history is any indicator, more than half of these students will quit come next school year.

We can change this course of history — I believe we have a better chance to do this now than at any other time, in fact.  This is because we finally are hearing the words “creativity” and “innovation” creeping into  conversations regarding education from politicians, administrators, and educators.  This is a moment where music education has a chance to enter the limelight as a tool to enhance our children’s educational experience — as long as everyone is on board.

Here are some action steps stakeholders in our schools system need to take in order to ensure all students experience music throughout their K-12 education:

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3 Ways Music Instruction in Schools Teaches Grit (and Why Children Need it So Badly Now)

Kinhaven 2014-112The “self-esteem movement” in this country is coming to an end.  We have learned that giving a trophy to all kids just for participating hasn’t worked, and — even worse — has undermined the natural grit that our nation is built upon.

We are also at a crossroads in education, where people are starting to finally wake up to the fact that passion and perseverance matters more than intelligence when it comes to being successful.  Hard work and stick-to-itiveness trumps “talent” and “good genes” every time, and usually gets most of us to where we want to be in our life and in our work.  Grit is what we want our children to cultivate during their time in school, not just good test scores.

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