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Proper Posture Is the Key to Playing for Life
By West Music Company
10/23/2017 5:41:00 AM  

Proper Posture Is the Key to Playing for Life

Almost every instrument requires some repetitive motion and therefore can lead to injury over time. Even young players can injure themselves over the course of just a few months. The good news is that there is one sure-fire way to protect your child from strain and injury, and that is to maintain good posture!

 

The Elements of Good Posture When Playing an Instrument

Good playing posture goes from head to toe. The guiding principles are:

  • Maintain a solid frame, that way bones can do their work, easing the burden on muscles.
  • Stay relaxed but engaged – not tensed up, but also not limp.


A great way for a student to develop proper posture is to work quite literally from the “bottom” up.

 

proper postureMusician’s Positioning on the Chair

Musicians in good posture sit forward in their chairs. Exactly how far forward is a matter of comfort and body type. Some musicians are poised right at the chair’s edge, but most have their weight centered a little farther back.

 

Chairs Have Straight Backs—So Should Musicians

Your child should sit with their chest and shoulders raised to a straight, yet comfortable position. A comfortably straight spine allows hours of play. Stiffness, however, is a recipe for fatigue.

 

Down Below, Flat Feet Will Go

Keep feet comfortably at rest on the floor.  They do not have to remain frozen like a statue, but having your child regularly resettling into “rest feet” position is helpful in maintaining consistently good posture.

 

"Coat Hanger" Shoulders

To the greatest extent the instrument allows, music students should keep their shoulders level while playing.  To help visualize this, some musicians like to imagine a coat hanger with a tank top on it: it can sway a little, but if it tilts consistently or sways too far, the shirt falls to the floor.

 

Keep a Level Head

Remember that the head should face “straight ahead”. Dropping the chin or “turtle-necking” forward are easy, but unhealthy, habits for young musicians to fall into. Encourage your child to make a mental note to regularly check in on how their head and neck are positioned.

 

proper playing postureInstruments Do Not Charge for Travel: Bring It to You

Once proper posture is attained, new musicians should fit the instrument into the frame they have created, rather than bending and twisting themselves to fit around the instrument. The temptation to lean forward and “meet the instrument halfway” is very strong, but it puts a tremendous strain on the back and neck. Musicians at every level should regularly practice assuming good posture without their instruments, and then gently bring their instruments to their poised, relaxed bodies.

Special Encouragment for Violin and Viola Players

Playing the violin or viola poses special challenges for posture. Learning to hold these instruments while staying true to the principles of good playing posture is not easy! Encourage your child to be patient with the process and to speak up immediately if they ever feel discomfort or strain.

 

The Payoff of Proper Instrument Positioning: Lifelong Playing

Music is one of a very special few human pursuits that a person can engage in as actively at age 79 as they did at age nine! By helping your child learn and reinforcing the fundamentals of proper posture, you can ensure that a lifetime of satisfaction awaits them.

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Tags: beginner, posture, health
Categories: Conservatory, Music Education
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Starting a Ukulele Program in Your Classroom: Part 2 of 6
By Sam Marchuk - West Music Education Consultant
10/10/2017 3:27:00 PM  

Starting a Ukulele Program in Your Classroom: Part 2 of 6: What Size Ukulele?

ukulele sizesIn Part One of this series we discussed the many benefits of bringing ukuelels into the classroom. In part two we go over the four sizes of ukuleles available and which might be best for your students. Continue reading, or download this printable PFD version.


The first thing to know is that there are 4 different sizes of ukuleles to choose from: soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone. The smallest of these, the soprano, is the most common for beginners. This is due to it having the lowest cost of the bunch, making it the best value when purchasing a classroom set. It is also considered the “standard” ukulele size, dating back from its original roots in Hawaii in the late 1870s.

Children and adults alike can enjoy soprano size ukulele and will be pleased with the bright, signature sound, portability, and cost. But what about the larger concert or tenor sizes, which feature the same tuning? If your budget allows, there can be several advantages if you decide to use a larger size ukulele in your classroom.

Advantages of Using a Larger Size Ukulele


Fuller, Deeper Sound

A larger resonator body allows the lower tones to resonate, providing a fuller, deeper sound. This creates a more well-balance and pleasing tone over the soprano model.


Comfort

The larger body and longer neck may be more comfortable to hold, which may put the instrument in a more natural playing position for some students.

Less Cramped

More frets and space between them. This will allow for easier finger positions when moving up the fretboard as fingers will become less cramped.


More Range

This may be more useful if you are offering advanced classes where you will play beyond the first position (past the first 5 frets). Concert and tenor ukuleles typically have a higher range with 17 or more frets to a soprano’s 12. The extra frets may come in handy and add more interest when playing with a ukulele ensemble.


Student's Perception

Students may view it as more as a true musical instrument and less as a novelty/toy. The larger ukulele size becomes more guitar-like to play and listen to.


Concert or Tenor?

Only a bit larger than a soprano, concert size ukulele may be the ideal choice for many of these reasons. For this reason the concert size is often referred to the in-between, or “Goldilocks” size for its perfect blend of characteristics of the soprano and tenor.

The tenor ukulele is also an option, with it having the fullest sound due to an even larger body than the concert size. But it can become considerably more expensive than the soprano, especially when purchased in sets, and feel too large to comfortable hold for younger students.


What About Baritone?

The baritone ukulele tuned differently to a fourth lower than the other ukulele sizes, which are the same pitches as the top four guitar strings. Therefore, the baritone is in a different key and requires different fingering from the soprano/concert/tenor. See this article for more information on ukulele tunings and size comparisons: Models and Tunings and Sizes, Oh My! How to Choose the Right Ukulele for You.


Other Considerations

For demonstrative and personal use, teachers may want to opt for a larger or different model ukulele to make their instrument stand out from the student models. That may be another example where concert or tenor may be a good choice for them, even if their students use the soprano. Check out Makala’s MK Series of mahogany ukuleles, available in all 4 sizes:


Summary

Ultimately, the deciding factors are going to come to the budget you are working with, and the use of ukulele as an introduction or advanced lessons. Contact one of our Education Consultants at 800-397-9379 to see how we can put together a set of classroom ukuleles to best suit your budget and needs!


About the Author

Sam MarchukSam Marchuk is an Educaton Consultant for West Music specializing in folk instruments and curriculum for the elementary classroom. He has been playing ukulele since 1998 and is an avid collector of vintage and contemporary ukulele models.

As an Education Consultant, Sam assists with the selection and acquisition of instruments and curriculum with teachers across the U.S. He enjoys matching up players of all skill levels and classroom teachers with the right ukulele to fit their personality, style, and budget.

Sam has demonstrated the potential of the of the ukulele at numerous state and national music education conferences, helped with the startup of ukulele programs across the U.S., and has taught beginning ukulele at the annual Strathmore Ukulele and Guitar Summit in Rockville, MD.




Tags: ukulele, music education, classroom
Categories: Guitars & Folk, Music Education
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How Much Should Kids Practice Their Instrument?
By West Music Company
10/9/2017 9:21:00 AM  

upset girl practicingHow Much Should Kids Practice Their Instrument?

Everybody knows that musicians improve by practicing. But the question of how much time your kids should spend practicing isn’t as simple as “the more, the better.”

 

Finding the Sweet Spot

The right practice routine is one that ensures enough progress to keep kids motivated while keeping the whole process fun. Practicing too little, and they won’t improve, which will lead to becoming discouraged. Practice too much, and they risk developing physical injuries or mental exhaustion that will keep them from pursuing their musical dreams over the long haul.

 

Practice as Close to Daily as Possible

Many books suggest a certain amount of total practice time per week. The problem with that approach is it suggests that one marathon session at the end of the week is as good as seven brief, daily practice periods. That simply isn’t true. The more daily time on their instrument (or DTOI as some music instructors refer to it), the more progress they’ll see in their playing—and the more their practice sessions will feel like a daily reward instead of a weekly obligation.

daily time on instrument

 

Improve Something New Every Week

Set them up for success by having them pick out one simple thing each week that they’d like to improve about their playing. Maybe it’s remembering to maintain good posture or playing a scale at a steady tempo, with no rushing or hesitation. Have them devote a couple of minutes of daily practice time to that one skill, and every week they will have proof that they’re getting better! Stay as close as you can to a daily routine and never let your practice schedule get so heavy that you feel drained and start losing your sense of excitement and fun.

 

One Goal No Musician Should Set

We’ve all heard the phrase, “Practice makes perfect.” There is no such thing as a perfect musician or even a perfect performance of a piece of music. Our human imperfections are part of the beauty of the music we make. Besides, if your kids ever become perfect, they would have no way to get better, and what fun would that be for them? Always remind them that practice is about becoming better, not becoming flawless.

And of course, practice should always be paired with instruction from an experienced teacher. West Music is here to help guide children to become better musicians and offer more direction outside of class when they need it. Check out our selection of group classes and individual lessons to take their skills to the next level.

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Tags: beginners, music education, practice
Categories: Band & Orchestra, Music Education
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It's Science! Basic Acoustics: Frequency, Wavelength & Pitch
By West Music Company
10/2/2017 5:39:00 PM  

It’s Science! Basic Acoustics: Frequency, Wavelength & Pitch

Music is the wondrous meeting place of art and science. Part One of “It’s Science!” explained how the volume of a sound is determined by the amplitude of the sound wave. Sound waves have many other characteristics besides amplitude; otherwise, dropping a dinner plate would sound like playing a trumpet!

Frequency: Why “Re” Is Different from “Mi”

piano hamersWhen you watch waves roll onto a beach, you not only notice how high the waves are (their amplitude), but also how rapidly they follow each other. If you were to count how many wave crests reach the shore in a minute, you would be finding the frequency of the waves. Likewise, frequency of a sound wave is measured by how many air vibrations reach our eardrums every second.

Frequency is what makes one note different from another, in a very simple way: higher frequency means higher pitch. Booming bass notes have very low frequencies, while piercing treble notes have very high frequencies.

Fun fact: Frequency doubles every octave. Therefore, the frequency of the note middle C is exactly twice the frequency of the note C an octave lower.

The question all of this raises is, if frequency determines pitch, why don’t all instruments sound the same when the same note is played on them? This question reveals the “great secret” of musical instruments: they never produce just one frequency at a time! Each time you play a note on any instrument, in addition to the main frequency (the note we can identify), a whole bunch of other waves with different frequencies and smaller amplitudes are created. These other waves are called the “overtones” of the main note. We don’t register them in our minds because they are so much quieter than the main note, but we do hear them; they shape our perception of the timbre (quality of sound) of the instrument. Each instrument produces a different blend of overtones, which is why a violin never sounds like a flute.

No wonder studying music helps students do better in math and science!

 

On the Same Wavelength: How a Trombone and a Slide Whistle are Basically the Same

 

courtesy of GIPHY Trombone Shorty

 Returning to waves hitting the beach, you could also measure the distance between “peaks”—that is, how many meters separate one wave crest from the next. This measurement is the wavelength of the waves. Wavelength and frequency are closely related: If you change the wavelength of a sound wave, you also change the frequency, creating a new pitch. That explains why pressing down the string of a cello or guitar with your finger changes the note that you hear: By shortening the length of string that is free to vibrate, you shorten the wavelength of the sound wave, so the frequency changes, too.

Fun fact: The hammers of a piano strike the strings 1/7 of the way along their length in order to silence the 7th overtone of the main note, which is often considered harsher in sound.

Similarly, the valves and keys of brass and woodwind instruments alter the instruments’ air columns to change the wavelength of the sound waves created. An even simpler way to change wavelength, however, would be to shorten or lengthen the entire air column. That is how a slide whistle works, and why it is a very old instrument. A slide trombone works in exactly the same way—each time the slide is moved, the wavelength of the sound waves gets longer or shorter.

 

Putting It All Together: The Great Bass Mystery Solved

 

The relationship between wavelength and frequency is actually very specific: As frequency increases, wavelength decreases. In other words, if a note has a very low frequency, it will have a very long wavelength. If the frequency of a pitch is very high, its wavelength will be very short. As it happens, wavelength determines how far a sound wave can travel. Shorter wavelengths die out more quickly as the wave moves through the air.

That is why you only hear the bass and drums when a band is playing at the far end of the park. The low-frequency notes produced by basses and tom-toms have ultra-long wavelengths, so they travel much farther than the higher-frequency, short-wavelength notes of the guitars, singers, and cymbals. It really is all science!

 

The Science in Practice: Audio Engineering

 

People who apply scientific ideas to real-world problems are called engineers. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the people who run recording studios or operate the sound equipment at a concert are called sound or audio engineers. If you are interested in exploring the world of acoustics more deeply, we offer a variety of products to get you started in audio engineering.




Tags: music education, STEAM
Categories: Music Education
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Starting a Ukulele Program in Your Classroom: Part 1 of 6
By Sam Marchuk - West Music Education Consultant
9/20/2017 6:19:00 AM  

Starting a Ukulele Program in Your Classroom Part 1 of 6: Why Teach Ukulele?

Are you looking to start a ukulele program in your school but not sure where to start? You don’t need to be an accomplished guitar/ukulele player, or have a big budget to add ukulele to your curriculum. Here is what you need to know if you are considering starting ukulele with your students:

Printable PDF Version

Why Teach Ukulele?

 

School ukulele program

Ukuleles are Educational

Many skills are developed that are essential not only for creating music, but in learning other subjects while building character, and responsibility, too!  

Musicianship: Students will learn tuning, strumming/rhythm, accompaniment, melody, singing, hand coordination, sight-reading, and many other skills while learning the ukulele.

Mathematics: Students can see the string becoming shorter in length to create a higher pitch. As another example, the open A string makes the note because it vibrates at a frequency of 440 hertz. If you fret this same string exactly halfway up the fretboard, it results in the string vibrating twice as much at frequency of 880 hertz, the A note an octave above.

History: Students learn about history with the development of the instrument, how it is made, how sound is produced, and what events were occurring at the time.

Culture: Students can learn about the origins of the instrument, its history, and the culture of the music being experienced.

Social Skills: Students assist classmates with learning, develop teamwork in playing together, and creativity in making their own songs!

Responsibility: Students learn how to care for their instrument, track their practice time, and monitor their progress.

 

Ukuleles are Affordable

school music ukulele

Ukuleles for your classroom do not require a major investment to start and can cost a fraction of the amount you could spend for a set of guitars. With good quality instruments starting at just under $40 each, a full classroom set of 25 instrument can be purchased for under $1000. 

West Music offers discounts for classroom sets and can create a custom package to meet your specific requirements and budget needs. On leaner budgets, some teachers may have students share a ukulele, making 10 ukuleles sufficient for use among 20 students, for example. This can be a good opportunity for the students to work on movement or rhythm skills while awaiting their turn on the ukulele. 

Many educational grants and other funding opportunities are available to help teachers fund instruments for their classroom. Be sure to check out West Music’s Funding Resource page for ways to expand your classroom materials: edufund.westmusic.com

 

Ukuleles are Easy to Learn…and the Perfect Lead-in to Guitar

Because of its smaller size, the ukulele is easier to hold than a guitar. The ukulele uses the same fingerings as guitar, but with only 4 strings instead of the guitar’s 6 strings. This makes learning how to play chords much simpler, allowing the student to focus on individual skills such as strumming, than combining chord changes with more complex finger positions on a guitar. 

For example, the major C chord on the ukulele requires one finger to be positioned on a single string, whereas the same chord would require three fingers, all on separate strings, on a guitar. Here is an example, showing 3 fingers to make the same chord shape on guitar, versus only 1 finger on ukulele:

g chord on guitar c chord on ukulele

Plus, the ukulele’s softer, all-nylon strings are much easier on the tips of beginner’s fingers than guitar’s steel strings. All of the skills learned are transferrable too…if you can play the ukulele, you can use the same techniques to play guitar!

 

Ukuleles are Versatile

The ukulele is an instrument students can play alone or with a group, regardless of the skill level or genre. Plus, it can be used to accompany while singing or with other instruments, songwriting, or alone with instrumental arrangements. 

 

Ukuleles are Portable

With all of the fun your students will have, they will want to take it everywhere - which is easy to do with the convenient size of ukulele!

 

Ukuleles are Fun…for Life!

Students are enthusiastic to learn such a diverse instrument that can be used to express and discover themselves through music. Because of its versatility and similarity to guitar, ukulele players can use their skills to enjoy making music outside of the classroom and throughout the rest of their lives. 

With so many benefits, it is easy to see why ukulele is becoming a staple in classrooms across the nation. Time and time again I have heard from many of our classroom teachers, informing us the ukulele class is the highlight not only for them, but for their students as well. This level of enthusiasm has helped spawn after-school ukulele groups and other extra-curricular activities. 

Read Part 2

Don’t be left out Let us know what we can do to assist with a ukulele program in your school! Contact a West Music Education Consultant at 800-397-9378 and we can help you equip your classroom.


About the Author

Sam MarchukSam Marchuk is an Educaton Consultant for West Music specializing in folk instruments and curriculum for the elementary classroom. He has been playing ukulele since 1998 and is an avid collector of vintage and contemporary ukulele models.

As an Education Consultant, Sam assists with the selection and acquisition of instruments and curriculum with teachers across the U.S. He enjoys matching up players of all skill levels and classroom teachers with the right ukulele to fit their personality, style, and budget.

Sam has demonstrated the potential of the of the ukulele at numerous state and national music education conferences, helped with the startup of ukulele programs across the U.S., and has taught beginning ukulele at the annual Strathmore Ukulele and Guitar Summit in Rockville, MD.




Tags: ukulele, music education, classroom
Categories: Guitars & Folk, Music Education
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How Parents Can Help Their Young Musician
By West Music Company
9/13/2017 4:34:00 PM  

How Parents Can Help Their Young Musician

Learning a musical instrument often represents a child’s first opportunity to discover how a routine of individual practice leads to ever-increasing rewards. For parents, it’s a rare chance to help their child discover a love of music, plus the satisfaction that comes with mastering a difficult new skill. With all the benefits musical training offers in terms of mental, physical, and emotional development, it is no surprise that parents want to “get it right.”


Starting from the Same Page: The Importance of Connecting with the Teacher

Children always struggle when two trusted adults send seemingly contradictory signals. It is critical to connect with your child’s music teacher(s) from day one. Make sure you are delivering consistent messages about goals and practice habits. Discuss any differences of opinion, with the goal of finding common ground so that your child never feels torn.

 

after music lessonLesson Recap: The Key to a Successful Week of Practice


A child’s first practice session after a lesson is the most important practice of the week. Before that session occurs, get your child talking about the lesson. To the greatest extent possible, let the child be the “expert” as you play the role of curious companion. Helpful questions to ask include:

What do you remember best about the lesson?
What was your favorite thing your teacher told or showed you?
What did your teacher say that made you feel especially good?
What did you share with your teacher that was really important to you?
Do you remember something the teacher asked you to work on that seems like it will be difficult?
Did you and your teacher set any goals for the week?

If your child seems to have forgotten an important aspect of the lesson, try to lead the conversation in an open-ended way: “Did your teacher say something about keeping your fingers curved?”

 

Setting Up a Designated Practice Space

If possible, set up a “music corner” somewhere in your home, so that practicing becomes a special activity that happens in a special place. Children love any area that is to some degree exclusively theirs; having such a space for music shows how proud you are of your child’s undertaking. Seek their input when decorating the music corner—ideas include inspirational posters, a shelf or colorful box for music books, a smartphone or camera stand to make it easy to record videos to share with friends, and a whiteboard for noting important reminders or logging practice time.

 

cello girlSharing the Path: Practice Time as Parent-Child Togetherness Time

When you sit with your child during practice time, offer frequent encouragement, pointing out specific improvements you have seen over the last week or two. Once again, use guiding questions to help your child articulate successes and struggles:

What do you like most about that piece?
What part of the piece do you feel like you can play best right now?
What is hardest about playing that piece?
What kind of mood do you think the person who wrote that piece was feeling?
Can you imagine a story that would explain what that piece is about?

If your child needs new challenges for practice sessions, visit our Music, Books, and Resources page together and explore the wide array of sheet music, tools, and more to expand their repertoire.  If you are currently looking for a teacher or extra instruction outside of school music classes, West Music offers classes and individual lessons to families in Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois.

 

Focus on the Joy

There is no greater gift you can give your young musician than reminders that music brings people happiness. The sight of your face lighting up at the sound of every note and phrase will be your child’s greatest source of motivation.

Have questions? Need advice? West Music is here for you! Give our music education experts a call at 800-373-2000. 

 

 

 

 




Tags: practice, practice tips, lessons, young musician, beginner
Categories: Conservatory, Music Education
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How Music Helps Kids Excel in School
By West Music Company
9/1/2017 2:32:00 PM  

How Music Helps Kids Excel in School

The opportunity to learn to play music is one of the greatest gifts you can give your child. Even if your child has no desire to become a professional musician, learning music gives them self-confidence and a lifetime of satisfaction.

There’s another, also extremely important benefit of having your child learn to play music. Musical education during childhood can positively impact cognitive development, improve social skills, and increase academic achievement through all levels of school and beyond.

benefits of music ed

The Science Behind the Effects of Music on the Mind

Researchers at the Arts Education Partnership have compiled study results demonstrating a host of ways that music training prepares a child’s mind for success in school. Among the many mental abilities that improve through learning an instrument are:

Working memory

Forty years ago, “working memory” was a tricky concept that few people understood. Thanks to the constant presence of computers today, the idea of working memory is easy to grasp—it is basically the number of things a computer can work on at once. Receiving musical training is like getting a “memory upgrade” for the brain. A musician in an orchestra must concentrate on the fine motor skills required to play their instrument, recall any guidance the conductor has provided about the mood of the piece, remember how to decode all the symbols on the sheet music page, and be continuously alert for cues—simultaneously! That is seriously high-powered parallel processing, and developing it pays huge dividends in school.


Abstract Thinking Skills

For many children, learning to play an instrument is their first experience with abstract thinking. It is easy to learn that drinking water relieves your thirst. It is more complicated to learn that putting your fingers in a specific position while performing a specific action with your breath or with a bow produces the note G—the connection between the action and the outcome is far from obvious. Comprehending this kind of indirect connection is the essence of abstract thinking, and the value of such thinking skills, especially in math and science, it is enormous.


Attentiveness

So much has been written about the ever-shortening attention spans of both kids and adults that it seems like there must be no one left who can pay attention long enough to read stores, let alone text books. Music provides exceptional training in sustained concentration. Whether your child is practicing an exercise using sheet music, performing a recital piece from memory, or playing chords on a guitar while singing a folk song, there is no space for a lapse in attention. As a result, children who study music develop the ability to focus on a task more keenly, more deeply, and for a longer period of time than non-musicians.

 

emotional benefits to music

Emotional & Psychological Benefits Key to Success

One of the most difficult life lessons to learn is the difference between what is possible right now and what will become possible over time through dedicated effort. For a young musician, understanding that distinction becomes second nature almost from the very first moment they come in contact with an instrument. After all, even the most naturally gifted musicians on Earth have at some point made a mess of a piece before ultimately mastering it.

No musician, young or old, can just decide to be great tomorrow. Although, all musicians can be better tomorrow if they put in the work today. The chance to discover the boundless rewards of persistence may well be the most important reason that students who study music do better in school than non-musicians.

As young musicians advance through levels of skill, they learn the valuable companion lesson that criticism is not something to be feared and most certainly not a reason to feel shame. They learn that a correction from a teacher is an expression of faith in their ability to do better. It is a great feeling to send children off to school knowing that the inevitable criticisms their work will receive will inspire rather than dishearten them.

 

America Knows Music Matters in School

infographics music educational benefits

Over 71% of Americans believe that music education fosters the development of skills, such as creativity and leadership, that are vital to success in a wide variety of fields. A whopping 80% say that musical training contributes to lifelong personal fulfillment. Possibly more than any other pursuit, music gives your child the keys to the halls of knowledge and the foundation for a rewarding career. No matter your child’s age, the value of music lessons in promoting academic achievement and overall well-being is like music itself, truly beyond words.

For more about this topic including ideas on how to introduce babies and young children to music, read our blog The Benefits of Music Education in Childhood Development.




Tags: music education, school success, memory, self-confidence, cognitive development
Categories: Music Advocacy, Music Education
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Practice Tips for Young Musicians
By West Music Company
8/23/2017 2:57:00 PM  

Practice Tips for Young and Beginning Musicians

It’s been said a trillion times, and for good reason: practice is absolutely essential for growth as a musician. You can never expect to grow if you don’t understand the value of a good practice session. Marathon runners exercise every day in order to be prepared to run those 26.2 miles. Musicians need daily practice as well to ensure that they will perform their very best.

Music is a mental activity, but it also has a physical element that is often overlooked by younger musicians. The greatest players in the world have such highly developed muscle memory in their arms, hands, feet, wrists, fingers, mouths, etc. that they are able to focus much more on the music - their tone, tempo, dynamics, etc.

Muscle memory isn’t developed over night. You need to spend enough time with your instrument that it becomes second nature. If you spend enough time with any tool it will gradually become easier to use. It’s been said that it takes 10,000 hours of focused practice to become an expert at something, and this is certainly true for musicians. After a while, you’ll notice that you can repeat melodies by ear, accurately reproduce sounds that were only in your head, and match pitches much easier than you could before you had logged a good amount of practice time. The goal is to get to a point where the instrument is an extension of yourself –where it’s no longer you vs. the instrument, but instead, one cohesive organism, both parts working perfectly together.

Here are three essential tips that can help you get the most out of your practice time, and help you to develop correct muscle memory:
 
1. Use a metronome
I’m going to sound like your band director here, but this one thing is arguably the most important tip I can give: practice with a metronome! It doesn’t have to be so loud and obnoxious that you hear it in your sleep, or so fast that you can barely keep up, but it’s absolutely essential that your practice is guided by an accurate time keeper. Practicing scales and rudiments with a metronome will train your muscles to move in time, and slowly your hands will find it much easier to play with accurate time when there is no metronome – performances for example. Having a metronome accompany your practice sessions will also train your ears to lock into a set tempo and be able to hear if it starts to slow down or speed up. This writer can say from experience, even if you’re not the most technically advanced player in your group, if you have the most developed sense of time, you will be the most valuable player.

Need a Metronome?


2. Warm up
Why do athletes stretch before games? They’ve played the game before, their minds are familiar with what their bodies need to do to win; so why is it important for them to warm up? The answer is simple: the faster their muscles are able to respond, the faster they can react to what their opponent is doing. In this metaphor, the opponent is a new piece of music.

The goal of any practice session should be to fine tune techniques, scales, chords, and songs you already know, but to also work on things that you haven’t mastered. Difficult theory, strange scales or chord shapes, and complex time signatures will be much easier to wrap your head around if your body is warmed up and can quickly respond. Say you’ve mastered a piece of music. You’ve completely memorized it start to finish, perfected it, you could play it in your sleep – your body has already formed strong muscle memory with this tune so not warming up may hinder your speed/fluidity, but your hands will still know exactly when and which notes to play (although it will probably sound a little sloppy). For a song you’re just beginning to learn, your muscles aren’t familiar with the placement of notes yet. Thoroughly warming up will eliminate any issues with your body not responding quickly to your brain while working through a brand new piece of music, and you’ll have the song learned much faster than if you had to struggle through waiting on your fingers to warm up while you focus on melodies and phrasing.

music stand3. Use good posture
Almost every instrument requires some repetitive motion and can lead to injury over time, even just a few months. The one sure-fire way to protect yourself from strain and injury is to maintain good posture.

There are two guiding principles to maintain good posture. The first is to maintain a solid frame; that way the bones can do the work, easing the burden on muscles. The second is stay relaxed but engaged. You don’t want to tense up, but you also don’t want to be limp like spaghetti.

Something that will help maintain good posture is a good music stand. They allow you to look straight ahead at your music. 

Need a Stand?

4. Have fun!
Music is fun. That sentence probably seems pretty obvious to anyone who has decided to dedicate their time and energy into learning an instrument. Even with all the difficulty, frustration, and anxiety that can sometimes come with practice, the act of creating music is a purely wonderful and enjoyable phenomenon. Like with any athlete, their practices and workouts can be extremely difficult, but they power through because playing the game at a higher level than they could before makes it more enjoyable and beneficial for them.

Practice the things you need to practice, but don’t feel bad about taking a few minutes to play though an old favorite or just experimenting with interesting new sounds and ideas – this leads to inspiration, and inspiration leads to growth. Turn on the TV and try to follow along with the melodies of commercial jingles or movie scores, put on an album and try to follow along with the recorded musicians. A clear goal and direction are highly important for a productive practice session, but to repeat what was stated earlier, any time spent with your instrument in your hands gets you a little closer to reaching your goals. Pick it up and don’t put it down!

Have questions? Need advice? West Music is here for you! Give our music education experts a call at 800-373-2000. 




Tags: practice, practice tips, warm up, metronome, have fun, young musician, beginner
Categories: Music Advocacy, Music Education
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It’s Science! Basic Acoustics for Musicians and Music Lovers
By West Music Company
8/18/2017 4:13:00 PM  

It’s Science! Basic Acoustics for Musicians and Music Lovers

Part 1: Amplitude and Volume

Playing and listening to music raises all sorts of fascinating questions about how sound works: How can six cellos match the volume of 20 violins? Why is it that when a band is playing at the far end of the park, all I can hear are the bass and drums? Why does a trumpet sound so much different from a saxophone? Questions like these open the door to the wondrous science of acoustics.

 

Waves and MusicMusicians Do the Wave! How Sound Travels from an Instrument to Your Ears

When the surface of a lake, river, or ocean is disturbed—by wind, by the pull of the tides, or just by someone skipping a stone—waves form and travel across the water. Similarly, when air is disturbed by a vibration, a wave travels through the air. Of course, we can’t see the wave because we can’t see air, but when the wave reaches our eardrums, we hear it as sound.

There are two main ways that instruments create sound waves. For wind instruments, air is forced into a column or pipe, causing the air to vibrate as it moves through the instrument. For many other instruments, including guitar, violin, and piano, it is the vibration of a plucked, bowed, or struck string that disturbs the surrounding air and sets a sound wave into motion.

What is amazing is that with these two simple ideas—forcing air into a column and disturbing the air by vibrating a string—an entire symphony of musical sounds can be created!

 

fender guitar and ampHow Sound Gets Loud: Amplitude

Anyone who has ever watched a snowboarding or skateboarding competition has heard the announcers use the word “amplitude” to describe how “big” each competitor’s tricks are. The announcers are actually using a proper scientific term: amplitude is the mathematical measurement of the size of a wave. For water waves, greater amplitude means a rougher ride for boats and a bigger splash when waves reach the shore. For sound waves, greater amplitude means a louder sound.

Naturally, instruments with bigger strings or larger air columns tend to produce waves of greater amplitude than smaller instruments. That explains why it is easier to produce very loud notes on a cello than on a violin. Acoustics can get complicated, though—the size of an instrument does not always indicate the amplitude of the sound waves it creates. A fife (the small, flute-like instrument often used in military bands) is significantly louder than a French horn because its air column is specifically designed to create very intense disturbances of the air.

What do musicians do if their instruments are not naturally loud enough to be heard throughout a room? They send the sound through an amplifier, which—you guessed it—is a device that increases the amplitude of a wave!

 

There Is More to a Wave than Just How Big It Is

Amplitude of sound waves is what separates a window-rattling boom from a gentle whisper, but of course there is much more to a sound than just how loud it is. When you watch waves rolling onto a beach, you see more than just how high the waves are. You might also notice how rapidly each crash of a wave follows the last one, or how far apart each wave crest is from the next one. These questions relate to frequency and wavelength, and those are the characteristics of a wave that separate a violin from a string bass, a trumpet from a French horn.

To learn about frequency and wavelength and continue your journey into the mysteries of acoustical science, check out Basic Acoustics Part Two.


The Science of Art and the Art of Science

We tend to think of art and science as separate from each other, even opposites of each other. Thanks to the mysteries of acoustics, music is both an art and a science. No wonder students who study music do better than non-musicians in math and science classes! Read more about How Music Helps Kids Excel in School.




Tags: music education, STEAM
Categories: Music Education
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The Benefits of Music Education in Childhood Development
By West Music Company
4/13/2017 3:50:00 PM  

The Benefits of Music Education in Childhood Development

baby having music fun

While hearing music is enjoyable in its own right, the benefits of taking part in it highly outweigh those of just listening. Musical education during childhood can positively impact cognitive development, improve social skills, and increase academic achievement. And you don’t have to wait until your child is older — music education has been shown to have positive effects on babies and toddlers!

 

West Music’s History of Supporting Music Education

Since opening our doors in 1941, West Music has strongly supported music education. In fact, our founder Pearl West taught in the music department at Iowa City High School. Today we work directly with thousands of school music programs across the county and support many more with charitable donations through our membership with NAMM (The National Association of Music Merchants). In our stores, we offer Early Childhood Education for children as young as three-months. Supporting music education is an integral part of our mission to “Play now. Play for life.”

 

Music and the Brain

Being exposed to music throughout childhood has profound impacts on the development of the growing brain. A 2016 study at the University of Southern California’s Brain and Creativity Institute found that musical experiences during these crucial years accelerates brain development, especially in the areas of reading skills and language acquisition. It has also been found that learning how to play an instrument can improve mathematical intelligence and even boost academic achievement.

 

Music Education Benefits for Infants (birth to age 1)

Recent research has found that babies benefit from music education long before they can even walk or talk. One study found that one-year-olds who participated in interactive music classes with their parents smiled more, communicated better, and showed more sophisticated brain responses to music.

An excellent way to incorporate music and movement with infants is through soft and colorful scarves. You can manipulate these in the air while singing soft lullabies and nursery rhymes. They are also great for sensory play, so be sure to let your infant feel the softness of the scarf on their hands and feet. While your baby might want to hold onto them forever, please note that movement props are not toys’ they are to be used under adult supervision.

 

Music and Movement for Toddlers (ages 1-3)

One of the biggest benefits of having toddlers engage with music is in language development. Recent studies have found that musical training can wire the circuits of the brain in different ways. This development is specifically seen in parts of the left side of the brain, which contributes to processing language.

The key to music with toddlers is repetition. Children at this age crave consistency and routine, which is why they love reading the same books and listening to the same songs over and over. Repeating songs together promotes memorization and helps them to predict what comes next. Sound Exploration Books are a perfect fit for this age!

Toddlers also love being able to move and dance to the beat, so encourage them to explore with using instruments. Instruments specifically designed for small hands, such as toddler shaker instruments, are the perfect way to introduce them to creating and playing music.

 

Early Childhood Music Education for Preschoolers

Researchers in the field of brain development are quick to point out that the brain of a musician is wired differently than that of a non-musician, even a very young one. Preschoolers who were involved in making music showed larger brain growth in neural activity, so, simply put, being a musician makes your brain work harder.

Preschoolers love to sing and let their voices be heard. They enjoy nursery rhymes about familiar things, and they like songs that have repeating words and melodies.  Plays using puppets are great fun for this age, and learning rhymes together is the perfect musical actives for preschoolers and their parents!

 

Child Recorder Music

Music Learning for School-Aged Children

A study published in 2007 at the University of Kansas reported that students in schools with superior music programs scored approximately 22 percent higher in English and 20 percent higher in math on standardized tests. This reveals how music impacts many aspects of a child’s life and how vital it is to school performance.

Elementary school may be the first time some children really begin to have an interest in taking music lessons for a specific instrument. Many school music programs start with a musical recorder. Lightweight, simple, and capable of producing a charming sound, recorders are an ideal pre-band instrument to lead children into a lifetime of music-making.

 

Let Our Music Experts Help!

There are many things you can do as a parent to cultivate and grow a passion for music in your child, no matter their age. Remember, it’s never too early, or too late, to enjoy the benefits of music! Shop online or contact West Music at 800-397-3978 for suggestions and assistance.




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Categories: Kids & Movement, Music Education
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