The Power of Sight-Reading

Lisa comes to lessons every week very excited to show me what she has learned.  Listen to me first, she exclaims in piano class, hoping this week she has finally mastered that piece.  As I listen to her piece, I bite my tongue as she plays,  pausing at every second bar, corrects every 7th note, and the rhythm is just non-existent.  At the end of her performance, we begin making corrections; we play it through slowly counting,  we read the notes in rhythm, we mirror play, and I deploy a whole other host of strategies until the piece is close to perfect.   Then it is written in the book for another week of practice in hopes that a week of practice will bring it back perfect.

This scenario is common,  all too common. To have a student come and sit at the piano bench and stare at their music with a blank expression on their face, or phrases like I don’t know where my hands go, or this music is really hard or some other comment that conveys the child’s confusion with the music.  Even worse is the attempt to play the piece with note reading mistakes played as confidently as a concert pianist.  I often ask myself,  how did this bright full of potential student get to this point?  I know the answer; no, it’s not a lack of practice or technique or even a lack of good teaching.  Rather it is more often than not a mismatch in a child’s sightreading ability and their current learning level.

We know that reading music is essential to any musician.  It is what guides home practice and is the key that unlocks our ability to learn music at a faster pace and to be able to create and pass on music to others. However, sightreading is regularly a skill we cram to learn in the weeks preceding exams. However, without time or thought is put into developing this skill, many students ability to read music at sight is very poor. Nevertheless, developing sightreading skills can become one of the most enjoyable parts of a students practice sessions.

What is Sightreading?

Sightreading is the ability to play through a piece of music effortlessly without (or with few) rhythmic and pitch errors that you have never seen before.  At Hope Performing Arts Centre, we often call a students’ sightreading level their functioning level.  It is a level at which the pieces are easy enough to play and enjoy without the need for too much thinking.

Being able to sightread allows students to enjoy playing music in much the same way someone would enjoy reading a book. Just like reading books, the more a student sightreads, the better they become and the more pleasure they derive from making music. 

Most students, however, skip over the sightreading just to get their practice done. Because of this, their sightreading skills suffer and fall further and further behind their learning level, making it harder for them to learn more difficult repertoire. 

What level should my child be sightreading at?

For students who are just beginning to learn a musical instrument, their sightreading level should be close to what they were working on in the previous lesson. For beginner students who practice daily, this is generally achievable.  

As students’ progress out of primer method books and into level one and two, they should be able to read anything at the primer level with ease and be progress towards fluently sightreading the new notes and rhythms introduced in their current method books within a few weeks of learning them.

Once students reach their first examination, it is essential that they can play fluently; the different note/hand positions on their instruments that they have learnt up to this point and are beginning to read melodic (harmonically as well for pianists) intervals and chords at sight.  At this point, it is necessary for students to have an understanding of music theory as reading music becomes increasingly complex.

Below is a chart outlining the ideal minimum sightreading level for students up to grade 4.

How can my child get better at sightreading?

If you notice that your child is struggling to learn new music, it is often because their sightreading skills are too low.  One of the best ways to begin improving sightreading is to have your child reading through pieces from an earlier method book at their sightreading level for 5 to 10 minutes every day.  If you are not sure what your child’s sightreading level is, ask their instrumental teacher. They will be more than happy to provide you with the information along with suggestions of pieces/books your child can sightread through. 

For some children using flashcards can also be helpful (particularly in the very early method books) in building their confidence with the note names.  There are several great ways to use flashcards for developing confidence with sightreading; I will be sharing these is a follow-up post in the future.

At Hope Performing Arts Centre, we regularly provide supplementary material to help our students improve their sightreading.  Check out their practice diaries and book bags to see what exciting material your child has to read through at home this week.

Once your child is sightreading regularly, you will find them picking up past pieces or new easy pieces to play for enjoyment.  The more they play through new music at sight, the better they will get at sightreading and overtime, this will improve their ability to learn pieces of music at their method or grade level faster.

What’s the Weather Game

What crazy weather we are having at the moment in Australia.  From 47 degree days to 4 days straight of rain creating flash flooding it really is that crazy.   Learning about the weather is the focus of our current performing arts unit for our Little Adventures Class from windy days, to the cold snow, to thunder storms and rain our youngest students will be dancing, singing and acting their way through the next 4 weeks.

To help our students continue the fun of each class at home we have creates a game that parents can play with their child.  Playing our performing arts games with your child at home is both fun and helps your child develop good practice habits long before they begin formal, music, dance and/or drama lessons.  

What’s the Weather is a simple dice and card game that can be enjoyed by all the members of the family.  To play the game simply roll the dice and then turn over a card with the matching colour then each play takes turns at doing the activity on the card (or everyone can attempt to do the activity together).  The game ends when there are no more cards to turn over in a particular colour (i.e. if you have used all the green – Say cards then the game is over).

About the Cards

Blue cards are songs that we are singing in class.  If you are unsure of the songs check out our Spotify play list here

Purple Cards are acting cards, these cards are to encourage your child to use their imagination to act out the actions.

Pink Sound Cards.  – These cards are to help develop your child’s ear as they try to create weather sounds, feel free to use items that you have a home to help create the sounds of thunder storms or rain.

Yellow Move Cards – These cards are related to our dance activities and help students to practice their dance steps at home,  at these age these steps are very simple, you can use some of the music from the Spotify list for these cards so that your child get use to moving to music.

Green Say it Cards – These cards are short tongue twisters to help your child gain expand their vocabulary, we often use tongue twisters in to warm up the voice in vocal classes they are a fun way to engage students in exploring their voice.

Red Fingers Cards – these cards are to help develop children’s fine motor skills with their fingers.  In order for student to be able to play a musical instrument they need to have independence in their fingers by practicing different finger play activities we help our students develop these skills.  

To print a copy of the cards and dice simply follow this link. Happy playing

Beyond Fun

Teaching Children to Love Music

This past week, we had the joy of taking one of our sons to his very first ‘real’ clarinet lesson.  He had the opportunity to try the clarinet as part of his school band program in 2018 and wanted to continue, so we did want all parents looking for an instrumental teacher do: use the all knowing Google. After much searching, we found a teacher who was close to us who seemed to fit what we were looking for.

Our son practicing his clarinet

To be honest, I had some doubts after the first trial lesson at the end of 2018. I was questioning if this teacher was right for our boy, but, after much thought, we decided to give this teacher a go, after all he had all the things we were looking for: he is a professional on his instrument, spoke calmly to our son, saw his potential and emphasised good technique.

After his second meeting with the teacher, my doubts re-surfaced. What was it that was missing for me and that made me doubt (and quite possibly would make other parents walk after the very first lesson)? It was the ‘fun’ element that was missing.  While the teacher encouraged our son to work on good technique, was patient with him and gentle in how he nurtured him through his exercises, the expectation as a parent that our child would be playing all those ‘fun pieces’ was quickly vanishing before my eyes.  Upon questioning the teacher, he said to us – “I know your son doesn’t need those things. He already reads music, as he learns the piano, he already knows the first few notes on the instrument so I don’t need to work on that, what he needs is for me to teach him to be an excellent player – he has potential”.  He also told us that if our son wanted to practice those ‘fun’ pieces at home he could but not at the expense of technique.

Here is the thing – despite being that piano teacher who also emphasises technique, note reading and musical playing over ‘fun’, as a parent, I had the same expectations as every other parent. I want it to be ‘fun’ for my son because I want him to ‘love it’. But this is where the misconception about learning a musical instrument lies.  The notion that ‘fun’ equals a love of music, which will fuel the desire to become a better musician, this is simply not true.  A child could be having ‘fun’ on their instrument and simply going nowhere as they cycle round and round the same level of material, lacking the foundations to master anything beyond elementary music.  Eventually, the child becomes bored and either quits or the parent becomes frustrated with the teacher and moves on to the next teacher in the hopes of finding someone who will make it ‘fun’ for their child.

So, if music lessons are not ‘fun’, how do we engage children so that they will love music?  We lay the right foundations. ‘Fun’ is a very temporary fix to an underlying problem; it can cover over poor teaching practices in order to attract a student.  Good teaching practices will engage a child in musical learning without the need to bribe them with quick fix songs or other tricks. Learning through the establishment of solid, and real, foundations will encourage children to play (enquire and discover), practice (develop their technique and note reading skill), nurture passion (by exposing children to a wide variety of quality music that they will learn to love – if students have never heard great music, how will they know it even exists and that they might like to play it themselves), and, give purpose (through goal setting) to the learning of music.  These big 4 P’s, I will cover more in a later blog post. 

As a parent, when I shift my expectations in line with the values I have as a teacher, all of a sudden, my head is nodding along to my son’s new clarinet teacher, and the results even from the first two lessons are apparent.  Not having set ‘fun’ pieces to learn via rote, my son played his clarinet and also experimented. Through this play, he learned to reach higher notes on his instrument, his tonguing has become more fluent and I don’t have to ask him to practice – he just does it.  I see his love for the instrument growing as he discovers what he can do. His determination develops as he has become more diligent with working on his technique and his desire to be better grows.

All of this does not mean we need to throw ’fun’ out the window in lessons – I love seeing our students play songs they really want to play – but the focus should always be on teaching our students the skills to be proficient on their instruments by emphasising note reading, musical understanding, excellent technique and solid aural skills.  If we get these foundations right, those ‘fun’ songs will be showstoppers. A child should be able to walk out of their instrumental lesson and apply the skills that they have learned in that lesson to another piece of music that uses the same skill, or even to create their own piece of music.  Children should be encouraged in their practice sessions to explore repertoire beyond the fun pieces and even beyond their set pieces and technical exercises. They should be encouraged to develop their skills; in doing this, they will master their first pieces, and this mastery will provide the motivation to learn and discover more about music, which will in turn fuel their love of music.

Our students engaged in learning music

5 Benefits of Preschool Performing Arts Lessons

 

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At the ages of three and four, your child’s brain becomes very receptive to sound and language acquisition. Research is starting to show that there is a distinct correlation between children who have been involved in active music learning and their language and reading ability.  When you combine the study of music with dance and drama, the benefits multiply.

Outside of all the research and linking of the performing arts to positive school and academic outcomes, the best reasons for participating in preschool performing arts programs are those that point to children becoming better musicians, dancers and actors.  Starting at three years of age and continuing lessons throughout the preschool years will help your child in the following ways:

  1. Engaging, sequential and age appropriate performing arts lessons that provide a positive experience for your child will set them up for future success in performing arts classes as well as success in future instrumental and vocal training.

 

  1. Preschoolers who have been exposed to aural training have better pitch discrimination than those who start later. Pitch discrimination is necessary for learning, playing and improvising music by ear.  It also aids in helping children to become more musically sensitive when they dance.

 

  1. Preschoolers who participate in dance have more control over their fine and gross motor skills. The ability to control core muscles has been linked to a better ability to concentrate in a classroom context.  Developing an understanding of their bodies helps children to be able to express themselves more clearly as dancers and actors; it also helps them to develop good posture as musicians.

 

  1. Children who are exposed to an environment that requires them to pretend to be something, or someone else, from a young age have more opportunity to develop and practise their empathy skills. These skills are vital for developing good relationships with others, as well as for being able to express ideas in a way that can be clearly heard and understood by others. Having good empathy skills also helps children to develop a good understanding of their characters, as actors, and to help them to connect with their audiences emotionally.

 

  1. The younger your child is introduced to a positive and nurturing performing arts environment, the greater their love of music, dance and drama is at a later age. This leads to more sustained dedication to their training and faster progress as they grow.

Would you like to foster your child’s love of the performing arts?  Book a complimentary one on one mini lesson for your child to explore how we can help your child reach their creative potential.

Book Here

 

Music with Me Meet Up – June Bugs

June Music with Me Meet Ups:  – June Bugs

Stimulate your babies senses as she explores the world of butterflies and ladybugs in this beautifully crafted session just for caregivers and babies age 0 – 2.  We’ll be buzzing like bees, and wriggling like caterpillars as we explore the songs of the June bugs.

Music with me is a beautiful program that is designed to help you strengthen the special bond you share with your baby, while you build musical skills and develop a repertoire of activities that you can share with your child that will help build their musical ability.  You can find out more about the program below.

Music with Me Program>>>>

Each Meet Up is a structured class designed to give you and your babies an engaging musical experience. Each session is lead by a degree qualified music educator and will include;

– Singing simple songs and lullabies, which will help develop your babies literacy skills.

– Moving and playing instruments to the music to develop your babies sense of rhythm.

– You will even get to learn some simple ukulele.

At the conclusion of the session you will receive a take home pack that will include

  • 1 Baby safe instrument – a lady bug clapper castanet
  • Baby safe props that are used with the musical activities
  • $12.50 Voucher to put towards regular classes *conditions apply
  • Plus a host of other useful information.

 

This months Music with Me – Meet Ups are:

Saturday, 16th June, 2018 at 11 am
Tuesday, 26th June, 2018 at 5:30 pm

Thursday 28th June 2018 at 11:30 am
Saturday, 30th June, 2018 at 11 am

Playdates are open to children ages 0-2 and their caregivers. Cost is $16 for you and your child.

Reserve your spot >>>>

Spaces in each Music with Me – Meet Ups are limited and tend to fill fast. Book here to save your spot

Got a question read this >>>>

* Voucher can be put towards the cost of a full term (10 week class session) including; Music with Me, Little Performers, Young Musicians, Junior Music Class, Junior Dance Class, Intermediate Music Class and Seniors Music Class.  It can not be used for Meet Ups or other one off events.  It can not be used for private instrumental lessons.  Only 1 voucher per child per term can be applied to fees and cannot be used in conjunction with other discounts.

Music Connects Us

Music has been recognised throughout history as an integral part of the human experience.  A song can bring a memory back to us as if it were yesterday and A familiar tune can bring us comfort.  It is no wonder that music has power far beyond the words that are sung.

Researchers are now finding that music promotes attachment between mother and baby.  Through singing to and rocking their infant a mother is able to calm and reassure both herself and her baby.  The sound of a calm mothers voice accompanied by the slow rocking or gentle bouncing or patting of their baby helps to reduce their infants stress hormones and and reassure them that they are safe.  The Music with Me curriculum provides mothers with a variety of songs, rhymes and lullabies to help them become confident at reassuring their little ones and to continue to provide their growing child with a secure base from which they can explore and come back to.

As a child grows, the music that they listen to and participate in make, helps them to identify with their heritage as well as the heritage and culture of others.  During sharing days at Hope Performing Arts Centre, parents are encouraged to share with the group songs, rhymes and stories that part of their heritage.  In doing this each member of the group is given the opportunity to understand and respect those within the community.  This strengthens the bonds of friendship between the caregivers with in the group and also provides a foundation for empathy and understanding for the children.

As the children progress through to the school aged program, they are given the opportunity to create, perform and share together the joy of the performing arts.  In doing this they have the wonderful opportunity to explore how the performing arts helps shape the culture of those around them and how it can impact the lives of other.

One of the main goals for the students at Hope Performing Arts Centre is to provide a place where they can create, and perform in a way that serves and connects others while also providing a backdrop for exploring and communicating critical thoughts and ideas to the large community of South Western Sydney.

 

 

 

 

5 Benefits of Singing in a Choir

I have a confession: as a child I hated preforming in front of audiences.  Don’t get me wrong, I was excited about the prospect, I wanted perform for my friends and family and I loved playing the piano.  But those dreaded nerves always got the best of me and it took me a long time to learn how to control them.  Somehow though, singing in a choir was different; I loved it, loved the performances and being with others and somehow the nerves were just not the same.

I wasn’t a brilliant singer, nor did I have any solo roles – (mostly I sang alto), but standing there with a group of people singing and harmonising together, somehow those nerves were nowhere to be seen. There was something so wonderful that would happen when all the voices around me combined to make such beautiful music that made me just want to sing and forget about the stage that I was standing on.

Research would suggest the confidence I experienced in being part of choir is most likely due to the happy endorphins that are released during community singing. There must be something to this research; I was delighted as i watched one of my most shy students during our first Junior Choir rehearsal open her mouth and sing, yes, quietly, but with a smile on her face and with willingness.

Research is also finding a lot of other wonderful things about participation in choirs.  Here are some of those benefits:

 

  1. Participating in choir provides a greater sense of togetherness and community. Singing together requires students to listen and to harmonise with each other; when this is done well, they make a beautiful sound that can be enjoyed by the choir members and the audience.

 

  1. Children who participate in choir are able to express a wider range of emotions than children who do not, and they are also able to manage these emotions in a positive way. Singing is a wonderful tool for learning to express emotions in a positive and productive way.  By telling stories through song, children develop the ability to identify and be empathetic with the emotions of others as they learn to convey the story to their audiences.

 

  1. Children who participate in choir learn good vocal control. Yes – they get to be loud, very loud, but they also learn how to express ideas and thoughts in a soft but strong tone.  Through singing in choir your child’s vocal muscles are strengthened and they are taught to pronounce and communicate words fluently.

 

  1. Children who participate in choir are more likely to be helpful. Research has shown that those who participate in choir are more likely to volunteer their time to help others and one study has shown that children who are involved in choir are more likely to help out at home.

 

  1. Your child’s confidence will grow. As they sing with others in rehearsals, your child will learn to feel comfortable with their voice and allowing others to hear it. This can lead to your child having more confidence to ask questions at school and to participate in class discussions confidently.

To find out more benefits of singing in a choir you can download the research this article is based on here.

To find out more about our choirs and how you can take part click the link below

HPAC Choirs

Benefits from Participating in the Performing Arts

There is so much research out there that supports how music, dance and drama contribute positively to a child’s learning at school.  Just ‘Google it’ and you will find claims that it will help your child in mathematics, reading and even with their behaviour at school.  But the most positive benefits a child can have from engaging with the performing arts are simply those that will make them better musicians, dancers and actors.

 

So, here are four benefits your child will gain from participating in the performing arts:

 

  •  Your child will develop skills in story-telling.  The performing arts are about telling stories and conveying messages to an audience.  The performer who can tell a story convincingly through music, dance or drama, has learned the art of connecting with their audience.  This art of story-telling through the performing arts can be taught from the youngest of ages, and children who participate regularly in the performing arts are more likely to use the performing arts as part of their play, which reinforces their ability to communicate with others through the performing arts.

 

  •  Your child will develop the ability to work in a team.  Many musical items, dances and dramas are performed with others.  Through performing in a group, students learn to work together to play or dance in time or to dialogue with each other through the performance.  The ability to be able to follow the conductor or move in time with those around you or come in on cue helps children to develop a respect for their peers and the desire to work together to get the best result for the audience.

 

  •  Your child will learn to think creatively. Participating in the arts requires children to think about how sounds, movement and words flow together to create an idea or story. Working with these ideas, children can begin to develop their own artistic works.  By knowing what can be done and by experimenting with what is possible, children are can boldly create new music, dance and drama that can inspire and delight their audiences.

 

  •  Your child will develop a love of the arts.  Through participating in performing arts lessons, your child will develop an understanding of and love for the performing arts.   This will help them to become the future performers, creators and audiences that embrace a variety of art forms, both new and old.

 

Would you love to see your child’s potential as a performing artist nurtured? Why not try out one of our free community events or register for a Prelude Season?  Click the buttons below to find out more.

Community Events    Prelude Season