Language Play: Learning to Play an Instrument Support Language Skills

Hearing, Language, Learning and Music

Wondering how to help encourage kids to practice their musical instruments? See what works for other parents in western MA and suggestions working musicians offer too in Hilltown Families post, “Getting Kids to Practice Their Musical Instruments.” (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

The last two weeks, I participated in an online continuing education training concerning language listening skills. I came away in awe of the new research being done on something that we don’t really think of as necessary to learn. We think of it as something optional to learn or even optional to have available at our schools. All the latest research shows us that learning to play an instrument helps us to listen to language and improves learning and cognitive function throughout our lives! But it’s especially a benefit for kids with dyslexia, auditory processing disorder (listening and understanding language at the level of the brain), specific language impairment, autism, and stroke recovery.

In a three year assessment of kids who had music training vs. those who didn’t, the kids with training did better at reading, speech in noise, and had stronger brain responses to sounds including language. Their brains changed! Of course, the longer the training, the better the cognitive changes, but scientists now know that the effect usually requires at least two years of music training. These results appear to be long term, too. Musicians have much fewer problems when older with hearing in noise, even if they’ve stopped their training at some point. We’re not talking about listening to music; we’re talking about active engagement in learning music. Current research studies are focusing on the effects of singing and drumming on understanding language…

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Music Making Opportunties for Families in the Happy Valley

Mash Notes to Paradise by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Note 25, The Hootenanny

I am not one of those “organized activity” parents. I am also not one to push my kids toward music lessons.

Well, that’s because 1) I’m not at all musical, and 2) I’m lazy and I don’t want to force my kids to practice. Actually, to be completely honest, not only do I loathe the idea of forcing my kids to practice an instrument, there are many instruments I would not want to hear being practiced upon if my kids were to actually practice. Let me start the list with violin and continue to trumpet. You can add your own fingernails-on-chalkboard instruments if you’d like.

This is just one of those things about myself I’ve accepted without guilt or remorse. Besides, my middle two guys are not about performing. That’s just the truth, especially the third one. His favorite thing to do with the limelight is hide from it (except, now, it turns out, if the limelight can be a vehicle to showcase yo-yo skills).

❥ Anyway, there are great resources for kids and music, though, in these parts…

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12 Musicians Share Strategies on How to Get Kids to Practice Their Musical Instruments

Getting Kids to Practice Their Musical Instruments

“Parents can play music with children,” writes Deborah Poppink. “That means singing along or even having the student teach the parent. If the parent can play the recorder, a drum, or the guitar with the child – GO FOR IT!”  (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Last fall we ask our readers how they got their kids to practice their musical instrument, generating great feedback on what worked for their families. We then invited many wonderful independent children’s musicians, several of them who have been guest DJs of the Hilltown Family Variety Show, to answer this same question. Their excellent advice ranged from letting them listen to themselves, filling your home with music/instruments, practicing along with them, allowing them to experiment, setting up a supportive environment, being patient, and making it fun!

Here’s what they had to share:

Debbie Cavalier: “Record them! I have found that kids love to hear/see their progress and are often surprised by it when they hear what they sounded like a week or two weeks ago! Listen back together and comment on the progress. You can use a free smartphone video recording app or a free audio app. I use one called Record.”

David Weinstone (Music for Aardvarks and Other Mammals): “For young children just leave the instruments lying about and let them bang or strum away at will. For older children, if they are interested, get them an instructor that is use to working with kids. Keep practice sessions short. The child will let you know how much is enough. Don’t be strict about it. If they want to learn an instrument they will need to understand delayed gratification. That’s the real hurdle at first.”

Rachel (Gustafer Yellowgold): “I used to enjoy practicing Suzuki violin much more when my dad or granddad played the piano with me, and loved singing when my brother played the piano. I think it’s the sense of music being something you do with others, and enjoy with others, makes it easier to have it be a part of every day life. – I also use to walk around the garden in circles playing the violin, as I liked the way it sounded outside – finding a place where the space around you makes it sound better or feel better. – The best thing I think is to be supportive and encouraging without forcing a child to do something that they really don’t want to do.”

Frances England: “My 8 year old son started violin a year ago and for him the things that work best are making sure we are fairly consistent with practice (4 or 5 times a week), sitting next to him and staying positive and enthusiastic while he plays, making sure we don’t leave it too late in the day when he’s too tired and can get easily frustrated, and adding some fun melodies he recognizes into the mix. After we’ve gone over music from his lesson, we often end with an “open jam” session where he can play whatever and however he wants (ie. Shredding on the violin with Led Zepplin strings cranked up high in the background!). If someone in the family can join in on an instrument, all the better… One last thing, I think it’s great to expose kids to as many different genres of music in which their instruments are played. With violin, my son has heard lots of classical, bluegrass and Irish music, but we also like to listen to people/bands that play violin in less traditional/more experimental ways (Andrew Bird, Noah and the Whale, Arcade Fire, Emily Wells). It’s inspiring to hear all the different sounds and styles that can come from one instrument.”

Charity Kahn: “Ah, the age-old question! Of course every child and family is different, but here’s what has worked in our family… Patience: Have the patience as a parent to wait ’til your child is seven or eight to start formal lessons. Before that, most children are not developmentally ready to commit to practicing 4-5 times per week, so either practice becomes a struggle between you and your child, or they don’t practice at all and consequently see no improvement and get frustrated or bored. – Practice: Don’t have overly high expectations around practice. Until kids are in middle school, ten minutes four times per week is appropriate. Usually you’ll find they want to play longer of their own volition: bonus! – Participation: Sit with your child during some or all of their practice session and support them emotionally (and musically if you can and if they ask for it). Listen, be present, hold space. Show them that you honor their efforts and time and learning process by being present for it. – Playfulness: As always, keep things light and fun. If your child is constantly struggling or having tearful practices, check with the teacher to make sure they’re not moving too quickly through the material, or suggest they spice the song choices up with something your child is familiar with and is drawn to learn. Also be mindful of not putting too much pressure of your own on your child. – The best modeling of all is to learn or re-visit an instrument yourself and model your own practicing for them. Then some day you’ll all be able to play music together! And there are not many experiences more magical and profound and connecting than making music with other human beings.”

Mike Park: “We have a music room in the garage with a keyboard, drum kit, and guitars. Usually what happens is after dinner I will go out to the practice room and just started playing and the kids will follow without asking. Having daddy play music seems to get them motivated. My son is 2 (almost 3) and can play rudimentary drum patterns. My daughter is a bit older and though lagging behind on her rhythmic skills is still very interested and we usually spend at least 30 minutes every day in that room.”

Steve Weeks: “Wow, this is a tricky one since there are so many factors. Some kids are more goal-oriented than others. Some instruments are harder to master than others, etc. – But I have to say that in my heart I really believe that music is supposed to be enjoyable. Adding too much stress to the early learning process can kill the best part of it. Music is best when it’s played for the love of it, in my opinion. It’s supposed to be magic, so when they’re really young, just let ‘em play. – I would suggest immersing your house in music. Have it on the radio. Take you kids to local concerts. Don’t tell them to knock it off when they’re just plinking around on the piano. Break out that old trumpet and play once in a while… even if you stink. If you’ve never played an instrument, take up the ukelele. You’ll love it I promise, and your kids will see that it’s OK to be a beginner.”

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12 Places/Instructors for Kids to Take Piano Lessons in Western MA

Recommend a place/instructor in Western MA for kids to take piano lessons:

  • Marya Kozik LaRoche recommends, “Kate Fitzroy Staebler in Pittsfield!”
  • Sarajane Daniels recommends, “Celia’s Voice Studio (Northampton, MA) gives voice and piano lessons. Wonderful!”
  • Emily Clarke Whitney recommends, “Leea Snape at Second Congregational Church in Greenfield. She is great!”
  • Christine Giampietro Bruhn recommends, “‎Northampton Community Music Center.”
  • Jillian Hanson recommends, “Sarah Elston in Haydenville!”
  • Doug Martin recommends, “Barbara Goodchild in Shelburne. She uses the Simply Music system which is great.”
  • Denise Bickford Banister recommends, “Sylvia Tardiff is in the business listings in the phone book. She is located at 140 Pine Street in Florence. Also – I think Bethany Ouimet – lives on River Road in Williamsburg.”
  • Amy Kane-Coyne recommends, “Margaret don Diego in Worthington, Lindsey Hill Road. She does lessons at her home.”
  • Marie Hackworth McCourt recommends, “Sharon Bail in Granby does lessons in her home – very reasonable!”
  • Jane Stephenson recommends, “Carrie Ferguson is an amazing piano instructor in Northampton.”
  • Mindi Palmer Fried recommends, “Jeff Olmsted in Northampton. He teaches Simply Music – very cool stuff.”

[Photo credit: (ccl) woodleywonderworks]

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