Super Bowl Blackout: Keeping Focus Through Interruptions

Did you watch the Super Bowl last night? It was a pretty successful event for the most part. Exciting match-up, good commercials, excellent halftime show, what more could you ask for in a Super Bowl?

However, the thing everyone will likely be talking about is the power outage in the middle of the 3rd quarter that stopped play for over 30 minutes!

You might think an extra halftime would be welcomed by players, giving them an opportunity to further rest after a physical first half.  Yet, most of the players paced the sidelines anxiously, sat down to stretch, or participated in warm-up drills. They all simply had to keep moving. Football certainly has a rhythm to it, and extended interruptions such as this throw off that rhythm and it can be hard for players to keep focused.

Similarly, many students struggle with focusing on a task for an extended period of time, and frequently find themselves distracted and disrupted by the world around them. Sitting and completing homework can feel like an impossible task.

For those special learners who struggle with these tasks, we offer our fantastic adaptive lessons service.

Learning an instrument addresses so many important goal areas, but it is especially useful for simply practicing the skill of sitting, focusing, and completing a task. Additionally, they give the student an opportunity to practice overcoming the frustration and fatigue that can often result.

Our team of music therapists are trained to not only provide quality instruction of a variety of instruments, but more importantly to help students with special learning needs overcome those difficulties and succeed.

Learning an instrument is rewarding, and we find many of our students simply can't wait to enter their lesson and start making music!

Just as long as the power doesn't go out...

Learn more about adaptive lessons here, or if you're ready to sign up, click the big purple button below!


3 Steps to Writing Better Piggyback Songs

Many teachers use piggyback songs (songs that use an existing melody with new lyrics) as a way to teach math, science, or other concepts for their students.  Or perhaps they're using songs about school to provide structure to activities like morning circle time and dismissals, and for good reason.  Music and singing has been shown to strengthen learned concepts.  It's not unusual for teachers to scour the internet, searching for a piggyback song that fits the concept they're currently teaching.

However, sometimes those piggyback songs just don't exist, and you have to write it yourself.  What's the novice song writer to do?

Here are 3 steps to writing better piggyback songs!

1. Repetition is your friend, friend, friend, friend.

In an effort to keep things exciting, we often forget about our old pal repetition.  Human beings LOVE repetition.  We crave routine and structure.  In fact, next time your favorite songs comes up on your iPod, pay close attention to just how much it repeats small sections.  It probably has a guitar riff that is played 30 times during the song, a chorus that we hear four or five times, a repeating drum beat, etc.  Our brains eat up repetition and predictability.

So don't shy from it with your piggyback songs!  In fact, your piggyback songs should probably have more repetition than a normal song, as we're trying to drive a concept home.  You don't need to write 16 original verses.

2. Keep it Simple

Yes, a piggyback song about fractions sung to the melody of your favorite song by The Police would be hilarious and awesome, but how many 3rd graders know songs by The Police?  Not many.  Don't forget the old nursery rhymes.  Are they goofy?  Yes.  Cheesy?  You bet.  But it's a simple melody everyone knows, and it'll get the job done.  The idea is not to write a song your students will listen to everyday on their iPod at home, but to write a simple tune that they can sing to themselves at test time to remember that confusing formula.

3. Don't Over Think It

In a perfect world, you could have a rhyme for quadratic formula, but it just might not be meant to be.  Take advantage of online rhyming dictionaries to help get you through tight spots, but don't fret if your song doesn't rhyme perfectly.  In fact, it's more important that the songs meter fits the original melody than for everything to rhyme perfectly.  What's meter, you say?  Meter is the rhythm of the melody.  For example:

"Twink-le, Twink-le, Litt-le, Star"

Now try to fit the sentence "The pythagorean theorem is great for using with triangles" into that melody.  Doesn't work.  I don't care how good you are at rhyming "triangle," it just doesn't flow.  Keep the meter as close to true form as possible, and you'll have success.

That's it!  You're on your way to writing some killer piggyback songs!  Be prepared for lots of humming when you administer your next quiz.

The George Center offers consulting services to educators and school administrators on using music in the classroom.  In fact, we'd love to come out and give your staff a free inservice!  Contact us today to get started!


It's Time to Change Your Strings

All too often, I see young guitar players playing on old, worn out strings.  Changing guitar strings is just one of those things that we always mean to do, but never seem to get around to.  It's an important part of regular maintenance for your guitar.  While the frequency at which you should change your strings varies by how much you play, it's generally a good rule of thumb to change them out every six months.

Many guitar players seem intimidated by the string changing process.  Or perhaps your child is a bit too young to change their own strings, and you as a parents feel like there's no way you could figure it out.  You could take it to a guitar shop and pay someone to do it, or you could save that money, do some YouTube searching, and learn to do it yourself!  Better yet, I'll do the YouTube searching for you!

Here are some super handy YouTube videos that I used to give myself a refresher course on changing strings.  Now go change those worn out strings!

Tutorial for steel strings

Nylon strings can be a bit trickier, but this is one of the best tutorials I've ever seen!

Interested in starting guitar lessons?  The George Center specializes in teaching students with different learning needs!  Contact us today to get started!


Your Voice is Perfect

The other day, I overheard a question that I feel obligated to answer.

"What voice should I sing to children in?"

A little background: I'm a bass.  Not like a fish, like a low, loud, boomy bass singing voice.  To top it off, my range isn't the greatest (hey, I'm a saxophonist).  So most of what I sing is low.  When I was studying for my bachelor's degree, a music therapists I studied under told me I needed to sing in a falsetto (What is falsetto?) voice when working with children.  Her concern was that children could not match my low pitch.

While this is a legitimate concern, I always had to respectfully disagree that singing in this manner was necessary.  For one, I was uncomfortable singing in this manner, both physically and cognitively.  I felt it strained my voice, and I also felt a bit silly singing like that.  Falsetto voice certainly has a time and place, but I felt that singing in this manner might be confusing and distracting to the clients I work with.  Perhaps if I was Justin Timberlake I could pull it off, but it just wasn't me.

So I continued on with my bass singing.  Over two years later, I've never had a problem with it!  While the quality of the music is important in music therapy, it's not the end-all, be-all.  The facilitation of therapy is far more important.

My advice to those wondering what voice to sing to children in would be this: Whatever voice is comfortable to you.  High, low, loud, soft, out-of-tune, or anything in between.

Just sing!

Cry Again? Try Again!

Thanks goes out to Elizabeth Raasch for the great photo!

The new school year is back in full swing, and fall is just around the corner! Many kids and their families have spent these past several weeks scheduling and exploring a variety of extra-curricular activities, from sports to music lessons and more. Here at GCMT, we’ve had the opportunity to meet lots of new kids, whether through individual /group therapy sessions, our “Any Dream Will Do” performing arts group, or Kindermusik classes. Ms. Laurie and I have loved meeting all the families coming to try out Family Time, Our Time, and Sign & Sing. So many of these families have enrolled in the classes and become part of this great community!

Of course, we all know that children respond to new situations in different ways. Some children may jump right in and try every new thing that comes their way, whereas others may respond in ways that seem, well, less participatory. When these responses manifest themselves in a child’s first Kindermusik class, it can be discouraging to many parents who are seeking a fun family activity. “My child wouldn’t stop screaming.” “My child hid behind me the whole time.” “I’m not sure it’s a good fit.” Believe me, these reactions are more common than you might realize. My advice to these families with concerns after a first Kindermusik class or music therapy session is to “Try, Try Again!”

Let’s look at the facts: we are talking about kids, toddlers, and kids/toddlers with special needs. Going to a new place with new people and lots of noisy, new musical instruments is a BIG transition, and it’s one that many kids (and some grown-ups) aren’t immediately comfortable with. New situations can be scary, no matter how much fun they are intended to be! The first and last activity of each class and session are structured to aid in the establishment of routine. It may seem like just a simple song of greeting, but over time it becomes a cue to alert kids and families that it is time to switch gears and get ready to focus on music. Although each child is different, it typically takes around 3 classes or sessions to get comfortable with the “music time” routine. I love watching as these kids come to understand that our special “Hello” song means it’s time to have some fun!

There is still time in the semester for you to come try (or try again) a Kindermusik demo class or music therapy evaluation!

Sing With Your Child! 5 Tips for Improving Your Singing Voice

Often times when I first start working with a child, their parents will ask how they can implement music therapy activities at home and/or follow through with home programming in order to support what we are doing in therapy. However, when parents ask this question, they tend to amend it with, “I can’t carry a tune in a bucket, so singing is out of the question!”

Regardless of whether you are a natural singer or you are tone deaf, there is no voice a child would rather hear than his or her parent’s, specifically, their mother’s. Research has shown us that beginning at roughly five weeks in utero, embryos begin tuning in to the intermittent reinforcement of mother’s voice. Mother’s voice, it turns out, very likely drives early neural development, and later takes on profound significance that can last a lifetime. For better or worse – for impoverished neural development or for enriched development – mother’s voice is closely connected to survival for young children. Thus they learn to pay attention to it from the get-go.

In addition, the ability to sing and the ability to converse with expressive speech are closely related. In our Kindermusik classes we attempt to nurture your child’s speaking and singing voice by playing with rhythmic speech (poems and rhymes) as well as introducing and modeling simple tonal melodies with a limited range. And when you continue your play with both words and timbre sounds in your home during the week, these skills will be strengthened in your child and retained!

There are many ways in which you can improve your singing voice in order to feel more comfortable singing and making music with your child. As a trained vocalist who performed for many years, I always enjoy helping parents “find their voice” so to speak. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Sing like you speak. Relax your tongue. Relax your lips. Your singing voice should be as natural as your speaking voice, otherwise it sounds forced and uncomfortable.
  2. Breathe and improve your posture. Remember when you mother told you to stand up straight? You can sit up straight too if you are rocking your baby. Good posture means that you are making room for more air as you breathe, which improves vocal quality. Breathing is crucial. How does one breathe correctly? Well, you need to breathe from your diaphragm. Just think of it as breathing from your stomach. Watch your stomach below expand with inhales and go down with exhales.
  3. Open up your soft palate. When you open up your soft palate, the vocal chords will actually vibrate more too, which gives you more of a vibrato. What is my soft palate you ask? Well, it's the soft part of the roof of your mouth. Just try to move it so it opens more and allows more air to flow. That will make your notes sound so much better! Just try singing comfortably in your car while opening up your throat more. You'll immediately notice how much better you sound with less effort.
  4. Learn your vocal range. This is essential, as singing pieces written for the wrong range may strain your voice. Find out if you have a low voice, a medium voice, or a high voice by singing a simple tune like “You are My Sunshine”. Find where you can sing it most comfortably and then try to move between your “chest voice” and “head voice”. The mix voice is a blend between the lower range "chest voice" and the upper range "head voice". Developing a great mix will improve the overall tone and power of your voice which is much more important than just range.
  5. Be Confident! You would be surprised at how many wrong notes and bad form you can get away with if you sing with confidence. After all, we are just trying to have a little fun with our kiddos, right?

For more information on the benefits of singing to your child, check out this blog post entitled, “Does Singing to Your Baby Really Work?” by Kimberly Sena Moore, at Psychology Today.

Ready to start singing with your child?  Learn more about our group music therapy services!


4 Tips for Drama-Free Practice Time

I remember the battles.  My parents telling me to practice.  Reminding me how much they were paying for lessons.  Sticking an egg timer in front of me set to 30 minutes that I stared at through teary eyes.  Ah, the good 'ol days!

Of course, we want our kids to practice.  Learning an instrument is just like anything else in life: it requires daily work.  So how do you avoid the battles and tears that come with trying to get your child to sit and hone her skills?

Here are tips to calm the practice seas and provide smooth sailing!

1. Break It Up

Most parents utilize some sort of timer (like the fantastic "Time Timer") to illustrate exactly how long your child must practice for, but who says it all has to be done at once?  Sometimes, 30-minutes is just too long for some kiddos.  Short, efficient practice sessions are far more productive than tearful marathons chock full of procrastination.  Try splitting that 30-minute session into two ultra-productive 15-minute bursts!

2. Make a List

Like most kids, I was pretty good at gaming the system.  Sure, I had to "practice" for 30-minutes, but they never said what I had to practice!  I was an "off-task" master!  I still am to this day (wasn't I supposed to be catching up on paperwork instead of blogging right now?  Whoops).

So what do I do to avoid this?  Make a list of course!  Many of our clients already utilize schedules throughout their day to break-up tasks and stay focused, yet all too frequently we throw this out the window when it comes to practicing instruments.  Talk to your child's music therapist/teacher and find out what he should be practicing, and when it's time to practice during the week, make a bulleted list of items to address during that practice time.

3. Eye on the Prize

Hey, who isn't above a little bribery?  In the therapy world, we call it "contingent rewards" but hey, toe-may-toe, toe-mah-toe.  Set up a specific reward for accomplishing a measurable task.  30-minutes of iPad time for crossing off everything on the practice list!

Pro-tip: Make sure the targeted behavior is measurable!  It either got done, or it didn't.  You either get the reward, or you don't.  Don't be wishy-washy!

4. Keep It Fun!

The problem with practice is that it all too often becomes a chore, and we all know that chores aren't fun.  But one of the main reasons we do what we do is to allow everyone to experience the joy that expressing one's self through music brings!

Make sure practice time is a mixture of "have-to's" and "want-to's."  Make sure your child reviews those scales, but don't forget to let him play a few tunes from his favorite music book (for me it was a book of Star Wars songs).

That's all there is to it!  Like the old musician's joke goes: you know how to get to Carnegie Hall?  Practice, practice, practice...

Want to learn more about adaptive lessons?  Check out our "Adaptive Lessons" page!