Music Review and Giveaway: Cool Songs for Cool Kids- Music Motivation Series

I had the opportunity to review Jerald M. Simon’s Music Motivation Series called Cool Songs for Cool Kids. In the Cool Kids series, there are 4 levels available. He sent me the e-book version for Primer through level 3. I love when there is an e-book version of music because it doesn’t take up limited space in my music library and I can easily transfer it to my iPad.

The Cool Songs for Cool Kids series was not intended to be a replacement for current method books. It is very strong on intervallic reading, which makes it a perfect supplement for any method or curriculum and was intended to be as such.  Many of the music were specifically written with boys in mind. I think this is great!

You will find the layout of these books to be consistent and clean. You will find helpful practice notes for student and or teacher/parent. There are piano exercises before the pieces that sets students up for success in their pieces when used. On the top of the exercise pages you will find a goal. (ie: Goal- 5 times per day.) And my favorite you will find a description of the skill that is learned by doing these exercises and pieces. This is especially helpful for the teacher when supplementing with their current method. If there is a specific skill that needs to be learned or reviewed, it is possible for the teacher to just skip right to that exercise and piece that would be a perfect supplement for the student. There are times when Jerald will open  a piece up for interpretation. For example, he might suggest that they add their own dynamic markings for a piece.

One thing I noticed immediately when playing through this series is Jerald put a strong emphasis on both the exercises and pieces on articulation. What a difference staccato’s and accents make to a piece or even an exercise! The very back of each book includes The Music Motivational Methodology, an outline, laying out theory concepts he thinks is important for students to learn at each stage in their learning. He divides it in 3 sections: Apprentice (for 1st -2nd year students); Maestro (for 2-4th year students) and Virtuoso (for 3rd year and beyond).

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The Primer book is geared towards beginning students. It does immediately begin on staff so they should be familiar with on staff reading. I found the Primer true to it’s name. To prime the students for success in the future volumes and in reading music on the staff in general. In the introduction, Jerald explains how he teaches the music alphabet and staff reading. In addition, he introduces the rhythm that will be found in the primer level (Quarters-Eighth). Included in the Introduction is a simple C pentascale exercise for students to get familiar with the notes on the staff and rhythm.

Halfway through the primer level is an introduction to Key Signatures. At this point, he has the students play in each key right away by taking a simple pattern exercises and repeating it in each key. Immediately they are transposing! By doing this, transposing can now be a skill that is easily learned instead of ending up in frustration. Triads are also introduced in this level. In the appendix section of the primer you will find pentascales in all keys; a great reference tool for students.

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Volume 1 is designed for the late beginning and intermediate to intermediate student. I found it to also be a good “first” book if primer isn’t used. It begins by reviewing basic rhythm, but adds on sixteenth notes and rests. Volume 1 concentrates on major and minor pentascales, chords (Major, Minor, Diminished), inversions, melodic and harmonic intervals, perfect and diminished intervals. And because of the sixteenth note introduction, opens it up to more fun rhythmic jazz style pieces that includes syncopated and swinging rhythms. I think Volume 1 is where the series really starts to shine. I particularly enjoy the tempo markings that is included. They are not the typical: Allegro, Moderato, etc… Instead they are very descriptive “This music will self destruct in 1.5 minutes”, “Quickly, they’re gaining on you,” “Careful and Thoughtfully”, “With Courage and Strength” are just a few that I enjoyed reading. Having such descriptive tempo markings immediately puts the student in artistry mode.

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Volume 2 is written for the early intermediate-intermediate piano student. Intervals are reviewed at the beginning in addition to swing rhythm. Volume 2 introduces the blues pentacle. Jerald gives helpful fingering tips on how he introduces the blues pentacle to students. He immediately gives the student an opportunity after exploring the blues pentacle to create their own blues melody. He tells the students to have fun and to not over think this exercise. Prepping for this volume, the introduction also goes through left hand blues patterns. He gives some examples of these patterns that will be found in pieces they will learn. After going through these left hand patterns, he encourages the student to improvise or arrange a well known melody such as Mary Had a Little Lamb applying these patterns to the familiar melody. I think this works best with a melody they can play by ear. One of my favorite pieces in this volume, is “Slip N’ Slide Summertime”. It has a boogie woogie pattern going on (students have the option to play it straight or with swing rhythm) but the best part is the glissando’s sliding up and down throughout the piece. Perfect name for the piece and such a fun one to play!

IMG_0214Volume 3 is designed for intermediate to late intermediate students. What sets Volume 3 apart from the previous volumes is the Challenge questions that are found at the top of each piece. In Primer through Volume 2 there were skill sets that students were mastering. In Volume 3, the student now has a challenge question placed before them that helps them discover not only the answers but another way of doing something with the piece! For example, in the piece, “Power Play” the challenge question is “What is the Key Signature?”. After the student  answers the question, there is a follow up question that requires some action on their part. “What would the piece sound like if every note were flatted (play the same exact notes as written, but flat every single note)?” Then after trying this challenge task, they are asked a final question, “What is the new key signature (7 flats- everything is flatted)?”  I LOVE this concept. It gets our intermediate students really thinking about the piece they are playing before, during and after. Volume 3 has more rhythm, interval reinforcement and left hand patterns to explore.

One thing that I noticed about the series, beginning in Volume 1, is the chord symbols on top . As I was going through the exercises and pieces I felt like it would be perfect to take advantage of these symbols and have students improvise different bass and melody patterns. Teacher and students can easily play duets by doing this as well. Fun!

Cool Songs for Cool Kids does a great job teaching theory, technique, transposing, improvising, composing and artistry in various styles that makes it fun and motivating for kids of all ages to play. The great thing about this series is not only is it perfect supplementary material, but you can use the same pieces in different ways over and over and it doesn’t get boring!

You can find Jerald M. Simon and more information on his music on Facebook, YouTube and his Website. You will want to stay in the loop because Jerald has some new books coming out soon!

Now the really FUN part! Jerald has graciously offered 5 readers a chance to win an Cool Kids e-book (pdf) of their choice AND 1 reader the chance to win the entire Cool Songs for Cool Kids series (4 books; Primer-Level 3)! How cool is that?!

All you have to do is comment below under this post which volume you think you would like to win and why and then like FPSResources on Facebook!  Deadline to enter is by 10:00pm MST this Thursday, April 4th. (*Winner(s) MUST respond within 72 hours of announcement or another winner will be chosen*)  GIVEAWAY HAS EXPIRED

Have a Happy Easter, enjoy your weekend!

Disclaimer:  I received a free e-book copy of this series in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way. All opinions I have expressed are my own. 

MTNA Conference: Monday Session: Keep Your Mind on the Music: Performance Psychology for 6-12 year old Musicians

(Be sure to visit Music Matters Blog for the ChordPlay Showcase and the Keynote Speaker. Both were wonderful!)

After attending the ChordPlay showcase and listening to the entertaining keynote speaker, Rick Beyer, I attended “Keep Your Mind on the Music: Performance Psychology for 6-12 year old musicians” presented by Jyoti Hench


I will be sharing my notes from this presentation below. The biggest thing I got out of this presentation is the power of being positive not only as a teacher to your students (and I think this is really crucial), but for the students to understand that power as well.

 

Preparing students- Polish technical details, Discuss artistry and interpretation, Set memorization deadlines, Guide stage presence

*Address mental performance strategies

What is performance psychology? “A positive approach to studying human performance.”

A Positive Approach-

Before a performance:

I’ve done all the hard work already, I’m going to play really well today (vs. I know II’m going to mess up when I get on stage)

During:

Here comes the part I practiced so well. (vs. Here comes the hard part)

Positive but also honest! Needs to be true to be affective.

After:

My dynamics sounded great, I shaped my phrases great, etc… Reflect on performance on positive way. (vs. I made two mistakes)

Every time they perform give yourselves 3 small gifts (things they have done well in the performance.)

 

(Inner Game Books are great resources. MTNA Keynote Speakers are another great motivational resource.)

Is performance psychology only for the elite? (resources are usually geared towards adults)

“Young athlete are not miniature adults, they are children and they have the right to play as children” Smith and Smoll

Summary of Youth Sport Research

1. Overview of research

-Mastery: confidence in ability in order to complete task well

-Fun: If it’s not fun they won’t want to do it.

-Self Esteem: Every aspect of performing (anxiety, experiences, quality) ties back to self esteem. We need to boost the self esteem we are not helping them succeed as performers

-Mental Skills: Positive attitude, relaxation, imagery, concentration (focus)

Mental Skills

1-Positive attitude- pre-requisite; fundamental; positive living skills. “Teaching positive perspectives may have the additional advantage of freeing children to feel more relaxed.” St. Denis and Orlick, Positive Perspectives

Use of Affirmations- Positive declarations about one’s self or about one’s performance of an activity. If repealed often enough in a relaxed state- can help build positive attitudes and a sense of self worth (star and starr)

“I am really god at trying what my teacher tells me to do…” (Values effort)

Should be concrete and specific.

Affirmation for a specific performance (should happen in every lesson/practice session)

Positive post performance reflection. (I really play my dynamics well, I kept a steady tempo- versus I did not rush..)

On the assignment sheet create a starter affirmation sentence where they finish the sentence. (Takes time, students will ignore it at first- so come up with something together to get it started)

Highlighter cards- One highlight during your lesson today was…. Looking for good things in each lesson. Give to student at the end of the lesson. (Note to self: This would be great to share to parents when reconciling as well)

2-Relaxation

2nd grade children learned to lower their own heart rates.

Children can in fact learn tension/stress control within 6 weeks (4th grade study)

-regulate breathing (avoid breath holding)

-being mindful of one’s own breaths

-deep breathing

Swimmer breathing activity- choreographing his/her breaths with music. Breath in for a measure, out for one. Reverse it, then add measures, etc…

When focused on breathing it’s harder for your mind to wander off.

3-Imagery- Picture anything in our head.

-Relaxation and imagery together have been shown to improve performance quality n 7-12 year old athletes.

-Pictures- real or imagined helped 2nd grade students memorize information.

-Musical storytelling- tell a story for their piece. Not just story but create pictures.

-Create a comic strip story board for the piece. Visual-Can put their comic strip up on the piano. Now take it away can you picture what it likes? Aural- can you imagine what it sounds like Physical/Kinesthetic- what would it feel like?

-Engaging in mental practice.

Vividness- the more it is vivid the more effective. (ie: color in the pictures in the comics)

4-Concentration/Focus- most important skill in performance (Orlick)

Usually when you slip up it’s because of a concentration lapse.

What should they think about? (how to focus)- make a list of good things to focus on while performing. 1. Must be positive 2. Music related

“Let’s Make a List”

-the sound of the melody

-words to the music

-feel of my fingertips on the keys

-sound of dynamics-

-story I created for the piece.

“Concentration Station” activity-

Student chooses one item from list; Succeed at focusing on that item, no matter how short the section; Be mindful of whether you focused completely.

More elaborate application-

Create performance strategy

ie: A section- fingertips; Plan ahead and shift focus for B section- legato/breathing

Back to A, coda

Verbal cue words can help in performance.

When you give your mind a task to focus on it’s hard to wander.

Tech Tuesday: Educents

Educents logo

Just thought I would give a reminder since the deadline is only a week away… If you register now (free) with Educents before their launch date (April 2nd), you can receive $10.00 off your first purchase. Here is the link: Educents

Educents is similar to Groupon, Living Social etc. but focuses on educational products. “A daily deals site featuring the latest educational products at 30-90% off!” So what are you waiting for? It’s free AND you may find some good discounts.

 

MTNA Conference: Sunday Afternoon Session; Dyslexia: Identifying the invisible and how teachers can help

Dyslexia

Though I don’t have any current students (that I know of) with Dyslexia, I thought this would be an informative presentation to attend. Lynn Godfriaux Maloy was our presenter for this session. Lynn herself has dyslexia.

She started out by explaining that students with dyslexia can read but it just takes it longer. It’s NOT low intelligence. They typically do better with oral instruction.

Students with dyslexia have difficulties with note and keyboard location, phonetic sounds, may include problems in score reading, and reduced music reading experience, notation patterns, repertoire. Experts don’t know what causes dyslexia. There are no blood tests, treatment, rehabilitation.

Dyslexia includes symptoms besides reading impairment such as Dysgraphia, Dysphasia, Fine coordination, ADHD and so on. The neural activity is in front of the brain, with increased activity in the right hemisphere. (Non-Dyslexia is in front and back of brain, increased activity in left hemisphere.)

Dyslexia brain

There are a lot of myths with dyslexia. You can read about those myths in her handout: Dyslexia- identifying the invisible, and how teachers can help-1. The first one that she mentioned though surprised me because when I think of dyslexia this is exactly what I think of. Myth: Dyslexia is when people reverse letters. Truth: Some dyslexic readers reverse letters, but so do many inexperienced non-dyslexic readers. This is not a typical symptom.

You will find that students will actually have good progress in their lessons usually during primer and early levels but then it changes and it seems like they go backwards. They prefer to play by memory and their practice slacks off.

Sometimes dyslexia can be confused with vision issues or visa versa. Things to watch for would be focusing, eye tracking and looking ahead. Reading issues may be vision related rather than a reading issue. There had not been a correlation between an eye issue and dyslexia.

With this challenge there are also many gifts- Students with dyslexia are highly aware, they think in 3 dimensional,  have vivid imaginations; thought is a reality. They have higher then normal intelligence and extraordinary abilities. Fine motor facilitates cross brain training. These wiring differences often lead to special strengths then more then make up for the challenges. When teaching staff reading here are some things to keep in mind as far as approach goes…

  1. Intervallic (recognizing difference between line and space- can’t always recognize)
  2. Acronym means rote memory- hard (4-5 different things to remember)
  3. Suzuki (works well- but reading usually introduces late and gets ignored)

Circle of 5th’s is hard because of interval relationships.

Solfege (looks like dew, ree,me fay, soul, law, tye, dew)

Can see intervals, keys etc on keyboard but not on sheet music.

For hints on simplifying reading, key signatures etc… see the handout: Dyslexia- identifying the invisible, and how teachers can help-1.

Because it’s not a diagnostic category in the special ed laws, many school professionals will say it doesn’t exist. (AWFUL!!!) While most dyslexia is a life long condition, it can be corrected ONLY if caught early enough and only in some cases. In order to get federal funding you have to concentrate on what they can’t do…

Some popular questions and the answers…

1.How do I approach parent if I suspect?

*Ask notice any reading issues at school?

*Work with student but be more forgiving..

2. How to tell whether a student is?

*Takes a period of time.

*Student more then willing to play by memory but not read.

*Student not playing at all.

3. Should I pursue a diagnosis if I suspect my child?

*Depends on severity and outside help. Can work with your child on your own if able. (Very expensive to go through diagnoses. School doesn’t like to diagnose for this reason- will refer you to a psychologist for you to spend $$)

Other question that were asked:

-Practicing tips? Rote, listen to recordings following with the score, YouTube, etc.

-Confusing hands? Play both hands even if one clef

-Would it help if score was larger? For moderate tempo it could help. But faster tempos not too much.

-Confusing line and space- teach only spaces, show notes on keyboard.

Think outside the box (may need to break theory ‘rules’)

Students with dyslexia are typically kinesthetic learners. Manipulative’s help. Hands on is good.

These are children who have been reading for awhile and are getting into more advanced pieces and things bottom out and get really difficult.

Thanks Lynn for an informative presentation on dyslexia!

MTNA Conference: Pedagogy Saturday; Maximize Your Value, Power of Popular Music

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I had the pleasure of attending Kristin Yost’s presentation, which was my last class on Pedagogy Saturday.  Kristin is the executive director for Centre for Musical Minds, LLC.

Kristin begins by asking the question, “If Bach and Beethoven were alive today do you honestly think they would be teaching minuets that they composed 300 years ago?” The answer is of course, “No! They would be teaching music that is relevant today.”

What makes this question so interesting is if this is the case, why do a lot of teachers not teach pop music in their studio? Not only do they not teach it, but they have no interest in teaching it. While learning Bach and Beethoven certainly has it’s place, students typically want to learn to play piano because they want to play pieces they can share with their friends and have fun. A couple days ago, I was tagging along with my husband and son who were doing a video shoot of the high school musical later that evening. While they were setting things up, I heard the piano playing and kids singing along. Do you know what it was they were playing/singing? A student playing basic chord changes from a pop song on the radio. And they were having a lot of fun!

Kristin’s school has what they call ‘Pop Showcase’ every year. What is unique about the pop showcase is students are jamming along with a live drum, bass and guitar accompaniment. There are no rehearsals with the band, so it is totally live jamming. Kristin will send home rhythm tracks with students about 3 weeks prior so they have the opportunity to practice as if they were practicing with the band.

While they have many performances throughout the day, every time the performances are different and new because each child is different and brought something different with a piece. They put their own spin on things. She goes on and says that whether we do a pop showcase or not, the focus should be the love of music. The tool to get there doesn’t matter. Musicianship skills are applied to their activities later in life.

“When you can speak the language of today, your studio’s will be full. If we have been teaching this way the last 50 years, I don’t think our symphonies would be bankrupt right now.”

When teaching Pop pieces, they can simply be lead sheets student created. Kristin she doesn’t get bogged down by notating rhythms, chords, and so on.  She has even created bridges, areas for improv etc… Knowing and reading go hand in hand. Using ear helps with difficult rhythm and notation.

One thing to keep in mind and what Kristin says is the key to a successful pop recital is to not go for cheap musicians. (She paid $75 each musician each performance- she had 5 performances, 3 musicians. Steal!) Musician’s will typically play by ear and follow students. You want to make sure they are experienced in this. There will be expenses, band, facilities, etc… Be sure to charge for the event.

A little side note on charging for events… I know some teachers are wary charging for the recitals. But if you only knew how much parents pay for other recitals. I know with dance, parents have to pay tickets per person, so it’s not just a recital fee. Then on top of that they have to pay for the costumes and anything else that comes along with the performance. So don’t be afraid to charge a fee, or even for tickets. You have your expenses and they should not be a burden on you. This is a great opportunity you are providing in your studio and if it’s a fun and fulfilling event, they will have no problem in paying.

Kristin shared a checklist for holding a pop recital-

-Hire Professional musicians

-Find a space with nice piano

-Choose age level appropriate music with strong rhythm

-Work on form with students to create their own lead sheets (practical theory)

-Practice tracks using GarageBand or keyboard rhythm accessibility; 3 weeks prior to performance, if not before.

-Work on feeling the beat, rather then counting.Great ear training opportunity. Students need to practice counting off.

-Average cost with hall rental,musicians, should be approximately $15-20 per students.Well worth it!

Music Ideas/Resources-

musicnotes.com

(Another couple resources that would be good is Playground Sessions and an app called NoteStar by Yamaha)

Beginning students: Faber popular books are great

-Martha Mier, William Gillock,Eric Baumgartner, HL Current Hits etc… Anything with a beat…

-5th’s and Octaves in LH will make any pop song sound good.

-“Count off’s starts the motor running” (Bradley Sowash)

-Extraordinary results with every student. Think differently…

-Find the strength of the student go with the strength and expand…

-Lots of rhythm tracks.

-I Reel B (backing tracks with chord changes)

In my studio I hold what I call Keyboard Festival every year. It’s one of my students favorite events as they play along with midi accompaniment, but I really love this idea of doing a Pop Showcase with a live band. I was talking with a piano teacher friend of mine and saying to really make this happen for my students, I would need to collaborate with other teachers just for the financial end of things. My studio alone wouldn’t be able to front the costs for a band and the facility even with charging a fee (which I definitely would do). It is definitely something I would love to do and hope that it can happen soon!

Whether or not you hold a Pop Showcase in your studio, I hope this has encouraged you to include pop music in your students repertoire. I know for my own students they love it when they can play pieces their friends recognize and can sing or jam along with. It makes them feel so good and I think they stay in lessons longer because they are learning pieces that are relevant to them.

Congratulations- We have a winner for the Moosic Studio app!

Congratulations to Bernice Tamkin! Bernice, message me on Facebook through the FPSResources page to get your free download code. (Looks like it’s time to jump in with both feet!) Enjoy the Moosic Studio app!

Don’t forget! Moosic Studio is on sale for $34.99 right now until Sunday night, then it goes back up to $39.99. A few weeks later, once the invoicing is included in the next update it will go up another $10-20! So don’t wait!

Thank you Carlos with Moosic Studio for the giveaway!