Music Advocacy Letters
Newsletters to send to parents/teachers/students
The following was taken from the Music Parents Guide.
As our school year winds down, I would like to congratulate you on completing the first year of your child’s instrumental music study! It’s amazing to think that only a few months ago, your child chose an instrument that “spoke to” them, and opened the case for the first time. We take this time to celebrate not only the hard work of your children, but also the mindsets that they have developed through their successes and their failures throughout their musical journey thus far.
It’s a fact that the majority of people who are literate in music learn it in a school setting, and we are extremely fortunate to provide music instruction through our school curricula. If students were not part of our school music program, there is very little chance they would seek to develop their musical skills outside the school setting — and that would be detrimental to their human growth.
As lucky as your child is to have had musical instrument instruction in school this year, let’s be clear about their time on task: If your child attended every weekly small group lesson for the entire year, they only received somewhere in the range of 14 total hours of instruction. Even though we have accomplished so much with so little time (can you believe that your child could not make a sound on their instrument a few months ago, and now we are playing full concerts!?), it’s too early for your child (and you) to decide to discontinue playing with such few hours on task under their belt.
It is crucial that you are aware of the positive benefits of learning to play a musical instrument — and one year of study is certainly not enough to gain all of them. You see, being a musician trains your child’s mind for success in every aspect of their life. The skills your child will learn over the next few years through music are transferable to every academic subject. Only through playing a musical instrument will your child learn the following:
Regardless of anything else, do not let anyone sacrifice music for the sake of high-stakes standardized tests. The numbers that make school districts look good do not coincide with what is best for your child’s brain, emotional well-being, and human development. Your family’s commitment to lifelong learning is more important than any test, so we need you to continue to participate in and advocate for our music programs.
Very few of us get to realize our own potential, so it is important that you have not mistaken early difficulties in your child’s music instruction for inherent limits. Your child deserves to explore their musical education and the wonderful benefits that come with it for their entire school life, if not beyond. It’s with this in mind that we can’t wait to see your child in band/orchestra next year.
As we near towards the end of the year, it is good to reflect on all the incredible music we experienced! Students performed at the Winter and Spring Concerts, listened to a performance by Jazz at Lincoln Center, and shared their music with partners from Carnegie Hall Ensemble Connect (more on that next year)! It has been filled with great musical experiences and I hope your students enjoyed them all.
In case you are wondering whether your students should continue with music, here are some interesting facts about the benefits of music in the long term:
I hope you see the importance of music in your child’s education. I hop your students continue to learn the valuable skills needed for success in life while in the band classroom. If you have any questions or concerns about being in the band program next year, feel free to contact me
What a wonderful performance from the Instrumental Music students last Thursday! All the hard work, long practices, and attention to detail paid off and the student musicians improved immensely. A big thank you goes out to all the parents for keeping your students dedicated and on-time for rehearsals and performances. It was an incredible experience for our musicians, many of whom were playing multiple instruments and showcasing new talents!
For parents, teachers, and student peers to be able to see confidence shining through in a child who may not have been confident previously is simply amazing. And, for those children who are already confident enough to stand up and speak, performing can instill skills that they will continue to use into adulthood.
Some of the benefits of performing include:
We hope you enjoyed seeing the Spring Concert and if you did not attend, there will be plenty of opportunities to see the Instrumental Music students perform. If your student is inspired to join the performing ensemble for next year, have them see me.
The Instrumental Music students and the MS 217Q Arts Department are pleased to present their Spring Arts Festival on at 6:00pm in the Auditorium. Our students have been working hard to prepare this program for your entertainment and enjoyment. I know the students will give their best efforts as performers and hope that you, as audience members, will help provide the students with a true concert atmosphere.
In order to heighten the experience for you as a listener and for the students as performers, I would like to remind you of the following points of concert etiquette:
After the Concert:
Thank you for your support of the Instrumental Music program and the Arts Department. See you on Thursday!
The Math State Test is only a week away! We know music spurs brain development, increases test scores, and improves social emotional skills. Math is also another subject that is linked to music. Famous mathematician, Albert Einstein stated, “If ... I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.” In music, we start with simple math: counting beats by nodding our head or figuring out the numerical value of how long to hold a half note (2 beats), and then we move on to the fractional relationship of notes and their frequency. For instance:
“It was observed that when a frequency is multiplied by 2, the note stays the same. For example, the A (440 Hz) multiplied by 2 = 880 Hz is also an A, but just one octave above. If the goal was to lower one octave, it would be enough just dividing by 2. We can conclude then, that a note and its respective note have a relation of ½.
Let’s return to Ancient Greece. There was a man called Pythagoras that made really important discoveries to Mathematics (and music). Related to the math above, he discovered “playing” with a stretched string. Imagine a stretched string tied in its extremities. When we touch this string, it vibrates (look the drawing below):
Pythagoras decided to divide this string in two parts and touched each extremity again. The sound that was produced was the same, but higher (because it was the same note one octave above):
Pythagoras didn’t stop there. He decided to experience how it would be the sound if the string was divided in 3 parts:
He noticed that a new sound appeared; different from the previous one. This time, it wasn’t the same note one octave above, but a different note, that was supposed to receive another name. This sound, besides being different, worked well with the previous one, creating a pleasant harmony to the ear, because these divisions showed here have Mathematics relations 1/2 and 2/3 (our brain likes well defined logic relations).
Thus, he continued doing subdivisions and combining the sounds mathematically creating scales that, later, stimulated the creation of musical instruments that could play this scales. The tritone interval, for example, was obtained in a relation 32/45, a complex and inaccurate relation, factor that makes our brain to consider this sound unstable and tense. In the course of time, the notes were receiving the names we know today.”
There is much more to music than just pretty sounds- there are deep mathematical processes happening when we listen or play music. And luckily, your student is experiencing this multiple times a week. For more interesting music and math descriptions, this website was the reference for this newsletter.
Testing time is upon us! In the coming weeks, students will take the New York State Math and ELA tests. This is great news for our music students- as studies have shown that schools with music programs have higher standardized test scores:
“Students in high-quality school music programs score higher on standardized tests compared to students in schools with deficient music education programs, regardless of the socioeconomic level of the school or school district. Students in top-quality music programs scored 22% better in English and 20% better in math than students in deficient music programs. Students in top-quality instrumental programs scored 19% higher in English than students in schools without a music program. Students in top quality instrumental programs scored 17% higher in math than children in schools without a music program.”
Luckily, our students are getting a top-quality music education and I’m sure their test scores will reflect that.
But if you are still anxious about the test, studies have also shown that listening to one particular piece reduces anxiety by 65%. The Founder of the British Academy of Sound Therapy, Lyz Cooper, stated: "The sound works from the point of view of sustained tones, which really help a person feel safe." The tempo (speed of the song) starts at 60 beats per minute and gradually decreases to 50 beats per minute. Take a listen and see if it reduces any testing anxiety:
Weightless by Marconi Union
Good luck to all students testing this week and remember that your musical training has prepared you for intense moments of focus, unflailing determination, and calm in the face of pressure.
When I was in college (a long long time ago), I practiced 3 hours a day. That did not include my performance classes and lessons and rehearsals. During the course of a day, I would play my instrument for about 8 hours total. And that was nothing compared to my friends who played violin, viola, or cello (brass instruments require more rest than strings).
I absolutely do not expect your student to practice that much. Many beginning musicians believe that spending a lot of time practicing will make you better, but that is a common misconception. What matters is not how long you practice, but how focused you are during that time. Virtuosic violinist, composer, and conductor Leopold Auer said of practice: “Practice with your fingers and you need all day. Practice with your mind and you will do as much in 1 1/2 hours.” Famous violinist Jascha Heifetz also indicated that he never believed in practicing too much, and that excessive practice is “just as bad as practicing too little!”
In the book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell cites research that states spending 10 years or 10,000 hours of deliberate practice on anything will make you an expert. Some people say that it takes musicians 25 years, instead of 10. But the important thing to note is not the time it takes, but rather the type of practice it requires: focused, deliberate practice. The following is taken from a blog post about mindful practice:
So what does deliberate, or mindful, practice look like? Deliberate practice is highly structured, or for lack of a better word, scientific. Instead of mindless trial and error, it is an active and thoughtful process of experimentation with clear goals and hypotheses. Thinking of your glows and grows and improving each time you work on something. The practice room should be your laboratory where you experiment and try new things, to make your music even better. Deliberate practice is often slow and quiet, involving repetition of small and very specific sections of your music instead of just playing through (e.g. working on just the opening note of your solo to make sure that it “speaks” exactly the way you want, instead of playing the entire opening phrase).
Deliberate practice involves monitoring one’s performance (in real-time, but also via recordings), continually looking for new ways to improve. This means really listening to what happens, so that you can tell yourself exactly what went wrong. For instance, was the first note note sharp? Flat? Too loud? Too soft? Too harsh? Too short? Too long?
Let’s say that the note was too sharp and too long with not enough of an attack to begin the note. Well, how sharp was it? A little? A lot? How much longer was the note than you wanted it to be? How much more of an attack did you want?
Ok, the note was a little sharp, just a hair too long, and required a much clearer attack in order to be consistent with the marked articulation and dynamics. So, why was the note sharp? What did you do? What do you need to do to make sure the note is perfectly in tune every time? How do you ensure that the length is just as you want it to be, and how do you get a consistently clean and clear attack to begin the note so it begins in the right character?
Now, let’s imagine you recorded all of this and could listen to how this last attempt sounded. Does that combination of ingredients give you the desired result? In other words, does that combination of ingredients convey the mood or character you want to communicate to the listener as effectively as you thought it would?
Few musicians take the time to stop, analyze what went wrong, why it happened, and how they can correct the error permanently.
Think about practicing as a 6 step process:
By spending your time implementing focused, deliberate practice, you will start seeing immense progress in your playing in less time. After all, who wants to spend all day practicing your instrument? Get in, get stuff done, and get out!
For those of you who are worried about your student’s involvement in music, here is some valuable information about it’s benefits and impact on student growth:
Often young people, and even parents, fear the added workload of the middle school curriculum and assume they will not have time to participate in the music program. That is simply not true. Ironically, it is often the continuation of musical studies that serves as the transitional key to success. Being a member of a music ensemble ensures instant acceptance in a respected organization at the onset of secondary education. A group of supporting friends is already established with a firm sense of "belonging."
Additionally, the performance and travel opportunities available to performing ensembles are limitless! The decision to join a band or choir will have a HUGE impact on your child’s potential and opportunities, from performances for large audiences, travel and trips, as well as college scholarship opportunities. Ongoing research continues to offer dramatic statistics concerning young people who participate in their school music programs. In the 1997 publication, Profiles of SAT and Achievement Test Takers, (from The College Board), it was discovered that, "Students with course work experience in music performance scored 89 points higher on the SAT tests than students with no course work in the arts." This kind of information clearly and positively marks the future of our young musicians.
As a parent, you need to know that:
* Research shows that when music is included in a student's daily learning that reading, writing and math scores improve.
* Participation in music can help a student’s admission into college.
* There is a high correlation between positive self-perception, high cognitive competence scores, healthy self-esteem, total interest in school activities and the study of music.
* College admission officers sometimes give special consideration to students who are part of their high school music programs.
* The longer an individual studies music, the higher his/her scores tend to be on both the verbal and math portions of the SAT examination.
* Employers often seek out students who continue as part of their high school music program because of the student's ability to solve problems and work well with all kinds of people.
Your child deserves the best as they enter the secondary education culture. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or concerns. I join you in your commitment to the best education possible for your child.
Happy Valentine’s Day week, I love that you share your valuable time with me and these newsletters! I just emailed to say I love you and to share interesting information on music and how they play a role in our emotions.
“If music be the food of love, play on!”
William Shakespeare knew that music pulls our emotions in different ways. Music can evoke a range of emotions from sad, nostalgic, and tense, to happy, relaxed, calm, and joyous. And now, science has validated that claim. Scientists concluded that listening to music releases a mood-enhancing chemical in our brain. When listening to music, our brain starts to anticipate what’s coming up and more often than not, this anticipation is rewarded. When we anticipate music our brain starts to release dopamine – the chemical involved in motivation and reward. This same process is linked to chills that some people feel when listening to a particular song. Dopamine is the same chemical that “increases in response to other stimuli such as food and money.” The study found that dopamine levels were 9% higher when volunteers were listening to music they enjoy. Dr. Vicky Williamson from Goldsmiths College, University of London, stated "this… shows that music is inextricably linked with our deepest reward systems." Listening to music also triggers other emotions as it activates the amygdala. The amygdala has three layers of neurons and is the center of much of the brain activity related to emotions. Physical reactions to specific types of music create a feedback loop and spreads strong emotions. An example is when happy music triggers the muscles in the jaw with increased electrical activity and an increase in breathing. Sad music stimulates the muscles surrounding the eyes. The brain takes in musical information and connects it to the many parts of our brain associated with emotions. So that means music definitely IS the food of love!
Learning an instrument is difficult- a lot of students quit before they even begin. Music is not an innate talent. Hard work and focus beats out “talent” and “musical genes” in all things, including music. We want our students to learn the value of hard work and, particularly, grit. The following is taken from an article on The Music Parent’s Guide and explains how music instruction teaches students grit:
“What is grit?
Grit is the result of struggle, risk-taking, determination, embracing failure, working relentlessly toward a goal, and perseverance to accomplish tough tasks. Make no mistake about it: Like talent, grit can be learned and cultivated. In my opinion, developing grit should be one of the core goals of raising and educating our children, and sadly is missing from our test-rich school culture these days.
Failure in a safe environment is how our children learn. Considering that failing is the worst thing that can happen in school (think red pens, slash marks, and standardized test scores), we need music instruction now more than ever to help our children cultivate grit throughout their K-12 education.
Here are four ways students learn grit through music — perhaps more than any other subject in school:
It takes guts to perform. Once the honeymoon is over with choosing an instrument or singing in choir, students must engage in performing, both alone and in an ensemble. And it takes some guts to “put oneself out there” for all to hear — blemishes and all — even if things aren’t going to go that well. It’s up to parents and teachers to use performance as a future motivator in order to increase the opportunities for students to build up their grit. Think of how great you would feel knowing that your child is building confidence for the tough road ahead that we call life.
With the right help from adults, children learn resilience through music study. Playing a musical instrument does not yield a lot of immediate gratification — at first. This is a new concept to our ever-connected young generation, yet it’s more crucial now than ever before that we create a culture in our schools that allows our students to embrace failure and frustration in a safe environment. Parents’ whose first instinct is to protect their child from embarrassment or setback must develop grit of their own and remember the struggles they had that led them to their successes. Teachers must constantly reinforce the concept of resilience and give students the tools to succeed as the result of some sweat equity on their part.
Initiative and perseverance are traits we want all our children to learn. Learning a musical craft helps children learn to take initiative. We are all trying to educate future leaders, and taking initiative is one of the primary determinants of leadership.
Once children begin their musical journey, they must stay focused on it. It’s this perseverance that is at the core of cultivating grit. We see it all the time: someone has a setback and overcomes it only to be stronger moving forward -- as long as they don’t quit.”
As shown above, grit is about perserverance despite adversity. In the words of, my favorite person ever, Will Smith- we must fail early, fail often, and fail forward. And your students are learning that every day in music class.