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How Music Strengthens Community

Just about anyone who has ever listened to a musical group, whether it is an orchestra, choir, rap group, rock band, or jazz group can understand that music involving several entities requires a certain cohesiveness to succeed. This concept is not, by any means, a new one. The actual origins of “music” as we know it is far from settled, whether it began with human voices or the earlies known musical instruments. Whatever its origins, there is considerable science to show the social connections and benefits that music has provided, and still provides, to human kind. Music Strengthens every community.

  • Neuro-chemicals in the brain – Studies have also shown that singing together and listening to music has shown to directly impact neuro-chemicals in the brain that play a role in closeness and connection. This reactivity to music promotes the release of endorphins and dopamine in the brain, which makes us feel good and connect with others. The rhythm of music seems to be the factor that helps a group synch together and coordinate voices and body movements, increasing positive associations with and loyalty to ingroup members.
  • Music as a catalyst for social awareness and change – Throughout history, music has served to send a message that mere words cannot alone communicate. Some were songs of social unrest and calls to action. While Stephen Stills originally wrote the song For What Its Worth because of the sunset strip curfew riots of 1966, it quickly became an anti-war anthem that inspired and gave voice to a generational movement. Many other musical events and songs were designed to create awareness and provoke positive action in global society. Whether it be USA for Africa, Live Aid, or Farm Aid, these musical events brought many different communities, societies, and cultures together for a common cause.

The power of music has been demonstrated and acknowledged throughout history. Plato said “Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.” It has helped families bond and tribes tell their history, given a voice to those who didn’t have a seat at the table, and created human solidarity across borders and oceans. It is no wonder then, why it plays such an important role in our society, and that we would want to teach music to our children at the earliest age.

The Science Behind the Benefits of Childhood Piano Lessons

Piano teachers and children’s music educators don’t need to be reminded of how beneficial piano lessons are for childhood development. Many of the benefits can be easily seen in the classroom, from increased self-esteem to enhanced social skills. Researchers have long studied the effect of piano lessons on childhood development, finding many cognitive benefits that may not be so obvious to the occasional observer. Here are three of the science backed benefits of learning piano in childhood.

  1. The Mozart Effect on Spatial Reasoning – In a controversial 1993 study, a researcher named FH Rauscher claimed that after listening to two Mozart piano sonatas for 10 minutes, subjects exhibited improved spatial reasoning skills (such as paper folding and cutting procedures, or stacking blocks in a predetermined sequence).  This effect, dubbed the Mozart Effect, opened the door to a multitude of cognitive studies on various subjects including adult humans and rats. Many of these experiments showed the increased spatial reasoning for only a short duration. However, in 1999 the long-terms effects were studied in three to four year old pre-school children who were given keyboard music lessons for six months. When subjected to spatial temporal reasoning tests afterward, the children showed thirty percent better performance than children who had not had piano training.       
  • Music Lessons Increase IQ and Executive Function – In a research article published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, three researchers studied one hundred and forty-seven primary school children with an average age of 6.5 years. They were divided into three groups – one music intervention groups, one active visual arts group, and a no arts control group. The researchers found that in the musical intervention group, children not only performed better in visual spatial memory tasks, but also showed increased testing scores on inhibition, planning, and verbal intelligence. The researchers’ conclusion was that the study indicated a positive effect of long-term music education on cognitive abilities. Through magnetic resonance imaging and neuropsychological testing, another research project showed higher activation of areas of the brain typically associated with Executive Functioning, such as the prefrontal cortex, in child musicians. They attribute it to the extended attention, working memory, and inhibition of playing piano or singing. 
  • Piano Lessons Build and Enhance Language Skills – Two researchers from MITs McGovern Institute for Brain Research published a paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that concluded that early exposure to piano practice enhances the processing of sounds in language. As kids ears become trained to distinguish between different tones from the hundreds of internal strings of a piano, they also get better at discriminating subtle differences between spoken words. For the study, seventy-four Mandarin-Speaking kindergarteners were divided into three groups – one that took 45-minute piano lessons every week, the second had reading instruction for the same duration, and the third had neither. After six months, the researchers found that children who took the piano lessons were specifically better at spoken words that differentiated by only one consonant than the other two groups. Consonants require a bit more precision to distinguish than vowels, especially in Mandarin speakers where the language relies heavily on differences in tone. The results of this study were so remarkable that the school in Beijing where the research was conducted continued to offer piano lessons to students after the experiment ended.

Teachers of early childhood music education have always understood the benefits that piano lessons provide to healthy child development. And through years of structured research and publication, scientists have shown substantial evidence that music education and piano lessons enhance spatial reasoning, executive function, IQ, and language skills in children.

Marketing for Summer Music Camps and Classes

With the summer quickly approaching and Covid guidelines continuing to relax for in-person instruction, parents returning to work are going to be looking for opportunities for their children while school is out. Although the official first day of Summer is not until June 20th, children’s music studio owners and teachers can get the jump on filling their summer camp and class rosters early with some simple, yet effective marketing approaches they can start on right away:   

Marketing for Summer Music Camp and Class Registration

  • The Low Hanging Fruit of Existing Customers – While the old adage that “it takes five times the expense to gain a new customer than to retain an old one” varies from business to business, the effort and expense that it requires to find a new customer is considerable compared to one you currently retain. The key to taking advantage of the “low hanging fruit” that current students and families present is through consistent and frequent communication.
  • Customer Communication is the Key – Because you have provided services to existing customers in the past, you most likely have their preferred method for being reached. Furthermore, because customers voluntarily purchased from you in the past, they have in effect granted you permission to contact them again. Often called permission marketing, this concept is valuable in how your communication is recognized. It is familiar, and therefore cuts through the bombardment of marketing messages we all receive on a daily basis. Whether its by email, snail mail, text, or phone call, your communication has a much better chance of reaching a customer who recognizes you. 
  • Categorize Your Audience to Customize Messaging – The more a marketing message or offer can be customized to its particular audience, the more likely that audience is going to respond. This is most easily applied to current customers. Your correspondence with them should have a much different, more familiar feel than if you were reaching out to new prospects. Using information that you know about that audience provides a more personalized message. For example, using the name of the music student or their last completed music class lets recipients feel special. A message to a new potential customer may be more about educating them on your music studio or the benefits of early childhood music education. The more you can categorize your target audience into segments, the more you can customize the message or offer.
Musikgarten Summer Marketing
  • Offer Incentives for Music Camp Registrations – With so much already on their plates, and so many program options for parents during the summer, offering an attractive incentive is often what gets them over the finish line to make the purchase. Early bird registration is a good way to increase response early in the process, even if you don’t want to discount your price. Simply using language to show urgency such as “availability is limited and on a first come, first serve basis’” or “registration is beginning to fill up,” increases action. FOMO, or fear of missing out, is a powerful motivation. Incentives can also be used to get new music students through tactics such as referral or buddy programs. Value provided to existing customers for referring a new student, whether it’s through discounted pricing or a free camp T-shirt, will help to gain new registrations. Children love to enjoy music camp along with a friend!  
  • Reach Out in Different Ways – If there was a single, silver bullet that marketers could use to get loads of new customers, the cat would have been out of the bag a long time ago. The key with most marketing campaigns is to “rinse and repeat.” This means presenting the offer to a target audience multiple times so that they recognize and/or remember it. Frequency, or number of times a marketing message is presented to the same audience, is important for retention of the message and offer. In addition to repeating a message through the same marketing channels, another good way to gain more frequency is through cross-marketing, where the same message is presented to the same audience, but through different ways. For example, you may post a referral program on social media, and also send it out through an email blast. In addition to providing more frequency, one method may be more effective in reaching a particular prospect than another.  

Summertime presents great opportunities for children’s music studios to provide kids with a highly enjoyable and entertaining activity while giving parents a much-deserved break. Savvy studio owners and teachers know to start early by offering opportunities to register. Current or past customers are the low hanging fruit to reach out to first, because they are already familiar with your business. Social circles of those audiences can then be expanded through targeted incentives through messaging frequency within the same and across different marketing channels.

Earth Day Helps Teach Music to Children

Thursday, April 22 marks the 51st year that Earth Day has been celebrated around the globe to demonstrate support for environmental protection. As Spring brings warmer temperatures, Earth Day creates a good opportunity to use nature as a backdrop for teaching children’s music classes.

From Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee to Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World, throughout time humans have been celebrating nature with music. Some of the earliest recorded songs  are a tribute to seasons and weather, not to mention traditional folk and tribal songs that have been sung since the earliest languages. Today, humans continue to celebrate nature through music, and Earth Day presents a good opportunity for teachers of children’s music programs to weave nature into their curriculum:

Ideas for Using Nature to Teach Children Music

  • Teach Music Classes Outdoors – As we receive guidelines for safely returning to the classroom, there are many outdoor options for resuming in-person music instruction. Children, just as the rest of us, are looking for excuses to get outside and play!
  • Listen to the Music of Nature – Whether using actual sounds outdoors or recordings, getting children to quietly listen to sounds of nature will not only give them an appreciation for the environment, but also teach them how to be still and pay better attention. It may be birdsongs, the wind through the leaves, or a babbling brook that will help train them to concentrate on an isolated sound.
  • Imitate Nature, in Both Movement and Music – Children love to imitate things in nature, especially animals. They will get great enjoyment out of hopping and croaking like a frog, or flapping and clucking like a chicken. Teach rhythm and time through a fun activity by asking them to do this while music plays.
Exploring the Meadow in Music Makers: at Home in the World class.
Exploring the Meadow in Music Makers: at Home in the World class.

 What Earth Day Can Teach Children About Music

Everyone can agree that being good stewards of our environment is important for the long-term health and well-being of humankind. With all these fun activities that teach children about how nature and music go hand in hand, consider mentioning that nature is not something that should be taken for granted. Empower music students with simple suggestions on how they may help make a difference in taking care of our environment, such as recycling and throwing trash away properly.

In Memory of Hermann Heyge

Hermann Karl Friedrich Heyge

November 26, 1935, Ilmenau – February 4, 2021, Weimar

“The hour of departure has arrived and we go our ways; I to die, and you to live.” (Socrates)

The Musikgarten family wishes to extend its deepest sympathy to Lorna Heyge on the passing of her beloved husband Hermann Heyge at their home in Weimar, Germany.

Hermann was a precious soul with a funny, quick wit. All who were fortunate to meet Hermann knew him as someone who was always open to a good conversation and willing to go out of his way to make you comfortable.  An engineer by trade, he loved music, was an avid cyclist and always supported Lorna’s work.

Hermann and Lorna riding their tandem bike in June 2020 at Ludwigslust Castle

For the past 10 years, Hermann faced his illness of dementia with dignity and grace. At every stage he participated in as many ways and in everything possible.

If you have a memory of Hermann you would like to share with Lorna, please email to info@musikgarten.org and write Hermann Heyge in the subject line.

We will all fondly remember the “gentle man with the twinkle in his eye”.

Sincerely,

Jeff, Denise, Billy, Felicia, and Leah

Musikgarten

How Singing Helps to Learn Piano

Many of us have memories of piano teachers that used metronomes meticulously, or in some cases beat on the edge of the piano with a ruler as we struggled to play in time. While some of their methods may seem old-fashioned today, there was a very important underlying purpose of teaching time and meter. However, many early childhood music programs today understand that singing and movement not only naturally teaches beat, but also a myriad of other benefits to childhood development. In this second installment on our series about Music Literacy and the keyboard, we explore how for these and other reasons singing prepares children for learning to play keyboard.

Learning Piano Through Familiar Songs

Singing helps children to develop a repertoire of familiar songs. Children enjoy singing, and the more they sing the more they want to sing. As they progress to learning the keyboard, both the love of singing and having a good foundation of songs allows for greater success – because they want to play the song that is so familiar.

Singing Helps with Beat, Meter, Tonality, and Patterns

There is an abundance of research and publications that demonstrate how singing helps children with literacy, and that includes music literacy at the keyboard. There are several ways in which singing helps children be more successful learning the piano:

  • From the very earliest stages of childhood babies listen and often echo their caregivers’ song patterns, providing initial steps to music literacy.
  • Just as your old piano teacher may have done, tapping the beat while singing helps foster beat confidence.
  • Simple body movements, such as rocking from side to side helps establish a basis for understanding meter – like a human metronome!
  • Inviting children to sing the resting tone at the end of songs help to create an understanding of tonality.
Children enjoying a drumming and singing activity during a Musikgarten group piano class.
Children enjoying a drumming and singing activity during a Musikgarten group piano class.

Teaching Songs through Vocal Quality Nourishes Children’s Music Sensitivity

Children’s Music Teachers pay particular attention to their own voices in order to help children to develop a sensitivity for musical keys, tones, and pitches. Several ways that teachers ensure vocal quality are:

  • Singing mostly without music, so that the vocal quality is the focus
  • Singing clearly, but also lightly so as not to dominate the singing of the group
  • Listening to ones voice for proper intonation, so that the song model is tonality exact
  • Pitching songs in the range in which they are suggested
  • Modeling good singing posture, even when sitting

Singing with vocal quality offers an excellent opportunity for children’s music teachers to model expressive musicianship. Establishing a relationship between familiar songs that children can sing and what they will play on the keyboard allows them to echo the melodic and rhythmic patterns which make up each song. This allows them to eventually figure out how to play their favorite songs, which is well exemplified by the Montessori approach of self-learning. The child’s ear becomes the “self-correcting instrument,” guiding the hands what to play.

Singing familiar songs throughout early childhood helps to provide a strong foundation for the understanding of beat, meter, tones, and patterns. And with the five-finger position provided on a keyboard allows children to move more easily to tetrachord and scale positions. Because their playing originates from a familiarity of songs and singing,  as a result they more easily translate and play the songs in many keys.

Much of the content for this post was based on the introduction to Music Makers: at the Keyboard, childhood music curriculum developed by Musikgarten.

Interested in knowing more about Musikgarten’s Music Makers: at the Keyboard material? Click this link to attend a Free information session.

An Open Letter to Musikgarten Teachers

Down the river, O, down the river, O, down the river we go….

down the river, O, down the river, O,  down the Ohio….

When everything started to change this past March, I was teaching several children whose parents had paid for a full 45-week year of lessons. Like many teachers, I moved everything online, thinking it would be temporary. I recall setting up seven weeks of Zoom meetings for each class and every private student, and laughing with a co-worker that seven would be more than we would need.

The river is up and the channel is deep….

I was up for the challenge, operating in a sort of “emergency mode”, happy to apply what I knew about teaching online to my own studio, assuming it would be for a short time. The first few weeks were full of successes, and I participated in worldwide music education forums to address online teaching strategies and best practices during a pandemic. I was going full steam, with little let-down.

…the wind is steady and strong….

In May, we reached the end of the school year, and I noticed many of my colleagues “calling it a day” on their online teaching. Easy for them to say, I thought, but my families go until August 1! I kept moving forward- adapting, learning, changing my approach, talking to parents and making every connection I could online with the children. Parents were tired, children were at one moment frenzied, the next, glazed.

…O, won’t we have a jolly good time, as we go sailing along?

I shifted some of my thinking to create order and purpose for parents and their children. I held an online Parent Orientation. I trusted the Musikgarten curriculum, and kept purposefully applying the tried-and-true philosophies of music learning. And soon, the children started simply amazing me. They learned, they listened, they sang, and they danced! We laughed, improvised, and played games. Parents began smiling more, dancing more, participating more.  

After a particularly engaging and enjoyable class, I went for a walk, on a bit of a “high” from the joyful music-making that had just taken place in our Cycle of Seasons class. Suddenly, I realized that I don’t actually have a choice- I must keep teaching, even if it’s online for now. Why? Because the children don’t have a “Pause” button. Children are going to keep growing. Like the water in Down the River, the current continues to flow! I have to set aside my frustrations, my desires, my dislike of the “screen”, and my longings for in-person teaching, because …the children can’t wait. They can’t just “pause” and pick it up later. The current is flowing, and I don’t want to miss any of it, or rob them of the nurturing gift of music at this time or any time.

I reflected on all that happens in a normal Musikgarten class in just 8 to 10 weeks. As the passionate Musikgarten teacher that you are, I invite you to do the same. Think of the strides the children make in that time, all while they are developing and growing in every way. We always are aware that we teach the whole child- so picture the children going 8 to 10 weeks without the influence of music and movement. That is a dismal picture! We really cannot afford to short-change them. They need us.

It’s not about me as a teacher; it’s about what I can bring to these students as they continue to grow and develop. Sure, they may be able to physically wait for in-person, but at what cost? Developmentally, there is no waiting. They are growing – with us or without us. Let’s be with them to bring to them what they need as they sail along in their ever flowing and deep current.

Contributed by Amy Rucker: Musikgarten Teacher Trainer, teacher, and past President for the Early Childhood Music and Movement Association (ECMMA)

Five Basic Steps for Marketing Early Childhood Music Programs

With so many things needing attention at once, it is all too easy for owners of children’s music studios to lose focus on basic marketing principles that will help them ensure the ongoing success of their business. We often unintentionally get bogged down in the day to day activities, where more long-term plans are placed by the wayside. As a refresher, these five very basic marketing steps should be periodically addressed in order to help operators of childhood music programs stay on track and prevent “missing the forest from the trees.”

Step 1 – Setting SMART Marketing Goals

Goal Setting is the first important and crucial step in the marketing strategy process. We have explored in the past how to develop SMART goals and achieve them, because if you don’t know where you want to be, how can you plan to get there? Traditionally, goal setting for businesses was recommended at one- and five-year intervals. However, depending on changes in your business environment (such as the Covid pandemic), you will want to review and adjust your goals as needed.

Step 2 – Determine or Realize Your Target Market

A target market is the particular group of consumers at which your children’s music program is aimed. For example, your overall target market may be families with young children. Market segmentation further divides the larger market into smaller, more defined categories, such as parents or grandparents of young children. Even further, you can divide them into demographic, geographic, psychographic, and behavioral segmentation. The more specific the segments, the better you can focus your marketing resources. If you don’t know where to start, a good place is your current customer base. What are their similarities in those four segment categories? Once you have determined your current customer, you can expand marketing efforts from there to similar audiences.

Step 3 – Developing a Marketing Message

“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.” No matter how well you have identified your target market and segments, if you do not offer value to them through your music studio offerings, they will not enroll their child. Therefore, you must determine your value proposition or “pitch” in order to explain why they should enroll their child in your program. As a professional children’s music teacher, you are well aware of the numerous benefits that early childhood music education to children. The key is to create a concise statement or series of statements of this value called a Marketing Message. This is your “elevator speech” that should be consistent in all of your marketing and sales efforts and only slightly tweaked for different market segments.

Step 4 – The Competitive Positioning Statement

As with any business, it’s important to understand your competition. This may be indirect competitors that don’t offer the exact same product or service but yet compete for your target market’s resources. For example, children’s dance classes or sports programs that also enrich the lives of children may compete for your parent’s budget or time. It’s also important to know your direct competitors – other early childhood music programs. Think about how you can market or sell against both types of competitors, which is often summarized in a competitive positioning statement.  This is generally stated more in positive terms of the different benefits your business offers than negative terms such as “throwing shade” on your competitors. As with the marketing message, indirect and direct positioning statements will be slightly different.

Step 5 – The Marketing Mashup – How it All Comes Together

The final basic step in the marketing strategy process is to combine all the previous steps. In a nutshell, it is to present your unique value proposition to your target audience(s) in order to reach your marketing goals. A unique value proposition is how you combine your marketing message with your competitive positioning statement in order to differentiate your children’s music studio from its competition. Depending on the goals you have set and your marketing budget, you can determine the best way to reach your target audiences through the various marketing channels available. Remember that the more specific you are with your target market segments, the more efficient you will be with your marketing resources – whether in time or money.

While there are many other decisions to be made about implementing your marketing plan through sales and marketing channels, if you begin with these basic steps and refer back to them consistently, you will have a good marketing foundation for your early childhood music studio. Keep in mind, however, that marketing is both an inexact science as well as an iterative process. Fully expect that you will make mistakes along the way, but with a good marketing strategy, they will have less of a negative impact and make you that much smarter the next time around.

We Stand with Our Diverse Community

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

In the front office here at Musikgarten, hanging for as long as anyone can remember, we have a poster that is titled “How to Build Community.” Faded from time but still relevant today, it provides a long list of practical ideas that individuals, families, and even companies can implement to create community. Some are as simple as “know your neighbors”, or “look up when you walk” and “greet people”. Others are more difficult in practice, such as “listen before you react in anger” and “learn from new and uncomfortable angles.” Whether it is simple or difficult, all of these have a commonality – put yourself aside and do the hard work of getting to know people.

Musikgarten detests the current violence and continued inequality plaguing our society.  At the very same time, we heartily support the on-going public conversation concerning racial relations in both our local community and in the nation, in relationship to the treatment of individuals and groups. Just as other multinational and multicultural organizations, we too are taking a careful look at ourselves and the material used in early childhood music education, including the Musikgarten curricula. The Musikgarten authors, trainers and staff are discussing these issues most seriously.

Since our opening in 1994 we have always been active in addressing racism.  We choose an effective and practical role: offering education for children who cannot afford Musikgarten classes, instituting work and hiring practices to support racial balance. Musikgarten believes in doing the hard work of building community, not just talking about it.  Since 1994, The Musikgarten Foundation has provided the many benefits of early childhood music to local and national Head Start programs. We continue to encourage and nurture diversity in our staff and suppliers. Musikgarten has also donated over an acre of land to the inner city part of town (where the company building is located) for a nature and children’s park.

We would like to challenge you to do the hard work of getting out into your community, and we want to help you in this effort. Musikgarten herewith announces a scholarship program for minority children and families in your area that cannot afford the benefits of music and movement classes. For the Fall 2020 semester we have ten openings. This is a beginning, and if we have good response we will add openings. Musikgarten will pay you, the teacher, 75% of your normal Fall semester tuition fee for the student/family and supply the family materials for free. If you are interested in applying for a scholarship for a child in your community, please email us at info@musikgarten.org.

In this time of turmoil, we will continue to be active in addressing the inequalities in our society.  We hope that you will join us today in continuing the hard work of building community.

Sincerely,

Musikgarten

Planning for Re-opening of Your Children’s Music Studio

As governors across the country monitor their states criteria for re-opening businesses and other organizations, children’s music studio owners should be developing a plan for how and when they will resume their in-person classes in a safe and responsible manner. Many childhood music classes have not ceased with the shutdown of their physical studios, and have taken advantage of technology to hold virtual classes online. Even though online classes do provide a continuation of curriculum for students, home activities for parents, and continued revenue for the business, many teachers are understandably looking forward to when they can see their parents and students in person again. Here are some thoughts and ideas on what to consider looking forward:

  • Remember who ultimately decides when your business reopens – While politicians can announce or declare the economy reopen, they cannot force a music studio to reopen if the owner does not feel that it is a good choice for their staff or customers. But ultimately, its neither politicians nor business owners who decide when the economy is reopen. It is the decision of the consumer. If the population does not feel that it is safe to patronize businesses, then as living in a free market society, they will “decide with their pocketbooks.” Parents are particularly careful when it comes to their children’s well-being, and you can bet that they will not take unnecessary risk.
  • Communication and a good plan is the key – Children’s music studio owners understand that communication with parents is the key to running a successful curriculum and business. As parents start to become more comfortable with the overall safety outlook, they will next want to see what a studio is specifically doing  to keep their children safe. A written plan shared with parents about intentions of how and when to reopen for in-person classes nurtures that important customer relationship and reinforces trust. This written plan may include conducting only outdoor classes for a period of time, social distancing procedures, and/or processes for keeping studio and instruments clean.
  • Have a contingency plan in place – No one wants Covid-19 to have a resurgence in our communities, but in the event that does happen, it’s important that you have a plan in place for your music studio to quickly and efficiently deal with it. Contingency plans  help to put consumers, business owners, and employees’ minds at ease so that a situation does not quickly go into crisis management mode. Finally, remember that a good contingency plan can be applied to a wide variety of unexpected situations, so write it so that it can be quickly applied to almost any unexpected situation. As some studio owners have already shown, continuing business through virtual classes may be part of that plan.

While not advocating when or exactly how children’s music studio owners should reopen their particular business, these tools and techniques are provided to help determine the best and safest way to help keep your business open through unprecedented times. By understanding the official guidelines, understanding and communicating with your customers, and finally contingency planning makes the next unexpected crisis a bit easier to manage.