Hello South Philly! We’ve been having a good time over here in Passyunk Square, bringing our cheery little music classes to this side of town. We’ve met lots of new faces at our 9 AM Wednesday class. We even had a special guest accompany me on piano last week! Co-owner of our South Philly space, Stephen Longenecker, played some impromptu piano while I sang my tunes and strummed guitar (you can tell this guy has spent quite a bit of time entertaining his own little ones with childhood classics, as he gave the “Ba Ba Black Sheep” melody a highly entertaining blues twist).
These classes are new to this part of Philly (est. in Fishtown in 2014), so be sure to get your first class in for FREE and try it out. Through the remaining months of the 2017 year, classes will continue to be held on Wednesdays at 9 AM (except for the week of Thanksgiving, and ending the week before Christmas). You can drop-in to any scheduled class for $12 – classes are $10 each when you sign up for the month or get a season package. Our 2018 Philly Music Babies schedule will be announced soon, so you can look towards 2018 for more music at 13th and Tasker.
Want to learn more about our school? Feel free to visit us in Rittenhouse Square in December for Philly Music Lessons’s 2017 Fall Recital. You can check out footage of students from all over Philadelphia and the Main Line playing in our highlights reel to get a taste of what you might see this season. You can also see some of our teachers performing here (we’re just beginning to grow their virtual portfolio – its worth watching!).
Philly Music Babies opened its shaker-clad circle to the Fishtown neighborhood a little over three years ago. With a lineup of songs, scarves, pinwheels, guitar, rhythm sticks, wrist bells, drums, and a whole bunch of assorted instruments, we welcomed neighborhood families to come sing with us on a weekly basis. The idea behind the classes was to provide quality musicexposure.
Why exposure? There are many studies that point to the language and cognitive benefits that infants and young children receive from early musical education. Not only that, with regards to a child’s capacity to learn music, exposure itself (especially music in the home), leads to a greater music aptitude throughout the rest of a child’s life. Though music may not be important for everyone, there is certainly something to be said for the positive ways in which music shapes a developing child’s mind. And with all of the life-skills that learning and playing an instrument can give us (not to mention the artistic and emotional satisfaction), we are even more motivated to share music with our community of little ones in Fishtown and South Philly.
Philly Music Babies focuses on repetition through traditional songs and incorporates the Kodaly Method. Teacher-lead music and games, backed by guitar, form the core of our class. We introduce solfege (Do, Re, Mi …) to develop a music language of pitch and syllables. By these means, we work toward nurturing a sense of rhythm, melody, and harmony. But really, what we are aiming at is just creating music that simply sounds and feels good! It is our experience that music is enough of a reason to come out and sing. Whether your baby is venturing out around other kids for the first time, or your youngest just needs some mommy-and-me time, the process of making music together is invigorating for everyone (and tuckers them out just in time for naps)!
So then, what is Open Music? Open Music was inspired by the first set of graduates from our Philly Music Babies series. Now 3 and 4 (and almost 5!) and looking for some continuation of weekly music, parents often ask, what’s next? Do you have any more? When can I start private lessons (more on that here)?
In my own experience, few kids are ready for lessons at 4. While certain kids might do well in the one-on-one lesson, most are still itching for exploration and free-play. Open music is designed with creative group work portions as well as crucial segments of child-led, free-play. Children are given the space and time to feel out musical concepts at their own paces, and are introduced to new ideas through group play. Combining a multitude of senses, learning props, tinker-projects, art, imaginative story time, and real instrument jam sessions, children experience music through play.
It’s that time again! No, not the holidays; the Philly Music Lessons Fall Recital! This year’s Fall Recital will be held on December 2nd at the Ethical Society of Philadelphia. All Philly Music Lessons students are encouraged to sign up for a slot at either of the first two concert times. The third time will be used if necessary for overflow.
If you’ve never performed in public before, don’t worry! You can talk to your teacher about what you might want to perform and they can help get you signed up and ready to go.
Saturday, December 2nd, 2017
Set 1 at 12:00pm
Set 2 at 1:30pm
Set 3 at 3:00pm – (possible time based on participation)
If you’ve been waiting all this time to finally show the world that you’re the next big thing, now’s your chance! Show everyone what you’ve got by bringing your favorite songs and pieces to the Fall 2017 Philly Music Lessons Recital! Not only do you get to perform yourself, but you also get the chance to see what everyone else at Philly Music Lessons is up to.
Show off your skills to friends and family alike right on Rittenhouse Square!
“Sing from your diaphragm!” This phrase is almost mythical in the world of voice lessons. Somehow this concept has passed on to students who haven’t taken a single voice lesson, yet even students who have taken years of voice lessons may not know what it means. It doesn’t help either that some teachers say you should sing from your diaphragm while others say you shouldn’t. Who is right? And if you should, how do you do it?
What it Means to “Sing From Your Diaphragm”
The short answer to the question of “who is right,” when it comes to whether or not you should sing from your diaphragm is – both teachers are right! Obviously that requires a longer answer though.
Here is your diaphragm. As you can see, it sits right below your lungs. Think of it as an upside-down bowl-shaped muscle. Because of where it sits, when your lungs expand (when you breathe in), the diaphragm flattens out to make room for the now larger lungs. When your lungs contract (when you breathe out), the diaphragm curves up again. You can see this motion here.
Students often get lost right around now because what isn’t agreed upon is whether the diaphragm is a voluntary or involuntary muscle. In other words, do we move it consciously like our arms and legs, or does it move on its own like our hearts? For singers, this is largely irrelevant. Why? Because the point of a “diaphragmatic breath” is not whether or not we can move our diaphragm. It’s whether we can take an ideal breath to create a steady release of sound for singing. Therefore, focusing on the diaphragm itself misses the point.
Instead, students of singing should focus on how to feel their breath lower in their body, as opposed to breathing high into the chest. This is why the phrase “sing from your diaphragm” may be helpful for some students and teachers; it creates the imagery of a low breath and a steady release for some people. For others, it creates too much focus on something other than the task at hand.
So in short, you should think about singing from your diaphragm if it’s helpful to you. Any one of the following exercises can also help you “sing from your diaphragm” without the terminology.
Exercises to Sing From Your Diaphragm
The Milkshake Breath – When we drink a big, delicious milkshake from a straw, that milkshake goes right to our bellies. We can think of breathing in the same way. Imagine your favorite flavor of milkshake. Then, pretend to hold it in front of you and drink it all in. In this scenario, the milkshake will be your breath, and your goal is to fill your breath all the way to your belly. You can even put your hand on your belly if that helps you place it. If you don’t drink milkshakes, you can imagine whatever drink you’d like – as long as you’d normally drink it through a straw!
The Balloon Breath – When a balloon expands, it expands all the way around, not just to one part of the balloon. It does, however, start at the bottom of the balloon. Our lungs, ultimately, are like this as well. We want to use all of our abdominal muscles to create a steady release of the breath while singing, so we want to inhale with that in mind. Take a breath while imagining your torso is a balloon, and your goal is to fill up the whole balloon, starting from the bottom up.
Dog on a Hot Day – Have you ever seen a dog on a hot day, its tongue sticking out and its whole body working to breathe? We can use this for singing, too, although our breaths should concentrate on our belly. Stick your tongue out for an added tongue stretch, then release short breaths from your abdomen like a dog would on a hot day. This is a great exercise to introduce the release of breath along with the inhalation of breath.
The Snake Sound – To start working on the release of breath along with the intake, breathe in on four counts. Then immediately release the breath on a steady “ss” sound for eight counts. The “ss” sound should be strong but not forced, smooth and not jagged. This will encourage your body to release air as a stream rather than all at once, which is vital for singing.
There are numerous other exercises you can use to learn how to sing from your diaphragm (if you choose to think of it that way). These are my favorites because they all come with an organic understanding of how breath works without trying to manipulate our breath in other ways. Feel free to find your own creative ways to take lower breaths, too! Just make sure that no matter which exercises you use, you don’t do too many at once. These exercises can over oxygenate you and make you dizzy if done too many times, especially without practice. Try two or three a day at first for maybe a minute, tops. A little effort will go a long way to getting you towards diaphragmatic breaths in no time.
Fall is around the corner! With school starting up any day now (if not already), consider weaving some music lessons into that crisp, Autumn, productive, pumpkin schedule of yours. Season Packages are the best option for those looking to stay on top of their lessons in the coming months. By paying for your Fall in a chunk (a season package is 10 lessons), you’ll receive 10% off. This applies to both in-home (Philadelphia and the Main Line, see in-home areas here) and studio lessons (Fishtown and South Philly).
Our mantra, when things get in full-swing here, is “music as meditation”, and we hope you can find refuge in your practice when the school year kicks into full gear. One study showed that practicing piano daily had a positive impact on executive function, inhibitory control, divided attention, and mood state of its participants. Sounds like the perfect combination to make for an enjoyable and focused Fall!
Many parents want their children to learn an instrument, and why not? Studies have shown that weekly music lessons can increase a child’s IQ. Some don’t know when their child should begin though. At what age is a child ready for such a commitment? I’ve had parents surprised to hear that their child is too young for one instrument, yet they could have started another instrument years before.
Still, it’s not always as simple as reaching a certain age. General guidelines can help you decide if your child is ready to start music lessons. Let’s consider a couple of them here, then we’ll give you approximate ages for when a child is ready to begin lessons for popular instruments.
Desire Learning a skill comes easier to those who want to learn it. Age or subject matter doesn’t change that. So if your child has great interest in learning the piano or guitar, they’re much more likely to meet the other requirements listed here.
Focus Some children focus better than others, and focus is crucial when it comes to music lessons. Your child will need to remain focused for a ½ hour lesson once a week in addition to 15 minute practice sessions daily. Even this can be a long time though. Observe your child to see how well they focus on other activities before scheduling their first lesson.
Physical Ability While physical limitations should not stop a student from enjoying music, some kids are too young to hold an instrument properly or find an instrument in their size. If, for example, your child wants to learn the drums but can’t keep a sturdy grip on the sticks, they’d be better off waiting until they can.
Resources Music lessons for students of any age require a fair amount of time and money. Even if your child wants to start with a low-cost instrument for ½ hour lessons, they will still be expected to practice at home for regular intervals, and purchase sheet music along the way. Also remember that kids will grow out of some instruments, so new ones will need to be rented or purchased as they grow. It’s worth taking the time to decide if you and your child are prepared to use these resources.
If you feel confident your child has the desire, focus, physicality, and resources to start music lessons, then scan the list below to find the instrument they’re interested in and the age we recommend they start. Keep in mind individual teachers may have different age guidelines, so feel free to ask if you are uncertain.
Piano, 5 years old Violin, Viola, Cello, 4-5 years old Guitar, 5-6 years old Ukulele, 4-5 years old Drums, 5-7 years old Voice, 8-9 years old Flute, Clarinet, Saxophone, 7-8 years old Trumpet, Trombone, 8 years old
And remember: your child will never be too old to start music lessons. If your child doesn’t begin studying an instrument until it’s offered at their school or until they’re in middle or high school, they still can reap the benefits of music education. However, they can be too young for certain instruments. Band and orchestra instruments may need to wait until your child is seven or eight years old, but solo instruments like piano or guitar could start earlier. Plus, no matter what instrument they pursue later in life, your child can still get a head start on their music education! Check out our Philly Music Babies class for more.
The word Sonata is certainly one that most people have encountered at some point in their lives. But, what does it really mean? Is it just a song that lasts longer than normal? Does it have to have a piano? These questions are important for listeners, because they introduce a whole new way of hearing music for someone! For performers, understanding the form is essential to an effective interpretation.
In today’s usage, a Sonata is understood to be a piece that follows a set form. When it’s written for one instrument alone, or with piano, it’s usually called a Violin/Cello/Piano/etc Sonata. However, the same structure is also used as the building block for String Quartets, Trios, Sextets, and so on. If you write a piece for an entire orchestra that uses this structure, we use another fancy word: a Symphony. Although the entire work could be referred to as a Sonata, the first movement (and many times the fourth movement as well) normally follows a form historically referred to as Sonata-Allegro form. Here’s a brief overview of what that looks like!
The way a Sonata works is with melodies that move through different keys. More specifically, there is melodic motion from a first, tonic key to the second dominant key (otherwise known as V or five).Assuming that there is no introduction section, the action starts with the aptly named exposition section. A primary theme is presented which establishes the first key (for example, C major). It then uses a transitionto modulate to the dominant key for the secondary theme. ( For example, in the key of C Major, the dominant key is G Major) From there, the music moves into the development section where the material is twisted around until it finds its way back to a repeat of the first section in the original key. This is called the recapitulation. The primary theme is heard again exactly as it was heard before. The music will then make a subtle change to the transition it used before to change keys, but it will reorient itself so that it does not modulate. It’s at this point that the most important moment happens: The secondary theme is played in the original key instead of the dominant key. It’s the dramatic climax of the work, and in the best sonatas, everything leading up to it is oriented toward achieving it.
To more easily describe this, here’s a description of the three distinct sections that make up a sonata: Exposition, Development, andRecapitulation (Recap). There is also an optional fourth section, the Coda, which composers can use to extend the end of the piece for a little bit of a fun, or even to add entirely new interpretive ideas:
The exposition is where the premise of the story is presented. The original key, which is established with the first theme, goes a long way to establishing the mood of the whole piece. As already mentioned, the sonata then transitions to a second theme in the dominant key. This move to the dominant is important; it marks a journey that the music must take. The satisfaction that the sonata offers is granted by the feeling of moving away from home (the tonic key) and then returning at the end. The way the exposition sets this up determines the effectiveness of everything that follows.
The development is where the composer is allowed to really stretch their skills and show off. The order in which you hear different melodies usually loosely follows the order in which they appeared in the exposition, but they may or may not be recognizable when they are played here. The themes are stretched, pulled, fragmented, and jumbled all together as the composer sees fit.
Where the exposition was about moving from the tonic key to the dominant key, the development is under no such rule. It can travel to any key the composer feels like, and it can arrive there however the composer thinks will be dramatically satisfying. This sometimes means that fragments of the melody cycle through the circle of fifths every measure, or maybe that it moves quickly into a strange, far-away key and stays there for the duration of the section. When composers want to really go crazy, they may even make up a brand new theme that hasn’t been heard before in the piece!
What does all of this mean for interpreting some kind of meaning from the work? The best way to explain it is probably to equate it to the middle story in a trilogy, where your characters are at their darkest points, and the stakes become clear as you prepare for the final ramp up to the climax in the third part. (E.g. The Empire Strikes Back: Han Solo is frozen and given to Jabba the Hut while Luke Skywalker loses his hand and finds out that Darth Vader is his father.)
This graph shows the basic building blocks of Sonata-Allegro from.
Eventually, the development will have to settle down a bit and come back to the primary theme, just like it was heard in the beginning. At this point, you’ve found yourself in the recapitulation, or recap as we might say in modern American English. The recapitulation is very much like a repeat of the exposition, but there is one crucial difference: The secondary theme must cadence in the tonic key, not the dominant. This is how we measure the success or failure of the journey. By achieving a perfect authentic cadence (the strongest kind of harmonic cadence) in the tonic key, the second theme has undergone a transformation. It’s been brought into line with the overall goal of the sonata. It’s almost like coming home from college after graduation; sure, you’re the same person, but you’ve undergone a big process of change that turns you into the mature adult you were always meant to be.
If the cadence is successful, the only thing that’s left to do is continue to play out the remaining music from the exposition, still in the tonic key. You make it to the final bar and feel rightly proud of yourself!
On the other hand: perhaps you weren’t successful. Perhaps the second theme never quite made it to the right key and it just gets left behind as a failure. There’s a lot of interpretive power there that can range from lost hopes and dreams to being forever alone without love. This gives the Sonata a bittersweet or tragic quality, regardless of it being in a major or minor key (here’s looking at you, Brahms).
This is something that becomes more important as you move later on in music history, but the presence of a big coda can also tell you a lot about what the composer is trying to express. Traditionally, the only thing the coda is supposed to do is have a bunch of fun, with redundant cadences to celebrate the success of the journey. It gives a big dramatic finish and reinforces the eighteenth-century Enlightenment ideals that gave birth to this whole form in the first place.
However, as composers write more and more sonatas, they start to get a little experimental with things. We can give Beethoven the credit for starting this rule-breaking trend with the final movement of his third symphony. The coda he writes ends up going on for 15 minutes! It’s the equivalent of getting to the end of a superhero movie, watching the main character beat the bad guy, have a celebration, and then find out—PLOTTWIST—the bad guy is still alive and needs to be defeated again! It was an effective tool for making his material take on a larger than life quality. What he’s implicitly saying here is that his music cannot be constrained by convention. In order to truly find a solution to the puzzles he’s presented, he has to go beyond the known forms and into uncharted territory.
Sonata-Allegro form has been a cornerstone of music for 250 years, and all of the famous composers would have written very different music if this form hadn’t been in place. Understanding this form goes a long way to understanding the Western classical music tradition as a whole. This was just a very brief overview of what makes up a Sonata, and there are countless more aspects to the form and tradition that an interested learner could seek out.
As a way to apply your new knowledge of Sonata-Allegro from, check out this annotated video of the first movement of Mozart’s Dissonance Quartet played by our very own string teachers! Each section’s name will appear on the screen as it happens.
As a voice teacher, I believe all voice students should take piano lessons as well. Why? I’ll dive into specifics later, but for any music student, piano lessons offer a foundation for music that is difficult to find with other instruments – voice especially. There are unique benefits for singers learning the piano. Some of them may surprise you.
Unlike most other instruments, singers can learn their music without knowing how to read music. It’s easier to pick notes out of the air when the voice does not require pressing a certain key in order to find the pitch. Still, it is more difficult to learn a song without knowing how to read music.
Reading music will enhance your vocal abilities in a number of ways. It can help you to understand your range, and will certainly allow you to pursue more musical opportunities. Plus, your pitch accuracy will grow! Learning music by listening might mean you learn a note wrong because a singer sang it wrong on a recording. Learning notes by reading them and playing them on the piano will allow you to be much more self-sufficient and accurate.
Playing Your Exercises and Accompaniments
If nothing else, voice students should take piano lessons so they know how to play their own exercises. Sure, the internet offers a wide variety of pre-recorded exercises, but the voice is such a unique instrument, many singers need to be able to customize their exercises, especially in terms of range. Being able to play the piano will allow you to do this.
Furthermore, if you’re interested in accompanying yourself (or even becoming a music teacher one day), you’ll need to learn piano in order to do so. Some genres require different piano skills, such as understanding chord progressions. With the above said, make your goals clear when starting piano lessons.
Some students take music lessons just to enjoy themselves, and that’s great! Others, however, have longer reaching musical goals. If one of these goals includes studying music in college, for example, music schools expect all students to have a basic understanding of piano. If you don’t study piano in your younger years, a college will require you to take courses then. Might as well get ahead of the curve and start studying now!
If you do have big goals, being able to learn your own musical parts or accompany yourself will also save you time and effort when it comes to rehearsing with other musicians. A coach, for example, won’t have to teach you a song note by note. Or, if you have interest in becoming a singer-songwriter, knowing how to read music will also teach you how to write music down. Voice teachers do not require students to take piano lessons by and large, but all voice students should consider taking piano lessons if possible, no matter their goals. I have never heard a singer say they felt their piano studies did not help their vocal goals! I have, however, heard singers say they wish they began studying piano much earlier than they did. If you’re interested in piano lessons in addition to your voice lessons but are pressed for time or funds, there are solutions. See if you can’t balance out the two studies by scheduling shorter or alternating lessons, or get in touch with a music school to see what options you might have.
As summer approaches, many students and parents have questions about managing summer music lessons. These include questions about changing schedules, vacation time, and practicing expectations. While your teacher is the best person to talk to about specifics, we aim to address your more general questions, or to help you decide which questions to ask. We also want to show you how summer music lessons can serve as a special opportunity for you.
Communicate with your teacher about scheduling
The most efficient means of managing summer music lessons involves communicating with your teacher (or your child’s teacher). Need a different lesson time over the summer? Going on vacation? Music teachers anticipate all of this, but let them know sooner rather than later. Contact your teacher as soon as you make plans or need a change.
Communicate with our office about extended breaks
It’s especially important to let our office know if you plan on taking any extended breaks, such as for a whole month or for the whole summer. If you take an extended period of time off, we will remove you from our calendar moving forward. Please contact our office at the beginning of the Fall when you plan on starting up again. We can’t promise the same time/day that you had, but we’ll do our best to work with your schedule for the Fall!
The rules of lessons still apply
It’s easy to fall into a “summer mindset” with music lessons, not applying the same rigor to cancellations and practice sessions as you would during a school year. Don’t fall into this trap! Teachers expect just as much over the summer. Plus, your music teacher is still running a business over the summer, and needs to be treated as such.
Use this as an opportunity
Many students, especially kids, are so scheduled during the school year, it can be difficult to fully dedicate themselves to music lessons. Summer allows a little more flexibility. Use it as an opportunity to get ahead in your music lessons so you can reach your goals that much sooner.
A lot of students also hope to audition for top bands, orchestras, or choirs when they return to school. If your child brings focus and discipline to summer lessons, they’ll be ready for these auditions in the fall. This is particularly important if a student plans to pursue music further, such as in college.
In either instance, take note of your goals or your child’s goals, and what it would take to reach them. Then, you and your teacher can make a plan based on your freer summer schedule.
It’s tempting to think that once the recital is over, once classes are over, then lessons are over for the summer too, or at least are more relaxed. However, summer is a unique opportunity for renewed dedication. Flexibility, time, and focus have great benefits for you or your child, so take advantage of them! Above all else, remember that managing summer music lessons is not so different from managing regular lessons. Keep that mindset, and you’ll stay on the ball through vacations, schedule upheavals, and pool-worthy weather.
It’s recital season! For many students, that means it’ll be their first time performing in front of other people. Not only is it exciting, it’s a good learning opportunity. Your teacher will help you with the specifics of your situation. Still, there are a couple of universal things you may want to know ahead of time when preparing for your first recital.
Choose a Song and Practice Smart
Many students make the mistake of choosing a song they think will be popular or extra showy for their first recital. While there’s nothing wrong with choosing a popular or showy song, the point of a recital is to showcase what you have learned in your lessons so far. Choosing a song you’ve already been working on will serve you well. You’ll also want to make sure your song is challenging, but within your skill set. Remember, the recital first and foremost is for your development.
When you’re practicing, remember: up until now you’ve been able to give in to the luxury of stopping and starting in the middle of the song to play every note just right. We don’t have this option in performance though. Make sure you practice the spots that you have to stop and start at, then run through your song without stopping no matter what happens. Chances are you’ll run into less problems than you think. But even if something happens, the odds of the audience catching your mistakes are not as high as you think they are. So, if you keep going and act like your mix ups were intentional, your audience will be none the wiser.
Space, Equipment, and Accompaniment
Most studio recitals take place somewhere else other than your regular lesson room, and that’s a good thing! You learn better by performing in spaces unfamiliar to you. That means you’ll need to practice accordingly though. Try practicing in different rooms, or manipulating how well you hear yourself play by using earplugs or amplification (if possible). This will help your ears adjust to unfamiliar surroundings.
You will probably also have a microphone for the performance. If it’s not possible for you to practice with a microphone beforehand, practice with it in mind. Ask your teacher where you’ll want to place the microphone. Then, use household objects to mimic its placement so you can learn to play into it.
Finally, not every music student will use accompaniment (either through a pianist or a recorded backing track) for their first performance. However, if you plan to use it, be sure to practice with it at least a month before the performance. Coordinating your playing with another musician is a skill unto itself, and it should be treated as such.
Calm the Nerves
You may or may not experience stage fright (also known as performance anxiety), and if you’ve never performed live before, you may not even know if you have it. Know that a little anxiety before a performance is normal, and maybe even helpful. If you’re worried about excessive anxiety though, create a mock performance for yourself by playing in front of family and friends. You can also use deep breathing techniques to center yourself before playing. The more prepared you feel, the better you’ll feel about your performance. Preparing for your first recital, in short, entails knowing your music so well and feeling so comfortable that no matter what happens, all you have to do is get on stage and share the joy of music with your loved ones.