Back to School (kind of…): How Music Helps Your Kids Learn at Home

Back to School (kind of…): How Music Helps Your Kids Learn at Home

Raise your hand if you’ve got a kid learning from home this year.

Yeah, that’s a lot of hands out there. If your other hand is busy wiping the sweat off your forehead right now, it’s normal. Schooling from home for the first time is a lot to handle, especially if you’re trying to balance it with a job. For those of you with kids in online, part-time, or home school, adding music to the daily routine can offer huge benefits for both you and your child. Here are some of the ways it can help your child thrive in these changing times:

It promotes hands-on activity. Even when your child learns music from an online source, playing an instrument is an opportunity to create results with their own two hands. This helps counteract burnout from so much sedentary mental work and allows kids to engage rather than just responding passively to a screen. 

It’s an opportunity to connect with a community. Music is one of the best ways to overcome isolation and build lasting connections through jams, webinars, lessons, and group learning.

It teaches kids how to learn independently. Of course your child might need your help from time to time, but there are certain parts of learning music that only they can accomplish. Not only does this help create independence, but it also gives a sense of accomplishment.

It adds variety to nurture different learning styles . Kids who learn best through sound and movement face special challenges with online learning. Incorporating music into the school routine adds more balance to their activities and can even help them learn better in other subjects.

It expends energy in a positive way. Parents, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you why this is a good thing.

If you’re sold on music lessons for your kiddo but you haven’t found a good online resource for them yet, Fiddle School can help. We offer:

  • bite-sized, self-paced lessons that you can adapt to fit your school routine, whatever it may be. 
  • lessons designed with at-home learning in mind to offer all the resources your child needs, including one-on-one support and group learning. 
  • An alternative or a partner program for in-school music.

However the next school year unfolds for your family, here’s hoping it’s musical.

Baxter Bell – Oakland, California

Baxter Bell – Oakland, California

My Fiddle Story – Baxter Bell

I started playing the violin before I knew any better! I was five at the time, and apparently, I had grown fond of the piano, as my grandmother had a baby grand in her living room, quite an extravagance for the wife of a barber in the early 1960s! I liked to sit on the piano bench with her as she played and she would have me hit a few high notes to play along with her. This led to my repeated requests of mom and dad to get us a piano for our house. Having neither the means nor the space, my mom embarked on an adventure of finding a violin teacher in Toledo, Ohio in 1965 willing to teach a 5-year-old. This was essentially unheard of in our town! She approached a teacher who offered classes to 4th and 5th graders and proposed just such an absurdity, and it did not initially look promising. However, this teacher just happened to be married to a music professor at the University of Toledo, who supposedly (perhaps aware of the introduction of Suzuki method in other parts of the US) encouraged his wife to give me a try. Predicting I would not last a month, she reluctantly agreed, with the promise from her husband that he would sit in on my lessons. Although I have no distinct memory of him actually being in the room, in retrospect, I now feel honored he was there. Mrs. Gunderson was an old-school classical teacher, prone to more brow beating and pointing out the negative in my young playing, and I recall more than one occasion when I was brought to tears for “not practicing enough this week” and the like. But I did really like, at 5, the prize at the end of my first recital: popsicles and ice cream for all us students! That got my attention (being kind of like my first paid gig), and I immediately asked my mom if I could hold my own “recital” outside our house, featuring the only song I knew- Mary Had a Little Lamb! She agreed, I rounded up all my little friends from the neighborhood, and following my brief but spirited performance, mom gladly dispensed the popsicles!

I continued to study violin with Mrs. Gunderson for the next 5 years, gradually acclimating to the unique challenges of a fretless instrument- I am so grateful that I did not know what frets were then, and therefore simply set my sights on learning the violin in blissful semi-ignorance. Not only were there recitals to prepare for 2 time a year, but I began to compete in String Instrument competitions and occasionally won some prize money! In 4th grade, I began studying with a new teacher, Miss Vashaw, who was newly back from some time in New York City, where she taught and wrote instructional books for violin. She was in her 60s at that time, and was not only an excellent violin teacher, but a great motivator, encouraging and bringing out the best in her students, and an extra “grandmother” to me, taking me under her wing and making me feel seen and heard. She also gave me my first rock ‘n roll album…one day after a lesson, we were looking through her large collection of classical albums and came upon the Beatles Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and seeing my curiosity and not missing a beat, she gave it to me- not loaned, but gifted!  Well, from the opening bars of the track “A Day in the Life”, my understanding of music was forever changed…and that great Orchestral section on that track seemed to say “Violins can Rock!” It would be a while before I experienced that literally, but the seed was planted.

Middle school and Junior High saw me forming a Trio with my cello playing brother Dave and our viola playing friend Dale, playing for my parent’s bridge clubs and holiday gathering, and making a little coin along the way. Sprinkled in among all our classical repertoire, there were a few more contemporary pieces, but they were still a rarity. Another personal musical milestone was playing in my first pit orchestra in 8th grade for a local high school production of “Tea for Two”, with my brother Dave and me making up the entire string section!  Upon entering high school myself, I joined the Toledo Youth Orchestral and auditioned into the 1st violin section, working my way into the second chair over a few years, and soloing with them in my junior year. I also recall the excitement of doing a short tour a towns a few hours away from Toledo during those years and the joy of participating in a good orchestral performance.

Despite the encouragement of Miss Vashaw that I consider studying music in college, I opted instead for pre-med- I loved science and biology and felt drawn to the idea of being a healer as a profession. But my violin went along for the ride, and came out at the holidays, for a talent show in Medical School, and other such occasions. My introduction to bluegrass and old timey music came years later during my Family Practice residency when I was actually living in the Blue grass state, in Covington, KY, just across the river from Cincinnati, Ohio. One of my mentors, Dr. Andy Baker, an obstetrician, also played banjo and enjoyed jamming to bluegrass tunes. Procuring a copy of the Fiddler’s Real Book, I joined him and a few other players at his actual off-the-grid log cabin on the Ohio River in Rabbit Hash, Kentucky to learn my first old timey tunes by candle light and fueled by Wild Turkey!

My next big shift in musical reality came from a patient of mine around my 37th turn around the sun. Lou kind of defies being pigeon-holed into a style of play, but he is a master guitarist, and what he turned me onto was improvising by ear. He also exposed me to experimental jazz, and other fringe trends that vastly expanded my understanding and tastes in music. Learning to play by ear meant all I needed to know was the key a tune was in, and I could find a way for my fiddle to sing along. This began a pretty continuous period of getting together with friends for casual jam sessions that include pop tunes, jazz, blues, rock, bluegrass- all musical genres were welcome! Then, 3 summers ago, I finally got to join my guitar strumming, harmonica blowing, John-Cash sounding friend Kevin at the summer music camp he had already been to two summers running. The moment I walked into the cafeteria/greeting area that first time, I know I was home! The California Coastal Music Camp, no longer residing on the coast, has been around for over 20 years, and some of the campers have been coming for almost that long!!! Camp is welcoming to players of all levels and supports folk, blues, jazz, rock and roll, and more. It gave me an opportunity to dive into realms I had rarely visited: Celtic fiddle style, Mandolin, Django Gypsy Jazz ensemble, and this past summer, Katie’s Western Swing Fiddle! And probably not since my early days, I am playing on my own most days of the week. What a ride and what a joy this humble violin has provided!

Bob Davis – Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Bob Davis – Guanacaste, Costa Rica

TELL US ABOUT YOUR MUSICAL JOURNEY!     

Wow. Daunting challenge. So to begin, I’ll relieve those of you who may read this, the mental exercise of determining my age. I’m 72…which underscores that it is never too late in your life to pick up your axe, and start making it put out tunes! Doesn’t matter if you strum it, squeeze it, pick it, bow it, blow it, tinkle its keys, slobber on its reed, bang on or beat on it, or any of the many more ways to let the music in your soul come to the fore. Let it OUT! In tune, sort of in tune, doesn’t matter!

Because Katie’s Musical Journey invitation established that vocals and playing instruments qualify equally, my journey began with vocals. To wit, as a seven year old American kid temporarily living in a British suburb of London, England. Me and my british mates in the days leading up the Christmas Eve would trek up and down our neighborhood street, knocking on neighbors’ front doors, offering our Christmas Carol vocals, for which we would be rewarded a few ‘pence each. Wow…a paid gig! When my mates got too cold to continue, my capitalistic, entrepreneurial spirit sprang forth and I soldiered on until the venue was exhausted. (And that, was pretty much, other than singing along with John Denver tunes on the drive to work, the end of my vocal career).

So, shortly thereafter, back living on the east coast as a short and stocky, very proper British-speaking 4th grader, I decided, here’s a good idea, “I’ll take up violin”. This did not go well…First, it quickly became clear I wasn’t a childhood prodigy; second, it required practicing every day, which apparently just didn’t work for me (you’ll see this pattern again later); third, none of my school mates, all of whom were striving to soon depose Mickey Mantle (major league baseball hero) were inclined toward picking up a violin. So, – actually I can’t any longer remember the end of the 4th grade violin era – moving on.

Next, while trying to navigate the travails of life as a still stocky short sixth grader, my Mother, in her arguably wise ways, decided that I was well suited to playing Accordion…not just a squeeze box that an 11 year old might play…no, a 128 button, full blown keyboard with at least 8,000 keys. An instrument housed in a box that took a crane assist while ascending the stairs to my music teacher’s second story studio. This was such a massive instrument that if you spread the bellows to their full extension, it would have required assistance from Arnold Schwarzenegger to compress. Like the violin, this did not go on long.

So, on to 12 or maybe 13 years old. Aaahhh, Electric Guitar! Got one for Christmas. A Silvertone electric two-pickup guitar, with amp, from Sears. In case you are trying to figure out timing, 1961. Now living in Panama City, Florida. Gonna be Elvis The 2nd. My Dad signed me up with a 950 year old guitar teacher (he was really good by the way). But dang, he wanted me to first practice these boring scales, and learn to read, of all things, musical notation. Nah, wanna be a Rock N’ Roll star…NOW! I suspect you’re getting the picture. Rock N’ Roll star didn’t pan out, guitar went to the back of the closet. Now 16-17 years old, living in Northern California (1963-1965). SURFIN USA!!! I’m all over that! Broke out that Silvertone, started playing with neighborhood buds, got better…not great… sorta practicing…and one of my buds kind of oversold our skills and song list, and the next thing I know, we’re on the stage of my High School doing a Friday night dance gig…wait, I’m the rhythm guy, why am I now playing lead???!!! It wasn’t pretty, and we weren’t invited back, not only for an encore that night, but ever! Guitar…back in the closet (wish Instill had that axe, it was really sweet).

Advance the clock about 40 years…no musical instruments touched during that time. Moved to the central coast of California. Big bluegrass fan. Hmmm, like the sound of mandolins. Bought one.  Don’t need no stinking lessons…I’ll teach myself. And did, sort of. Relearned how to sight read music, evolved to starting to step it up on Irish and bluegrass mandolin stuff…but that dang practicing thing – I just want to play like David Grisman or Sam Bush, NOW…kept getting in the way of my musical success.

A few years later, my wife and I took off as full time live aboard ocean-going  sailors on our 50’ sailboat.  My mandolin’s on board, sharing space with my wife and I in the forward bunk of our home, she blabbing something about “play the damn thing or lets use it as a dinghy paddle”.  By happenstance I got hooked into taking lessons in Puerta Vallarta at a mexican bar/night club owned by a very excellent gringo musician. Something sparked, I lit off, got serious, haven’t stopped playing and seriously practicing since. And several years later bought my first of now five fiddles (way up in the mountains of Mexico).  Fiddle became my passion. I’ve since been playing mando and more recently almost exclusively fiddle with fellow sailing musicians who come from across the world while sailing throughout the Caribbean and Pacific waters and coastlines of Centraland South America. My fellow musician’s skills range from rookies like me, to a retired 50-year long cellist who was at one time the lead cellist in the Washington DC symphony.

But, as as largely self-taught fiddler, I knew if I was ever going to play at a level that I seek, I needed instruction. By pure coincidence in 2019 I attended California Coastal Music Camp, and ended up in Katie’s Swing Fiddle class which brings us to today. When I signed up for the Camp, hoping to find help in simply getting help to better play my fiddle and saw that “Swing Fiddle” was the only option, I ended up spending five days in her class. That led to my becoming  Fiddle School student, for which my wife is eternally grateful…my cat-screeching Fiddle play is pretty much a thing of the past. I have a repertoire of pieces that I am able to play without having to endlessly repeat a phrase to nail it, and most of the time my notes are on key. Now…about that Rock N’ Roll Star part!

Cheers, Bob

 

 

The Three Pillars of Motivation

The Three Pillars of Motivation

Even when we’re not in the midst of physical distancing and a sea of canceled events, everyone struggles with low motivation from time to time. But you don’t have to bend to the whim of motivation; instead, you can cultivate it consciously. Here’s the recipe to keep motivation flowing: 

feel capable + connected + empowered with choice.

If your musical activities provide you with just one or two of these feelings, you’ll probably notice a slump in your drive to play music. But if you strike a balance between the three, you increase your chances to feel engaged, satisfied, and passionate about your musical life. 

What can you do to get a mix of these three elements in your fiddling? Check out the categories below to get some ideas.

To feel connected:

  • Play music at home with your family
  • Start a music listening group
  • Attend or host a (virtual) jam (you can join our Fiddle School virtual jam here!)
  • Start a fiddle club (learn each other’s tunes, learn a tune together, practice playing guitar with each other, etc.)
  • Attend a (virtual) camp
  • Participate in a group class (check out our webinars here!)
  • Start a musical book club (take a look at the recommended reading list in the Fiddle Lounge for inspiration)

To feel capable:

  • Start using a practice journal (here’s how)
  • Do a 30-day practice challenge (you can use our habit hacks to help you along the way)
  • Take some fiddle lessons (read some ways to play better at lessons)
  • Write a song
  • Reinvent your practice routine (here’s how)
  • Enter a fiddle contest
  • Post a video in our Fiddle School Facebook community
  • Learn a new tune or technique
  • Find a fiddle buddy and help each other progress

To feel empowered with choice:

  • Attend a music camp that looks exciting to you
  • Learn a new tune that you like
  • Learn something on a different instrument (e.g. try learning some rhythm guitar)
  • Host your own music gathering (here’s how)
  • Read about music subjects that interest you (musicology, learning strategies, different styles, etc.)
  • Choose three ways to actively participate in music each month (for example, “this month, I will attend the virtual jam, meet with my fiddle buddy, and post a video to an online group)
  • Join/form a musical group or orchestra that you’ve always dreamed of being part of
  • Attend live music (or watch it virtually)
  • Go busking (play in public)
  • Play for people in need (in normal times, playing for retirement homes or hospitals is a great way to share. Right now, consider sharing with an organization online, like a church or another social nonprofit)
  • Teach your kids or grandkids a fiddle tune

These are just some of the many ways you can cultivate feelings of connection, capability, and choice in your musical life. When you create balance between these three elements, you’ll be amazed how your motivation grows and your fiddling feels more fulfilling. 

Linnea Kenney – Englewood, CO

Linnea Kenney – Englewood, CO

A Note About My Music

I grew up on a farm on the land my grandfather homesteaded and in the house he and my grandmother built. My dad grew up there too. He and my mom remained hereafter they married. My mom was raised in a musical family. She sang and played the piano. The Allen family would get together each Thanksgiving and have a huge meal. Following dinner, we would all gather round and sing songs that my granddad Allen passed on to my mom, her siblings, and their children. My uncle would play the guitar and harmonica, my cousins would take turns playing the piano, one cousin played the banjo and other cousins would play their guitars as we all sang. We sang and played old time music and religious hymns. It was always a magical time.

Kaitlin Kenney, Joey McKenzie, Royce Franklin – National Oldtime Fiddlers Contest

My mom sang in the church choir and as we got older she had us join the choir. I went to a small school with a combined grade school and high school students. Our school would put on plays and some were musicals. I auditioned for a singing part in one play when I was in grade school. I got the main character part and still remember one of the songs I had to sing! The whole community would come to see the plays in the high school auditorium.

I took piano lessons and played the trumpet in the junior high and high school bands. My cousin lent me her trumpet to play. I was actually pretty good at not taking lessons. We had some good band teachers who taught us in school. I was in the marching band and we competed in state music competitions. I remember going to CU Boulder for band day where bands from all over the state competed. It was a treat to participate. I tried to teach myself how to play the guitar. I was never very good at it. I took piano lessons but didn’t practice like I wish I would have.

Fast forward to getting married and having four children. My children played a variety of instruments. One or the other played piano, clarinet, flute, saxophone, bagpipes, and the fiddle. Our family loved music and went on family vacations to the Telluride Blue Grass Festival for many years.

Kaitlin Kenney, Christine King, Lisa Barrett

When our youngest, Kaitlin, was 6, I asked if she would like to learn how to play the fiddle. She said sure, so I started taking her to lessons. Her teacher taught Suzuki and Texas-style fiddling. She learned quickly and was naturally talented. I loved to hear her play. I took her to many group performances, fiddle contests – including Weiser, jam sessions, and fiddle workshops. I didn’t realize how much I absorbed from Kaitlin’s fiddling experiences. My love of fiddling became deep-seated. In high school, she took lessons from Katie Glassman who taught her Texas-style, jazz and improv. As life takes twists and turns, we lost Kaitlin in 2013 at 21 years of age. My heart was heavy when seeing Kaitlin’s fiddle in its case.

Katie encouraged me to take lessons and give her beloved fiddle some love. In 2018 I finally decided it was time. I did it with trepidation that I wouldn’t be able to play by ear. To my delight with Katie’s thoughtful teaching program she showed me I could do it, even at my age! I love that I can now play the fiddle! I look forward to learning new techniques to improve my playing and enjoy the challenge of learning new songs. The fiddle has become part of my musical soul.

I took Kaitlin to pick out her last fiddle from Lisa and Dick Barrett. Fiddles and fiddlers choose each other. I realize she picked this fiddle not just herself but also for me. Kaitlin’s fiddle no longer sits lonely in its case. I pick it up to practice every day and look forward to hearing the music it can play. It brings me great joy and Kaitlin is in my heart every time I pick up her fiddle to play.

—Linnea Kenney

What’s all the buzz about? Troubleshooting fiddle buzz

As fiddlers, nothing makes our hearts plummet more quickly than a buzzing fiddle. The worst-case scenarios flood in: “Is there a crack? Is something loose? Do I have to take it to the luthier and fork over a lot of cash to figure this out?”

Thankfully, these aren’t usually the case and it’s often something innocuous and easy to fix. To help ease your mind and put you in control when you hear the dreaded buzz, we’ve put together a buzz checklist. When you hear a buzz, run down this checklist and the odds are that you’ll be able to fix the problem in no time. If it turns out you do need to see a luthier, at least you’ll have peace of mind that you’ve covered all your bases before resorting to professional help.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when your fiddle is buzzing:

  • Are my fine tuners securely wound into my tailpiece? Make sure they’re not too loose. If they are, loosen your pegs and then tighten your fine tuners.

     

  • Is a fine tuner wound in too far and touching the fiddle? Alternatively, make sure they’re not too tight. If they are, loosen your fine tuners and then tighten your pegs.
  • Is my chin rest securely tightened? If it’s too loose, use the end of a paper clip to tighten it just enough to hold it in place and prevent rattling. Don’t tighten it too much or you could put undue pressure on your fiddle.
  • Is there a loose piece on your shoulder rest? Make sure that all screws are tightened and that nothing is touching your fiddle other than the rubber-lined feet. You should also check the lining on the feet to make sure it’s in good condition.
  • Do you have a pickup? If so, make sure the wire isn’t resting on the wood of the fiddle.
  • Do you have an open seam? You can check this by tapping around the edge of your fiddle’s front and back along the seams and noticing any difference in sound or pitch. Does it sound rattly or hollow anywhere?
  • Is there rosin impacted between the wood of your f holes? Be sure to clean excess rosin off your fiddle regularly with a dry cloth.
  • Is the plastic protective band on one of your strings rolling around between the fine tuners and the bridge or extending too far past the bridge? These bands can be removed if your bridge has added string protection patches on it. Otherwise, the bands should be flush with the front of the bridge. This way, they don’t buzz around behind the bridge and they don’t interfere with the playing area from the bridge to the nut.
  • Is your chin rest rattling against your tailpiece? If so, you may need to adjust the location of your chin rest or have it filed so that it doesn’t touch the tail piece.
  • Is there a button or piece of jewelry touching your fiddle? Check for long earrings, necklaces, and shirts with hard pieces sewn on.
  • Is there something in your fiddle? You can gently shake your instrument to make sure no debris is causing the sound.

We hope this helps you feel prepared next time your fiddle has a buzz. There’s no need to worry; if you use this checklist methodically, odds are you’ll find the problem and be able to fix it.

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