Let’s Play Music Third Year Graduation Recital

The third year of Let’s Play Music is very fun and very full—jam packed with learning to play scales and chords in different keys, learning to improvise and transpose, learning to count music properly in different time signatures, and the coup de gras—composing an original piece to play at the recital.

Students begin thinking of ideas for the composition in January when Orange Roots semester begins.

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We talk about inspiration and what they, the student, gets excited about.  We talk about how music can tell a story, just like a book can, and how music follows patterns, just like books do.  We explore different sounds on the piano, e.g “What would it sound like if it was raining outside?” “What does an elephant walking sound like on the piano?”

In mid-February we are ready to begin putting notes down on the manuscript paper. Students (and parents) often feel apprehensive about beginning a composition. But, after meeting one-on-one with the teacher to begin their composition, they leave their lesson feeling excited about going home and adding to what they just wrote.

beginning composition

Students spend the next few weeks making changes and adding new ideas to their composition. Once again, there is a lesson, one-on-one with the teacher, at the end of March where students will put the finishing touches on their masterpiece.

final composition

Then they begin practicing for the recital.  Parents are often surprised that a student will need to practice something they wrote themselves.  Let’s Play Music students are often able to write and play music that is beyond their ability to read music, so practice is necessary.

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The recital is truly a time of celebration! Each student has progressed at their own pace, but we celebrate where they are right now!

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Parents are an integral part of the Let’s Play Music program.  This program is successful because of dedicated parents who come to class with their child and follow up with practice time at home.  Sometimes practicing is not fun and life gets in the way, but LPM parents are truly the best! Why? Because they have committed to helping their child through this wonderful program and have given them the gift of music. At the recital we always take time to honor the parents and their contribution to the child.

Let's Play Music at The MAC MeridianLet's Play Music at The MAC Meridian

Let’s Play Music graduates are ready to enter private lessons and be successful. They have been given the tools for a strong musical foundation and been taught successful practice techniques.  They have learned to intelligently listen to classical music and recognize classical form. Their ears, eyes, fingers, and voices have been trained to help them decipher and play difficult music passages.  But, most of all, they have learned that they can do hard things, and for this, we celebrate!

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Let’s Play Music Recital for First and Second Year Students

Every year at recital time, parents ask, “What do the kids do for the recital?” It’s a valid question—after all, Let’s Play Music is not like traditional piano lessons, so what would that recital look like?


Recitals for first and second year students have two goals:

  1. Demonstrate how much we have learned over the past year, and show how we have learned it.
  2. Celebrate each student and their progress.


With those two goals in mind, this is what a Let’s Play Music recital looks like for first and second year students—

As a teacher, I pick 8-10 songs for each first year and second year that demonstrate a wide range of the skills the students have been working on. Some of the songs will have bell accompaniment, some will have autoharp accompaniment, and some will have piano accompaniment. The first-year students have been practicing playing 2 out of those 3 instruments, so they will help accompany the group on bells and autoharp. The second-year students have been learning to accompany while playing piano, so they will help with the piano accompaniment.

Bell assignments and keyboard assignments are done as a group, which is always a relief to these young children.

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We will also demonstrate one of our puppet shows—how could we not?! They are “Sol-fun”!

This year the first-year students demonstrated “Magic Lamp,” which is actually “Aragonaise” from Georges Bizet Carmen.

Let's Play Music recital at The MAC Meridian IMG_5012

The second-year students were excited to show how much they love Johannes Brahms “Hungarian Dance No. 5”

Let's Play Music recital at The MAC MeridianLet's Play Music recital at The MAC Meridian

At the end, we celebrate each child and their progress.  Let’s Play Music is all about teaching a strong musical foundation and skills that a child can apply to any instrument. We are not a performing group, and we don’t spend a lot of time in class perfecting the recital pieces.  Still, the students have so much fun showing off their stuff and it is a great night for all of us!

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When you know the notes to sing, you can sing most anything!

The MAC Meridian lets play music logo

Climb the Mountain-A Perspective on a Child’s Music Lessons

In 2004 I was living in Arizona.  I had recently started jogging, but since any form of exercise is not my forte, I was still struggling to run a 12-minute mile after months of exercising.  My brother, who was born with my share of the athletic genes, invited me and my sisters to come to Idaho and run a half marathon with him.  He said, “Part of it is uphill and it gets steep sometimes, but it’s not bad.  Just train with the treadmill on an incline.”  Naïve exerciser and marathon runner that I was, I bought his bag of lies and agreed to come, as did my 3 sisters, who were (and still are) in much better shape than I am.

On a side note, the half marathon is called “Robie Creek” and is considered the toughest half marathon in the Northwest. 

As we arrived to the start line for the race, my brother looked nervous and began to pace.  It was then that he told us the first 8.5 miles were all uphill. Up a mountain. A steep mountain. All. Uphill. Ugh. Lucky for him, we didn’t truly understand what he was telling us, but it was too late for all of us to back out and we forged ahead.  The race started and it wasn’t too bad.  We wound around a neighborhood and into the foothills.  At first the path was paved and smooth, but soon it turned into a dirt trail with rocks and divots and I had to look down constantly as to not trip and fall.  At first, there was very little incline, but after a mile or so, the trail became more and more steep.  The steeper the trail became, the slower my pace became until I was merely walking, and not running at all.

My brother took off and pulled ahead of us soon after the race started. Two of my sisters who were fitness instructors at the time, held back and we stayed together for the first few miles. And then they left me and my youngest sister behind.  By the time we made it to mile 6, every muscle in my body was screaming at me to stop.  Just sit down. You hate this. Curse Craig (said brother). It was not long before I began to share these desires with my remaining sister.  She would say, “see that tree up there? You can make it to that tree.” When we made it to the tree, she would say, “there’s a water station up another 100 feet, you can make it to the water station.” This continued until we reached the top of the mountain.  She never stopped telling me I could do it. She never let me stop and sit.  She knew and I knew that I would never finish if I stopped.

At the end of every semester, at Station Day, I have an opportunity as a Let’s Play Music/piano teacher to visit one-on-one with the parents of my students.  I always ask them how it’s going at home.  Do they have any concerns? I often hear stories of frustrated students and “I’m at the end of my rope” parents.  What to do?

I tell parents that learning an instrument is like climbing a mountain.  It starts off so fun and easy.  The excitement of learning something new gives the child the desire and incentive to practice because it is just so fun.  In other words, the path is paved and smooth and not much effort is needed to accomplish what the teacher is asking the student to do. Then as time goes on, the music begins to get harder, the practice time isn’t as fun, and the child must start working.  There may be rocks and divots in the path. That’s when the complaining starts. That’s when they begin to fight practice time. That’s when the child starts saying things like, “I hate this,” “It’s too hard,” “I can’t do it, “I want to quit.” You know what I mean.

So, as a parent, how do you support your child while he or she climbs the mountain? Do you give them small goals and celebrate when the goals are achieved? Do you say, “See this measure? You can play this measure.” And then give lots of high fives and praise when they play the measure? Do you keep encouraging and keep gently pushing and let them know they can do it? There are countless ways to support your child and be the encouragement that they need.

I love the lightbulb moments and I see them happen at different times for each student.  You know what I mean—the moment where everything clicks.  Their fingers, their eyes, their brains, all begin to work together and what was once hard now becomes enjoyable and fun again.  They usually run into class with a huge smile on their face and want to show me how great they are at playing ___________.  I love this moment and I love to celebrate with them and exchange knowing nods with their mothers.

Interestingly enough, the lightbulb moment is not when the growth was happening.  The growth was happening during the pain, during the tears and the frustration.  That’s when the student was growing and learning. It was hard to see then, and it is next to impossible to feel it when you are in the middle of it, but that’s when it was happening. If they had stopped when it was hard, they never would have experienced and seen the fruits of the growth.

Learning an instrument is like climbing a mountain, there will be tough times, hard times and it will hurt.  You may even think that you should quit because there are times when it is hard and painful, but if you keep pushing through and keep moving and working, no matter how slow that movement is, you will eventually reach the top of the mountain where everything suddenly becomes a little easier and more enjoyable. It is then that you can reap the rewards of hard work and dedication.

There will always be another mountain to climb.  Some will be small hills and some will be so large they will seem impossible to climb, but there is always another mountain and that keeps us moving forward. Don’t sit down, don’t stop. One step at a time.

Thanks to my angel sister, I did make it to the end of the marathon and only lost 2 toenails.

The MAC Meridian


Let’s Play Music Station Day

At the end of each Let’s Play Music semester for the 2nd and 3rd year students, we have Station Day!

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green turtleshells logopurple magic logo

What is Station Day, you ask?  Well, Station Day is a celebration of everything the students have learned that semester.  Instead of keyboards lined up in rows, the classroom is set up in stations where students will rotate through with a parent and show they what they have learned through the games and activities set up at each station.

Let's Play Music Station Day at The MAC Meridian

This year’s Green Turtles and Purple Magic students are creating rhythms and performing them on rhythm instruments, and are performing puppet shows for their parents to classical music from Strauss, Mozart, Vivaldi, and Copland.

Station Day Let's Play Music at The MAC Meridian

They are celebrating their new knowledge and skills as they perform from their songbooks, play “Don’t Eat Pete,” and create an original 5-finger melody in C position.

Station Day Let's Play Music at The MAC Meridian

Station Day is one of the highlights of Let’s Play Music and one of the favorite days for students and parents at The MAC.  Don’t forget the “Elf Yourself” bonus station in the lobby!  Merry Christmas MAC families!

The MAC Music and Art Center Christmas

Let’s Play Music is a 3-year music foundation course for children entering the program between ages 4 and 6. Students learn complete musicianship as they learn keyboarding skills, compose, transpose, and complete college level music theory.  We will be accepting new students for the 2017-2018 school year in March 2017.  Please contact us to attend a sample class and add your child’s name to our waiting list. For children ages 2-4 please visit our Sound Beginnings page for information about this fabulous music class for young children.  Both of these music programs are available at The MAC Music and Art Center in Meridian, Idaho

Sound Beginnings Instrument Day

Instrument Day! is always a favorite day in the Sound Beginnings class!

Sound Beginnings is a parent and child music class for young children–2-4 year olds.

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This semester’s class was named “White Horses”

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and many of the games, songs, and activities centered around horses.  The final class each semester of Sound Beginnings is called Instrument Day.  This is a super fun day when students can bring their parents, siblings, grandparents, and friends to participate in class with them.

Sound Beginnings Instrument Day at The MAC Meridian Music and Art Center

Instrument Day at The MAC Meridian

Instrument Day at The MAC Meridian

Instrument Day at The MAC Meridian

Instrument Day at The MAC Meridian

Instrument Day at The MAC Meridian

Each family bring instruments from home—some are professional string or brass instruments, some are children’s toys, and some are homemade.  Whatever the children bring, they are excited to share with the class.  We always make a rhythm instrument to take home and this year it was the jingle glove!

Instrument Day at The MAC Meridian

Instrument Day at The MAC Meridian


Just find a child’s size glove and hot glue jingle bells on the fingertips for a super fun and easy instrument.  Of course the parents are the ones doing the gluing, but the children are the ones picking out the color of the glove and the jingles.

Instrument Day at The MAC Meridian

Instrument Day at The MAC Meridian

At The MAC we love to see the joy on the children’s faces as they explore music and share it with their families. Thanks MAC families!

Join us for the next round of classes beginning January 9! Register HERE

A Chat with Noterunner

jen - piano                                    Noterunner Logo, The MAC Meridian

Noterunner.com is a fabulous new website for buying and selling digital sheet music.  Not only do they give composers a great venue to sell their compositions and teachers another venue to find new digital sheet music, but they also sponsor competitions with great prizes for musicians of all ages and levels. I recently had a chat with Jen Butikofer, the mastermind behind Noterunner, and a very accomplished composer and musician herself.

What would you consider your first instrument to be?  Do you play others? What made you decide that was “your” instrument?

My first instrument is the piano.  I dabble a bit on the guitar and love to sing.


What made you begin a life path in music?  What age were you when you started and what was the inspiration that fueled you?

I was raised in a very musical family and have always felt passionate about music.  I remember falling asleep to the sound of my Father singing and my Mom accompanying him on the piano most nights when I was young.   When I was  around 6 years old I decided I wanted to write music.  I hadn’t had any formal training but must have had some exposure from my mother because I knew the names of the notes.  I started writing my own “compositions” on the back of a diaper box using letter names and long and short lines to represent the length of the notes.  I wanted to play in the talent show when I was 7 so I remember figuring out Mary Had a Little Lamb by ear and performing that.  My Mom started officially teaching me after that.   I began studying with Juliette Gamero for a short period of time and trained with Debrah Gamero until I graduated from high school.  I continued to study music from professors at Utah State on the side while pursuing my masters degree in Computer Science .  I have loved piano and singing ever since.  I enjoyed song writing, performing, and competing.


Describe a typical practice week.

Truthfully, I wasn’t always the best at practicing properly.  In the beginning I was faithful about it and practiced 30 minutes every day.  As I got older, I would practice harder before competing but had times where I focused on school and other interests and my practicing wasn’t hot.  But I always kept at it and the goal was 30-60 minutes a day.  I participated and graduated from the AIM program in Utah.  I also did federation, recitals and monster concerts and other events throughout the year which gave me incentive to hustle and catch up on my practicing.  But even when I wasn’t officially practicing, I was always playing.  I often got in trouble at lessons for making up new parts and not playing what was written.  Although, not a tactic I would necessarily recommend, it helped me gain a love of composition.  I had a group of close friends and we got together almost weekly and would sing and rotate who was accompanying the group.  I was the church choir accompanist, organist and school choir accompanist and outside choir accompanist throughout high school and college.  I also earned money by accompanying for individuals and voice teachers.  I bring these things up because even when I thought I wasn’t always perfect at practicing my official lesson, my life was filled with incentives that kept me playing and growing without thinking of it as work.


Are there any practice tools you feel you have learned and would share with others?

A couple tricks that help me are:

1)  Identify “bug” sections.  Then play those sections several times a day perfectly.  You can go as slowly as you need to but you should have no mistakes and no restarts.

2)  Have goals in your practicing.  Without goals, the practicing isn’t as efficient or effective.  I like to have things to work toward like recitals, competitions or accompanying.  It makes me focus and helps me take my practicing to the next level – even if I don’t win.

3)  Practice only as fast as your weakest part

4) Learn the art of the performance flow for accompanying.  Pay attention to your deadline.  Notice how much progress you make and set goals.  Then, if you can see you are not on track to make your goal, figure out how to “cheat.”  So, for example, if you are accompanying for a choir and have one week to get the piece ready and there is a measure that will take you three weeks, adapt your piece so that it flows.   This may require dropping some parts and focusing on essential notes.


When you are learning a new piece, how do you begin? Do you analyze the chord structure, identify the hardest part and practice that first? Play from beginning to end without stopping? Etc.

What should I do or what do I do?  I typically play through it to get a feel, then identify problem spots and drill.   Ideally, it is best to divide the piece into sections.  Each section should be small enough that you can play it perfectly within a few days by repeating it several times perfectly.  You may not necessarily get to all the sections on day one but will have learned the piece right the first time.

What type of music do you feel most inspired by?

I love so many kinds of music!   I love music that makes me feel something.  In classical music I like the Romantic Era.  I love pop and have a special place in my heart for the 80’s.  I love country, classical, musical theatre, you name it.  I’m not a big fan of most rap or heavy metal.  If it makes you dance or helps you feel something, that’s what makes me tick.


How important do you feel ear training and composing are to musicians?  How have you developed a musical ear? Do you compose your own pieces? Enjoy improvising melodies? Write your own arrangements of familiar pieces?

I think ear training and composing are helpful to musicians in that the musician can more easily identify patterns in music that make a piece quicker to learn. Since I love to sing, it is also nice to be able to change the key of a song or create my own arrangements when necessary.  I enjoy arranging and composing my own pieces.  I call composing my “bliss.”  When I am composing, everything else in the world stops and I am consumed in the process of expressing and being in the moment.  I usually have a digital recorder with me at all times so I can catch the melodies that come into my head.  The best time seems to be 1:00 in the morning when I’m trying to sleep!

I first learned to play by ear through experimentation – probably when I should have been practicing!  I would listen to my favorite songs and try to figure them out.  Playing by ear can be helpful in your lessons if you haven’t practiced! : ) I still remember sitting at the piano when I was 11 listening to Richard Marx sing “Right Here Waiting” and trying to pick it out.  As I got older, I was involved in AIM where I was taught specific ear training skills that helped increase my capacity to hear the music.  The reflections program also helped foster a love of composing.


Who is your favorite composer and why? How has this composer influenced the musician you have become?

Rachmaninoff!  My favorite part of music is the dynamics.  Rachmaninoff’s compositions have such an emotional and powerful component.  I love the chord choices that he uses.

Growing up I also listened to a lot of artists similar to John Schmidt and Rachmaninoff.  I find my new age compositions are very influenced by their sound.  I love 2nds and 7ths!


Where can people see or hear you perform?

I perform singer/songwriter style with a children’s choir around the valley at events such as MADD, fallen police officer memorials, the Festival of Trees etc.  I also perform at community and religious events with Malinda DeBry and my family.


Do you teach private or group music lessons?

I teach in a limited capacity right now as I am focused on my children at night and my new business www. NoteRunner.com during the day.


If music is not your first profession, how do you balance your other life and profession with your music career?

I would say my first profession is a being a mother to four beautiful children.  I enjoy working on NoteRunner because I can do it from home during the day and still be available for my children in the evening and also have the flexibility to help out with their classes during the day.


If you compose music, where can people view and purchase your compositions?

I have sheet music available on www.NoteRunner.com and am adding to it regularly.  I have primarily recorded for contests with a singer/songwriter style such as Nashville Star or the Tyler Castleton/Jenny Phillips songwriting competition.  Most of my music is in my head or recorded. I am currently in the process of making more available in sheet music form.

“I Believe in Christ” is a CD I produced with Malinda DeBry who plays the fiddle. Our arrangements are available on CDBaby, itunes and www.JenAndMalinda.com.  Sheet music for those is coming soon.  You can find other singer/songwriter style music through my facebook page.


If you could go back to when you were a new music student and tell yourself anything, what would it be?

I would have told myself to practice a little harder!  Music has brought so much joy into my life.  The initial road can seem monotonous at times, but once you get over the initial wall of drudgery, your whole world opens.  It can also be an avenue for income that works with raising a family.


Do you have any great memories of music as a child?

More than I can count!  One of my favorites is my Dad laying in the hallway between the room of my two brothers and my room and singing my grandmother’s Mexican folk songs to us.  His voice is still one of the most beautiful voices I have heard.  It made me “feel” the music.   I still sing those songs to my children today.


What else do you want people to know about you or your organization?

We regularly hold piano and vocal competitions for cash prizes and welcome anyone interested to watch for the NoteRunner Piano Jam contest coming in spring 2016!  We also welcome new composers who write music and teachers who have created music helps or curriculum to be part of our NoteRunner community.  On our site composers and music teachers can create their own store and sell from the site for great commissions.


Thanks Jen! I’m sure Noterunner.com will soon be a go-to resource for music teachers and composers alike!

Jen with kids group jen - piano

Get Out of the Way-Performance Anxiety

“Get out of the way!”

I was shocked to hear those words coming from someone who had always been supportive of me.

I was never one to get overly nervous when performing.  I had confidence in myself, and a lot of pride to go along with it.

Until one particular time in my life…

When I was in college I transferred from ASU to UNLV-Reno.  Not because I particularly liked Reno, but because one of the biggest bigwig harp instructors in the United  States was teaching there and she asked me to come study with her. Not going to pass that opportunity up-no way.  Studying with Suzanne Balderston was AMAZING! She passed away a few years ago, but what she taught me will be with me forever.

Music majors are required to do lots of things they receive little or no credit for.  One of those things is to perform in a certain number of concerts through the semester.  Often, colleges and universities have regularly scheduled performance opportunities for students, and your instructor will sign you up to perform at the event.  Many music professors and students attend these performances, so when you are performing, you are doing so in front of people who are very educated as to what you are doing-a little (lot) intimidating.

Ms. Balderston signed me and another harpist up for one of these performances and we were playing a duet:

Sixth French Suite by Johann Sebastian Bach.  I was assigned to be Harp 1, which meant I was playing the higher part and my hands felt like there were above my ears when I was playing, and I had running 16th notes, played at a very fast tempo.  We had only had the music for about 3 weeks and I did not feel prepared to perform. No matter how much I practiced, I was never able to feel confident about my part.

The day of the performance arrived and I had a sinking feeling.  The kind of feeling that sits in the bottom of your stomach and let’s you know just how much you are dreading what’s coming, but you have no power to stop it. I didn’t let that feeling down-I royally bombed, and I felt bad.  Really bad.  Ms. Balderston was not able to be there to see the royal stinkiness, and for that I was grateful, but rest assured, she was filled in by the faculty members who witnessed my humiliation.  When I saw her later that afternoon I thought she would give me a hug and tell me I would do better next time-we had that kind of close relationship.


The first words out of her mouth, “HOW DARE YOU!”  I was speechless…

She continued, “How dare you come between God, the composer, and the audience!” Still speechless…

“Do you believe in God?” she asked.  I nodded.

“Well God inspired these composers to create this music-how dare you let your pride get in the way of that inspiration. GET OUT OF THE WAY.”

I thought a long time about it then and in the years since.  As a musician I have had to determine why I perform and what I want to communicate through the pieces I choose to learn, practice, and share with others. If I truly believe God has inspired the music I choose, then who am I to get in the way of communicating that to His children?

I wish I could say in the years since this happened that I have not had any more performance bombs, but that would not be true.  Those bombs have all happened when I let my pride get in the way of the music. Now every time I perform, I over prepare.  I ask God and contemplate what He wants me to say through the music, then I

Get Out of the Way.