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Buying a Keyboard or Digital Piano

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We get asked all the time what keyboard parents should buy for their child.  It’s not a wonder parents can feel overwhelmed when looking for a keyboard—there are so many out there!  There are many brands, models, features, sizes, and terms that probably feel foreign to many parents.

First of all, let’s get this out of the way first—buying a piano is better that buying a keyboard.  But, and that’s a big but, it needs to be a quality piano that has all working keys, can stay in tune, and has good tone quality. That doesn’t mean it has to be expensive, but you will need to know what to look for.

With that out of the way, there are still many parents who will choose a keyboard, usually for one or more of the following reasons:

  • They don’t want to make the investment in a piano until they know their child will stick with it
  • They don’t have room in their house for a piano
  • They want the extra capabilities that come with a keyboard—ability to plug in headphones, recording or midi options, etc.

When buying a keyboard, you will want to consider how much money you will want to spend. In Let’s Play Music class at The MAC Meridian, we use mainly the lower end keyboards.  Always use a keyboard that has full-sized keys, meaning the keys are the same size as piano keys.  When your child does transfer to a piano, this will allow for an easier transition because he/she will not have to relearn hand-spacing, which could be very frustrating.  Most keyboards do have full-sized keys, but those that are considered more to be toys than instruments may not. You will also want to have at least 61 keys on your keyboard. If a keyboard has less keys than 61, there is not enough room on the keyboard to play many pieces/songs, and your child will outgrow it very quickly.

We like the Casio brand for the lower end keyboards.  You can often find bundles that come with a stand, power cord, and headphones on Amazon.   We like this Casio CTK2400

Of course, you don’t have to buy a bundle. You may be thinking, “I have a table to put the keyboard on.” And maybe you do!  Keep this in mind—the correct position for a child to sit at the keyboard is at a height that will allow the forearms to be parallel to the floor and the elbow to be at a 90 degree angle.  For a young child, this would mean you need a very low table. A keyboard stand is adjustable, and will allow for you to raise the level of the keyboard as your child grows.

The 61-key keyboard will get your child through Let’s Play Music, or about 2 years of piano lessons.

If you are wanting a keyboard that will last longer and be a more quality instrument, you will want to move into the digital piano area, meaning the instrument is designed to closely mimic the feel and sound of a traditional piano. We like the Yamaha P45.  This digital piano has 88 full-sized weighted keys. An instrument with weighted keys will require more finger strength from the child.  This is a good thing!  It will build their muscles!  Your child will also be able to learn to control the volume of his playing with the touch of his fingers. The softer a child presses on the keys, the softer the sound.  The harder a child presses, the louder the sound.  It does have a volume dial, which will also help control volume.  This digital piano does not have a lot of the fancy keyboard options, but is an excellent keyboard for a beginner student to have the feel that mimics a piano, and a parent who wants the flexibility of a keyboard. It is a heavy instrument, so make sure you have the double x stand or a furniture stand.  A single X-stand will not be sturdy enough to support this digital piano.

For those parents wanting to spend more money and have a digital piano with more options and capabilities, we like the Yamaha DGX660.  We did a lot of research on digital pianos in this price range.  We liked this one for its GHS weighted action keys, 128-note polyphony, PureCF sampled piano, and USB/recording capabilities.  It has many more options that these, but these are the ones that has us sold on this model.  This digital piano is LARGE! It is not easily portable and will definitely need a furniture stand to sit on. We have owned this digital keyboard for just over 2 years and are still extremely happy with its sound and performance capabilities.

A quality instrument will do wonders for the excitement your child feels for music lessons!  This cannot be stated more firmly or importantly.  If you want your child to enjoy lessons, make the investment!

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Princess Art Party with Belle

What little girl doesn’t dream of meeting her favorite princess?  Well, at The MAC Music and Art Center, we knew we wanted to help little girls’ dreams come true. We held our first Princess Art Party this spring!

Princess Party at The MAC Meridian

The evening started off with creating a painting.  Keeping in line with the Beauty and the Beast theme, the girls painted a mirror and chose either pink or blue.  Who knew that blue would be a more popular color?!

Princess painting party Princess Painting party Princess Painting party

While the base coat of the paintings dried, the girls played “Pin the Kiss on the Frog” or is it “Pin the Kiss on the Prince?”  Hmmmm… hard to tell sometimes.

Princess party games

Back to the paintings to create the mirror. A little tricky, but with a some help, we all got it done.

Princess Party at The MAC Meridian

While we were waiting for the mirrors to dry, we needed a little pick-me-up, so the cupcake decorating table came in handy.

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Belle was so beautiful! She read us a story, sang songs, took pictures, and admired our art work.  The princesses in waiting were mesmerized by her and loved every minute.

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Thank you Belle for making our Princess Party so memorable! Take good care of Beast and we hope to see you again soon!

Princess Party at The MAC Meridian

The Mac Music and Art Center

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.

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

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?

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Sound Beginnings and the Do Pentatonic Scale

Sound Beginnings and The Pentatonic Scale

We are in the Silver Buttons semester of Sound Beginnings this spring.  Many parents are curious about the Do Pentatonic Scale and why we use it.  It seems strange to skip over a note, doesn’t it?  Why don’t we sing Fa? Why not leave out Mi or Re?  Well, there actually is a good reason why we are teaching the Do Pentatonic Scale this semester.  Keep reading and your questions will be answered.

The DO Pentatonic Scale is a five-note scale: DO, RE, MI, SOL, LA. “Pente” is Greek for “five” and “tonic” means “tone”. These notes are not consecutive and the half step is skipped over, putting a beautiful minor 3rd at the top of the scale. As we have been learning in Sound Beginnings, the minor 3rd is the first interval young children can hear and imitate correctly. Think of the Sol-Mi songs we sing in music class–these songs are all using the minor 3rd interval.

The Pentatonic Scale (Pentatony) The Pentatonic Scale (Pentatony)

 

Due to its simplicity, the pentatonic scale is the basic scale for folk songs. The folk song genre grew out of natural human expression using the voice. Since two sets of minor 3rds are inherent in the scale it has a natural and instinctive sound and is easy to sing and imitate.

Nowadays it is no longer necessary to explain why it is better to start teaching music to small children through pentatonic tunes: first, it is easier to sing in tune without having to use semitones (half-steps), second, the musical thinking and the ability to sound the notes can develop better using tunes which employ leaps rather than stepwise tunes based on the diatonic scale often used by teachers”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Kodaly

Kodaly – the creator of this scale – fully embraced its use when teaching young children. He taught that “it is easier to sing in tune without having to use half steps”. Kodaly continues that it is easier to ‘hear’ the notes and sing them in a melody that employs leaps rather than stepwise tunes. His philosophy further teaches that the beginnings of music education must be made in the pentatonic scale because it is the wellspring of all music.

Everything from ancient music of the Eastern world, to Gregorian chant, to 20th century composers like Debussy have at their core the pentatonic scale. In addition, the pentatonic scale carries with it an endearing, simple, lilting, carefree quality which characterizes childhood itself.

In music class this semester, we are singing the song, “Mary Wore Her Red Dress.” This song is comprised completely using the Do Pentatonic Scale.  And you thought we were just singing about clothes…

After we know all this of course we are going to use the Pentatonic Scale!

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Want to know more about Sound Beginnings? Come to The MAC for a free sample class! This FUN curriculum is specifically designed for children ages 2-4 years old and their parents. By providing a solid music and preschool foundation, Sound Beginnings prepares students for success in Let’s Play Music and Kindergarten! The curriculum is organized into four non-sequential semesters each lasting 4 months and provides experience with important music concepts and skills through songs and games. Classes include singing, movement, games, stories, and activities, focusing on different concepts each semester.

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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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

One Stone 24-hour Think Challenge

My son is a junior in high school.

 

Sam_One stone 24 hr think challengeHe sometimes wants to sit around and do nothing, and sometimes wants to change the world.  Last weekend he was feeling the latter and decided to volunteer his long weekend off of school to spend 33 hours at Century Link Arena in Boise with the One Stone organization.

One Stone is a student-led and directed nonprofit that makes students better leaders and the world a better place. They empower high school students to learn and practice 21st century skills through experiential service, innovative initiatives and social entrepreneurship. One Stone sponsored a “24-Hour Think Challenge” for Idaho’s high school juniors October 1-2, 2015. The challenge was to find a way to improve education in Idaho.

The 150 students listened to invited guest speakers and were divided into groups, then were given 24 hours to brainstorm and come up with a plan, complete with a Powerpoint presentation, storyboard, and 5-minute TED-talk like speech.  A countdown clock was all the time reference they had as they spent the night at Century Link Arena and had no contact with the outside world. Many of the students had little or no sleep for the entire length of the challenge.

As I listened to the presentations, I was impressed with the depth of concern and thought the students had given their task.  A common theme was that students want more self-direction in their education and they want more training in real-life skills that will prepare them for the job market after graduation.

My son’s friend was also one of the students to participate in the think challenge.  He was also the presenter for his group and is a talented budding artist and all around great person.  He is a high-achieving student who will have his choice of careers after graduation. What he really wants to be is an artist.  All his teachers are discouraging him from his true desire, and none of them are taking his hopes and dreams and encouraging him to follow them.  Listen to his story….

 

Why do parents and teachers discourage their children from following their creative passions?  There are people who make a living at doing what they love and they bring joy and happiness to their lives and to those around them while doing it.  There are creative careers that can earn a living-why do we not tell our children this?  Have we as adults become so jaded and dollar driven that we don’t let our children pursue a career that would fulfill them and make them excited to go to work each day?

Success is not only measured in dollars and possessions, aka toys.  Success should be measured by quality of life and the ability to influence others for good. What do you tell your children in this ultra-competitive world we live in–that they must choose a career that makes a lot of money because that is the only way to be happy? Yes, not having money is a sure way to be unhappy, but having money does not guarantee happiness.  There are art and music careers that will allow a creative individual to be happy, fulfilled, and self-sustaining.

At The MAC Music and Art Center we are striving to bring quality art and music education to Idaho’s families, subjects that are increasingly being cut from our schools’ curriculums.

Our vision statement:

We believe every child is musical and every individual has a creative power.  We provide an opportunity for that creativity to develop and flourish.  The joy is found in the journey, not in the destination.  We seek to make that journey as enjoyable and meaningful as possible.

 

Let’s encourage our youth to participate in the arts, even if it is only a hobby.

Art and music give life to our spirits, joy to our hearts, and meaning to our existence.

Let’s Play Music FAQ

What age is the program for?
Ideal starting age is 4 or 5 in September. However, since the skills and concepts taught are quite advanced, many children have begun classes at age 6 and finished successfully.

How is the curriculum calendar structured?
The curriculum is organized into 6 sequential semesters spanning 3 years. It follows the regular school year. Classes begin August 24 and run through the end of April. A recital will be held after the spring semester is over.

How long and how frequent are the classes?
Classes are taught weekly. 1st year: 45 minutes, 2nd year: 50 minutes, 3rd year: 55 minutes.

What is the cost of tuition?
First year tuition is $200/semester or 8 monthly installments of $50 each. Second year tuition is $220/semester or 8 monthly installments of $55 each. Third year tuition is $240/semester or 8 monthly installments of $60 each. There are 2 semesters every school year.

What materials do I get?
1st Year materials include an 8 Tone Bell Set with carrying case and mallets, student binder with weekly Lesson Guides and Theory Assignments, Flashcards, Home Study CDs, and a Tote Bag. 2nd and 3rd year materials include Piano Songbooks, Home Study CDs, Flashcards and new weekly Lesson Guides and Theory Assignments.

What is the cost for materials?
Cost for materials is approximately $88 for the 1st year and $63 for 2nd and 3rd years.

How big are the classes?
Optimum class size is 6-7 children, though there may be anywhere from 4-8

Why are they group lessons?
It has been well documented that children in group settings learn and perform better. They are more comfortable and stimulated in this environment. They thrive on the synergy and playful interaction of the Let’s Play Music class.

What is the parent involvement?
Parent involvement in music training is crucial. Parents are involved at home and in class. The first year, parent/caregiver attends with the child every other week. The second and third years, parent attendance is only once a month, though at home involvement remains high.

Is there any vocal training?
Let’s Play Music adheres to the philosophy that the voice is the first musical instrument. Most of class time is spent singing. The voice is trained to sing in tune, to sing naturally and openly, to sing in harmony, and to sing accompanied. At ages 4-8, specific tone, placement or support instruction is not completely beneficial. Let’s Play Music is not a performing group.

Which is emphasized more: ear-training or note-reading?
There is a beautiful balance of ear training and note reading in Let’s Play Music. Note reading is not delayed and the traditional letter names are taught so that graduates make a smooth transition to traditional private piano lessons.

Isn’t age 4-5 too young to learn piano?
Research has proven that age 4-5 is an ideal age for music instruction. The ears are at prime listening capacity and the brain is busy connecting a network of neurons. Let’s Play Music captures this opportunity window by training the ears without requiring the finger strength or dexterity that a piano does.

Can I register for the 2nd or 3rd year without having been through the 1st year?
No. Let’s Play Music is highly sequential, meaning that concepts are introduced and then built upon. Completion of the 1st year is a pre-requisite to registration for the 2nd year.

What are the main instruments for the second and third years?
The piano becomes the instrument for instruction and practice in the second and third years. Each child plays on his/her own keyboard in class and needs a keyboard with full-sized keys or a piano for practice at home. Because of the intensive training in staff reading during the first year, this transition to piano is smooth and natural.

What do students do after 3 years of Let’s Play Music?
After graduation, students are prepared to excel in private piano instruction. They enter private lessons with knowledge of note names, rhythmic values, chord structure, etc, and with skills of playing scales and cadences in five keys, transposing, and composing.

How is Let’s Play Music different from other keyboard methods?
Let’s Play Music is the only program that contains over 25 original songs, games and activities that teach precise musical concepts. It incorporates the philosophies of Kodaly, Orff and Dalcroze and adapts them specifically to the piano. Classical music is introduced in “puppet shows” that will forever endear children to this genre. There are numerous innovative, creative ideas for internalizing music. In addition to these items, Let’s Play Music differs from traditional piano methods in that musical concepts are taught through games and full body involvement, it is in a class setting, and ear training is emphasized from the start. Let’s Play Music also differs from other “ear-training” based methods in that note reading is emphasized from the onset and that the traditional letter names are used.

Why should I enroll my child in Let’s Play Music?
Your child will LOVE it! You will love it because you will see him/her demonstrate advanced musical concepts and skills. Your relationship with your child will grow as you enjoy class time and practice time together, in a playful, nurturing environment. Your child’s talent will become evident as he/she develops into a musician with an in-depth understanding of music theory, classical form, harmony and composition. Your outlook on teaching children music will never be the same!