I Have to Tell You the Truth

by Jen Hickle

I have to tell you something.
Music lessons aren’t actually about music. No– music lessons are about so much more.

When you push through a hard spot and don’t give up, you’re learning perseverance and tenacity.
When you show up every week for mentoring from your teacher, you’re learning consistency, keeping your promises, and how to show up on time.
When you practice, you are developing discipline skills that will last you a lifetime.
When your knees are shaking and you climb the steps onto the stage and perform, even though you’re scared, you’re learning that you can do things scared. And succeed.
When you play music in front of a large audience, you’re learning how to get up in front of people and stay poised and confident.
When you totally mess up, you’re learning how to dust yourself off and try again.
When you master a song, you’re learning how to stick with something and conquer it!
When you drop your backpack every day and head to practice your music, you’re learning time management skills.
When you hear a song on the radio and you know how hard it is, you  have learned music appreciation.
When you go to a concert and admire the talent on stage, you have learned what it means to be a musician.

I have to  admit. It’s never been about music lessons at all. It’s about all the LIFE lessons that you are learning along the way.

Parents, thank you for giving your kids the GIFT of music and life lessons!

Music Reading Tips for Beginning Students

The ability to read music is a valuable skill for any music student.  When learning to read music, beginning students become familiar with individual notes and symbols and learn how to play them on their instrument.  Music students also learn how to recognize patterns and shapes of the melodies written on the page.  It is important for parents to help beginning students with music reading during their practice at home.

To practice individual notes, you can ask your child to name the notes of the song he/she is working on and show you how each note is played on their instrument.  Flashcards are another great way to practice notes and music symbols.

To help students work on identifying musical patterns, you can ask your child to describe the music as the notes move higher, lower or stay the same.  For a fun activity, have your child draw the melody using ups and downs like a roller-coaster.


For information about music lessons at the Altadena Academy of Music, please call    (626) 296-0799 or use our email contact form.

Advice for Choosing an Electronic Keyboard

Electric piano close up

An electronic keyboard is often the perfect choice for a beginning piano student.  Compared with upright or grand pianos, keyboards are more affordable, take up less space, and have technology applications that are appealing to students of all ages.  Below are tips for purchasing a keyboard provided by music educator and pianist Theresa Gigante:

  1. A keyboard that has weighted keys mimics the feel of a real piano and allows students to play loud or soft based on the amount of force they put onto the keys.
  2. An 88 key full-size keyboard is the best; however, it is completely acceptable for a beginning student to use a keyboard with around 66 keys.
  3. The ideal setup for a keyboard is to have a proper stand, music rack and seat for the student.  Having this arrangement will foster correct technique and facilitate practice at home.
  4. A sustain pedal can often be purchased as an optional accessory for an electronic keyboard.  Having the sustain pedal will enhance the sound of the student’s playing, even at the beginning level.

For information about music lessons at the Altadena Academy of Music, please call    (626) 296-0799 or use our email contact form.

Maintaining a Summer Practice Routine

Guitar at the countryAs summer begins and schedules change, it’s best to try to maintain a consistent practice routine as much as possible.  Please check out our posts related to establishing and maintaining an effective practice routine:

The Keys to Practicing: Part I

The Keys to Practicing: Part II

The Keys to Practicing: Part III

Five Tips for Making Practice Fun

Perspectives on Effective Practicing Techniques

For information about music lessons at the Altadena Academy of Music, please call    (626) 296-0799 or use our email contact form.

Five Tips for Making Practice Fun

metronome and notes

1. Play Practice Games.

It’s effective for young children to play a song or passage three times during a practice session.  To make this more fun, draw a picture with three different places and have your child place a small toy on the picture.  Each time a song is played well, your child can move the character to the next spot on the picture.

2. Revisit Old Favorites.

Revisiting songs that your child enjoyed and learned to play well builds confidence and makes practice fun.  These songs should remain a part of regular practice even after the teacher considers them finished and has moved on to new pieces

3. Have the Student become the Teacher.

Ask your child to teach you how to play a song.  Ask your child to show you the notes, how to play it, and give comments on how you sound.

4. Listen to Music.

You should consider every listening experience a part of music learning.  Going to a local concert or playing your or your child’s favorite album and talking about what parts you enjoy and why can help your child develop an appreciation for music.

5. Try a New Activity.

Teachers have lots of worksheets and other tools to help your child learn music.  In addition, we recommend getting a note speller book to practice notes and you can also find flashcards that will help learning music symbols.

For information about music lessons at the Altadena Academy of Music, please call    (626) 296-0799 or use our email contact form.

Tips for Practicing Musical Rhythm

Clapping game

Establishing a good sense of rhythm is important for beginning musicians.  Here are some tips for helping young learners with rhythm in their at home practice.

1.  Clap, tap or drum the rhythms of the songs that your child is working on prior to playing them on the instrument.

2. Encourage your child to practice her songs at an appropriate speed so that the rhythms are correct.

3.  When listening to music, encourage clapping, marching or dancing to the beat.

4.  Play rhythm games like tapping out a rhythm and then have your child clap it back.  You can also look for musical rhythm game apps that you can download on your tablet or phone.

5. Make rhythm flash cards to practice the different note values or rhythmic patterns.

For information about music lessons at the Altadena Academy of Music, please call    (626) 296-0799 or use our email contact form.


The Keys to Practicing: Part III

Below are four tips to vary your music practice routine and stay energized in your playing.

  1. Mix up your practice routine.  If you are studying multiple songs, you can vary the order that you play the songs.  On one day, you could play each song for a set amount of time before moving to the next.  At the next practice session, you can play each of your songs once or twice in a row and then repeat the whole set.
  2. Avoid always playing from start to finish.  On certain days, you can focus on just practicing the more difficult sections of a song. Then, at the next practice session  try playing all the way through.
  3. Listen to your songs.  Look for different performances, recordings or live versions of the songs that you are learning.  This can renew your inspiration to work on the song or come up with some new ideas of how to play a certain section.
  4. Remember that you don’t have to play to be practicing.  There are many other music activities that you can add to your practice routine that will benefit your playing.  If you are learning to read music, you can practice sight reading and note names.  You can also focus on just the rhythmic aspect of your songs by clapping or drumming.


For information about music lessons at the Altadena Academy of Music, please call    (626) 296-0799 or use our email contact form.

Perspectives on Effective Practicing Techniques

Boy Practicing Violin At HomeAn article entitled When Repetition isn’t the Best Practice Strategy sheds some light on what really works when practicing music.  Although the technique seems geared toward more advanced students’ practice routines, it can be beneficial for students at every level.

The article suggests that an effective practice routine could consist of choosing two or three focus points which students can alternate between during a practice session.  For example, a beginner might play song A, then play song B, then play song C, and then play the songs again in a varied order.  By alternating between songs the student will be more focused during each piece.  For advanced students, the focus could alternate between different sections or passages of a longer piece.  The student might play section A for 3 minutes, section B for 3 minutes, section C for 3 minutes, and so forth.

The most important takeaway about practicing is that the quality of the practice is more important than the length of time practicing.  We agree that an efficient and focused practice session should be the objective for students of all levels.

Why is it important for music students to practice scales?

For many beginning students, practicing scales may seem like the least interesting part of their practice routine.  However, as professional musicians of all genres and instruments know, a proficiency in the relevant scales can carry your musicianship to the advanced level.

Music is based on a scale, which is a set of notes in a predetermined order.  The scale that music is based on varies depending on the genre, but the scale will determine the set of notes and patterns to be played in the song.  The scale can be used to compose a melody, to improvise a solo, and to accompany other musicians.

Practicing scale patterns on instruments helps students gain the muscle memory necessary for each scale.  Gaining this proficiency with scales can take a number of years, depending on the instrument.  The reward for doing so is well worth the effort: a student who becomes familiar with different scales will have an easier time improvising music in any desired genre of music like jazz, rock, pop, and even classical.

For information about music lessons at the Altadena Academy of Music, please call    (626) 296-0799 or use our email contact form.