Sunday, December 28, 2008

Influence & Persuasion

Watched an interesting documentary last night:  Foolproof Equations for a Perfect Life.  The title was a fib, but it was a good overview of some brain research into decision-making.  (The weakest segment was the last 'act' which spent too long looking at TopGun pilots, for too little information payoff.)

One section discussed ways we are influenced or "primed" by circumstances.  This works because of the ways our brains are wired to collect information.  An article about the research discussed in the documentary is available here.

Another discussed the benefit (if any) of making conscious our pros & cons when considering different choices.

There was also some discussion of the role of emotions in decision-making.  An article about this research is here.  I've come across this research by Antonio Damasio, author of The Feeling of What Happens, Descartes' Error, and Looking for Spinoza

Which reminded me of other books/tv shows on influence:

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini.  Run, don't walk, to your library or book store to secure your copy.  He lists 7 common forms of persuasion.

The Guerrilla Marketing Revolution by Jay Conrad Levinson & Paul R. J. Hanley.  I found this interesting, but a little repugnant in places.  The authors try to downplay the manipulative aspect of the priming they recommend, but still... it could be used that way.  That said, I did find some interesting ideas in this book.  Consistency of behaviour, and highly ethical behaviour were strongly promoted.  The section about beauty and layout was particularly interesting, given my background in design.

Also another documentary by Dr John Marsden, of Body Hits fame:  Exposed, Persuaders.  I missed this documentary when it was on a couple of weeks back, so if anyone happened to record it, I would be glad to get access...  

Brains & brain research are a bit of a hobby of mine.  As is anything about the well-springs of human behaviour.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Value in Tough Times

Some - if not most - of us are thinking of tightening our belts.  A bit of voluntary simplicity never hurt anyone.  (It is more painful if it's involuntary!)  Looking at my own discretionary spend got me thinking.

How I spend my money in tough times is - or should be - a reflection of what I value.  While I want to cut the unnecessary, it is easy to cut important things in the interest of reducing expenses.  If you're looking to reduce your household spend by x dollars, it is simpler to look for a single item of the same amount, rather than reflect on what is important to you.  It seems less painful in that moment to cut one thing, rather than reduce several.

It's easy to class anything that doesn't keep a roof over our head as an "extra".  It is easy to class anything we do for ourself - rather than for our kids, parents or partner - as expendable.

I know parents who deprive themselves of realising their dreams, to keep their children in the teen trend rat race.  

I know people who cut the big ticket items, but indulge - maybe overindulge - in little 'treats' to keep themselves going: treats that probably add up to more than a couple of big treats taken over the course of a year.  "It's only $20," is an easy lie we tell ourselves.  Ten or twenty onlys later, we can find ourselves with a case of financial indigestion.

I know people who panic (or indulge their inner skinflint) using the current downturn as an excuse to squeeze the last drop out of the family budget.

This isn't to minimise those who are feeling real pain.  If someone in the family has been let go, then drastic action is called for, and some essentials may have to go, as well as any extras.  The mortgage will, of course, come first.  For most of us, that isn't the situation - yet.

It isn't the right social climate to brag about one's latest frivolous purchase, that is for sure. There isn't one right or a wrong answer to "what gets cut".  There is only what feels right to each of us.  I did find it useful to ask myself, "who do I want to be?  what do I want more of in my life? what do I want less of? what gives me real and lasting satisfaction?".

I've realised that learning new things - which includes music - keeps me happy and healthy.  So education expenses are the last things to be cut at my house.

I can do without so many little treats:  cake at caf├ęs, icecreams, eyeshadows, dvds, etc.  I can eat more salad at home this summer.  (I can't possibly reduce my coffee intake, some things are just necessities.)

So before you, or someone you know, decides that music lessons are an "extra", ask yourself where music sits in your life.  It's about the value of what we are paying for, not just the price.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Article about surrogacy in India

Here's a link to an interesting - and challenging - article in Marie Claire magazine, about a clinic in India that finds local woman to be surrogates.

While it raises some questions, I found it ultimately hopeful.  At bottom, it's people helping other people.

I also think - hey, I am officially opinionated - that it's important to have these debates (I prefer "discussions" myself) rather than playing ostrich.

I don't have children, and I'm fine with that, but I have enough empathy to understand the excruciating pain that many infertile couples feel.

Friday, November 7, 2008

A Few Thoughts about Trying Hard

I've been to two amazing sessions here, one led by Jarrod Haning, and another by Skip Ewing. Both men are professional musicians, of some excellence. Both have a strong but not dominating presence.  They are real, all the way down!  Integrity is a beautiful thing to see.

Jarrod invited us to consider "what might I not be seeing?", and Skip suggested that "to be creative you have to get out of your own way".  Which started me on a train of thought.  Toot Toot...all aboard?

At bottom, I don't trust the idea of having what I want without doing penance for it.  I guess my experience to this point has been somewhere between 'eat your brussel sprouts or you won't get any desert', and 'enjoy now, pay later (with interest)'. 

Then I thought, I also believe you reap what you sow.  It's a good analogy, but only if there is a causative relationship between the two things.  Yep, sowing does lead to reaping, one thing causes the other.  Where we go wrong, is we apply that analogy to things that are only correlated to each other, that happen at the same time, like "hard work" and "success". What you work hard at, you succeed at.  Um, no, not always.  They are correlated, not causative.

When you have succeeded at doing (or being) something in your life, do you know what caused that success?  I'm no longer sure I do.  Was it because I worked really, really, hard and tried my very best? Or was it something else both complex and wonderfully simple?

I'm coming up with fairly radical idea that when I "really try", I'm already blocked about something.  There's something I'm missing and I need to get out of my own way and be a bit more creative.

Diligence and application are rewarded, but they're most rewarded where there isn't too much pain, or only external motivation.  There has to be a vision, an internal motivation.

Take Edison and the light bulb.  Sure, there was a strong external motivation:  not to go broke (again) and to get very, very rich.  That motivation alone was not what invented the lightglobe. A genuine vision, an intellectual curiosity drove him.  He could see the answer, tantalizingly out of reach.  If someone had said right at the start, "this will take months and  you'll go through hundreds of failures" maybe he wouldn't have started?  He didn't commit to pain, he was just willing to endure it when it happened.  He took a step, he tried something.  Maybe this will work, he thought.  Nope.  No, wait, how about this?  Nope.  I know, I know, it's that.  His intellectual and (I'm willing to bet) emotional conviction that the light globe filiament was possible, that it was there to be found and he could find it, made each step seemingly impossible NOT to take.  Each step was small in itself, but it led to success.  He kept moving, he didn't sit down and say, "Boy, if only the circumstances were right, I could make me a mighty fine lightbulb."

Do you have a vision that you believe in that much?  Do you believe your own happiness and success is possible (let alone probable)?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Genetic Link to Language Disorders Found

The New England Journal of Medicine today published an article about their research into a genetic link to certain types of language disorder.  They found that a particular gene was linked to a specific quite severe speech impairment, and suspected that other milder speech problems could be linked to problems with the same gene, even though the problems look very different initially.  They found this genetic marker often correlates with speech delays in autism.

The article is quite technical, but worth perservering with if you are interested in this area.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Southern Gothic

This is Duke Chapel, at Duke University in North Carolina.  It was our field trip today - yes we had some time off for good behaviour.  Left is the vault a the centre of the nave, and below is a shot of the windows in the main aisle. (All snapped with my iPhone)
While we were there, the organist came in to rehearse.  The chapel has four organs, and he played the big one.  So a group of internationals stood in the middle of the church and sang "Star Spangled Banner" - it seemed fitting somehow, today of all days.  That's what happens when music teachers get together - they make music!

For dinner I had 'pulled pork'.  You barbecue pork until the meat is so tender you can pull it off the bones.  Then you douse it in a special sauce.  Eat with collard greens, and hush puppies, and you have something truly special.  I had cornbread for lunch, so I'm catching up on the local delicacies.  Mmmmm.  Now I just need some pumpkin pie!

As I type, I hear occasional roars of approval and honking of horns.  Downstairs is the party of the Democratic Party in North Carolina.

Already the media are saying Mr Obama will be the next President, unless some anti-miracle happens and he loses California.  I guess we'll know in the morning.  It does seem a positive sign that more citizens turned out to vote than have in a long time.  I think a democracy whose leaders are elected by a majority of the populace is a good thing.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Asking the Right Questions

The secret to problem solving, is asking the right questions.  Until we know what the problem is, how can we solve it?

Solving the wrong problem, now there's a waste of time and energy.

As a customer, I see it all the time.  As a business owner, I see it all the time.  As a teacher, I see it all the time.  As a wife, I see it a lot too.

We jump in with a solution, because we want to help, find someone to blame, cook dinner, move on, show how smart we are, and most of all, not think too hard!

Can't get those tricky bars of notes smooth and even playing some music?  Problem is you're just not practicing hard enough!  

Or, wait, could it be you've been practicing too hard and your hand is tired?  

Could it be you're reading the notes wrong because you're too focussed on what you're trying to make your hand do?  

Could it be you're hungry and your blood sugar is dropping?

If the first answer is right, working harder will help.  If it's one of the others, then you're actually going to make the problem worse!

As a customer, I'm often offered incentives that don't entice, and products I don't want.  (Just a tip for all phone company telemarketers out there, I really, really don't want to save money on my long distance calls.  I just want you to stop ringing me.)

When you think you have the answer, keep asking.  You might surprise yourself.

So here's one I like to ask myself, "who's problem am I solving?"  

If my suggestion makes you go away and not come back, well there's my answer!


How much time do you need?

"I didn't have time to..."

We say it all the time.  I do myself, so I don't exclude myself from this.  My students say it whenever they haven't done their homework this week.

It's not really true though.  The fact of the matter is, platitude notwithstanding, we each get 24 hours in a day.

So it's not that we don't have time, it's that we choose to spend it on something else.

Some of our choices aren't exactly voluntary - I do realise your boss won't be happy if you "choose" not to go to work tomorrow in order to pursue your musical interests.  Ditto for your school teacher.

Still, how much time do you waste?  

I waste time a lot, but not as much as I used to.  I had a health scare last year, and it forced me to really look at where I put my time.  Along the lines of, "if this is all I have left, is this how I want to spend it???"

I spent a lot of my time being tired.  Tired, and too tired to do anything about it.  So I forced myself to slow down, and do one thing at a time.  More often than I used to, anyway.  I also learned to order take-away.

I spent a lot of time watching TV or DVDs, because I was too tired to amuse myself.  I still enjoy watching movies, but I don't just zombie out in front of the box.

I used that time to teach myself some new music.  I used that time to go for more walks.  I used that time to write, so I really notice what's going on around me.

When I try to "blob out" to relax with TV (or surfing the net ;0) I actually feel more tired, and less relaxed when I'm done.

When I practice my music, I feel less tired,  and more relaxed when I'm done.

So maybe you could choose to spend 5 minutes making some music today.

After all, how much time do you need to be happy?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

On NOT being musical

It's well-known among my social circle that I was declared irredeemably UNmusical at the age of 5.  Glue-ear, with only about 40% of my hearing might have had something to do with that.

Now I've taken another test that shows the same thing.

So I guess it's a pity I'm a music teacher, eh?  

Here's what the test said.  It was on the internet, so it must be true ;0)

Your result for Howard Gardner's Eight Types of Intelligence Test...


18% Logical, 41% Spatial, 61% Linguistic, 37% Intrapersonal, 37% Interpersonal, 4% Musical, 8% Bodily-Kinesthetic and 37% Naturalistic!

"Verbal-linguistic intelligence has to do with words, spoken or written. People with verbal-linguistic intelligence display a facility with words and languages. They are typically good at reading, writing, telling stories and memorizing words and dates. They tend to learn best by reading, taking notes, listening to lectures, and via discussion and debate. They are also frequently skilled at explaining, teaching and oration or persuasive speaking. Those with verbal-linguistic intelligence learn foreign languages very easily as they have high verbal memory and recall, and an ability to understand and manipulate syntax and structure.

Careers which suit those with this intelligence include writers, lawyers, philosophers, journalists, politicians and teachers." (Wikipedia)

Take Howard Gardner's Eight Types of Intelligence Test at HelloQuizzy

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Reading thrillers can increase your understanding of Bach

I've found a new thriller writer, Lee Child.  Imagine my surprise when I found a great passage about playing music in the midst of his fourth book, The Visitor.
The fifth of Bach’s three-part inventions was labelled BWV 791 by scholars and was one of the hardest in the canon, but it was Rita Scimeca’s favourite piece in all the world. It depended entirely on tone, which came from the mind, down through the shoulders and the arms and the hands and the fingers. The tone had to be whimsical, but confident. The whole piece was a confection of nonsense, and the tone had to confess to that but simultaneously it had to sound utterly serious for the effect to develop properly. It had to sound polished, but insane. Secretly, she was sure Bach was crazy.
Her piano helped. It’s sound was big enough to be sonorous, but delicate enough to be nimble. She played the piece all the way through twice, half-speed, and she was reasonably pleased with what she heard…. (p.428)
To play this thing properly, you needed to be in some kind of a trance….She sat down and played it through again, a dozen times, fifteen, twenty, all the way from the first measure to the last. She was note-perfect, but that was nothing. Was the meaning there? Was there emotion in the sound? Thought? On the whole she reckoned there was. She played it again, once, then twice. She smiled to herself…She was making progress. Now all she had to do was bring the speed up. But not too much speed. She preferred Bach played slowly. Too much speed trivialized it. Although it was fundamentally trivial music. But that was all part of Bach’s mind-game, she thought. He deliberately wrote trivial music that just begged to be played with great ceremony. (p.432-433)

So, inspiration is where you find it.  The books are great too, if you like thrillers with a renegade but decent hero.

Cheating with Chords

I love cheating when it comes to music.  Chord progressions are a great way to get a lot of "bang" for your practice "buck".   My students and I are always amazed when we hear a fun song and realise it's just:  C F G Am (I-IV-V-VIm if you feel like transposing into another key)

Who would have guessed that The Beatles' "Let It Be", Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah", and Five For Fighting's "Superman" used the same four chords?

Today I came across a great article by Roger Bourland about the development of the classic progression using the song "Heart & Soul".  

Apparently we can blame it on the popularity of "Blue Moon".

Here's a great video of the amazing variety of 4 chord songs out there:  A History of Music

Hawthorn Music Studio will soon be offering a short course unveiling the mystery of chords and how to cheat with them.  Perfect for weekend pianists and pianist-wannabes.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

iPhone music geek

I'm enjoying my iPhone enormously.  It's my portable brain, and my CD collection in one.

I've signed up for the One-to-One Training offered at the MacStore, as we're an Apple Organisation, well worth the modest investment.  My trainer told me about a little App called Midomi which allows you to search for music by humming or singing a few bars, or by mis-spelling the band or song title, or by "grabbing" a sample of what the radio's playing.  From there, you can play an audio file or YouTube file, or buy the song from iTunes.  It's free and I've had heaps of fun with it.  It is actually useful when people say, "Can you get me the music to that song, that song that goes da-da-daaa-da-da?"  If you sing really badly, it won't find the track you intended, but you'll laugh a lot at the suggested songs.

I also have "Pianist" by Moocow Music.  So I always have a keyboard with me in my phone.  That cost a princely AUD$8.  There is a Guitar version too.

Who knew life would be better with these toys?  They make useful bribes for boisterous young students - cooperative behaviour earns the right to play with my phone.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Risk Aversion in Our Kids

Out of control perfectionism is something I see from time to time.  The student who won't attempt a piece unless she is convinced she can play it perfectly.  Or the student who thinks something horrible will happen if he makes a mistake.

What I have noticed recently, is that most kids I meet aged between 5-10 suffer from this at the moment.  Perfectionism is part of the zeitgeist for this generation.  I really wonder why.  It would be convenient to blame the parents.  Or the schools.  Yeah, actually, I do blame the schools - a bit. Not individual teachers, but the school system.  Mostly, I think it's just "out there".  So we, as a society, are all contributing to that.

Let's do something about it.  I'm not in favour of celebrating mediocrity. I am in favour of celebrating real effort as well as achievement. I am in favour of encouraging our kids to experiment, to try again but maybe try something else.  I recently coined an aphorism:

It's more important to be able to make it right, than to get it right.

It's nice when we get it right, but we don't learn much.  We learn when we get it wrong, and we adapt, and then we get it right.  We learn the most, when we get it wrong, try something else, still get it wrong, try something different again, and then get it right.  

We own our own success when we have striven, we have the joy of the success, and the confidence that we can create success again.  We learn that failure is a tool that we can use, not a personal defect.  We learn that success is process more than an outcome.  We learn resilience.

I want that for our children.  I want that for myself.  I want that for our world.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Listen to Yourself

I'm doing a course in professional voice & voice over.  I now have two CDs of my tracks.  Listening to yourself is a strange but enlightening experience.

I find I sound better than I feared, and not as good as I hoped.

My piano students say they find the same thing when they hear recordings of themselves.

Once I start listening, I can hear tiny hesitations or stumbles, which I can then choose whether to work on - or not.  Some variations are "just us", they are the tiny things that make up our style, our sound.  Other 'variations' have me cringing... "I don't really sound like that... do I?" 

Knowledge is power, and until I know what I sound like, I'm working in the dark.

I think that might be a metaphor we can use in the rest of our life too.  So many little hiccups in our personal life come because we haven't listened to ourself.  Or have listened from our own narrow focus, not the other person's:

"You tried really hard, and I know you'll do better next time!"
It's meant to be encouraging, and it is.  It also gives the game away that I thought this attempt wasn't actually any good.

"I'll try to get it a bit better next time..."
When a student said this to me, I said:  "How about trying to get it a lot better, then?  Why limit yourself to just a bit better?" It's better to concentrate on what you'll do to get better, than how much you'll get better.

So, have a listen to yourself.  See what you find out.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

A Magic Carpet Ride...

I'm on a magic carpet ride, thanks to this book.  I've even done a bit of time travel.

Brian Murphy, international religious writer for Associated Press, writes compelling stories about his 'carpet pilgrimage'.  It's personal, but not self-indulgent.

At times, it is so poignant, I have to stop for a day.  To let my tears dry, sometimes, or to think about what I have read:
"It's like this," he said.  "Death comes.  We leave this world for another.  This is the cycle.  We cannot change it.  But I see other types of death around us too.  These are little deaths.  I'm talking about losing the stories of our grandparents.  I'm talking about how we feel distant from nature now.  Will generations from now know the beautiful colors locked in this simple root?  I often think the answer is no, and my heart break."
He looked at me hard.
"Tell this story," he urged.  "Tell it well if you can." (p.6)
Travelogue, art history, philosophy, religion and politics all combine.  If you've ever wondered about life in post-Taliban Afghanistan, this is a great book.

The writing is clear and direct.  The author's voice is humane - even humble - as Murphy comes face-to-face with lingering assumptions and romantic notions which, in spite of intelligence and shrewdness, somehow survived his journalistic career.
"[This is]...a scrapbook from a world that, if not yet vanishing, is certainly under threat.
I imagine my goal could seem too modest or lightweight compared with the immense body of literature on wild carpets and their history.  I could reply by repeating a snippet from a Turkmen folk saying from central Asia:  Carpets are our soul....I hope others will listen.
I like to think that, maybe, a few more people will skim their palms over a carpet's knots, marvel at the colors, and wonder:  Who was here before? What dyer, with arms stained by madder, mixed these colors? What would the weaver want to say to me?" (p.7)
I hope you enjoy it too.

Monday, August 4, 2008

When in doubt...ask.

Marketing and Parenting are not as different as you might thing.

I watched a woman try to bribe her child with an icecream. She wanted him to be quiet while she bought a whatchamacallit. He was bored. She told him she would buy him an icecream. As a bribe, it didn't work.

Not that I advocate bribery, necessarily.

Two problems.

1) She didn't check that an icecream was a suitable incentive.

2) - and perhaps more crucially - she didn't link the incentive with the required behaviour.

So the child got his icecream, the mother got a headache and both were a bit confused by the mild ill-will created on both sides.

When working with pre-schoolers (and adults too, if I'm honest) I check that the 'reward' is going to inspire.

"If you can be quiet until I finish talking to Mum, I will give you this shiny sticker. Do you think that the sticker will help you remember to be very quiet?"

Marketers need to remember this more often. 

Today I was offered a $60 MYER voucher to attend a marketing seminar. I explained that I wasn't planning to buy, and had attended the seminar in the past (and I didn't buy then either). The poor phonesalesman told me three times about the voucher. It was not motivating.

If he'd asked me was I interested in winning a $60 MYER voucher, I would have said, "No" and we could both have got on with something useful.

So, don't assume.  When in doubt...ask.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Small Things Speak Louder than You Think

A friend of mine recently ate at a rather glamourous restaurant. The food was pleasant, the ambience very nice indeed. The bill was commensurate with the ambience. Then she went to the bathroom.

No, I'm not about to "over share". The bathroom was clean and had the usual facilities. The toilet paper and dispenser of soap were... Coles homebrand.

There is nothing wrong with Coles home brand. But you expect something a bit more flash at that price point. There's a big dissonance or incongruity in a posh marble and chrome bathroom, with a little plastic Coles home-brand soap dispenser sitting on the vanity.

It's a simple - and probably sensible - attempt to reign in margins, something any successful restauranteur needs to do. Somehow it is easy to see this small thing as either "we didn't think" or "we don't care".

Inexpensive and attractive soap dispensers can be purchased from most homewares shops. All they had to do was buy one and decant the home brand into it. My friend's hands would probably have noticed that it was inexpensive soap, but she wouldn't have noted it as cheap soap.

As a result, this was the story my friend told about the restaurant. It sprang to mind today when I drove past the restaurant. I don't think that's what their Marketing Manager or Maitre d' wants me to be thinking.

On my last driving holiday in rural England, I found a way to get a good dinner was look for pubs covered with baskets of flowers. If the flowers were in good condition, the food was likely to be good. My theory was that any publican willing to climb a ladder to keep their flower baskets in good condition during high summer really cared - and that was the kitchen I wanted to eat out of.

Small things speak louder than you think.

What I'm loving at the moment...

Grimm's Magnetic Puzzles handcrafted from wood. (Mine is the spiral design.)

I bought mine at Honeybee in Malvern, VIC.

It's curiously soothing to play around with the pieces, which can be put together in a number of different ways. Freude durch Farbe (Happiness through Colour) indeed.

What does a baby get out of a music class?

The youngest child I ever had in class was a one week old. But I have had several who started Kindermusik Village around the 8 week mark.

The first 4 months of a child's life is all about INPUT. Like the fluoride in Colgate, it does get in Mrs Marsh. [That's a reference to an old ad, if you're under 30.] No, we can't see what the child is learning/getting out of class, but they're taking in the world.

Even asleep, they are absorbing rhythm and pitch. Most of all, they are absorbing the emotional flavour of the experience. We know from brain research that babies learn first through the limbic system, through emotion.

In a Kindermusik Family Time class, the baby is experiencing positive music making with its family. It is learning at the deepest possible level that music is something you do, not something you receive. Even if the baby is not conscious, it is still learning this. That's one of the most important things I want children to get out of KM - you can have music if you want it.

In a Kindermusik Vilalge class, the baby is experiencing positive music making with its mother, and a community of other babies (older and maybe younger). This baby is also learning that music is out there, it's something you can do. It's enjoyable. This baby is also learning that there are others like it in the world. It's a very positive experience of a peer group.

After 4 months, children become more EXPRESSIVE in their learning, so you start getting some OUTPUTS. At that point, you begin to see what the child has learned or 'got out of' Kindermusik from coming so young.

In my experience, the babies who attend young have excellent rhythm, they tend to carol and babble more freely and with a bigger range of sounds, they also tend to be more emotionally stable (at least at Kindermusik class). They feel safe in the space, and that is a great grounding for learning to build on later too.

The babies who come from their first weeks of life tend to respond to music more strongly - by jigging and waving their limbs, by copying the music with their voices or just by turning their head toward the sound when they hear it. So they are more
sensitised to music. They can actually pick it out of a range of sounds. I'm betting that means their hearing is better connected up than a child who hasn't done an early music and movement program.

I had a family who stopped coming at 4mths because, "the baby wasn't really getting anything out of it, she just lies there." They came back at 12 months, because the mum was playing the Village CD, and the track came on that we did the warm up
exercises to - the baby plonked herself on her bottom and began the cross lateral toe-touch in rhythm to the song. The Mum was astonished, she hadn't done that exercise with the child since they left KM (as she admitted to me, with a red face) yet her child remembered. Not consciously, but it was in there somewhere.

I remain a licensed Kindermusik educator, and have been a Mentor for Kindermusik International for several years.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Driven to Distraction?

Here's a link to a lovely article about the creative process - and indirectly about time management.

Article: Driven by Distraction

While I am (obviously) childless, I was moved and inspired by this piece.

A book by the author will be out in September, published by Melbourne University Press.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Music and Passion

I've watched another TED video, this time with Benjamin Zander (author of The Art of Possibility which I also highly recommend).

Benjamin Zander on Music & Passion

If you've ever thought you might not like classical music, watch this 20 minute treat. If you like classical music, watch it anyway.

And if you ever thought you might be tone deaf, Benjamin Zander will explain why you're probably not.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Do Schools Kill Creativity?

I've discovered a great website:

Here is Sir Ken Robinson suggesting that school may kill creativity.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Doors open & doors close

Doors open, and doors close.

At the end of this week, I will no longer own my beloved Kindermusik studio.

I began my Kindermusik studio in February 2000, with a class of 3 children. Now there are more than 100.

One family has been with me throughout that period - we're on bub number 3 - so I have watched this entire family grow up.

Some of my original Kindermusik babies are now 8-10 years old, and learning piano or guitar with us. Some are in children's choirs. Some play soccer or do ballet. The music they learned helped them get where they are today.

My fabulous administrator, Leesa, will be going with the Kindermusik studio to the new owner. We have worked together for the past six years. She'll be working across the corridor, but I will miss working with her. (I'm not so convinced she will miss working with me... it can be chaos central!)

It's wonderful. It's sad. It's exciting. It's overwhelming. So, just another day in the life.

I continue to teach piano to both children and adults. I continue to love teaching. I never get tired of watching students realise, "I can do it!"

I am developing new short courses for those who are too time-poor to come for regular weekly lessons. I am writing a book. One of these days I may even get some rest.

Doors open, and doors close.

I wish you all the best with your week.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Learning to let yourself create

I'm re-reading Julia Cameron's book The Artist's Way: . (This is an excellent book if you feel you could be creative, but aren't sure how to start.)

Judging your early artistic efforts is artist abuse. This happens in any number of ways: beginning work is measured against the masterworks of other artists; beginning work is exposed to premature criticism, shown to overly critical friends. In short, the fledgling artist behaves with well-practiced masochism.... Mistakes are necessary! Stumbles are normal. These are baby steps. Progress, not perfection is what we should be asking of ourselves....There will be many times when we won't look good - to ourselves or anyone else. We need to stop demanding that we do. It is impossible to get better and look good at the same time.
Remember that in order to recover as an artist, you must be willing to be a bad artist. Give yourself prmission to be a beginner. By being willing to be a bad artist, you have a chance to be an artist, and perhaps, over time, a very good one.

I may have to frame this. Most of my students suffer from this in one form or another. This week they can play a little Mozart piece - great! But why can't they play Rachmaninof? (After maybe 20 lessons.)

We don't have to set the world on fire. We do need to set our own hearts on fire, by playing at music with the same serious intensity of a young child learning to walk. The new toddler will fall down a hundred times, but she or he keeps on getting up and having another go.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

How Good Do You Need To Be?

Many people assume you have to have 'talent' to express yourself with music. It's not true - or not true the way it's really meant.

I have had only a couple of students (in over a decade) who just seemed "made" for the piano. I have had more than a few students who asked should they "not bother" because they weren't good enough to continue. It depends, really: How good do you have to be?

Marcus Buckingham, a wonderful author, has written (or co-written) several books about strengths and talents. In First, Break All the Rules, he discusses what talent is. In my words, it's a way of thinking or being that is habitual and natural and which can be applied to a task or activity.

So the good news is, everyone has a talent that can be applied to music making and learning.

Your talent might be in seeing the pattern of spaces and lines that separate each note.

Your talent might be in automatically making a piece rhythmic - even if it's your rhythm rather than the one the composer intended, to start with.

Your talent might be in the way you touch the notes, instinctively adding light and shade, soft and loud to even the simplest exercise.

Your talent might be in hearing 'what comes next' and hardly needing to read the notes at all.

Your talent might be that you're willing to put in extra practice when your fingers don't instantly "get it".

Your talent might be that you're able to just sit back and enjoy the process of learning, without needing to evaluate yourself against concert pianists every five minutes.

All these are worthwhile and valuable talents. Most of us only have a couple of them. I have never met someone who had every talent.

So, how good do you need to be?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Use it or Lose It

Students who use their music, love their music. Music "use" need not include public performance.

One seven year old I know loves playing pieces with her Grandfather. An adult student plays endless repetitions of Vamping for her child to improvise against. A ten year old plays for the school choir to sing along. They all use their music. They are all good students. They have purpose. They have joy.

Too often, children experience music lessons as something intrinsically pointless that isolates them from all the fun and joy of life.

That's not who I want to be as a teacher. That's not what I want I want you to experience when you have lessons.

So, if you ever played an instrument (or sang) in your life, go and have a play now. Remember, it's meant to be FUN.