Parents frequently ask me how to get their kids to spend more time playing their instruments. And I have good news! I think there are a lot of things parents can do to support their children's musical development and encourage them to play more. Here are a few of my top tips for parents of elementary school-aged children:
Have you heard of the Island Strum? It's a popular and versatile ukulele strum, but it can be a bit of a challenge for beginners. I've created a short video tutorial to help break it down and make it a bit easier to master:
Do you have a favorite strum pattern, or a strum you find yourself defaulting to over and over again? I'd love to hear about it!
I recently had a few mom friends and their little ones over for a jam session, and it was SO. MUCH. FUN! The moms brought their ukuleles, I brought out some of our favorite rhythm instruments, and we all had a good time singing, dancing, and playing. The best part is that this is fun for all ages and skill levels.
Ready to host your own playdate jam? Here are a few tips based on what worked for us:
Yoga was something I enjoyed in my life before children, but when I became pregnant with my first kid I developed awful carpal tunnel that made many yoga poses impossible. That carpal tunnel morphed into really painful tendonitis after my son was born, and my weak wrists and hands never fully recovered. For the past seven+ years, I would experience intermittent pain and/or tingling when I would play my ukulele which, as you can imagine, was frustrating and limiting.
I've noticed that the most important part of music making tends to get overlooked by new players. And I get it. Beginning musicians have a lot to keep track of. It's a challenge to learn how to play chords, strum, and sing all at the same time! But if you want your playing to sound smooth and skilled, you will have to . . .
Keep a Steady Beat!
Many beginning musicians start strumming a song at a moderate tempo, then speed up as they play. Another common mistake is to play quickly but slow down for chord changes, zig-zagging the tempo up and down for the duration of a song. These are dead giveaways that you are a new player! So what can you do about it? Here are five tips to help you improve your ability to strum at an a consistent speed, no metronome required:
The original ukulele coloring page has been getting a lot of traffic lately, so for my first post of the year I thought it would be fun to share a new free printable. Shawna created this super cute coloring page based on the photo used on my homepage. Just a dinosaur chilling with a ukulele, no biggie.
My kids received some new art supplies for Christmas, and this coloring page feels like the perfect excuse to get them out. I'll be printing out at least one copy for myself, too. How many will you print? :)
I'm lucky to live in musical neighborhood. Within the span of just a few blocks, there are several choir members, band members, a piano teacher, and many instrumentalists. One of these neighbors is a woman named Judy, a guitar player and retired teacher. She said she had a binder full of kid songs, which she used when she would play guitar to her students. She no longer needed it. Was I was interested? YES!!!!
The binder looks well-loved. Many chord sheets have been typed on a typewriter, some pages are old Xeroxes that remind me of my elementary school worksheets, and there are handwritten notes all throughout. It's the perfect representation of what I love most about folk music— there's magic in making music with others and sharing songs that have been sung throughout multiple generations. As I play through the songs (many are familiar but happily there are a lot of new-to-me songs, too), I can't help but imagine Judy singing to her students. It's a lovely thought, and now I get to share these songs with my loved ones.
Judy, thank you for this special gift! Happy holidays, everyone!
About five years ago my husband surprised me with a piano for Christmas (big surprises are kind of his thing). We had talked about wanting one for our family, and I had visions of listening to our children sit down to play and sing for us. Of course, our son was only two at the time and I was very pregnant with my daughter, so no one really had much time or ability to play it. The piano mostly collected dust that first year.
Here's a collection of instruments that range from happy little stocking stuffers to big gifts that create a real "wow" factor for your kids on Christmas morning. My selections may skew toward the noisy side, but there's nothing quite as joyful as a preschooler feeling empowered buy the big sounds they can make!
It's shiny, it makes a big sound, and it comes with its own case. I think that checks all of the boxes! Just make sure to buy one in a key that makes sense for you. If you or a family member play the ukulele or piano, you may want to buy a harmonica in the key of C. If you play the guitar or other string instruments, you may prefer a harmonica that is set in the key of G.
B. Toys Symphony in B
This toy is SO. COOL. Your child is the conductor of this orchestra and can mix and match the musical arrangements for fifteen different songs.
I love that this toy exposes kids to such a variety of instruments and encourages them to be more active listeners. Anecdote: after having the toy for a while my then-two year old son and I were listening to music and he was having fun identifying all the different instruments he heard, saying, "Mama, that violin is so pretty!"
Junior Drum Set
This last item is not for the faint of heart! Square footage is at a premium here in the Bay Area, so I understand not everyone has the space for one of these babies. But if you do, I highly recommend one of these babies. Rhythm and tempo are the foundation for music, and drums are a terrific first "real" instrument for kiddos. Plus, it looks stunning under the tree and is such a hit when friends come over for playdates! Just make sure to include a pair of noise-reduction earphones and kid-sized drumsticks!
Three-piece drum sets are another option, but I'm partial to the five-piece sets that include high hats. The kids and I had fun learning how to play by watching thislisa's drum lesson tutorials on Youtube.
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Here are a few of my favorite instruments designed for the littlest musicians:
So many parents are drum-averse, as if not having them will somehow make their children less noisy. I say, it's better to have them banging on a drum than on their siblings, or any of the other things I don't want them thrashing! These bongos from Remo are a fun option that also work for preschoolers and older kids.
In my experience, kids don't get quieter with age, so if your kids make too much noise, drums or no drums, a pair of these may save your sanity— try a pair for each noise-maker in your house, plus a pair for you (they say they're kid-sized but they fit my adult-sized head just fine).
Pots, Pans, and Anything Else that Makes Noise
Remember banging on old Tupperware containers and pots and pans as a kid? Those still work! This cute play set of pots and pans from IKEA works in a play kitchen or in the family band. Pair it with a wooden spoon or wooden mallets plus any plastic food storage containers, bowls, lids, pots, or pans you may have floating around the kitchen. And if you don't want to share your real stuff with your little one, a quick trip to the thrift store is all it takes to supply your toddler with an entire kitchen-themed orchestra!
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My husband and I have taken the kids to Disneyland a handful of times, and each of us has a different priority when we go— my husband wants to go on all the rides, the kids want to meet all the characters, and I want to see all of the "park atmosphere entertainment" (the term used for the many musical acts that perform throughout the parks). There are so many opportunities to catch live music throughout the park, and taking a few minutes to stop and listen is sure to add a little magic to your next visit. Here are a few of my favorite musical acts:
Oh, man. I love a good printable! They're great for kids (we use them on road trips all the time), and I enjoy creating free downloads to share here on the blog, though so far I've focused on creating printables for kids. But these Get to Know Your Ukulele printables are handy for all beginning ukulele players— kids and grown-ups alike.
An update of my original post from 11/29/2016. My tuner recommendation remains the same, but I have updated the ukulele section.
So you've signed up for lessons? Yay! This is so exciting! Now let's make sure you have what you need to get started. There are really only two things you'll have to bring to the first lesson: a digital tuner and a ukulele. This post includes my recommendations for obtaining those items with only a modest initial investment.
I owe a lot to Shawna.
She's my very talented friend who designed the Musical Mama logo, and she was also my very first ukulele student (though I affectionately referred to her as my guinea pig, ha!). Shawna even let me make this video, where she shares her experience of going through the beginner's course:
Having her as my first "test" student helped me refine my teaching style and improve my course materials before I officially launched Musical Mama, and I'll always be grateful for her help. Thank you for everything, Shawna! You're the bomb dot com!
Short answer: NO!
Longer answer: Somewhere, someone got the idea that there was such a thing as being "too old" to learn how to make music. And now many people seem to share this weird idea! Where did they learn this? I've spent the past few days thinking about it, and I think it boils down to two common misperceptions:
Myth 1: Music is Mysterious and Difficult
The world of musicians can feel like a secretive club with restricted access. And if you do dare to enter that world, you'll have to dedicate years of tedious practice before you'll be any good. FALSE! In my lessons, I cover the basics— strumming, chords, etc— but I also incorporate a lot of practical music theory so you learn the patterns behind popular music, which gives you a better understanding of how music works. And we dive right into playing (the first lesson includes four songs) so you can experience the joy of making music right away.
Myth 2: Music is Intimidating
What if I try and I'm not any good? Yikes!
Have you ever talked yourself out of trying something new? When I'm feeling nervous or scared in this way, I try to imagine my future self who has already done the scary thing. What will it feel like to have done ________? I also ask myself, what is the worst (realistically) that can happen? It's usually not as bad as my fear makes it out to be. There are some things you probably ARE too old for: playing the lead in Annie or becoming an Olympic gymnast, perhaps, but learning an instrument is not one of those things.
Need some inspiration? Check out Grandma Mary Ho in a video that's popping up all over social media:
H/T to Elaine for first sharing the Grandma Mary video with me. Isn't she wonderful? I'd love to jam with her!
When was the last time you did something even though you felt nervous? How did you get through it? I'd love to hear!
PS: If you're interested in learning how to make music in a friendly, approachable environment, please contact me.
We vacationed on Oahu recently and one of the highlights of our trip was taking a tour of the Kamaka ukulele factory. I mostly focus on the playing of ukes, so it was neat to learn more about how Kamaka's well-regarded instruments are made.
The tour began in the small main office area with a history lesson by Fred Kamaka Sr, who's in his 90s. We were all riveted as he chatted about the company's origins (it was started by his father) and the company's 100 year history of making instruments. The tour then moved on to the warehouse, where Fred Jr walked us through the entire manufacturing line. It was very cool to see how invested the Kamaka family is in the brand, with the company now being run by third and fourth generation family members.
Here are a few photos:
Wanna go? Tours are conducted at their factory in Honolulu, HI, Tuesday - Friday at 10:30 am. Check out their website for more info. The entire tour is free, and it's worth it just to get your picture taken with Fred Sr!
Most music teachers will encourage you to practice your instrument every day. But why? Are you rehearsing for a public performance? Are you a musician by trade? Assuming you're learning the ukulele for fun or as a new hobby, I'd much prefer you played what you want, when you want. I truly want the ukulele to be a source of joy for my students (and everyone!). And when was the last time you felt joy completing a homework assignment?!?*
Your relationship with your uke will be happier and more sustaining if you play when you feel intrinsically motivated to play. Even if that means you're only playing once in a while. I pick up my uke for any number of reasons— to provide entertainment for my kids, to create with others, because I want to try out something new, or (most often) because it's fun. What motivates you to play?
* For the occasional student who insists on assignments, I tell them to simply pick up their instrument every day.
The temperatures in San Jose were back in the triple digits yesterday, so I packed the kids up into the car and we escaped to Seacliff State Beach, just south of Santa Cruz. I'm partial to this beach, simply because it's so accessible.