The Magic of Folk Music

The Magic of Folk Music

I teach a beginner’s ukulele course in San Jose, CA, and while I do share modern popular music with my students, I primarily teach using well-known folk songs. I occasionally get asked why folk music???? — just like that, with a really big question mark at the end— and it seems that folk music has developed a reputation for being outdated and/or not very fun or interesting. That’s not the case! There’s a lot to love about folk music, and here I’m sharing four reasons why folk music is perfect for beginning musicians:

A Q&A with Mitch Chang, Producer of the Los Angeles International Ukulele Festival

A Q&A with Mitch Chang, Producer of the Los Angeles International Ukulele Festival

Mitch Chang is an ukulele teacher, an event producer, and the brains behind the the Los Angeles International Ukulele Festival. Mitch’s vision for the festival “is to make it as easy as possible for families and ukulele fans of all ages, interest, and ability levels to discover/rediscover the ukulele where they will be supported and encouraged,” and he delivers! It’s an all-day extravaganza of performances, workshops, and fun. I taught beginner’s workshops at this year’s festival, and I was so impressed by what I saw that I wanted to learn more about the man who made it all possible. Thank you, Mitch, for giving me a peek behind the scenes!

Coming Soon: Ukulele Starter Kits!

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Big news! Beginning this November 2018, I’ll be offering ukulele starter kits featuring Ohana Ukuleles! The ukulele kits will include everything a beginner needs to get started making music, including:

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Ohana Ukuleles is a family-owned company based in Long Beach, CA, and I’m thrilled to be working with them. Ohana has a long-standing reputation for building instruments that are both high-quality and affordable. The Musical Mama ukulele starter kits will be available for sale starting in November, just in time for the holidays. I’ll even be offering gift wrapping services, to make giving the gift of music even easier!

Stay tuned for more details…

The Surprising Impact Yoga Has Had On My Playing

The Surprising Impact Yoga Has Had On My Playing

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. 

Free Printable: A New Ukulele Coloring Page for the New Year

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Happy 2018!

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? :) 

Live Music at Disneyland

Live Music at Disneyland

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: 

Mythbusting: Am I Too Old to Learn an Instrument?

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

 

Super Simple DIY: Easter Egg Maracas

Last week I was tasked to come up with an activity for my son's kindergarten class. I was looking for a quick, non-messy project the kids could do easily, and a friend shared this idea with me: easter egg maracas!

This is a great all-ages crafts. I'm obviously partial to music-related crafts, and it was a convenient way to use up the surplus of Easter eggs we had acquired this year. The kids all seemed to enjoy making the shakers and then playing with them on the playground afterward, and I had just as much fun as the kids did!

You can find several versions of this craft on Pinterest, but they're all about the same. I followed the version posted on the blog Made Everyday with Dana

 

Supplies: 

  • Plastic easter eggs (the small ones work best)

  • Popcorn kernels (rice, dried beans, or lentils would work, too)

  • Plastic spoons

  • Washi tape (Amazon affiliate link)

Instructions:

  1. Fill a plastic egg with popcorn kernels.

  2. Nest the egg between two spoons.

  3. Secure the maraca by wrapping tape around the egg and spoons (little hands may need assistance). You can opt to tape just a few key spots, or go crazy (like my kids did) and wrap up the entire instrument in washi tape.

  4. Shake it!

 

Considering how easy this project is, the maracas make a surprisingly satisfying sound and would work perfectly at your next family jam

Family Jam Time!

Today my daughter and I had our first play-along jam session in a long time. I recommend them to students all the time, but I hadn't realized we had fallen out of the habit of it in my own home! 

 

What is a Jam? 

Our jams are inspired by the play-alongs that occur in Music Together classes. We simply get out our kid instruments, crank up a song, and play along to the music! If you don't have a basket of instruments, break out the wooden spoons and pots and pans, and take a quick look around the house to see what else might be turned into a noise maker. :)

 

MM: Favorite Disney Songs for Family Jams

Since my daughter listens almost exclusively to Disney soundtracks, we were jamming to songs from Frozen, Moana, and Tangled. We had so much fun that I created a playlist for us to reference the next time. Wanna hear it? I've created the playlist in Apple Music/iTunes and Spotify

What's in it for the Grown-Ups

As a mom, I'm partial to activities that are stimulating for my kids AND me. I don't just do these play-alongs to humor my children. I totally get into them and probably get a little too carried away! But honestly, there's a lot that beginning musicians can get out of these jam sessions. 

Hone your vocals. 

The personalities singing these songs are very expressive and some are quite over-the-top, which I find to be great inspiration for my singing. Sing along if you know the words, and try to match the level of emotion and mood. 

Build up your endurance.

Beginning musicians can fizzle out over the course of a song (or songs). Playing along to recordings is great training for developing your stamina. The recorded music will carry you, which is easier than setting and maintaining a tempo on your own. 

Boost your mood.

One of the best things about music is its affect on our emotions. Singing whole-heartedly and shaking some egg shakers or buzzing on a kazoo can totally perk me up and turn me into a more joyful, peaceful parent. And that's something everyone benefits from. 

 

What's in it for the Kids

They have your attention.

There's a difference between watching your kids play and actually playing with them. You are doing something together, which makes the activity feel special. Jams are suitable for all ages and development stages, and it's a lot more fun than yet another round of Don't Break the Ice (or whatever your child might be obsessed with lately). 

Developing their musicality.

Rhythm is the most important element of music making, and your kids can learn a lot about music through this type of play. Just as you're striving to keep your playing in time with the music, so are your kids! It's so thrilling to see little ones sing along to their favorite song or bang a drum right on beat! 

Permission to be loud, Permission to be silly.

Jams are the most fun when you all let loose and get noisy. Kids love to see their parents be goofy, and this playlist is full of happy, upbeat songs that I enjoy as much as my kids do. I hope they are as big a hit in your home as they are in mine. 

 

Do you have a favorite Disney jam song that's not on the playlist? How are you making music with your kids? I'd love to hear about it

 

Free Printable: Ukulele Coloring Page

Today I'm excited to be sharing a free coloring sheet. My talented friend made it just for the MM blog, and it's got me feeling like a giant heart-eyes emoji! I love the psychedelic effect of the background pattern and the hand-drawn quality of it— it feels so modern and fresh compared to the coloring pages I'm used to seeing. 

Do you have any budding artists in your family? I'd love to see what you and your kiddos create with this. Please share your works of art over on the Musical Mama Facebook page

I've printed out a few copies on cardstock so my kids can paint with watercolors on them. I think I'll have to paint one myself. :) 

Happy coloring! 

Dance!

New musicians have a lot to juggle when learning the ukulele-- the strumming, the chords, the singing, and (most importantly) maintaining a steady rhythm for the duration of the song. People frequently think of learning an instrument as a chore involving a lot of homework, like locking yourself away in a room to practice for a set amount of time every day. Fortunately that's not true, because that sounds pretty awful to me! There are many ways to work on your skills without even picking up your instrument. One idea I really suggest you try is.... Dance!

Here's why:

Feel the Music

This is really what we're trying to do when we play an instrument— feel the music! In addition to mastering the mechanics of music making, we want to bring our songs to life. When you dance, you're essentially translating a song's rhythm and emotion through your movements. It doesn't really matter how sophisticated your movements are. Swaying or bopping in time to the music is good enough, unless you're Lil Buck. Then you can do things like this:

Improve your timing

Beginning musicians typically find it challenging to maintain a steady beat for the duration of the song. Dance can be great training for your musician's mind in this way. In dance, your movements have to match the rhythm of the song, and transferring that rhythm through your entire body is wonderful training for your internal metronome. 

Improve your musicality

In dance, we're essentially approaching music from the other side. We're working with a finished product (a song) and translating it into another language (dance). Working your way backwards into a song, whether you're dancing at home with your kids or in a ballroom, thinking about the emotional tone or narrative arc of a song is good practice for your singing and playing, especially as you branch out into playing different genres and styles. 

Whose Body is it Anyway?

If you're a parent (especially a mom), it can feel like your body doesn't even belong to you. It starts with pregnancy, when you give over your entire being to growing a baby. Then you have a baby who is completely dependent on you. Then that baby grows into a toddler who literally doesn't know how to stop touching you! Dance is a great way to reclaim your body as being your own after all the changes that pregnancy and parenthood can bring. 

Dance with Your Kids

Just as most kids love to sing and make music, most kids love to dance! Dancing is another form of self-expression and it's a wonderful way to relax and play with your children. Do your kids love to choreograph elaborate routines? Or do they like to wiggle and spin? If dancing feels super awkward to you, try following their lead. Be open to being silly and not worrying about how good your moves are. You'll have more fun that way. :)

 

What Beginning Musicians Can Learn from Jimmy Fallon's Classroom Instruments Series

Have you seen any of the songs performed in the Classroom Instruments series on Jimmy Fallon? The Roots, Jimmy Fallon, and a musical guest (or band) all cram into a small room, where they then jam to the guest's hit song, playing only "kid" instruments like maracas, toy xylophones, and, of course, a ukulele. It's pretty much my favorite thing ever.

Check out this video of Idina Menzel singing a song you're probably sick of hearing! What do you notice when you watch it? Two things stand out to me: 

1- The movement

There they are, all squished together, yet no one looks uncomfortable or stiff. In fact, their bodies are all in motion! Do you see how they're all transferring the rhythm of the song through their movements? They're feeling the music! Maintaining a steady rhythm can be difficult when you're learning a new instrument, but that steady beat becomes a lot easier to maintain if you allow yourself to relax and feel the music!  

2- The joy

Can you count the smiles? Doesn't it look like they're all having a blast? Making music with others can be incredibly fun, even when you're just learning how to play, and even if you make mistakes! Did you catch how Idina Menzel started singing the second verse too early? (The goof happens at the 1:29 mark). She laughs it off and keeps going. When you begin any new venture, musical or otherwise, mistakes are bound to happen. Please don't let them interfere with the joy of learning something new! 

Care to see another example of movement and joy? Check out the Classroom Instruments version of Call Me Maybe: 

And with the holidays rapidly approaching, we can't forget about the Classroom Instruments version of the best Christmas song of all time: 

Are you ready to learn the joy of making music? Contact me for more information on the Foundations beginner ukulele course!