Dr. Czynski is a very popular professor of humanities at Minnesota State University-Moorhead. Learn more about Dr. Czynski and watch this short video by his students:
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Konrad Czynski, the narrator known as "Yadu" in the Maestro Classics Stories in Music series, has received the 2018 Excellence in Service to Students Award from Minnesota State University-Moorhead!
Dr. Czynski is a very popular professor of humanities at Minnesota State University-Moorhead. Learn more about Dr. Czynski and watch this short video by his students:
There are many different types of guitar that you can learn. Your choice will generally be decided by the type of music that you wish to play. It could be a good idea to make a trip to a local music shop to try the different models and decide which one you like the feel of. When trying to get your child interested, consider ways to make practicing the guitar into a game to keep them engaged.
An acoustic guitar is played by picking at the strings with fingers or a pick. The vibration of the strings makes the sound which is made louder by the hollow body of the guitar. A nylon string acoustic guitar is a common choice for beginners as the strings are easier on fingers tired from all that practice. Steel strings are also an option - these are louder to play. There are many affordable models of acoustic guitars on the market that are perfect for those getting started.
In the past decade, sales of electric guitars have fallen from 1.5 million to 1 million, but don’t let that put you off giving it a go yourself. They are great fun to play but do need to be accompanied by an amplifier or some software with an audio interface and headphones. Electric guitars can be easier to play because they have a smaller body and thinner neck. Also as the amplifier is used to control the sound, it requires a lighter touch on the strings.
Whichever instrument you choose to learn, it is important to remember that you will need to put in many hours of practice to perfect the art. If you are learning an instrument as a family, try to make the learning fun by getting everyone involved. And remember the effort is worth it because music really can help make you smarter.
Use these new music appreciation lesson plans created by Bonnie Ward Simon, to supplement the "Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel" and "Casey at the Bat" CD/MP3.
These lesson plans are designed to introduce the sounds of the symphony orchestra, and meet the national standards for music education which include:
If you would like to some quiet, no work for you, time with your kids, try listening to the Maestro Classics’ Stories in Music series together. Children love stories and music, and parents and older children will enjoy the composer biographies and friendly talks about music by the conductor. Not sure where to begin? Start with the listening guide.
1. Rideout, Victoria “ Generation M: Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year-Olds”. A Kaiser Family Foundation Study The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Jan. 2010 https://kaiserfamilyfoundation.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/8010.pdf
2. Merga, Margaret Kristin. "Research shows the importance of reading with children - even after children can read." The Conversation. 27 Aug. 2017. Web. 24 Sept. 2017 https://theconversation.com/research-shows-the-importance-of-parents-reading-with-children-even-after-children-can-read-82756
3. Nott, Angie. "Teaching Your Child to be a Good Teammate." Omaha World Herald. 07 Sept. 2017. Web. 24 Sept. 2017. http://www.omaha.com/momaha/extras/expert-advice/teaching-your-child-to-be-a-good-teammate/article_e54137fe-8f43-11e7-8dba-9be2c91085ce.html
4. Fallon, Claire "In The Digital Age, Young Kids Need Classical Music More Than Ever." Huffington Post. 05 Oct. 2015. Web. 24 Sept. 2017.http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/classical-music-for-kids-digital-age_us_560eee6ee4b0768127021a69
5. Wells, N.M. “At Home with Nature: Effects of “greenness” on children’s cognitive functioning.” Environment and Behavior 32.6 (2000): 775-795. http://eab.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/32/6/775
All instruments are difficulty to play, but the French horn is probably the most difficult brass instrument to play well. The French horn is made of an enormously long piece of brass tubing. If you stretched out a French horn it would extend half way across the front of the stage! The tubing is actually 25 feet long.
Something very strange happens to a brass instrument when the tubing is very long. Suddenly, you push down the valves, but instead of the right note coming out, lots of different notes can come out and YOU have to pick out the right one with your lips! On the trumpet, when you press down the first valve, you might get a B-flat instead of an F, but a B-flat is a lot higher than an F, so you would know that it is wrong. On the French horn, if you press down the first valve you might get a D or an F or a B-flat, and because the notes are closer together, it is more difficult to tell if you are right or wrong.
Until the 19th century, French horns had no valves. The player carried a suitcase filled with crooks, or extra lengths of tubing. Depending on the key he was playing in, he put in a length of tubing that was the right length for that key. By the end of the 19th century, horns were made in F, and people learned to play them, but it was still very difficult, so an extra set of tubing was added to create a "double" French horn, to help musicians play the high notes more accurately. Today, there are even "triple" French horns, to help players.
The American Horn Quartet
The American Horn Quartet is amazing because of how well they play these very tricky instruments. They make it look and sound very easy, but anyone who has ever tried to play the French horn knows that these musicians are practically wizards on this beastly instrument.
Recordings by the American Horn Quartet
French Horn Cases
French horn cases come in two styles: the standard one that is in the shape of a French horn, and the slim rectangular one that looks like a suitcase or backpack.
HOW CAN YOU FIT A FRENCH HORN INTO A FLAT, RECTANGULAR CASE?
The bell of certain French horns screws off so that they can travel in flat cases. The standard French horn case will not fit under any airline seat or in any overhead compartment! With a standard case, you either have to buy a seat for your horn, lock it and put it in with the luggage (always dangerous!), or purchase a horn with a removable bell.
visit www.hornguys.com for more French horn cases.
Bores, Boars, Boring, Bored...
The Mandolin is a cross between a violin and a guitar. It is tuned like a violin, having four notes, but each note has two strings which increases its volume. It has frets (thin metal cross bars) on the finger board, like a guitar.
The first mandolins that we hear about are in Italy in the late 1600's. In the 1700's compositions like Vivaldi's Double Mandolin Concerto were being written for the mandolin. Handel included the mandolin in some of his music and so did Mozart. But suddenly, in the 1800's, the mandolin was forgotten.
Divertimento in F major (KV 138) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart performed by the Dutch Mandolin Chamber Orchestra
In the 1880's people in Germany and Austria began to re-discover the mandolin, and traveling Italian mandolin troupes began to travel in Europe. But an amazing thing happened: The mandolin also became very popular in Japan and the United States!
Unlike the violin, the mandolin has no bow. It is simply plucked with a pick. During the 19th century, it became popular to pluck very fast back and forth using the pick to create a tremolo effect.
The mandolin is tuned like a violin. Instead of 4 strings, however, it has 8. This means that there are 2 G strings, 2 D strings, 2 A strings, and 2 E strings. A piano can be quite loud because it has 2 or 3 strings for every note in order to create a richer sound. The same is true for the mandolin, it has two of each string to make it louder.
CASEY AT THE BAT
(Great poem to memorize for school.)
The outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville Nine that day;
the score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play.
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
a sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.
A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
they thought, if only Casey could but get a whack at that –
they'd put up even money, now, with Casey at the bat.
But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
and the former was a lulu and the latter was a cake,
so upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
for there seemed but little chance of Casey's getting to the bat.
But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
and Blake, the much despised, tore the cover off the ball;
and when the dust had lifted, and the men saw what had occurred,
there was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.
Then from five thousand throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
it rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
it knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
for Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.
There was ease in Casey's manner as he stepped into his place;
there was pride in Casey's bearing and a smile on Casey's face.
And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
no stranger in the crowd could doubt 't was Casey at the bat.
Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt.
Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
defiance gleamed in Casey's eye, a sneer curled Casey's lip.
And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
and Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped--
"That ain't my style," said Casey. "Strike one," the umpire said.
From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore.
"Kill him! Kill the umpire!" shouted someone on the stand;
and it's likely they'd have killed him had not Casey raised his hand.
With a smile of Christian charity great Casey's visage shone;
he stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;
he signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew;
but Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said: "Strike two."
"Fraud!" cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered fraud;
but one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
and they knew that Casey wouldn't let that ball go by again.
The sneer is gone from Casey's lip, his teeth are clenched in hate;
he pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate.
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
and now the air is shattered by the force of Casey's blow.
Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
the band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
and somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
but there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out.
If the Mozart Effect really does not spark your child to score higher on spatial reasoning tests or produce higher SAT scores should you forget classical music and try vitamin pills?
The question brought to mind an interesting story in the New York Times this past year. A woman spent a year intensively studying Italian. Before she began, she had taken some mental ability testing, being a little worried that she was not as sharp as she used to be. After her year of working on Italian, she decided to be retested. To her surprise, all her scores had gone up. The take away: study a foreign language if you want to increase your brainpower. That might have been the end, but another person wrote a letter to the editor and quipped,
“Only in America would one think that the reason to study a foreign language was to improve your mental agility!” It went on, and I paraphrase: Traveling there perhaps? Ordering a meal in Italian in Rome? Meeting new people from a different country? Etc.
And so I turn to the Mozart effect with a similar thought. Why parents would think that the primary reason for children to play an instrument or to listen to great music would be to improve their test scores?
Consider the following: Have you ever thought of listening to classical music just because it, like a painting, can be beautiful? But, we go to museums both to look at beautiful paintings – eye candy – but also because paintings have the ability to make us see our world differently. Paintings can make us think about angels, wars, and fashion. Paintings can open our eyes to a beautiful sunset or a handsome horse. They can make us wonder why someone would pay millions of dollars for a painting of two colored squares (Rothko). And, like all great art, each time we go back, we see something different.
Similarly, music can be beautiful – ear candy. It can treat us to new sounds and beautiful melodies. It can describe a walk in the woods with birds twittering or a thunderstorm and military battle. But perhaps most importantly, music has the ability to change how we feel.
(NOTE: All the musical examples cited below are from YouTube because they are free. If you find something you like, I encourage you to go to Amazon and listen to samples to find a performance that you really like. The sound quality will be better - MP3s are good; CDs have the best sound quality - and you may be surprised at the differences in interpretations.)
Try this simple test. Listen to the following short musical examples and answer how you feel.
People often say that music is the universal language because it speaks to our emotions. When the BBC opened its broadcasts during the Second World War with the opening notes to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, it elicited the serious, hard times at hand. And, almost like a bookend, Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” the final chorus in his Ninth Symphony exudes feelings of peace and brotherhood.
Nations have recognized that singing national anthems elicits feelings of patriotism. When the band or orchestra begins the Star Spangled Banner everyone immediately stand up and joins in. In France, the same thing happens when the Marseillaise is played. Even the European Union decided that it needed a national anthem and chose Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” (Flash mobs Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, NBA Video with Beethoven's Ode to Joy)
Composers in the 19th century decided that they wanted their music to tell stories. Richard Strauss composed Til Eulenspiegel (The Merry Pranks of Master Till) to recount the tales of the naughty boy Till. Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain is another descriptive work. But Beethoven described a day in the countryside when he composed his Symphony No. 6, The Pastoral ($ version). (This YouTube performance is accompanied by an excellent description so that you know what Beethoven is trying to say.) And, of course, there is Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.($ version), with birds and ice storms that you will recognize immediately.
The above are all examples of classical music. Is classical music the only kind of “good music”? Definitely not, but one thing that makes classical music different is that, like a great painting, every time you look at it you will see or hear something different. If you stand in front of a Monet painting of a bridge over the Seine in Paris, you will be surprised to see that the fog lifts.
The painting does not change but what you see in it does. Similarly, the first time you listen to Haydn’s Surprise Symphony, ($ version), you may not get the joke, but after a few listens you will hear where Haydn is playing with us. Another great example, especially for young people, is the two tracks on the Casey at the Bat (Maestro Classics) recording. If you listen to “Flight of the Rabbit” on Track 5, it will just sound like, well, music. But if you then listen to Track 4, “In a Cabin in a Wood,” the conductor will tell you all the things that you might not have heard the first time. Every time you listen to it afterwards, you will hear the rabbit jumping and the guns shooting.
Finally, I would offer that you have probably heard more classical music than you realize. Movie producers, restaurant owners, airline publicists all avail themselves of classical music. Ever flown United? Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue)($ version). If you want to discover just how much classical music you probably already know, go to Kickass Classical’s Top 100 list. A good way to introduce young people to the world of classical music to start with this list. For a dollar a week, your child could begin to build a music library and become musically literate. You may be surprised at what they like!
If you are still looking for things to listen to, I recommend this article: “10 Essential Classical Music of All Time.” In addition, some of my favorite performances of Baroque and Early Classical music are:
Stay tuned for more suggestions for music composed after 1750.
If you didn’t go to KickAss Classical’s top 100 list before, , I suggest that you take a moment now. Every time I click through the samples, I listen for 5 seconds to each and smile. How so many different emotions can be pulled out of me in the course of two minutes never ceases to amaze me.
Most parents who embark upon music lessons for their children hope that they will become skillful and enjoy it sufficiently to continue playing into adulthood. They often lament, “I wish my parents had forced me to practice,” or “I wish my parents had not let me quit.” The truth is that the parents of these adults were products of their times. They thought that if they bought the piano, found the teacher, drove the child to lessons, and told her to practice once a day, the music would stick if it were meant to be. Few of them had thought about Mozart’s father who devoted his life to teaching and practicing with his son, or Wagner’s wife who locked him in his study every morning and only let him out for lunch. Most professional musicians today will tell you the importance of the parent who practiced with them.
Pianist Ann Schein related a wonderful account of her childhood. She began piano lessons at age 4. Her mother was a professional violinist and practiced hours with her daily. When Ann was 13, her teacher announced that he was spending the summer in Mexico and Ann could not be left on her own, pianistically, for the summer. It was agreed that her family would spend the summer in Mexico too. Ann was shocked to discover that her teacher arrived at 9 a.m., had a cup of coffee, and at 9:30 am they began to practice together! He left at lunchtime, returned, and they continued on until dinner, whereupon he ate with the family and went home, only to return again the following morning. Seven days a week, all summer long, this very great teacher arrived and practiced with Ann. Forty years later, this accompanist for singer Jessye Norman believes that teaching students how to practice is still one of the most valuable skills that can be passed on to the next generation.
The successful child is inevitably the product of that successful triangle of teacher-parent-student. In the early years, the parent brings organizational and memory skills to the practicing. “Remember; we have to work on the E-flat major scale this week. Take a moment to think about rounding your fingers. I’ll set the metronome.” Sometimes the child is fortunate to have a parent who is a musician or an amateur musician, or even someone who took music lessons as a child. Often this is not the case. The enthusiastic and committed non-musician parent, however, is as valuable as the musician parent. Attending the lessons together and taking the time to practice together every day is the key. Remember, “Shall we practice now?” will ultimately reap far greater rewards than “Have you practiced today?”
The question looms, however, will you ever be able to wean your child from needing you to practice with them? Good question! The bad news is that your child will be able to do homework alone long before being ready to practice an instrument alone. The good news is that the time finally does come. The question is when is the right time and how do you do it.
One of the determinants of weaning is the skill level of the parent. For the non-musician parent, there will be a time when the child turns to you and says, “Mother, it says allegro, you are going much too slow. Anyway, it is in the key of G minor, so it doesn’t sound anything like the way you are singing it.” Having now surpassed the “home teacher,” as Suzuki calls the parent, your superior child will feel confident to proceed on her own and your role will fall into, “This would be a good time to practice, because you have a soccer game and afterwards you are going to Susan’s.” At this point, take on the role of student yourself; ask questions. “I see that you have been assigned a new piece; what does ‘adagio’ mean here in the upper left hand corner?” (even if you know the answer). Your role has become one of seducing your child to take the instrument out of the case and begin to practice. If they are putting it away after 5 minutes, return and say something like, “I only heard the end of that last piece. I really liked it. Would you play the whole thing for me?” This is the time for the light touch, good humor, no suggestions, lots of praise, total admiration for how far she has professed and how much she has learned. You will be amazed at how the youngster will blossom.
For the more musically skilled parent, weaning will take longer. The child knows that you know how many sharps are in the key of C# minor, how to count the rhythm, and that no one can practice for 5 minutes and cover everything that is expected. But if your budding musician is approaching the age of 11, the time may have come to start thinking about transferring some of the practicing responsibility over to your child.
The parents who have diligently practiced with their children for years have felt the price of accomplishment, even if they have never played a note. To suddenly think of not having the lesson prepared is like showing up for a meeting without having written your speech. Separating yourself and your pride from the practicing situation is one of the most difficult aspects of weaning your child from practicing with you. Consequently, step one is a serious talk with your child’s music teacher. Discuss whether the teacher thinks that this is a good time to begin the weaning process. Many teachers feign surprise that you are still such an active participant, but don’t minimize your role. If your child would never practice without being dragged to the keyboard kicking and screaming, say so. If you have to promise Skittles for every scale played, say so. This is the time for full disclosure. Obviously, if you and the teacher still have the fortitude, whatever you are doing is working. If the teacher feels that none of this should be necessary and you know that the instrument would never leave the case if you didn’t do all that you are doing, perhaps it is time for a new more realistic teacher. (I will never forget an interview with Pinchas and Eugenia Zuckerman. When the interviewer commented that their children love to practice with all the wonderful music in their home, they laughed and quipped, “Of course they hate to practice. Everyone hates to practice. Practicing is work.”)
You and your child’s teacher must adopt a strategy. Try small increments of the lesson, which will be the child’s sole responsibility. In the beginning it should be outrageously simple, perhaps even just two measures that the child will have to learn without your assistance and perform at the next lesson. Request that the teacher spend part of the lesson discussing the art of practicing and then show the child how to work on a two-measure passage. Put on the metronome; practice slowly, what are the sharps and flats, which are the tricky rhythms. In short, how does one dissect the passage, study problems, and then put it all together again. You may even want to be part of this “learning how to practice” lesson. Remember, it is an art, but it also can be taught. In fairness to your child be certain that the teacher is teaching the skills necessary to becoming an independent practicer. The key is to start small and build confidence. Two measures played perfectly is far preferable to an entire exercise played with several mistakes. Expectations must be very clear and lots of praise must be lavished by the teacher for a job well done. You should report to the teacher how things have gone at home, and the teacher must share ideas with you. You both must agree about what is reasonable to expect in the coming weeks.
In the beginning, your child will not be as well prepared as when you work together, but will eventually own this wonderful skill and be enormously proud of it. The in-between is like pulling fish in on a line. You are fostering independence, but you don’t want to let them quit. You must encourage, but not criticize. You must lure them on to do more than they ever initially think is necessary. All of your diplomatic skills will be necessary to cajole your child into rigorously attacking a difficult passage or understanding that practicing every day means seven days a week, not four.
Practicing with your child takes unending amount of patience. Weaning your child takes an equal amount. None of this happens in a month. Several years is probably more reasonable. In the meantime, while you are cajoling, suggesting, requesting, begging your child to get practicing over with, consider sitting down at the piano yourself or dusting off the instrument you used to play and playing for five minutes. You will be amazed at how much you have learned during your child’s lessons and how rewarding practicing can be for you!