Let’s write a song!

It’s composition time at Music for Young Children! We are learning about techniques that make writing a song easy!

Children love being creative. Whether it’s drawing a picture, pretending to be a character in a story, or writing a piece of music, children love to explore their creativity.

The Music for Young Children program presents the elements of writing a song into 4 essential components. Motive, repetition, sequence, and retrograde.

When we are finished, we have a composition recital with a treat afterwards. Every student performs their song for their class. It’s great fun!

Some students even sing and play their original song at the same time!


I love my job

My job is more than just teaching young children how to play the piano. My job is to create a fun-filled atmosphere where students can explore and learn music that will last them a lifetime!

It’s easy when you realize that not all children learn the same way. Oh sure, some will sit at a piano for 20 minutes or a half an hour and practise what they have been told. But believe me, the majority of these children have tuned after just 10 minutes.

If we remember this fact, then we as teachers and parents can work together to ensure Little Johnny is constantly moving forward. And if Little Johnny is happy and having fun moving forward as he is learning his music, what more can we ask for?

Singsong-like speech

Do you know what is meant by the term sing-song-like voice? You know, the talking voice that flows up and down in pitch throughout each sentence. Great speakers and presenters usually have this, and so do actors. The freedom of a sing-song-like speaking voice is usually prominent in people who are confident and interesting and/or happy. They are easy to listen to because their speaking voice changes pitch and inflections on every word.

Practising a sing-song-like speaking voice is a great step to finding your mix. Singing in a mix requires the freedom to “let go” of your default pitch for speaking.

So, grab a book and start reading. Pretend you are telling a fabulous story to a group of children, and in the story there are many different animals with different sounds. Some of the animal sounds are louder than others. Some of the animals are small and cute, while others are big and bold. Try to reflect this speech to the back of the room in a “free” and “continous” feeling. For fun, try and draw out the last word in every sentence on whatever pitch it lands on.

Simply float your speech on a steady stream of breath while  moving your pitch up and down. As you get comfortable with this, move your pitch even higher to your bridge area. Do not flip. Engage your body with the energy that is necessary to maintain this without getting louder.

This is a great exercise for vocal awareness.

Singing technique for children

Children deserve the right to explore and learn about their voice just as much as teens and adults. Don’t you wish you had more direction with your voice when you were a child? I know I do. Children learn to speak by mimicing what they hear, and children can learn to sing by mimicing what they hear as well. However, listening to commercial/contemporary music is not the answer. In fact, this is what causes many young singers to run into poor singing habits.

How we sing can be a direct result of how we speak. Vocal habits (good and bad) are developed early in childhood, and can be carried on throughout a lifetime. Many factors influence the speaking habits of children, such as coping with asthma, allergies and reflux; genetic factors such as the shape and size of the vocal structure including the mouth, throat and jaw; social components such as whether a child lives in a busy and loud household; and what about the child who attends sports events and has developed the habit of shouting and yelling.

Parents need to be made aware. A child’s voice is an instrument they will have for a lifetime. If managed properly from an early age, it will grow and develop into a beautiful, healthy instrument.

In my studio, children are encouraged to sing from a very young age. We make high sounds and low sounds, loud sounds and soft sounds. We learn to hoot like an owl, and meow like a cat. All these coordinations are useful in learning to sing.

Small group settings work well, and are especially fun when incorporated with actions for the very young. It’s important to not make practising sounds a serious task. Most children will simply copy what you suggest and have fun doing it. If this is repeated regularly, their small voices with memorize these coordinations and easily repeat back on task. Pitch is then usually mastered if sounds are encouraged in a consistent way in the same part of the voice every time.

Does learning to play piano help you sing easier?

It is easiest to sing when you have mastered the art of listening. Listening and mimicing sounds go hand-in-hand. In fact, that’s how we learned to talk…we copied what we heard. It is easiest if the singer has developed this art at a young age.

That’s why I always encourage my piano students to sing the rhythm or words as they learn a song. The goal, of course, is to match pitch. Later on, to match articulation and dynamics.

I don’t think we can under-estimate the value of learning a musical instrument and its’ correlation to learning to sing.


What age should your child start taking singing lessons?

Singing lessons for young children are controversial. Here at Bee Music Studios we start studying the voice as young as 5 and 6 years old in a small group setting.

The class is meant to be fun, yet educational. We sing about cats and dogs, mom and dad, colors and animals. We twirl, skip, jump and even crawl sometimes!

We do lots of actions in our songs. This helps children stay engaged, and in the moment. We move fairly quickly from one song to the next. Children also learn how to write, read and sing back patterns such as do, re, mi, fah, so.

All the while, the children are learning about their voice. We experiment with our chest register by making certain sounds. We learn about our head register with sirens and “meows” like a kitty for instance. We experiment with differences in volume and intensity.

All these activities can tell me quickly where each student is in the development of their voice. My goal is simply to help them engage in exploring their voice and lead them away from any bad habit that I see pending.

This is why singing classes for young children are a very good thing. Encouragement to make sounds that they would otherwise not make helps them match pitch and discover their voice.

Got children? Read this for a head start in music education………

First, a little history. I grew up in a small town. There was no singing teacher, but there was a piano teacher. My grandmother was the local church organist. My mother was a fluent piano player (reading chord charts) and playing by ear.

As a young child our family would regularly gather at Grandma’s house and sing old songs like By The Light Of The Silvery Moon, or Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey, or I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover. The list goes on forever, and that’s where I developed a true love for singing………..just for the joy of it.

I started piano lessons around the age of 5 or 6. It was easy and fun in the beginning. It grew harder as I got older, and I can still remember in Grade 5 Grade School when I asked my mother if I could quit, and she said “no”. She said, ” you are too young to make that decision on your own. I want you to continue until you finish your Grade 8 exam”. Well, that’s what I did, and no more. It wasn’t easy, and I’m not going to say it was fun, but I developed a strong sense of responsibility and discipline along the way.

During that same time, however, I was learning to chord on the piano to accompany my singing, the same way my mother and grandmother did. They showed me everything they knew. By the age of 13, I started a 4-piece band with my 11-year-old sister on drums, and a friend on bass, and another friend of guitar. We weren’t very good. But oh, how I loved to just sing and chord on the piano.

We continued to do that for, I think, two or three years, and we got better! We performed at local church gatherings, and wedding and baby showers. I remember the matching halter tops we had with flare black pants…yes, we had to have the same outfit!

The experiences and songs I learned to play in that band were the stepping stones to my next band when I was just 16. Everyone else was over 20…….I had to sit in the back when we played our music at the local tavern.

So, enough about my background. But, what I want you to remember here is that I DID NOT LIKE MY PIANO LESSONS. I managed to get through the sight-reading, etc., mainly because I was a responsible young person, and my mother wanted me to. Well, thank goodness I did! I would never be where I am now if I hadn’t learned how to sight read classical music, and achieve at least my Grade 8 Royal Conservatory piano. (I’m now in the process of trying to convince my 13-year-old daughter to do the same, ha ha…..She plays her Grade 4 exam in less than three weeks…..wish us luck! I feel like it’s me preparing for the exam!)

Anyway, back to the subject on hand……….Music for Young Children. What is it? Well, it’s a piano-based music program that involves the parent and child. I truly believe if my mother had been involved in my piano lessons growing up, I would have had no complaints. But she wasn’t. She would tell me to go practise before dinner, but she really wasn’t involved. She didn’t know what scales or triads I was suppose to practise each week, and she only knew the song I was working on because she had to listen to it over and over. To make matters worse, the piano was in the basement, (which was cold and lonely), and she was usually upstairs in the kitchen making supper. Well, I’m proud to say that that is nothing close to what my daughter is experiencing, however tortuous she thinks her piano practising is! Our piano is on the main floor and I can see her from my kitchen as she practises her arpegios and triads. I can talk to her and tell her how great she is doing, and ask her to do more!

My daughter is a lot like me. She loves to sit and tinker at the piano………she’ll practise chord playing and sing to her favourite songs all day long….but won’t budge to practise her scales and triads on her own without being asked.

However, my daughter has the best of both worlds, although she doesn’t realize it yet. I had the best of both worlds as well because I had my mother and grandmother to teach me ear-training and chord playing, and show me my true love of music.

In Music for Young Children, kids get to learn chord playing as well as ear-training, and of course, sight-reading. That’s right! Song like Jingle Bells, Hot Cross Buns and Mary Had a Little Lamb are just a few examples of the songs that are played with left-hand chords in MYC. Children learn harmony right away. We sing these patterns, we play these patterns, and we understand these harmony patterns as chords. What a fabulous way to teach children!! It’s easy, it’s fun, and especially useful in the 21st century where music is made up many genres of music where ear-training is essential….not just sight-read for classical study.

As I said children learn to sight-read too, of course. However, we don’t learn by remembering rhymes like “every good boy deserves fudge”…..even though, that’s how I learned the names of the lines and spaces. Instead the young children learn about critters who have names in stories that match the keyboard and staff. These stories are so fun and easy to remember. Even the big kids like the stories. It makes it so easy for them to remember the notes!!

I’ll write again soon about the Music for Young Children program. It’s available worldwide, and it’s a fabulous way to teach your child the language of music. You can find a teacher in your area here ….. www.myc.com. Susan

p.s. Did I mention that the kids learn how to compose? They also learn how to read rhythm ensembles! There’s more……..but I’ll save that for another post!

Should I pressure my child to take music lessons?

I wonder how many adults say to themselves…”I wish I had continued my music lessons….”. Is that you? Do you have regrets about quitting piano? Many adults wish they would have continued their lessons. But, this is easier said than done. The lessons were possibly boring or too challenging, and your parents maybe thought it was a waste of money because you didn’t practise enough. There are many reasons why kids quit music lessons.

Well, now as a parent you are faced with the same dilemma. You want your child to learn music, but you know the challenges ahead with practising and discipline. You don’t want to waste your money. You want your child to enjoy what they are doing.

What are the best steps you can take to engage your child in a life of learning to play music and music education.

1. Show them you are interested. When you sign them up for lessons, get involved. Stay for the lesson. Watch them learn. Watch them play. Learning to play music can be a lonely sport. It takes time and commitment from both of you.

2. Start when they are young, and make practising an everyday part of your life. My kids practise their music in the morning before the bus, and again at night before bed. We split it up because we find it too challenging to spend 20 to 30 minutes at the piano at one time. Your child may be different. Your child may have no problem sitting and practising for 20 minutes, but every child is different. You just need to figure out a practise schedule that works for both of you.

3. Keep communication with the teacher. You can’t expect your child to move forward on his own without knowing what the teacher is expecting from week to week. And, make sure your child likes his teacher. He may not like practising the scales she assigns……but does he like the teacher?


When deciding about music education consider the following programs that engage the child in the fun experience of learning music.

MUSIC PUPS This program is world-wide and orginates in Atlanta, Georgia. Pups is for babies to toddlers. The music is fabulous. You receive and CD and songbook for each musical collection. The sessions run for 10 weeks at a time. You can find a class here. www.themusicclass.com.

MUSIC FOR YOUNG CHILDREN This program is world-wide and originates in Canada. Yes, I teach the program, but that’s not why I recommend it. I recommend it because it is a fun way to teach children a piano and music lesson. If we can’t keep the “fun” in music then children are more likely to want to quit. If we can’t keep the “fun” in music, then you as a parent are more likely to quit. Let’s face it. Don’t you want your child to thank you when he grows up for all those music lessons you paid for? Every Music for Young Children teacher’s style is different, but the curriculum is the same……and it is fantastic! It is not just a piano lesson, it is a music lesson. These students can go on and understand any instrument they want to play. Children as young as 8 or 9 are learning their Circle of 5ths, intervals and rest replacement. This is unheard of with any other program. This is the only program in the world that teaches this level of music education to 8 and 9 year olds in a way they can understand it. And, yes, you mom, you will understand it too!!

You can look for a Music for Young Children teacher here at www.myc.com. They are all over the world. It really is a smart investment in your child’s future.

Do you have any comments? Are you familiar with Music for Young Children? Why not drop me a line….. Susan


What should a child’s first instrument be?

Well, that’s easy … the piano, correct? But, let’s think about it. Children are actually learning to use their first musical instrument when they start to coo and babble. They start using their voice as a baby when they mimic the sounds all around them. This is how they learn to talk, and this is how they learn to sing. Their vocal cords are their own personal instrument, with its own unique sound. This is the first instrument that they learn to use.

When babies and toddlers are encouraged to copy sounds frequently, they remember how to do it and soon it becomes “normal”. This all leads to singing on pitch.

Your children will get singing and musical education at school, but we all know that music curriculum in most schools has been decreasing over the years. The more musical engagement you can encourage at home, the better. Does it matter if you are on pitch? Well, in the beginning….NO. It matters that you are singing and that you are enjoying music with your child.

Let’s move ahead a bit to age 3 or 4. A good age to know if your child is able to match pitch. Can they imitate a fire siren? Can you? If so, this means you able to zip up your vocal cords to make high sounds. They most likely can, but in some cases where a child has a deep or raspy voice (from illness, hoarseness or cough) they may be reluctant or unable to. This is where it is important to keep the child exploring their voice….making sounds that are more than just talking.

Singing requires the vocal cords to “zip up” because we don’t sing in only the pitches that we talk. In order to match the higher pitches, our brain has to know how to zip up the vocal cords and keep them that way.

An important note to mention is that the music you and I sing to is much lower than music children should be singing to. It’s important for kids to listen to music in their range, so they can copy properly. This is one reason music is so very important in the school. It’s vital for children to experience singing with their peers in a musical key that suits their voice.

So, why not think of your child’s voice as their first musical instrument. Encourage them to match pitch when they sing. This will go a long way in their future musical journey. It really is a use it or lose it scenerio. Children who “can’t carry a tune” grow into adults who “can’t carry a tune”.

The Music for Young Children program including Music Pups is a great way to engage in singing and musical fun with your child. There are classes all over the world. You can find them here www.myc.com and www.themusicclass.com.

Do you have a comment? Please leave me your thoughts.

Learn to play piano by ear!

Learning to play an instrument by ear is no secret. Guitar players have been doing it forever. But somehow piano players have been left out. Instead, piano playing has mostly been associated with reading music. While this is a worthwhile venture and opens doors to learn to play any other musical instrument, playing piano by ear is a fabulous, yet-rare talent. You will be hard-pressed to find a teacher who can teach this way, and yet guitar teachers teach how to chord all the time.

The average person who plays the guitar usually started by simply being shown how to play a few chords. The melody line is sung with their singing voice.   Once a guitar player has mastered the I, IV and V chords with maybe the II and VI minor, they are set to play 1000’s of songs in any key they desire by simply moving their hand position higher on the guitar strings. Some players will use a capo for this. This is relatively easy because the “feeling” is the same in every key.

However, playing chords on the piano is more difficult than on a guitar, because on a piano you have to deal with an entirely “new” feeling everytime you want to play in a different key. Therefore, it takes a little more diligence and practise to learn the same I, IV and V chords in different key signatures. Creating rhythm on the piano is also more difficult than on the guitar, but with a few bits of knowledge, and some time to practise, you can be well on your way to playing piano by ear!

The very first thing I would suggest is to practise making major chords starting on every note of the piano. This means knowing the first, third and fifth note of a given scale (or key). For instance, in C major these notes are C, E and G. When played together they are called a major chord. Notice that the name of the chord is the first note of the scale. A lot of people who play by ear already know this because it is a familiar sound and it sounds good to them. Here is a trick to finding the first five notes of any major scale….tone, tone, semitone, tone….In C major, this is C, D, E, F, G……in D major this would be D, E, F sharp, G, A.   Then you simply play the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes to make a chord. I suggest practising these chords in the right hand above middle C. These chords sound “muddy” when played below middle C, and must be “spread out”. That’s a later topic.

A good next step is learning how to play a minor chord. You can do this by simply lowering the third note. Therefore, C minor becomes C, E flat and G. Easy, right? 

Now, practise putting the notes of these chords in a different order. In other words for C major, instead of C, E, G…put the E on the bottom and play E, G and C. You will notice that the “feeling” is different and it will require different fingering. This is called inverting the chord. You can also play the chord with the G on the bottom…G C and E.

There are many more chord types that you can practise. There are diminished chords where the 3rd and 5th note are lowered…C, E flat and G flat; and there are augmented chords where the 5th note is raised…C, E and G#). There are also 3 different types of 7th chords to practise…major 7ths, minor 7ths and dominant 7ths. A major 7th is made by simply adding the 7th note of the major scale to the chord. For instance, C major 7th (Cmaj7) would be C, E, G, and B; and C minor 7th (Cmin7) would be C, E flat, G and B. A C major dominant 7th (C7) is when the 7th note is lowered….C, E, G and B flat. An easy way to make this a 3 note chord is by putting the 7th on the bottom and leaving out the 1st note. For instance, Cmaj7 would be B, E and G.  Now, if you add the C (root note (I)) in the left hand, you have a beautiful sounding Cmaj7 chord!

You can find these piano chords in many different music books and online. It can be handy to have when you want to look something up real fast.

 There are many more ways to enhance your playing by ear. Learning rhythmic patterns in different time signatures will quickly make your playing sound more complex and interesting. Also, learning how to add suspense and tension to chord progressions adds an entire new dimension to chording.  Sure, you can analyze these chords to death from a theory point of view, but that’s not necessary. Instead, by simply learning a few things about “chord embellishment” you will quickly be sounding like a pro. Learning how to “spread out” a chord with different voicings (space between the notes) is another fabulous technique to add to your knowledge of playing piano by ear.

I would love to hear from anyone who has tried to learn the piano by ear. I will try to answer any questions you might have. Thanks for reading! Susan