Monday, August 26, 2013

[Teacher Feature] Lessons From My Students with Autism

Cameron Weckerley has been teaching music and giving private lessons for over 20 years. He works with students of all skill levels and abilities. Over the course of his career, Cameron was presented with the opportunity to teach music to students with autism. Cameron was kind enough to answer a few questions and share his thoughts on this transformative experience:

How did you first come to work with autistic music students?

When I moved back to town from New Mexico a couple of years ago we were living 11 miles out of town which made setting up a studio at home impossible.  For a while my colleague Deedra Patrick was kind enough to carve out a niche of space for me to work in in her studio which was in town.  

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It was in this environment I first came into working contact with autistic young people and their parents.  It was the parents who approached me about working with an autistic student. It was an an intriguing idea, however I did not think I was qualified. Even with teaching credentials and over a decade of experience teaching public school I had always worked only with mainstream students. Much to my surprise the parents were completely OK with my lack of disorder specific education.  All they wanted was someone who was willing to try.


What surprises you the most about teaching autistic students?

The  one thing that I have learned deeply is that, at least with the students I have, autism is an Input/Output disorder.  It is not specifically linked to intelligence.  I am guessing most of you reading this are using a computer phone or tablet and each has a keyboard.  When you want to send someone a message you use the keyboard and you expect specific inputs to produce specific outputs.   For example, press the f key and the character f appears on the screen. In the mind of an autistic person when the f key gets pushed perhaps the response is d. Not an intelligence issue at all; it is just as if someone randomly rewired the keyboard.

What has worked for me is to spend the time up front to decode the language - find the key to unscramble the keyboard if you will. Once a common language has been established there is a basis for information flow and you can make contact with the CPU at the core of that person.  


Any highlights you'd like to share? Success stories?

Figuring out how to decode was one of my early musical success stories.  When my first autistic student came to me he had been studying voice for some time, but had no instrumental training.     When he first played for me I was surprised by the sophistication the student had self-taught.  Mostly what he was playing were themes from television shows he liked.  On a hunch I jotted down the themes he was playing and the keys he was playing them in.  At the end of the day I looked up  some of the themes on YouTube. As I had suspected he was playing them in the correct key.    I also soon learned that the student had developed his own color language for the piano keyboard. I was very curious to know if his system was consistent, both with itself and over time. After fully decoding his color language and testing him over the period of three or four weeks it was clear that is was consistent.  

It was therefore easy to test him for perfect pitch, which he has in addition to a fantastic memory.  More importantly, in the long run, we were able to use his language to bridge over into the common language of music and music notation.


What do you find most challenging about this work?

It would be impossible for me to do what I am doing right now without the close involvement of the parents. However, working with them in the formal lesson setting sometimes makes for a strange dance. With an autistic student it is important that the parent speak up and give the teacher insight when things are at an impasse or the students frustration level is getting too high.   

The catch-22 is that sometimes this kind of intervention is disruptive to the discovery process.  The parents are doing the same dance and we’re all making it up as we all go along...only to have the rules change the next week.  It is enormously rewarding work, yet it requires tremendous patience, as I am sure any parent reading this can attest.


How have you grown as a teacher from this experience?

These experiences I am having have helped me more than anything else to develop the collaborative learning process. That is a voyage of mutual discovery - all corniness aside.


Cameron Weckerley teaches piano, keyboard and music theory to students of all ages and skill levels. Above all, he believes that learning the nuts and bolts of effective practice is the key to musical growth. Take a FREE Trial lesson with Cameron in The ZOEN.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A Parent's Guide to Supporting Your Student Musician

You’ve wrapped up that back to school shopping and you're ready to send your child off to a new year of school. Because you know that music is important for your child’s overall education, you have made sure he or she is signed up for some type of school music. Don't stop there! Here are some more ways you can help make your child’s music education a success:
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  • Adequate supplies. Along with notebooks and pens, the music student must have supplies for their instrument. Buying reeds by the box helps save money in the long run. Make sure to have rosin, strings, valve or slide oil, cork grease, swabs, etc. depending on what instrument your child plays.


  • Instrument check up. If you haven’t already taken care of this, get it done ASAP! Pads wear out, valves get dented, mouthpieces need upgrading. Your local music store should be able to help you out. Instruments are a big investment! Find a qualified technician, not someone who just does it on the side.


  • Encourage achievement. Nothing feels better than getting an A+ on a paper. The equivalent in music class would be moving up in a section. What tops that? Achieving a superior rating at contest. Almost all schools participate in a music competition. Students are judged as a soloist, small or large ensemble. Encourage your child to participate from the first day of school! Find out the details from the teacher and begin preparations as soon as possible.


  • Find a tutor. Music, much like tennis or golf, requires developing specific skills to build technique. Finding a coach outside of the school band or choir is the best way to ensure that your child is developing to their full musical potential. It’s simply impossible for a choir director to work individually with each singer to bring out their voice. Likewise, a band director cannot manage a classroom and correct each student’s embouchure. A qualified private music teacher can correct these things, teach techniques to help overall playing and introduce music that the student wants to play and will improve with. Music camps can offer concentrated experiences that can’t be obtained anywhere else.


  • Share the interest. At its core, music is expression. One of the most important things a parent can do to encourage their child’s musical success is to share the interest. Find a concert that features the type of music your child is learning and take a group to listen to it. When your child has a concert, get there early and sit front and center. For the ultimate in sharing, consider taking lessons along with your child!


  • Homework. In order to get all the benefits that come from learning and playing music, regular practice must be a part of the student’s schedule. Practice time should include scales and studies on the student’s playing level, some challenging music as well as music that is being prepared in class. Private lessons offer the student more opportunity to explore their own musical interests since these lessons will be crafted for them as an individual.

I think back on the days when I was the student. My parents were not musicians. They were of the attitude, “If you like it, we’ll support you,” but they really didn't know how to support me musically. I wish someone had shared these tips with them. A solid music education will benefit your child in so many ways. Help them make the most of this opportunity! 

Guest contributor Fran Beaudry has over 30 years of experience as a clarinet player and music educator. Follow Fran on Twitter or book an online clarinet lesson with her on The ZOEN

Friday, August 16, 2013

3 Simple Guidelines for Setting Musical Goals

As with almost any endeavor in life, having a clear idea of what you want to achieve is key to success. Learning to play a musical instrument is no different. The better idea you have of what you want to get out of your music practice, the easier it will be to know what you have to put into it.


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Ask yourself: what is my ultimate goal in learning to play an instrument? If you want to play piano recreationally, your goals will be vastly different than those of an aspiring concert pianist. Likewise, if you'd like to be able to strum your guitar at the beach or jam with friends, your process will be much different that the aspiring blues guitarist. Align smaller goals with your ultimate goal as a musician.


Once you're clear about what you want to achieve follow these guidelines for creating a set of goals to get you there:


Small goals are key. To begin seeing progress, set small goals, meet them and move forward. By developing a habit of setting and accomplishing goals on a regular basis, you’ll start seeing some serious progress. And, with progress comes confidence and the motivation to tackle even bigger goals!


Set attainable goals. Your goals should be just out of reach - not too low, not too high. If they’re too high, you’ll get frustrated. If your goals are too low, you risk getting bored. Shoot for goals that will take around a week to accomplish. And be sure to vary your goals across different areas of your playing.


Write your goals down. This one is simple and totally essential. By committing your goals to paper you are confirming your intent to make it happen. Additionally, you are making yourself accountable for your attaining your goals. Pro-tip: Record and track your goals in a notebook dedicated to your music practice.


Begin setting small, attainable goals and prepare to be surprised by the progress you’ll see in your playing. If you've got a music teacher, be sure to ask them for help! Remember: the clearer you are about your ultimate musical  goals with your teacher, the more prepared they will be to help you.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

ZOEN Hangouts on Air: Introduction to Erhu

Over the next two months, The ZOEN will be highlighting some of the more obscure ethnic instruments you’ll find on our site. Join us to learn the unique sounds and basic playing technique of taiko drum, didgeridoo, ocarina and more. We’ll be kicking things of with the Erhu:


August 16, 2013 @ 2-2:30PM EST

Register Here


Description: Did you know the erhu is an instrument made with snake skin?  The erhu's history goes back 1000 years, and originated from outside China. The erhu reads both traditional and cipher notation known as Jianpu (Gempoo).


In the Hangout, instructor David Mendoza will introduce the instrument, its unique history and the music. This brief history lesson will be followed by a demonstration. David will play the erhu and walk viewers through the basics of technique.


Participants of this hangout are encouraged to bring questions for the Q&A session to follow David’s erhu demonstration. Those interested in diving deeper are welcome to sign up for one-on-one lessons with David Mendoza in The ZOEN.


Instructor: David Mendoza is a deeply committed music educator who began teaching privately in 2004. He specializes in teaching stringed instruments: violin, viola, cello, and erhu.

Participants: This hangout has a 4 student maximum. Register now to secure your spot!

Viewers: To join the Hangout, just sign into Google+ and add the ZOEN +Page to your circles. Then, on Friday, navigate to your Stream where you’ll be able to view our Hangout live with just one click.


Hope you can make this exciting Hangout! If you’re unable to attend, be sure to check out David’s Erhu Hangout on The ZOEN’s YouTube channel afterwards. And keep your eyes peeled for future Hangouts on Air from The ZOEN.

Friday, August 9, 2013

10 Questions You SHOULDN'T Ask Your Music Teacher

Your music teacher has years of training and personal experience to draw from. However, there are a few questions your music teacher just can't answer for you. Here goes:

1) How long will it take me to learn to play?   
I have no idea. But I do know that a student who sets a time limit on learning is a student who's already planning to fail. Different students learn at different rates, but students who keep at it will always do better than those who set unreasonable goals and are then discouraged when they don't achieve them.

2) I've never played before, but I just want to learn (insert famous showstopper guitar solo here)? 
A good teacher already has a plan for you, a way for you build genuine skills that will allow you to keep growing as long as you play. He may be able to show you exactly how to play the piece you want, but if you're not ready for it, you're just going to waste a lot of time and end up frustrated.
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3) Can I work on this separate type of music with you at the same time? 
Probably not. Diluting the work you're doing will seldom help you to develop faster.

4) Can I take lessons every other week? 
If you're a beginning student, you're more likely to develop bad habits in two weeks than to reinforce good ones. It's better to take a month on and a month off so that you and your teacher can set some goals.  Also, if you miss a lesson, it's that much harder to keep up.  Also, how do I sell your time slot on the weeks you're not here?

5) Can I take two or more lessons a week and learn faster?
Maybe. Are you doing anything else with your time like going to school or working? Learning deeply is better than learning quickly.

6) What do you think of this instrument I bought? 
I don't know. It depends on whether you can return it. Do you like it? Does it inspire you to play?  If so, it's a good instrument for you. If not, see if you can get your money back.

7) How many hours a day should I practice? 
None. Make music instead. Time spent for it's own sake seldom means anything. You've been watching TV for hours a day since you were a kid. Can you honestly say you're getting better at it? Time spent focused on specific goals is what matters.

8) Are scales important? 
Yes, but not as important as actual music. Try focusing on that and leave the drilling to dentists.  Also, floss.And use sunscreen.

9) Can I give my lessons to someone else? 
No. A lesson isn't a commodity to be traded.  It's part of a working relationship leading towards a goal.

10) Can I buy a gift certificate? 
Maybe. Music lessons make a great present for someone, but only if they're ready to start taking lessons. 


Guest contributor Stephen Dick teaches classical and acoustic guitar and specializes in teaching Flamenco guitar. Learn more about Stephen here and book a Free Trial Lesson

SEE ALSOFinding the Right Fit: Basic Questions to Ask Your Prospective Music Teacher

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

How Playing Music Changes Our Lives (And Impacts Our Health Outcomes)

The Greeks believed music had the power to help heal the body and soul. According to Greek mythology, Orpheus was given a lyre by the god Apollo and was instructed in its use by the muses, hence the word “music”. Sounds are used to create music. Sounds produce changes in our body and mind and are involved in modulating simultaneous changes in the autonomic, immune, endocrine, and neuropeptide systems. 

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It is necessary to appreciate the principles and theories of sound to understand fully its tremendous capacity to achieve therapeutic psycho-physiologic outcomes such as the reduction of psycho-physiologic stress, pain, anxiety, and isolation. It helps clients achieve a state of deep relaxation, develop self-awareness and creativity, improve learning, clarify personal values, and cope with a variety of psycho-physiologic dysfunctions. 

Our atoms and molecules, cells, glands, and organs all have a characteristic vibrational frequency that absorbs and emits sound. Thus, the human body is a system of vibrating atomic particles, acting as a vibratory transformer that gives off and takes in sound. 

Our entire body vibrates at a fundamental inaudible frequency of approximately eight cycles per second when it is in a relaxed state. During relaxed meditation, the frequency of brain waves produced is also about eight cycles per second. Moreover, the earth vibrates at this same fundamental frequency of eight cycles per second. This phenomenon is called Schumann’s Resonance and is a function of electromagnetic radiation and the earth’s circumference. 

Thus, there is a sympathetic resonance between the electrically charged layers of the earth’s atmosphere and the human body. Therefore, “being in harmony with oneself and the universe” may be more than a poetic concept (Music Therapy: Nursing the Music of the Soul).

Yes! Music DOES change our thinking and our way of responding to the world around us in a good and necessary way. That is why the pursuit of music is critical. Music serves as an important vehicle in achieving the relaxation response required for the removal of one’s inner restlessness and quieting ceaseless thinking. It can stop the mind from running away and enable our thinking to achieve inner quietness and relaxation. 

Want to change your life, your health outcomes and your very way of being? Pick up an instrument and  start learning music TODAY.
“And we must learn that to know a man is not to know his name but to know his melody.” - Anonymous


Guest contributor Linda Tippett teaches piano, keyboard and music theory. She believes that music is both food for the brain and food for the soul. Book a FREE trial lesson with Linda. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

10 Tips To Get Over Your Stage Fright

Even the most seasoned performers can get stage fright, so it's not something a newbie should be ashamed of. Some people are just naturally comfortable with performing no matter how many people. The rest of us have to get used to it. Maybe your friends and family keep asking you to play or sing for them. Perhaps your music teacher has you lined up to perform with some of their other students. For whatever reason, you have a performance coming up, and you're getting worried. Give some of these tips a try and beat your stage fright before it beats you.

 photo ID-100131566_zpsf116e35b.jpg Rehearse Until You Just "Know" It
One of the easiest ways to get rid of fear of performing is to know the music "like the back of your hand." So if you know you have a performance coming up, make sure you are rehearsing what you will be playing until it is as easy as clapping your hands. You won't feel as nervous because you won't view the music as being difficult in any way. The more you practice, the more you reinforce your familiarity with the music and the motions.

Rehearse What's Really Important
Sometimes you might be on a tight schedule or may just not have enough time to dedicate to rehearsing your performance music to such a "perfect" degree. Instead of worrying about it, break down the music into the different aspects of what you need to rehearse and work on the most critical parts first. Maybe you're playing as part of a group but have a point in one song where you will be performing by yourself. Obviously that piece will carry more weight in your decision. What if you have a song that you sound great on except for a few notes that are outside your vocal range? Hold off on that piece until you can sing those notes as comfortably as the rest.

Be Realistic In Your Expectations
One of the worst things any performer can do is let their imagination run wild about how a performance will turn out. When you daydream about how amazing it will be then you set yourself up for a much harsher failure should something go wrong. Plus, if you are overly optimistic about a performance you may not feel it as necessary to rehearse so much. What happens if you are well rehearsed and feel like you will have a great night with hundreds of new fans but end up playing to only a handful of people? You will be disappointed and feel bad about the night even if your performance was fantastic.

The opposite holds true as well. If you envision a night of disaster, then you will already be setting yourself up to be distracted worrying about mistakes. So what will happen is you start making mistakes since you are focused on whether or not you will make mistakes, instead of focusing on actually putting on a performance. Basically it's a "quicksand" effect. You will be so worked up expecting disaster that once you make a mistake you will just sink faster.

Practice And Prepare Mentally
Practicing your music until you are well versed is a big part of preparation, but being mentally ready is just as important. Even if you know the material, you have to "know" that you know it. You need to be confident in your abilities beforehand. An easy way to do this is to imagine you are at the performance when you are practicing. Envision the crowd in front of you as you rehearse. Work your way through the music you will be performing as though you are on stage right then.

Perform For Your Pets Or Yourself First
Some people find the idea of performing in front of others to be more horrifying that the worst horror movies. It is scary because of the expectation of being judged. Well if you have pets then you already have an audience that won't judge you (because they want you to keep feeding them). Perform for your pets so you can get use to having eyes watching you. If you want to make it more interesting (or don't have pets you can subject to auditory abuse) you can try performing for yourself. While you can do this in front of a mirror, using a camera to video your performance is better. Not only can you observe yourself afterwards to notice more mistakes and inefficiencies, but you will also feel added pressure since you are making a recording of your performance. Just make sure you delete the video afterwards if you don't want it being seen by anyone else.

Perform At An Open Mic Night
If you have a long performance ahead of you, then sometimes an easy way to get over your fear is to play just one song at an open mic. Get through just one song and see how the crowd responds. Go around and ask other performers there for their opinions. Generally most performers will be more careful in any criticism they give than non-performers. While I didn't personally use open mic nights to build my confidence, I did perform a lot in front of other equally or more capable musicians. Doing this and getting compliments and useful criticisms really eased my worries. After all, musicians tend to notice the mistakes of other musicians more readily than non-musicians will.

Keep Your Mind Off It The Day Of
Generally, the more you worry about something the more your worry builds up. On the day of your performance, try not to think too much about it. If you must think about it, then keep your mind off of the actual performance aspect and focus more on other elements such as equipment needs and such.

Arrive Early, Set Up Early, and Just Relax

Being rushed is never a good thing. Even if you are the kind of person who works well under pressure, putting yourself under that pressure is stressful and not the best thing for you. If you can make it happen, then arrive at the event early and allow yourself plenty of time to get set up. If any issues arise during set up, then at least you've allowed more time to take care of them. Once you are ready to go, give yourself a chance to relax and clear your head. Get rid of any thoughts of making mistakes. Just take it easy and keep your mind clear of any negative thoughts about your performance.

Be In The Moment, Not In The Audience
Once you hit that stage to start your performance, make sure that's where your thoughts are. This goes back to the preparing mentally aspect. If your thoughts are about what is happening in the audience instead of what is happening on stage then you're bound to make some mistakes. Focus first on your performance until you are absolutely comfortable with performing live. Then you can pay more attention to what is going on beyond the lights. Another aspect to focus on is quieting your "inner talking" during the performance. This is when you start speaking to yourself inside your head saying things like "oh no that was a major screw up" or "great now I just ruined that song." It's doing this that not only takes your focus away from your motions of performing but also starts to build your worry and stress. Keep yourself aware of this happening and tell yourself to shut it!

Start The Show With Ease

Never start with your more difficult songs. Always start off easy so you can allow more time to warm up and get comfortable. Starting right off with something difficult just adds more unnecessary anxiety to your performance.


James Higgins is a songwriting coach, performing guitarist and music teacher with 14 years of experience. Check out his blog Unveil Music to get the inside scoop on being an independent musician or book an online lesson with James.