Giving the Gift of Music
When a child experiences a happy, positive introduction to the world of music, the stage is set for a lifetime of music participation. As performers, composers, conductors, teachers and music advocates, Yamaha Music Education System graduates continue to give the gift of music to others.
Earning Critical Acclaim in the Music Community
The career of Jennifer Lin is yet to be determined. However, her advanced YMES musical training has already led to recognition. Lin was invited to give a presentation on "creative flow" at the Technology, Entertainment and Design Conference in 2004. After speaking about creativity, she improvised a piece based on five notes chosen at random by an audience member, actress Goldie Hawn. The performance prompted ABC News to name Jennifer Lin "Person of the Week."
Max Levinson, now an accomplished pianist and recording artist, remembers, "It was in the Primary Course [Yamaha Junior Music Course] that I learned that music was fun, and this I have kept my whole life." Levinson, who completed graduate studies at the New England Conservatory of Music, won first prize at the 1997 Guardian Dublin International Piano Competition, the first American to achieve this distinction. He now travels the world performing with renowned symphonies and conductors.
Jeremy Siskind, award-winning composer, jazz pianist and Yamaha graduate writes, "No other program teaches improvisation, composition, and ear-training with such success from and early age, and most programs don't even try. As a Yamaha graduate, I've had a leg up in the musical world - from elementary school to the music conservatory and on into the professional sphere."
YMES graduate, the late Linda Martinez developed into a gifted jazz pianist, performing both with Destiny's Child and regularly on a popular late night television show. YMES's emphasis on creativity influenced her desire to devote her energies to composition. After graduating from YMES, she earned a degree in music composition from the University of Southern California, where she was named Outstanding Graduate of the School of Music. In 2004, she won the Turner Classic Movies Young Film Composers Competition, beating a for-midable field of 500 competitors.
Kevin Noe, the Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, relates his early impressions of Yamaha music lessons: "Yamaha classes gave me a special interest that was mine alone to care about and take seriously. The Yamaha classes also taught me self-discipline. If you don't practice, you won't be able to do the work." Noe is a tireless supporter and promoter of composers, performers and the arts, constantly commissioning and premiering new works for ensembles and orchestras.
Yamaha music lessons can have a profound and lasting influence on students even when they don't pursue music as a career. To USC medical student Katherine Chiu, "playing music is a lifelong activity"-an activity that Chiu wants all children to experience. Concerned that inner-city children did not have the opportunity to take music lessons, she spearheaded a pilot pro-gram in which they could receive lessons given by USC music students in general music, keyboard and choir. The outreach program, now called USC Thornton Music in Education, received overwhelmingly positive response from children and parents and support from the USC community.
Love of Music Cultivated by Yamaha Method
Yamaha is a well-known method of studying music that originated in Japan in the mid-1950s. It strives to develop students’ comprehensive musical ability in an environment that inspires a love of music and a lifetime of active music participation. Its courses first teach students to express themselves creatively through the language of music, and along the way they build performance, improvisation and composition skills. The Yamaha Method has produced award-winning professional musicians, successful music teachers and many music lovers worldwide. I recently had the chance to visit the Florentine Yamaha Program in Chinatown, established in 1986.
Here I was able to observe the Junior Music Course for 4-5 year olds taught by Ms. Junko Arita (Other class offerings include Music Wonderland for 3-year olds and the 6-8 year old Young Musicians Course). Classes are usually 6-8 students, but because it was the last meeting before summer vacation, it was a smaller group that came bounding in ready to sing and play. For a warm-up, the students moved to the front of the room to begin singing scales. As Ms. Arita made hand motions for the different musical notes, they imitated and then sang on their own as she pointed to specific notes for them to follow. The next exercise was learning how to write the G-clef, which the students clearly had practice at doing.
When the children finally went to their respective electronic keyboards, they didn’t start playing right away. Instead, they engaged in solfège, a singing technique used to teach pitch and train singers in sight reading. It was amazing to see young children have such accurate musical ears as they followed Ms. Arita’s lead in this exercise. When they moved into actual piano playing, Ms. Arita would sing and say the note’s name so the students could then play that note on their keyboards. They went through a song section by section in this way, until they were able to play the whole thing.
I stepped out of class for a minute to discuss the Yamaha Method with Olympia Moy, director of Florentine whose mother had initially introduced the approach here. According to Moy, the emphasis on group lessons is because Yamaha’s definition of success is more than perfect playing. It also includes the creation of students who are adaptable, and who can play well with others to whom they are accountable. As a result of the well-rounded Yamaha method which has the keyboard as a teaching tool, students can go on to play other instruments in addition to the piano or sing in a chorus. They might go on to become serious virtuosos or just music appreciators, as they are provided with a solid foundation of musical theory that gives them these options. Ms. Arita echoes this sentiment with, “No matter what age or skill level, they all come away with a love of music.”
When I returned to the classroom, the students were engaged in a soulful rendition of “Sayonara,” the song used to close the class. They would be parting for their summer vacation, but be back in September ready for more learning and further putting into practice of their music knowledge.
—– Reported by Stacy Smith
From "Yamaha Music Education System: celebrating 50 years of growth." American Music Teacher | August 1, 2005| Kathy Anzis
Group Lessons: Teacher + Children + Parents
"I believe that music should not be competitive, but should be a means of fostering friendships. Music provides a context in which goodwill may be exchanged..." Kawakami, Genichi. Reflections on Music Popularization. (Tokyo: Yamaha Music Foundation, 1987): 6
Lessons are taught to a group of students (typically 8 to 10 per class) and, in the case of the Junior Music Course, one parent attends with each child. This format motivates children and provides an opportunity to develop ensemble skills and cooperation within a supportive community of friends and parents. With their peers, children become part of a musical team making music together. With their teacher and parents, the group becomes a musical community.
The group format, in conjunction with the musical content, brings joy and fun to the learning process. Students who attend class with their friends have extra-musical reasons to return every week. The camaraderie that grows contributes to tight, expressive ensemble performances at advanced levels and promotes long-term involvement in music.
Parental attendance facilitates accelerated growth. The parent/child partnership is active, not passive. Each partnership develops into a mini-ensemble, where co-learning, co-practicing and co-discovering can be enjoyed in class and at home. The entire family hears music shared between two members and often is motivated to join in the fun. In fact, when younger siblings of students become students themselves, we often find their sense of pitch is more developed than that of other entering students. They have heard the language of music at home and already have begun to absorb it.
Comprehensive Music Education
The JMC curriculum is broad compared to typical private piano lessons. Children sing solfège, play the keyboard, sing songs with lyrics, move to music, play rhythm and keyboard ensembles and participate in "music appreciation" activities (initially a non-analytical experience). They develop diverse musical skills without prematurely focusing on one instrument or style. This approach allows students to choose their future musical path when they are more physically and mentally mature.
Music is a Language
The method assumes music is a language children can learn naturally in the same way they learn their spoken and written language: we hear, we imitate, we speak and we read. You will find a parallel sequence played out in JMC classes throughout the world-children hear a melody or harmony, sing it in solfège, play it on the keyboard and then learn to read it.
The aural awareness of four- and five-year-olds is more developed than their manual dexterity and visual skills. Therefore, the Yamaha approach for this age group focuses on aural training versus emphasizing piano technique and reading. While early lessons cover the basics of keyboard technique, technical study is more actively undertaken in upper- level courses when students are developmentally ready. Likewise, the introduction of reading and theory takes place gradually in a timely and contextual manner. When students are intellectually ready, it is explained in academic terms what they have sensed and experienced musically at a young age.
The Yamaha Method employs "Fixed-Do" solfège (without altered syllables) in both ear training and keyboard activities. Fixed-Do enables a child to connect a specific pitch and syllable, such as middle Do (middle C), with a specific key on the keyboard. Aural training using Fixed-Do helps children internalize pitch, resulting in a strong relative pitch sense and, in many cases, perfect pitch. Consequently, in JMC classes one will observe students singing solfège by ear and eventually playing keyboard by ear.
Solfège is the core of the Yamaha Method; students absorb this musical vocabulary and use it in both beginning and advanced courses. Solfège becomes each student's first musical voice. In every class, teachers sing melodic patterns and chords that children imitate. Solfège sessions at the teacher's piano account for approximately 15 to 20 minutes of a 60minute class. Through singing solfège, students begin to acquire a sense of pitch, rhythm, meter, harmony, form, phrase structure, key, articulation, dynamics and mood.
By the end of two years in JMC, students have built a substantial vocabulary of solfège, having sung 50 melodies and numerous chord progressions using the I, IV and V7 chords in the keys of C major, G major, F major, D minor and A minor. Aside from developing musicianship, these solfège experiences prepare children to play in these five keys. In fact, children experience singing in a key for approximately one semester prior to playing in that key.