Teach Your Kids Music

Give your kids the gift, and wonder of music - all while having fun! 

This article is aimed at parents or teachers with a basic knowledge of music. The KeyMusician Keyboard has teaching aids designed into it, that allow such people to teach music successfully. For a music expert, it will work even better, and faster.

We've shown the instrument at many public events, inviting people to learn to play chords-with-melody music in 5 minutes, and almost without exception, people have been able to do it. And those who had a harder time with that, had a lot of fun playing its drum kit.

One enthusiastic teenager exclaimed, “This sure beats Minecraft!”

The KeyMusician Keyboard was designed, not only to be easy to play, but also to teach music to the player. Because of this, there are things you can do in teaching music, that just weren't possible before the instrument was invented.

Though the instrument can be used to teach all kinds of things in the realm of music theory, a different approach is better with young children, and this article is focused on ideas for teaching music to children.

Two new configuration files, “MusicLab-1.kmk” and “MusicLab-2.kmk” are supplied with KMK version 1.34 and above. These files are used in the “Music Lab Discovery” series of lessons, and they will help you in your task of teaching as well.

It's certainly true, that the instrument can be a fun toy, and a fairly durable one, where the kids use just a typing-keyboard to play it. But to go beyond just having fun, and actually learning music, requires the hands and mind of a teacher. That teacher could be you.

Learning is best if it's fun, and entertaining. Here's a bunch of ideas of what a teacher can do with the instrument, teaching music to children.

Activities You Can Do In Teaching Music To Children

With the KeyMusician Keyboard, running on your computer, you can have all kinds of fun musical activities, throughout the day. 

You can (without having to be a competent pianist or guitarist):

You don’t need a piano, or a synthesizer – just your computer and a small amplifier. And playing chords doesn’t involve a lot of learning, like it would with Guitar – simply name the chord you want to play. You don't have to know the notes included in the chord. It's easy to learn pieces to play, because all you need to play, is chords, and the melody.

Making up your own tunes by singing or humming can be the easiest method of improvisation.

Add percussion sounds to your musical activities, using any of 48 different percussion instrument sounds. Play drums as they march, or dance, or sing.

You can play the sound an any of 158 different instruments (and 48 percussion instruments), challenging your kids to identify them in a picture.

Play different chords, letting the kids name the feeling it evokes in their minds, or the kind of scene it conjures for them. Play the chords as sustained chords, strummed chords, or arpeggios, showing how they are different. Use the “MusicLab-2.kmk” configuration file to demonstrate strummed-chords, and arpeggio chords.

Show how the grand staff (bass and treble clefs) is like a big ladder, on which notes (higher, or lower on it) can be either on the rungs of the ladder, or in the spaces between (unlike a ladder). Hear the sound of each note as you show it. You can point and click on the screen, without using any keyboard at all.

Show how by matching the round part of the note, in the printed music, with the round part of the note that appears in the music display, you can play a tune of the written music.

While your computer remains secure on a desk, or table, you can hand keyboard(s) down to the kids, on which they can: 

The kids can select the instrument sound they want to play, by pressing its function-key, and then make up their own tune using it.

Since the instrument accepts input from multiple keyboards, you can play chords on your keyboard, while the student makes up a tune for those chords, on their keyboard.

Playing chords is so easy, that even the kids can easily do it, and make up tunes that go along with the chords they play. The keys of typing-keyboards are already labeled with a letter, number, or symbol, so there's no need to stick labels to the keys, as you might need to do with a traditional music keyboard. And it may help them learn their letters.

The kids can make up their own music that goes along with music playing on an audio play (such as on a tablet or smart-phone), as long as you have identified (and selected) the key-signature the music is played in. There are also pieces of music they can play along with, played using the MIDI Player, included with the exercises of the tutorials.

Each note of the melody section of the keyboard plays a different percussion instrument sound, and they can be played separately, or simultaneously. Multiple keyboards can be used simultaneously, to spread the fun around.

What kid can resist playing the drums, or a wailing distortion-guitar, making use of the 'Wah-Wah' (Enter) key?  You control the volume of the speakers, so it’s fun, but not too loud!

Teaching music by doing, is the easiest, most natural way. It may surprise you to find out it’s much easier to make up your own impressive music, than to play the impressive music of others!

While played, the instrument shows all the notes you’re playing, so it’s an easy step beyond that, to learn to read music. And the notes are shown in key-signature context, so a flat, sharp, or natural required for playing an accidental, is included in the display.

Reading music, is much easier than reading a spoken language, such as English, so there's no need to shy away from it.

You can even play music on a touch-screen, with no translation from note to keyboard key required – including with chords! If you don’t have a touch-screen, simply point and click with the mouse!

So what should you teach, and in what order should things be taught?

What To Teach, And In What Order

You don't teach spoken language to a child, by first teaching them to read. The same should be true for music. Save reading music for later.

1. Learn Musical Improvisation

The instrument has features designed into it, that make improvisation (making up your own music) a snap. Probably the foremost of these, is the modal chords system.

If you don't believe it, try improvising melodies along with standard chords. It will sound weird!

So for improvising music (and probably most of the music you teach children), select the “Modal” chords system (as in the F1-pane screen fragment below), if it isn't already selected.

The “Mouse” check-box is useful for playing music using single-clicks of a mouse (or single taps on a touch-screen).

The Chords window looks something like this (in the key of C) when modal chords are selected:

Some of the chords are major, others are minor, and one of them is diminished. This is because each chord is built on each note (1 through 7) of the scale. Notice that the “Play” button, and the title-bar, both tell you the chord being played.

Click on the link below, to see how to teach someone to make up their own chords-with-melody music, in about five minutes. Use your browser's back-button to return to this article.

Improvising Chords-With-Melody Music, In 5 Minutes

Most of the time you take teaching it, you do with your first student, as the others watch. Then, it's just a matter of the other kids trying it, with a little help from you.

Always be supportive of what they play, because the more they do it, the better they get at it. And nothing will kill improvisational creativity faster than criticism. The rule is: If the player likes it, it's good. Different people like different music, and that's okay. The student is doing a scary thing, by playing in front of the others, so be supportive.

Even if all you have is a piano, or an ordinary synthesizer, you can teach this lesson (which should always be the first lesson). Just stick to the white keys.

Click on the link below, to see how to teach someone to make up their own chords-with-melody music, using a traditional music keyboard. Use your browser's back-button to return to this article.

Improvising Chords-With-Melody Music, In 5 Minutes, On A Piano Keyboard

This is probably the most important music lesson you will teach, and continue to teach. It will sustain and support their interest in music for the rest of their lives.

There are MIDI files of pieces the kids can play along with, in the exercises provided with the instrument. Check out the “Improvising Your Own Music with MIDI Files” tutorial for details on this. Playing along with the music of others is probably the most fun, and rewarding musical activity.

They can play along with music played on an audio player (such as from a smart-phone or a tablet), provided you have identified and set the key-signature to what is used in the music played. Check out the “Improvising Your Own Music With Audio Files” tutorial to learn about this.

This is the sort of skill that your kids can show off in a program at the end of the school year.

2. Learn To Play Tunes From Music

Show how the grand staff (the treble and bass clefs) is like a big ladder, going from low notes, to high notes, and that the notes can be not just on the rungs of that ladder, but also in the spaces between rungs. You can do this by pointing and clicking with a mouse, or tapping on the screen with your finger, if you have a touch-screen.

Show how the keyboard keys pressed, activate white keys in the piano-keyboard diagram, and that to play the black keys, you first press (and hold) either the Page-Up, or the Page-Down keys. Show that when a black key is played, either a flat, or a sharp sign will appear to the left of the note-head. A note such as this, is called an 'accidental'. Note: You rarely have to do this, because it plays in-key-signature automatically.

Show that the seven tones of the scale, each have their own letter-name, using the letters “A” through “G” and that these letters keep repeating as you go up (or down) the grand staff.

Teach how when you play notes in written music, you match the position of the note-head you play, with what is shown in the written music. The note-head tells you the pitch of the note. You match the position of the note-head as shown in the picture below. Note that the top two rows were failed attempts to match the round-part of the note, and only the bottom row is correct.

Show that notes on short-lines above the bass clef, or below the treble clef, may actually be in the other clef, and you just count the lines or spaces up, or down, to find them.

Teach the difference between tied, and slurred notes (as in the information below), because tied notes are played as a single note:

There are exercises in the “Learning to Play Tunes from Sheet-Music” tutorial that you can use. Or you can supply your own music. Just make sure the music you supply shows the chords to play with the music. Pick music the kids will already be familiar with, because then, all they need to learn to play such pieces, is the position of the note-head (the pitch). You can use pieces in any key-signature, as long as you set the key-signature to match (using the “Transpose” button). The picture below shows this:

3. Learn To Play Chords From Music

Show how the chords are specified above the staff-lines in the music (as in the picture above).

At some point, when you start playing music from written music, you'll want to switch to Standard chords (on the F1 pane). With standard chords, you don't have to take your eyes off the music to see what is already selected, because each new chord starts with no attributes, and assumes it's a major chord. That means you don't have to take your eyes off the music.

The Standard-Chords window (in the key of C) looks something like this:

Notice that all of the chords are assumed to be major unless you add chord types, such as diminished, minor, or suspended.

There is a tutorial called “Reading Chords In Sheet-Music” you can use in showing your students how to play chords from written music.

4. Learn To Play Music They Aren't Familiar With

Learning to play written music they are not familiar with, is advanced stuff, which may not be suitable for younger kids. But you can do it, nevertheless.

To play music they've never heard, they need to know about time-signatures, and how the shape of the note, tells you how long the note is held, as shown in the picture below. In each measure, the same amount of time passes, but with each successive measure, twice as many notes are played.

They also need to know about how the shape of rests (for sections in music when no note is played), tells them how long the rest is, as in the picture below:

The tutorial “Learning to Play Sheet-Music on the KeyMusician Keyboard”, is a pretty good introduction to learning to play from sheet-music.

The following tutorials will also prove useful for advanced music teaching:

So to all you with kids out there, or who home-school, run a preschool, or day-care, or do after-school activities, consider using the KeyMusician Keyboard in teaching music. You'll be glad you did, and so will your kids or students!

If you found this article on a search, and don't already have the KeyMusician Keyboard, find out more about the instrument, and obtain it, by clicking the following link:


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