When I have a long to-do list, it’s easy for me to feel stuck. Even with clear priorities, getting started on any one thing can feel very, very new. That’s when I call on a tool from my early childhood musicians. Growing minds and grownup minds need time to make sense and meaning of commands and tasks.
Sneak in some quality processing time by counting down, like rocket blastoff, any time you or your children need a little mindful boost:
5 - 4 - 3 - 2 - 1 🚀
Counting down gives the listener an active role in the transition process. There is a definite end to the count, which even my stressed-out, unmotivated bodymind system senses.
I use this countdown when transitioning out of a fun activity into something on my to-do list, when getting out of bed on a particularly cozy-and-cold day, and when pumping myself up to go into a room full of people who might be new to me.
Mindful seconds spent listening in countdown make for a subtle energy boost of relief when the counting is through, just what I need to get going on the task at hand.
When supporting young students to change gears, I might count down from 10 or even 20, to buy extra time.
Have you ever been somewhere, waiting in traffic or at the store, and a song came on that you’ve heard countless times? An uncomfortably familiar amount of times? What do you do? I like to use active listening to turn moments like this into mindfulness. As I absorb the song through my sticky ears (songs get ‘in my head’ really easily), I hunt for the following: Where is the beat? Finding the beat of the song and tapping it lightly on my chest (if I am hands free) can help me feel more calm and grounded. Are there any bits of silence between melodic or rhythmic sounds? What would it be like to listen for those, and maybe breathe deeply into them? What instruments am I hearing? Can I pay attention to an instrumental sound I have not noticed before? The easiest one for me is the bass because of its low, steadily placed sounds. If vocal, how often does the singer say a particular letter sound? This can be really fun because it activates the logic- and pattern- seeking part of my mind, which is different from the judgey part. 😬 What was the last song you heard that got stuck in your head?
I wanted to share with you a quick way to find your center even in the midst of a hundred thousand things to do. My mind tends to go extra fast when I have a lot on my plate, jumping from need-to-be-done tasks to concerns about things that haven't happened yet. It can be easier said than done to take a deep breath. When my mind is loud, it helps to have a physical sound to guide me into a mindfulness. In recent piano lessons, my students have enjoyed using piano keys as tools to find center with playful curiosity. We find a note or two to play together. (Pairs of black and white keys that skip over a note of the same color are harmonious.) My student plays the note or notes and holds them down until the sound goes away. We may notice how long the sound lasts and then play a note or two in a different spot on the piano (to the right, left, or center), perhaps comparing how long the notes lasted. Depending on mood, the focus can be simple mindfulness. In this case, we listen to the note or notes as invitations to breathe deeply and follow the quality of the sound: What would happen if, as the sound gets quieter, the mind settled more deeply into listening to it? This can be done on a digital keyboard, set to a piano sound.
Some of my favorite centering songs have 3 beats. What I mean is that their underlying pulse--akin to a heartbeat--is counted 1 - 2 - 3. This odd but centering rhythm has a swinging feeling and is used in ballads, meditations and waltzes alike. What happens when you listen for the 1 - 2 - 3 beat in these tunes:
*This gospel classic and this grown-up ballad sung by the late and beloved Aretha Franklin *Kermit's colorful question from the Muppet Movie
*My favorite waltz and love song from Viennese operetta
While you listen, if you like, find the pulse of each song. Once you can hear and tap along with the regular strong beats, try counting 1-2-3 over and over, along with the music.
How does this feel?
I love this song and have wanted to play it for 25 years, ever since I heard it on KCSM radio in the SF Bay Area.
There were a number of obstacles: the written music is not readily available. The song is in a musical range best suited to men with low voices. I’m not in a band. My spanish was not proficient.
Recently I received our family's first piano, a gift from my late grandfather. It made a zig-zag journey from Oakland, CA to Indianapolis before finding its way to my Houston studio. What better motivation to pursue my own repertoire dreams?
When motivating students to play piano in between lessons, I speak of music as a precious flame that is lit during lessons. As a student plays piano in between our meetings, the flame stays lit, and perhaps burns even more strongly. By the time our next lesson comes around, a student simply reveals to me the lit flame of their learned song, which powers our exploration of the next piece.
My dream song took steady dedication to work up even to this point (an ongoing work in progress!). The biggest challenge, was in finding the music—you might notice from the photo below it’s a jazz-style chart, with chord names written in letters over the music-note melody.
Sleuthing complete, I made a step-by-step plan to learn the bass line and the chords that go with it in a rhythm that pleases me and sounds something like the full-band version. With a few minutes of work at a time, a few days a week, over numberous weeks, I put together an arrangement that I enjoy playing and singing.
This is my goal for all my students: to enjoy music as a life practice. Short periods of home play (aka practice) add up over time to make any desired skill easier—masterful, even. What is something you would like to learn (in music or not!), that seems big and overwhelming right now? Send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know!
Typing this blog post was an act of rhythm. So was clicking on it to read it (thank you!)
Every movement we make requires rhythm-based coordination from a designated part of our brain's core. Language is rhythm. Play is rhythm. Music is rhythm. When I improve my rhythm, I make other areas of my life easier and more enjoyable.
Music is innately connected to many students' most challenging subject, math! In fact, I like to say that music is mathyou can feel.
In my playful, mindful music studio, pianists, vocalists and percussionists develop steady rhythm and an appreciation for the math of music. We may tap or move to the rhythm of a song before playing or singing it. We talk about rhythmic cycles, and how songs are divided into groups of beats.
Because of their strong foundation in rhythm, my students transition well to choir, orchestra, bell choir and other musical activities outside the studio, where they enjoy social connection as well as musical satisfaction. What most people don't know is that by helping to enhance the brain's rhythm system, we prepare it to create the most sophisticated rhythm of all: attentive stillness.
Get started on music math at home witha simple find-the-beat game you can play anywhere!
Have you ever been somewhere waiting in traffic or at the store--and a song came on that you’ve heard countless times? A song that you would just rather not hear again? What if one of your family’s ipads is playing a song for the umpteen thousandth time? What do you do?
I like to use my active listening to turn moments like this into mindfulness games. As I absorb the song through my sticky ears (songs get ‘in my head’ really easily), I might hunt for the following:
*Where is the beat? Finding the beat of the song and tapping it lightly on my chest (if I am hands free) can help me feel more calm and grounded.
* Are there any bits of silence between melodic or rhythmic sounds? What would it be like to listen for those, and maybe breathe deeply into them?
* What instruments am I hearing? Can I pay attention to an instrumental sound I have not noticed before? The easiest one for me is the bass because of its low, steadily placed sounds.
*If vocal, how often does the singer say a particular letter sound? This can be really fun because it activates the logic- and pattern- seeking part of my mind, which is different from the judge-y part that does not prefer the song. 😬
Thanks for reading! Send me an email to let me know: what is a song that gets stuck in your head?
Playful Mindful Music by Elisabeth Swim at Sounds Like Me Inc
I talk funny. Especially when it comes to learning, I use words that sound really strange to people who do not know me yet. For example, I do my best not to use the words hard and difficult: When I say something is difficult, I feel a little overwhelmed. I don’t feel motivated to do the thing. The task is, on some level, new. I haven’t done it enough times to make it feel easy. Maybe sometimes it feels easy, but I have not learned it so that it feels easy to do even when I’m tired, hungry or otherwise under extra stress.
When I call a task new instead of hard or challenging, my mind-body system gets ready for something exciting. I have an open-minded curiosity about how I will accomplish it. I am interested in how it might feel easier after I have done so and curious about what I might learn along the way.
Rather than calling things difficult or hard, I am committed to learning that every task and every activity is either easy or new. I train students to do the same.
If something is easy, I have learned it or mastered it. I may have done it or similar things many times before.
If it's new, I am still learning it. I might not yet feel like I have got it down. There is more learning to be done by rehearsing the task until it becomes easy.
NEW ↜------------------------------------------------------↝ EASY
When I encourage myself with energizing words like easy and new, I have more energy and clearer awareness of how to use my energy to reach my goals. Living life on a spectrum of learning makes it possible for me to be curious about my mistakes as I make them.
What feels new to you in life right now? What feels easy?
Send me an email to let me know.
... or 'my summer cleaning animal scat'
Right after high school, I was privileged to spend time in a small farming community. My job there was to take care of the children's petting zoo. Seems like fun, yes?
Most of the job was cleaning up after hundreds of animals, work that felt repetitive and never ending. So I sang. All kinds of songs every day until my work was through when I would walk cheerfully up a hill to my dorm to shower and study. Neuroscience confirms that the singing and not the scent of scat that made me feel so at ease. 😉
The extended out breaths you need for singing cue the heart to slow down, supporting a calm physiological state. The accessible and fluid sounds of singing send signals to the body-mind that support calm readiness to engage with self and life. (Stephen Porges)
Sometimes I do the same thing now while I'm stuck in traffic or doing anything that requires seemingly endless repetitive effort. I just sing.
You may know that I host a non-performance singing group for people who, like me, simply want to sing. I’m so grateful to have the support of the Houston Arts Alliance to continue our meetings throughout the 2018-19 season.
Our next meeting is coming up soon. Sign up here for more info!
When I started piano in first grade, my mother and I lived in an apartment complex in the flats of San Francisco's East Bay Area. My two-block radius was home to kids whose families had moved to the neighborhood from a range of cities and countries. Neighbor kids and I played together outside or in each others’ homes, using our imaginations in combo with toys, big and small. I still have scars and bone warps from learning to ride a bike, roller skate, tumble and excavate. To be honest, I did not have a lot else going on. My mom raised me on her own and every structured activity was a luxury. She funded piano and choir inspired me to make the most of these. This included asking me every weekday whether I had practiced piano, doing her best to make sure I did that a few times every lesson week, and driving me to and from lessons and choir rehearsals in far-away parts of town. I'm so glad she did. There were times I would not play. Times when I practiced and ignored my teachers' instructions. Somehow I lived to tell you about what I call 'home play,' a brain-friendly term for 'practicing.' Looking ahead to summer, I hope you can build time into your family's schedule to rehearse whatever it is you love, whether it's piano, softball, painting or robotics. I’m not here to add another task to your already-full plate. However, I would like to make it easier for you get more joy through your family’s learning. As you may know from my last note to you, I made How to Home Play to help you do just this. Download it and apply these three simple things to ANYthing your family learns.