February 2018 Studio News

Hi everyone,

I hope you are enjoying the longer days and beautiful sunshine (at least, it was sunny until today). Here’s the latest studio news.

Composer of the Month

Not all the composers we’ll learn about are dead! Music, and composing, is very much alive. Chilly Gonzales, aka Jason Beck, is a Canadian pianist and composer who now lives in Germany. His music is available on iTunes etc, and he also publishes written music. Some of his pieces are featured in the current editions of Royal Conservatory repertoire books. Read more about Chilly, and visit the “Gonservatory”, here: https://www.chillygonzales.com/

Watch videos of his performances here (he has a Youtube channel):

White Keys https://youtu.be/s8De5eg1kic

Can you hear the repeating patterns?


MYC students are working on composing our own compositions this month. Let your creative juices flow, and remember to give your piece a title. For more ideas and inspiration on composing your own music, here’s a video by Wynn-Anne Rossi. She’s a composer…soon you may get to play some of her compositions.



Repeats and Patterns (we’ve been covering this in our lessons so far):


2017 Children’s Arts Tax Credit

Apparently, the tax credit is re-instated for 2017 only and then will be discontinued. Tax receipts will be ready by the end of next week.


See you soon,



Why reading music matters

I am sometimes asked whether my students have to learn to read music. The answer is, YES, always. Here’s why: Learning to read music prepares students to learn on their own after lessons end, without help, and enables advancement to more complex music. We can learn to play music in several different ways: by ear, by rote, and by sight (reading). All three approaches have value in music lessons, especially in combination. Some people are naturally better at one than the others, and reading is enhanced by good listening skills. However, any serious musician must learn to read and write musical notation if they hope to progress to higher levels of performance.

Playing by ear involves listening to a tune and then figuring out the same combination of rhythm, pitches and intervals (melody and harmony) on a keyboard. This approach requires time, a good ear, trial and error, and a good sense of pitch and rhythm. Good aural skills are a critical part of musicianship but they are not the only skill involved.

Playing by rote means to watch and listen to another person playing the tune and copying them exactly. Learning by rote requires a lot of repetition and a good memory and is best for simpler tunes. It is a useful way for beginners to learn to play before they learn to read music. However, it is not the only or the best way, especially past the beginner stages.

The first two approaches are not suited to every situation, especially as a musician advances. Both require an external example of HOW to play, and both are better suited to simpler music. A very complex piece would not be a good choice for rote learning. The same goes for playing by ear – very complex pieces usually cannot be replicated by ear alone. Playing by ear requires a recording of the song to listen to. Playing by rote requires a teacher in the room with you. What if we don’t have a teacher or we can’t figure it out by ear on our own? What if we have to learn it on our own without hand-holding? What if we can’t remember the notes in that tricky section? The answer is: we can read it from the page. With written music, it’s all right there in front of you. You could make a cheat sheet or lead sheet of chords/rhythms to play from. That’s fine for a rhythm guitar part, but if you need more detail than what chord to play every bar (and pianists do, with the piano being a solo/feature instrument), only the proper written music will do. Also, many people learn best visually, and can more easily find the patterns in the music by looking at them on a page.

Just like written language, music notation is a method of communicating how to play a piece without listening to it or having someone show you. It is a system of symbols, patterns, and instructions to communicate exactly how the composer meant a composition to be performed. Written music serves the same purpose as written words: it conveys information in a convenient format instead of a verbal message. Some of our music was written centuries ago, and no recordings exist from the composer’s day. Written music is the connection, sometimes the ONLY connection, between the performer and the composer. Playing at sight can only be done if you know how to read music.

Learning to read music can help you sing along with Christmas carols or hymns and make arrangements from lead sheets. Reading music opens up a whole new world of material, including advanced-level pieces and techniques. A working musician or accompanist may be handed a piece of sheet music an hour before the show and told to play it on sight – talk about pressure! There’s no time for rote learning or guesswork in a situation like that.

Written music is portable and transmittable: the information can be read and re-read, and interpreted in the performer’s own way. Hundreds of musical scores and sheet music pieces can be kept on an iPad. People who can read music and who learn music theory can also write down their own compositions for others to enjoy. That opens up career opportunities and an outlet for creative expression.

Yes, you could choose to only receive information by ear or by rote from YouTube videos. How far could this take you? For someone of flashy performance skills or exceptional ability to replicate by ear, maybe far in a popular sense, but could they teach others effectively or prepare students to learn on their own? No: they lack the ability to communicate in written form or in the technical language of music. It’s not possible to have complete understanding of music without the ability to read, understand, and write notation. A complete musician needs to know how to read and write music notation, in the same way a complete citizen needs to be able to read, write, and do arithmetic. For once we possess the basic skills of reading and writing, our ability to communicate and learn increases exponentially.

Think of it this way: All our news and information could be delivered through audio and video format, but we still learn to read and write. We never ask people why they bothered learning to read books. In the same way, learning to read and write music should be an essential requirement for every musician. I certainly consider it essential, and all of my students learn to read music. It takes time to learn, but that is time well spent. It’s a skill they will have for life.





Studio News November 2016

Dear Students and Parents,
Here is the music studio newsletter for November 2016.

Composers of the Month

The composers of the month for November are Robert Schumann and Clara Schumann. Listen and read together with your child at Classics for Kids, here: http://www.classicsforkids.com/thisweek.asp You can also listen to the Classics for Kids shows via podcast. Do this activity sheet together: http://www.classicsforkids.com/activitysheets/November2016.pdf 
Holiday Music and Happy Birthdays

Next week I will start assigning Christmas carols and The Birthday song – essentials for every pianist. Check out Forrest Kinney’s “Beethoven in F Major” variation of the Birthday Song here: https://youtu.be/XdEOkf6k-BU . Forrest Kinney wrote multiple variations of the birthday song, and you might be assigned one of them!
Practice Makes Perfect

Most of your child’s learning happens in between lessons through regular practice at home. At least, that is the intent. It’s probably not the reality all the time! If you need help developing a practice plan for in between lessons, let me know. Life is busy but a regular routine can help. 

Practice doesn’t mean doing all the tasks every day. Choose 2 to 3 items from the list. Perform a piece for Grandma, or play a game naming each note on the piano. Every bit counts, and builds confidence. Here is one way to structure your practice time:

Weekly Practice Plan for Beginner Students – Example

Day 1 – Lesson day

Day 2 – Choose one technical exercise, one piece from your book, and one theory (written) activity. Follow the notes in your lesson book for practicing. 

Day 3 – Review note naming (use flash cards, a game or app). Practice clapping and counting rhythms. Warm up with a technical exercise, then play a favourite piece from earlier in the year.

Day 4 – Sight read a brand new piece from your book. Clap and count the rhythms in the piece. Practice another piece from your lesson book.

Day 5 – Listen to the composer of the month podcast and complete the worksheet. Practice two of your pieces from the lesson notes.

Day 6 – Say the musical alphabet forwards and backwards three times. Make and use an alphabet die to choose keys to find at random, using this template from Colourful Keys: http://colourfulkeys.ie/musical-alphabet-dice/ 

Play one of your pieces and sing the melody while you play. Make up your own melody and write it down.

Day 7 – Relax!

Sincerely yours,

Sunrise News, October 2016

Dear Sunrise Parent,Welcome to the Music for Young Children Sunrise program! Sunrise is an exciting and innovative music program that contains a variety of age-appropriate music and movement activities to allow children to experience the joy of music and develop musically through fun and play. The focus of the Sunrise program is rhythm and singing, and includes three progressive levels of 10 weeks each. By the end of the third level, students are well prepared to enter a keyboard/piano music program. Sunrise also prepares students to study other instruments because it provides a solid introduction to the fundamentals of all music: rhythm and pitch pattern recognition.

Each student receives a music kit containing a book & CD, finger puppet, and rhythm instrument. Please bring your music kit to class every week in your Sunrise backpack, including the crafts we make in class. Ask the teacher if you need a backpack – each student is supplied with one at the beginning of the music year. Replacement backpacks can be purchased for $11 each.

Keep this letter – it contains the class schedule of dates (see page 2), as well as contact information. 

Classes start on time. If the door is closed, that means class has started. Please enter quietly and join the group. 

Parents, you are a valued part of the class. Your enthusiasm provides an excellent example for your child and will help encourage them to participate! Do not be concerned if your child is shy at first. Many kids like to watch what’s going on before joining in. Even if your child is not singing, they are still listening and learning. Please join the teacher in the songs and activities and your child will soon follow your example.
Schedule for Fall Session 2016 – Sunrise classes

Sept 24 – lesson #1

Oct 1st – lesson #2 (change to original schedule)

Oct 8th – no class (holiday weekend, many families away)

Oct 15th – lesson #3

Oct 22nd – no classes

Oct 29th – lesson #4

Nov 5th – lesson #5

Nov 12th – lesson #6

Nov 19th – lesson #7

Nov 26th – lesson #8

Dec 3rd – lesson #9

Dec 10th – lesson #10
Sunrise 1: 9am

Sunrise 2: 10am

Saturday mornings at Castlegar Recreation Complex

Columbia Room

Sept-Dec 2016.
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me by email or phone or speak with me after class.

Sincerely yours,

Gwen Higgins, MYC Teacher

For more information about our music programs, visit: 


Email: gwen.higgins@outlook.com Cell phone: 250-304-8921

New! Music Pups program for infants and toddlers

A lot of parents have asked if there’s a music program for infants and young toddlers, and now the answer is YES! I’m proud to be a brand-new Music Pups Center Director. This popular program is thriving in cities across Canada and the USA. The best thing about this parent-participation program is that siblings are also welcome to attend, making it a family experience. Students can continue on into the MYC programs offered at my studio.

You can read more about this fabulous program at www.themusicclass.com. Classes start January 2017. Stay tuned for schedule details. 

Studio News, September 2016

Welcome back! I hope everyone had a wonderful summer, and now you’re settled into the school routine. Here are some updates from the studio.

Registration Fees and Invoices

Your first invoice will include the cost of books and supplies (if required), plus one month of lessons. For MYC students, the cost also includes registration fees and a music bag & rhythm instrument. Invoices are payable by credit card (online) or by cheque or cash. 

Spaces Available

There are a few spaces left in the MYC classes. Each class needs at least 3 students in order to go ahead. Don’t wait – sign up today! Contact me for more info. If you are interested in Sunshine 1 for 3-4 year olds, or Sunbeams 1 for 5-6 year olds, please contact me.

Upcoming Dates

Week of September 19th: lessons start

September 24th: Sunrise classes start at the Castlegar complex

September 27th & 28th: lessons cancelled (Gwen in Vancouver)

October 1st: no lessons (Gwen at MYC conference)

September 30th: last day to register for MYC classes

November 1st: deadline to register for Royal Conservatory Dec/Jan exam session

Royal Conservatory Pedagogy Certification

I believe continuing professional development is essential for me to be the best teacher I can be. Lately I’ve been studying for the RCM Elementary Pedagogy certificate. In May 2016 I wrote the first exam for the certification. The results are in: 92, which is First Class Honours with Distinction! 

August 2015 Studio News; Choosing a Keyboard or Acoustic Piano

Keyboard or Acoustic Piano?

Not sure what kind of piano or keyboard to buy for your child? Many parents are afraid to invest in a professional-quality instrument for a child. Here are some tips for choosing the right instrument for your child and your home.

Acoustic Pianos

  • Acoustic pianos are beautiful and can be found second-hand for a song.
  • Just like guitars, acoustic pianos need regular tuning and care. Be sure you can commit to having it tuned at least once per year, and consider hiring a piano technician to inspect it prior to buying. 
  • If your child aspires to become a concert performer, owning or having access to a quality acoustic piano is more desirable.
  • Consider your living space: is there room for an acoustic piano? Will a piano annoy your neighbours in an apartment building? Is the room large enough for volume produced by a piano?

Keyboards and Digital Pianos

  • Digital keyboards are light, portable, and inexpensive. Beginners can get by with a keyboard for the first year or two. If you buy one, make sure it has full sized keys that are weighted and touch sensitive (sometimes called velocity sensitive), and at least 61 keys (five octaves). A full-size piano has 88 keys. The cost of a new keyboard for beginners ranges from $150 to $350.
  • Toy keyboards are not acceptable – they usually have small keys and lack realistic action.
  • Digital piano technology has come a long way. Better models closely resemble the sound and feel of a real acoustic piano. They have full size keyboards, and decent ones range in price from $800 to $5,000 and up. Second-hand ones can be found for reasonable prices, but be sure to test all the features first.

The three main advantages of digital pianos and keyboards are the ability to practice with headphones without disturbing others, they’re always in tune, and they are light and easy to move. If you have a shift worker at home or live in a small space, consider a digital model.