Ear, Brain, Body. Understand Music Lessons for Kids in Just 3 Pictures

In teaching thousands of music lessons for kids over the years, a question we get a LOT at Brooklyn Music Factory is, “Will my child learn how to read music?” The short answer to that question is “yes”. But there’s a longer answer too—one that gets to the bottom of how and why we teach music the way we do. So yes, your child will learn to read music. But they’ll learn many other essential music skills as well. Read on for more from BMF co-founder Nate.

Let’s take a moment to sketch out what’s actually happening when a piano player sits down to play a song at the piano.

(Surprise: Observers often can’t tell, but different musicians use different approaches to playing music—and sometimes the same musician will use different approaches during the same song!)

Nate takes us through all 3 approaches to learning music: Ear, Brain and Body

Option 1: The Body-First Approach

The pianist memorizes the hand positions for every chord and then relies on muscle memory to play the song. The musician can literally play the song paying as little attention as you and I do to brush our teeth. They’re relying entirely on muscle memory.

We call this a body-first approach. The pianist doesn’t need any brain power to play the song, and they may not even be listening. (If they are listening, they are likely simply enjoying the music—just like the audience is.) The key is that the pianist’s body knows what to do so well that the pianist doesn’t have to pay attention.

In music lessons for kids, students develop “body-first” skills through repetition and drills.

Option 2: Ear-First Approach

The pianist quiets their inner ear and waits for the song, the melody, to start inside their head. Then they translate the song in their head to the piano by playing chord progressions and melodies. In real time, the pianist is translating from the music they hear to playing it on the instrument, minimizing mistakes by continuing to play, never stopping, even when the hands hit the wrong piano key.

Pianists in piano bars are true masters of this technique. When a visitor requests a song—one the pianist doesn’t know well or isn’t in their repertoire—the pianist goes to the library of songs in their head and tries to remember or ‘hear’ the one being requested. The pianist probably remembers some key elements of the song and then just dives into their own rendition. They make some “mistakes” —most of which the audience doesn’t notice—but the same rule applies from the body-first approach. The pianist never stops, making the song look easy, even though they are drawing on a ton of skill to play.

We call this an ear-first approach, though the musician also needs to use their brain a lot to be able to figure out a song on the spot like that. To translate a song into chords and an actual melody, a musician needs lots of understanding and analysis. The body actually doing what the brain has figured out is the last step.

At BMF, our music lessons for kids include LOTS of music games—where students gradually develop strong ears and listening skills.

musical ear music games

When music lessons for kids focus on brain first, ie., “reading music” at the expense of listening to music, those kids often grow into adults who cannot remember a thing that they learned in those early lessons. Sound familiar? 

Option 3: Brain-First Approach

In the final approach, the pianist places a piece of sheet music on the music stand and, after a brief glance, launches into song. Many or most people believe musicians rely on this skill more than any other. (And it’s why so many parents ask if their kids will learn to read music in their lessons.) In fact, as a musician grows and matures, strengthening their ears along the way, they need the brain-first approach less and less to play. Let’s look at why.

In the brain-first approach, the body and ear take a backseat. Instead, the brain looks at all the symbols on that piece of sheet music (notes, rests, chords, lyrics, etc.), makes sense of what they see there, and then, depending on how familiar they are with the song and all the patterns on that piece of sheet music), start playing automatically! Again, sight reading can kinda seem like magic!

The hurdle for students who learn with the brain-first (or brain-only) approach is that they often spend little to no time developing their ears. In other words, the pianist never really hears the music. Instead, they can’t actually listen to what their hands are playing because they are concentrating so hard just to translate the notes on the page. 

When music lessons for kids focus on brain first, ie., “reading music” at the expense of listening to music, those kids often grow into adults who cannot remember a thing that they learned in those early lessons. Sound familiar? 

At Brooklyn Music Factory, students learn to listen AND to read.

Want to try your first lesson free? Learn more HERE!

P.S. And you can always try out our music games for free at home on BMFTV!

Why—and How!—Music Games for Kids Work

At Brooklyn Music Factory, we’ve made music games for kids a cornerstone of the curriculum.

Kids hopping from one poly spot to another. Koosh balls being thrown at a happy face or a sad face. Chord dice being rolled on the floor. 

If you walked into a Brooklyn Music Factory classroom, it is highly likely you would see at least one of the above activities happening. Could be in a band class or a private guitar lesson. And if this seems a bit different than the piano lesson you took as a kid, it’s because it is. In fact, our curriculum will probably feel radically different.

One of the questions people ask us more often than any other is: “Why do you play so many music games for kids in your classes? And what exactly is a BLAM game, anyway?!”

…if this seems a bit different than the piano lesson you took as a kid, it’s because it is.

The WHY Behind Music Games for Kids

We play games in our music classes for one simple reason: they work. We have played music games for kids with thousands of students since we opened 10 years ago and they are incredibly effective at teaching the concepts (the music fluencies) we believe all students need to know and to play in a band. This type of game play is called “deceptive learning” and it remains the most effective tool we have found, especially for ages 4-11.

A MiniKeys class getting ready to play a rhythm game

Joy Motivates

Games are fun, and fun is highly motivating. When they start, kids want one thing and one thing only from their lessons: fun. (Ideally, they’re having fun with other kids too, not just their teacher!)

Important: The goal of music lessons for kids is NOT just to get good at an instrument, at least not at first. The instrument is just the ticket to making lessons fun, and making lessons fun is CRUCIAL to kids wanting to continue music lessons. (And not quitting, like a lot of parents did when they were kids!) 

The goal of music lessons for kids is NOT just to get good at an instrument, at least not at first.

jam band 101 at brooklyn music factory
A BMF Jam Band 101 class

Did You Say “BLAM”?

We call our music games for kids “BLAM” games, which is short for Big Lessons About Music. What exactly makes a lesson BIG, you ask? 

We split our games into four categories: Melody, Harmony, Rhythm & Songwriting. (You can read more about BLAM games in this blog post.) Over time, these games teach important lessons musicians need to know.

For example, they’ll develop focused and strong listening skills and they’ll learn the building blocks of songwriting and composition, otherwise known as music theory.

Your Music Ear, Music Mind & Music Body

Musicians are like athletes. And like athletes, they need both great body awareness (developing fine motors skills) AND a sharp mind (knowing what to do with those fine motor skills under extreme conditions). At Brooklyn Music Factory, we use music games to help kids develop mind awareness. That mind practice is broken into games for strengthening ears and strengthening theory. (The body practice, while not simple execution, is much simpler to understand, because it’s what most people think of when they think of musicians. It’s the technique a musician uses to play the instrument. Students build their body practice through skill and technique practice.

More Music Games for Kids

We believe adding games to music lessons is not only fun, it’s essential to helping kids learn–no matter what type of lesson it is!

Want to try out some of our music games for kids at home? Our team of dedicated music teachers have created an entire library of free music games for kids of all ages on BMFTV. Try one out today!

Free Resources for Music Teachers

Whether you teach private lessons or music in the classroom, our music games can add a HUGE dose of fun to your lesson plans. Explore music games for kids of all ages on BMFTV!

music games on BMFTV