Tag Archives: music

Bernstein, Bizet, Bax – ABCs of composers

B is one of those letters that I had to make choices for. So many interesting composers to choose from.

Leonard Bernstein

Bernstein is known for a wide variety of musical styles in his composing but he is also known as a master conductor, a philanthropist, a pianist, a music educator, and more. I was able to play in the pit orchestra while in college for a production of his West Side Story musical. Such a fun and challenging piece to play. It was a great experience. This is a musical that our family enjoys but it was one we waited a bit to show the girls. It has some great musical complexity and variety, which is often evident in Bernstein’s music.

Bernstein’s family lived in the northeast. His family was not particularly musical but when the family was given a piano, Bernstein taught himself to play. He was 10. From there, his love and learning in music grew quickly. He attended university and studied music. When he was just 25 years old, he was made assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic. He spent much time traveling to conduct orchestras around the world.

He wrote pieces such as the operetta Candide, based on a libretto (lyrics) from Voltaire. He wrote symphonies, including Symphony No. 1: Jeremiah, in 1943 (some place this in 1942 and others in 1944). His symphonies were influenced by his Jewish heritage. He also worked with Jerome Robbins to create not only West Side Story but some ballets as well. His composing was prolific.

Bernstein was an advocate for American composers. He sought to help other composers, such as Copeland and Ives.

Probably one of the most important works he did was to embrace the Young People’s Concerts with the New York Philharmonic. These were live but also broadcast on television. This brought music to children and into homes, making it fun and accessible for everyone. Here is a sample of one of the Young People’s Concerts, introduced by Whoopi Goldberg.

Georges Bizet

This may be one you think you don’t recognize but I’ll bet you do. Take a listen to this piece.

This is Farandole from L’Arlésienne. This was dramatic music for a play. Very popular then and still well known today. I’ll bet you hummed along. 🙂

What about this piece?

This is the Overture to the opera Carmen, written by Bizet in 1875. It opened in Paris to terrible reviews. It was too real for too many of the critics. However, it was well accepted before too long. However, Bizet never knew it because he died shortly after the opening of the opera.

Bizet was another whose family encouraged him to pursue his musical ability. So much so that his family is said to have hidden his books so he would work more on music and less on reading stories. His musical ability brought some fabulous melodies to life for us.

Arnold Bax

These are two of my favorites to listen to and/or play from the letter B. I also looked at Bax. Sir Arnold Edward Trevor Bax, knighted in 1937, was a composer of symphonies but also an author, playwright, and poet. He was highly influenced by the sights, sounds, and culture of Ireland. The music of Russia and the music of English composer Ralph Vaughn Williams.

I didn’t know anything about this composer until my husband and I were putting the list of composers together to study. He had recently comes across a number of CDs of Bax’s music in the racks of Half Price Books, his favorite place to search out new music to explore. Bax’s music falls into the late Romantic/early 20th century realm. It is described as Romantic, for the most part. My husband really enjoyed the music and so now I am exploring this composer a bit, too. Here is a piece of his.

Thank you for joining me this week for Composer ABCs. Please visit the hosts to find the linky and other participants.

Desiree @ Our Homeschool Notebook and
Chareen @ Every Bed of Roses

Lori, At Home.

Composer ABCs in this series:
A – Leroy Anderson
B –

Leroy Anderson – ABCs of composers

Quality music for me can come either from something I like to listen to, something that is interesting and unique, or something that I enjoy(ed) playing in band and orchestra. My ABC list is going to be some of the composers that I enjoy.

Leroy Anderson

Most band musicians know him as the composer of Sleigh Ride. It is played at the close of lots of holiday concerts. It is a fun piece to hear.

Leroy Anderson (1908-1975) was a prolific composer. He was born in Cambridge, MA, to Swedish immigrants who came to the US as children. They were a musical family and Leroy started piano lessons at age 5. In high school, he played the trombone in the band and joined the mandolin club. He was asked to learn to play double bass, according to one story, which he did in a weekend. He played it so well after practicing for the weekend that one would have thought he had practiced all year.

He was so astute musically that he was asked to compose a song for the graduating class in 1923, again in 1924, and for his own graduation in 1925. He also conducted the orchestra for these. After graduating, Anderson attended Harvard. He earned his B.A. and his M.A. in music. He continued his studies at Harvard to get a Ph.D. in linguistics. He was a master at languages, eventually learning 9 different languages.

From Harvard, Anderson’s abilities and activities grew. He was a gifted composer but he was also a gifted conductor. Both of these are seen when you look at his list of associations he was a part of through the years.

Whether you enjoy band music, orchestra music, vocal pieces, or individual instrument pieces, there is something that Anderson created that you will enjoy.

Websites to view more information:

http://www.leroyanderson.com/biography.php – official biography page

https://www.pbs.org/sleighride/Biography/Bio.htm – PBS biography page for the special on Leroy Anderson

https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=91935049 – NPR composer page

https://www.classicfm.com/composers/anderson/guides/leroy-anderson-gallery/leroy-anderson-composer/ – A life in pictures

Music Pieces:

The Typewriter

The Syncopated Clock

A CD sitting on our shelf is titled Erich Kunzel Rochester Pops ‎– Syncopated Clock And Other Favorites By Leroy Anderson. It is a great introduction to Leroy Anderson and has lots of fun, instrumental music.

Lori, At Home.

Visit the other participants in this round of ABC blogging through the linky at

Desiree @ Our Homeschool Notebook and
Chareen @ Every Bed of Roses

Music History with Byron’s Games ~ a Crew review

Disclosure: I received this product free through the Homeschool Review Crew.

Byron’s Games has brought us another fun learning game. This time it is an exploration of music history through composers with the game Maestro Mastery – Explore the Composers.

Whether your students are already familiar with many composers or are early on in their experiences with composers, this matching game will meet them where they are. Featuring 52 composers, the game comes with a set of matching cards for each composer. Both cards have matching pictures of the composer, the country of origin, the musical time period, and the composer’s birth and death dates. One of the cards also has a banner across it with a short, interesting biography of the composer. The basic idea of the game is to match cards and learn a bit about the composer in the process.

Also included in the game is a large poster with all of the composers on it it, a time line card, and instructions for play. The instructions also include information on how to access samples of the composers’ music on the Byron’s Games website. This all comes in a study box for storage.

My youngest just turned 12 and she has been enjoying this game. She adores playing games and learns quite a lot from games such as this. She has asked about once a week to play Maestro Mastery since we received it. I certainly don’t mind since music is such a part of our family life.

We played by picking one of the 2 decks of cards. Each deck has 26 composers in it so it is a large number of cards and each set has a good variety of composers, featuring at least one from each time period (the way the decks are sent – that would be different if you have mixed your decks up, which we have not yet). We lay them out face down and just do a simple matching game. We take turns and with each card we turn over, we look at it, read the composer’s name, nation of origin, and music time period. If it is a match, we keep the set and go again. If it is not a match, the other person gets a go at it.

As we get matches, we line them up according to music time period. We keep the musical period timeline visible between us so we can point out where the match is from on it. We also have the big poster close by so we can see what other composers are part of that time period.

To further the experience, it is a wonderful thing to listen to music from the composers. While 26 selections is a bit much for one game and it would prolong the game a lot, we pick one composer and put on a CD. (We have a large library of music and are excited to have another way to share our favorite composers with the girls.) You can also access samples of each composer’s music on the Byron’s Games website, using the information included on the instructions card.

As with all of the games we have seen from Byron’s Games, this is a very flexible game that can be modified to fit multiple age levels, interest levels, or ability levels. I could see using this matching game with a younger student by having one of each of the composer card sets already visible so they are just trying to find the one to match what is turned over. You could also make it more difficult by having all of the cards out. If you wanted to focus on listening, you could use a set of 4 or 5 composers, listen to their pieces, and then play what my college teacher would call “drop the needle” even though we weren’t using record players. (I’m not quite that old!) Have the student try to identify which composer wrote the piece of music that is played out of the 4 or 5 composers shown.

A variation we used was to combine this with the Continent Race game, also from Byron’s Games. After we had found our matches, we grabbed the continent maps and placed the composers on the correct continent. We then identified the countries for each of the composers on those maps. You could add yet another variation by each person trying to get matches for a certain continent or country.

One constant for us, though, was to listen to at least one piece of music by a composer from the game either while we played or after. A favorite way to choose was for Miss J to find a composer whose name sounded interesting. The website selections are easy to access by choosing the picture for the composer that aligns with the poster for the game. The play button is right on the card for each composer.

This is a wonderful game to add to our collection and I am thrilled that it is music related. We have enjoyed playing this game a good bit and will continue to play in the future. A definitely recommend.

Other Homeschool Review Crew families have been playing Maestro Mastery – Explore the Composers but other families received the The Family Journal. Visit the Crew blog page to read more reviews on both the game and the journal from Byron’s Games.

Lori, At Home.

Songs Are to Celebrate

Celebration can go any number of different ways. For me, it is always accompanied by song. I enjoy singing and making music – singing, piano, accompanying others, French horn, and more. Celebration is joy and music is joy so the two just naturally go together for me.

During the holidays, we have several expectations, some of which we just aren’t going to be able to do this year. One of these is caroling with our church family. We will still do caroling within our family but we all enjoy traipsing around the town and countryside singing carols to those who cannot get out for one reason or another, or just who may need some joy. We will miss that this year.

Last year, Miss E sang at a local retirement center. We had planned to add the violin and the guitar to the program this year. Again, not happening. What will happen is that Miss L is putting the finishing touches on a holiday concert that we will record or do via Facebook Live. I am looking forward to sharing this celebration of the season with you all!

This year, we have had several sessions of sitting around singing. Whether it be just off the cuff or with a CD, singing songs at this time of year is just part of the happiness. We grab one of our many songbooks of Christmas songs and just have fun.

Another joy this year has been the girls singing and working together to learn songs on their instruments. Miss L, as I mentioned, has been working on her violin program. Miss J has been working with her guitar. The other day, Miss L helped Miss J because she was getting frustrated. They spent about 2 1/2 hours together in a bedroom secretly working on a performance for us. Miss J played her guitar and Miss L helped her with the ukelele. All of a sudden, Miss J loves playing the guitar and has spent quite a bit of time this week playing Christmas songs for me.

This is what music is about. Joy. Hope. Fun. Sharing. Making yourself and others smile.

I could go on and on about the other benefits of music but really, it makes life better. What more do you need. Celebrate with songs today. Don’t wait. You’ll be smiling because you did.

Related posts about singing in our home:
Why A Piano Is Important
Singing Through December, Part 1
Singing Through December, Part 2

Lori, At Home.

Linking up with the blogging challenge from The Homeschool Review Crew. Head over to their blog to read more posts about Celebrating With Songs.

Zeezok Music Appreciation Book 2 ~ a Crew review

Music Appreciation for the Middle Grades from Zeezok Publishing

A couple of years ago, we had the opportunity to use a music appreciation program from Zeezok Publishing. This year, we got to review the next level of the program – Music Appreciation Book 2: for the Middle Grades.

Zeezok program books

We received a lovely package of materials that included

  • One student book and the following books
  • Frederic Chopin, Early Years
  • Frederic Chopin, Later Years
  • Robert Schumann and Mascot Ziff
  • Adventures of Richard Wagner
  • Stephen Foster and His Little Dog Tray
  • The Young Brahms
  • The Story of Peter Tchaikovsky
  • Peter Tchaikovsky and the Nutcracker Ballet
  • Edward MacDowell and His Cabin in the Pines

The student book is a softback, perforated book of more than 300 pages. The reading books are all different lengths. Most are softback but a couple are hardback and one was sent to us as an ebook. (It would come as a physical reader if you purchase the package.) These readers are definitely written at a challenging level for upper elementary, as the vocabulary is advanced. It is great and does a wonderful job of stretching language. The chapters are fairly long so they took more than one sitting each to read.

Zeezok reading Chopin

I read the first Chopin book out loud to all the girls, as it was a fun story, taught a lot about how Chopin came to be the composer he was, and had great vocabulary!

Zeezok workbook page

The student book includes so much information! Miss E has worked on the questions about Chopin and his life. There are music education parts where she had to do things such as write in the beats of the music and work on the website to learn more about the grand staff and key signatures. Much of the written work in the student book includes comprehension questions over the reader. The biggest benefit of the student book, though, is the emphasis it puts on where the music comes from, the heritage of the composer, and the land in which he lived and how it influenced his writing. This and the musical education on reading and writing music is fabulous.

There is also a lapbook to go along with this that can be purchased separately and we have not seen or used it this time around. It is designed for more hands-on learners and there are designated assignments in the student book to let you know when to do each part of the lapbook.

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One other aspect is the website, app, and QR codes to supplement the program. We did not use the app or QR codes. The website has been wonderful. There are not only links to the music of the composer to go along with the reader and story but it contains videos that teach more about the composer, his country, and his music. We have really enjoyed watching some of the videos on Chopin. There are additional lessons to complement the student book, such as key signatures or the grand staff. There is also an online quiz that can be taken at the end of the composer study for each composer.  Other activities include comparing different types of music with McDowell, viewing Cossack dancing for Wagner, and seeing the New England primer book and hearing a master storyteller for Foster. What amazing transferring of knowledge is being encouraged and taught!

It is suggested that the student keep a journal for specific assignments. One example of an assignment for the journal is when talking about how Chopin really used the music of the people, the student is asked to choose a patriotic song from their country and write an entry about the emotions and sentiments in the music. Another example, when studying Brahms, the student is encouraged to study a picture and quote, then write about what it is conveying and answer a couple of questions about it. Again, this is just asking the student to stretch their knowledge and make additional connections. This is where learning blossoms!

Chopin study

Zeezok’s Music Appreciation, the first book on Chopin, and the CD of some Chopin music that we added to expand the music selections we listened to.

The program is designed to study the seven composers over the course of a year. There are 29 weeks worth of study and each week is delineated at the start of the student book as to the reading and student book activities to complete. There is a scope and sequence in the book, as well as all of the QR codes listed in the front of the book for quick access. This study will cover all of the national music standards for 5th – 8th grades. Paired with vocal lessons and practice, this is going to be counting towards a high school credit for Miss E. It is so thorough and intense that I think it hits everything she needs it to.

Music appreciation is about more than just listening to a piece of music and knowing who the composer is. It is about understanding where the music came from and the influences of the land the composer comes from and life the composer lived. Music appreciation is hearing the music and connecting it to something else. Zeezok Publishing does a great job of this for the middle grades (and on into high school) with Music Appreciation Book 2: for the Middle Grades. You can read our previous review of Music Appreciation Book 1: for the Elementary Grades, also.

Lori, At Home.

Zeezok music appreciation

Please visit the Homeschool Review Crew to read more about the program and how other families have used Zeezok’s music appreciation course. Click on the banner below.



Simply Music ~ a Crew review

Simply Music makes beginning piano simple.

Simply Music is an online program designed to teach students of all ages to play the piano by ear or sight (not reading printed music). We have access to their (free) program Music & Creativity – Foundation Course. Music & Creativity immerses students in the actual process of creating music while learning. It is a hands-on program that has the student playing from the first lesson.


Miss L, age 13 and with several years of violin in her background, used this program. She has been teaching herself to play the piano by ear for a while now using a 49 key electric keyboard. We had hoped this program would be a good fit for her, teaching her to apply her current musical knowledge to the piano/keyboard.


The online piano program was developed to get the student playing right away. The video instruction features Neil Moore at a piano with a camera angle that shows what his hands and fingers are doing at the keys. This makes it easy for the student to hear and see what he is doing and imitate what he does. He gives instruction with words, drawings to show shape of musical movement, and showing his hands and the keys.

Screenshot 2019-07-15 at 8.21.59 AM

Example of the drawings that help students learn the movement of a phrase or song.

Simply Music is successful in getting the student playing right away. The first lesson is a song composed by the instructor. This simple tune is one that Miss L could do after hearing it once. We then used the provided accompaniment (instruments and vocals for you to choose from) to play along with. For some, this will raise the level of enjoyment – getting to play as the soloist with a professional  backup group.

These online music lessons cover a variety of ideas, topics, and styles of music. From simple songs to blues, from gospel to some simple classical excerpts. The discussion is helpful and will slowly move the student forward. Using diagrams, chords, and by showing on the keyboard, the student learns the language of music and begins simple playing examples.

Screenshot 2019-07-15 at 8.47.04 AM

The video lessons run between about 2 1/2 and 16 minutes long. These take the student through various key combinations and songs. There are ideas and concepts covered, also. While many concepts are covered with great explanations, the instructor does not give the formal terms to go along with the learning. For example, when he covers chords, he doesn’t use the quality of the chord, only the name – A chord, B chord. It would be so simple to add that in (major, minor, diminished) and to call it a triad, also.


As you watch the video (you’ll need to register for the free course and have internet access), you will play along on your own keyboard. Once you have played it, have practiced as much as you want, and have used the reference materials (printed and/or audio files of the song and accompaniment), you mark the lesson complete at the bottom of the page and move to the next lesson.

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Completing a lesson can take as long as you need it to. If you are loving it and practice all the time, you can move through the lessons very quickly. If you are in the middle yet have a lot going on (as in summertime!), you can work on it steadily and move through a lesson or two a week. Or, you can take several weeks to get your fingers solidly doing what they need to and move on slowly. It is totally up to you.

This program was both exactly what we expected and totally different than we expected. Mr. Moore has a wonderful way of describing music in such a way that you know exactly what he is trying to get across. He truly knows music and how to share it in such a way that the student can understand. He plays music well and his love of music comes through clearly.

That being said, we knew it was likely to be difficult for Miss L to use this program since she has some background in music learning, ear training, and music reading. What she found difficult with the program was actually the style of music. The songs are created to teach a specific idea or hand movement. They are exercises, even though the exercises have an orchestration and/or vocals. It is not a style of music that people will intentionally listen to over and over or use to show off piano skills.

I also felt like the program was missing many opportunities for instruction early on. It would not have been hard to add the formal music terms in at several places. Since I believe music training should prepare people for a lifetime of loving music, the knowledge gained at any given point should be transferable to other styles and performances of music. This transferability seems to be lacking in this program – the knowledge is not transferable to be able to create and perform other music.

online piano lessons for the beginner from Simply Music

Miss L’s Thoughts:

The instructor was very entertaining. Many of his concepts and musical terms were a little below my knowledge, though I have not played piano before. I understand that this program was designed to be used by younger students. I felt like the part I have covered was pretty easy. Where I started at and where I got to was extremely easy. This is definitely not my style of learning.

Final Thoughts:

I think this is a good program and an excellent fit for beginners. Mr. Moore makes music accessible for everyone. He is clear, repeating himself as necessary to really make sure the student understands. He provides hands-on learning that will appeal to many. It is a program that can be tried out for free. So why not give it a try?

Lori, At Home.

Be sure to visit the Homeschool Review Crew to read about what other families thought about the Simply Music Music & Creativity – Foundation Course. Click on the image below.



5 Ways to Include Music in Your Education

5 Ways to Include Music

Music has been a part of our lives for as long as I can remember. I grew up playing the piano at home and French horn at school. My parents both sang and I remember many times where my mom would play the piano, my dad would play the guitar, and we would all sing. One of my favorite songs from those sing alongs is Four Strong Winds. Just something that has stuck with me.

At Home Dad also grew up surrounded by music. He played clarinet and then trumpet. He still plays trumpet for the Honor Guard at work. He plays the guitar around the house.

We bring music into our girls education as much as we can, though we still don’t do it as often or as consistently as we should. Especially considering the music degrees that are held in this house. 🙂 But we try. How? Well, I thought I would just share some of those options and maybe get your own ideas flowing or encourage you to bring music into your home.

1 Play an instrument. – Whether it is you or the kids, bring in instruments. They can be as simple as shakers or wood blocks or as elaborate as a hammered dulcimer or a piano. Just have some musical instruments around. It encourages exploration with music. And you can learn simple things about music, such as dynamics (loud and quiet) or tempos (fast and slow), with them.

2 Get some CDs. – These can be any type of music that you enjoy but I highly recommend you have a variety of styles. We have everything from early music (1100s) to some of the popular musicians of today. We have folk music and cultural music from around the world. We have hymns and we have children’s songs. We have rock and we have jazz. We even have some instructional CDs that help students learn to identify instruments by sound or work through program music (such as the Maestro Classics). Listen to them. You can do it intentionally or you can just have it as back ground music. Just have it going.

3 Sing together. – Yes, sing. You don’t have to have a majestic voice to raise a joyful noise. Sing songs from your childhood. Sing along with the radio. Personally, we sing hymns most every day of the week. We have also been singing rounds with the girls this year each morning. We have used Diana Waring’s music and history CDs some this year and sung along with those.

4 Tie it into your studies. – If you read something in a book or a lesson that brings a song or a type of music to mind, pull it out and listen or sing. Don’t miss the opportunity. The Little House books are a great example of opportunities for this. Look up the mentioned songs on the computer if you don’t have them in the house. History lessons present wonderful opportunities to tie music into something else you are studying and the music often reflected the times in which it was created.

5 Go on a field trip. – Often, there are many opportunities for field trips related to music. Do you have an orchestra somewhere within an hour or two? They often do an educational concert in the fall or spring where the tickets are relatively inexpensive. We have opportunities for this with the Waco Symphony, the Dallas Symphony, and the Fort Worth Symphony, just to name a couple. We have only gone once, I think, but it is a great option. We also have a community college and a major university here. We can go see free concerts from a variety of ensembles – choirs, bands, orchestras, and even early music ensembles. They also have inexpensive productions of musicals and operas and theater productions that we can go see. You might even have opportunity to visit an instrument zoo or something along those lines at a library, particularly during the summer.

A big part of including music in your education is to just make it simple. Keep it easy and don’t stress over it. Especially in the younger years, it doesn’t have to be a big formal thing. Enjoy it and have fun. Do dances (Pop Goes the Weasel is a fabulous one!) and listen to music. Try out simple instrument, even make your own. Just find the joy in music.

Lori, At Home.

SchoolhouseTeachers.com offers a variety of courses that will help you add music education to your homeschool. Visit the site to learn more about the courses available and to see what specials are going on.

Some course offerings include

PrintMusic Theory I and II


PrintMusic Throughout History






Colonial Williamsburg ~ Mega Field Trip 2018

Mega Field Trip - Colonial Williamsburg

After eating lunch at Pocahontas State Park, we headed into Williamsburg and checked into our hotel. We had found a great deal on a package with one of the Colonial Williamsburg hotels. If you visit, I would suggest checking to see the prices. We were able to stay at the hotel within walking distance of the entrance AND get our passes for three days (we only used one) for about what it would have cost us for a hotel elsewhere in the area. So, we basically got our passes for free. And the hotel had a fabulous continental breakfast included.

As I stated, we checked in during the late afternoon. It was really too late to head over since much of Colonial Williamsburg closes at 5 unless you have tickets for some of their special events. We knew we would be extremely tired by this point in our trip and so we elected to not push it. We stayed in the hotel room, vegged out, took a swim, ate dinner, and slept. We woke refreshed and eager the next morning.

We got into Colonial Williamsburg about the time it opened. We took a tour of the Governor’s Palace right off the bat. It was spectacular. The armament was basically kept here and there were TONS of weapons. They created beautiful decor in the entry way. They also would have served well to warn folks about how serious the area was in their protection. The gentleman we had giving us the tour was well versed in his material and knew not just about the Governor’s Palace but was able to answer questions about all of the city and the history and time period. He did a wonderful job of acquainting us with the time and all that was going on in the area.

The Palace was beautiful. It was furnished as close as they could to an original set up, including ordering rugs and paint colors to be done exactly as they would have originally. It was beautiful.

From there, we hurried across the way to a museum so that we could hear a performance of the glass armonica. This is the instrument that Benjamin Franklin invented. It is glass and played by spinning the glass instrument quickly and playing the edges with wetted fingers. It was lovely and the music is ethereal. Dean Shostak is a well known musician and talked much about how to play the armonica, as well as how it is made. He performed a number of pieces on it for us. He also pulled out a glass violin he had had made. Now, it had nothing to do with the colonial time period but it was a stunning instrument. His performance on it was stunning, too. Needless to say, we came away with several of his recordings.

glass armonica picture

After that, we just kind of wandered through the area. We ended up following a school tour and that allowed us to hear quite a bit more than if we had just come through on our own in several of the craftsmen’s shops. We did find that most of the folks were less than eager to answer questions, which was a bit disappointing. So, following the school group was a good thing for us.

We visited the tin smith, the leather smith, the dress maker, the silver smith, the tavern, and the school. Many places were closed, which we found very odd.

Another of my favorite parts came at the close of the day – the drum and fife group. We hung around to be able to hear them play their day ending ceremonies. They were dressed in stunning red uniforms and marched military style to their performances. They performed a number of pieces and it was lovely to watch. The drum and fife group would have been fairly essential to the life of the colony and it was a neat way to close out the day.

I did find myself wishing we had time to go back the next day but we decided we needed to head on. We were heading to New Bern, NC, to meet someone for lunch so we couldn’t dawdle too long. Our time at Colonial Williamsburg was very interesting and the girls still talk about hearing the glass armonica. That will be a lasting memory and well worth the trip.

Lori, At Home.

Practice Monkeys – Live Violin Classes ~ a Crew review

miss j playing

Music has a way of opening up joy in your life and I eagerly await hearing my girls practice each day. Miss L, age 12, and Miss J, age 9, are both playing the violin and have been working with Practice Monkeys. The Family Subscription to Live Violin Classes is for live, online classes but there are many aspects to the program that make it exceptional. As you read through this, realize that this is a family subscription – one subscription for all students in the family!


Practice Monkeys fills a niche that I have seen in the home education world but also in the world of music education in general. Not everyone has access to musical education and to find string education is even harder for most people. Practice Monkeys is a series of leveled classes that are taught live, with plenty of recorded videos to help with practice and instruction when a live class has to be missed.

practice monkeys on the computer

There are currently 9 levels of violin on the Practice Monkeys site. If you are not a complete beginner, be sure to connect with Mrs. Van Kleek to set you up in the right level. Each level meets for about 15 minutes, four days a week. The time for each level is different so it is necessary to find your level to know the class time.

These live classes form the core of instruction and without them, learning violin is extremely difficult. Live classes allow for correction and training that just cannot be done with recordings alone. When you attend a live class, Mrs. Van Kleeck can look at your hand position, your bow position, and help you make those necessary corrections. She can also listen to the sound and advise what might need to be done. For example, without the live class participation, Mrs Van Kleeck cannot advise a student when their bow needs more rosin or their finger placement is just a smidge off. Tuning is another place where attending a live, online class will benefit. When the tuning is off as a beginner, you don’t often hear it or recognize it.

These are the benefits that Practice Monkey gives a student. Live teacher input allows for immediate correction and attention to detail that makes the difference between getting frustrated and giving up and making noticeable progress and learning to play.

Along with the live classes, a subscription to Practice Monkeys gets you access to the Treehouse for your placement level. The Treehouse is where you find practice videos, tuning help, instrument help, printable sheets for the skills in your level, parent tips, practice sheets, and videos for the performance pieces required to advance. It is packed full!

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As with all quality instruction, there are times for assessment and a checklist to help the student advance. The Treehouse has a printable checklist for the parent so that they can do a pre-assessment to know when to schedule a live assessment with Mrs. Van Kleeck. The checklist is clear and the expectations are laid out nicely so the student knows exactly what needs to be done. Once the student can go through the checklist with the parent, it is time to schedule that live assessment. In the live assessment, Mrs. Van Kleeck meets one-on-one with the student outside of the regular class time to go through the checklist and determine if the student is ready for the next level.

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Each week, an email of reminders and helpful hints is sent out. This is a great way to not forget to plan your practice time. One of the reminders is to print out the student’s practice sheet for the week. These sheets help with remembering each aspect of the practice time and to also progress in a consistent manner with the classes, skills, and pieces being learned. There are always helpful tidbits in the email, as well as reminders about any schedule changes for holidays and such.

getting ready for an assessment

These Suzuki-based classes are just what the home school community has been looking for. They offer something that is definitely needed and Mrs. Van Kleeck does a fabulous job of teaching her students. As stated earlier, the classes meet four days per week because music students need this much practice. The classes go from absolute beginnner to the end of Suzuki Book IV. There are also now piano classes being offered that at this point go from beginner to the end of Suzuki Book One.

miss l playing

Interested? At this point, lots of questions may be running through your mind. Hop over to the FAQ page for Practice Monkeys and read up on what is there. If you still have questions or concerns, a form is available on that page to send Mrs. Van Kleeck a message. There are also samples of the recorded classes on the page. If the sample is not quite enough, you can request to attend a single class for free to see how it all works.

Do note – these classes are live and online so there are some things you will need to acquire for the class. Obviously, an instrument is needed. Sizing and rental information is available in the FAQ as well as more detailed information on the FAQ page. You will need a paid subscription to Practice Monkeys. You will need a computer with a microphone and camera that work, as well as an internet connection. This will get you up and running with Practice Monkeys.

I know I speak positively about a lot of things. I wish I could just continue gushing about this program, though. Truly, I think it is wonderful and such a needed program. I highly encourage anyone looking for string instruction, or piano instruction (though I have not seen this part of the program), to check out Practice Monkeys.


There is currently a special going on for readers of this blog and the Homeschool Review Crew. A special price is available for those who sign-up to become part of the Practice Monkeys community before February 1, 2019. The special price will be yours for the lifetime of your subscription. Visit the special page to read more and sign up.

Lori, At Home.

There were several other Homeschool Review Crew families who also reviewed Practice Monkeys. Be sure to click on the image below to read their reviews.


Texas Bucket List – Y: Yellow Rose ~ Blogging Through The Alphabet


Y is a hard letter for Texas. I found a couple of places but they were strange or didn’t really seem to fit the sort of thing I was going for. So, I went for a good old Texas folk song.

I am just going to share a couple of recordings of the song with you. I’ll let you sort our the folk tale from the truth because honestly, I don’t think anyone can sort it out. So, I just teach and enjoy the song as folk music.

Here’s the Yellow Rose of Texas –

The one that made the song famous:


Who doesn’t enjoy an Elvis Presley version of a song?


And a Civil War version (from what I can determine). . .


At Home.


This is a weekly series and will be linked weekly with the Blogging Through The Alphabet co-hosts:
Amanda at Hopkins Homeschool
Kirsten at Doodle Mom
Jennifer at Worth a Bowed Head
Kimberley at Vintage Blue Suitcase
Desiree at Our Homeschool Notebook
Markie at My Life As Mrs. Cooks
Hilary at Walking Fruitfully

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