by Tamsyn

January 28, 2016

Family Learning in Any Space

The inspiration for this post comes from something I have experienced in my personal life- moving from a stick-and-bricks home into a class A motorhome.  It was a lifestyle we did by choice, and I'll hop back into that life in a heartbeat.  Personal story- we had some water damage causing mold making our family sick, so we sold it and are in a transitional state this week.  Right now we are visiting friends as we prepare to move.  Anyway, as we were preparing to move into a small space, I worried about the kids still learning piano and wondered how we would do it.  We figured out a solution, and if we can make it work in an RV, I know it can work in any space if you make it a priority.  Everything you own must pay its rent for the real estate it takes in your home, and this is especially true in small spaces.  Before we downsized, I did several internet searches regarding music for small spaces and learned that it is very doable, even if my first impression left me wondering how we would manage.  Yes, now you know our little secret, that we have lived in a tiny space even while creating this website.  With our trusty printer we have been able to use all of the activities in our members area in 300 square feet.

When it comes to downsizing with musical instruments, there are really only two options:

  1. Chose to learn a smaller Instrument
  2. Choose a smaller version of an instrument

Piano

Not everyone has room (or the money!) for a grand piano in their living room, and even upright pianos are incredibly heavy.  Until we lived in the RV, we owned a clavinova with full weighted keys and we really loved it.  It was lighter than a piano and never had to be tuned.  But even a clavinova is too big for some spaces.

As I researched other options, I stumbled across a post by fellow-full-timer Gypsie Jema, whose daughter has learned piano on the road.  I decided a keyboard would be good enough.  Shortly after we moved into an RV and were shopping for one, I was lucky enough to meet her and we ended up buying the very keyboard you see in her pictures.  Her daughter did great with a smaller keyboard at first, but had advanced beyond the smaller keyboard and they were looking for something bigger.  My kids are still doing great.

Our keyboard fit nicely on the dashboard and the kids practiced while standing.  It was actually a great height for the older kids.  I moved it to the kitchen table for my youngest daughter to practice.

When we get back on the road and need something bigger, a professional touring musician recommended this full-sized, weighted keyboard.

Percussion

For the traveling professional musician, there is a nifty invention called the nestling drum kit.  It is a full-sized drum set with drums that fit inside each other for storage and travel.

We didn't need something so elaborate, but I do think that hand-held percussion instruments are a fantastic way for younger children to learn rhythm.  While the tapper box pictured on the top right went into storage, all of our other hand-held percussion instruments went into a dollar-store backpack and have bounced around the RV as an educational toy.  It payed its rent.  The boomwhackers came with us too, but since they were mostly in our understorage, we didn't use them as much.  Boomwhackers are great fun and are very light.

Guitar and Ukulele

One of these days I really want to learn how to play the guitar so I can accompany myself as I face my children to sing with them.  There's something magical about eye contact, something very hard to do behind a keyboard.  Many travelers carry their guitar or other stringed instrument with them on the road.  Some have special storage spots for their instrument, others store it on their bed and move it to another location at night.

The Ukulele is an awesome smaller cousin to the guitar.  It is also a great instrument for children to start with because the full-sized instrument is already a manageable size for many children.  There are fewer strings than a guitar.  Brooke Palmer is a professional Ukulele expert and a fellow nomad.  Her beginning ukulele video lessons are available in our members area.

Recorder

The recorder is sometimes scoffed at as an instrument for small kids, but I think the recorder gets a bad rap in part because of all of the cheap recorders out there that will never, ever play in tune.  As a kid I still remember thinking I was no good at the recorder because my only exposure to one was my cousin or friends recorder that simply didn't sound right.  I can't stress how much I DON'T recommend giving a child such an instrument.  It does more harm than good.  Yet even a family on a tight budget can afford a very decent soprano recorder such as the Yamaha and Angel brands.  I have one of each and I enjoy playing them both.  The recorder is also very, very compact and light, which makes it a great choice for small spaces.  The fingering for the recorder is very similar to other woodwind instruments, so even if the recorder isn't your long-term instrument of choice, it makes a great, affordable stepping stone into learning others.

Voice and Body Percussion

If you really want to go small and affordable, the best instrument is the one given to you in your mother's womb.  Kodaly, a famous music educator, really latched onto this fact in his teaching curriculum.  Even the very poorest members of society have a voice, and they take it with them wherever they go.  What a great instrument to develop and use!  Kodaly taught children to read music in any key and to sight read at advanced levels without ever having the opportunity to play a separate, physical instrument.  Access to external instruments is fortunately more wide-spread for most families today, but the fact remains that we all have a voice and would benefit from knowing how to sing.  Choirs have an easier time traveling than orchestras and bands for a reason.

Body Percussion is an often-overlooked skill with the same benefits as singing- your instrument is with you wherever you go.  Body percussion can include clapping games for rhythm development the sheer fun of it, but can also be as complex as hitting other parts of your body for a richer variety of sounds with an occasional stomp of the feet to give your music a strong foundation.  Carl Orff's approach to music education includes various body percussion fun.  And it really is fun.  You should try it.

Conclusions

Don't let a tiny home stop you from engaging your children in music!  It can happen in any space.  It can happen on a tight budget.  Make it happen.

The other piece of music education I don't want to leave out is general music education.  Learning about composers, compositions, opera plots, music history, and especially music theory.  Flashcards can fit in your pocket.  Muscle memory can be developed when you are away from your instrument as you go through the finger motions and mental exercise of playing your music in your head, with or without the sheet music in front of you.  This is a big part of music education that can happen even while you drive. 

What other options are there for learning an instrument or music for small spaces?  I'd love to know what you've come up with, let me know!

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About the author 

Tamsyn

My name is Tamsyn and I love music. I got my bachelor’s degree in vocal performance from USU. I spent many years teaching private piano lessons until I had children of my own. I have attended several children workshops on how to teach children music. I really like the Kodaly method, but have adapted a lot of different techniques for my own children.

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