Hi moms! I am so excited about this episode today. Some of you know that I am a music teacher for the Let’s Play Music program. I really wanted all the moms out there to know about this amazing program, just in case it was something that you might want to put your children into. This is not any sort of infomercial; I don’t get paid by the Let’s Play Music program for however many students they get from this podcast. I just felt really strongly that I needed to let everyone know that this program is out there because it is truly the best way for your child to gain musical knowledge, if music is something you want for them in their life.
So I thought, instead of me just telling you about it, it would be so fun if I could get the founder and creator and writer of the program, Shelle Soelberg, to come on my show and tell you about it herself.
Shelle is such an amazing person and I had so much fun talking with her. She is a mom of five kids and a grandmother of two granddaughters that she says are absolutely adorable and perfect in every way. And what’s really great also is she has been married to her husband Dave for 30 years and he helps her with the Let’s Play Music program. He’s the shipping guy and all sorts of things, which I think is so great that they’re working together with this.
I asked her about her musical background; I figured she had this huge musical background, but she said she didn’t have more than just what she was exposed to in public school music classes, but it was enough for her to know that she loved music. So she went to college and got a bachelor degree in Music Education at BYU. And when her first child was four years old, she realized that there was a need for a music program for young children that was based on play and was more developmentally appropriate. So children, who were as young as four, could start really learning musical concepts, because they really are ready to start learning that young. And now the program has over 450 teachers in about 39 states.
The original Let’s Play Music program is for any of your children between the ages of 4 and 8. They need to sign up for that first year of Let’s Play Music between the ages of 4 and 6. If they’re younger than that, there is a Sound Beginnings class that was developed a few years after Let’s Play Music, and that is for children ranging from 0 to 4. And recently, just a few years ago, Shelle and her staff created another program for the older beginner called Presto and that’s for ages 7 to 12.
But now I will let our little chat tell you the rest of what you need to know about the most amazing way to get music into your child’s life.
Heather: Hi Shelle! I have been a super fan of yours for years and I talk about you and your program to anybody who will listen, so I’m super excited to have you on the show today.
Shelle: I love to be here, thank you.
Heather: Thank you! So I would love it if the creator herself could introduce my listeners to the Let’s Play Music program and what it teaches and what it’s all about.
Shelle: Okay, so Let’s Play Music is a foundational theory course that teaches ear training and piano and chord approach, and most surprisingly advanced theory to young children. And all of this is done in an age-appropriate way, which means we do it in classes so they’re with peers. We do it with lots of play and fun, and we do it in ways where the learning is a discovery through play rather than being lectured to or told or explained.
So, this is the flagship course–it’s a three-year program–and the beginners are ages 4 through 6. And then just about eight years ago, we introduced another curriculum called Sound Beginnings, and that one is for ages 0 to 4 and it’s actually a family class. But that one again focuses on play in age appropriateness and brain development through music. And then just three years ago we introduced our final program which is for ages 7 through 12, and that one is called Presto. And it is based on all of the foundational philosophies and methods of Let’s Play Music, but it’s for the older beginner so they will go further with their piano skills and but they still will get the same ear training, classical music introduction, and theory instruction.
Heather: I am the most familiar with the Let’s Play Music program because back in 2013, my youngest was able to go through the program. I went through the program as a parent, and a year later I was like, “I have to teach this!” There were hardly any teachers in the area, and I just wanted to bring it to more kids, and I have been obsessed with the Let’s Play Music program.
And I love one time in training they said something like, a boy went up to his mom after class and said, “You send me to music class to learn music, but it’s not really like school or class, we’re just playing the whole time, mom.” It was like he had a nice big secret, like they are just playing, and it is so fun, and they’re learning so much at such a young age. It’s absolutely amazing.
Shelle: Yeah, I’m so glad you saw that because that’s definitely what it’s intended to be. That’s awesome that that was your experience.
Heather: Yeah, and the parents faces in class as they see, you could see the musical parents in class going, wow with their faces, like saying I cannot believe my kid is this young and learning this concept. And so like you said it’s a three-year program—the Let’s Play Music one–and it’s that music window of learning is what, the same as the language window of learning? Which is 4 through 9?
Shelle: Exactly, that’s really the reason that I developed Let’s Play Music because there exists in the piano world this kind of dilemma because kids really aren’t ready to start piano till they’re maybe 7 or 8.
And after my education, I got a degree in secondary music education from BYU, and after I graduated I taught lots of voice and piano lessons and I didn’t ever take any beginners younger than 7, because a beginning pianist needs to have some dexterity, they need to have some size in their fingers, and above all they need to be able to sit, focus, concentrate, and read letters. Obviously, you can’t read music if you can’t read letters. And yet I have learned in my education, in my acquisition of my degree, that the best time to teach music is actually from birth till age 9. And that’s what they called the music learning window or the language acquisition window. That’s the time when the aural processing centers are the most refined, the most able to distinguish sounds, and that’s when music should actually be taught is age 0 through 9.
So, if we’re delaying piano lessons till age 7 or 8, we’re almost out of that prime learning window. We’re almost out of the time when the ears speak to the brain in a very clear message. And they’re able to work like as one instrument in the brain. The information and data goes into the ear and it processes and creates synapses in the brain that can’t be done any other time of life.
So that’s when I started thinking, you know why are we doing this? Everything that I learned in college, I’m not applying as a piano teacher. This is all wrong. I’m sitting on the bench with this child who needs to be up and moving. This child needs peers, and we really should start way, way, way younger. So that was kind of, exactly what you just said, it’s the age that they need to be learning music. That’s what inspired me to do it. And I knew that this change needed to happen. I knew that no one was teaching piano in the “right way.” The way that I had learned about in college through methodologies like Edwin Gordon and Zoltán Kodály and Carl Orff who all taught experience, play, movement. So that’s when I started thinking I probably should just go ahead and write a curriculum, but it was a big step. So, it wasn’t until I had my own daughter who reached the age of four–the ripe old age of four—that I actually had the sufficient motivation to start writing it. So that was in 1998. She was four and that’s when I taught my first class of Let’s Play Music.
Heather: That’s what I was going to ask, how long has it been? So 1998. How many students do you think this has reached over the years, this program?
Shelle: For the last maybe 10 years we’ve had and average of 8 to 12,000 students, so we’ve been kind of in that range. So it’s up around 30 or 40,000 graduates now.
Heather: Okay, my youngest is 12 and she was the first to graduate. I put her in right at 4, and it was funny because my friend called and told me about this program, it was brand new in the area. (My other three kids, it didn’t exist in the area. It existed, but not in my area. I didn’t hear about it for my first three, so my youngest was lucky enough to get the program.) My friend calls me and tells me about this program and I was a preschool teacher at the time, and teaching all my kids, I never got a break from my kids and so I was like, Oh a music program? Okay sure I’ll pay to drop her off. And then she said, you’re going to have to stay every other week. And I was like, why would I want to pay for that? I didn’t realize what it was. It just took me one or two classes and I was sold forever and like I said, had to teach it too.
But I was gonna say, the difference between her musical ability, and my other three kids, who have also taken piano lessons their whole life (Until they leave my house, they have to be in piano lessons. I told them it’s because you were born to me and that’s what happens in this house.) My daughter’s love of piano, her natural ability as a musician, even her voice, I hate to compare, but even they see it. And in fact, the one right above her gets frustrated because she is a lot further along than where he was at her age. And it’s just so much easier for her. So just going through this program has made such a difference.
Parents like to say, “Well, so where does it get my kid once they’re done with the three years, like where will they be in piano? Will they skip? How many levels?” And I tell them, they will skip levels at least primer, or maybe even the first level, but that’s not what it’s all about. It is that if you do everything I ask you to do–if you come to class and make sure they’re practicing, (and it’s not even that much practice, well third year is a little bit more intense), and just do all of the homework and everything that I ask of you it’s not, “Gosh I hope my kid will be musically talented,” it’s your child will be musically talented. And I’ve seen it in everybody who really does do the program to its fullest, and it’s just absolutely amazing.
Shelle: And that’s exactly what giving music to the child at the right stage of their life, that’s what it does for the brain. It creates those synapses in the brain that causes the child to be musically talented, that increases aptitude for musical input the whole rest of their life.
So by the time they graduate from our program, they may be showing musical aptitude at age of 6 or 7 when they graduate, but when you actually see the dividends of the program is more like ages 10, 11, 12, or into their teens. Then you see a child who can pick up any instrument and then become pretty adept in just a year; you see a child who can harmonize in choirs; you see a child who can transpose on the piano; someone who can compose and improvise–because they’ve become a musician. Because they were introduced to the musical vocabulary and language at the right age for processing and that hearkens back to what I was just saying a moment ago.
Heather: Yeah, I see that so much. So there are a lot of different music programs out there for kids–a lot of online music programs out there– so what sets Let’s Play Music apart? Why should the parents want to seek out Let’s Play Music?
Shelle: There really are some great online programs out there, and I super applaud those programs, especially last year when that was our only resource, kind of. I feel like online courses do have their place. They’re accessible; they’re on demand; they’re awesome.
And I feel that Let’s Play Music fills a huge void that online classes will never be able to fill and that is, well two things: One, is the ability to interact with peers right there in the class with you, who are having the same authentic experience at the same time. So there really is a magic that happens when children learn alongside peers, and when the teacher is authentically in the room at the same time. There’s an energy, and a relationship, and a social education that happens when all of the children are in the room at the same time, and it’s truly an authentic experience.
And then the other thing that can’t happen online course is the parent relationships that are formed. And I will have to say that when I first started teaching Let’s Play Music, I didn’t know that that was so much of the benefit of Let’s Play Music. I really was creating it to be a music education tool, and I didn’t recognize the emotional and relationship bonding tool that it was. But since we request and require that the parent attends every other week the first year of instruction, there is a unique bond that develops between that child and that parent that is unparalleled in any other experience.
And this happens when it’s an only child, because the parent doesn’t have those unique educational opportunities with that one child. But it happens even more powerfully when there are multiple children in the family, and the parent is not able to have one-on-one time with that particular child. So our teachers (and you know this, Heather), are super instructed in how to purposefully cultivate relationships in class and create bonding moments for the parent and child.
We have lots of eye-to-eye contact; we have lots of face-to-face; we have lots of touching; we have rocking and cuddling; we have praise opportunities; and in our world where virtual is kind of taking over because of its convenience, we are stepping in and doing our human responsibility to connect in human and authentic ways. And it’s an element of parenting that we have to be intentional to cultivate this, right? If we aren’t intentional in cultivating authenticity and facetime–the real FaceTime–with our children, it slips away. So Let’s Play Music is a way to develop, nurture, enhance, cultivate a relationship with your child that never goes away. The emotional bonding and healing that happens in class is palpable. And I saw it in my classes, that’s when I started realizing this is more than music education, this is family emotional education.
And I don’t know if you remember this, you probably know this song Heather, but the “May there always be me.” The first time we would do this song in class and I would tell the children sit in your mom’s lap and I want you to feel her heartbeat. And moms I want you to gently rock your child. And children did you know that your mom remembers when you were a baby? And can you just pretend that you’re a baby for a moment with your mom? And remember how special you were to her, and remember how special you are to her, and I want to sing you this lullaby while you rock in your mom’s arms and feel her heartbeat. There’s never a dry eye; there can’t be. Because it’s beautiful human connection. And it creates the emotional bond between mother and child that becomes a foundation for the rest of their lives, and they remember this connection. And then we sing the words, “may there always be mother, may there always be family, may there always be music, may there always be me.”
And music has the power to enter in and communicate like nothing else can. And there is an element of this an online teaching, but in a live, touching, genuine, authentic class, there are sound vibrations that go into the brain and into the heart and into the emotional spots of the brain that create relationships that last. So I feel like that’s very different for Let’s Play Music.
Heather: That is so, so beautiful, and so well said. And I feel like the kids grow a love of music because of the love they feel in class, too. Their love of music goes so deep because they relate it with that bonding that you just talked about.
Shelle: Yes, it’s really powerful.
Heather: Yeah, you know, I’d always get kind of, well I do I get kind of nervous. Been doing this for how many years? But I get kind of nervous on parent day. It’s not my favorite to prepare for. I can do kids all day long, but parents? And some of them would come in and you could tell they would like to be anywhere but there. But the energy in those classes, those are my favorite classes. By the time people would leave, the parents are smiling and the kids are hanging on them, and you’re absolutely right, it’s magical what happens on parent day.
Shelle: Yeah, it is. And I agree, for the teacher it’s a bit more work. But when we see the value, and when we see what’s happening between parents and children, we know our value as teachers. And you’re obviously a teacher at heart, Heather. I know with the other life ambitions you have that you understand that teachers feel value when they see connections. And it just feels so good to be an important part of people’s lives.
Heather: Yes, yes, so we should also mention here that 2nd and 3rd year parents only come once a month, so they get to graduate a little bit. The first year is every other week to really solidify that bond when they’re so young ‘cause they are 4 or 5 or even 6 the first year. And then they just come once a month after that for 2nd and 3rd.
Shelle: Right. And it seems to be developmentally exactly right.
Heather: It does, it does. So brilliant, really, you’re just, like I said, I’m a super fan. So, switching gears a little, a lot of my listeners might be interested in looking into what it takes to become a teacher for Let’s Play Music or your other programs. Can you share with us a little bit about what the qualifications are for that and how they might go about looking into that?
Shelle: Sure. The qualifications to be a Let’s Play Music teacher are you do need to be a musician, which means you need to be able to sing in tune and be able to sing in harmony. Because you do have to sing harmony in class, a different part than the parents will sing, or you have to sing the melody while your class is playing chords on the piano. So you have to be able to harmonize. You have to have a musician’s ear. You have to be able to keep a steady beat and execute rhythms correctly. You also have to have some basic piano skills. Now, I’m not a pianist and I did not go to college for piano, but I can play piano. My skill level is probably about a level 4 or 5, which means if you are wondering what a level 4 or 5 is, if you look at any basic method books for teaching piano, take out the level 4 or 5 book, and if you could learn to play the pieces that are in that book (not sight read them, but if you could learn to play the pieces in a level 4 or 5 book) you have the skills necessary to be a Let’s Play Music teacher. You probably should be able to sight read a level 1 or 2 book. Your sight-reading skills should be about in that level. So go find a method book and then you’ll know if your piano skills are up to par.
But we really do focus more on the musicianship skills. We need people who can sing in tune, hear harmonies, and produce harmonies, because it is a musicianship course that uses the piano, and it produces kids who can play the piano, but the goal of it isn’t piano skills. That happens when they go to their private piano teacher and they learn how to really polish a piano piece. So that’s kind of where the skill level needs to be.
Our application process will help you determine this. There’s a place on our website where you can click “Become a Teacher,” and it walks you through self-evaluation. It’s really easy. It asks you all the questions about if Let’s Play Music is right for you, and then you fill out an application. And then you’re given instructions to submit a quick 5-minute demo video, so we actually need to see you teaching in order to become a Let’s Play Music teacher. And then after that you have an interview, and then if you’re accepted, then we train you and we train you incredibly well, right Heather?
Heather: Yes, oh yes, lots of training that’s great, but fun!
Shelle: Thank you. And it’s intense right?
Heather: It’s a lot to learn.
Shelle: Right. We’re super intentional about how we train and mentor teachers so that they are excellent, excellent teachers.
And the money that you can make is really substantial. If there are people out there who are currently teaching private piano lessons, you’ll find that you’ll make 3 to 4 times the money as a private piano teacher in the same amount of hours.
Heather: That is true.
Shelle: That’s one of the reasons I wanted to do group lessons. In the early years I was teaching, I had 80 private students, so I was literally teaching 40 hours a week and just thinking, I gotta do group lessons, this is too many hours. So, consolidating and teaching group lessons and knowing from my research and education that group lessons were better for this age anyway. Group lessons are great for the kid and great for the teacher because you really can capitalize on your time and make quite a bit more money. So, it’s a great opportunity.
Heather: Now, I would like to say something about the singing. For those that really aren’t singers, because my daughter’s teacher Amber in the area, and the other teacher that was in the area at the time, Anna, they were trying to talk me into becoming a teacher because there were so many kids on the waiting list that they couldn’t get to. And I said, “I can’t. I don’t sing; I do not sing. I’m a pianist, but I don’t sing.” They were like we’ve heard you in class you can hold a tune. Well, I can hold a tune, I was even in choir in high school but I do not sing. And to get up in front of those parents and kids, I can’t do that. And they just encouraged me to get over myself. And I submitted that video and I remember having my phone interview, I can’t remember who it was with.
Shelle: Probably Melissa.
Heather: Yeah, probably. I told her I’m just really not comfortable singing, and do you think that I can do this? And she’s like, “you are not the strongest singer, but let me encourage you to just sing. Just sing and sing and sing, all the time.” And so I did. I sang a lot before I started and that’s what probably made parent days even more nervous for me, but I have become a stronger singer. And I just sing. And the parents know that I’m not originally a singer, and they know they need to help me in class and sing and have fun more and help me out. But I no longer worry about it. I still would not sing a solo anywhere, but that shouldn’t be the thing holding someone back, especially if they can sing on pitch. I can sing a tune, I can sing harmony enough, you know, but I’m no professional. And it’s just been the best decision I made, was to get over myself and do it anyway.
Shelle: That’s a great perspective and thank you for sharing that. Because you and I come from opposite sides of the spectrum.
Heather: You are a singer.
Shelle: Yeah, and I was really comfortable with my voice, but it does show that it works for both. You can be strong in either way and you still can be a really successful teacher. And I will say that by teaching Let’s Play Music, my piano skills have gotten stronger too. And ear skills! I am way better at sight-reading and sight-singing and finding a middle C. I’m so much better now than I was 20 years ago. So, I love that my musicianship skills have increased too.
Heather: Wow, even yours. That’s great.
Shelle: I am a great teacher; I’m not a professional musician in any way.
Heather: So you also have a podcast?
Shelle: Yeah, we do.
Heather: Tell us a little bit about that so my listeners can go find you, and what do you talk about on there mostly?
Shelle: Thank you for bringing that up. It’s pretty new, we just started it last September and we put out 10 episodes in our first season. We wanted to help parents understand what we do, so the first episode is me and my daughter having a conversation about how Let’s Play Music came to be. Because she was the one on the front line the whole time, even though she was only 4, she’s the one who experienced the birth of Let’s Play Music. And then she got to experience it as helping me pack the boxes, and then she got to help me experience it as training teachers, so it’s a fun conversation that she and I had about how Let’s Play Music was conceived.
And then the other episodes are more about we examine aspects of musicianship like solfege and how that increases musicianship. One episode, we talk about piano tips and how to make practicing easier. And mostly it’s to help parents that are in the program understand different facets of Let’s Play Music and why there’s value there, and how they can get the most out of their investment in Let’s Play Music. So, if they’re going to class and they’re feeling like, I’m not sure why I’m there, or I’m not sure why we focus so much time on chords, or why so much emphasis on solfege? We just do enriching education so they can really get the most out of their investment in Let’s Play Music–both time and money.
Heather: Okay, so your podcast is really great once they sign their child up for Let’s Play Music and have kind of experienced it a little bit to go there and get some extra support?
Heather: I do love your podcast. I even listen to it as a teacher.
Shelle: I’m so glad, that’s great.
Heather: And so the moms that want to go hurry and enroll their student, this is the time to do it–to go to your website and try to find a teacher in your area.
Shelle: Right. Hurry is the word.
Heather: Yes, because, you know, I would get a lot of calls from parents in December, “Can I get into your class?” But it starts strictly in the fall, it’s pretty strict, right? Are your other programs as strict, or can they jump in whenever?
Shelle: It really is up to the teacher. Most teachers want to start when school starts because lining up with the school year is really helpful for parents. But we have teachers start whenever they want to. We have teachers start every month of the year. It just depends on what the teacher wants to do. And I would say 95% of our teachers choose to start in the fall. So, if you go to the website and you click “Find a Teacher” or “Enroll Now” and then put in your ZIP code, you’ll get a list of all the teachers in your area and you can see when their class start date. You can see where they live, you can see their class times and what levels they’re teaching, so that really is the place to start.
And then they probably want to go ahead and email that teacher. Under their picture there’s a little button that says “Email this teacher.” Because you can’t enroll immediately. You actually have to connect to the teacher and usually attend a sample class, or at least find out about the program before you just cold enroll.
Heather: Okay, that is all good to know. And if they don’t have a teacher in their area, that is a huge hint that they need to maybe find one or become one, right?
Shelle: And that’s exactly what we tell people. Whenever they email or call the office and say there’s no teacher in my area, we say help us find one, you definitely need one there. So find out how you can become one or find someone qualified in the area and have them apply, and that’s how we do get a lot of teachers by parents saying my child wants this program, please become a teacher.
Heather: Okay, is there anything else you would like to say to the moms of the world? I can say that now because I’m in like 40 countries. So, is there anything you’d like to leave us with? Any Shelle words of wisdom?
Shelle: Yeah, music is incredibly powerful. Science is only beginning to uncover the power that music has on the human heart and the development of the brain and the mind. And Let’s Play Music harnesses a lot of those powers and puts them in the hands of the parent or the teacher to really instruct and edify the child.
But without Let’s Play Music, without any online class, without anything else out there, music is really powerful. So to the moms out there, I would say, just put the music on and sing to your child, even though you don’t sing, your voice is the best voice your child will ever hear. So sing. Get some lullabies in your heart and in your mind and sing and rock them and love them with your singing, because it is something that will stick with them for the rest of their lives. And your singing and the love of music will become, what one of our teachers calls suicide prevention, and I have a podcast on that very topic. It will nurture your child and give your child emotional strength throughout their lives.
So formal programs aside… surround your child with good music. And that means folk music and classical music. Those are the two types of music that you want to put on for your child. And sing. It’s really powerful. We have music on earth, given to us by God our creator, so that we can learn to be happy and connect as humans. So let’s use it.
Heather: Thank you so much. Thank you for being here. That is beautiful and wonderful, and it’s been so great talking with you.
Shelle: So great talking with you, too.
And thank you moms for tuning in today. I will put all of the information you need in my show notes and I will talk to you next week.