Experts say there is a connection between musical training and improved academic achievement, so it would make sense to include music instructions of some type in our homeschool, right? That is why I was thrilled to to be chosen to review Family Subscription to Live Violin Classes from Practice Monkeys. We have had a violin tucked away in a dark closet for many years with no one to play it, so our 12 year old daughter was all set and ready to jump right in.
What is Practice Monkeys?
Practice Monkeys is an online music program created by instructor Mrs. Sarah Van Kleeck, using the Suzuki Method along with resources she has created for students age 3 to 103. Mrs. Van Kleeck meets her students in a live, online classroom four days a week. These are practice sessions, so parents supervise and guide during daily at-home practice and learning. No prior music instruction is necessary because the Practice Monkeys website is full of video tutorials for both students and parents, giving you all the background and reference you’ll need to succeed.
Students are placed in a class according to their skill level – there are currently up to 12 levels, I believe. The practice classes are held Monday through Thursday and last only 15 minutes. The instructor meets and greets the students, demonstrates technique, asks questions, encourages the students to participate and show progress.
How does it work?
After purchasing your subscriptio and after answering a few questions, the student will be placed in the level best suited for them.
Parents will find everything they need in their child’s ‘Treehouse’ which is the command center of everything. Here you’ll find links to things such as the Suzuki Method explained, books and resources to enrich the learning experience, websites where you can find other resources if needed.
You’ll also find many tutorial videos recorded by the instructor herself, teach you how to choose the right size violin, tune the violin, what your role as a Suzuki parent should be, proper position, and more.
Viewing the videos is key to getting a good foundation and setting yourself and your student up for success. With the subscription, Mrs. Van Kleeck also provides theory books, practice checklists, habit training checklists, sight-reading workbooks as well as flashcards, all in a downloadable pdf format.
The only resource we needed outside of what was provided on the website was Volume 1 Suzuki violin book with Listening CD. (You can find a link through Practice Monkeys or check your local music store or search for supplier of your choice.) This arrived soon after we registered for lessons and we were ready to get started.
Students have access to lesson videos and tutorials of the skills and pieces they will be learning. They are to view these and practice on their own, and then meet Mrs. Van Kleeck in their online classroom at the appointed time, four days a week. The classroom meeting is hosted on ZOOM, live, where students and instructor can see one another, interact, ask questions and see progress. For those who miss a live class (because we all know it happens!) the classes are recorded and uploaded to your Treehouse where you can watch and rewatch anytime that suits you and your schedule.
When you have need for more focused help or have a question that has not been addressed in class, students can attend (and are encouraged to attend) a help class that is held each week. This gives the teacher the chance to give more personal feedback and gives students opportunity to seek specific instruction.
The Practice Checklists provided give parent and student goals and direction. Using them each week guides the students through the songs they are learning and directs them to polish pieces already learned. Included on the checklist are things like Theory, Habits, Listening, Scales, Review songs, New pieces, Attend Class.
Once your child is comfortable playing the pieces required for the level they are in, you are asked to scheduled an assessment, where Mrs. Van Kleeck meets you online for a one-on-one classtime. She’ll ask the student questions about the skills learned and have them play the pieces from that level.
Their skills and habits will be rated and the instructor will give feedback along with her recommendation of promoting to next level (or remaining in same level if that is what is best.) Certificates are awarded (via email to print out) and a new class time is assigned as child moves to next level.
Generally, with consistent practice, it takes 6 weeks or so to move from one level to another. This will vary depending on age, desire, consistency, personality. Those who are motivated or have had other sorts of music lessons may progress more quickly. Those who are not consistent with practice or who are brand new to musical concept might take longer. Each student works independently and promotes when appropriate for them – they are not dependent on the others in their class.
What are the results?
After 6 weeks, Bekah learned all 5 variations of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.’ We had a very busy household during October and November so she was distracted and interrupted often during those weeks. Still, she was able to pick up where she left off. As she practiced in short bits of time, she gained confidence. And so she improved enough to move from Level 3 to Level 4. In the video below you can hear her playing ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ and enjoying it. She may not be ready for a concert tour, but after only 6 weeks we were pleased as punch.
After an assessment, Bekah moved to Level 4. After only a week she was playing a folk song called ‘Lightly Row’ which you can view in the video below. It is exciting to hear the musicality of the piece, even when she does not read music yet. She is quickly picking up how to read notes and interpret what is on the page.
The students in Practice Monkeys are encouraged to not only be diligent in their practice, but also to have fun. Mrs. Van Kleeck wants everyone to be playing for fun and to be discovering songs and music they enjoy. For fun, Bekah learned a couple of Christmas carols – like We Wish You A Merry Christmas – which she played not just for herself, but also during a talent show our homeschool group put on at a nearby nursing home and also for special neighbors of ours.
This from a girl who had no prior musical training, who cannot read music. After a little trial and error, she was able to play this carol by ear. She amazed herself! It may not be perfection, but it’s sweet music all the same.
How do we like it?
My daughter is attending music lessons without leaving home. We are spending less and getting more personal instruction than if she were taking traditional music lessons. She is playing music worth listening to after only a couple months’ time. We are loving Practice Monkeys!
At the start of the program, it was a bit overwhelming. I was familiar with the Suzuki Method, or so I thought, because our oldest daughter took lessons for a short time many years ago. What I did not realize was the importance of involvement by a parent (or older sibling maybe) and how much of a team effort it is. With the videos and resources provided in Practice Monkeys I have everything I need to help my daughter play, progress and succeed. We are learning together.
Sarah Van Kleeck has been available to help with our questions, no matter how silly and has given us positive and enthusiastic support as we move through the lessons. This homeschooling mom of 8 has been teaching violin for many years, with a passion and energy for helping others that is contagious.
Honestly, as the parent of a violin student, I receive far more help, encouragement and feedback from Sarah Van Kleeck then I ever have from in-person music instructors. These live online music lessons are for everyone – boys, girls, teens, moms, dad, even grandparents. Currently, a subscription is for the whole family so all of us can benefit if we choose, without the fees being out of our reach. And right now, my readers can take advantage of their Year One pricing, for a better monthly rate. This offer expires Februrary 1, 2019 so be sure to check it out soon!
You may want to visit the FAQ page on Practice Monkeys, where you’ll find even more helpful information. Oh, and I hear she’s beginning classes for piano, too, so you may want to check on those! To see how these classes are working for other Review Crew members, click on the image below – I know you’ll enjoy!