Labeled "The Queen of Children’s Music" by People Magazine, Laurie Berkner is a musician who captivates children (and their parents!) through her original music all throughout the country! Laurie recently held an interview with Let's Play Music teacher, Gina Weibel and gave some great insights and tips for all early musicians!
Let's Play Music: Laurie, You were involved in several music ventures as a youngster. At what age did you start taking music lessons, and what was the first instrument that you learned?
Laurie Berkner: "Besides experimenting with the recorder in music class, my first instrument was the piano. I started taking lessons when I was eight yrs old. That same year I also started taking clarinet lessons, and when I was ten I added the violin. Then when I was about sixteen I took an adult night school class at my high school to learn how to play the guitar. That's when I finally found the instrument I love the most."
LPM: Our 3-year program focuses on keyboard skills and emphasize whole musicianship (improv, chording, transposing, solfeg, singing). Do you have thoughts on which skills our young students will really need as they go on to grow as musicians? What skills did you learn that really have helped you the most?
LB: "I don't know if there is any one skill that is more important than others as a general rule. There are so many ways of making music and so many ways to take a skill and make it important - for you. For me, making music can feel magical, but learning how to be a musician does not take magic. It takes slowing down, focusing, and being willing to try things one element at a time and then doing them over and over. So I think the most important skill for me was to learn how to practice."
LPM: During the spring months, the hundreds of 3rd year students (age 6-7) across the USA are composing their very own, very first compositions.
Can you tell us when you wrote your very first song?
LB: "I used to make things up all the time as a kid that I never recognized as "my own songs". Then after I started to learn guitar and I was living in West Africa for a time, I found myself wanting to express a lot of feelings about being there and I wrote the first song I had ever actually made the effort to write down called, 'Black and White'."
LPM: Can you tell us what artistic process you go through when creating a new song?
LB: "It's different for different songs. Sometimes I have a phrase or phrases in my head and I build the song around that. Sometimes it's a rhythm or a chord progression, or maybe a theme and a melody. I guess I start with what I like and then move on from there. Ultimately I just want to create something I would like to sing that has meaning for me - and that I hope kids will like, relate to and also want to sing!"
LPM: Laurie, can you remember a time when practicing was not super-fun (or does that still happen sometimes)?
LB: "When I'm with the band, the practicing is usually super-fun. I like to be with them. Sometimes when I'm by myself I really enjoy it too, but honestly I think of practicing as my work. It's what I need to do to get to a place where the music really gives me pleasure. Knowing that makes me feel good about practicing, but I would say its sometimes more satisfying than super-fun."
LPM: Any words of advice for our students who sometimes aren't motivated to push through the challenging music?
LB: "It's so worth it! And just like anything, don't try to do too much at once. Also, sleeping on it helps! Many times I have worked and worked on learning something new, and ended my practice without getting it. Then after a good night's sleep my fingers seem to absorb the message, and the next day I find that I can do it - or am at least a lot closer to getting it!"
LPM: And, you once were a music teacher, too! What do you think is most necessary trait a music teacher must demonstrate for success?
LB: "Listening to the kids. I think they taught me more than I taught them!"
For more information about the Laurie Berkner Band's exciting shows and recordings, take a look at the website: www.laurieberkner.com and be sure to check out all of Laurie's CD's:
Whaddaya Think of That?
The Best of The Laurie Berkner Band
Under A Shady Tree
A Laurie Berkner Christmas
A special thank you to Gina Weibel for conducting this interview with Laurie on behalf of Let's Play Music!