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Saturday, August 24, 2013

MacPhail Center for Music

This is a review.

MacPhail logo

Anyone of my friends or family from Minnesota will recognize the name MacPhail, immediately.  In a "look how far technology has come" kind of way, my kids got a chance to have music lessons from MacPhail Center for Music, which is in Minnesota....even though we now live in Georgia. 

There were choices for:  Piano, Guitar, Violin, Viola, Cello, Harp, Flute, Clarinet, Saxophone, Trumpet, Trombone, or Percussion, at Beginning, Intermediate, or Advanced levels.

I know.  Seriously.  Lots of choices.

First I had to decide which of my kids could have this chance.  D-man already plays a little guitar.  A-girl plays a little bit of violin, but wants to play guitar ( and had already asked her brother to show her a few chords).  L-girl has the desire to play an instrument, but her fingers are still so small the stuff we have tried has been harder for her....which is frustrating.

So, A-girl got to be the lucky one.

I have to make a full disclosure here.  I am a former MacPhail student.  When I lived in Minnesota and competed in scholarship pageants (I know.....), I saved up my money and went to MacPhail for voice lessons.  I had a great, Ukrainian, voice teacher.  She was a bit crabby ....and most definitely scary....but she knew her stuff.  I can actually still hear her voice in my head occasionally if I am breathing wrong! 

Anyway, I loved going to MacPhail (except parking near there building in Minneapolis was a little scary)....but, when I walked around the building.....oh......the talent.....the artistry..... I felt like I was in the movie Fame...just without Debbie Allen and her crazy stick banging.  I just knew I was surrounded by brilliance.  (It was a little intimidating, if I am honest.)

Back to present day and being able to take lessons without the scary parking, and questioning your abilities as you walked through the halls and heard the other musicians....

The process for getting started was actually kind of cool.  The very first thing you need to do is make sure that your computer/webcam is fast enough to make these lessons work, via Skype.  That was a really easy determination via

Then, MacPhail had you fill out a form that went through any and all music lessons or experience you have had and asked questions like: Can your child read music?  What day/time would work best for lessons?

But, in addition to those kinds of questions, it asked about your learning style and what kind of teacher you feel you would work best with.  For example....and I am paraphrasing here....Do you like a more friendly, laid back style of instruction or more of a no-nonsense task master?  It actually made A-girl and I really think about how she wanted a teacher to talk to her and what ways would maybe shut her down and frustrate her....which wasn't the point.

We ultimately said we wanted someone who was supportive, positive, encouraging and just basically nice.  They matched us up with Josh.

Oh, how we loved Josh!

You can actually see Josh on the MacPhail home page of scrolling pictures.

Josh is just the nicest, most patient, guy ever.  A-girl (and I) showed up for her first lesson with our guitar untuned.  Neither one of us had thought to have D-man  tune it or show us how to tune it in time for her lesson.  So,  much of her first lesson was spent with Josh patiently showing her how to find on-line tuning tools and then which way to turn the little dealy-bobs at the end of the guitar to get her guitar in tune.  Definitely a necessary component to playing the guitar would be an in tune guitar, huh?

But, seriously, he didn't even seem annoyed at all that we hadn't even attempted to have an instrument ready for action.

The other thing that we loved about Josh is he let A-girl pick a song that she wanted to learn.  He had to pull it up on his computer to hear it, since he didn't know the song.  But, that is what they worked on.....her song choice.  He even complimented her about her song choice and that it was a great song!

I should back up a bit and tell you about another part of the process before we actually started lessons.

After we filled out our forms about A-girls' musical experience, etc. and after we had determined that, in theory, our computer matched the technical requirements, we got a Skype call from Kristen, who basically did a test call to make sure that we could see and hear each other alright.  We tried our desktop and our tablet in different rooms and decided that our desktop worked the best.  Then we worked on lighting and camera placement that would help during lessons.

Okay, so back to lessons.  We were able to have four - 30 minute lessons with Josh.  Good, old, patient Josh.  Josh was always friendly and would chat a bit before they actually began their work.  Each lesson built on what they had worked on in previous lessons.  Chords, strumming, how to hold a pick, etc. 

She was challenged, but never too much so that she got frustrated or wanted to quit....that is a big deal.  Because, you see, A-girl is a lot like her mother and if you can't do something well, relatively quickly....then, just forget it, you know???  But, she stuck with this, Josh was encouraging, but not phony.  Does that make sense to anyone?  He praised her, he encouraged her, he cheered her on.....but it didn't come across as empty praise or building her up too much.  She did not come away with a big head....but a head that said, I can do this if I just keep on practicing.

I don't know what else to tell you, except that we loved this review.  The first week was nerve wracking, just because it was new (and we hadn't tuned our guitar!).  But, Josh made us feel comfortable.  A-girl did learn to play guitar.  She isn't ready for an audience outside of her family yet, but she has learned a lot of the basics in just a few short weeks.  She actually practices without being told.  (It is a miracle, I tell you!)

Josh assigned her homework every week that he would post in a program called Evernote, and he was also was open to e-mailed questions.  A-girl was getting really sore fingertips and had e-mailed him to ask if there was anything she should or shouldn't do to make them feel better.  He responded to her e-mail really quickly- with the basic message that she just had to let her fingers develop callouses and that she could put lotion on them to ease the long as she wasn't going to play the guitar...because the lotion would ruin her strings and wood.

Here is a little sidenote that I thought was interesting.  A-girl was showing me some of the stuff she has learned and D-man walked through the room.  I asked them who they thought was a better guitar player/knew more about guitar playing now.  They both pointed at A-girl.  D-man explained that he was probably familiar with more chords than A-girl, but she knew way more about how to read music and strum patterns than he did.

I forgot to actually take pictures of A-girl during her lessons with Josh, because I was usually either shushing the other kids, or in a nearby room, so I could hear the lessons, but wouldn't make her nervous! 

But, here she is working on some of her music.  She is excited to keep playing.  She is excited about maybe surprising her friends at church with a song in the not too distant future.  I am excited for her.  Taking lessons from MacPhail is really an awesome privilege that I am glad she and I got to share...even though we are in Georgia now!

(Doesn't she kind of have that hippie chick, indie look going for her?)

If you have questions that I haven't answered, go check out MacPhail On-Line for more details. 

So, if I have interested you in taking lessons from the comfort of your home, with a prestigious music school, what will it cost you? 

Special Introductory Pricing - Individual Instruction - Four Online Lessons for $111
Receive four 30-minute individual online lessons from an outstanding teaching artist, from the convenience of your home. All K–12 homeschool students are eligible to participate in this package, a 25% discount from standard tuition rates.

Daytime Flex Packs for Live Online Lessons offer flexibility to accommodate your busy schedule and help you achieve your unique musical goals. Simply schedule 8 Live Online Lessons during the 18 week semester on any weekday from 9 am – 3 pm CST. Unexpected scheduling conflict? Our cancellation policy gives you the option of canceling your lesson up to 48-hours in advance, without forfeiting the lesson. Whether you travel for work or leisure, juggle kids' extracurricular activities, or live in an area where options for studying your instrument are limited, MacPhail's Daytime Flex Pack can help you experience the joy of music-making. Standard pricing will apply after introductory lessons at $37 per 30-minute lesson

You can actually get your first lesson for free, by using the code ONLINE-1STFREE13, but you have to at least sign up for 2 lessons to take advantage of the freebie.

If our budget opened up a bit, I would definitely do on-line lessons with MacPhail again, because you know you are getting expert teachers when you go with MacPhail and not just somebody putting out their shingle and trying to earn a little extra money.  MacPhail has the expertise and the passion for music that you want your kids to have.

Remember, it isn't just guitar lessons, there was also....Piano,  Violin, Viola, Cello, Harp, Flute, Clarinet, Saxophone, Trumpet, Trombone, or Percussion ( I am pretty certain that I am happy I don't have a percussionist in my household!).  Go see what the other TOS reviewers thought and which instrument they chose.