Small Business Spotlight: JBG Music Studios
My daughter has always shown an interest in all things creative. She’s drawn, painted, colored, cut, glued, glittered, and stickered more art projects for me than I will ever be able to keep, and she’s always enjoyed music, playing with toy instruments, and dance. Piano has been something I’ve wanted to let her try, but I have been told that she needed to be older: to be able to sit for longer periods of time, listen well, absorb information readily, and have finger dexterity that a child her age just doesn’t have. So, I’ve put it off.
Then, on the night of Boerne’s Holiday Open House, I was chatting with a couple of local folks at a shop on Main Street and one of them just happened to mention that she teaches piano lessons. Turns out, her name was Jennifer Gray and she is the owner of JBG Music Studios, a local and small business here in Boerne.
What caught my attention in talking with Jennifer is that she said she’s worked with kids younger than my daughter. What? Really? I wanted to know more about that, so I asked. Next thing I knew, we were taking lessons and I was writing this post!
Our first lesson consisted of introductions, both to each other and to the piano, as an instrument. She learned about the function of the pedals, how many keys there are, which ones played high notes and which ones played low, and she got to peek under the lid to see the hammers. She was fascinated by the pedals, by the way. Particularly the one that holds the note for a longer period of time (which I’ve JUST learned is called the “Sustain” pedal. Thanks, Google!). We spent a lot of time listening to her push a key and waiting to see how long the sound would last when she held that pedal. Jennifer is infinitely patient.
That day, she also learned that the way you push the key determines what kind of sound it makes (they took turns making “popcorn” sounds with the keys, which she loved), and that the notes on a keyboard go from A through G and they repeat. At one point Jennifer said, “If you know the alphabet, you can play music”. The look on my daughter’s face! It was like a whole new world had just opened up for her; she had total confidence that she could do this. Isn’t that amazing??
They also spent some time on the floor during this lesson; playing a game to learn about quarter notes and half notes and that they hold their sound for different lengths of time, creating rhythm. That is A LOT to go over and absorb in one thirty-minute lesson, but she got it and I really think that has everything to do with the way the information was presented to her. It was fun, it was encouraging, she got to move from bench to floor to do different activities, she got to “get the wiggles out” when she needed to, she got to be silly! And she learned, without even realizing it.
The second lesson focused on teaching the layout of the keys, which keys played which notes, and the proper form and posture for playing. I made the mistake of taking the kids for frozen yogurt prior to this lesson and she was darn near bouncing off the walls, but Jennifer STILL managed to keep it together. I was sitting at the table watching and wanting to jump out of my skin for the way she was behaving and not paying attention, but you know what Jennifer did? She took it to the floor. They shook their arms and giggled and got the wiggles out, then they played a game to practice “piano fingers”…and everything was a-ok.
And finally, our most recent lesson included an introduction of the whole note and a refresher of the others that she had learned so far. Then Jennifer broke out the books and my little five-year-old girl, on her THIRD piano lesson ever, read the notes and played the keys. She literally played songs. Short, simple songs, but still songs! Then they played a game of “Mud Puddle Mambo” on the floor to reinforce the difference between the notes. Honestly, at this point, I sort of lost focus on the game…I was still in awe that she had played a song! She even used both hands! Amazing, right?!
In getting to know Jennifer over the course of the last few weeks, I’ve learned that her teaching philosophy revolves around three things: 1) That her role as a teacher is to guide students through the learning process while they explore the piano. 2) That it’s okay to make mistakes; everyone does…and it’s more important to have fun than to be perfect. 3) The end goal is to cultivate a passion for music and the piano in her students. She uses a quote that is sometimes attributed to Beethoven to illustrate this:
So, how exactly does she let her students explore the piano, learn without fear of mistakes, and cultivate passion? She uses a unique teaching approach that employs a combination of traditional instruction, game-based learning, and even story-based lessons, including on and off-the-bench activities. And after watching this in action for several lessons with my daughter, I am convinced that it works. Jennifer is amazingly perceptive. She senses when my daughter is starting to lose focus and immediately shifts to a new activity. And as I mentioned before, she is also inhumanly patient. Our Big Girl is so, so bright in so many ways but she is very easily distracted and always has so.many.questions. Jennifer listens to her. She answers her questions. Then, she transitions right back into what she was trying to teach, pre-tangent. Her ability to remain focused on the lesson at hand, but also to shift gears and teach something entirely off-schedule because it’s what Big Girl is interested in at the moment, is impressive. To me, this shows the true mastery of her skill as a musician and a teacher.
To say that I am impressed with how far my daughter has come in just three weeks would be an understatement. I am so excited by what I’ve seen so far-and she is so excited to learn-that we’ve just committed to continuing our lessons for the semester. I can’t wait to see where this takes her and as long as she is interested and having fun, we will continue.
To close, I think I’ll leave you with a few interesting facts I’ve learned about Jennifer along the way:
1. She is originally from Houston but moved to Boerne with her husband in 2016.
2. She is a member of Messiah Lutheran Church where she plays piano for a choir group, the “Praise Singers”, alongside her singing sister and guitar-playing father and brother; they're a musical family!
3. She is a University of Texas at Austin alumna (but I don’t hold that against her. 😉)
4. She has played piano for over 20 years and also plays the cello!
5. Her ultimate goal as a teacher is for her students to become capable musicians, by giving them the tools needed to tackle problems on their own...isn't that really every parent's end goal as well?
So, what are you waiting for? Give Jennifer a call then let us know how much you loved it…because I know you will!
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NOTE: This post was written in partnership with JBG Music Studios.