Wendy Lias, LSW
I’m a piano lesson quitter. Actually, I’m a piano lesson quitter two times over. Since I’m fairly certain that nobody who taught me a) reads the blog or b) even remembers me—it was decades ago and it didn’t take very long for me to quit—I’m just going being candid and say that those lessons were a dry and joyless experience. I felt no love for music lessons. When my son was two years old, he started asking for someone to teach him to play the bass guitar. Because he was two, it was really easy to put him off. When he was three and dressing up like John Lennon for Halloween, he was still begging for music lessons. Nobody was teaching three year olds so, again, I just took the “someday. When you’re older” approach. The year he was four, he was still very insistent that he wanted to take music lessons, and so I started looking for instructors who would work with an early learner. His love for music seemed so intrinsic to who he is as a person, that my biggest concern in finding a music program for him was to not replicate my experience with joyless music lessons. I absolutely did not want formal lessons to drum the passion out of him. It was while I was trying to find this unicorn of a learning experience that I found Meridee Winters. Meridee was gracious enough to chat with me about what makes her approach to music education unique.
Tell us a little bit about yourself
I’m an author, educator, school director, lifelong musician and dedicated champion against the “Forces of Blah”! (In both comic books and in real life – more on that in just a bit.)
I’ve always had a passion for creativity and teaching. I began my career by leading a double life of sorts: teaching elementary school by day and performing in bands at night. Sadly, in both areas I saw a lack of creativity. I left the school system and became a music producer, where my specialty was working with professional artists to turn song ideas into completed albums. I was shocked by how many pro musicians couldn’t accompany themselves or construct a song. I developed a crash course in songwriting, theory and chords and consistently got the same feedback: each of them wished they had learned these skills when they were young. I realized that I could empower kids to be creative after all, by teaching them music with this same approach.
And now there’s a school?
My creative approach to learning resonated with people, and the school grew. Over several decades, the Meridee Winters School of Music has trained over 300 teachers and instructed over 10,000 students while earning a reputation for its joyful students, real results and convenience for busy families. (Our lessons are in-home and online. It doesn’t get much more convenient than that!)
My dream is to make the world a more creative place and to empower students to create, explore and find joy in music… and in life. At times, there’s a lot working against that – like the fear of making mistakes, books and lessons that just teach at the “rote and recall” level, and the view that arts are less valuable than other subjects. At one point, I started referring to these as the “Forces of Blah.” I’ve even created a villain in my Chord Quest series called “Dr. Blah.” I’m excited to combat these forces though learning, music and play.
You could say the forces of blah were strong in 2020, but I’m so inspired by how people everywhere got creative and adapted. Prior to the pandemic, we already had advanced students taking lessons online. We were fortunate to be ahead of the curve this spring and were able to convert the entire school to online lessons seamlessly. There were many challenges, but also some unexpectedly beautiful moments – for example, our Year End Recitals moved to an online film festival format and we had over 300 student-made music videos. They were incredible – so many kids were thrilled to work on a creative project and see what their peers had made. We had students who had never met collaborating on duets remotely. Students became film directors. Actors. Pop stars. We’ve begun returning to in-home lessons for some families, but we’re still teaching online students from around the country.
We also started to receive emails from parents, teachers and students from all over about how my music books – especially my Chord Quest and Chord Crash Course series – were helping them learn an instrument at home, or helping them bring energy to online lessons.
Another blow against “the Forces of Blah” was the launching of our Starbright Scholarship Project. We started planning it last fall and launched it in April after deciding that the pandemic wasn’t going to slow us down. As a result, students from Philadelphia are receiving free music lessons and inspiring me every day with their passion and creativity. My current commitment is to provide pro-bono lessons to a minimum of 2% of our school enrollment.
What thoughts can you share with our readers about inspiring a love of music in children of all ages?
One of the first things I tell our teachers in training is that music is a language art, but it’s rarely taught like one. For any age, I recommend you let a child explore that language. Improvise. Listen. Create. We certainly don’t expect young children to be able to read before they can talk – so why do we expect students to read music before they can play or write something?
Very early in lessons, you can learn the simple shapes and patterns that make chords, and then learn the chords to your favorite songs. For any student, the ability to play the songs they truly love will energize lessons and keep them from quitting.
If we can do all these things – keep students from quitting, help other students and musicians discover and learn, make music together online, teach through scholarships and through books, then I believe we’re contributing to a more creative and musical world. And those “Forces of Blah”? They don’t stand a chance.
Currently, the Meridee Winters School of Music has a trailblazing online music school in addition to offering in-person in-home lessons in the Main Line area of Philadelphia. As an author, Meridee has had five #1 new releases on Amazon in the last 2 years and her music method books are used worldwide, from Germany to Japan, India and beyond. Her teachers do workshops regularly in teaching techniques, video-making and of course songwriting. If you believe you would benefit from these creative music lessons, visit mwschoolofmusic.com.