________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 29. . . .April 2, 2010.


Learn to Speak Music: A Guide to Creating, Performing & Promoting Your Songs.

John Crossingham. Illustrated by Jeff Kulak.
Toronto, ON: Owlkids Books, 2009.
96 pp., pbk. & hc., $19.95 (pbk.), $29.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-897349-65-6 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-897349-64-9 (hc.).

Subject Headings:
Popular music-Vocational guidance-Juvenile literature.
Popular music-Writing and publishing-Juvenile literature.

Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-13.

Review by Harriet Zaidman.




We all hum along to the latest hits, but most of us don’t think we can make our own music. The history of rock music, though, is the history of garage bands and basement strummers plugging away at a tune that developed into a song, a song that became a recording, a recording that grew into a hit.

     Just as learning to speak a new language takes dedicated study, there’s no substitute for practice when it comes to music. But recording programs now make learning the language of music more fun than ever. Learn to Speak Music provides a realistic guide to children who want to get that first song successfully recorded.

     John Crossingham’s thorough guide will inspire and challenge a child. A musician with the band Broken Social Scene, Crossingham writes as a musician speaking to another musician, albeit one at an earlier stage of development. His conversational, easy-going style will advance children’s knowledge as well introduce them to elevated technical terms and language.

     The text is divided into chapters that address what’s involved in making music: choosing an instrument (even discussing different brands of guitars), the problems in forming a band, songwriting, playing in public, recording at home, and how to promote a song or a band. Each chapter has kid-friendly subheadings (Messing Around, R-E-S-P-E-C-T) and uses humour and common sense to deal with all the issues a budding musician faces, from fighting with friends who don’t show up for practice to dealing with nerves in front of that first audience.

     Crossingham recognizes that most people don’t feel confident enough to write their own music and lyrics:

The prospect of putting your heart and soul into a song can be really intimidating. That’s why the first lesson for anyone writing lyrics is to be unafraid of being bold. If that’s how you feel, then write it down. Sure, it can get a bit embarrassing, but the words are always better when they’re meaningful to the person writing them. And every time you write honestly, you become better at using words to express yourself.

     An artist needs confidence, and Crossingham’s words will inspire young artists to persevere. Sidebars talk about different songs in the history of music and the interesting stories behind them. He writes about different songwriters and artists to show that they’re human and faced the same problems as the kids holding the book. Even the most famous musicians offer simple advice. Feist suggests: “If you’re nervous or worried about your voice, join a choir. That way you can tuck yourself in among all the other singers, and learn about harmony, too.” In other words, keep at it; do whatever it takes to achieve the goal.

     The design and layout of Learning to Speak Music will appeal to children. Illustrator Jeff Kulak has drawn retro-style images that hearken back to the 1950s and ‘60s but are also contemporary and cool. He combines pastel colours with ‘70s golds, oranges and greens, making this a book that appeals to children who have an interest in music that spans the decades. The drawings are precise, but also playful, as the kids cowering behind the curtain in ‘Playing Live’ demonstrate.

     Learning to Speak Music will be a much-read addition to any library collection. Expect a long list of reserves.

Highly Recommended.

Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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