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Ever since I was a little girl, I dreamed of a massive house filled with a dozen children frockling around in the piles of laundry and scattered toys. Little shrieks of laughter, handprints on the walls and windows, and massive amounts of food spread across the farmhouse kitchen table was what I aspired my life would look like. Musical instruments were a part of this romantic idea of motherhood as I have always had a strong pull and gifting toward music. We would fill our mansion with melodies and harmonies bringing a dance to each season of life. Dreams collided with reality when I saw the price tag on private lessons and crunched the numbers in an attempt afford musical instruction for our ever growing family. Another sobering realization was the amount of time it would cost driving to and fro chauffeuring my many children to all their specific lessons and events. Although I think the piles of laundry and toys were definitely attainable, my dream of a musical family, worshipping the Lord together, was beginning to be shattered.
At least until we discovered Practice Monkeys. Practice Monkeys is a subscription based Suzuki Method instruction and live lessons for violin, piano, cello and guitar. They also offer Self-Defense based on Brazilian Jui-Jitsu wrestling as well as Great Books program based on Mortimer Adler’s “Great Ideas” program. For one flat rate price each month, your subscription includes LIVE lessons 4 days a week and a comprehensive curriculum with detailed and guided instruction for your entire household. That’s right, the price is not PER CHILD, but PER HOUSEHOLD. This means for $49/month, my entire family can receive lessons in a particular instrument!
What A Day with Practice Monkeys Looks Like
Now that we understand how affordable financially Practice Monkeys is, lets look at the time aspect.
Live lessons happen 4 days a week (Monday-Thursday) and are roughly 15 minutes per lesson.
Depending on your instrument and level, you will log into your “Treehouse” at www.practicemonkeys.com which includes instructions, videos, checklists, and curriculum that you will need to learn all the skills and songs in your level. The student prints their practice sheet and works through the easily laid out checklist before or after live class each day. During live class, the student joins their teacher along with a group of other students on the same level as them working through skills, scales, music theory, and group discussion. Classes are formed around what the needs of the students are and are tailored exceptionally well to ensure the student progresses in a well-rounded manner. There is a balanced approach to music theory, playing by ear, reading music, and playing their pieces for the other students and teacher to hear.
As the student progresses through the level and masters the concepts and songs included in that level, they can schedule an “assessment”, which is an extra fee (usually between $15-$20). An assessment is a one-on-one appointment with the instructor and is used to assess if the student is ready to advance to the next level.
The Suzuki method of instruction teaches the aspiring musician to learn first how to play their instrument by ear and then lays a firm foundation in music theory and reading music. This particular approach to music instruction has made my children brilliant at being able to play virtually anything with anyone. Their ability to hear a song and play along is flooring!
I never have to pack up the car, the baby, the diaper bag, snacks, water bottles, extra clothes, etc, and spend my afternoons hustling and bustling to lesson after lesson. I simply set the schedule and each child logs in and attends their lesson on their own right in the comfort of our own home. I have the older children assigned a younger “buddy” that they take to their lesson and help them work through their practice sheet.
We have six of our eight children enrolled in piano, violin, cello, guitar, and self defense through Practice Monkeys at the moment. We currently live in a small 3 bedroom apartment, so as you can imagine, a day in our house looks a bit… chaotic to be honest. But if we can make all the lessons work, you can too!
We have a piano in our living room and a keyboard in one of the kids bedroom. We rent a violin and a cello that all the kids share, and we own four guitars (two child and two adult), as well as an electric guitar and a djembe. If we have multiple kids in a live class together, they trade off who uses the instrument each day or they use two different devices to log into the same live class and attend their lessons in separate rooms. For independent practice, we utilize every room in our apartment! I may have someone on the piano in the living room, one on the cello in the bedroom, one on the violin in the entry way, and one on the guitar in kitchen! Usually, however, practicing goes on throughout the school day so not everyone is in need of an instrument at the same time.
Our daily schedule looks like this at the moment
Missing Live Class
Our family is very involved in ministry, as well as politics. We have events and programs all the time! Whether it’s church or church functions, my husband teaching a U.S. Constitution Class, campaigning during election years, managing a Christian Coffee House, or running our several small businesses, we need to be flexible and available for things to shift and change at a moment’s notice. Thankfully, Practice Monkeys accommodates for our lifestyle, and I suspect yours as well, by recording each live class and uploading the recordings into the Treehouse for us to watch later. This is magnificent for a family as busy as ours. We cannot attend any lessons at all on Monday’s, and we miss the lessons later in the evening on Thursday’s due to being at church. My kids can watch recordings of their missed classes on Friday’s.
We have been using Practice Monkeys for a little over three years now. Violin was our first instrument followed by piano. We recently added cello and guitar. The LOVE for music and the UNDERSTANDING for music theory that I evidenced, even in my youngest children, is absolutely incredible. Our luthier (a person who makes or fixes stringed instruments) that we rent our violin and cello from is always amazed to see how well our kids are preforming. He cannot believe they are taking lessons via zoom.
But my heart absolutely swells when we sit down for family worship and each of my children picks up an instrument and plays along. The music that comes out of these little people is not just noise. My kids are comprehensively playing along creating harmonies, melodies, riffs, and runs that can only be described as heavenly. I attribute this to the creativity, passion, and labor that the teachers at Practice Monekys put into each 15 minute live class. They prioritize ensuring each moment of each class is creatively tailored to bring each student to the next level.
We have seen such amazing success because, in our homeschool, we try to prioritize music. If we can’t do much for school work for the week or the season we are in, our Bible reading and our music studies are the staples. We try to buy into the system laid out in Practice Monkeys as closely as we are able. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming for me as a home educating mother of eight, entrepreneur and ministry loving woman who wears many hats, to try to balance all the lessons and practices of all the instruments my children are learning. But Mrs. Van Kleeck, as well as the other teachers at Practice Monekys assure me that if my kids – bare minimum – show up to class each day, they will grow in their ability to play… and they are absolutely correct! As long as they are growing a little bit every day and learning to be more independent in their music education, then we didn’t waste anything.
Extras Practice Monkeys Offer
During the summer months, Practice Monkeys shifts gears into what they call “summer fun”. Taking a break from the vigorous Suzuki studies, summer fun’s aim is music appreciating. There will be a theme or a specific composition that is studied and focused on through the summer. Last summer my children enjoyed studying and playing music from The Nutcracker.
Christmas music and cookie parties occur during live classes closer to the holiday season. The students are encouraged to play holiday themed pieces they have been working on for their classmates to enjoy and be inspired by. My kids usually pick some of their Hanukkah favorites to share as not many of the students play these middle eastern sounding songs.
Private lessons can be purchased at a very low cost if your student needs more one-on-one instruction. Occasionally there will be mini courses that have a theme such as “Improv Class” or “Christmas Music Class” that the student can attend on top of their regular weekly classes.
When our children were first beginning piano and violin, we purchased a very cheap keyboard ($100), and some very cheap 1/2 size violins ($70-$80). These were more than sufficient to learn scales and Twinkle, Twinkle little star on. As they begun to become more skilled musicians, we got a used piano donated to our family through a program from a non-profit called Keys 4/4 Kids. We also located a local luthier to rent a violin and eventually a cello from. I owned two guitar, and the remainder just came to us as many people within the church body had guitars they were no longer using or needing.
Another option for renting instruments is stringworks.com or Shar. Both of these offer rental instruments as well as some pretty neat payment options such as trade ins or working your monthly rental fee into paying to own your instrument.
A third option is to call thrift stores, check Craig’s List or Facebook Marketplace, or even trying some local instrument stores to see if they have used instruments for sale, or offer renting options. We pay $25/month to rent our violin and $35/month for our cello. The money we pay goes towards a credit if we want to purchase an instrument in the future.
Self Defense – Brazilian Jui-Jitsu
I’ll have to be honest, I had no idea how my children were going to learn Jui-Jitsu via zoom, but Mr. VanKleeck is an incredible instructor. He is able to demonstrate each move and then coach the children through how to do the moves. In order to take this self-defense class, you do need to have at least two students (or at least a parent and a child) enrolled so they can practice each hold and move on each other. I do not think this program can be used with only one student.
Self Defense is greatly looked forward to in our home. It happens to be right after nap time (4pm) so my kids are antsy and rambunctious. They do their sit ups, burpies, and push ups before class and then spend the next 30 minutes or so tumbling around pinning each other down and choking each other out. As a mom with small boys, I understand the importance of giving them an outlet for their aggressive natures and Jui-Jitsu gives them a constructive and responsible outlet. I also appreciate equipping my girls with a skill set to defend themselves and escape dangerous situations.
Funny Story – When my kids progressed to Level 2 of Practice Monkeys Self Defense, they were learning the choke hold. As I was passing by their live lesson, I heard Mr. VanKleeck say something to this effect: “Don’t worry, if your partner looses consciousness, just release the hold and they will come back.” I was horrified! My kids were all giggling and practicing holds on each other. After spending some time in Practice Monkeys self defense I will tell you this mama: Don’t worry! Mr. VanKleeck instructs the students to be respectful and release holds when someone is tapping out. None of my kids have lost consciousness… yet… 🙂
Music lessons and self defense instruction are no longer out of reach for the home educating family, the low income family, or the large-in-number family. Practice Monkeys makes high-quality, live instruction affordable and convenient. I truly believe that any family can make this program work for their circumstances and lifestyle.
Practice Monkeys is a GOD SEND and is a STAPLE in the Deputie household. I don’t think the Van Kleeck family will ever see or comprehend on this side of heaven the number of people they have blessed through their program. We are raising an army of worship leaders in the Deputie home and God has blessed and gifted our children tremendously through Practice Monkeys. Music lessons have an eternal value and many people will come to know Jesus Christ because of Practice Monkeys and the vision the Van Kleeck family has.
We hope and pray that Practice Monkeys continues to expand offering more and more classes. We will be forever students as we quite frankly just keep having children! HAHA!
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