Elisabeth C. Swim, M.A., OAK to NYC to HTX

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If you’ve been to therapy, you know about self talk. How is your self-talk supporting your learning process and how is it getting in the way?

Turn up your self-compassion and turn down your inner critic. Photo credit.

One of the most heart-wrenching things for me to hear is the way my students talk to themselves in our lessons. Sometimes their interior language seeps out into their process of learning new songs, piano pieces or music theory concepts.

“I’m not good at that.”

“I’m bad at that.”

“I can’t do that.”

“It’s hard.”

“It’s too much for me.”

These thoughts come easily in an achievement-oriented world. “Hard, difficult, challenge, conquer, win” all…


This Preschool counting trick will help your young ones stop doing one thing and start doing something else.

When I have a long to-do list, it’s easy for me to feel stuck. Even with clear priorities, getting started on any one thing can feel very, very new. That’s when I call on a tool from my early childhood musicians. Growing minds need time to make sense and meaning of commands.

Sneak in some quality processing time by counting down, like rocket blastoff, any time you or your children need a boost into the next task:
5–4–3–2–1 🚀

Counting down gives…


Here is a quick way to find your center even in the midst of a hundred thousand things to do. ​​​​

Sound is a gateway to mindful listening and to a calm but energized mood. Image Credit

My mind tends to go extra fast when I have a lot on my plate, jumping from need-to-be-done tasks to concerns about things that haven’t happened yet. It can be easier said than done to take a deep breath.

When my mind is loud, it helps to have a physical sound to guide me into a mindfulness. During piano lessons, my students enjoy using piano keys as tools to find center with playful curiosity:​​​​ ​​​​​​​We find a note or two to play together. (Pairs of black and white keys that skip over a note of the same color are harmonious.)…


I love this song and have wanted to play it for 25 years, ever since I heard it on KCSM radio in the SF Bay Area. There were a number of obstacles: the written music is not readily available. The song is in a musical range best suited to men with low voices. I’m not in a band. My spanish was not proficient.

El Bodeguero is a Favorite Cuban Song whose flute solo and chacha rhythm are as nourishing as the fruits, beans and chocolate in its subject’s store. Photo: E. Swim

Recently I received our family’s first piano, a gift from my late grandfather. It made a zig-zag journey from Oakland, CA to Indianapolis before finding its way to my Houston studio. What better motivation to pursue my…


Why pencils and erasers are not just for young children

I was shocked and saddened when a fellow teacher told me that when he was in gradeschool, his teacher told him to always write in pen. He had “outgrown pencils,” which were for little kids.

My grandfather used soft-graphite pencils up until he left this earth at 93. His father did the same. They were both musicians and preferred soft graphite to mark up their sheet music with notes from their conductor and notes to themselves. But musical markings, once memorized, can become visual clutter. Erasers take care of that. 😀

During the pandemic, I haven’t always been able to…


Have you ever been somewhere waiting, in traffic or on a telephone hold — and a song came on that you’ve heard countless times? A song that you would just rather not hear again? What if one of your family’s ipads is playing a song for the umpteen thousandth time? What do you do?

I like to use my active listening to turn moments like this into mindfulness games. As I absorb the song through my sticky ears (songs get ‘in my head’ really easily), I might hunt for the following:

Active listening helps make life easier even when sounds overwhelm. Photo Credit

*Where is the beat? Finding the beat of the song and tapping it lightly on my chest (if I am hands free) can help me feel more calm and grounded.

* Are there any bits of silence between melodic or rhythmic sounds? What would it be like to listen for those, and maybe breathe deeply into them?

* What instruments am I hearing…


“Rhythm and rhythmic movement are critical to the basics of life: almost all of our regulatory functions keep some sort of a beat, from the heart to the breath.” — Born for Love (Szalawitz & Perry, 2011)

Heartbeat is the first rhythm humans hear from the womb. Photo Credit

Music is rhythm. Language is rhythm. Play is rhythm. Improving innate rhythmic sense makes life easier and more fun at any age.

The first sounds that a fetus hears are its parent’s heartbeat. Amniotic fluid also carries the vibrations from body movements and in time, a baby grows to hear family and friends’ voices.

Sounds that have meaning in daily life have a…


No Parking Sign in Italian. Sometimes saying no can make it easier to say yes to creativity, relationships and to life. Photo by Claudio Vizia

It’s difficult to create if whatever comes out has to sound or look a certain way, or if there is a list of things that ‘should not’ be done. Sometimes my music students know better what they don’t like than what they do. Exploring these preferences can help them feel more confident making up their own music and choosing home play songs based on their preferences.

As a teacher, I can sometimes lose myself in care for my students. I imagine this is not unlike what might happen to parents. …


Copyright: evgenyatamanenko

At camp in California when I was a kid, we used to make rain as a game. In as big a group as we could manage, we would begin by snapping fingers, then tapping our laps, then clapping and finally stomping to make rain sounds even during the most dry summers. This game came to mind when I realized that I hardly ever use any of the many words we have for rain in Standard American English, except for the one I’ve used three times in just the subject and first paragraph of this blog :)

Really, rain is music…

Elisabeth C. Swim, M.A., OAK to NYC to HTX

Teaching Piano, Voice & Preschool Music for 10 years in Houston, Texas: Playful Mindful Music in person and online https://notearspiano.com

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