The water is warm at the ocean; an August breeze rustles my hair as I sit relaxing at the ocean beach and pondering the upcoming fall music season. When I started teaching early-childhood music classes in 1992, not many people knew what “early-childhood music” really was, but things have certainly changed. It is rare to find a child these days who has not had an early-childhood music experience, either in a pre-school or in a private studio setting. This is wonderful news! The earlier we reach children the more opportunity we have to help them reach their full music potential.
Thanks to a myriad of articles about the long term benefits of music in a child’s life, many who previously thought music to be a nice little “extra” are now clamoring to sign their children up for class to give them an edge on their SAT’s. On the one hand it is very gratifying to have the work of early-childhood music and movement teachers validated by scientific research. Seeing the value of music education highlighted in the media is truly exciting! On the other hand, I find it rather sad that for many people in our society, music is only valued for its ability to improve a person’s math and science skills.
Music teachers have long known about the relationship between music and spatial awareness. We know that students involved in school music programs have better attendance records. We know that being involved in a music ensemble promotes social skills. While these are all good reasons for enrolling a child in a music program, they all point to the extrinsic value of music. What about the intrinsic value of music? What about music for music’s sake?
Imagine for a moment the Inauguration Day ceremonies without the Marine Band playing “Hail to the Chief”, or your child’s first birthday without the sounds of “Happy Birthday” being sung by your family, or a Christmas Eve church service without any Christmas carols. Music is a part of our lives and is an important part of the ceremonies that mark the milestones in our lives. It’s hard to imagine a wedding, a funeral, a graduation, a party, or a parade without music. Music is an essential aspect of our humanity that stimulates the imagination and nurtures the soul. Music is a source of joy and wonder and we all have the right to fulfill our musical potential. .
Our good friend, neuroscience educator Dr. Dee Coulter, says this about music and Musikgarten: “I would suggest that Musikgarten nourishes children in three ways: Their souls are nourished by the music itself, their bodies are nourished by the graceful movement, and their minds are nourished by the rhythm.”
All children are musical beings and are born with an aptitude for music. But that aptitude diminishes if it is not nurtured in the first nine years of life. By helping our children reach their full music potential we are helping them come into their own as well-rounded human beings.
The most valuable thing you can do for a young child is to keep him singing and moving. Dr. Edwin E. Gordon, who was the leading researcher in early-childhood music and author of the most widely used music aptitude tests, states that a child’s music aptitude is in a developmental stage from birth to age nine. While a child can certainly learn musical skills such as fingerings, breathing, note reading, etc. after age nine, how musical a person he or she is – how well attuned his or her sense of pitch and rhythm is – is set for life by age nine. Gordon divided music aptitude into tonal and rhythm aptitude and said the most effective means of nurturing a child’s tonal and rhythm aptitude is to provide them with a rich environment of singing and moving. What does this mean in terms appropriate early-childhood music and movement activities? I believe there are four simple activities that should be kept in mind, whether you’re choosing a music program for your own child or integrating music activities into your daily plans:
- singing simple songs
- echoing tonal and rhythm patterns
- moving in continuous and flowing movement activities
- creating steady beat activities
Musikgarten programs do this in a weekly classroom setting. Musikgarten teachers choose the finest musical instruments they can get their hands on, ideally all made of natural material. Musikgarten incorporates a selection of music and movement activities drawn from the best of our cultural heritage. It was put together by master designers to be flexible and meet the needs of all young children and teachers.
My feet push into the sand as I watch children dig and create sand castles, happily humming to themselves and I envision all the activities we do in class that are based on large muscle movement – the root of all true learning experiences. The children follow the steps of musical fluency, intricately incorporated into my program and constructed to bring the children’s whole body into each music experience. Music flows from their toes to their vocal chords, movement and sound working together. It extends out from the mind to the tips of their fingers as they reach toward a keyboard or drum to play the music that they hear in their head.
A parent comes to help build and decorate the sand castle with their child. This parent/child relationship is integral to the development of the child. Musikgarten classes provide families with a weekly parent/child time where you can rock, sing, clap, hug, roll, laugh and learn with your child. Every activity in class is an opportunity for you and your child to share a special moment that can be reproduced at home creating lasting memories.
I could sit alone on a solitary beach, yet I choose a spot in the middle of a lively beach crowd. Music class gives you and your child a choice to connect with your local community. Rather than watching music programs on T.V. or setting your child in front of a computer screen, you can make music among friends through song and dance. Most importantly, by bringing your child to a weekly music class you say to your child that music is wonderful, it is shared with others, it is a valuable part of your every day experiences and it is a part of your daily family life.
Now it is time to return to my studio and leave behind this summer beach day of reflection. I hope you will teach Musikgarten or find a Musikgarten music program that will fill your lives with music!