Movement and music are a natural pair. When we listen to music, we naturally want to move. Researchers have found that just listening to music stimulates the motion center of the brain just as if we were actually moving. There is also an emotional aspect of movement as well. This morning, during my pre-kindergarten class of three year old children, I had them freely move to a recording of Satie’s Gymnopedie No. 1. When they started, they were standing in a circle and not holding hands. Within the first 30 seconds, every child had gently moved in to the center, held hands, and was gently swaying to the music. The tenderness of this calm music led them to naturally draw toward each other, and share the moment in unrehearsed unison movement.
Other movement becomes expressive once it is learned and rehearsed. One of the songs my three-year-olds sing is the Cajun folk song “Fais Dodo.” When I first taught it to them, I had them rock to the pulse of the music. The song is in six-eight meter, so each pulse was divided by three. The rocking at first was imprecise, and some did not come close. Now, after four classes with the song, they are able to rock accurately, and do so without being asked. Their rocking has also become expressive. There is a fluidity and naturalness to it that elevates the movement beyond simple time keeping into the realm of expressive movement. This is part of the music learning process. The beat-meter relationship is explored and utilized in performance so that it becomes natural to the child. Other songs in the same meter, even at different tempi, can now be moved to comfortably. This is what happened with Gymnopedie No. 1. The rocking learned in “Fais Dodo” transferred to dancing to Satie’s music. It transferred not only from one piece of music to another, but also from one part of the body to another: from rocking while seated, to legs and feet.
All of this is what Feirerabend called moving for expression. There is another kind of movement that teaches children musical form. Feirerabend called it moving for form. Using short pieces from the classical music repertoire, children listen for sections that are the same, and use the same motions for each occurrence, and listen for sections that are different, and use a different movement for each of these sections. Because the objective is to teach form, children follow the teacher’s lead, copying his or her movements as each section is encountered. The teacher may ask the children to suggest motions for “same” or “different” sections, but once decided on, all children do the same motions, following the teacher’s lead.
One final point about movement to music is that if children are to move to a song that they are also going to sing, they should be taught the motions first, then do the motions while only the teacher sings the song, until the children can both sing and move at the same time. Throughout the process, the teacher should avoid singing with the children. This allows the children to develop as independent singers. If they encounter difficulty, the teacher should stop, sing to them again, and then have only the class sing again. Movement is an essential part of music education. Children need to move in order to grow musically. Moving to music should be taught as a natural response to and way of understanding music, and continued into adulthood. When we tell someone that the music moved us, we should be able to mean both emotionally and physically.