What’s In A Name?

2011Symposium_1_2Although we humans rely heavily on our senses of sight and hearing, our world would not make much sense to us if we did not have language in which to think, and words with which to know things. By naming something, our minds are able to categorize, connect, apply, analyze, evaluate, and represent everything that enters into our consciousness. For those of you that know your bible, one of the first things God does after creating Adam is to see what Adam would call the living creatures God had made (Gen 2:19). We intuitively name things in order to know them and use them.So it is with music.

Once a person has learned musical patterns from his or her musical environment, those patterns are given names so that they can be known and used to knowledgeably listen to, perform, and respond to music. We call the notes by solfege names, and we call durations by rhythm syllable names. We call pitch sequences chords, scales or intervals and further refine our naming with words like major and minor, dorian and mixolydian. When we are able to associate these names with musical sounds, then our hearing and performing of them becomes more accurate, musical, and expressive.

Yesterday, one of my first grade classes was singing the song, “Ebeneezer Sneezer.” The song is useful for teaching solfege, because it ascends the do major scale one phrase at a time, and then ends with a quick descending scale. Ebneezer_SneezerI heard that re and la were out of tune, whereas the other pitches were sung accurately. I stopped them and told them those notes were not correct, and then had them sing the song using solfege. Because they had a grounding of doing tonal patterns with solfege, they immediately sang accurately what they were unable to sing accurately singing the lyrics. I then told them to sing the lyrics, but think about the solfege while they sang, connecting the two. On their first attempt, the inaccuracies were corrected. The mind connected the patterns learned with solfege (after learning them on a neutral syllable) with the notes in the song, even when the solfege was no longer being sung. That is the power in a name; it makes information applicable and usable.

Here is another example, this time one with rhythm. I had taught my third graders the song, “Too Ra Loo.” TheyFeed Your Brain Music have proficiency in sight singing but they were not familiar with the rhythm of dotted eighth and sixteenth. I wrote the melody on the board, and had them quietly sight sing it, concentrating on the pitches. Their  goal was to “name that tune.” After a few incorrect attempts, four children almost at once recognized the song. The class sang the song, and then I drew attention to the dots and sixteenth note beams on most of the pairs of notes beamed together. I reminded them of the rhythm of four sixteenths, and had them sing it with the rhythm syllables “du-ta-de-ta.” Then I told them that the dotted eighth and sixteenth rhythm was simply the first and last syllable, “du___ta.” That wonderful “ah-ha” look appeared on most of the faces, and they immediately were able to connect the rhythm they had already been singing, to the notation they were now seeing. The connection came through a name,”du___ta,” which in turn was understood by connecting it to another name, du-ta-de-ta.”

The amount of information we process while performing music from standard music notation is immense and remarkable. A novice can easily be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of data that must be cognitively handled. Only by organizing that data into comprehensible structures, patterns, and groups can a person hope to become accomplished at music reading. Luckily, most of that organizing and processing happens subconsciously, or else the very act would hopelessly bog us down. But knowing that processing is occurring, and teaching music in such a way that music can be understood in the way our brains naturally make order of our world, is essential to effective music teaching.

A Special Event and the Shubert Theatre in New Haven

2011Symposium_1_2What do the musicals Wonderful TownMy Fair Lady, Brigadoon, The King and I, , Oklahoma, She Loves Me, Annie Get Your Gun, Carousel, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way to the Forum, Damn Yankees, The Pajama Game, Two by Two, The Sound of Music, Bells Are Ringing, Fiorello, Pipe Dream, and The Boys from Syracuse all have in common? The answer is that they were all given their world premieres and Broadway tryout at the Shubert Theater in New Haven, Connecticut. This year, the Shubert in New Haven is celebrating its 100th anniversary. Opening night for the theater was December 11, 1914, and tickets sold for 25 cents to $1.50. Since then, the Shubert Theater in New Haven has played host to over 600 pre-Broadway tryouts, including over 300 world premiers and 50 American premiers. The Shubert underwent a renovation beginning in 1976, and was restored to its original appearance for its re-opening in December of 1983. It has become the heartbeat of the region’s cultural life.

As part of the celebration, 1300 New Haven middle and elementary school children participated in a colossal sing along of some songs from some shows that premiered at the Shubert. Music teachers from across the New Haven Public Schools signed up to conduct or accompany one song each. The program began with a play that was set on that first opening night, and performed by students form one of the arts magnet schools in the city. All 1300 children then sang “There’s No Business Like Show Business” from Annie Get Your Gun, “Getting to Know You” from  The King and I, “Brigadoon” from Brigadoon, “Oklahoma” from Oklahoma (which was not part of the original play as it was done in New Haven. At that time, the play was called Away We Go), “Dites Moi” from South Pacific, and “My Favorite Things,” ” Edelweiss,” and “Do Re Mi” from the Sound of Music with the children divided into two groups, and the teachers singing Maria’s parts.

Although the Shubert Theater theme was unique to this year, “Spring Sing” is an annual event put on by theShubert Theater New Haven Public School Music Department to celebrate children and music education in the city. Political figures and parents sit on stage while the children stand in the seating area of  large auditorium. The sound of over one thousand children all singing together, sometimes in unison, sometimes in harmony, is a thrill every year, no matter how many of these I am a part of. The event requires the cooperation of the transportation department, to arrange for school buses to transport all of those children to and from the event site, and the hard work and dedication of the city Music Supervisor to arrange all of the logistics. It cannot be overstated how worth the effort is. Events of this magnitude build life-long memories, and bring to light the often forgotten or overlooked fact that there are few things in life more satisfying and unifying than groups of people singing together. Personal music players and phones have gotten many of our students, and probably ourselves as well away from the community aspect of music making, as we listen to our music recorded and in solitude. While listening to music this way is enjoyable, it is no substitute for performing music, and there is nothing better than performing music with others. When it can be lots of others, so much the better.

The impact that an event like this has on the children who participate is evidenced in the eagerness and enthusiasm with which the event is anticipated each year. Depending on the difficulty level of the music, I take different grade levels different years. Last year I took third graders. Yestersday, I took fifth and sixth graders. The children who could go were excited to do so, and the ones who couldn’t go were disappointed. Because there has to be a limit to the number of children the event site can accommodate, not every child in the district can go in any single year. While we should never build our programs just around events, be it trips or mega-concerts, including these kinds of events into a balanced music program builds enthusiasm, support and awareness of the value of music education. These are great reasons to do this kind of thing, and New Haven has gotten it right by holding this annual event.  .

A Method for Improving Rehearsal Efficiency and Enjoyment

2011Symposium_1_2One of my most often used phrases when teaching musical works to students is that a right pitch played at the wrong time is still a wrong note. While pitches, rhythm and beat are all important, it is often advantageous to teach the rhythm first, separated out from the pitches. This gives the student less to think about all at once, and gives the student the opportunity to learn music the way they learn music patterns, with pitch and rhythm separated. This is true of individuals receiving a private voice or instrument lesson, and it is also true of large ensembles. Sections in a band can play, clap, patsch or chant the rhythm they see in their part. Once each rhythm in a four-part texture has been practiced, putting just the rhythms together without instruments can be a lot fun. Assigning separate timbres to different sections can create transparency and interest. The woodwinds with one rhythm might clap, while the upper brass might patsch, as the lower brass chants. Non-pitched drum  parts are already rhythm only, so the percussionists can creatively find different timbres without playing their instrument. Choirs can have one timbre assigned to each voice part.

Very quickly, rhythm only practice will result in everyone agreeing on a tempo, and becoming more independent in maintaining the tempo. Just the physical movements and transfer of weight that occurs from rhythm only practice instantly improves rhythm and beat accuracy. Students are more free and more likely to want to move their bodies while clapping and patching than when they are playing an instrument. Singers are more likely to be aware of the rhythm and beat while clapping and patching, because they cannot rely on the rhythm of the text to help them with the rhythm. Rhythm only practice causes students to make a more substantial investment in the beat and rhythm, and the fun musical experience it creates motivates them to be even more rhythmically accurate.

After rhythm and beat are secure, the next aspect of the musical work that can be brought in is harmony. Before rehearsing a musical work, conductors analyze the score and from that analysis know what the chords are throughout the piece. Here is where keyboard skills are useful. While your students once again perform the rhythms, play the underlying chords on a keyboard. These can just be sustained if an electronic keyboard is used, or you may need to play a rhythm on the chords if an acoustic piano is used, because the chords won’t Ensembleotherwise be audibly sustained. Next, have the students sing or play their parts at a constant soft dynamic level while you play the underlying chords. If singing, students should use a neutral syllable, not the text. Hearing the chords while they play their parts with accurate rhythm and beat will aid them in tuning, and will train them to audiate chords while they play or sing their individual parts.

When a musician can hear the chords and fit his or her single note into the chord, not only does intonation improve, but music making goes up to a whole new level of enjoyment. It’s like discovering a whole level of the music you never noticed before. By now, the rhythm, beat and chords are established, and any issues with pitches can be resolved. Because the pitches are “lining up” correctly and because the students are hearing and listening for chords, errors will be more apparent to them, and they will be more capable of correcting wrong notes. You will also have an easier time detecting pitch errors, because rhythm and beat errors have been largely eliminated. The music doesn’t sound like a confusing mish-mash of sounds; even when errors are made, they occur within a much more organized and accurate performance. Finding and correcting mistakes is not as stressful or unpleasant, and progress and improvement occurs at a faster rate.

The Versatility of Tic-Tac-Toe

2011Symposium_1_2When I was a kid, I like playing tic-tac-toe. It’s an easy game to play and almost every child knows how to play. With a little creativity, it can become a useful and versatile teaching tool in the music classroom. I like to use it periodically as a fun way to give my students practice at music reading, and to assess their progress. Today I will share some of the variations on this classic game that I use.

Unscramble Tic-Tac-Toe combines sequencing with reading. I have a white board with music staves painted on. Off to one side, I write a melody that is familiar to the class, with the measures in the wrong order, and numbered. In the center of the board, I have drawn a Tic-Tac-Toe board so that each square has part of a musical staff going through it. The class is divided into two teams. One student at a time must choose the measure that begins or comes next in the melody, identifying the measure by number. If he or she answers correctly, the student chooses where to place an “X” or an “O” on the game board. Depending on the age of the class, I may also have the student copy the measure onto the game board in the square the child has chosen. If the student answers incorrectly, it becomes the other team’s turn. Play continues until one team earns three squares in a row, just like traditional Tic-Tac-Toe.

For Singing Tic-Tac-Toe, the game board is already filled in with tonal patterns. Before play begins, I have the class sing each pattern, so that they are sure to be familiar with them. The class is divided into two teams, and one child takes a turn for their team. For each turn, the child chooses a square on the board, and then must correctly sing the tonal pattern in that box. If he or she sings it correctly, then an “X” or an “O” is placed in that box. Play continues until one team earns three squares in a row, just like traditional Tic-Tac-Toe.  This version of Tic-Tac-Toe can also be done with rhythm patterns, in which case students chant the pattern when it is their turn, or with melody fragments, in which case the student must sing both the pitches and rhythms correctly to win the square.

Name That Tune Tic-Tac-Toe has students trying to identify the song from which a fragment is written in eachtic_tac_toe square. For example, mi mi fa so might be in one box, and the student who identifies the tune as “Ode to Joy” would win that box. Each fragment must be reasonably identified with a familiar melody. With older students, once the player whose turn it is has chosen a square, a player on the other team writes a fragment in that box for the student whose turn it is to identify.

Pitches and rhythms are not the only things we want our students to be able to read in music, so Tic-Tac-Toe can be used to teach and assess other musical symbols and signs, including repeats, dynamics, tempos and articulation. For this variation, a list of musical terms and symbols is made off to the side. These can be a dynamic, tempo,  or articulation markings, or any symbol that directs a performer to sing or play in a particular way. The student whose turn it is selects a box. Either you or a student from the other team performs any bit of music with one of the markings from the list. If students are performing, I have the terms written down on index cards, so I can hand one to the student to perform without letting the rest of the class know what it is. For example, if staccato was chosen, you or the student on the other team would sing or play something with staccato. If “forte” was the term, something would be sung or played loudly. The student trying to win the square must correctly match the performance with the term listed on the board. If he or she succeeds, an “X” or an “O” is placed in the square selected. In this game, not only are students learning and being assessed on musical terms and vocabulary, but, when students do the performing, they are also practicing performing the various terms. The terms can then be more meaningfully referred to in “real” performance situations, with the affect of being done more expressively.

I’m sure there are countless other ways to use Tic-Tac-Toe in the music classroom. My hope is that this brief survey of ones I like to use will be useful, and will spur your own creativity on to create your own games.

Resources for The Amazing Human Musical Mind

2011Symposium_1_2Over the last ten posts, I offered a series on early childhood music education. Today, I’d like to share with you some of the songs I mentioned and recommended in that series. Below you will find some videos of music educators performing these songs. The materials from John Feierabend are available from GIA Publications.

“The Crabfish” is a delightful song that children enjoy. It is one of those stories one can sing to children while they just listen and enjoy.

“No More Pie” is an echo song used to develop a good singing voice and accurate repetition. I also suggested using the song with your own words to help children memorize days of the week, the weather, or whatever you are teaching them.

Here is a video of an early childhood music class with parents participating. You will see children trying to time their movements to those of the adults, and you will see the adults swaying and moving their child to the music as they sing. There is extensive use of percussion instruments, especially claves and shaker eggs. These add sound to the movements. In the video, the parents are moving their child’s arms while the child holds on to a shaker egg. By doing this, the child can hear a sound that coincides with each movement. Locomotor moments are also used when the children get up to jump and dance with their parent. There are many good things going on in this class.

Once children pass from informal to formal instruction, there can be an expected response from children. The child is no longer in music babble, but can now repeat musical patterns with some accuracy. An activity like this one, where the child is expected to tap three times, skip a beat and pass an object on the skipped beat is an example of a musical activity with an expected response form the child. The child is applying timing, beat and motor skills to a musical activity. You could use a story you read to the class that has a repeated phrase. Have the children clap to the rhythm of the words of that phrase overtime they hear it.

I hope these video examples help you to better understand how to implement music in your classroom. They are intended as a companion to my previous ten posts, “The Amazing Human Musical Mind.” Be sure to contact me if you have any comments or questions about using music in your classroom or with your own children at home.

The Amazing Human Musical Mind, Part 7

2011Symposium_1_2Besides those things I mentioned yesterday, I could switch to rhythms. Now I will gently bounce the child to a beat. The child is not able to do anything to a steady beat yet, but I can again model that, teaching the child what that feels like, letting the child experience it. So I’ll bounce the child while I chant rhythms on a neutral syllable, like “bah” or “bum.” I’ll repeat the same pattern so that the child learns that pattern and so that I make it highly predictable. I’ll also use different meters. When we sang “Twinkle,” it was in what we call duple meter, or alternating strong and weak beats. After using a duple meter song, I would switch to triple meter, or patterns of strong, weak, weak. Remember I mentioned earlier, it is important to use a variety of tonalities and meters when singing to young children, so there is variety in what they absorb, so their musical vocabulary grows large, and is not restricted. To help more with the meter, I could instead make some large muscle motion like raising my arm and perhaps the child will see me doing that and join in. Very young children can’t time it to the music yet, but they can time it to what they see, and connect the motion to what they hear. Eventually this will help them feel the meter in their bodies themselves. Remember, we’re not expecting or insisting that toddlers do any of this, just that they see and hear us doing it. If they do it too, great, and if they do something else in response, that’s great too. With older children who are capable of participating independently, I insist on them participating once they are comfortable in the class; I don’t permit them to opt out; but with toddlers, they are not yet at that stage.

When a child has reached two years, she can imitate songs with some accuracy, especially when singing structurally important notes. For example, it is typical of a two year old to tentatively and with some precision sing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” but then sing the last note louder, with confidence, and with excellent accuracy. A child at two has learned the tonal hierarchy of music, and easily audiates and sings the most important pitch in Western harmony, the tonic note. Some children will be able to sing with greater tonal precision throughout an entire song, though this often does not occur until 3 years.

Before I give you some classroom music activities for 3 and 4 year olds, I must reiterate how far the child has MusicEarcome so far. As with language, the child simply must have been around music since birth if his or her brain is going to develop well for music, language, and math. Think of how catastrophic it would be if a child heard barely any language spoken, or none at all, until they were 3 years old. The setbacks would be impossible to overcome. We know the value of children being around speaking people, and of reading to young children. Every parent remembers the excitement of his or her child speaking the first intelligible word. The situation is no less critical for music than for speech. Singing to a child, being around those who sing and play music, are essential for musical and cognitive development. We have seen why this is so. The activities I am about to show you are designed to decidedly take children out of the music babble stage, into the realm of singing pitches accurately and with a clear tonality, and of rhythms in a clear meter. Clear tonality means the pitches are accurate enough to be perceived as belonging to a particular scale, such as D major, or E minor, and meter means the rhythms are accurate enough to be perceived as being consistently grouped in a pattern of strong and weak beats, such as STRONG weak STRONG weak, and so forth.

There are four types of musical activities you should do with your students; those that help the child find and be comfortable with their singing voice, those that advance the child’s audiation ability, which is the ability to think in music and sing what has already been thought, those that develop moving to the beat of music to which they listen, and those that develop moving to music for expression.

The Amazing Human Musical Mind, Part 6

2011Symposium_1_2Today, I would like to share some specific music activities that anyone can do with a class of very young children. These activities can be done by early childhood educators who are not music educators, by caretakers and certainly by parents. They are all designed to build musical skills and concepts in young minds.

Because toddlers will try to imitate what they see and hear others do, we want to present the child with musical stimuli. One of the best of these is to place the child on your lap, and gently bounce him or her to the beat of music that you sing. If you have a class of toddlers with their parents present, have each parent place their own child on his or her lap. Choose a song that all of the adults are likely to know, such as “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and bounce the child as you sing. A variation on this is to do as I have just described and in addition, move both arms down on every other beat so that the hands contact the knees. This assigns a motion to each strong beat, and so encourages the child to experience not only the beat but the meter too. Infants will eventually try to time their own arm motions to the music. Although they probably won’t get the timing right for some time, just the fact that they are thinking about the meter and trying to time it out is an important stage in their musical cognitive development. A child can also be rocked with the same affect, as each forward motion coincides with strong beats, and each back motion coincides with a weak beat. This prepares the child to sing and chant with accurate meter later on. I’m not expecting him or her to respond in any particular way; if he does fine, if he doesn’t, fine. At this stageMusicEar in the child’s life, I’m just exposing him, modeling for him, providing a musical environment for him to absorb.

Now at the toddler stages, we’re going to proceed without a particular plan. We’re just responding to the child. Just like with my infant daughter all those years ago, if she keeps smiling, I’ll keep singing. I’ll sing as many different things as I can think of, but they’ll all be predictable, simple, and they’ll all come from my smiling face. She can see me singing, she can see me breathing, she can see me moving, That’s what I want, I want her to see everything I’m doing—that’s the modeling that’s so important in these early years. If the child starts making noises, I’ll listen with full attention on her, but I will keep singing;. I don’t want her to learn that her vocal response stops the music, because then she’ll stop responding in order to keep me singing. Occasional pauses are good, as long as they don’t always occur when the child begins making sounds. If the child is quiet, I may sing a short phrase and then pause and see if she’ll respond. We may get a babble conversation going, which would be great. The combination of interaction with adult and the stimulus of what is being sung will often produce a vocalized response that is purposeful to the child. You won’t understand what the child is saying or singing, but it is meaningful to the child. Just watch the child’s face. You’ll see a difference in the level of attention given to what is being done. If no vocal response is made, that’s okay. The child is really in control. My job at this point is to provide the stimulus. If there is no response, I’ll just keep doing my thing. When she has lost interest, or when I feel it’s time for me to do something different, I’ll go to something different. If I’ve just sung a song, or a lot of patterns, I’ll switch to rhythms, or exploring the sound of a rattle, or some kind of locomotor movement.

I might play recorded music for the infant. That’s okay to do, as long as that’s not all you do. Very young infants often will respond to lively recorded music with random movements. Their arms will start moving, and their legs will start kicking. It’s not synchronized to the music, an infant is too young to do that, but the random movement is, nevertheless, a response from the child’s point of view to the music begin heard.

The Amazing Human Musical Mind, Part 5

2011Symposium_1_2Yesterday, I began discussing an article by Pascale. I will begin today with that same article. Although Pascale was writing to individual parents, there are several points we can put to use in our classrooms. Put children in the presence of music. If you can, bring live music into your classrooms. It can be a parent who plays guitar, a teacher who sings a song, or retired uncle Joe who plays the accordion.  If your facility is near a college, see if some music education majors can visit and play solo or chamber music for your class. There’s nothing like seeing and hearing instruments. Give your children the opportunity to hear live music.

Another point is to have a trunk full of music toys, and give your children time to explore. Let them touch, pick up, prod, poke and play toy musical instruments. Remember, if they push the keys of a toy piano, that’s great. If they bang the top of a toy piano as if it were a drum, then that’s great too. We don’t care if they “do it right,” we want them to make and explore sounds; to interact musically with the environment you create. By the way, you don’t have to wait until the children are 3 years old to do these things. All of this is great for toddlers and pre-kindergarteners.

Finally, notice how Pascale highlights doing this in groups. That’s good news for us, because that’s what we teach—groups of children. As the children hear live music, and explore and play with sounds made with toy instruments, they do so with other children, interacting and observing each other as well as themselves. Music is a great tool for teaching children to socialize with each other. And, to return to my original point about formal music lessons, all of this musical activity you can do with children 3 years and younger is preparing them for success at taking music lessons at 3 years and older, should the parents decide that’s what they want. And given all the research that’s at least suggests the musical and non-musical benefits of formal music lessons, it’s important for you to encourage parents to provide music lessons for their child. This can be instrument MusicEarlessons, usually piano or violin, or it can be a prekindergarten music class. There are now numerous certified music teachers running private music schools of Kindermusik, Music Garden, The Music Class and others. Search out these providers in your community, and prepare a brochure with contact information to hand to parents. They will appreciate knowing where to turn for music classes, and you will be steering your parents into something really beneficial for their child.

To include music in your programs, you should have a space large enough for your children and an equal number of adults to move around freely, and you should have a high quality sound system to use for playing recorded music. You should also have a collection of age-appropriate musical toys. For 3 and 4 year olds, classroom instruments such as sand blocks, small drums, shaker eggs, and maracas are good. A selection of these kinds of instruments is sold as kits from many school supply venders. My favorite instrument for young children is a boom whacker. These are plastic tubes that come in different lengths, tuned to notes of the major scale. One tube plays a C, one a D, one an E, and so forth. The child just grabs hold of the tube and bangs it on a carpeted floor. With each bank, a musical pitch is produced. I distribute boom whackers to a class that are tuned to notes of a chord, so any combination of them played at once sounds consonant. Children delight in the sounds they make, and they will astound you with their creativity in improvising music. I even had a class of four-year-olds that spontaneously started to sing “Jack Be Nimble” to the accompaniment of their boom whacking.

An optimal class size is 8-10 children with their parents. Smaller than this makes some group activities difficult, and larger than this makes the desired individual attention difficult. If you have larger classes, you can still include music, it’s just a bit more challenging. In my music classes for 3 year olds and also in my classes for 4 year olds, I have around 20 students in each class and still manage to do all of the activities I will be showing you today. For classes with toddlers, I would suggest at least one adult for every two or three children, and each child having one of their parents or guardians there with them during music time is always best.

The Amazing Human Musical Mind, Part 4

2011Symposium_1_2Just as a child starts to speak after listening to others speak, so too a child starts to sing, chant, and move after listening to others sing music. Through the voice, children develop the ability to sing and chant, which is the equivalent to speaking in a language. Because we are interested here in music, and not language, adults should sing short tonal patterns and chant short rhythmic patterns without any words, lyrics, or poetry. Even nursery rhythms and poems should not be used at this stage. Just singing on a neutral syllable, such as “bah” or “bum” is fine.

When my daughter was less than a year old, and before I knew all of this about early childhood music, I used to stand at the foot of her changing table as she lay there, and sing quick series of pitches on a neutral syllable; It never failed to bring a smile to her face—you know, the kind that makes everyone in the room with the baby go “ohhhhh.” I just thought it was great fun, making my daughter smile like that, but it turns out I was doing just the right thing to develop her musicality. So this is one thing you can and should do with infants. Sing to them without words, short phrases at a time.

From birth until around 3 years, a child will engage in the musical environment with little conscious interaction. The child will hear and remember sounds heard, and make random responses to them. This is when musical babble takes place, which is the child making sounds that don’t make musical sense to adults, but which are meaningful to the child. For pitches, the child makes singing sounds, but does so with a speaking voice. For rhythms, the child moves erratically without an apparent tempo or meter. This is a valuable stage in a child’s musical development, analogous to all the advances a child makes in language during these years. And as with language, it is too soon to begin formal musical training as long as the child is in the musical MusicEarbabble stage. Unstructured informal guidance is needed from birth to about age 3. During these years, there is no plan as to what the child will be asked to do, but the child is simply allowed to respond to music he or she hears, and to musically babble. From about age 3, structured informal guidance is appropriate. Now the parent or teacher says and does planned things with the child, but does not expect specific responses from the child.

Parents often wonder if it is appropriate to begin piano or violin lessons at about age 3. The answer is yes but only if the child is not required to practice and perform prescribed music. Giving the child an opportunity to explore an instrument on his or her own terms, and to make open-ended musical response to things that a teacher plays on the piano, is worthwhile and appropriate. However, as long as a child has not shown the capacity to keep a steady beat, maintain a meter or sing accurately in a tonality, traditional music lessons are not a good idea. At some point between the ages of 3 and 5 years, the child will begin to imitate with some precision sounds in his or her musical environment, especially pitch and rhythm patterns. When this change is observed, the child is ready for traditional music lessons such as piano or violin instruction. Susan Pascale wrote an excellent article on this subject. In it she makes the following suggestions, which are right in line with what researchers have told us. First, enrich the babies. “Teaching an instrument to a child under 3 is an exercise in frustration. Instead, bring them to hear live music. Give them simple toy instruments, like keyboards—kids love pressing buttons. If you ever played an instrument, dust it off and start playing again, in front of them.” Do you hear the practical ways Pascale suggests modeling and creating a musical environment for infants? Second, “There is a magic number. It’s about 3-1/2 years. For many children, that’s the age when they can begin to concentrate long enough for instrument lessons—especially if the instrument is a piano.” Pascale goes on to suggest that, “the best classes for this age are like a great big playgroup, with the instrument as the focus. Children can’t wait to see their friends.”

The Amazing Human Musical Mind, Part 2

2011Symposium_1_2Since Friday, I have been sharing a presentation I gave at two conferences of the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI). In this session, I gave an overview of what the very youngest human minds can do musically, and how early childhood educators who are not music teachers can still include music in their programs. Today I begin with discussing why educators who are not music teachers should care about music instruction in their classrooms.

Now being the dedicated and outstanding teachers that you are, you may be going into a sort of panic right about now. You want to take advantage of that window of opportunity, but there are problems. “Well that’s great, Robert, but I don’t have the time or the expertise to be giving music lessons in my classroom.” If you’re thinking that, you needn’t worry. You don’t have to be a music teacher. Just using music in your classroom a little more than you may be doing now, in ways that are a little more targeted to the musical needs of children and their natural musical abilities will make a big difference. Let’s first see what very young musical minds care capable of doing musically, and then I’ll show you what you, yes everyone of you, can do with music in your classes.

I would like to explore the human brain at its very early stages of existence, even before a child is born. Just a short time ago, in 2013, researchers in Finland (Partanen, Kujala, Tervaniemi, & Huotilainen, 2013) found that a child still in the womb makes mental representations of a melody played outside the mother’s womb. They learned this by having mothers play Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star 5 times a week for their unborn child during the last trimester of pregnancy. After these children were born, at age 4 months, the researchers played altered versions of the song to them, and measured brain activity while they listened. They measured increased brain activity for unchanged notes compared to changed notes, and compared to children for whom the music had not been played in the womb, they showed greater brain activity overall. All this to say that, the 4-month-old children recognized music they had heard before they were even born.

In a study done in 2013, researchers found that infants between 4-1/2 and 6 months recognized phrase endings in Mozart’s

Mozart

Mozart

music, and not in Mozart’s music where the researchers changed the phrase endings (Krumhansl & Jusczyk (2013). In another study (Lonie, 2010), researchers found that 9-month-old infants could tell the difference between conventional and unconventional melodies as long as the last note was predictable. This is remarkable, that already, after just 9 months, infants know how music they have been exposed to is supposed to go. They have already begun to perceive musical grammar, just as they also perceive linguistic grammar. As children get older, and their familiarity with music further increases, they can tell the difference between conventional and unconventional melodies regardless of the predictability of the last note. Papousek and Papousek found that 2-month-old infants can match the pitch. loudness, and melodic contour, that is the shape of the ups and downs of the pitches, of their mother’s songs, and that at four months old, they can match rhythmic structure as well. These finding of musical abilities just a few months into life are so important. If these capacities are left unused for an extended period of time, they will weaken and fade instead of strengthen and grow. That is why it is so important for newborns and infants to be placed in a musical environment where they have the opportunity to match pitches and rhythmic structures with musical stimuli there for them to encounter. Already, at 2-4 months, the young child is demonstrating a degree of intellectual control over pitch and rhythm. Before he or she enters kindergarten, they will have added emotional response.

An amazing human musical mind