As we look ahead to the new school year, I wanted to share my thoughts about our goals for young children participating in our introductory classes. I think it is important to realize that there is so much more going on than just making music together! Our classes work to develop and practice critical skills at an early age. As we plan our classes we consider the following: children’s fine and gross motor skills, language skills, early literacy, listening ability, social skills, creativity, self-esteem, ability to focus and attend to a task, ability to follow directions and work closely with a teacher, all while encouraging and supporting children’s natural love of making music and playing musical instruments. Here are a few things to note as you are observing one of our classes:
Children develop fine motor skills while learning to correctly hold the violin and cello, bow and pluck each string, and play with curved fingers on the piano. Finger strengthening and counting games, such as doing the itsy bitsy spider song while climbing up and down a rhythm stick with one hand, help children develop muscles and finger awareness that are crucial to beginning an instrument. When children use their whole bodies to move and dance to music they develop gross motor skills. Showing the speed and style/emotion of the music, or clearly moving to beat and running along with the piano or drum are fun and engaging ways we use kinesthetic, physical approaches to increase understanding of musical concepts and expression.
Our classes promote language skills. Classes for our youngest babies and toddlers are rich in rhymes and songs, singing wordless melodies with different consonant and vowel sounds, and exploring animal sounds (Carnival of the Animals is a favorite!) and naming parts of the instruments (bridge, strings, scroll, neck, frog, bow hair, tip, etc) that open up a large vocabulary of words relating to music and instruments. Books are incorporated into classes of all ages, from the richly illustrated Carnival of the Animals, Zin! Zin! Zin! a Violin and Meet The Orchestra, to Peter and The Wolf.
Classes of older children learn poems and rhymes to develop listening skills and strengthen memory, as they progress to learning short beginning pieces on the instruments. Children become fluent in a rich musical vocabulary of instrument names and families, dynamics and tempo markings (forte, piano, Allegro, Adagio, etc.) , and other musical terms (crescendo, staff, treble, bass, etc) that help them make sense of the music they are hearing and creating. We ask questions and encourage connection to and improvisation with sounds. Do you like that sound? Do you see the string moving? Where is the sound coming from? How can you sound like a slippery slide? Like an elephant? Like a bird flying? Children are always given time to contribute ideas and opinions.
Our students develop reading and writing readiness through speaking and understanding musical rhythms and symbols, followed by writing their own rhythms to say and play. A beat in music can be represented by a straight line made with a popsicle stick, a line on one of our favorite rhythm cards, a line drawn on a dry erase board, or a line written on our special music paper that students fill with rhythmic notations.
Our students develop and practice social skills critical to successful participation in pre-school and beyond. Our small classes allow children to practice taking turns as well as the opportunity to express themselves and practice listening to and watching each other. When we come together to create a musical piece, children feel the first glimpses of what it is like to make music with others–a lifelong thrill for musicians of all ages!
We work on gradually increasing children’s ability to focus and follow directions, and help them begin to accept direct instruction from a teacher as they grow and mature within the class. For example, we may point out when students are really watching their bow move in a straight line, or when they start to allow a teacher to shape their fingers the correct way on the bow. With the teacher’s gentle encouragement, children begin to closely engage with the teacher in preparation for the more focused work of a private lesson.
Lastly and most importantly, our classes boost children’s self-esteem and pride as confident young musicians who have their own contributions to make and their own musical voices. As their knowledge and ability grows, children become fluent in this new musical language and are ready for the next steps toward musical ability and growth.
We love seeing children become expressive musical beings, at ease with and excited by instruments and full of ability!!