Merriam-Webster first defines literacy as simply “the ability to read and write,” but a second definition expands that to “knowledge that relates to a specified subject.” This is an important distinction, especially when considering childhood music literacy. In our next series of articles, we will explore how music literacy applies to the second stage of child development, specifically in playing the piano and instrument instruction. While most children’s music programs focus on music and movement in the first stages of development, many fall short of continuing the progress in the second stage of child development necessary to achieve music literacy.
The Second Stage of Childhood Development
Developmental biologist Jean Piaget established the theory of phases of normal intellectual development from infancy through childhood. The second stage, which Paiget terms Concrete Operational, is where children’s thinking becomes less on themselves and more on their awareness of external events. Some experts argue that development is actually continuous, but Piaget did agree that the depending on the child, the age ranges could vary slightly. While Piaget defines the second stage of childhood development being from ages 7 to 11 years, our focus in this series of articles will focus on the 6 to 9-year-old child.
Ready to Face and Decipher New Challenges
From ages 6 to 9 years, the child has begun a new phase of development both physically and cognitively. They are eager to face fresh challenges and have a growing aptitude for the refined movement needed to play an instrument. Their sensory motor functions have been well-integrated over the last six years, and serve as a good foundation for abstract learning. They are starting to not be satisfied merely with knowing the name of an object, but having the desire to know the how and why of things. One result is that the child’s mind is now interested in symbols, patterns, and codes to explore. This in turn helps to develop an appetite for improvisation and cooperative learning with other children.
Children Love to be Part of a Group
Beginning in the second stage of development, and sometimes earlier, children are self-aware and ready to become part of a group, especially with peers. A peer group setting becomes a place where the child can begin to learn rules, push limits, and test ideas. This important stage of identity has the benefit of teaching important social skills of how to work with others in teams.
Groups are considered very useful for learning things, as questions can be asked and addressed from different perspectives. This is why nearly all children’s education programs use group activities in the learning process. This is no different for childhood music programs. Children love being with and making music with others. The desire to contribute to the group requires deep concentration and absorption while teaching valuable lessons in cooperative learning.
Music Literacy through Children’s Group Keyboard Lessons
Learning the keyboard provides children with the cognitive challenges and group dynamic that they desire. Music literacy applied to piano playing is much more than reading and recognizing notation or finding the correct keys, but also gives meaning to those notes in a way that allows for composition and improvisation. It is a child’s desire to communicate that motivates them to further develop a deep relationship with the aural and written art of music. This aural approach to music literacy becomes the foundation which provides the child a delightful transition to the world of music notation and understanding. This aural-to-visual method of literacy allows children to understand and appreciate music in terms of its tonality, meter, and style, while further refining their ability to listen.
In our next installments, we will explore specifically how discovering the keyboard in a group setting can be very different from the mechanical drills and rote learning that traditional piano learning imposed.
Much of the content for this post was based on the introduction to Music Makers: at the Keyboard, childhood music curriculum developed by Musikgarten.