Category Archives: Group Piano

The Pathway to Music Literacy in Children

From whatever country they were born, or environment they were born into, all children are born with a natural ability and inclination to sing and dance. Famed children’s music researcher, teacher, author and lecturer Dr. Edwin E. Gordon concluded that until age 9, children are in the developmental stage of their music aptitude and disposition. Throughout this time, parents and teachers have a great impact on how musical a child will be for life.

In this series on the Pathway to Music Literacy, we have explored the various foundations and methodology that make children’s music curriculum successful, touching last on the connection between music and movement. In this final installment, we’ll sum up how nurturing all these basic music skills prepares children for a pathway to independent musicianship and enduring music-making capabilities.

Aural Preparation is Key to Music Development

Just as language begins in children with aural preparation, music also starts as an aural reality for the child. Only after this reality exists is the child able to then read and write language, or understand the written form of music in notation. Just as words are the building blocks of language, tonal and rhythm patterns comprise the vocabulary of musical language. Once children become familiar with these patterns, they love playing aural games that apply both a neutral, chanted syllable, or in the context of a familiar song.

Children singing melodic patterns in a Musikgarten class.
Children singing melodic patterns in a Musikgarten class.

Teaching Children to Write and Read Music

Once children are able to understand and play aural games, they are ready to see those familiar patterns in symbols. Active, participatory notation games show these symbols to the children on a sensory motor level. With repetition comes understanding, and as they begin to be able to discriminate between several familiar patterns, they can be further challenged to find the same patterns in unfamiliar songs. Instead of simply decoding, they are actually reading with comprehension. Notation games of listening and responding to a series of patterns also teach children to take dictation and write out songs they know so well.

Assessing the Pathway to Music for Children

In early childhood music education, accurate assessment is crucial in knowing how to lead children on their pathway to music literacy. Through a series of steps, music teachers can determine specific pre-requisites to determine a child’s readiness. Once those steps have been mastered, children will be able to look at an unfamiliar piece of music and do the following:

  • Identify the familiar patterns within the song
  • By making inferences, they will figure out the unfamiliar patterns
  • Hear the music in their heads

This approach prompts children to begin to think in the language of music, and play it on the keyboard.

Instilling Music Improvisation and Composition in Children

As children learn to manipulate words, phrases, speak, and write complete sentences, they gain a better understanding and eventually become conversant. The same is true in the pathway to music literacy. By first understanding rhythmic and tonal patterns, recognizing these in the form of notation symbols, and then learning to write these patterns, children obtain the ability to start to manipulate and improvise. Once they begin to improvise patterns, they can begin to improvise phrases and eventually parts of a composition.

Through this improvisation, children become musically fluent and can contribute a musical

thought in the appropriate tonality, meter, and style. It is when they gain this intuition of musical patterns that children can truly improvise and compose through Music Literacy.

Much of the content for this post was based on the introduction to Music Makers: at The Keyboard, childhood music curriculum developed by Musikgarten.

The Listening and Movement Connection

Our series on how early childhood music programs influence Music Literacy at the Keyboard continues with the importance of body movement with music and listening. We have explored how singing a repertoire of familiar songs, as well as setting a good foundation of keyboard posture, are vital to instrumental education. Now the close relationship between music and movement complements these footings toward success in music literacy.

The Connection Between Music and Movement

Cultures all across the globe have used movement as the body’s expression of rhythm, which shapes the way we use and understand language. Children naturally desire and enjoy movement because it is exhilarating and energizing. A good foundation of understanding body manipulation helps them to play an instrument expressively.

Listening is vital to nearly all learning, not the least music education. And just as controlling body movement is more challenging for children today, so is learning to listen well. Developing a “listening ear” must compete with the increased amount of noise/sound and visual stimulation in a child’s environment.

Listening and movement are closely aligned through the ears two major functions. The first is vestibular, which controls balance, and thus nearly all movement. The second is the auditory, which directs hearing and voluntary listening. Therefore, it is vital to establish the important link between those two functions in early childhood music education.

Music and movement during a Musikgarten group music class.
Music and movement during a Musikgarten group music class.

How Movement Benefits Early Childhood Music Education

Rhythm and beat competency are emphasized in movement activities in early childhood music classes, particularly through tapping and drumming. Clapping, tapping one’s body, or using instruments such as rattles, sticks, bells or drums while singing helps to develop a child’s rhythm and beat. These, along with other group activities such as passing a beanbag in a song circle, brings children joy and social fulfillment. Drumming, in particular, has been a unique attraction for young and old alike in cultures all across the world. The tactile use of hands provides muscular memory while reinforcing the idea that the sound produced is directly related to the quality of the touch.

Dancing to recorded music as a group also provides a good opportunity for children to experience the flow of music while connecting to the larger community of their peers and teachers. In the most successful children’s music curriculum, teachers repeat these movement activities early and often so that the child in time feels free to express themselves through movement.

Early Listening Skills Make Children Better Musicians

Listening is defined as giving attention with the ear with the purpose of hearing. With the constant assault of noise and sound in our environment today, active listening is extremely important in order for children to concentrate. The very best training for listening employs the use of singing, chanting, and body movement to make the aforementioned connection between the auditory and balance/movement functions in the ear. Therefore, children’s music curriculum and teachers will continually engage in listening activities such as singing, reciting, and listening to music. The music teacher also instructs children to develop a listening posture that allows them to hear the music in their heads. This is particularly helpful at the piano, where body posture and hand position and technique are important for learning the keyboard. Through modeling and encouragement, the successful teacher is demonstrating attentive listening both through movement and posture.

Establishing and reinforcing the important connection between movement and listening helps prepare young children for playing any instrument. The union they feel between singing, drumming, and dancing will support the transfer of their understanding to piano. By introducing the keyboard as an extension of the body in this way, children learn to play the instrument musically – feeling the total experience of the instrument.

In our final installment of this series about Music Literacy at the Keyboard, we will see how all of these different foundational music teaching tools set children on the deliberate Pathway to Literacy

Much of the content for this post was based on the introduction to Music Makers: at the Keyboard, childhood music curriculum developed by Musikgarten.