Tag Archives: music and movement

The Relationship Between Music and Hinduism

Over the last several months, we have been discovering the inseparable relationship between music and the world’s major religions. Beginning with the connection that prehistoric worship and utility shared with rhythm and voice, we have continued our journey by exploring those links into more formalized musical forms as practiced in Buddhism and Christianity. As with these two world religions, Hinduism also has a rich history and tradition of music in worship.

The Mythological and Historical Roots of Hindu Music

Indian music, called Sangeet, has mythological roots that is associated with heavenly singers, the Gandharvas. It was decided to bestow this celestial art upon humankind, but a suitable person was required to receive it into the world. The god-sage Narada, a traveling musician and storyteller predating the second century BCE is believed to be one of the mind-created children of Brahma, the great creator. Narada was chosen as the recipient of the musical art form, which Hindus say arouses the senses and creates spiritual vibrations that enhance devotion. Repetition and chanting often found in Hindu music helps connect devotees to humankind and their spirituality.  

Hindu Musician
Hindu Musician

Teaching Music in the Hindu Tradition

From the very early days, Hindu music was considered a means of moral and spiritual redemption rather than mere entertainment. The oldest musical texts are the Sema Veda, consisting of melodies or hymns for reciting during ritual sacrifice. The process of learning to play this music is believed to closely resemble traditional spiritual disciplines. Guru Mukha-Vidya, or knowledge which must come from a teacher, is based on three divine qualities that are inherent in the musical traditions – The guru (teacher), Vinaya (humility), and Sadhana (regular and disciplined practice). This pedagogical tradition of guru transferring knowledge to the disciple is the same approach that many children’s music programs and curricula teach today.

The Evolution of Sangeet and Hindu Music

In the second century BCE, Bharata Muni, a sage who is considered the father of Indian theatrical art forms, laid the foundations for two important principles upon which Indian music is now based – raga being the melodic scale, and tala being the rhythm. The resulting nine principle “mood” or “tastes” that Bharata Muni outlined were based on nava-rasa, or the belief that the primary goal of performance and arts is to transcend the audience into another reality to experience the essence of one’s own consciousness.

Modern Hindu Music and Worship

In Hindu music, there are both ancient traditions and contemporary songs, with mysticism and dynamism being common threads. Much of this framework is provided by two main classical music forms – Hindustani, from northern India, and Carnatic, from the south. Hindu Music is also as varied as Christian Music in the US, including rock, rap, and jazz, as well as taking influences from other cultures and nations such as Arabic and British songs. Instruments have also played a major role in Hindu music. The sitar, a stringed instrument, is common in Hindustani music, in which flexibility and improvisation shape songs. Carnatic songs are beat heavy and commonly feature a drum called the mridangam. Classical hindu instruments also include the tabla, include the flute, vinasitar, sarangi, santoor, and shenai.

Despite all of the variances in musical styles, nearly all Hindu music is considered to be divine, providing a means by which listeners and performers alike can concentrate on blessings and remember the good things in life. Its pedagogical approach to disciplined learning and practice under a teacher or guru can be seen in many children’s music education programs today. In our next post of this series on music and the world’s major religions, we will explore the relationship between Islam and music.

The Relationship Between Music and Christianity Part 1

Throughout history, music has been inextricably linked to almost every religion across the globe. While the very definition and origin of music is hard to define, it is clear that music has been a part of the very earliest forms of worship. This is evident in each of the major religions of the world, with each having their own distinctions as well as similarities. Buddhist music has musical roots in both instruments and chanting, through flute-playing Japanese Zen Monks or Tibetan recitations of sacred texts. Although its inception does not date as far back as some of the other religions of the world, Christianity has also had ties to music since its origins. While an exhaustive chronicle of music in Christianity would fill volumes, there are some high points to mention.

Music and the Old Testament

An exploration of the relationship between music and Christianity would not be complete without starting with the Old Testament. The Bible early in the book of Genesis, describes a descendant of Cain, Jubal, as “the first of all who play the harp and flute.” When we reach the story of the Exodus Moses and all the people sing a song, the first written song mentioned in the Bible that mentions the use of tambourines and dancing to celebrate the victory at the Red Sea.

King Saul of Israel hired a young man named David to play music for him in this court. This David eventually became king of Israel, but also continued to express himself through song, writing more than 70 Psalms that are revered worship material in Judaism Throughout the Old Testament, temple worship included the use of choirs, ram horn blowers (often referred to as trumpets in the bible, but are actually the more rudimentary shofars), cymbals, tambourines, drums, and some strings instruments such as the lyre. Singing and musical instruments play an important role in Old Testament music, from Psalm 150 telling worshipers to “Praise Him” with the trumpet, harp, lyre and clashing cymbals to King David putting specific people in charge of worship music.

Music was integral to their worship.

Music and the New Testament

While as a boy, Jesus would have been exposed to the Jewish culture of his day including worship in daily life and at the festivals he attended. We do have a continuation of songs being written for worship and praise, much like the Old Testament, with Mary’s Song in the Gospel of Luke. Yet the only record of communal song in the Gospels is actually the last meeting of the disciples before the Crucifixion. Instruments are specifically mentioned in only a few places in the New Testament, such as flutes being played at Jairus’ daughter’s wake in Matthew, or trumpet that herald some end-time events including the rapture.

As Christians became persecuted after the death of Christ, they had to often worship in private, where loud instruments and praise music were not conducive to secrecy. But, this did not stop them from worshipping using music. In the book of Acts, the apostle Paul is arrested along with Silas, put in prison in Philippi, yet are still heard singing while imprisoned. Even with persecution many of the New Testament songs or hymns, such as the Benedictus, the Gloria, psalmody, and alleluias, endured and are still used in many Christian worship services today.

From praise music that was highly organized that incorporated singing, specific instrumentation and instructions for a large group to the simple act of two men singing while in prison, it is apparent that music plays an important role for worship throughout the Bible. Examples are too numerous to mention and would be hard to include in this format. In our next post we will explore the different types of worship music that have come about as Christianity spread.

The Influence Between Buddhism and Music

We began our exploration of music and religious history by discussing the difficulty to define music and its origins in history. The earliest cultures mimicked nature for functional reasons such as hunting, so when did the evolution to synchronized chanting and drumming actually become something more? And as humans began to ponder natural wonders around them and their existence within them, worship began to play a major role in developing societies. As a start, melody and written music offers some structure of how music as we know it today was born. Some of the very earliest known forms or music, such as Seikilos Epitaph is evidence of musical worship. In the following installments of this series, musical influence of each of the five major religions of the world – Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism will be individually explored. Many of these traditional religious musical forms are used across the globe by early childhood music teachers even today.

The Contradiction of Music and Buddhism  

There are very few religious forms across the world that do not have some form of music in their sacred ceremonies. However, the very character of the original Buddhist message that contends things in life with no lasting significance distract from the quest for salvation seems contradictory to the evident influence of music in Buddhism. The association of music with earthly desires led early Buddhist monks and nuns to refrain from music practice and even the observation of musical performance. In Pure Land Buddhism, however, paradises are presented as profoundly musical places in which law takes the form of wonderful melodies. Most Buddhist practices involve some form of chanting, while some make use of instrumental music and even dancing. Music can be used in Buddhism as an offering to Buddha, a means of memorizing sacred texts, or cultivating meditation.

 Different Styles of Traditional Buddhist Music

Buddhist Music is considered part of Buddhist art and varies upon the different areas of the world it is practiced. Starting from the foothills of the Himalayas, Buddhism spread across Asia where, over time its original traditional practices became refined and regionally distinct. Historical Honkyoku are 36 collected pieces of music played by wandering, flute-playing Japanese Zen monks called Komosu in as early as the 13th century. Komosu temples were ordered destroyed in 1871, but the music honkyoku remains one of the most popular contemporary music styles in Japan today. Chanting is a part of most regional Buddhism, but is very prevalent in Tibetan Buddhism, where the chants are often complex recitations of sacred texts in Tibetan or Sanskirt. Some forms are accompanied by drums, while monasteries often maintain their own chant traditions. Shomyo, a style of Japanese Buddhist Chant, features both difficult (ryokyoku) and easy (rikkyoku) styles to remember.

Contemporary Buddhist Music   

Today, Buddhist influence can be heard in all different forms of contemporary music, from jazz, rap, and classical, to C-pop. Bibiladeniye Mahanama Thero is a Sri Lankan Buddhist Monk who is also a renown spiritual music composer. Li Na is a famous Chinese singer who became a nun in 1997 and went on to produce many popular Buddhist music albums under her new name Maser Chang Sheng. Several notable western musicians practiced Buddhism and cited it as a large influence on their music, such as David Bowie and Leonard Cohen. In 2009, Tina Turner and Buddhist musician Dechen Shak-Dagsay collaborated on an album combining Buddhist chants and Christian choral music called the Beyond Singing Project.

In some Buddhist teachings, music can be considered an earthly pleasure that distracts from the path of enlightenment. Yet music has always been a part of Buddhist religious traditions, as well as contemporary social forms. As we next explore the same kind of influences on Christianity, we will start to see a strong and undeniable bond between music and the major religions of the world. Children’s music educators may find this helpful in providing this influential context in the classroom while presenting sacred and even secular music.

How Music Strengthens Community

Just about anyone who has ever listened to a musical group, whether it is an orchestra, choir, rap group, rock band, or jazz group can understand that music involving several entities requires a certain cohesiveness to succeed. This concept is not, by any means, a new one. The actual origins of “music” as we know it is far from settled, whether it began with human voices or the earlies known musical instruments. Whatever its origins, there is considerable science to show the social connections and benefits that music has provided, and still provides, to human kind. Music Strengthens every community.

  • Neuro-chemicals in the brain – Studies have also shown that singing together and listening to music has shown to directly impact neuro-chemicals in the brain that play a role in closeness and connection. This reactivity to music promotes the release of endorphins and dopamine in the brain, which makes us feel good and connect with others. The rhythm of music seems to be the factor that helps a group synch together and coordinate voices and body movements, increasing positive associations with and loyalty to ingroup members.
  • Music as a catalyst for social awareness and change – Throughout history, music has served to send a message that mere words cannot alone communicate. Some were songs of social unrest and calls to action. While Stephen Stills originally wrote the song For What Its Worth because of the sunset strip curfew riots of 1966, it quickly became an anti-war anthem that inspired and gave voice to a generational movement. Many other musical events and songs were designed to create awareness and provoke positive action in global society. Whether it be USA for Africa, Live Aid, or Farm Aid, these musical events brought many different communities, societies, and cultures together for a common cause.

The power of music has been demonstrated and acknowledged throughout history. Plato said “Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.” It has helped families bond and tribes tell their history, given a voice to those who didn’t have a seat at the table, and created human solidarity across borders and oceans. It is no wonder then, why it plays such an important role in our society, and that we would want to teach music to our children at the earliest age.

Key Issues in Early Childhood Education: Part 3

Content and Measurement of Success in Early Childhood Education

This final installment in our continuing series of key discussion topics that early childhood educators face in the classroom has touched on several traditional assumptions that educators often make. Debunking many of those academic myths, we have focused instead on successfully nurturing children through inspired music education. Most of these conclusions and deliberations are posed and explored in an article published in Early Childhood Connections by renowned neuroscience educator Dr. Dee Joy Coulter, Ed. D.  Our last blog topic considered the unnecessary urgency that some music educators place on curriculum and lesson plans.  This final post of the series will address the issue of content and measurement of success in early childhood music education.

The difference between children’s music instruction and education

In the academic world, there is much debate and passion about the difference between instruction and education. In these approaches, roles of teacher and student are reversed, where in instruction the place of the teacher is central whereas the student is central in education. These methods in academia are not mutually exclusive, however. Music instruction, for example, requires technical training such as the proper way to hold a violin or drum mallet. These skills establish an important foundation for future musicianship, creating both respect for the instruments, but also developing ergonomically sound movements and postures. Repetition of these, in turn, introduce children to a world of practice.  Children who have discovered the “practice effect” become much better equipped to deal with frustrations and failures in life without falling into a feeling of helplessness. Instructing these basic skills thus provides the music educator with a foundation of content that creates a fertile environment for children to inquire and explore musical concepts.

How do we measure the mastery of music instruction content?

There is a trend in education that puts emphasis on evaluation immediately after the lesson has been offered. Often referred to as summative evaluation, this is sometimes appropriate in the case that the lesson contained a range of facts or skills to be reinforced. However, the thinking of a child cannot be measured through a matter of facts or skills. So how and when should a children’s music teacher evaluate or measure success of musical thinking? It’s important for teachers to share ideas on these questions, but at the end of the day they must decide for themselves what they believe is worth teaching. Teachers often struggle with this concept, especially in early childhood education. Even early childhood education researchers continue to hunt for the most appropriate questions to ask in evaluating outcomes. Over time, educators should take time to understand what they really believe is worth teaching and learning in the early childhood music education field, and then continue to establish ways to measure these most important qualities.

General educators, and specifically children’s music teachers, are faced with several challenging issues that warrant continued exploration and discussion. Through this series of blog posts, we have endeavored to investigate some of those topics that we have found to appear time and time again. It is important for educators to contemplate and reflect on these issues as a way to reinvigorate and renew their commitment to teaching. As these important topics endure, so should the internal considerations and peer discussions by early childhood music educators. The gift of music to a child is something that warrants the devotion of those that are asked to inspire and educate.

This series of articles are based on the article DEFENDING the MAGIC: CURRENT ISSUES in EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION, which appeared in Early Childhood Connections and written by Dee Joy Coulter, Ed. D. For more information on Dr. Coulter and her insights into early childhood music education, visit https://embraceyourbrain.com/    

Key Issues in Early Childhood Education: Approaches to Children’s Music Curriculum and Lessons

Over the past several weeks, we have been delving into several key discussion topics or issues that early childhood educators face in the classroom. Much of this content is based on the observations and writings of neuroscience educator Dr. Dee Joy Coulter, Ed. D. The last installment explores how children’s music teachers can provide nourishment to children through soul, body, and mind, while feeding their developing and amazing frontal lobes. This next post will address the validity of two discussion issues related to children’s music curriculum and the role of lesson plans and content.

Discussion Topic One: The driving force behind music must be an elaborate curriculum with clear objectives and activities, for which content is the critical element.

Rudolf Steiner, Austrian scientist, thinker and founder of Waldorf Education, suggested in the early 1920s that parenting was quickly evolving from natural instinct to a more formal and conscious understanding. With all of the subsequent literature and available instruction available to parents today, it is plain to see that this prediction came to pass. This same evolution can be seen in the development of education, where carefully developed curricula with well-planned objectives and timelines of activities offer benefits to music educators and students alike.

However, it is important to understand that children are the critical element in the classroom, not the lesson plan. It is up to teachers to adapt and shift focus as needed based on each moment with students to provide the nourishment of mind, body, and spirit. Content and form represent only ten percent of the learning experience, whereas the “magic of the moment” represents ninety.

Discussion Issue Two: It is important to cover all the lesson plans in a timely manner or children will “fall behind.”

This is a longstanding conflict in the field of education – Do teachers educate or instruct? Do children unfold, or do they acquire knowledge? The root for the word educate is educare, and mean “to draw forth,” whereas the root word for instruct is instruere, meaning “to pile upon. While educating children, especially in music, there is a building process where we are adding knowledge and skills on top of one another. So, within reason we do tend to “pile upon them” rules and ways as they enculturate and prepare themselves to be new members of our culture.

However, if we are focused too completely on the time lines of learning particular content, children can quickly be overwhelmed. Staying attuned with what students are hungry for and offering them nutritionally sound material helps music teachers understand the next developmentally appropriate steps in the learning process. As early childhood music teachers, we want to leave children more inspired than exhausted.

As educators, we are often asked to place and emphasis on organization and metrics in the classroom. This is often done not for the purpose of the students or for education itself, but for outside stakeholders to have something to measure. We will tackle that discussion issue in our next and final installment. Many children’s music teachers already understand the lessons learned from the two issues discussed above. While well-designed curriculum and lesson plans have their benefits in children’s music education, teachers should stay attuned to the natural progression of each student and inspire them with nutritional offerings that feed mind, body, and spirit.

This series of articles are based on the article DEFENDING the MAGIC: CURRENT ISSUES in EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION, which appeared in Early Childhood Connections and written by Dee Joy Coulter, Ed. D. For more information on Dr. Coulter and her insights into early childhood music education, visit https://embraceyourbrain.com/   

Issues in Early Childhood Education

Most teachers, especially teachers of children, will attest that they did not get into education for the money. In an Association of Teachers and Lecturers survey, 80 percent of educators said that they teach because they enjoy working with children, while 75 percent said they were motivated by a desire to make a difference for children. The combination of these two factors can be credibly linked to the amount of passion a teacher has for their job. Nationally recognized neuroscience educator Dee Joy Coulter, Ed. D., notes that this passion is amazingly frequent among children’s music teachers. Teachers with passion inspire students to seek and experience new ideas. Therefore, it’s a motivating factor that is necessary for high quality learning and teaching. Over the next several weeks, Dr. Coulter’s writings will guide us through some key issues these early childhood music teachers face, while exploring ways to meet these concerns.

Whatever Children Can Learn, They Should Learn – and the Earlier the Better

A young child’s way of learning is one of absorbing what is around them in an unpretentious and almost unconscious way. As such, they are so busy observing the world around them that they do not yet notice caregivers and teachers observing them. As this point, it does not occur to their wonderful beginner’s mind to begin observing themselves. It’s important for children’s music teachers to keep things this way for as long as possible, for as they become self-conscious, children’s minds give way to reasoning and shift to a more impressionable approach to learning

The earlier stage of innocence is where passion for teaching music to children plays a most important role. At this point, they are still deeply impressionable, absorbing the educator themselves as much as what is being offered. Therefore, strive to offer children only the most inspired musical experiences that you really love, so that their early learning minds sense that joy and enthusiasm. Watch what they are inspired by, paying close attention to their responses. If there are things that do not inspire them, trust their taste. Young children are instinctively drawn to what they need next in development. This will give the observant music teacher clues as what to teach next and what to postpone. At this point, your passion is what you want to inspire in children, because it will expose their minds to that same excitement and a long-term love for music. 

Children in a Musikgarten Toddler Class
Children in a Musikgarten Toddler Class.

Most Children do not have to be Taught How to Pay Attention

It’s a fallacy that most children have short attention spans and therefore need to be taught to learn from a music lesson. If provided fundamentally nourishing information in a passionate way, there is an amazing quality and duration of attention children can give in early childhood music classes. Rather than trying to teach children to listen, music teachers should offer something welcoming and playful that engages their interest and sustains their attention. If offered activities and objects in a nourishing environment, children exhibit surprisingly long attentions spans. In fact, music therapy is often used with children that exhibit developmental disabilities such as ADHD or Autism to grasp and hold their attention. Passion again has a key role to play in teaching at this point.

Over the next several weeks, we will continue to explore several other key issues that early childhood music educators and studio owners face when instructing children. To effectively address all of these issues, passion is perhaps the most important tool a teacher can have to inspire young minds to also love music. A young child’s mind is constantly open to new and exciting concepts without bias, instinctively picking up on a music teacher’s enthusiasm and excitement. When music is provided in a fundamentally inspiring and nourishing way, children have a great capacity to pay attention for long periods of time and absorb information.

This series of articles are based on the article DEFENDING the MAGIC: CURRENT ISSUES in EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION, which appeared in Early Childhood Connections and written by Dee Joy Coulter, Ed. D. For more information on Dr. Coulter and her insights into early childhood music education, visit https://embraceyourbrain.com/    

Music and Fine Arts Education More Important Than Ever

It is no surprise to anyone involved in fine arts education over the last several decades that arts classes have been gutted in public schools all across America. Since the recession of 2008, 80% of the nations schools were faced with budget cuts. That, along with No Child Left Behind and Common Core State Standards, pushed education administrators to prioritize math and science over other subjects such as music, drama, and art. Although the economy eventually recovered, these programs still have not. More recently, a robust economy showed some of the best state tax revenues in decades, administrators were looking at bringing back some support for these programs.

Enter Covid-19. The estimated impact of the pandemic on America’s creative economy is well documented. Quarantined from school, many children had no other access to music instruction or the fine arts. These cuts to the arts in public education has created a greater need for other organizations, such as early childhood music studios, to step up and fill the gap. Owners and educators of fine arts studios understand the many and crucial benefits that the arts provide to people of all ages, especially children.        

The Benefits of Music and Fine Arts Education for Children

Over the years, this blog has served to remind children’s music educators what they already know about the benefits of music instruction at the earliest ages. But in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, fine arts education is more important than ever:

Children in a Musikgarten Music Makers: at Home class.
  • Music Class builds Self-Esteem in Children – Participation in music helps children to feel smart and accomplished. Singing and dancing together aids music students in understanding that an ensemble is more powerful than its parts, with everyone contributing their singular efforts to create something bigger. Helping them to understand that their part is important to the success of the entire sound create a sense of worth and value.
  • Music Exercises the Brain and Improves Learning in Children – Participating in music, as well as learning a new instrument such as piano, changes the brain and improves learning. Like exercise does for the body, music does for the brain – improving understanding of language and written communication. While teachers have been trying their best to keep children engaged over screens during the pandemic, music can serve to help keep their brains tuned up for learning and prepare to return to the classroom.

Including musical training, drama, and art into a school’s curriculum has been recommended by educational researchers again and again, but many school systems show no inclination to reintroduce these classes any time soon. Therefore, it falls upon outside fine arts education organizations to provide these all-important opportunities. For children’s mental health and preparedness in the aftermath of a pandemic, fine arts instruction is more important than ever.

How Early Childhood Music Classes Prepare Children to Learn Piano

Part 2 – Through THE MIND

Children’s piano instructors understand that a strong foundation in music from the earliest ages will help improve student’s progress and understanding of the keyboard later in childhood. We began by exploring how movement and the body influence this early instrumental preparation. As we continue to delve into how various areas of influence in early music education grooms children for the piano, or any musical instrument, we reveal how it prepares the MIND. 

Early Childhood Music Education Prepares the Mind for Piano Lessons

Is there a purpose to learning an instrument or reading music if a child has not first absorbed musical thoughts? For a very long time, expressive body movement was not linked to higher brain function in formal education. Until as recently as 1995, researchers and educators limited the health benefits of movement and exercise solely to the body rather than the brain. Now it is clear that movement is not separate from higher brain function or development, and that expressive movement combines body functioning with affective areas of the brain such as imagination. These neural connections can be seen in language, literacy, and dominance of ear.

  • Learning Musical Language through Songs and Singing – It is easy to understand that children would not be asked to speak a language they have not heard, nor read a language they cannot speak. It stands to reason that there should be no exception for listening to and “speaking the language of music” before learning an instrument. Asking a child to read and sing or play a song on an instrument before they have ever heard it would not give it meaning of familiarity and affinity. This could be one reason why so many young piano students learn to play only “notes” instead of expressing musical ideas. The large repertoire of songs children have sung with friends and family as well as in the early childhood education classroom equips them with a musical language that will eventually allow them to better learn and play an instrument such as piano.
  • Childhood Music Education Provides Foundation in Music Literacy – Through moving and singing children gain a multitude of experience with rhythmic patterns and steady beat, as well as tonal patterns and home tone. Just as a child learning to read looks for familiar patterns in words and sentences, so do they seek rhythmic and tonal patterns in music. This familiarity with musical motifs enable children to better express musical ideas, as their literacy brings harmony to mind and spirit. The ability to better grasp the patterns and language of a musical instrument is also influenced by dominance of ear.
Listening and Singing melodic patterns during a Musikgarten class.
Listening and Singing melodic patterns during a Musikgarten class.
  •  Listening Skills and Dominant of Ear in Learning Piano – Children who have participated in early music education have learned to be led musically by their ears. Piano teachers discover that they have better listening skills and aural preparation, allowing the eye to more easily recognize what the ear already knows. As one of the first senses to develop in the womb, the ear is dominant in early childhood as children learn language and familiar sounds. Discriminatory listening skills develop as they attune to important sounds in the environment, such as a mothers voice. Early childhood education programs promote these aural insights by teaching children to focus tentatively on a sound source while imitating sounds vocally. Understanding slight distinctions in sound is a vital foundation for all learning.

The ear, arguably the most vital sensory channel to most children’s learning, is the linchpin for Listening, speaking/singing, and balanced/coordinated movement. It is no wonder that early childhood music education is so vitally important in learning an instrument such as piano since music links the ear, the voice, and the body.

This commentary is based on the article The Well-Prepared Beginner: Prepared in Body, Mind, Spirit, and Family by Lorna Heyge, Ph. D. Dr. Heyge is a pioneer in childhood music instruction, as well as a piano teacher of many years.

How Early Childhood Music and Movement Classes Prepare Children to Learn Piano

Part 1 – Through THE BODY

Children’s piano teachers often must “start from scratch” in teaching the child not just the keyboard, but all of the different facets of music. That is why many piano instructors will attest to how a child that has been involved with music education classes from an early age is often better equipped to learn piano, while doing so at a much greater pace. The benefits of introducing music to babies at the earliest stages of life are well known, and some of those same benefits can be applied to learning the piano. There are several reasons for this, which can be roughly broken down into the areas of Body, Mind, Spirit, and even Family/Community.

In the following months we will start to explore how participation in a children’s music curriculum, even at the earliest stages of infancy, help to set a strong foundation for learning any musical instrument later in life. The first facet of this strong musical foundation that will be examined regards the body.  

Dancing with scarves during a Musikgarten toddler class.
In Musikgarten classes movement is central to steady beat, language development, and expression.

How Body Awareness through Music Helps Children Prepare for Piano Lessons

During the first developmental period of birth through age six, children gain control and awareness of their bodies. As their rhythm and motor instrument, a well-coordinated body will provide the gross and fine motor skills a child will need to play the piano. A vital and natural part of this first stage of life, movement enables a child to communicate non-verbally  how they see the world.

Today, however, children are too often sitting – in front of the television, a computer screen, or in a car seat while busy parents run errands. This sedentary situation results in children having less control over their body movement at an early age. Music promotes movement, and purposeful movement through music responses help children with particular skills such as hopping or swinging, while also developing such musical skills as a sense of beat and meter.

  • Music and Movement Teaches Children a Steady Beat – Children experience their own internal pulse, which allows them to naturally recognize and adapt to the pulse of an external source. Infant movements such as rocking or bouncing is often in response to a beat, whether musical or otherwise. Through musical exposure and encouragement, these movements can be cultivated into the understanding of a steady beat.
  • Language & Movement Help Teach Musical Understanding – Impulse control is a vital ability that tells our body when and how to move. Musical games, like Walk and Stop which incorporate movement instructions, help children establish important connections between language and motor skill. Later in childhood, this developing self-control prepares children to enter instrumental lessons that require language-mediated movement.
  • Expressive Movement Supports Self-Awareness – Children delight in singing and dancing. When they are exposed to songs with purposeful movement and phrasing, they develop a sense of meter and how to feel the phrase through both music and movement. This relationship reinforces kinesthetic awareness and perception essential to self-awareness.
  • Simple Instruments Build Coordination and Concentration – Playing simple rhythm instruments, such as shakers, rhythm sticks, bells, or drums, serve as an excellent preparation for finger, hand, and arm coordination needed to play the piano. While whole-body control and coordination are gained through dancing and other locomotor activities, simple instrument playing supports upper-body control and finger dexterity. Learning body control, including quieting the body between beats, helps children’s ability to focus their listening and concentrate on the finger movements required in playing a musical instrument.

Learning body awareness and purposeful movement are important in the development of a child’s motor skills and coordination. Exposure to musical instruction at an early age, whether through purposeful movement or simple instruments, reinforce the steady beat, fine motor skills, and focused listening skills that will help them to approach keyboard instruction with a strong foundation.

This commentary is based on the article The Well-Prepared Beginner: Prepared in Body, Mind, Spirit, and Family by Lorna Heyge, Ph. D. Dr. Heyge is a pioneer in childhood music instruction, as well as a piano teacher of many years.