Tag Archives: music and movement

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.

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.

Music Literacy and the Second Stage of Child Development

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.

Understanding the Nature of the Young Child in Teaching Music

Maria Montessori, the acclaimed Italian physician and educator best known for the pedagogical philosophy that bears her name, once wrote “follow the child.” The statement is acknowledgement that children have their own particular pattern, of which careful observation is key to understanding in the classroom. Many childhood music programs approach and develop their curricula based on this philosophy. But the story, however, of each child begins even before the classroom – with the family in the home. At birth, babies are immediately exposed to a world of senses, each of which influences their process of self-construction. The environment in which they are submerged has a fundamental effect on the rest of the child’s life. Over the next several posts, we will explore how those early years are so formative, what influences that growth, and how the role of parents and caregivers is so important.

Phases of Childhood Development

Throughout time, psychologists and academics have sought to divide childhood development into phases, stages, or periods. Whether it is Piaget’s 4 stages of Cognitive Development, Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development, or Montessori’s Sensitive Periods of Development, each differs slightly from each other, either in behavioral approach or developmental milestones. But all of these agree that the most formative stages occur in the earliest part of life. While there is slight variation in the exact milestones, for discussion we can identify two major phases in childhood development:

Phase 1 – From birth to age three are years of intense activity and absorption.

Phase 2 – From age three to six years is a time to consolidate the gains from the first period

Whether cognitive or social, there is no more significant phase in human development than these early years, and even more influence is placed on the first three years of life.

A Child’s First Three Years are Critical

An incredibly complex stage of development takes place during the first three years of life, as a child becomes consciousness of being separate from others and builds competencies off of stimulating experiences. In the creative process from newborn to three-year-old, a series of transformations take the child from helpless infant to becoming a confident person in his or her own right. During this time they experience a growing sense of selfhood with an ability, through language as well as mobility, to communicate their individual needs and desires.

This formation is possible at a pre-conscious level because nature directs the development in the earliest stages of childhood. These are “critical” periods, where the developing child focuses on the necessary factors in their environment that direct the work of inner construction. The first three years of human life are so critical because it is a period in which intellectual growth rapidly occurs and cognitive functions are being established. Therefore, early experiences within an interesting and stimulating environment promote optimal development physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually and intellectually.

The Senses are the Child’s Window to the World

Even before they are born, babies have some senses in the womb. They can hear their mothers voice and music being played, they can also sense vibration when their mother rubs her belly, and often engage in self-touch as their skin gradually becomes more sensitive to stimulation. At birth, they begin to absorb their surroundings with enthusiasm during every waking moment. Through exploration and manipulation, sensory information (taste, smell, touch, vision, and hearing) is confirmed though movement. This sensorimotor exploration is a way for babies to learn without language and begin to develop the symbolic system that is the basis of concept formation and cognitive learning. In just three years, babies have organized what their senses have taught them in ways that encapsulate their own understanding.

The process by which infants and toddlers learn is based on an important and impressionable phase during the first three years of life. It is during this formative period that the child organizes information that has been gathered through their senses to begin to establish selfhood and identity. During this time and the next three years of life, several factors determine how the child will learn and grow physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually and intellectually. Continuing to explore the Nature of the Child, our next post will expand on the important factors that influence these critical formative years.

Much of the content for this post was based on the introduction to Family Music for Babies and Family Music for Toddlers, an early childhood music curriculum developed by Musikgarten.

The Philosophy of Early Childhood Music Education Programs

There has been a great deal of research and publication on the importance of music in early childhood development. Whether it is the educational, social, or emotional benefits that exposure and participation in music provides to children throughout their development from birth, there is an even deeper and more transcendent component that is not as easily measured. In the most basic terms, all of these musical benefits are greater than the sum of their parts, and have been ingrained in humanity since the earliest recorded times. This holistic, “whole child” approach is reflected in many of the persons and organizations dedicated to providing parents and families with early childhood music curricula. The philosophy of early childhood music can be seen enthusiastically in the core beliefs communicated by Musikgarten, and serve as a good example of the approach:

All Children are Musical

Closely tied to human expression, body movement is a natural outlet for children to express feelings. Children begin communicating effectively through body language long before they can with spoken language. Parents and adults get a glimpse into a toddler’s perceptions of the world as they observe body language and the child’s musical sounds. These observations illustrate that all children are innately musical from birth, with a biological ability to sing and move rhythmically. When children are exposed to an active music making environment, they learn to make music both freely and naturally.

Music Meets the Needs of Children

Psychological studies tell us that children learn more in a pleasant and non-threatening environment. Music-making is a naturally joyful experience for both children and adults. Furthermore, the combination of music along with movement creates an even more pleasing experience for children and provides important benefits for social development. This is not a new concept, by any means, as music has been a central part of family and community in the varied cultures across the globe. So as children engage and enjoy a musical environment, they are more open and interested to learn about the world around them.

Music Makes a Difference

When we as adults look back at some of the most memorable times in our lives, we hear music. Whether it was lullabies to ease us to sleep, the birthday song, top pop hits of our era, or even a commercial jingle, music has been a memorable part of our lives. But we also saw the funding and emphasis on music education dwindling over the years. The good news is that music is once again being recognized by parents, teachers, and researchers as a way to improve overall development while decreasing learning problems and enhancing brain function. Music touches not just the “whole child,” but also has a positive impact on family and the building of our community. 

Music Making Belongs in the Family

Providers of music curriculum for children understand that parents make the best teachers. In this digital age, with so many online and screen-based offerings, many well-meaning parents have placed too much faith in technology. Often the result is missing out on the joy of simply being with each other. However, parents and the public are becoming more aware of these consequences. As a result, early childhood education programs are making greater strides to provide more opportunities for parents to learn how to interact musically with children at home. These tools encourage and empower parents to reap the benefits of early childhood music from the earliest age.

Programs that encourage music and movement with the family and community can help deepen a child’s appreciation for music and the natural world around him/her, building a foundation for life-long music making. The goal of the most beneficial early childhood music programs is to provide an appropriate musical experience through a carefully sequenced approach towards music literacy, allowing a child to participate fully in musical experiences of all kinds. The first step in this holistic approach to “following the child” through their musical growth starts in the earliest stages of life at home, making joyful sounds and movement together.

How Music Helps Children Connect with Nature

Since the dawn of mankind, the sounds of the natural world have been an integral part of our culture. All the world is sound, or vibration. From bees humming to the sound of falling water, the same vibrations that make music surround us in nature. Aboriginal Australian tribes believe that humans actually sang the world into existence with Songlines as they walk the song lines crisscrossing land between natural spaces. Great composers often used nature as the backdrop for their works, such as Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, or Johannes Brahms C Minor Symphony.  

It should be no surprise that exposure to music in early childhood helps kids make a connection with nature. Many traditional children’s songs such as Green Grass Grows All Around, Itsy Bitsy Spider, Teddy Bears Picnic, and Walking in the Green Grass sing of the natural world around us. We know how music has many benefits for the healthy development of a child from the earliest ages, but it can also help to create a connectedness to nature that will last their entire lives. Here are just a few ways that music helps kids connect to nature:  

  • It is often hard to express in words the emotions and feelings that being in nature evokes. Music helps express those feelings without words.
  • Experiencing music and nature helps kids learn mindfulness – how to be present and in the moment. This is why much Mindful Music used for relaxation, meditation, and personal healing is based on sounds in nature such as waves at the beach, a rain shower, or a babbling brook.
  • Like music, the sounds of nature help children to listen more carefully and intently. This helps sharpen communication skills and teaches perseverance.
  • Songs and music about the natural world help children to develop familiarity and empathy towards plants, animals, and elements in nature, encouraging them to spend more time in outdoors. This develops a sense of harmony and rhythm with nature, and thus a more caring attitude towards it.
  • There is a reason why outdoor concerts are so popular in all forms and genres of music. The scenery and smells provide additional stimuli to make the music experience even more enjoyable. Concerts are often scheduled at sunset to take advantage of the beautiful sky. Many religions have a dawn or sunrise ritual attuned to music or chanting to communicate new beginnings, new life, or hope.
  • The link between the pleasure that music brings and exposure to nature in early childhood helps to encourage a lifetime appreciation of the outdoors and environmental responsibility.  

It is well documented that exposing children to music at an early age helps their development in numerous ways. Science is also proving that time in nature provides kids with exercise, mindfulness, and the development of deeper social connections. It should not be surprising then, that the natural connection between music and the environment have been around since the dawn of mankind.