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Layers of Experiences Help Children Learn Piano

Over the last several months, we have been exploring the various reasons for how early childhood music education better prepares children to learn any musical instrument, with a focus primarily on piano. Beginning piano teachers understand how early childhood music education and the developmental influences of BODY, MIND, SPIRIT and FAMILY, provide a firm foundation for children to achieve greater success at the keyboard. In this final installment, those influences are blended into a layering of experiences that are taught from a musical point of view. These layers, stemming from children’s developmental stages, spiral and interact with each other to provide the foundation for sustained musical development.

The Developmental Layers of Childhood Music Education

  • Listening Comes Second – Music is an aural art, and we come to it for the sheer enjoyment of listening, singing, and dancing. As early childhood music studios are filled with musical sound, hearing music in various forms and from different sources adds a second layer of musical foundation. As children listen to more music, they are intrigued to continue and explore it further as they learn to discriminate sounds and build a vocabulary of musical patterns and styles that will help in learning piano.
  •  Singing Comes Third – Cultures across the world have communicated through music, which offers a sense of community and identity. We desire to communicate and express the joy of our own voice through a repertoire of common songs, learning melodies and the structure of musical patterns that will translate to understanding musical instruments.
  • Playing Simple Percussion Instruments Helps with Piano – Our hands serve as expressive extensions of who we are, and in turn, musical instruments are an extension of the hands. Playing simple percussion instruments such as drums, rattles, rhythm sticks, or maracas, increase our joy of making music and refining our movements while teaching us about beat, meter, and phrase. As we do this with others, we begin to have musical dialogue with partners or groups.
  • Musical Literacy is Emerging All Along the Way – As we first learn to move and listen, speak our music through song, and extend music making into instruments, we are making sense of the specific rhythm and tonal patterns we hear and practice. At some point we will want to understand how to write and read those patterns, which may come before or after sitting down to learn the piano.

Introducing Piano to Children’s Musical Development

Once these layers of musical foundation have been established, the piano teacher is able to add the next layer of complexity, offering a way for children to express their joy and knowledge of music through an intricate, yet subtle instrument. The most successful Early childhood music programs prepare teachers to think in these developmental terms, carefully considering how to introduce musical concepts. Realizing that they must first work with ear and body before eye and brain, piano teachers are working to establish musical communication that leads to musical thought. Group work helps to ensure that classes remain playful and lively while teaching the “whole” child in ways that are developmentally appropriate.

Early children’s music programs help children to fall in love with music, have a mind full of musical thoughts, and establish body control needed to master an instrument such as keyboard. This firm foundation allows beginning piano teachers to take children to the next exciting level of musical development!

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 Classes Prepare Children to Learn Piano

Part 3 – Through SPIRIT and THE FAMILY

Many early childhood music programs take a very concentrated approach to teaching piano keyboard, focusing mainly on technique and notation. While these methods are competent in teaching piano skills, many do not take a holistic approach to teaching “the whole child” a true love of music and the instrument. The first two installments on How Early Childhood Music Classes Prepare Children to Learn Piano have focused on the Body and Mind. But taking educating the whole child a step further, more encompassing teaching programs also focus on the important aspects of SPIRIT and FAMILY.

How SPIRIT Influences Children’s Understanding of Piano Instruction

From the earliest ages across almost every culture, music has been practiced as an expression of the soul. Good music instructors understand this, and wish to cultivate a comfort level in their piano students so that they may better express their deepest musical thoughts.

Through music and other arts, children gain a sense of meaning and belonging as they experience beauty, joy, wonder, and order. Music has the power to influence a child’s inner world holistically by helping to bridge body, mind, and spirit in one place. Children gain joy and a sense of belonging when they sing and dance with peers and family. When adults join in the music making, a bond develops that extends this understanding to new dimensions and allows the musical spirit to thrive.

The most successful childhood music programs not only lay a solid foundation of basic skills and technique, but more importantly allows children’s love of music to deepen. Through singing and dancing and musical games, children have opportunities to laugh and play together. And as they repeat the same songs and games over and over again with both peers and adults, they grow to love them even more. Just as most of us enjoy singing familiar holiday carols and songs, children delight in repeating the songs they know. Teaching that sense of belonging in both peer and mixed age groups provides strong encouragement of further exploration on a musical instrument such as the piano keyboard.

FAMILY Support Encourages Children’s Success in Learning Piano

Parents and teachers alike understand that a supportive family is very important to children to succeed. Many young parents today who grew up with more passive electronic entertainment such as television and computer games often do not have a base of familiar childhood music that provides a greater sense of belonging to family and peer groups. Early childhood music programs that involve caregiver participation in class not only provide a means of belonging for the child, but for the adults as well. And as music is rekindled in their spirits, these adults can share and influence music in their children’s lives.

Families that share music, whether through singing and dancing together, going to concerts, or simply listening to music together reinforce the importance of music in children’s lives. When provided with such a supportive environment, they are further encouraged to explore creativity through musical stimulation. By participation in childhood music classes and helping with practice routines at home, parents reinforces the appreciation of the process, effort, and discipline needed to learn a musical instrument such as piano. Active family involvement in music making creates a foundation for successful learning in the future.

While technique, listening, and notation reading are extremely important in the process for learning any new musical instrument, other factors also influence how successful a child will be. Learning to love music and an instrument are inspired by a sense of belonging to the music in a holistic way. Nurturing the musical spirit and having a supportive family are highly important in how the child will apply technique to musical creativity on an instrument.

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 Singing Helps to Learn Piano

Many of us have memories of piano teachers that used metronomes meticulously, or in some cases beat on the edge of the piano with a ruler as we struggled to play in time. While some of their methods may seem old-fashioned today, there was a very important underlying purpose of teaching time and meter. However, many early childhood music programs today understand that singing and movement not only naturally teaches beat, but also a myriad of other benefits to childhood development. In this second installment on our series about Music Literacy and the keyboard, we explore how for these and other reasons singing prepares children for learning to play keyboard.

Learning Piano Through Familiar Songs

Singing helps children to develop a repertoire of familiar songs. Children enjoy singing, and the more they sing the more they want to sing. As they progress to learning the keyboard, both the love of singing and having a good foundation of songs allows for greater success – because they want to play the song that is so familiar.

Singing Helps with Beat, Meter, Tonality, and Patterns

There is an abundance of research and publications that demonstrate how singing helps children with literacy, and that includes music literacy at the keyboard. There are several ways in which singing helps children be more successful learning the piano:

  • From the very earliest stages of childhood babies listen and often echo their caregivers’ song patterns, providing initial steps to music literacy.
  • Just as your old piano teacher may have done, tapping the beat while singing helps foster beat confidence.
  • Simple body movements, such as rocking from side to side helps establish a basis for understanding meter – like a human metronome!
  • Inviting children to sing the resting tone at the end of songs help to create an understanding of tonality.
Children enjoying a drumming and singing activity during a Musikgarten group piano class.
Children enjoying a drumming and singing activity during a Musikgarten group piano class.

Teaching Songs through Vocal Quality Nourishes Children’s Music Sensitivity

Children’s Music Teachers pay particular attention to their own voices in order to help children to develop a sensitivity for musical keys, tones, and pitches. Several ways that teachers ensure vocal quality are:

  • Singing mostly without music, so that the vocal quality is the focus
  • Singing clearly, but also lightly so as not to dominate the singing of the group
  • Listening to ones voice for proper intonation, so that the song model is tonality exact
  • Pitching songs in the range in which they are suggested
  • Modeling good singing posture, even when sitting

Singing with vocal quality offers an excellent opportunity for children’s music teachers to model expressive musicianship. Establishing a relationship between familiar songs that children can sing and what they will play on the keyboard allows them to echo the melodic and rhythmic patterns which make up each song. This allows them to eventually figure out how to play their favorite songs, which is well exemplified by the Montessori approach of self-learning. The child’s ear becomes the “self-correcting instrument,” guiding the hands what to play.

Singing familiar songs throughout early childhood helps to provide a strong foundation for the understanding of beat, meter, tones, and patterns. And with the five-finger position provided on a keyboard allows children to move more easily to tetrachord and scale positions. Because their playing originates from a familiarity of songs and singing,  as a result they more easily translate and play the songs in many keys.

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