Keith Powers 0000-00-00 00:00:00
<b>In kindergarten and beyond, students gradually develop their musical skills. But music aptitude develops much earlier—and teachers can begin to foster it in preschool.</b> Kodály once trenchantly noted that “music education begins nine months before the birth of the mother.” Edwin Gordon believes music training must begin by age five. Parents may hear these things and think it’s just another missed deadline on the path to raising the perfect child. For music educators, it’s a reminder that by the time kids get to kindergarten, the best chances for music training may have already passed. Both parents and educators may be partly right, but there are reasons to relax the anxiety a bit. It’s clear that, properly nurtured, preschoolers have an amazing ability to learn the fundamentals of singing on pitch and basic rhythm. It’s also clear that by kindergarten that receptivity is already activated—or it’s greatly diminished. But what public school educators do, faced with the assortment of skill levels they see when children reach kindergarten, is of crucial importance not only to the child, but to their brothers and sisters back home and in preschool as well. <b>THE BASICS</b> A few things remain constant in raising a musical child. In a nutshell: If you don’t do it, they probably won’t either. And “doing it” is not that complicated. Sing to your child, dance a little too when they’re older, fabricate musical instruments, count out rhythms—in short, make music part of your life. If you want your child to take music lessons, take them yourself. Lead by example, and participate. “If you value it, the children value it too,” says Susan Kenney, professor of music education at Brigham Young University. “We’ve established that those early years have critical opportunities, and the big thing is to put those opportunities into action. “Singing is the first thing. Sing, sing, sing, sing, sing,” she says (in case you missed the point). “Sing with them, sing to them. Music is a social and emotional phenomenon, and for the child and the parents, it’s bonding time. Making music with a child is not just putting on a CD and letting them alone. It’s about singing, and when they’re older, making musical instruments out of pots and pans and wooden spoons.” “There are reasons to think that pregnant women should be singing and reading to their fetuses,” says Suzanne L. Burton, associate professor of music edu cation at the University of Delaware and editor of the recent <i>Learning from Young Children: Research in Early Childhood Music.</i> “In Italy, the Gordon Institute there does teach classes for pregnant women. But in essence, when children hear a lot of language, the vocabulary they possess is richer. In language they imitate a sound that they hear, and then someone picks up on those imitations and engages in dialogue, and that partnership scaffolds into conversation. “We are wired for music,” Burton adds. “Providing young children with active listening, and imitating, tonally and rhythmically, in a creative way, can bring out a child’s innate musicianship. Children need experiences of listening to music, interacting in music from a human, so that they are submerged in a variety of meters.” Jennifer S. McDonel, executive director of the Gordon Institute for Music Learning, says that “while we know that a child’s learning begins at birth, there really is no hard evidence about before birth. There’s lots of research now, but assuming that we start learning from birth, that’s when our aptitude is the highest. Based on the experience we either have or don’t have, we are able to make sense of our environment, musically speaking. “In all development there are early windows of opportunity,” she says. “The brain has more neural buds than we need, and there is a surge in the shaping of the neural networks. But the brain prunes itself, so whatever kinds of experience you give your children shapes them. In my mind, I would want to give lots of experiences. Music is one way of knowing, and it compliments other ways of knowing. Everything informs everything else.” <b>WHAT TEACHERS CAN DO</b> “I don’t think the techniques have changed—young kids need to be directly interacting,” says Wendy Sims, professor and director of music education at the University of Missouri Columbia and editor of <i>Music in Prekindergarten: Planning and Teaching.</i> “I actually think it’s down to the teacher, that the teacher is the key. You need someone who understands young children. It’s more about emphasizing fun over specific objectives, drawing ideas from the kids. You have to have good experiences, take a playful role, and catch the teachable moment. The kids are not good at following direction.” “The transition from imitation to improvisation can occur at any time,” Suzanne Burton notes, “so it’s hard to say that there is a right time to engage. We can get caught up in stage theory. But I use the model that a young child needs to hear music in tonalities and different meters, and eventually the child will lead the person into the right time for improvisation. Follow the lead of the child; those are the foundations. “Gordon’s work on music aptitude has determined that from birth to age nine there is a window of musical development, that children are born with a certain aptitude, and that the nurture part helps support that aptitude. Any neglect during that period means we’re talking about not taking advantage of that ability—but not about achievement. That depends on the child and then on the adult. People accomplish more than what their aptitude indicates, if they work hard on it. What we’re talking about in a child is raw potential.” “Make space to respond,” Jennifer McDonel advises. “Interpret sounds in a musical context, starting them toward pitch accuracy. But give the children some space to see what they do. If there is space to respond, eventually babies will start paying attention to the sounds around them and make purposeful responses. Most parents interpret children’s vocalizations as linguistics, so whenever they say something that is like something else, we praise them. That’s what musical play theories try to do. When the teacher returns what the child does, the child will think, ‘Wow, you understand what I’m doing.’ “When they can physically keep a beat, then they’re ready to chant a pattern in meters, then perform them in a consistent tempo, and that leads us to reading and writing music.” Decisions about what pedagogy to buy into—Suzuki lessons, the Kodály approach, Gordon Music Learning Theory, Orff, O’Connor, Dalcroze, or any of the almost bewildering variety of training methods—need not be something that parents of a very young child need to worry about … just yet. “Every child is different,” Kenney says, “but I would caution parents not to get children into structured learning too early on. My own thinking: Wait for lessons until a child can read. You can do group things, you can interact in various ways, but the formal training can wait until then. “There are no hard and fast rules,” she emphasizes. “If there were, I would say them over and over. Look at the children, see what they are interested in.” <b>THE TECHNOLOGY QUESTION</b> For music educators in the later grades, technology has improved in so many ways: programs that aid composition instruction, or that provide instant feedback for performance and evaluation. And with the overwhelming reliance on gadgets in general, it might be easy to think that there’s a device to plug in that will help young children as well. Not so fast. “Young kids need to be directly interacting,” says Sims, “not engaging in technology. Listening devices are the only things that have gotten better. Young kids find it meaningful not just to listen to music, but to control that listening. If it’s easy for a child to listen to something over and over, or to change what they’re listening to, that’s very helpful. In their own selective periods, when they control the experience, that technology can be useful.” “Technology is great in the sense that the early music educators can send out a blast and there is an immediate connection between peers,” McDonel says. “But it’s hard to imagine getting a toddler to use a computer. We’re trying to help build the whole child, and music is one way to connect socially. It’s not just music for its own sake, it’s a way to connect with people.” <b>KINDERGARTEN: NOW WHAT?</b> “Most kindergartners come to music class with impoverished musical backgrounds,” Burton says. “The majority of kindergarten students have not developed a listening vocabulary, or the musical readiness to engage in musical dialogue.” With that in mind, a public school educator needs to assess the student’s abilities, keeping in mind two goals—bringing every child to at least roughly the same level, and not squandering whatever previous musical engagement that particular children have already had. “They need to hear music sung and chanted by musicianteachers,” Burton adds, “to engage in movement, and have opportunities to sing and chant alone so that teachers can assess their rhythmic, tonal, and singing voice development.” “We see such a wide range of student achievement when they come to school,” McDonel says. “They may still be in musical babble, and it’s our job to guide them out of musical babble, and objectify the way they understand music, to guide them tonally and rhythmically. Teachers who use music aptitude testing have a more objective reference when it comes to children’s potential. We can’t ‘see’ everything just in a student’s achievement. A kindergarten child may have had a lot of music exposure in early childhood, and may already be using a singing voice, but may still have low, average, or high music aptitude. Knowledge of music aptitude can assist the teacher in best guiding each student’s ongoing learning. “Seat strong singers or audiators around the more tentative ones,” Mc- Donel suggests, “so those students are surrounded by a model of peers. Students learn best by modeling their peers. Keep in mind the needs of the high-aptitude students as well. Find ways to engage those children that encourage their musical growth. Often we lose the students with high aptitude to boredom, and those with lower aptitude to frustration. Differentiating instruction is important.” “They need to be exposed to a diverse background of music though active listening,” Sims says. “Kindergartners need playful exposure to musical elements and activities without being encumbered with correctness and accuracy. I do not see kindergarten as a time to ‘get them up to speed.’ Each child is developing within his or her own musical timeframe and will generally be tuneful and beat-conscious by the end of the year, given the appropriate guidance. “Parent education is of great importance. I suggest that music teachers send research home about the importance of music in their children’s lives, as well as reports on what children are doing in the music classroom. I also am a big believer in inviting parents into the classroom to experience what their children experience.” And if there is a chance for kindergarten music teachers to reach the preschool educator, some simple things can be helpful as well. “As it stands now,” McDonel says, “most preschools have generalists, so the best option is to teach them. It seems that for a generalist, singing ability is the thing that counts the most.” “I’m encouraged by Title I preschools that are being housed in school districts,” Sims says, “but the preschool standards are different. One of the main issues is preparing elementary teachers to work with preschoolers. They need to be much more flexible, they need to be into participation and more playful. “I teach in a preschool, and if the [regular classroom] teachers stay, instead of taking off for another meeting or something, they are learning throughout. Being with a specialist helps them develop. It’s about their confidence—and the kids love it when their teacher is with them, and they plan that as part of their day. One time a week with a specialist doesn’t do anything for anybody.” <b>Resources For The Early Years</b> If you’re searching for more ideas and approaches relating to music education in early childhood, NAfME has many resources available. <b>Books</b> All the titles below are published by NAfME/Rowman & Littlefield Education. For further information on them, go to nxtbook.com/ygsreprints/ygs/p22280_2011nafmecat/index.php. <b>• Learning from Young Children: Research in Early Childhood Music,</b> edited by Suzanne L. Burton and Cynthis Crump Taggart, 2011 <b>• Singin’, Sweatin’, and Storytime: Literature-Based Movement and Music for the Young Child,</b> by Rebecca E. Hamik and Catherine M. Wilson, 2010 <b>• Music and the Young Mind: Enhancing Brain Development and Engaging Learning,</b> by Maureen Harris, 2009 <b>• SoundPlay: Understanding Music through Creative Movement,</b> by Leon H. Burton and Takeo Kudo, 2006 <b>• Spotlight on Early Childhood Music Education: Selected Articles from State MEA Journals,</b> 2000 <b>• Strategies for Teaching Prekindergarten Music,</b> compiled and edited by Wendy L. Sims, 1995 <b>• Music in Prekindergarten: Planning & Teaching,</b> edited by Mary Palmer and Wendy L. Sims, 1993 <b>• TIPS: Music Activities in Early Childhood,</b> compiled by John M. Feierabend, 1990 <b>Website Articles</b> The following two articles are both parts of larger series; links to the other respective parts are also available on these pages. <b>• Early Childhood:</b> nafme.org/v/general_music/music-aptitude-use-it-or-lose-it <b>• Early Childhood Activities:</b> nafme.org/v/general_music/early-childhood-singing-activities-part-1 <b>Periodicals</b> The January 2011 issue of <i>General Music Today</i> had a special focus on early childhood; go to nafme.org/resources/view/general-music-today for more details.
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