Music

Young Children and Music Lessons: Kindling the Spark and Keeping it Alive

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Last week my four and a half year old child listened to two different pieces of music that were on the radio. One was a piano only instrumental and the other had a violin accompaniment. She heard the one with the violin first and then the one with only the piano second. After the second one started she promptly said to me, “Those are different songs. This one doesn’t have a violin.”

I was shocked! It took me years to develop the ability to pick out different instruments while listening to a piece of music. Either she has some skill that I don’t…OR, it’s because she is four and still has a skill that was “unlearned” with time.

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What I mean to say is that most children probably have the ability to learn to discern various instruments in a piece of music, or learn the basics of being able to carry a tune or follow a beat, if exposed to music early on and on a regular basis.

This actually takes me back to an incident that just happened a few weeks ago. My daughter’s piano teacher had sent out an invitation to a free and open to the public classical music recital that she was going to be performing in at a local church for Christmas. I decided to take my 4 ½ year old because I thought it would be a good experience for her. We sat very far back in the pews in the balcony and she behaved well. At times I carried her around and whispered in her ear. “Do you see the violins?” “Do you hear them?” “Do you see the conductor telling the musicians what to do?”

At other times she sat on the floor and colored with the materials in the quiet bag provided for church services. Although she was coloring she was still listening as she would occasionally move and sway to the music.

This is all music education.

Some people may ask why one would take a preschooler to a concert as they “wouldn’t get anything from it anyway” but I disagree. I’ve wrestled with whether it is worthwhile and now I believe it is.

When she was younger we did the “Music Together” program which was wonderful. There is lots of singing and musical activities that involve rhythm and tonal competence for both mommy and baby/preschooler.

As for “formal lessons” she started taking piano lessons about six months ago. As soon as she started to show a real interest in banging the keys and pretending to play, I decided it was time. I called my own violin teacher and told her that the lessons were to begin. I made it clear that these lessons could be about whatever grabbed her attention and kept her engaged. There should be no pressure for her to be able to perform or master any skill. She does not have to practice anything in particular and nor do I ask her to. My goal was for her to stay with the teacher for the half hour once a month without leaving. I talked to her a lot about her piano teacher and her “music time with Stephanie.” At the beginning I avoided the use of the word “lessons.” I wanted it to be fun and engaging. We have recently gone to twice a month and for now that seems just right. And now she loves her lessons. “When will my piano teacher come again, mommy? Soon?” Now that music time has caught her interest and she is engaged and excited about it, I use the term “piano lesson.” My initial goal for her with the lessons was to just get used to the idea that someone would be coming to spend time with her for a set amount of time and that during that time her job was to be with that person. I wanted her to get a feel for what lessons felt like and for that to be something that she not only was committed to carrying out but something that she enjoyed.

It has only been about six months and she has changed immensely since she started. In the beginning it was a huge challenge to get her to stay with the activities for the full half hour, even though the activities included stuffed animals and animal sounds! Now she will sit for full minutes at a time doing the child-focused activities that are in her first lesson book and even hitting a few keys at the right time. She LOVES it. When her friends come over she wants to bring out her book and bang around on the piano; she wants to pull out the CD and sing to the songs and do her music activities.

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I do not interfere with her process of developing a love for music and for creating music in whatever form that may come. My goal right now is to keep the spark alive and that is all. As she ages this will certainly change, but right now, her four year old musical self is coming alive and I love it! I hope it will never die.

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