Thoughts from Experts on the Value of Early-Childhood Music Instruction
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Thoughts from Experts on the Value of Early-Childhood Music Instruction

Our blogs are intended to provide timely, relevant information that can be used and enjoyed by anyone that is involved with, or participating in, the disciplines of music and dance.  We try to provide topics that are interesting, easy to follow, and can potentially be of benefit to our readers in some way.

First Steps in Music at The Hartt School Community DivisionConducting our research for today’s blog was truly a labor of love, as we were able to call on two of our own: John Feierabend, Ph.D., retired Hartt School Director in Music Education; and Connie Greenwood, lead teacher for our early-childhood music program, First Steps in Music. 

Feierabend is a national leader in early-childhood music education. He created a researched-based, developmentally appropriate curriculum called "First Steps in Music for Infants and Toddlers" and "First Steps in Music for Preschool and Beyond" that uses authentic repertoire and is presented sequentially. Thousands of teachers and millions of preschool children have been influenced by his curriculum and his conviction that music should “appeal to both adults and children, have a sense of wonder, make believe and fantasy, and still be delicious after 30 repetitions”.

Connie Greenwood is a certified First Steps in Music teacher trainer and has been teaching First Steps in Music at the University of Hartford's Hartt School Community Division since 2007. She has a B.Mus. from The Hartt School, and has taught in the West Hartford Public Schools. She graduated from the University of Hartford's Hartt School with a Masters in Music Education in 2015.

Here are some excerpts from our interviews.

What are the top benefits to children who participate early in music instruction?

John Feierabend (JF):

Children who participate in early-childhood music classes will develop intuitions for being musical. They will sing in tune, feel the beat, and respond to expressiveness in music. If they study an instrument later, or continue to sing, they will have great success as they will begin as a more musical person. If they never study an instrument, they will still have the skills to join in with others singing, dancing, and appreciating beautiful music.

Connie Greenwood (CG):

First Steps in Music at The Hartt School Community DivisionA child’s brain is very responsive to early environmental stimulation and music is a powerful way to influence the brain’s capacity to learn. Active participation, along with a caregiver’s loving touch, encourages an atmosphere that will augment future learning.

Here are some non-musical benefits I have observed:

  1. Listening skills advance
  2. New vocabulary is introduced
  3. Social skills enhanced
  4. Math skills are practiced
  5. Attention is improved
  6. Bonding is strengthened
  7. Communication is generated
  8. Gross motor skills are explored

All of these skills are being practiced in the context of early-childhood music instruction classes. Caregivers who learn how to actively engage children using songs, rhymes, creative movement and musical games have the potential to reap many non-musical rewards in their preschool children.

What would you tell caregivers who are considering providing their children with early lessons/instruction?

JF:

Children who begin music lessons that have not already acquired the musical behaviors of singing in tune, moving on the beat and being sensitive to the expressive qualities in music will not likely succeed on an instrument.  Students who have developed those skills first are much more likely to enjoy lessons and succeed with instrumental study.

What should caregivers know about early-childhood exposure to music?

CG:

All children are born musical. When they are given the appropriate nurturing musical environment they will be able to respond in a musical way. In early childhood music instruction, caregivers are given the tools to help their child develop musical understanding, coordination and expressive feeling in a joyful and playful way.

In your opinion, how important is it for caregivers to reinforce concepts and practices with their children at home? And is that age specific?

JF:

Caregivers should demonstrate the same enthusiasm for instrumental study as they would be cheering their child on in soccer or any other sport. Children need the encouragement and praise of their parent to remain interested in instrumental study.

CG:

Learning happens best in safe and nurturing environments. By taking early childhood music classes, caregivers are encouraged to make music a part of their everyday lives.

At home they can:

  1. Purposefully listen to music while they drive in the car.
  2. Have a percussion instrument basket and keep a steady beat along with recorded music.
  3. Make up verses to known songs.
  4. Dance around the house with a Teddy bear or mom’s old scarf.
  5. Rock or rub their child’s back while singing a lullaby.

Families that experience music together have fun together.

At what age do you recommend that children begin participating in formal instrument instruction?

JF:

While there are different opinions on this topic, I advocate for students to not begin the study of an instrument in either Suzuki or in traditional instruction until the child can sing in tune, move on the beat, and respond to the expressiveness in music (as is developed in the "First steps in Music" program). It is not chronological age, it is about developmental readiness.