More About Early Childhood Music...part I

Katie's comment in my post from this morning got me writing a comment that was turning out so long, I just decided to do a follow-up post.

My experience with early childhood music curricula is actually quite limited. In 2003, I took the workshop for Musikgarten certification, and got certified to teach the curriculum for infant-5yo. At the time, I was teaching piano at a non-profit studio in town, and the director agreed to pay half the tuition for me and another teacher, my good friend Autumn (who, incidentally, taught me how to knit socks, but that's another story). The idea was that we both could teach a pre-school music class or two for the studio. Alas, my schedule at the University was already so packed, the only time I had available for a Musikgarten class was 2p.m. on Fridays and no one signed up. That was long before I knew that all small children (except mine) are napping at that time of day. Duh. My then-employer (I quit that gig when I started my doctorate) had me observe some classes he taught (he was very good at it), and let me teach a couple of his sessions for practice, but that was it. Autumn got quite a lot of teaching experience, though, and she still teaches several classes at her place of employment in the Twin Cities.

The workshop itself lasted three or four days. We covered what were developmentally appropriate activities for different ages, went over some basic information about development (motor skills, language learning, socialization, etc.), and learned several of the songs and rhymes and other activities in the Musikgarten curriculum. We were, of course, also encouraged to buy many of their fabulous products.

One thing that bothered both me and Autumn was that about half the people enrolled in the workshop were not professional musicians, but people who specialized in early childhood education and/or childcare. There was one lady in particular who, I think, ran a daycare out of her home and was hoping to increase her income by teaching Musikgarten classes there. She couldn't read music very fluently and couldn't even match pitch very well; this is a serious problem when you are supposed to be teaching songs by rote (yes, there are CDs with the songs, but you can't use them as a crutch) and transitional singing to introduce the idea of tonic pitch. For instance, in between the song to sing hello to everyone and the rhyme game with rhythm sticks, you sing a variety of things like "do-mi-do, re-ti-do" that everyone imitates (for really little kids, you just use "ba ba ba" instead of the actual solfege.) So anyway, this poor woman probably thought pre-school music classes would be really easy to teach because who can't sing a few folk songs? when really it requires a certain amount of musical savvy.

That's not to say there weren't early childhood specialists (I refuse to just call them daycare workers) who couldn't hack it. Most of them could. But a few couldn't, and it begged the question: why the heck were they enrolled in this workshop? Other than to increase enrollment in the workshop, thus making more money for this particular organization? Ahem.

I might also add that there were plenty of trained musicians, like me, who didn't have a clue about early childhood this and that, but you hardly need to be an expert in developmental psychology to teach a 45-minute class once a week. That's what we were there to learn, after all.

Even though I have yet to teach any Musikgarten classes, I learned quite a lot about teaching music to young children. Mostly, I have incorporated non-reading activities that involve body movement and call-and-response to reinforce rhythm and pitch. This is particularly effective with younger piano students (age 5-7), but I try to adapt for older children, too. Teaching piano relies so heavily on reading music (as it well should), that ear training is all too often neglected, even though a well-developed ear can actually help with good reading. Now, if you have a beginning piano student who has taken a couple years of pre-school music classes and can sing back melodies and repeat rhythm patterns accurately? That kid is a step ahead.

Which brings me to the issue of privilege. I'll say this about my former employer: he was truly committed to teaching everyone. He wrote grants for a scholarship program for kids who couldn't afford lessons or classes, and based the scholarships on the information on school-lunch forms. I'm quite sure none of my private students were on scholarship (not the ones that were driven to their lessons in Mercedes SUVs anyway), but I witnessed some of his pre-school classes that took place in daycares for low-income families and I saw first-hand just how valuable and needed music was for those kids. But that's a rarity.

Pre-school music classes are expensive. Private music lessons are expensive. I'm conflicted about this, and anyone who knows me well has had at least one discussion with me on this point. As someone who has spent years and years learning how to be a professional musician, as someone who stands to make a living doing this someday (if I ever get out of grad school, which will never happen if I keep blogging this much...but I digress...), I grind my teeth whenever I hear someone bitch about how expensive music lessons and classes are. On the other hand, when that expense shuts out a significant chunk of the population from having the opportunity - because we all know how little support the arts get in public schools - I feel guilty for making my profession something that panders mostly to the upper-class. (That said, I grew up in a family that is quite educated but certainly not wealthy in the material sense, by American standards. Just so you don't think I'm a yuppie or something.)

Oh, damn, now you've got me going. Anyone still reading ought to get a prize or something. It's actually getting late, so maybe I'll continue these thoughts tomorrow, or some other time. Thanks for hanging in there, all.


jen said…
I want to put Andy into a number of classes and lessons, but a grad student and a retail manager combined don't make enough to even afford one set of swim lessons at the community center, let alone everything I'd like to enroll him in. I know that everyone has to make a living, so I don't begrudge it, but then there's places like Gymboree that I get really angry over, they don't do any scholarships for low-income families, which sucks. Not that I'd fit in with the Gymboree crowd, but still.
Suze said…
jen, i have a friend with a child and basically no income (her husband is a med student and she's a full time mama) other than loan money. she really wanted to join a swimming pool last summer, and the only non-skanky one was in a very wealthy neighborhood and expensive to join, so she just flat-out asked if they did scholarships. and they said "well, we've never had to before, but we'll consider it," and lo and behold, she got a really big discount. so you know, you could always ask, even if scholarships aren't advertised and you might be surprised.
Anonymous said…
I've got a PhD in early childhood music. I don't have a lot of answers, but I do have a perspective that isn't shared by many programs. I spent some thorough one-on-one time with Lorna Heyge who created Musikgarten. That was enough time for me to know that she misunderstands some of the research-based methodology that she says "anchors" her program--from a music development standpoint. She IS good at understanding child development. But I'm willing to respond to questions, haggle, share, etc. Your general attitude is what had me respond to this. I think you're onto something. It's nice to hear someone who's thinking at least.
Suze said…
Who are you, anonymous? I really appreciate your thoughts, but it would be nice to know who you are!
katie said…
As I'm looking into how to structure a program of my own, I realize you're right about the musicality piece. It is amazing how many people think they can teach music when they can't keep a steady beat or carry a tune! It shouldn't be assumed that people who enroll to teach are musicians. That's something that's easy for me to assume. Somehow it has to be accounted for. Anyway, that being said, I think it is also critical to have the developmental perspective written into the curriculum, too. And people who are going to be teaching may not have to know that much about developmental psychology or music cognition, but they definitely should know the basics -- like why it is important for babies to rock and why you shouldn't try to teach a 2 year old solfege, etc.

Keep it up, Suze! I'm soaking this up, and feel fortunate that you are giving your thought to this.
Rizz said…
Hi, I'm the anonymous guy. My name is Eric, but I also go by Rizz by some good friends.

I manage an early childhood music program of about 200 children and 4 other teachers. Birth to 5, but I also have intensive (and fun!) ear training classes for up to 4th grade.

I have children in first and second grade that recognize tonic, dominant, subdominant functions in major; i, iv, and V7 in minor; recognize and name major, minor, mixolydian, and dorian tonalities. Plus they're able to do dictation in major and minor, duple and triple (eights, sixteenths, dotted, syncopated, more).

What's interesting to me is that not too many colleagues really care that this is happening. They teach lines, spaces, note durations, etc. I could throw up sometimes. It's like someone who wants to have their babies speak earlier by teaching them the alphabet instead of speaking to them.

Anyway, there's my rant of the night.

Sometimes I do get off my soapbox and speak gentler. Not usually in the mood for that though. :-}

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