Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Music: From the Beginning

My background: I've been a private violin, viola and piano teacher for over 10 years. I've also had the opportunities to teach strings in a school setting for grades 5-12 and to coach a few string quartets. I was an early childhood teacher for 5 years- most of this simultaneously- I'm not THAT old! Before children I performed frequently both as a soloist and as part of a string quartet.  This series is based on my experiences as a teacher and parent.


The basis for my studio is that I do not teach to try to raise up brilliant musicians. The truth is the great majority of music students will not play after they reach adulthood. Of the few that do, most will not be professional musicians. My job is to help my students love music, understand what music means, and to know how it works. I deal with people, particularly children, not master technicians. Trying to make each student into a professional musician misses the point of what music is about- emotional connection and shared experience.


Why Should I Consider Teaching a Newborn About Music?

Above all else, I believe music is a way to communicate and bond with people, and who better to do that with than your newborn? Music is a way for us to share with each other and communicate emotion in a way words can't express. The purpose of introducing music to your infant is to share the emotions that music brings. It won't make your child smarter just by listening, but as your child grows and develops they will learn important skills in observance and listening. As they come to study music with you or in private lessons the analytical skills and fine motor skills that will come with study are extremely useful. Music study is connected to improved reading and math skills, and a generally more observant child.


 When Should We Start?

One of the most common questions I'm asked is "what is the right age to start music?" My answer: Whatever age your child is right now! You don't have to do things one certain way, you don't have to be a musician or even have musical experience to be able to teach your child about music. Don't worry that you're too late or too early, there is no perfect time for your child to start, no window to miss. It all starts with listening, and you and your child can do that with a CD player and a few CDs.


What Kinds of Music Should We Play?

Your child is ready to hear all types of music, so play it! When my boys were newborns we played softer music and mostly classical- Chopin preludes, some Debussy, and some Handel along with the Suzuki method violin and piano CDs. Keep in mind that newborns enjoy more peaceful sounds, and use that for your framework in selecting good music. Your child will not get bored listening to the same music over and over, so play the same CD for several days in a row. Very young children learn more and more with each repetition.


As your child starts to roll, creep and crawl, choose more active and exciting music. Bach, Vivaldi and Kabalevski are amoung our favorites. Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons" is especially popular with my boys, the sounds and textrues vary widely from piece to piece. Encourage  movement to the music as your child is able to sit up independently and crawl, and as your child is able to stand on their own, encourage bobbing along to the music or even dancing if your child is able to stand on their own. My younger son was not very eager to learn to stand and subsequently to walk, so we often took him by both hands to help him stand and would "dance" with him to music to encourage him to stand on his own.


Try to choose CDs with true instrument sounds. CDs produced specifically for children usually use a more electronic sound, or use what they deem "child-friendly" instruments. Listening to these kinds of CDs isn't bad for your child, but it doesn't help your child to learn about the sounds that different instruments make.


So You Only Listen to Classical Music?

No. We *mostly* listen to classical music. That is the music that I love  more than any other kind, and I find a lot of beauty and meaning there. We also listen to Faith Hill, Steven Curtis Chapman, Josh Groban, Third Day, They Might Be Giants, Carrie Underwood, Jason Mraz, Charlotte Church, DC Talk (getting into old stuff here!), and musicals of all sorts. Superman is a trumpet player and he really loves jazz so we often listen to jazz in the evenings if he is home for dinner. We try to listen also to music I don't personally enjoy (like some 20th century composers) and it gives us the opportunity to talk about concepts like tonality and dissonance.


So What Did Music Education Look Like In Your House with an Infant?

Much the same way it looks now that my kids are a little older. When we go downstairs in the morning to have breakfast I flip the CD Player on and music plays in the background through chores, breakfast and free play time. I turn it off while they do Montessori work and we turn it on again when I start to make lunch and through the meal time.  We listen again at dinner. I point out things that I notice as we listen- that a note is very high or low, or I might say something like, "the exciting part is coming up!" There are no projects or certain things to note. There is no guide for this age group- it is all about the enjoyment of listening to music together.


Okay, I need a Little More Guidance. Are There Specific Titles that You Recommend?

Yep, I have some favorites listed below. Remember, there is no right thing to introduce and there is no particular thing you must do. This is just a starting point.


Charlotte Church-  Prelude

They Might Be Giants- Here Come the ABCs

They Might Be Giants- Here Come the 123s

Yo-Yo Ma- Bach: The 6 Unaccompanied Cello Suites

Vivaldi- The Four Seasons

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