Getting Started With Early Music Education
By Dr. Robert E. Johnson, Music Intelligence Project
Many parents know that music education is great for children, but aren’t sure when and how to get started. The short answer to “when” is “now”: It’s never too late to instill an interest in music learning. That said, when beginning a child’s active development of musical skills: the sooner, the better. Preschool age is a great time to start because it’s a period of rapid growth in children’s brains. Such focused, active music learning can have very positive, long-term effects that are comparable to language learning. But for children to get these benefits, they need a program that goes beyond the informal and casual playtime music commonly targeted to preschoolers. Let’s talk about how to do this!
The way children learn is as important as what children learn.
Young children’s learning styles and abilities must be considered when providing musical education. Here are some important strategies for parents to keep in mind.
- Plan and sequence music learning experiences so that children will build understanding and confidence.
- Encourage children to actively participate in the learning experience by moving, singing, and actively listening. Research shows that active participation in music learning is linked to brain development.
- Provide capable models of musical performance to guide the learning. Children pick up musical skills through imitation. If the child’s model for singing is out of tune, the child will learn to sing out of tune.
- Match musical models to the child’s physical abilities. Choose songs in the child’s ideal singing range, and keep rhythmic movements simple to assure success.
- Give clear instructions that are easily understood by children (and adults).
- Don’t rush it; repetition is an important part of the learning process. Try to make presentations interesting and fun so children will want to keep learning.
Most young learners already have an inherent love for and interest in music. Teaching them these building blocks of music early on sets the foundation for future music understanding and enjoyment. Music is a lifelong learning activity that engages so many senses, interconnects so many parts of the brain, and provides so much enjoyment. Nurture it; you’ll be glad you did!
TIP: Find opportunities throughout the day to engage your child in music-making activities. These include: singing, clapping or marching to the beat of music and playing rhythms on simple percussion instruments. For activity ideas, see Boosting the Musical Ear.
More on early music education:
Dr. Robert Johnson is Co-Director of Curriculum for the Music Intelligence Project and The Tuneables. Dr. Johnson received his Ph.D. in music education from the University of Michigan and was a professor in music education for over 25 years. He has advanced the cause of early childhood music education by teaching music to hundreds of young children, composing age-appropriate songs, offering courses to prepare teachers, conducting research, and offering workshops for parents and caregivers of young children.
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