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The Instrument Question

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I am often asked when a child should begin to learn an instrument. This question is not as easily answered as one would expect. It is a similar question that one may ask with regards to a child’s development or mile stones. I hope this note provides some food for thought. Some parents believe that their child is ready to begin to learn an instrument when they are very young. I urge great caution!

              I have observed over the years that children aged 3 to 7 years of age are seldom ready to take on the rigors of learning an instrument and practising every day. It could be compared with a child being expected to read and write before he has a basic understanding of the language he is expected to read and write in! Whilst we observe how well the children develop musically in the classes, they are still only just  beginning to learn the most basic and fundamental concepts of music which are essential to the playing of an instrument. It all takes time, and many children will not find it easy to understand much of what is required to play an instrument if not given the opportunity to have access to some prior music education. As a consequence, a child can become quickly bored in a one-to-one environment of instrumental study. This is so often a problem with children who begin to learn an instrument when they are too young. They become frustrated and confused and then frequently, give up.

 

Music is a wonderful tool for self-expression. While it is very important for the child to be taught the fundamental elements of music, just as we all must learn to read and write and learn our numbers, it is essential that when the children are away from their class, they are encouraged to explore and discover the wonders and beauty of music in its most joyous form, just as we do language, through reading and expression. It is not just about working towards playing notes on an instrument with the risk of becoming meaningless words, but embracing music in as many ways as possible.

 

If the children have already had the experience of discovering music through many avenues in a supportive group environment, surely they are off to a running start. We must teach for success.

Good progress in music is almost impossible without good aural skills and a well tuned voice and body.

In the pre-instrumental classes for children of school age, the children have the opportunity to learn and understand many of the essentials for instrumental study. It is a carefully crafted, sequential curriculum, which introduces the children to the fundamentals of reading and writing music. The singing voice which is vital for the development of aural skills is used as our first instrument to understand the sung scale family. This is known as solfege training. Our singing voice goes with us wherever we go, so if a child learns to sing in tune, they have an instrument on call! It is a wonderful way for children to begin their formal music studies as the children learn so much of what is required to play an instrument, while still being supported in a familiar and happy group environment. The body is a vital instrument as well and so movement and tuned percussion continue to be an important learning tool in these classes. Good progress in music is almost impossible without good aural skills and a well tuned voice and body.

The music and movement classes are an invaluable stepping stone to the pre instrumental classes, exploring the language of music in its broadest sense, just as pre-school education is to primary school.

This is just a brief comment on a very complex subject.  It was the passionate subject and life’s work for the musicians who established these wonderful teaching philosophies. Jaques Dalcroze, Zoltan Kodaly and Carl Orff are shining examples of the very best of Early Childhood Music Education.

Jane