Music education in early childhood encompasses musical learning from infancy through to the lower primary school years. Exposure to high quality and play-based music education during the formative years of a child’s life prepares musical abilities through experiential activities, and provides a firm foundation for more formal music training at school where the musical elements are taught consciously. Children who participate in engaging and varied foundation musical experiences in early childhood gain secure skills and knowledge that are required for further development of musical performing, reading, writing, creating and analysis. This initial phase of musical learning is often referred to as Readiness Music. The overarching goals of any early childhood music program are to expose children to high quality, beautiful music in a variety of genres to awaken musical sensitivity; to support the physical, intellectual, emotional and social development of children through music; and to develop musical skills in the areas of singing, rhythm, listening and movement.
Musical Skill Development
Songs and Rhymes
Song is the child’s most natural language, and all children, barring rare physical limitations, can learn to sing as a means to access to their inner conception of music. Singing has a profound effect upon a child’s development, and is the most direct and accessible way of making a musical response. Learning music through engaging with singing, playing, moving and enjoying is a part of an organic and holistic learning process. Readiness Music programs begin to develop accuracy and confidence when singing with vocal play activities. Children learn to access their singing voice through playful and relaxed experimentation, such as mimicking the sounds of owls, sirens and train whistles. Simple songs with a limited range of two or three notes, such as ‘Rain Rain, Go Away’ are included as age-appropriate and artistically accessible repertoire to support developing voices. Exposure to traditional singing games such as ‘The Farmer in the Dell’ extend the melodic range, and the joy of singing and playing that children experience during such games fosters a love of singing and music and respect for the voices of others. Rhymes are also used extensively during early childhood music programs. As consonants are exaggerated and pronunciation is slower than regular speech when saying a rhyme, speech development is supported. The metric pulse of the rhyme aids memory development and the internalisation of musical elements such as phrases and beat.
Beat and Rhythm
The musical concept of beat forms the foundation of music. Early childhood music allows children early access to experiences that help them develop an internalised sense of beat. Keeping in time with the beat of music through gross motor movements such as rocking, bouncing, walking, and later jumping and skipping, help children feel the steady pulse in the music and develop their awareness of their body in space. As children grow, their external applications of their sense of beat becomes more refined, allowing them to keep in time using the fine motor skills that are required for playing age-appropriate instruments such as untuned, handheld percussion. Pre-school aged children who have participated in early childhood music programs will have developed an internalised sense of beat, on which rhythmic patterns of longer and shorter sounds are superimposed. Clapping rhythmic patterns that match the words of a song or rhyme helps children to aurally discriminate patterns of syllables, which is indispensable for language and musical acquisition.
Listening during early childhood music education is not a passive experience. Children are exposed to activities to develop skills in aural discrimination of pitch, dynamics and timbre. Through singing and movement, children discover comparative qualities of music such as dynamics (softer or louder), tempo (faster or slower), and melody (higher or lower). Musical learning through singing also develops the ability to think in sound and hear music inside the head without acoustical stimulation, known as ‘audiation’. To develop the ability to audiate, young children must have learned many simple songs and be able to sing them in tune. Early childhood music teachers incorporate activities where children begin to think parts of known songs, such as thinking the word ‘head’ during a round of ‘Heads, Shoulder, Knees and Toes’ or ‘BINGO’.
In early childhood music, movement is inseparable from any musical element. Movement and dance enhances understanding of the organisation of movement sequences, and develops spatial awareness and emotional connections to art. As children move to music while singing, musical understanding is also being hardwired – a sense of musical form is developed when actions match the phrases, and melodic contour is emphasised as children move up or down according to the music. The inclusion of traditional singing games promotes enjoyment of music and movement, and helps to transmit traditional cultures in which music and dance are intertwined and connected to community. Movement to recorded music following simple actions directed by the teacher means children are actively engaged with the music rather than being passive listeners, which develops attention and concentration.
Early childhood music programs offer rich musical experiences for children, and support the development of the whole child in readiness for school. By introducing children to music at an early age, you are setting them up for a lifetime of opportunities, passion and well-rounded humanity.
Susan Creese is the Primary Music Co-ordinator at St Peters Lutheran College Indooroopilly. St Peters offers a Pre-Prep Music Program to children aged 3-5 years. For information about the program, visit the Music page on the St Peters website – www.stpeters.qld.edu.au
This article was published in Issue 26 of our print magazine, February/March 2018.