If you’re a parent, I don’t have to tell you this: You already know that your small child loves music. Maybe she sings, dances, claps, marches, and moves to music she likes. Or perhaps he bangs a drum or picks at notes on a piano.
Based on this obvious interest (not to mention possible aptitude), you may be considering enrolling a young child in music lessons. But while private music lessons work for some small children, not all preschoolers are ready to focus for a half-hour private piano, violin, or guitar lesson lesson. Many aren’t ready to adhere to a regular practice schedule. Not to mention that young children simply may not have the dexterity to move fingers independently to make notes on a piano or a violin.
But small children can handle other instruments appropriate for a pre-schooler’s development, size, and age. Percussion instruments, and sometimes harmonicas, recorders, or ukeleles, can be managed by tots. The trick is to find a program that suits your child’s level of development and cognitive abilities.
Groups Lessons Offer General Music Instruction
Perhaps the most famous pre-school music education program is the Suzuki program, which started by training children as young as three or four on violin, and has expanded to offer music instruction in piano, recorder, percussion, and other instruments. The Suzuki program has some astonishing success stories, but it isn’t for every child: It involves both private and group instruction and focuses on the development of specific instrumental skills. Other group programs focus on specific instruments, for example, group piano classes. But not all preschoolers are ready for this level of instruction.
Children who exhibit an interest in music but who aren’t yet mature enough for private lessons can benefit from general music lessons in a group setting. Some of the better known programs with classes all across North America include Music for Young Children, Kindermusik, Musikgarten, and Gymboree Play and Music.
In addition, countless local programs offer group music classes for small children. Many of these programs have been developed by instructors who have experience working in various other major programs. Local group music programs for small children may be offered by just one teacher working out of a home studio; or they may be offered at community music schools, at community centers, in YMCAs, in pre-school programs, at colleges and universities, or in music stores.
The well-known programs vary: For example, Musikgarten has programs for infants, whereas Music for Young Children’s Sunrise Program starts wtth children ages two and three. But though the specifics vary, all the programs include games and activities designed to teach children about pitch, rhythm, singing, listening, music appreciation, and even composing.
Benefits of Group Music Lessons
Group music lessons serve several important purposes in setting the stage for a child’s music education.
Perhaps most importantly, these music classes focus on what small children can do (move to music, count, recognize pitch, sing) and not what they can’t do (make a perfect note on a violin, play with good hand position on a piano, blow a note into a trumpet). Group music lessons don’t focus on istrumental skills; instead, they include age-appropriate activities that most preschoolers can handle and will enjoy.
Games might include stretching hands up when notes go higher in a song, or crouching down when pitches get lower, marching and counting to music, tossing a ball in time with rhythm, and learning note names and how to count. Thus, lessons are not frustrating for the child; they are fun.
Secondly, the skills that can be taught to very young children – pitch recognition, musical form, counting, playing in time – are essential for beginning study on any instrument. Not only that, but these skills are very effectively taught to groups via games.
Many private teachers breathe a sigh of relief when a young child comes in the door who has already taken part in a group music program that teaches pitch and rhythm. A student who has not had this exposure is often overwhelmed by the sheer volume of all there is to learn and do when starting an instrument: find the note, play it correctly with the right finger, learn the difference between high notes and low notes, short notes and long notes, and so much more. Students with early exposure to fundamentals often find the first lessons on an instrument much easier, because they already understand some basic musical concepts.
Other Advantages of Group Music Instruction for Pre-School Children
- Group lessons are fun because they involve play with other children. Small children take cues from each other, and learn by playing and engaging directly with material that interests them.
- Group lessons instill an early appreciation that music is an enjoyable activity to be played in a group setting.
- Group music classes focus on skills that small children are cognitively and physically able and ready to learn – not skills that will frustrate them..
- Group music classes create a quality educational family interaction. (Most programs require parental attendance and participation.)
In short, group music lessons give pre-schoolers an opportunity to play with music, to have a stress-free and enjoyable introduction into the world of music making, and teach them skills that they will be able to apply to instrumental study – when they are ready for it.