Start the Music Strategies: Introduction

Reaching Children with Music

Assisting children in their foundational musical development is similar to their language acquisition processes. As adults, we can help children grow musically (and in many other ways) by:

  • Immersing a child in musical conversations as we sing, speak rhythmically, move expressively, and play musical instruments. This stimulates children’s initial awareness of the beauty and the structure of musical sound.

  • Encouraging a child’s musical responses through smiling, nodding, and also by responding with our own expressive sounds and movements. This sends a message to children that music making is a valuable and important behavior.

  • Finding ways to encourage and motivate a child’s playful exploration, interpretation, and understanding of musical sound. This includes many kinds of musical experiences throughout children’s daily routines.

Of course, we see the children we care for pass through the four stages of Awareness, Exploration, Inquiry, and Utilization as they develop language skills. As children acquire the skills and knowledge that music can bring to their lives, they go through similar stages. At each of these stages, children show a series of exciting behaviors – and we adults can help them by joining them with easy-to-do and fun behaviors of our own:

  • At the musical awareness stage, children’s play behaviors include sensing, touching, manipulating, and gaining awareness of musical sound; and playing with a variety of sound sources (such as musical toys, puzzle blocks). At this stage, caregivers can help by singing, chanting, and moving with children; imitating and encouraging children’s vocalizations and "musical conversations"; exposing children to many different sound sources; including a variety of styles of music in our play with children; reinforcing the underlying beat in music through rocking, patting, and moving; and using music in ways that speak to the individual child.

  • At the musical exploration stage, children’s musical play behaviors include singing, moving, listening, playing unpitched percussive instruments (such as drums and rhythm sticks); singing isolated song fragments, "chime in" phrases, patterns; performing rhythm patterns and a steady beat; beginning to discriminate basic musical ideas (such as same/different, loud/soft, fast/slow, and high/low). Here, we can help by singing, chanting, and moving with children; exposing children to many different sound sources and styles of music; providing opportunities for children to play percussive instruments (that they shake, rattle, tap, jingle) to accompany songs; using movement as a nonverbal response to the expressive characteristics of music; and modeling conversational singing as a natural part of children’s daily routines.

  • At musical inquiry and utilization stages, children’s musical play behaviors include beginning to translate musical understandings through singing, moving, playing percussion instruments, and following song pictures and puzzles; beginning to verbalize characteristics of music (melody, rhythm, form; timbre or tone color); beginning to engage in more complex problem solving processes about music and music making; and translating familiar musical ideas to unfamiliar contexts. As adults, we can help by engaging children in more organized, structured musical experiences; exploring ways to incorporate the musical concepts of fast/slow, high/low, loud/soft, and same/different in curricular experiences; using pictures, shapes, and other symbols to represent musical ideas; and modeling music making throughout children’s daily routines.

If any of the children’s play behaviors sound complex, they are: Children are capable of interacting musically in ways that many adults find surprisingly sophisticated. That’s one of the reasons that music needs to be part of every child’s experience. On the other hand, if the ways that caregivers can help children sound complicated, they really shouldn’t. And this book is meant to give just a few simple strategies that caregivers – no matter their personal level of musical attainment – can use to help children gain some of the benefits of an early integration of music into their educational play. There are activities for you to do with groups and with individual children; activities for singing, for moving, and for playing simple instruments. In short, there are activities that both you and the children should find rewarding and enjoyable.

As you go through these lessons to look for strategies you want to use with the children in your care, remember that these activities are designed both to reach musical goals and to help reach more general goals for the children’s development. These goals are listed at the beginning of each section: Music and Curricular Connections, Music and Literature, Building Musical Bridges, and Movement and Circle Games.

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