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Start the Music Strategies: Introduction

Learn about strategies that can help children grow musically by reading this introduction to MENC's Start the Music Strategies -- a music teaching guide.
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Start the Music Strategies: Introduction


Reaching Children with Music

Assisting children in their foundational musical development is similarto their language acquisition processes. As adults, we can help childrengrow 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’sinitial awareness of the beauty and the structure of musical sound.

  • Encouraging a child’s musical responses through smiling, nodding, and alsoby responding with our own expressive sounds and movements. This sendsa 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 manykinds of musical experiences throughout children’s daily routines.

Of course, we see the children we care for pass through the fourstages of Awareness, Exploration, Inquiry, and Utilization as they developlanguage skills. As children acquire the skills and knowledge that musiccan bring to their lives, they go through similar stages. At each of thesestages, children show a series of exciting behaviors – and we adults canhelp 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 playingwith a variety of sound sources (such as musical toys, puzzle blocks).At this stage, caregivers can help by singing, chanting, and moving withchildren; imitating and encouraging children’s vocalizations and "musicalconversations"; exposing children to many different sound sources; including a variety of styles of music in our play with children; reinforcing theunderlying beat in music through rocking, patting, and moving; and usingmusic in ways that speak to the individual child.

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

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

If any of the children’s play behaviors sound complex, they are: Childrenare capable of interacting musically in ways that many adults find surprisinglysophisticated. That’s one of the reasons that music needs to be part ofevery child’s experience. On the other hand, if the ways that caregiverscan help children sound complicated, they really shouldn’t. And this bookis meant to give just a few simple strategies that caregivers – no mattertheir personal level of musical attainment – can use to help children gainsome of the benefits of an early integration of music into their educationalplay. There are activities for you to do with groups and with individualchildren; activities for singing, for moving, and for playing simple instruments.In short, there are activities that both you and the children should findrewarding and enjoyable.

As you go through these lessons to look for strategies you want to use withthe children in your care, remember that these activities are designedboth to reach musical goals and to help reach more general goals for thechildren’s development. These goals are listed at the beginning of eachsection: Music and Curricular Connections, Music and Literature, BuildingMusical Bridges, and Movement and Circle Games.

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Provided in partnership with NAfME