An Overview of Early Childhood Music Programs

Learn about these tried-and-true music education methods that use singing, dancing, and instruments to jumpstart a love of music in your child’s early years.

You may have heard claims that classical music can ignite an infant’s cognitive development. A 2013 study at Beijing Normal University concluded that beginning music education before the age of seven can increase neuronal connections across the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Swedish researchers have also found that brain circuitry can be reshaped through musical training.

In addition to positive cognitive development, I personally love the pleasure my little ones and I experience from enjoying various forms of music, dance, and creative (often silly) play together.

There are many high-quality childhood music programs available to families today. Each has a slightly different focus, although they share the belief that children benefit from listening to music from an early age. Whether you plan to have your kids engage in academic music study when they are older, or you just want to create a tradition of playing and enjoying music in your family life — an early childhood music program is a good place to start. If you’re not sure which program will work best for your child at the outset, ask if you can attend a free trial class to help you decide. Below you can read introductory information about some of the most popular offerings available.

Musikgarten (Birth to age 9)

Musikgarten was opened in 1994 by Dr. Lorna Lutz Heyge, a German music educator, and Audrey Silick, a Canadian childhood education specialist. Dr. Heyge previously led a musical program called Kindermusik.

Certified programs grant instructors specific Musikgarten licensure to teach. Be sure to ask when registering your child for one of their classes.

Basic premise

Early music education enhances social and physical development, motor skills, language development, self-expression, memory skills, and concentration in children. The Musikgarten philosophy is that listening, problem solving, goal setting, and teamwork skills are all enhanced by music and movement classes.

Class format and materials

  • Classes are held in a group setting. Lessons progress from semester to semester with repetition of songs and development of patterns and concepts. Kids get to take home CDs of the music.

  • Classes for babies include rocking games, peek-a-boo rhymes, and the use of scarves and rattles.

  • Toddler classes have more movement, incorporating dance, play, and simple instruments like shakers and rhythm sticks.

  • Preschoolers have music and activities to build concentration and self-expression. They practice chanting, singing, creative movement, and storytelling activities.

  • From age 4 and upwards, kids are introduced to various orchestral instruments and ear training.

  • From age 6 and upwards, kids participate in group piano lessons to go from playing by ear to learning how to read music. This helps prepare children to take private piano lessons.

  • Children get to explore American, American Indian, and African American music, as well as music from the British Isles and Germany.

Music Together (Birth to age 7)

Founded by music educators Kenneth Guilmartin and Lili Levinowitz in Princeton, New Jersey, Music Together is a research-based program that was first offered to the public in 1987.

Basic premise

All children are musical and can achieve basic music competence, such as the ability to sing in tune and move with accurate rhythm. The participation of parents and caregivers is essential to a child's musical growth.

Class format and materials

  • Classes include children and parents, or other caregivers, in a mixed-age group setting.

  • The teacher and parents sing along, use scarves, and simple musical instruments like drums, tambourines, and shakers.

  • Teachers often play an instrument such as the ukulele or piano to accompany the singing.

  • Families get to take home printed copies of the music, as well as CDs so they can listen at home or in the car.

  • Classes are non-performance oriented, and give parents the tools to engage in musical play with their little ones.

  • The music collection includes folk songs and world music, including non-Western style music, chants, and mixed meter patterns.

Orff-Schulwerk Method (18 Months and Up)

The Orff Schulwerk (Schoolwork) approach was developed in the 1920s by Carl Orff, a German composer and music teacher at the Guntherschule music school in Munich. Gunild Keetman, an outstanding student from Orff’s school, later became his collaborator in developing the method.

Basic premise

Orff believed that rhythmic training should start in early childhood. He used movement and speech natural to the child as a starting point for musical experiences. His philosophy was "Experience first, then intellectualize." Children are given a physical, non-intellectual background in rhythm and melody to lay the foundation necessary for later understanding of music and musical notation.

Class format and materials

  • Classes are held in a group setting.

  • The initial focus is on rhythm and percussion instruments. A typical lesson might consist of a teacher reading a poem or story to the classroom and asking kids to repeat it. After that, children may be asked to pick an instrument, such as a tambourine or xylophone, and make a sound at certain points of the story as it is read aloud again.

  • Music is experienced through speech, chants, movement, singing, and drama. The Orff-Schulwerk method encourages improvisation and creativity.

  • The music used typically begins with pieces from the children's heritage, and then expands to folk traditions from other cultures.

  • Orff instruments consist of both pitched and unpitched instruments, including xylophones, metallophones, and glockenspiels (soprano, alto, and bass), as well as other simple percussion instruments like triangles, shakers, tambourines, gongs, and bongos.

  • The Orff-Schulwerk method uses the pentatonic scale. It’s the simplest musical scale for children to begin with.

Kodály Method (6 Months and Up)

Although the philosophy was not originally created by Zoltán Kodály, it is named for the Hungarian music teacher because he did much to evolve and develop the methods. From 1950 onwards, Kodály methods have been taught and spread throughout various nations, including all across the U.S.

Basic premise

Kodály believed that everyone is capable of musical literacy and that singing is the foundation of musical learning. Young children should begin learning music through play, singing games, and chants, and only later go on to musical reading, writing, and sight-singing.

Class format

  • Lessons start in a group format. The voice is the main instrument in this method.

  • Children are first taught folk songs in their mother tongue. Lessons then move on to include music from other cultures and languages.

  • Hand signals, or solfège, are used to show tonal relationships.

  • Similar to the Orff method, the pentatonic music scale is used for young children.

  • As they grow older, children learn to read as well as analyze and perform great music of the world.

Suzuki Method (3 Years and Up)

Founded by Dr. Shinichi Suzuki more than 50 years ago in Japan, the Suzuki method of music education emphasizes the "mother tongue" method.

Basic premise

Children are taught to play an instrument in the same way they learn to speak the language of their parents. They are surrounded by music from an early age, and encouraged gently by parents and teachers to make progress. Originally the method was used to teach violin, but it has now been extended to viola, cello, bass, piano, flute, harp, guitar, recorder, and voice.

Class format

  • The child undertakes both group and private lessons in the instrument of choice. 3-year-olds begin with a very short private lesson that lasts 10 minutes.

  • Children are taught to encourage and support each other in group lessons, and to recognize that everyone learns at different paces.

  • Children play their musical pieces repeatedly in order to learn them. Once learned, they add them to their music vocabulary, using them in increasingly sophisticated ways. The Suzuki method encourages memorization of music.

  • Children play excerpts of classical Western music from the beginning, some of which were composed by Suzuki himself. Children learn technical lessons in the context of musical pieces.

  • Children “play by ear” at the start and learn to read music much later in the process.

  • The teacher and parent are partners in helping the child learn. Parental involvement in classes and daily practice is very important.

  • Children have opportunities to perform solo and group pieces in a non-competitive atmosphere.

My kids started out at Music Together as toddlers and later moved on to learning the violin through Suzuki instruction. I see them benefit from their musical education on a daily basis and know they have the foundation for a lifelong appreciation of music.

Follow this link to find more expert advice about learning music.

Sources:

Bergland, C. Musical Training Optimizes Brain Function (Nov 13, 2013). Retrieved January 28, 2015 from Psychology Today.

About Musikgarten. Retrieved January 28, 2015 from Musikgarten.

About Music Together. Retrieved January 28, 2015 from Music Together.

Cary, D. Kodály and Orff: A Comparison of Two Approaches in Early Music Education (2012). Retrieved January 28, 2015 from ZKU Journal of Social Sciences, Volume 8, Number 15.

About the Suzuki Method. Retrieved January 28, 2015 from Suzuki Association of the Americas.

Rotem, Z. The Suzuki Method – Mother Tongue Approach. Retrieved January 29, 2015 from The Sunshine Piano School.

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