“Often a single experience will open the young soul to music for a whole lifetime. This experience cannot be left to chance. It is the duty of the school to provide it.” -Zoltán Kodály, 1929
When you sing, you use an instrument that belongs only to you. You open and share a part of yourself through its use. We know that early childhood presents a window of opportunity when children are open to all experiences, as they explore their voices and their relationship to the world around them. They are actively forming organized pathways for current and future thinking.
Many music pedagogues and philosophers agree that music experiences play an active role in the development of engaged individuals, who think and engage effectively with the world around them. And we know today–as we have for thousands of years–that singing continues to be an active part of building strong communities.
The Impact of Music
Every song we share in our classrooms, every game, welcome or goodbye, presents an opportunity for our students to connect and interact with their whole self. How are we to know when a child’s music experience will be transforming–for a lifetime? How can we mindfully cultivate our children’s transformative experiences?
Ever find a group of kids on the playground, singing songs you’ve sung with them, and spontaneously making up their own song? Or playing that favorite musical game, or putting together a band? Research confirms the intrinsic and extrinsic value of school music learning, but hey, don’t we already intuitively know quite a bit on our own as well?
Current and past research supports the early elementary years as critical in the musical life of a child. In the classroom, each music experience needs to be approached with artistry and sensitivity, connecting what we teach in school to what children already intrinsically know. And, these first educational experiences are essential in building the foundations of our middle school, high school, and adult students. Each early ensemble experience helps to develop stronger individuals, as well as eclectic musical communities, as people have all over the world for thousands of years.
As music educators, we accept the charge to develop the “tuneful, beatful, and artful” (as per Dr. John Feierabend) in our everyday teaching. It is never too early to encourage the development of beginning vocal technique through healthy age-appropriate singing. To support this development, we consider what young children can do well, the natural stages of a child’s vocal development, and how to maximize their natural musicality at each stage of that development.
Choosing the Repertoire
When choosing repertoire, we all consider things like theme, meter, key, interval difficulty, and diction. For those of us who teach very young children, these considerations are the same, but we also see musical experiences as opportunities to work on many other valuable skills: working within a group, taking turns, listening to each other and to the characteristics of a song, developing their ears, building self-awareness, and supporting the young child’s growing confidence.
Young singers are at their best when they encounter repertoire that shows what they can do well, but is also musically interesting. The international folk catalogue holds a bottomless well of material that satisfies all of our musical goals as teachers, while also leaving us plenty of room to be flexible, and to adapt material to the ages, abilities, and strengths of our students.
Through folk music, we explore mode, meter, language, and rhythm patterns, which may later be tied to music literacy. We can introduce and encourage our students to explore simple melodies, gradually building that most essential skill inherent to all musicians: the ability to revisit a piece over a lifetime, finding the complex beauty within the simplest pieces. Over their musical lives, students may hear these same melodies nestled within the larger classical works.
So, sing often. Sing what you love, and share repertoire of lasting quality. Look for the Newberry and Caldecott equivalents of music repertoire. Mindfully cultivate and model with your own healthy teaching and singing voice. Facilitate active music-making. Be inspiring and teach with joy. Listen.
Enjoy your students, and the process. Endeavor to cultivate each and every class with artistry and focused skill development. Cultivate the humanity in your conversations, both verbal and musical. Share your musicianship and artistry through your passion for teaching. The children will remember how these music experiences felt– perhaps, for a lifetime.
By Marissa Curry, Ingrid Ladendorf, and Caroline Moore, www.nafme.org, www.msidallas.com