Hello Lucy Moses Summer Intensive 2013 participants, and anyone else interested teaching music to young children!
As requested, here is an outline of the structure I use for my classes for young children. Though I do follow this basic plan for most of my classes, this represents only what works for me – there are many possible ways a lesson can go. However, I have found that not having to think about what kind of activity is needed (floor work, movement in space, improvisation) allows me to more easily fine tune what we are doing to the ways the kids happen to be responding.
Floor work/body warm-up
This is an opportunity to bring the group together. Kids enter the class in many different physical and emotional states and they seem to benefit from a sensitive transition period from ‘out there’ to ‘in here’. We start in a circle on the floor with simple body warm-ups that might introduce a musical focus point for the day, often through a new song.
Movement in place
Standing in once place for long periods of time is not something that comes naturally to many children (though there are exceptions!). Whenever possible, I like to find ways to engage the children musically as they ground themselves in one spot – another way to experience the day’s musical focus. Arm swings, body shapes and sculptures requiring quick reaction, waiting and watching as soloists move can all build this ability which will be required of many of them if they begin the study an instrument such as the violin.
Movement in space
Once the children get to know my routine, they know that they will soon be moving around the room with abandon (though always with a listening ear!). The transition to moving in space looms large as they are standing still. I include many kinds of locomotor opportunities, taking suggestions and cues from them as often as possible. After a month, most can recognize and respond appropriately to music that walks, runs, skips and all the rest. I may use images here to focus or inspire movement (trains, horses, taxis, a previous weeks story..). As the year unfolds, I find ways to have them move in different size groups – solo, duos, trios and full ensemble. I often build the movement to a high point, and then invite a rest and relaxation transition.
The story is often the heart of the class. It is hard not to take advantage of the children’s hunger (well – all right, and my own) for image, story and drama. With the right chemistry of elements, they fully invest themselves in the action. Many musical subjects can be explored this way: meter, phrasing, duration, dynamics, tempo…
Another relaxation period follows. I usually play a full piece during this time without speaking. I have used short pieces by Schuman, Chopin, Ravel Debussy. If they are especially restless, we might do some quiet relaxing movements on the floor (snow angels, limbs slowly up and down, quiet singing).
Different seated activity
After the story, I try take advantage of the quiet focus that comes after a lot of physical activity and a good rest. I might use symbol work on the board, drawing, a ball passing experience, or the exploration of an unfamiliar instrument to attempt to tie our experiences to whatever musical concept or element has been the focus of the class.
Every class of mine includes some kind of improvisation – to say nothing of all of the improvised movement that has gone on up to now – using percussion, voice, xylophone or tone bells. This is a time for us all to observe and learn from each others’ musical responses and ways of playing. I rarely have all of the children playing the same instrument. Through individual musical interaction with me, I sometimes encourage children to discover new ways of playing, or attempt to steer them toward a desired musical goal. (I always hope that it emerges unbidden, however!) Often, I find myself affirming something I have heard in their playing by reflecting it in my own musical response. It is a time to see how our experiences are influencing musical development.
Though I do not use goodbye or hello songs, I do like to end the class singing. I often ask, “What should we sing?” or “Who’s got a song?”. If no one pipes up, I’ll offer one that we’ve done in the class, sometimes playing just the rhythm on a percussion instrument to see if they can recognize it. (A variation on the Mystery Tune, see Farber, Anne for more details!) I often try to adapt favorite class songs to the day’s musical focus.
And then, “See you next week!”
I hope that answers a few questions, and doesn’t raise to many new ones. If it does, feel free to ask! Also, I’d love to hear about your own basic class plans. I’m sure there’s lots of variation! Feel free to comment here on the blog, or in person at our next meeting.