Aside from one or two perennials, I don’t get asked too many questions during my Dalcroze classes for young children. With busy toddlers demanding attention, there just isn’t a lot of time for chatting. (There are one or two questions I am commonly asked. See if you can guess what they are – I’ll include them at the end.) But here are a few questions I imagine some might have:
1. What’s the goal of the class?
I know that seems like an obvious question, but the answer may not be so obvious because we don’t really have time to talk about it. My hope is to immerse the children in music as much as possible. I sing, tap, clap, walk, move and play in music, and hope to encourage an environment in which everyone feels fully comfortable and free to do the same. For musicians, this is a more or less natural way of relating to others. For those with less experience in music (whether formal or informal), this may be new. I hope that everyone leaves the class inspired to try the activities at home – or make up their own ways of relating to each other through music.
2. My child is not ever asked to do anything special, and sometimes does not even seem to be paying attention. What is she really learning about music?
Children’s ability with language (speaking, reading, writing, etc.) is closely correlated with the amount of language they have heard from infancy. Music works the same way. (I would also argue that we learn this way at all ages.) We don’t have to teach children what a noun or verb is, or what order to put them in before they can fluently communicate. Children are actually capable of using quite sophisticated grammar from a surprisingly early age, all without formal instruction. If we want musical children, we surround them with music. We make it irresistible. We make it as natural as speaking, and we do this by simply being musical with them as often as possible.
3. Why does Michael discourage me from talking to my child in class, and yet he talks all the time?
For children, being musical is no more unusual than anything else they encounter minute by minute. It’s all new! For the adults, who perhaps are not as accustomed at this point in their lives to being musical on a regular basis, it is sometimes unclear: What am I supposed to do? And then: if I don’t know what to do, I am sure my child doesn’t!
My goal is always to make the room move and breathe in music together. I model with movement, or a ball, or a scarf, and I hope to look out and see uninhibited musical expression and experimentation. If I don’t see it, I keep working until I do. Sometimes I am successful, sometimes not, but my verbal coaching is entirely for the adults. The kids don’t need it! Children absorb by their own combination of being and doing. The best mode for the adults to be in is to ‘be the music that you want to see’. Just know that you may not see that music right away, just as they don’t utter every word they hear the first time they hear it.
What’s the most frequently asked question? The winner is: “When can my child start an instrument?” My answer is always the same: 1) when the child asks for it, and 2) when you think the child is ready to sit down and play everyday. But what’s the rush? The cello, the piano, the violin are instruments for musical expression. What needs to be developed, nurtured and fed (at all stages of musical life) is the need – the hunger – to express and engage musically. Then, the rest is easy.
I hope you will be encouraged to try some of the things we do at home. You might want to play some of the recordings I have used in class. Many of these come from larger sets of music. It’s great to play the whole set (in the car, in the background at home, etc.) Get out the balls, the scarves, the stuffed animals; walk/gallup/tiptoe/dance as the louds and softs, fasts and slows of the music change. (A streaming service like Spotify, Rhapsody or now Apple Connect are wonderful resources and well worth the $10 subscription fee.)
Make it a part of your every day life, and your child will enjoy the gift for life.
Here’s a list of some of the pieces I have used recently:
1. The Old Castle by Mussorgsky, from Pictures at an Exhibition
2. Rockin’ in Rhythm and Daybreak Express by Duke Ellington
3. Des pas sur la niege (“Footprings in the snow) by Claude Debussy from Preludes for Piano
4. Prelude to the Mother Goose Suite by Maurice Ravel
Happy playing… And keep those questions coming…
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