Teaching Left and Right to Preschoolers through Music

Learning left from right is one thing that music easily allows us to teach preschoolers. Most preschoolers do not know which hand is their left hand and which is their right hand. Having that sense of left from right is so important to opening up their little minds. Adding movement activities that require a response to this knowledge slowly opens up their understanding and response to this concept.

Musical activities introduce this concept. Let’s look at a few.

1. “The Hokey Pokey” is an oldie but a goody. This song has rhythm and  melody that makes it fun. Before children start, simply begin this activity by having the children mirror you while you raise your left hand and then your right hand. Do the same thing with your feet. Now begin the song. You may sing it without instruments, but I recommend using prerecorded music. Prerecorded music will allow you to do the activity with the children so that they can follow you. If you strum a guitar, make sure that children are able to have a good person to mirror who is doing the activity successfully.

2. “Mother Gooney Bird” is a great song. Children will love adding one appendage at a time as they follow the lead of the teacher with the instructions in this song. Mother Gooney Bird’s seven chicks could only move arms, legs, and other body parts. I have yet to meet a child who does not love this song. I like to add my puppets into this activity. Again, children are moving. This movement reinforces learning a very important skill and the music makes it fun!

3. “Waking to the Left” is my own song.  I wrote this song for this purpose. Children can simply get in a circle and walk to the left and right as a group as the song instructs. I use a parachute to help the children stay in the circle as this can be difficult for preschoolers. Other fun parachute activities can be added to this one. Having fun cannot be underestimated. Children (as well as adults) retain so much more information while they are having fun. You can find this song on my CD, Dance with Me: Songs for Young Children (by Sharon Novak). http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/sharonnovak

4. There are many more songs.  Look up songs for teaching left and right. Many great artists and songs will come up. Check them out and pick your favorites, or better yet, pick the children’s favorite. I personally enjoy Patty Shukla’s songs. Lots of great choices. Just be comfortable leading them. And the best part is you can let the recording do most of the musical parts for you.

 

Learning left and right is so important to a child’s development. Think of the spatial relationships that are being learned. Imagine how much easier it will be for a child to learn an instrument when his/her instructor asks him to use his left hand for the bass notes and right hand for the treble notes on the piano. Know that coordination for playing sports will be better. This skill will open your child’s mind up to a lot of things!

 

Group Guitar Classes for Young Children

Teaching a group class for instruction on any instrument can definitely have its challenges. One on one instruction is clearly a better option in most cases. So why should a parent enroll his/her child in a group class? I am going to talk about the advantages of a group guitar class for children. A group guitar class for young children certainly has its advantages over individual instruction.

1. It is cost effective. Group lessons will often cost at least half the price of a private lesson. What parent would not find this to be a good thing. When a child is starting on any instrument, a group class is a great way to make sure that the instrument he or she has chosen is something he wants to continue learning. The lower cost is definitely a better option considering that the child and parent are still testing the waters. Just make sure that the class is offering a positive learning experience so that his judgment is not clouded by a poor classroom experience with the guitar.

2. Children often enjoy group classes. When my son was given the choice between group activities or one on one activities with adults, he would always choose the group activities. Often children get a little bashful in one on one situations with adults, and adding the learning of a new instrument into the picture only makes things more stressful. Being introduced to a new instrument with his or her peers makes things so much easier for children, especially young children.

3. Guitar is an instrument where children in a similar age group work at similar paces.  Because learning the guitar is much more complicated than many instruments, children require constant repetition of basic skills. This makes the group activity work well. Because most of the children stay at the same level, rarely will a single child find himself feeling frustrated because he or she cannot keep up. Children in the group quickly learn that they are all working on this difficult instrument together.

4. A class that is taught by a teacher who has good control of the class will make a successful experience. I love teaching my group guitar class. I get my 6 to 9 year old children playing simple songs on the very first day. We name the strings, we find frets, get our fingers on the frets (ow! reality check!), and learn a very simple song with 3 parts which get slightly more complicated as we move along. I put on the drum machine and we begin to rock out droning the low E string for 4 or 8 beats and then do the same on the A string. We go back and forth between the strings doing the same thing. over and over again until I see the children are comfortable with this. They love that they are playing a song with a drum beat! Voila! Success. And you will see me often say, I teach with success. Activities have to be something that they can do. We then get our fingers on the frets. This requires that we take a break to learn how the pitch works and to work on getting our fingers on the frets to change the sound. This takes a while but I move them along so that we can play the next part of our song on the low E string, 0, 3, 5 once each per each 4 beat measure. We repeat until children are comfortable with what is happening. Then put the parts together. This all happens in about 20 minutes. Most children start feeling success with this on the first day! I have already won them over! After a few weeks of repeating this simple song and gradually learning a few more simple skills, the children in my groups understand what it takes to learn guitar. Many of my students are so enthused that they continue their study in private lessons.

With the guitar, a full semester works great! Because children are equally challenged, I don’t see many children trying to move ahead (as long as children are in proper age groups.) For group piano, I would recommend I shorter time period because children move at different levels quickly. I definitely would recommend starting any child’s  introduction to an instrument with a good group class.

Using Movement and Manipulatives in a Preschool Music Class

When teaching music to preschoolers, the first thing we must do is to make sure that they are interested and able to understand the concepts. Teaching very young children is not the same as teaching adults. Young children are not ready to learn so many concepts that we as adults take for granted.

Now before I even begin my more complex lessons, I always begin my classes with movement activities using songs that I have written and songs you will find on my CDs. This will start them feeling music and rhythm. These are great warm up and mixer activities for my preschoolers as they often come into my class a little shy. Children will specifically dress in clothes that have many colors before they come to my class because they know that I am going to do the Color Song” (“The Color I See”). These are the fun things that make them want to come back. After these warm up activities my children are ready to learn.

Now as a teacher, I am all about teaching with success. I never force children to learn any concepts that are a little too difficult for them. I simply introduce concepts and repeat them from week to week. Repetition is so important with preschoolers. Children slowly begin to grasp all of these concepts if we are patient.

These are basic concepts that I will teach in my Preschool Music Class at Mountain Top Music Center:

1. When teaching rhythm counting beats alone is not sufficient. We have to allow them to move their bodies in some way to keep their interest and help them feel the beat. I will have them tap sticks together or tap them on the floor, tap a drum, use body movements like maybe patting their knees. Sometimes I will count, but I will often use a beat machine or stomp my feet to help them hear the beat while they are doing body movements. They love variety so I change the movements to make it more fun. Later in the year I will find out if they have learned when I will play my guitar and let them follow me on instruments that I have given them. One of the best songs to use is “The Ants Go Marching One by One.” I always stomp my feet to the beat while I am playing and singing so that they can follow me.

2. When working with pitch with preschoolers, I start with sol, mi and use songs like “Rain, Rain, Go Away”, or “Ring Around the Rosy.” I start with even simpler tunes like “The Counting Song.” I have found these and more songs for sol, mi and sol, mi, la pitch in “The Kodaly Method: Comprehensive Music Education From Infant to Adult” by Lois Choksy (1974, Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey). We simply raise our hands up for the solfege sign for sol and then down for the solfege sign for mi. They can see the high low with our hands. They “Pussy Willow Song” is another great song for pitch. We gradually raise our bodies while the pitch goes up, until at the end we are standing up. We then gradually lower our bodies as the pitch goes down (“I Know a Little Pussy” http://bussongs.com/songs/i-know-a-little-pussy.php ). These are just a few examples. Now, these are not the only songs we sing, but these give consistent pitch lessons each time we meet. I always sing familiar songs with children before we do this activity.

3. Teaching beats for quarter notes and then eighth notes follows a similar pattern depending on the method you use. I use the Kodaly Method very often because it is consistent with its words for note value (“ta” for a quarter note and “ti” for an eighth note). Different animal names can be used also. I have children learn to tap the beats of the melody rhythm while singing it. I tell them to let their sticks follow their mouths as the say the words to the song. Then we say ta, ta, ti-ti, ta or whatever rhythm we are using in the song. I have them use craft sticks to draw the pattern from left to right. They copy what I have drawn. This is such a great pre-reading skill as are all of these activities. Parents should really take notice with how music definitely prepares the brain for learning.

4. I almost always add the xylophone to this activity so that the children can play sol, mi pitches. Again, they love the hands on experience. Success with this activity varies with age. I help them but never force them to get this perfectly. Many 3 year old children struggle with alternating hands from note to note. I just let them play them together if my attempts to get them to do otherwise fail. They will learn as the weeks go on and as they get older.

5. Now I have created a felt staff with felt notes. Children love finding the lines or spaces on the staff to place felt notes on. I use whole notes because they are easier for little fingers to manipulate. I repeat the same notes from week to week. I will occasionally change keys, but I rarely use more then 2 different keys per session. Keep it simple!

6. I will often give preschoolers a chance to draw the notes and rhythm symbols on a paper with a staff on it. Most preschoolers love the opportunity to draw! I like having the ones who know how write their name on the paper also. Parents enjoy this addition.

These are my basic activities. Sometimes I will have children play piano, the recorder, a small guitar or other instruments in my classes as well. As you can see, there is no way that I can fit all of of these activities in one class so each class will vary.

I always end my classes with a fun felt activity that I have created like Aikendrum where they put on the body parts as I sing about them. These kind of activities are great for teaching preschoolers to listen and follow directions at the right time. This is also a music skill as well as a basic classroom skill. Music classes for preschoolers are excellent for preparing them for music lessons in the future or even just preparing them for following directions in school.

Very often activities 2 – 4  happen around one feature song such as “The Counting Song.” If I use “Ring Around the Rosy,” we get to do the movement activity for the song first. Activity 1 is usually done with a different song.

In some satellite preschool classes I tend to limit the solfege and melody rhythm activities as attention spans vary from group to group. Again, my number one rule is have fun! Then children will learn.

This is a brief description of what my preschool classes look like. Please refer to this link for help with symbols.  http://www.midnightmusic.com.au/2011/08/sibelius-tips-for-kodaly-teachers/

How Do You Know When Your Child is Ready for Piano Lessons?

As I work with young children everyday, I have the privilege of watching them develop cognitively and musically. I watch very young children go from banging random beats on a drum gradually learn to follow a steady beat and then finally be able to hold a steady beat through the duration of an entire song. I watch 3 year old children struggle with playing one hand at a time on a xylophone finally learn to handle alternating hands on two different notes.

I have learned what to expect from children at different ages. In the world of music, cognitive development is very evident for children of different ages. One place that this is clearly noticeable is on the piano. Children love when I bring a piano to a preschool classroom. All of their eyes light up and they can hardly wait for their turn to be able to play on the keyboard. Little do they realize that they are about to take one of their first placement examinations. I love telling preschool teachers to watch as children between 3 and 4 years old go to the piano. I already know that the 4 year old children are going to be able to respond to my directions much better than the 3 year old children.

These are the tests. How a child responds is going to tell the teacher, mom, or dad whether his or her child is ready to take piano lessons.

1. The first thing I have children do is find their left and right hands. They will use their left hand to play the low notes (low left) and their right hand to play the high notes (high right). Usually both three and four year old children have very little trouble with this (aside from their inability to differentiate between left and right, but we can work through that). Frequently if I have a standing keyboard or piano I will have the children line up behind me so they can mirror me with their left and right hands before they go to the piano. Now of course, this is where songs like the “Hokey Pokey”, “Mother Gooney Bird” and my own “Walking to the Left” help children learn the difference between their left and right hands. Sometimes we just have to work sitting down calling one child up at a time to come and play the keyboard.

2. The next test will divide the 3 and 4 year old children. I have the children look at the keyboard and look for the groups of 3 black notes first. I will have a couple of children at a time come up to find as many sets as they can. I stick with the sets of 3 black notes first so that I don’t overload them with too much information at one time. Some of the 4 year old children can do this with no problem. Some of the 4 year old children struggle. Almost no 3 year old children can grasp this concept. I will then have them come up two or three at a time to find the sets of 2. This reinforces the thinking of looking for the sets. The results rarely vary between children or age groups. After we have completed this test I can usually find at least 2 or 3 children who are ready to begin working on simple exercises at the piano. This has been working for me without fail for years.

3. Now, if I have a group of 4 and 5 year old children, we can progress to learning to play “Hot Cross Buns” on the 3 black notes. They totally love the feeling of success they have when they learn to play this simple song. In a group when we do this for the first time, I don’t worry too much about fingering. I begin to focus on  fingering if I have the children doing piano activities for more than one week or if I am teaching individual lessons.

4. The next step will most likely happen in older groups or one on one with younger children. We will learn to find middle C. This will involve proper fingering on the black notes. I start with a thumbs on C approach. I will have children find the sets of two black notes. They will place finger number 2 (tall man) on the first black note (C#) and finger number 3 (middle finger) on the second black note (D#). After these initial steps have been taken, we can begin finding notes with both hands. I personally prefer a thumbs on C approach with young children. This is the step where more serious piano lessons begin.

No matter what approach to teaching happens with a young child, these steps are amazingly helpful and accurate in telling a parent if his or her child is ready for piano lessons. One important transition phase in learning piano is the ability to read. Before and after this happens are two different worlds when learning piano. Learning piano and learning to read go hand in hand for a child who is in kindergarten. Children learn to effectively read music as they learn to read words. Children between the ages of 4 and 5 but still cannot read will definitely benefit from some group or even one on one time, but the lessons will happen at a slower pace. And may I say that even though the pace is slower, there is nothing like an early introduction to the keyboard. Foundations are laid that will not be forgotten.

Why I Love Teaching Music to Young Children

I started teaching music and singing with young children a little over seven years ago. I fell in love with it instantly, mostly because I saw immediately how much young children love and respond to music. I knew I had something powerful and very influential going on. I then knew I had to work on creating programs that worked and were effective.

I immediately began devouring all of the textbooks I could get my hands on to give me suggestions for methods and songs. There were some great and helpful ideas. I needed to work on rhythm. I chose a few ti,ti, tas with Kodaly. I needed to add a little pitch training in there. So we started adding some sol mis. This was getting good. I then began singing some favorites like Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Kids loved that song, and they would often sing with me. They knew it and loved it. This started getting better. I then decided to start adding some visual activivities and use props. Aikendrum became a felt activity where children would add felt body parts as we sang about that man who lived on the moon. They loved it (and still do!). I learned many traditional songs, some from Barney, a couple from a few well known children’s artists, and many suggested movement songs from former Mountain Top Music Center employees. Kids loved movement. Still not enough, so I started writing my own, traditionally styled songs that worked in similar ways that the songs I was already using did. Kids looked forward to my classes and started requesting my songs.

As time progressed I realized some of the greatest jewels for teaching music to children were instilled deeply inside of me. My mother, who was not a music teacher, taught me everything a young child needed to know to begin a career in learning music. She taught me to love music. We sang and played music in my home often. I only needed to transfer that love and joy that I feel for music to the kids. Well, I was already doing that. My mother taught me rhythm. She didn’t count beats (although I do). She would tap her foot on the floor. It was loud and it was clear. I learned to feel rhythm by listening to my mother tap her foot. So, of course, I frequently tap my feet and clap my hands to teach rhythm. I want to create that same joy and love with my children that my mother did with me.

I have watched many children start music with me as babies. I watch babies respond to music by dancing and singing. They love it. I strum a guitar. They hear rhythm. They feel my genuine love and joy for music. They look forward to coming to my class. I give them the most valuable first steps ever. By the time they have moved into my preschool class, they totally feel and understand rhythm. Then, I am only explaining how to count what they already feel. We beat drums, tap sticks, clap our hands, and use body rhythm to instill a better understanding of rhythm. I mix fun movement and visual activities with the learning. We use props that make it fun. My rule is, “If they are not having fun, I am wasting my time.” My job as an early music educator is to reinforce what I believe is already there, a love for music and then to make them want more. Once that foundation is laid, they are ready for their new career as a music student, studying an instrument and gradually more detailed theory.

I believe that when foundations are laid at a very early age, the rest of the learning gradually happens with so much less effort. Feeling rhythm, learning theory, learning to sing, learning to follow my lead are all fundamental not only in teaching music but also in preparing children for a successful classroom experience. http://www.mountaintopmusic.org/

 

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