Whitney's Music Studio

in Shallowater, Texas and Lubbock, Texas area

(806) 832-0531




Who Needs Music Readiness?


By Lyn Pohlmann

The California Music Teacher ; Volume 18, Number 2 ; Winter 1994/1995

The flashcards move swiftly in the teacher’s hands as the students shout, “line, line, space, line,” holding their index fingers under their noses to show a line or their hands on either side of their head to represent a space. “Who would like to play the piece we learned last week?” All hands eagerly shoot up and everyone cries, “I do!” Then a line is formed at the piano and each student “copycats” the teacher by immediately playing the same note pattern and then walking to the blackboard and drawing a picture of the pattern he or she played. No one complains about coming to this lesson.

Thomas Jefferson once said that “Music is invaluable where a person has an ear. It furnishes a delightful recreation for the hours of respite from cares of the day, and it lasts us through life. How does a person “get an ear?” What is needed to develop that ear?

John Feierabend stated in a recent article entitled “Music in Early Childhood”, Design for Arts in Education 91, no. 6 (July/August 1990): 15-20, “regardless of our ultimate involvement with music, the success of our musical experiences may depend on the musical nurturing we received during our pre-school years.” Much of the current research suggest it is important to begin early, and recent studies at UCI show how children’s learning in all areas improves with music study.

Howard Gardner of Harvard University has developed a theory of the seven intelligences in human beings. In his “Project Zero” research, he is testing a curriculum that studies musical intelligence as one of seven areas to be developed. Although the project is not complete, he is discovering the importance of ongoing music curriculum for optimum growth of musical intelligence. Edwin Gordon at Temple University has been exploring the ability of a young person to “audiate” (his term) or retain musical and rhythmic patterns. Although Gordon believes each person has a maximum ability to develop his audiation skill, it appears that without proper stimulation at the appropriate time in the life cycle, the musical potential will never be reached. Just like the chicken who needs to learn to peck at a certain time in its maturation cycle of certain listening skills at the correct time or these abilities will be lost forever.

When Should Lessons Begin?

Children between the ages of three and seven are ready for structured musical study, but on their own terms. The use of a keyboard for beginning study has many advantages even though the child may go on to a different instrument after a music readiness experience. At the keyboard, children can easily see what is meant by high and low, can manipulate the keys to make sounds that are loud and soft, can play fast or slow, and can depend on accurate pitch reproduction. With prices dropping on touch-sensitive electronic keyboards, families may purchase an inexpensive instrument for music readiness even if no acoustic piano is available in the home. Singing can also be included in the curriculum, but the instruction does not depend upon the child’s ability to reproduce accurate pitch.

In the past, small muscle development in the young child has made us wary of starting music lessons at too early an age. Physically healthy children are active, like to run and jump, and have good large muscle development, but small muscle development is lagging. These facts suggest sitting the child down with music at a keyboard or other instrument for even short periods of time may be less than successful.

However, let’s consider social and intellectual ability too. This stage of growth is also the period of greatest learning. Although the attention span is short, enthusiasm to learn and ability to understand is great. Furthermore, imagination is never greater. Socially, the child likes to work in small groups and tries hard to please the teacher. Relaxed competition with the teacher and peers is enjoyed. The child is naturally attracted to music.

Masura Ibuka in his book, Kindergarten is Too Late, said that the small child would rather learn than eat and his greatest source of pleasure is understanding. Piaget, the well-known child psychologist, taught us the great importance of conceptual learning for transfer and reapplication to new situations. Consider the simplicity that can be used at the very earliest level and spiraled up to create secure musicianship. Experiences such as the ones described in the first paragraph of this article give valuable self-esteem to each student.

Is there also an advantage to the teacher? The ability of the students will improve when they have had lots of experience hearing high and low, recognizing musical and rhythmic patterns, and feeling a basic beat. At age ten, then, for example, these students who received early music study will be more secure in their musicianship and therefore less likely to drop out. I have had many opportunities to enjoy the secure musicianship of students who have participated in one or two years of music readiness before beginning formal piano lessons in my studio. They have the ability to retain long musical patterns by ear and create their own compositions in many styles.

Parents interested enough to give lessons to their young children take education seriously and will want to give their children a long-term music education. Because music is not available in many schools, it is more important than ever that the private studio teacher educate the children of the community. Otherwise, music will gradually lose importance and private music teachers will find it increasingly difficult to find and keep good students.

Lessons for young children have a relaxed atmosphere that helps students associate pleasure with the study of music. They learn because they want to rather than because they have to. Children this age learn surprisingly well in small groups. They can be active or passive, and they do not need the extreme concentration required at private lessons.

On the practical side, lessons for young children can be scheduled in daytime hours not available to school age children. Once a curriculum is developed by the teacher, it can be used with only slight variation. In addition, the teacher can earn a higher hourly rate when charging for a small group.

Activities to Include at Each Lesson

Here are some specific areas that each lesson should include. Understanding comes best after the child has experienced a concept. Ear training exercises will help the child distinguish between high and low using the extreme ends of the keyboard. As these exercises become more sophisticated, the child is able to hear patterns which become gradually higher or lower.

Many young children believe that high means loud and low means soft, perhaps caused by a parent saying, “turn that T.V. lower!” This confusion and others can be removed from the child’s mind.

Patterns can be repeated, sequenced and inverted. Copycat playing and clapping can develop awareness of musical structure. Knowing the names of the keys helps students learn the music alphabet, and the geography of the horizontal keyboard more easily transfers visually to the vertical grand staff.

A wonderful resource book, written by Machiko Yurko and published by Alfred Publishing Company, is called No H in Snake. It has endless ideas for many kids of activities including drills of ABC order. The child can see high and low, can experience moving up and down by steps , then skips, then greater intervals.

Rhythm drills can include not only feeling a basic pulse and moving faster and slower to the beat, but rhythmic patterns can be shown first as blank notation and finally as traditional notes with time value. The short lines become quarter notes and longer lines become half and whole notes. Rhythmic patterns can be extended into patterns with rhythm and shape, and easily transferred to the grand staff.

Pattern reading can be introduced. A simple pattern such as the one found in “Three Blind Mice” can be learned in blank notation and then gradually transferred to the staff. This simple pattern can also be transposed and inverted for endless creative experiences.

Lots of drill with right and left hand recognition and finger number recognition is possible. The importance of good hand position can be stressed by helping the child first brace his pointed finger with his thumb and gradually work into three- and later five-finger patterns, with curved strong fingers. In addition, long term drill with the right hand numbers going up 12345 and the left hand numbers going up 54321 will help those who wish to progress to further keyboard study understand this confusing problem.

Perhaps the most important part of this age group’s strength is the development of natural improvisation skills every child has. Improvisation exercises can be structured in the two- or four-measure question and answer, or as in the creation of short motives to represent characters in a story similar to “Peter and the Wolf.” It can also be free-form where the student “tells a story” by the choices he makes on the keyboard using a mixture of high or low, loud or soft, and fast or slow sounds. Other students can interpret the story being played, developing their listening and creative thinking skills at the same time the performers are using their imaginations.

“Never Turn Your Back on a Four Year Old!”

This advice from well-known music educator Robert Pace has helped me and many other teachers remember to carefully plan our weekly lessons. The success of any program will depend on the choice of materials and the preparation of the teacher. Lessons plans are essential.

It is very helpful to read extensively about physical and mental characteristics of younger children. Good current information on music education for young children is available from the Music Educators National Conference, 1806 Robert Fulton Drive, Reston, VA 22091. Articles appear in national magazines such as Clavier, American Music Teacher, M.T.N.A., Music Educators Journal (M.E.N.C.), and Keyboard Companion. Teacher training classes are available in Orff-Schulwerk and Dalcroze Eurythymics to help with ideas about teaching movement. Comprehensive Musicianship classes that develop strategy in structuring information in small group settings use excellent materials developed by Robert and Helen Pace and are available in many cities around the world. The Paces’ books, Music for Moppets, Moppets’ Rhythms and Rhymes and Kinder-Keyboard have helpful teacher’s manuals. Music stores offer workshops in new materials; colleges provide classes in piano pedagogy. It is important to be open to new ideas and to keep current on what is available.

Developmentally Appropriate Material

“Developmentally appropriate” is the current buzz word used for curriculum that is prepared for a specific age child. The following should be considered when you are choosing materials for your students. Is the material prepared for the age group you plan to teach or are you trying to take level one material and simplify them? What is the visual impact of the book? Illustrations for young children are far more easily understood than long verbal explanations. Black and white illustrations allow children to color the picture themselves, allowing them to develop their small muscle coordination while personalizing the book.

A book that sits horizontally rather than vertically on the keyboard is much easier for a young child to manipulate and reach. The notation should be simple, and the teacher must understand what the writer intended.

Many early childhood materials have a teacher’s manual to accompany the child’s book. Read it carefully. The materials should show movement up and down as on the grand staff and proceed in a sequential manner.

Conceptual learning should be stressed. The materials should be process-oriented, not product-oriented. Just because a child can play a piece does not necessarily mean he understands what he is playing. If the process is good, the product will also be good. The materials used should correlate with the level one materials. If a multi-key approach is used for instrument study, it should be the basis of the readiness study. Melodies should be familiar and appealing but beware of the cute-little-song approach that has no real substance in developing the understanding of basic concepts.

Scheduling Lessons

Lesson scheduling is important. If it can be arranged, shorter lessons (30 minutes) twice a week are more effective than one longer lesson (45 to 60 minutes) for this age child. Parent help at home is necessary, but the parent should function as a co-learner, not the teacher.

Parents can be expected to attend regularly scheduled open classes about every six weeks and should work with the teacher in a separate session where no children are present. Even if parents have had the opportunity to study music themselves, the methods used today will be quite different from their experience. For parents with no background, the joy of learning music for the first time can be experienced along with the child.


If you as a teacher feel this type of program would be helpful to your students but you are not comfortable teaching this age group, find a teacher in your area who enjoys working with young children. Team up with that teacher and arrange to have the students transfer to you at the end of their early music classes. This is a win/win situation. The students come to you well prepared because the basics have been well taught. The teacher of younger students will be able to fill the classes each year and not have to worry about the exponential factor of having too many students after a few years to permit new level one classes to be formed.

I think Thomas Jefferson would be pleased. With this readiness experience, it is possible to develop “an ear” for every child.





"Let us come before Him with thanksgiving and extol Him with music and song." Psalms 95:2

"Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music." Psalms 98:4