It was joyous to be at the ECCPA conference a couple of weekends ago in Melbourne, seeing so many enthusiastic and creative teachers, keen to do their best with their craft. Too often this enthusiasm is dampened or crushed entirely by a heavy-handed bureaucracy. It is essential you stick to your guns, especially in early childhood education which, due to ignorance, is often dismissed as mere babysitting.
Most importantly, if you are the class teacher rather than the music specialist, if you do nothing else in your class musically, get your children singing. I hear people telling me they don’t teach any music in the class because they can’t sing (which simply means their voices are not the musical instruments that some people have). Everyone can sing, some better than others. Get a good CD or several (yes I have to recommend the kidz-fiz-biz CDs) so the children can follow along to that voice. Yours can be part of the audience. There is so much to be gained from the simple act of singing. Please do not make the children wait until they reach year one to get one lesson a week from the music specialist. Start now! Even when they have access to the music specialist, still have music lessons in your classes every day, even just one song! Your music specialist will love you for it.
I was re-reading an article by Richard Gill, OAM, in the 2nd term ASME WA newsletter OPUS, in which he talks about the current political correctness in teaching which renders teachers too frightened to have a go at things they may feel less confident about, such as teaching music. It was a masterful read, of course, and I reproduce parts of it here, with permission –
“There is only one reason for teaching Music and that is so children can make their own music…. Singing, together with the playing of simple classroom instruments, I believe, is the foundation of a good music education. So what do we sing? We sing the widest range of songs possible, including folk songs from all around the world, art songs, popular songs, mediaeval songs, chants, or any song that is musically worthwhile….
With kindergarten children I used to sing lots of songs, obviously taught by rote, including nursery rhymes and games and then introduce the reading of rhythm as the first step in the reading of notation…. Reading rhythm sets up fluency in reading music generally and it is without doubt the most important first step in the sight reading of instrumental music. If you cannot maintain rhythm you cannot grasp musical flow. If you asked me for a hierarchy of the elements of music I would respond with: rhythm as number one and pitch as number two….
From singing, children can learn all the musical concepts needed in order to undertake the study of an instrument. Rhythm, pitch, dynamics, style, phrasing, articulation and so on can all be taught from singing. If the singing is accompanied by simple classroom percussion instruments so much the better.
From singing we can learn to improvise…. Treat children like idiots and they’ll behave like idiots. Treat children like musicians and they’ll behave like musicians. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t but it doesn’t mean we stop trying and it doesn’t mean that the approach is wrong….
When you are teaching Music you are offering a child a world which is beyond the everyday; a world which encourages abstract thinking; a world which demands intense listening and highly evolved analytical skills; a world which has an enormously rich heritage of all sorts of music from folk to pop through Classical and Jazz and world music and on and on and on. You are the champions of change and the key to creating a rich and diverse cultural life for a child…. Never underestimate the enormous power you have in your musical minds and in your teaching to change lives forever.”
So there you have it, from the master himself. Take his word for it – music matters and you can teach this!