First Experiences in Music Play

I have received quite a few inquiries from parents interested in starting their children in music lessons as young as possible. When I’m asked the question, “How young can my child start?” I usually respond is the same way other piano teachers would – 4.5 to 5 years of age, as long as the student is able to sit up and focus at the piano. I tell the parent that the younger the student is, the more parent involvement is needed in practicing so the student can be successful. Surprisingly, two parents contacted me wanting music lessons but their children were 3 years of age or younger. They are thinking: my child is showing interest in music, why not start now?

Having a background in Gordon’s Music Learning Theory (MLT) in Elementary and Early Childhood General Music from two classes I took for my undergrad, I decided to give weekly 30 minute lessons with one of these adorable three-year-olds a try. My plan is to begin immersing the student in music through music play and prepare him through music readiness activities, then slowly introduce concepts that can be applied to the piano as he is able.

For a student as young as this one, he is on his way towards “exiting babble.” My learning goals for him in the next few months are the following:

  • Feel macrobeats in different parts of his body
  • Express flow in different parts of his body
  • Express singing versus speaking voice
  • Vocal exploration – the range of his voice at different volumes
  • Hear and perform resting tone

Here are a few of the activities I have planned for my student for the month of September:

Bicycle Riding – Activity for Vocal Exploration

In this activity, we follow the contour of the “hill” or line with our voices like a slide whistle allowing the student to explore the range of his or her voice and begin understanding the contour of musical lines. This type of vocal exploration activity can be done in a number of ways: a teacher could bend a pipe cleaner or draw lines on the white board. I am limited in what materials I have, however, so I drew lines with marker on large note cards. I then cut out a hand drawn bicycle that we will move along the line as we make the sounds with our voices.

Here are all of the lines I drew to use in the activity:


“Here is the Beehive” – Activity for Feeling Macro Beats (in triple) and Vocal Exploration

For this activity I use the traditional chant “Here is the Beehive.” I will begin the chant sitting cross legged across from the student and model with my “spider” fingers (hand position where the hand is cupped with the fingers separated) tapping on my knees to the macro beats. Right now I think this particular student is too little for feeling micro beats (I will introduce that soon though!) but ideally you would switch between macro and micro beats.

I wish I had a bee puppet for this activity. Since I do not, I took construction paper to create a beehive. I made bees out of construction paper by cutting a tear drop shape from yellow construction paper and heart shapes from white construction paper (I made four different sizes). I then drew stripes and smiley faces on each one. I set this on the floor with the different size bees hiding underneath. Each time I repeat the chant, I pull out a new size bee and reflect the change in my voice – baby bees will have high voices, large bees low voices… maybe one is a sleepy bee so he sounds drowsy. Kids respond really well to choices, so I try to ask the student: does this bee buzz really loud or really soft? Which one the student chooses does not really matter because if I mix up the options each time we will get through a range of different voices.

“The Seals on the Bus” – Activity for Vocal Exploration

I have very few children’s books in my collection right now so I stopped by the Canton Public Library this week. While perusing the shelves I found this adorable book – “The Seals on the Bus.” The book’s concept is super simple –  it just takes the song we all know (The wheels on the bus go round, round, round…) and changes it for each animal that gets on the bus.

This is PERFECT for vocal exploration! We make different animal sounds on each page, like the monkeys go:

“Rhythm of the Popcorn” – Macro and Micro Beats, Vocal Exploration

During my first lesson with this little guy I was having trouble getting him to sit down with me and participate in the music (he liked to walk over to the piano and was very distracted). I tricked him though by asking if I could play with one of the Spiderman toys he brought with him. He handed me one of them. Then I asked, “Does Spiderman feel the rhythm in his hands or feet?” I went on with my chant and moved the toys legs to the macrobeats….he was hooked. I gave him choices between the body parts and he joined in and copied what I was doing with the Spiderman I was holding with the one he was holding. I then started doing the movements with just my body parts and he started moving to the macrobeats in his body too. He loved the choices (the one time I asked him to come up with the body part without a choice there were crickets!) and chose shoulders, legs, feet, hands, etc., etc.

I have lots more activities so I will keep sharing them as well as their effectiveness in this private lessons setting as I go along.

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Hi. I play piano. I write.

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