Main Learning Methods for Young Beginners (age 3-6)
Saturday, August 29, 2020 by Cindy-Joy Smith | Young Learners (age 3-6)
I'm pretty sure that at some stage you have come across a video of a 3 year old playing a seemingly or truly difficult piece of music on piano or violin. The reactions to this are varied; some exclaim "ah, cute!", others need to pick their jaws up off the floor, and others find themselves angry at the seemingly "heartless" parents who are "forcing" their child to learn in such a serious way. No matter what your reaction is to such a topic, I would like to take some time to give you an overview of early childhood musical learning; debunking some of the myths, and giving you some more insight.
Let me introduce you to two main methods used for teaching young beginners. I hope that reading this will give you more clarity about the ways in which a young beginner learns; and if you are a parent, I hope that this will equip you to be able to find the right teacher (and right method) for your young child.
Shinichi Suzuki was a Japanese musician, philosopher and music educator who developed a unique method for teaching young beginners. Generally, those 3-year olds you see on YouTube are students learning under the Suzuki method. Suzuki noticed that children learn to speak before they can read, and he started to use this idea in music education. Just as children hear their parents speaking, and eventually develop the ability to imitate the sounds they hear, so Suzuki believed that by allowing a child to listen to good music on a daily basis, so the child would learn to imitate this.
In the Suzuki method, children learn to imitate what they hear and see. The teacher will teach them songs on their instrument WITHOUT them learning music theory and notation first. Eventually, as the child progresses and becomes excellent in their technique, the teacher begins to introduce music notation (reading).
Why this method? Because the number 1 thing that slows down a child's musical learning is having to learn to read music. Young children in particular face a great challenge; they have not yet even learnt to read letters and numbers! So how are they supposed to understand concepts like counting/reading rhythm, or naming the note names (A B C D E F G)? It is not practical for them.
To the Nay-Sayers...Now, the fear of those who have heard something about Suzuki method is that it is some stern, scary, serious method that drains all the "fun" out of music lessons. This is NOT how it is supposed to be. In fact, Suzuki method is more suited to children than some other methods, because it is a very rewarding way of learning. Children get to learn complex songs much sooner than they would be able to if they first had to learn to read music. They also have the satisfaction of realising that the quality of their performance is excellent...and this makes for great musicianship skills further down the line.
Main elements: Tone Quality, Imitation, Repetition
The Faber method is more about physical development, good posture, and note-reading (starting with pattern reading). In this method, children learn to determine up from down, loud from soft and long from short. They start by reading patterns (for example, do the notes go up or down?), and they also learn by reading finger numbers. In short, this is very much a theory-based approach.
Fun is the basis of every lesson, and children get to move about quite a bit, draw, write, make various sounds and noises on their instrument, and generally have fun playing along to music tracks.
This method takes into consideration the fact that your child still has many bones and muscles to grow and develop, and so every song and game is centred around this fact. Through various games and activities, children develope their muscles, and learn the basics of techniques that they will only really be able to fully execute at a later stage. This is great for setting the stage for later learning.
Why this method? Children will learn how to read note patterns from the get-go, and take their time developing correct posture and physique. They also get to explore their imaginations along with cartoon friends from the method books.
To the Nay-Sayers...Of course, for parents who expect to see great progress in their child's playing over a relatively short period of time, this method may disappoint. After all, the objective with this lesson is NOT fast-track learning. It is extremely comprehensive, and so it takes a long time. However, because it is so well-rounded, and because children are exposed to music theory in such a fun way, concepts that are learnt are retained very well over time.
Main elements: Physical Development, Note-Reading, Theory
WHICH METHOD IS RIGHT FOR YOUR CHILD?
Whenever parents of very young potential students approach me, I always hear the words at some stage, "It's just for fun. That's the most important thing." And as a music teacher, I go....YES! Of course it is fun! Music should be approached with a "fun" mindset and attitude for a learner of ANY age...But of course, there is also some conscious, consistent work that needs to be put in. I'm not talking about serious, soul-crushing work; I am talking about the fact that for any student of music, and especially a young child, music needs to become an integral part of their every day life.
In a sense, the question is not "which method is right for your child?", but rather "which method is right for YOU, as parent?" In the end, it is the effort that YOU put in that will make the greatest difference in your young beginner's learning.
As a music teacher, I see your young beginner once or twice a week...But music, like a language, cannot be learnt by engaging with it for 30 minutes once or twice a week. Oh no, your child needs to hear it daily. They need to learn what sounds good and what sounds bad. They need to learn to feel rhythm in their bodies. And practically, they need you to help them practice EVERY day. Suzuki famously wrote that children should not have to practice every day...they should only be required to practice on the days they eat.
So, to get back to the question...Which method is right for YOU?
SUZUKI | As a parent, you will possibly (but not necessarily) need to take some lessons before starting your child on lessons, so that you can help them effectively. You do not need to be a pro; you simply need to learn some of the elements of musicality and musical quality that will enable you to help direct your child. You will also need to be consistent in playing recording of your child's current pieces to them EVERY day. You will also need to be consistent in praising your child (which requires giving your child a lot of focussed attention). Just as we clap and praise a child when he/she says "mamma" or "dadda" for the first time, so you will need to notice every small achievement your child reaches, and praise them for it. In short, the Suzuki method will get your child playing VERY well in a relatively short amount of time...BUT it will require your full commitment as parent/guardian.
FABER | For this method, you will only need to read the page your child is busy with to be able to immediately understand what is going on. Much of the material is self-explanatory, and a good teacher will give you ideas to make practice fun at home. You may need to learn the characters' names in order to engage with your child, and you will need to help them maintain good technique when practicing their (very easy) songs. In short, this is a method which is not as hands on for parents. You WILL still need to help your child practice; but if you are ok with your child taking a longer time to progress, then skipping practice every now and then will not be a train smash.
THINGS TO CONSIDER FOR YOUR CHILD:
1. Everyone likes to see progress, and your child is no exception. When you are tempted to skip practice because life is a bit crazy, I implore you to consider your child's feelings. Although your child may complain about practicing, or say they do not want your help, they will be more upset in the long run when they begin to notice that they are not getting through their book, or that they need to do the same song for a number of lessons before going on to something new.
2. Fun is not always sunshine and rainbows. Children, like adults, get an amazing sense of joy out of accomplishment. Don't fall into the trap of believing that your child is not having fun just because he/she doesn't get to colour in or play a music game at every lesson (or bash the keys they want at home). Take charge of your child's practice. Sure, you may feel bad in telling your child to play the notes in a better way...but in the long run, your child will gain so much out of being able to play WELL.
3. Practice only on the days you eat.
**There are many other methods of teaching young beginners. The two methods listed above are simply the most commonly used approaches, and are the foundation we use here at ARIA. Our own approach is very eclectic, and varies depending on the student in question, as well as the desired outcomes.**
As usual, please feel free to pop me any question you may have. I love to hear from my readers, students and students' parents.