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The #1 Secret To Teaching Young Children Music

1-secret-to-teaching-kids-music

Teaching Young Children Music

As a private music teacher, you want to teach music to children.  You know they love it and there seems to be a plentiful supply of them asking for your help.  Besides, lately all your adult students seem to be canceling at the last minute while your teens are more interested in their social media feeds than practicing.  Maybe you should teach younger kids?

But Teaching Young Kids Is Hard

It does seem hard, doesn’t it?  Young children have limited attention spans, some lack fine motor skills, and some can’t even spell their names, let alone read a simple word.  How do you present the many complexities of music, technique, reading, and playing songs they like  in a way that’s simple, fun and won’t  drive you crazy?

What About A New Age Group?

But what if you could take a 4 year old as a student?  What if you could successfully take on a whole bunch of them and keep them for years?  Your studio would be instantly full and overflowing for a long time with this group.  You might even have a waiting list.  But this would only happen, if you were effective, and fun!

So, what is the #1 secret to teaching young children music?

Scaffolding

The secret is a term that we usually associate with construction.  Here in New York City, I see it every single day.  It’s “scaffolding.”  Scaffolding is the temporary structure that assists the workers in building the building.  In the western world, most of it is metal, but in Hong Kong, where I lived for years, it’s still made of bamboo!

Metal scaffolding
Metal scaffolding
Bamboo scaffolding in Hong Kong
Bamboo scaffolding in Hong Kong

 

 

But the term scaffolding has been appropriated by educators to mean a similar thing.  In education, you offer support while the student learns a new concept or skill.  

 

The Balance Bike

This reminds me of the time I was teaching my son to ride a bicycle.

balance bike

 

When my son was a toddler, I began seeing beautiful handmade two-wheeled, push bikes without pedals.  The concept was that the child could focus on balance before learning to use pedals.  

It was a phased learning process.  

 

But why not training wheels?

 

Well, these have been proven to be more of a crutch than a scaffolding.

 

So, I bought a $30 kid’s bike and adjusted the seat as low as possible without adding the pedals.  As soon as my son began to develop balance, which he demonstrated by lifting his feet while rolling along, I knew he was ready.  So, one day, when he was 4 years old, I pushed him down the slope of our Brooklyn sidewalk with the pedals turning.  He grabbed my hand saying,

“Papa, do NOT let go of me!”  

I began to push and run alongside him, holding on as I had promised.   Before we had travelled  twenty feet, he began yelling, “Let go!  Let go!  I can do this!”

And sure enough, he pedaled down the block with the most triumphant smile on his face.

Applying Phased Learning & Scaffolding to Music

In teaching music to preschoolers, I realized that there needed to be something similar.  I needed a phased-learning process, some kind of thoughtful scaffolding so  the student does not  get hit with a multitude of new abstract concepts at the same time.

A Limited Data Set

I started kids with a limited data-set, just five  notes on the keyboard that match their  five  fingers.  For the guitar, I taped off three of the strings and just used the three  higher strings,  using  one for melody and the others as drones.

Use of Color

I began to use color as a temporary scaffolding.  By directly labelling the keys, the fingering and the notation, I could work on playing songs which they loved while gently correcting their technique over time.  Then I could start sneaking in some music theory through games.  Eventually, we would start tackling learning to read music on the staff.    

Parallel Paths

My teaching started to break down into these separate but parallel tracks.

1) Playing comes first – but with a limited set of notes that match the middle of the human voice frequency range.  This allows the student to engage their voice in the process.

2) Technical facility is gradually developed over time in service of a song

3) Reading of music notation is taught in a 6 stage process from simplest to traditional music notation.

4) Conceptual and abstract music theory is gradually delivered in small gradual steps, usually through games.

Here’s a video of one of my students at a holiday music party after only a few weeks of lessons.

In my ten years of specializing in teaching children, I have consistently had a full roster with a waiting list and the results have been amazing.   Last Fall, I began teaching a few other music teachers this method and they too have been experiencing great results.  In a few weeks, I will be launching the online course for the Musicolor Method™.  If you want to be on the early bird list for notification when it’s ready, you can click here.  

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Growth Mindset of Children “I Can Do Anything”

One of the greatest joys of teaching kids music is that young children have  complete self-confidence and belief that they can do anything.  They truly embody the growth mindset.  Unfortunately, it seems they begin to lose this the older they get, so starting music lessons at this age dovetails perfectly with their confidence.  

Music Is For Everyone

I believe that music should be for everyone.  It is in our very core – we are all vibrating at frequencies.  Let’s share the joy of music with as many people as possible.  

I would love to know your thoughts on scaffolding and if you have any similar techniques?  Please share in the comments below and thanks for reading!

 

Andrew Ingkavet

Andrew Ingkavet is an educator, author and entrepreneur. His belief that learning a musical instrument builds skills vital to success in life has led to a thriving music school in Brooklyn, NY. Andrew helps children, parents and educators with the Musicolor Method, an innovative music curriculum suitable for all children even those who are preliterate or have special needs. His previous bookThe Game of Practice: with 53 Tips to Make Practice Fun is rated 5 stars at Amazon. Andrew is also known as one of the first VJ's at MTV Asia and co-founder of the first digital marketing agency in Asia. He holds a Bachelors of Music from NYU where he was a Scholar in Education.

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10 Comments

  1. Thanh

    Hi Andrew,

    Thank you for sharing your ideas with us. Have you taught autistic kids before? Can you share any helpful tips and ideas on teaching them?

    1. Andrew Ingkavet

      Yes I have had a few kids who I would describe as being on the spectrum. That is a good idea for a future post – will do!

    1. Andrew Ingkavet

      Hi Nelson, This is beyond the scope of this article. I will be writing another such article in the future. Be sure to subscribe to be notified. thanks! Andrew

      1. Thank you Andrew. I figured so. I hope it’s in the very near future 🙂
        I believe I an subscribed? I receive all the emails.

  2. Patti

    I have used colors to aid students with dyslexia read music. They struggle with being able to perceive note placement accurately. The colors help but I worry they are a crutch more than a scaffolding.

    I have made a rhythm notation “twister” sheet and a staff notation “hop scotch” sheet so they can learn and practice reading these forms of notation away from the instrument. Then I quickly connect the reading with the hearing, and then with the playing. We have so much fun with it.

  3. Kim

    The little boy in the video was amazing after only a few lessons. The scaffolding idea certainly makes sense. Do you make much emphasis on technic in this early stage or just let their little fingers do what they can?

    1. Hi Kim, yes he is amazing! I usually work on the technique in stages so not to overwhelm or confuse the child. I think by stressing about flat fingers too early can actually make it harder to build facility on all ten fingers.

  4. Linda Demers

    I have just completed a daycare assistant course in college. Our teachers have often spoken of the necessary need to use scaffolding in all areas of teaching and learning.

    What is the Canadian price of your “Online Course for the Musicolor Method?”

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