16 August 2012

Making Music a part of your Montessori Home

1. The Mother Tongue Approach
I'll be the first to admit that I have a bias towards the Suzuki Method. My first child completed three years of Suzuki Early Childhood Education, did a year of Twinkling Stars (a bridging program for children who have graduated from the ECE class and are waiting to start instrumental instruction), and started learning Suzuki Guitar at age 4. He's almost 7 now and still going strong. My second child, 21 months is halfway through the same Early Childhood Education Class. Also, the Infant Toddler Community I run is a unique blend of the Montessori Approach and the Suzuki Method. Oh, I forgot to mention that I learned to play the violin (starting at age 3 in the Suzuki Method) and the piano (by traditional means, in middle childhood). Needless to say, I think this approach is unequalled in providing musical experiences for your child from birth. The Suzuki Method came about when Dr Shinichi Suzuki, a Japanese violinist, realised that the way in which children all over the world learn to speak their mother tongue was through exposure to spoken language. By listening alone, the child absorbs the most intricate nuances of the language of their native land. He developed the Method by applying the principles of listening and repetition to the learning of Music. Suzuki and Montessori are remarkably similar in their emphasis on the role of the environment and their recognition of the importance of the first years of life in developing later abilities. Even if you cannot attend a Suzuki ECE class with your child, you can still provide a musical environment from birth by listening to and singing a selection of music, songs and nursery rhymes every day. Your voice is immensely attractive to your baby, even if you think you can't sing!

2. Unborn Babies can Hear
The inner ear of the baby is completely developed by mid-pregnancy and the baby responds to a wide variety of sounds. Studies have shown that babies learn to recognise the sound of their mother's voice, music played every day during pregnancy and even develop preferences for the music they heard in utero versus music they hear after birth for the first time. Montessori mothers often use a hypnotherapy technique known as RAT (Respiratory Autogenic Training) during birth, and practice throughout their pregnancy to a single piece of classical music - something slow and beautiful like Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings is recommended. Also, watch this TED talk by Annie Murphy Paul on What We Learn Before We Are Born.

3. Musical Ability Develops Sequentially
Children move through a sequence of musical skills from birth. Hearing - Singing - Playing - Writing - Reading. By providing musical experiences in this sequence you are ensuring that learning takes place at a developmentally appropriate pace. Of course, every child is different, so never forget that observation is very important when deciding when to introduce a new skill. Also, some skill areas overlap so your child may start on a new skill before completely mastering the previous one. At every stage your child will also be creating music of their own - this usually starts with them singing the falling third (so - mi, or the notes you hear in Rain Rain Go Away), and progressing to rhythmical compositions on percussion instruments, followed by the ability to compose melodic phrases on tuned instruments.

4. Learning by Example
If you play a musical instrument yourself (or if you learned to do so in childhood and never followed through) haul that instrument out and start playing! As with learning to speak - your child will learn to play music by being immersed in it from day one! We have all our instruments out all the time - even with crawling babies and toddlers. It was scary to leave my precious first 16th size violin out, but seeing my children's interest grow and blossom has made the initial stress worth it. I just make sure I offer lots of guided play on the instruments whenever an interest is shown and then I find it doesn't become an issue  - it's no longer forbidden fruit. If you don't play an instrument, consider taking lessons or teaching yourself to play something...John Holt (famous educator and reform advocate) wrote a great book called Never Too Late about learning to play the cello as an adult. An amazing read!

5. Listening...
Choose some beautiful music and listen to it! Every day. Not in the background (although we do have background music when we are doing jobs like building with blocks or drawing), but actual purposeful listening. I have created a small box of individual cd's for our listening station. Each cd has only one piece of music on it, and has a distinctive cover so that even the littlest non-reader can choose what he wants to listen to. Both my children were able to indicate definite preferences for music at around 6 months of age by using this way of organising and presenting our music. This also means our master cd's don't get scratched. Our children have both been taught how to use a portable cd player as soon as they could walk - the period when motor development switches from gross to fine in focus and the hand becomes predominant in the child's work. The headphones are special volume limited ones, designed for children with a master switch to ensure that even if they get turned on to maximum volume by the child, it would still not be too loud for their sensitive ears.

6. Purchase Quality Musical Instruments
Don't be tempted to buy budget musical instruments...you get what you pay for. Not only do cheap instruments not last the distance - they don't sound beautiful. Your baby or toddler is blessed with acute hearing and sensitivity to sound, as well as an Unconscious Absorbent Mind. Everything that is in their environment becomes a part of who they are. Would you want to build yourself on cheap imitations, or the real deal? If money is a factor, buying one quality musical instrument is better than a houseful of cheap, second rate, pretend ones.
Three of our favourites include...

Remo Kids Floor Tom

Rohema Studio Shakers in Beech, Bubinga and Rosewood

Auris Pentatonic Glockenspiel


  1. I'd love to know what headphones you used. This is about to become a work in my classroom this fall. Thanks for the push to finally make it happen : )

  2. The brand is Phillips - you can get two different types, the ones with a headband and the separate ear pieces. Our model has the headband, which hangs behind the child's head, not sitting over the crown. They are not very hardwearing, but are the best fit we've found for little heads!

  3. Thank you so much for this great post! I am a music educator and love what you had to say. Thank you for providing specific info on how to bring music into the home!

    I wanted to add that although Suzuki is definitely the best method for training the ear, and learning from a young age, parents should know that music-reading and sight-reading is not stressed in this method. So, sometimes Suzuki musicians have a reading impediment when they are older. However, there is an incredible amount of variables including the teacher's philosophy, the age of the child, the instrument, and other things. Just wanted to give a well-rounded impression of Suzuki.

    Thanks again!

  4. Dear Unknown
    Glad you enjoyed the post - music is a topic near and dear to my heart! Yes, Suzuki does not focus on music-reading and sight-reading in the early years - this is because it follows the Mother-Tongue Approach whereby the child learns to play his instrument before he learn to encode and decode the written part of the music language (just as children learn to speak before they write and read their spoken language). This is why Suzuki matches up with Montessori so neatly! The two philosophies follow the natural progression of the development of expression (musical or linguistic) as they occur in children around the world. Thus it would be inappropriate to introduce note-reading until the child has developed their powers of music making to the point where they can be 'understood'. Suzuki also starts education from birth, which all makes the most of the period of the Absorbent Mind. Perhaps your experience of Suzuki musicians has been with children who have not completed the full progression of the Suzuki Method? This would explain why you felt there was a deficit in their skills, since as one progresses through the curriculum set out by Dr Suzuki note-reading and other abstract forms of musical expression become more important and are mastered by the child, at a time when they are best prepared to receive such information and implement it effectively. Just as Montessori requires a commitment from start to finish in order to see the best results, so too Suzuki requires a family to see the program right through.
    Enjoying the debate - what is your experience of Suzuki and do you have anything else you would like to bring to the discussion?


  5. This is a great post and I had a great time with your work. I will recommend this post to my friend who love making music with here daughter during their bonding moments in their house. Thank you.

  6. I just take a peek and I discovered your blog. I find it interesting and I think this can be a good bonding moments with our special love ones, I love making music also :). Thank you for sharing.