When Should My Child Begin Music Lessons? A Comparison of Waldorf and Suzuki Philosophies

I am a trained Waldorf early childhood teacher and have also completed training as a “Music Together” teacher (a music and movement program for preschoolers and their parents) through the Center for Music and Young Children in Princeton, NJ. In addition, I am a Suzuki parent and a strong supporter of Suzuki music education. I have been interested in comparing the similarities and differences between Suzuki and Waldorf pedagogy ever since discovering how much they share in common.

In spite of the number of similarities in approach, one fundamental difference between the two approaches is regarding the age at which a child should begin formal music instruction. Suzuki students are encouraged to begin instrumental lessons as early as age two or three. On the other hand, students in a Waldorf school do not begin lessons with string instruments until third or fourth grade. My personal opinion is that Suzuki, for many children, starts too early, and that Waldorf schools may start too late. Based on my research and observation, I believe that age seven is a more appropriate age for most children to begin private music lessons — for many of the same reasons that make seven the ideal age for a child to begin formal, academic learning at school, according to Waldorf philosophy.

In Waldorf pedagogy, formal academic learning does not begin until, ideally the age of seven. This comes after a period of intense growth during the first seven years of life, after which, according to Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education, the child’s “etheric” or life forces are freed up for more cognitive pursuits. As a child of seven is better able to sit and focus on formal “lessons” than a younger child, so a child of this age would be better able to focus on formal music instruction, and to be capable of practicing. I have questioned many different music teachers – Suzuki teachers, traditional music teachers and Waldorf music teachers — on whether there is a great advantage to starting children on an instrument as early as three- to five-years old and, by and large, most teachers I’ve talked to seem to agree that children who start when they are older (say, seven or eight) are not at a disadvantage; they are usually able to catch up quickly with the children who have been taking lessons since they were much younger.

Within a few months of starting cello, I observed that my seven-year-old caught up to the same place as another seven-year-old boy in his class who’d been playing for a full two years. My child, I would say, has fairly average musical ability. He is musical, but not precocious.

I think it is unnatural for a child under seven to be asked to sit down and practice an instrument daily, no matter how short or playful the practice session. I feel strongly that children under seven should be moving, playing and engaged in their imagination without the pressure or stress of practicing, or worse, performing. They are learning an enormous amount — taking in the world through their senses, developing their imaginations through play and the experience of life. This short and precious period of childhood should be free from the pressures of performing and feeling the need to please others.

On the other hand, most Waldorf schools don’t start teaching strings until third or fourth grade. I worry that this is too late. Recent brain research indicates that there is a musical learning “window” of opportunity that closes around the age of nine (similar to the “window” for language acquisition). Based upon my research and observation, I believe that it is more difficult, though certainly not impossible, for children to become proficient at an instrument if they start after the age of nine. Waldorf students are, of course, learning to play the pentatonic flute, and often the soprano recorder, before the age of nine, which is absolutely beneficial and helps to develop the student’s musical ear. There are many Waldorf teachers who would argue that learning to play a stringed instrument or the piano would be inappropriate for a child under nine. I do not agree with them. My own experience with my children has been entirely rewarding and positive, having started them with music lessons at ages seven and eight.

I also recommend waiting until a child begins to show an interest in learning to play an instrument before offering private music instruction. Children are much more likely to be self-motivated when there is a genuine and personal interest in learning to play an instrument. I have observed very few children who have expressed an interest in learning to play an instrument before the age of 5-7. Of course, there are some children who really are musically precocious and may, in fact, prove to be prodigious musical students. If your child is relentless in demanding to learn a particular instrument, I would advise listening to them and taking advantage of his interest.

If you decide to pursue music education for your child under seven I would highly recommend – no, I would BEG you – to find a Suzuki teacher. A good Suzuki teacher, like a good Waldorf, teacher, teaches out of imitation and in a playful, imaginative way. The emphasis should be on the process, not on the product.

Another similarity between Suzuki method and Waldorf education is that children are taught to play beautiful music by memory and ear before they are able to read music — just the way Waldorf students are able to recite beautiful poetry by heart before they are able to read or write. Learning to play music precedes learning to read music, just as in human development learning to speak always precedes learning to read and write. Learning to read music should not be attempted before the child is able to read language.

Readers of Dr. Suzuki’s book Nurtured by Love, will come across much philosophy that is similar to Rudolf Steiner’s. (It is interesting to note that both lived in Germany during the same period of time.) Dr. Suzuki emphasizes that it is far more important for a child to strive to become a beautiful person on the inside, than the most technically proficient musician. By nurturing beautiful feelings in the child, beautiful music will be produced.

The most important thing one can do musically for a child under seven is to expose them to lots and lots music, especially the human voice. Sing to them and with them all the time! Sing even if you think you can’t — your child will not be critical, and will appreciate your effort more than you can imagine. I think it’s also of great benefit to let children hear live music being played so that they learn that music is something that human beings make, and are not just mechanical sounds that come out of an electronic box. Research indicates that that listening to music (and lots of different kinds and tonalities) early in life is what develops a child’s musical ear. So that even if a child doesn’t begin formal music instruction until age nine or later, by having been exposed to many types of music and different qualities of tone, that child will still have developed musically during her early childhood.

Sera Jane Smolen, Ph.D., a cellist who has also taught music in a Waldorf school and wrote her thesis on a comparison of Waldorf and Suzuki methods, once told me that no world-class musician (that is to say, the Yo Yo Ma’s and the Emanuel Ax’s of the world) ever started music instruction later than the age of five. This statement is likely to give many parents pause. But then she asked me, “Is our goal to raise world-class musicians, or Martin Luther Kings?” Do we offer our children music lessons because we want to produce a prodigy, or do we do it to nurture a love of music in child who may fulfill Dr. Suzuki’s vision of bringing about world peace through music?

© Sarah Baldwin, M.S.Ed., 2009

Resources:

Shinichi Suzuki, Nurtured by Love: The Classic Approach to Talent Education, Suzuki Method International, 1986.

For more information on Suzuki music instruction, or to find a teacher.

Most Commonly Played Musical Instruments in Marching Bands

There are numerous and variety of musical instruments played by the members of a marching band. Most commonly played musical instruments in a marching band include brass, woodwind and percussion instruments.

These instruments can be easily carried and simultaneously played by marching band members while marching.

Brass instruments of a marching band include Cornet, Trumpet, Tuba and French horn.

• Cornet is similar to a trumpet which is usually pitched in the B flat. Cornet is a transposing instrument that features valves and it is extensively used in brass bands.

• Trumpet is also a transposing musical instrument that has underwent numerous changes with passage of time. Trumpet was initially used for the military purposes to declare danger and today it’s used band members of Jazz bands.

• Tuba is a deep sound producing musical instrument and regarded as largest instrument in brass-wind family.

• Main feature of the French horn is that it produces a unique musical effect with bell point backwards.
Woodwind instruments in a marching band comprise clarinet, flute, oboe and saxophone.

Clarinet has undergone numerous innovation and changes since its inception. As a result of unique sound it is extensively used in band performances.

Flute is a man-made musical instrument and initially the flutes were made up of wood.
Oboe is one of the musical instruments and has only two keys. This instrument is used in orchestras and military band performances.

Saxophone is available in variety of types and sizes. Baritone sax, alto sax and tenor sax are the most commonly used saxophone varieties in musical bands.

Bass drum, cymbals, glockenspiel, timpani and xylophone are the percussion instruments used in a marching band.

Bass drum is a percussion instrument regarded as largest members in drum family.

Cymbals are shaken, scraped or struck percussion instrument with or without pitch.

Glockenspiel is the best example for a tuned musical instrument.

Timpani is a kind of musical instrument that emerged from the kettledrums.

Xylophone is a variety in percussion instruments that has resonating metal tubes and supported extensively by the frames.

Most of these instruments can be practiced by enrolling in your school’s music class. Most teachers allow students to practice these instruments during class. Try practicing each instrument before choosing which one you will be using full time. It’s important to know the ins and outs of each instrument, which will help with your decision. Visit your local music class for more information.

Beginner Guitar Music – Stop Playing Ugly Sounding Tunes Today!

Music is one thing that has helped man to become a civilized being. It has differentiated humans from other planet beings. Every person on the globe likes to listen to good music. There are a number of musical instruments which produce music. The guitar is a very famous music instrument. It is a stringed instrument and produces beautiful, melodic tunes.

Many people love to play the guitar as it not only produces good music but also provides great style. A guitar usually has six strings that are stretched over a wooden plane that is hollow. Many people would love to learn how to compose beginner guitar music, but have no idea how to.So they settle for a compromise on wrong methods of pressing their chords, wrong ways to strum the guitar. This explains why how you start learning beginner guitar music affects the sound quality that comes from your fingers.

All these could be resolved with proper instruction.

The following instructions will help you to play proper, nice sounding chords on your guitar. These instructions help you to understand the basic notes in guitar and help you to know your basics in a better manner. In this example, you will learn how to play the “G” chord, a relatively simple chord. The G chord is made of three basic notes: “G,B,G”

First Step:

The first step is to place the second finger of your left hand on the third fret of the first string (top down), to get the root note of the chord and this produces the note, G.

Second Step:

The next step is to place the index finger of your left hand on the second fret of the second string (top down) to get the note, B.

Third Step:

The final step is to place the third finger of your left hand the player on the third fret of the sixth string(top down) and this produces the note, G.

If you did do the above mentioned steps correctly, you should see something like this in guitar tabulature:

E–3—

B——

G——

D——

A-2—-

E–3—

Now, clinching your right thumb and index finger together in a pincer shape, strum the full length of the six guitar strings over your sound hole. Congrats! You have strummed your first chord.

I hope this example helps you to understand the most basic guitar playing theory: Chords.

If you want to understand the basics better, you should do some research online and practice along with jam tracks. Listening to more songs will expose you to learning to pick up the musical chords behind the song, and you will be able to play the guitar in a more convincing way. However, the best way to really start creating beginner guitar music is to buy a beginner guitar E-Book and read it, as the information provided are very simple to understand.

If you would just keep applying the advice shared, you should be able to play more notes, and eventually be able to play good music on your guitar.

What Is Music Theory? FAQs

1) What is music theory?

Music theory is the language of musical construction. Those who understand the language of music, those who can read and write music are called musicians. Just as people who share a common language communicate everyday, musicians communicate through a common musical language.

The language musicians communicate in is not by speaking but rather by the use of sheet music. Sheet music contains information that allows musicians to play the same piece of music on their instruments regardless of which language they speak. People all around the world communicate through the language of music and that is why music is called the universal language.

2) Do I need to know music theory in order to play a musical instrument?

This is a tricky question and the answer is yes and no. Allow me to explain. If some noise or sound has rhythm, a melody, and harmony, it can be called music. Without these components it is simply noise or organized noise.

A musician, someone who understands music theory and is able to communicate in the language of music, will compose a piece of music and know what they are doing and why they are doing it. A musician will know the name of the notes, chords, and scales they are using and more important, they will know why the musical composition works or sounds good.

A musician does not need to hear the musical composition to know wether or not certain notes and chords sound good when played together, because the theory has already determined what note and chord families will sound good together and why it is so.

On the other hand many people who play music, do play by ear. Many of those who play by ear do not know the name of the notes, chords, and scales they are playing, yet they are able to create a musical composition that is pleasing to the ear of the listener.

Players who learn and create music by ear have developed a good sense of pitch and as they continue to train their ear, their ability to identify notes, chords, and qualities of chords, will improve.

Typically, those who play by ear are limited to playing simple forms of music like blues, rock, pop, and country. It is very difficult to play classical and jazz music without some form of musical training and a decent grasp on music theory.

People who have the ability to learn complex forms of music by ear have an extraordinary musical gift and they might even be considered musical prodigies.

To help draw a distinction between musicians and those who play music by ear I offer this example. A person who uses a computer may not have a clue about how a computer works, yet they can type a letter, send an e-mail, or surf the net. The same is true with music.

So, if a person who plays music by ear creates a musical composition that pleases the ear then they are likely applying principles of music theory wether they realize it or not.

3) Is music theory only beneficial to musicians?

No. Many studies have concluded that those who study music and the arts excel in school, career, and in life.

A degree in music is most always a liberal arts degree and therefore does not limit one to just being a musician. There are many career paths one can pursue with a music degree.

A person who understands music theory will typically pay close attention to the music they are listening to. Musicians will listen for rhythm, melody, harmony, note juxtaposition, point counterpoint, dynamics, etc… The better someone listens and can understand the nuances in the music they are listening to, the more they can enjoy it.

4) What is tablature and is it the same thing as reading music?

Tablature would not be considered reading music. Tablature is a system that shows guitar players exactly what notes and chords to play by showing where to place their fingers on the neck of the guitar. Tablature does not give enough information to play the music as it was written, with tablature you must know the song to be able to play it as it was written.

Tablature is a very effective tool for musicians and players alike and is widely used by both. Accurate tablature will allow a player to to copy a piece of music very close to the way it was written if they are familiar with the piece of music.

Tablature is not the same thing as reading music but it is a very useful tool for learning note for note transcriptions, and is a good learning tool as well.

5) What is the best way to learn music theory?

I believe the best way to learn music theory is through formal musical training. Music study can be acquired at a school that teaches music or by way of private instruction or tutoring. Learning music theory without the assistance of a teacher is possible but it would be a challenge.

My own experience is that the best time to learn music theory is when a person is young, between the ages of 8 and 12 or when a child is in elementary school. The chances of successfully learning music theory seems to be much better when the music training starts at an early age.

To read discussion on this topic visit my blog and remember, in music ignorance isn’t bliss, it just means more work!