Music is a part of development from the strains of the first lullaby. Music enters a child’s life from experiences in the family, from the media, as a part of religious worship, in the school curriculum, in play and organized recreation.
Last week a parent asked me about music in the Montessori classroom. It’s a legitimate question, as sometimes we are so excited to share with parents the math or language or science or geometry materials that we forget to talk about art and music, although we hold them in equal esteem with the more purely “academic” pursuits.
As parents, what would you ideally want your children to be exposed to in music classes in their early and elementary years? You would probably want your child to learn some lovely songs and to sing enough that they learn to carry a tune. You might want them to receive a bit of ear training, because you’ve heard that this is the age when children either develop this skill or go through life unable to distinguish pitch. You would probably hope that they would be exposed to a variety of musical expressions and perhaps a bit of music history. You might even hope for an introduction to musical notation. It may surprise you to learn that we provide all of that and more in the Montessori classroom.
The operative term here is “in the classroom.” Rather than being confined to a music class for an hour once per week (about the most you can hope for in most schools, and increasingly hard to find these days), in Montessori these activities are included in the daily life of the class and respected at the same level as any other form of learning.
From their earliest days in a Montessori toddler class we have also clapped rhythms together. We draw upon this preparation when the time comes for the presentation of the values of notes (whole, half and quarter notes, for example) and the ways in which those note values are written. From the beginning, we also encourage children to move their bodies to different moods and rhythms of music in the group work called Walking on the Line. Listening to different types and styles of music is also part of our daily experience, and fits into both their classification work (the names of instruments, and composers, and styles of music) and their exploration of human history (how music has been expressed in different cultures at different times).
What’s most important about all of this is the fact that it takes place in the classroom, not in a separate music class with a specialist. What does this communicate to the children? That musical expression is not the realm of a few gifted people, but a birthright common to all of us. With the right experiences, all children can sing and carry a tune, all children can train their ears, all children can learn to read and write music. In other words, all children can participate in one of the basic expressions of what it means to be human, in the language of music.