Conditions Part 2

Key Goals of Musical Encounters in Early Childhood

We want to look more specifically at what we can do to establish positive conditions of learning for music, conditions that lead to inspired engagement that lasts, to a positive musical self-efficacy, to motivation that leads to lots of learning, and to inspired musical experiences and aspirations. Bennett Reimer (1999) reminds us, “teaching and learning music, then, have been understood to be valuable because they improve people’s abilities to gain meaningful, gratifying musical experiences.” Francine Morin (2001) suggests that “Music educators need to be inspired to take on new roles and prepare their classrooms so that children learn about music, at least in part, within playful contexts that allow for active exploration, social interaction, creative thinking, sharing, and finding meaning in their activities.”

As a result of a research study we entitled Face the Music, we identified a set of dilemmas or instructional binaries faced by teachers and students in the context of advanced music education (Bartel and Cameron, 2004).

Musical Expressivity Technical Proficiency
Relative standards Objective standards
Personal Best effort Musical perfection
Learner focused Art focused
Culturally-familiar repertoire Artistic exemplars
Manipulable Elements Replicable Prescription
Encouraging Teacher Pushing Teacher
Desire to achieve Lack of ability to self-motivate
Performance-focused feedback Person-directed feedback
Optimistic expectation Pessimistic expectation
Student-appropriate challenge Teacher-stimulating challenge
Holistic Approximation Fine Grained Perfection
Equality of opportunity Merit-based assignment
Collaborative environment Competitive environment
Authentic music-making Contrived performance
Student-responsibility Teacher-responsibility
Social Play Secluded Practice
Healthy Childhood Holism Singular Focus for Peak Achievement
Musical–soulful reward Ego–Achievement reward
Love the music Hate the cost

At the early childhood level these dilemmas of instruction are probably not yet evident, but they are instructive nonetheless as to the choices to be made, especially for people who have been subjected to advanced music education and who have been inducted into a model of learning that can often be destructive to engagement and motivation. Even at advanced levels where there may appear to be a choice of balance or dilemma, in most cases the left side choice is the positive one. It is the dominance of the right side that leads to discouragement, de-motivation, and a discontinuation of music involvement. For the early childhood context, the left side provides the goals leading to engagement.

Musical Expressivity
From the earliest days after birth the child expresses its feelings and desires with sound. We probably do not count them as musical sounds but they are expressive. And so it is natural for the child to see music as expressive. Fortunately, in most cases, technical proficiency is not the focus of early childhood education. Children are invited to sing, dance, move, and make music and not to get it perfectly correct. But “musicians” do sometimes forget that the expression of feeling is the primary purpose and content of music (John, 2004). There are cases of programs where children must stand in a certain ways, sing only in a particular range, hold their hands perfectly folded in front and get it right or else. Competitions are reaching the very young and adjudication is geared to technical proficiency. Formal instruction is starting at younger and younger ages as the angst of hyper-parenting forces many to strive for excellence and achievement. But generally, early childhood educators allow children to play with music, to enjoy it, and to grow into musical understanding and enjoyment.

Donna Brink Fox (1991) warns us that “identifying a two-year old as a ‘musician’ should not be based on expectations of adult musical behaviours. We need a definition of musical ability and musical development along the age spectrum—a definition that accepts children’s perceptions and production of musical sounds at a level appropriate to their overall development.” Although children often “play” with (produce) musical sounds for the sheer joy of experimental manipulation through which they come to know, the employment of sound for expressive reasons is important and always takes precedence over the development of technical facility.

Relative Standards and Personal Best Effort
We assume that early childhood educators would value personal best effort and offer praise and encouragement to children based on relative age-sensitive standards. We would assume that early childhood educators would not have expectations for young children based on objective standards of musical perfection. However, with the pressures of the times of “no child left behind” and the constant push towards greater excellence, teachers/parents might find themselves comparing their child, fearing that they are missing something, wanting the child to be better, faster, more outstanding. Parents today unfortunately are measuring their own worth and virtue by the achievement of their children (Coakley, 2000). Alfie Kohn in an interview in Maclean's Magazine (Whyte, 2006) warns against “…trying to create little resumes on legs.” David Elkind (2001) begs us not to hurry our children. An early childhood educator must consider the child’s needs, interests, abilities, energy, experiences, development, aptitude, and style to guide the teaching learning process. “The ability to appraise experience rather than outcomes in children’s music-making seems not only desirable, but necessary if teaching strategies are to honor the child’s emergent understanding as well as her/his own agency in the learning process” (St John, 2006, p.239)

Learner Focused
In early childhood education, music and the arts are about developing the many artistic possibilities and interests of the child. We teach children first. Curriculum and the demands of the art are second and must be adapted to what the child wants and needs. This flies in the face of those who would “shape and mold” the child into a cultural “performer” of a pre-determined type – training the child to replicate songs or pieces from a repertoire in a manner that pleases the adults’ cultural expectation and serves the “proud parent,” the “cute factor,” and possibly gains the admiration of those with less “competent” children. We advocate for a learner-focused approach that introduces children to various media and modes of expression. We let them experiment and play. We provide lots of opportunities to find the music that they enjoy and to experience it. We help them work within their zone of proximal development which involves physical motor control, listening abilities, interest levels, attention, hand eye coordination, auditory acuity and discrimination, and so on. We see what they can do and help them work from there. It is about the child and introducing him or her to many musical possibilities. We keep in mind the children’s cultural context and their prior experiences so that we can build on them. We fan the flames that are already there. It is our job to facilitate the music maker they might become and cherish the one they are today.

Culturally-familiar repertoire
Ahhh, children love what they know (and so do we!) Comfortable, warm, familiar, “sing-it-again,” routine, repeated, “our” songs are the repertoire of choice. Whether it is the nightly lullaby accompanied with a boost of heart beat and rocking cradles or the grace sung at meal times, the routine good morning song at day care, the singing rhymes that help children learn the alphabet or where the little piggies go…all are the music of early childhood. Although they are not artistic exemplars, they do give voice to the child.

The dilemma from our research , the choice between using culturally familiar repertoire or artistic exemplars, is a real dilemma for school age children and older. They are quite thoroughly “educated” in music of a particular sort by that time – and the choice must be to recognize the power of using the music in the mind of the child. But in the early childhood pre-school years, this “culturally familiar repertoire” is being created. The challenge at this level then is to determine what the child’s mind will hold as musical stylistic templates. The challenge is to make this as wide and open as possible.

In recent years more children have been exposed to classical music than for many years before, this as a result of the alleged “Mozart Effect.” The claims that classical music increases brain growth has created a glut of products and dramatic increases in sales of classical music for babies. In the video Baby Genius: Mozart and Friends, a little boy suggests, “Certain types of classical music have been proven to help a baby’s brain develop faster. It’s a scientific fact. Music can make your baby smarter.” Whether it is literally true of not, the Mozart Effect has had a significant effect in our culture – more babies have been hearing classical music. In response to the demand for classical music we even created a CD called Baby Classics (Fisher Price) but twisted the notion of playing classical music for babies to arranging traditional children’s songs like B-I-N-G-O, The Farmer in the Dell, Pop Goes the Weasel in “classical” style with full pops orchestration using real instruments. We believe that classical music does have an effect but not necessarily the one purported on the liner notes of most CDs. It is exciting, interesting, full of surprises, opens the ears to a broad range of sounds, it is immersion in the full spectrum of musical possibilities involved in the western classical music tradition. But, we do not expect that children be assaulted with flash cards with the faces of composers for visual identification or that they should be forced to recognize composer’s work in preschool.

Despite the emphasis on classical music and its undisputed value for the development of children’s perceptual templates, it is our opinion that equally important is the exposure to musics of many types – world musics, jazz, country, rock, pop, reggae, and so on. One of our strong recommendations to the Fisher Price music series is that the recordings represent a variety of musical styles. Children need to become aware, and take for granted, that the musical materials of rhythm, melody, timbre, and harmony can come in many forms.
We question the social justice of presenting Western classical music as the privileged music, as the music that has the most highly valued inspiration and worth, as the only “classic” music. Who are the children we are educating? What are the musics that are valued in their culture defined in the broadest terms? What musical styles might we immerse the children in? What musical languages can we offer them? What musical values are we imposing and are they honouring the child’s world?

Manipulable Elements
Children need time to manipulate and play with sound, instruments of all sorts, their own voices, their body as musical instrument. They need music that they can enjoy and master easily. They need to have fun. Formal music lessons can wait. Children are composers of stories and songs. Music is part of their play. It is one of the hundred languages of children (Edwards, Gandini, and Forman, 1998). Let’s develop that language by giving them voice.

Beyond creating sound, which can easily become subverted by a teacher’s cultural understanding and desire to show off achievement into merely “learning songs,” children need to learn that the elements of music themselves can be manipulated, that it is permissible to manipulate these dimensions of music. Replication of prescriptions with accuracy, the mere learning of songs and music as prescribed by someone before, may be an important part of culture, but when this becomes the only focus of early education the memes of the child are formed to limit music and musical expressions. When the child learns that pitches can be freely strung together to form melodies, that existing melodies can be altered, that the rhythms of melodies can be reorganized, that sounds can be found in many places and employed with known songs or new sound collages, the child learns to understand music at a deeper level that mere replication, and begins to develop the expressive and communicative potential with sound that encourages ongoing engagement.

One of the persistent concerns of music educators of all types at higher levels is music reading. Very many children never learn to read music. But also very many children never learn to “compose” their own musical “stories.” Research in language learning (Cameron, 1989) shows that when children learn to write their own stories they are more likely to learn to read at the same time. Encouraging children to compose their own music is a crucial part of their learning to replicate and “read” music.

Might we suggest that early childhood teachers need to open creative possibilities for the young child. Early childhood education is not about learning how to perform a song one correct way but rather to take a song and vary it, to compose and create something like it using the musical materials at hand, A priority in early childhood is to develop musical questions. Not simple questions like “who composed it?” but rather questions like, “how can you make music that sounds like bells ringing?” or “what do children sing in Sri Lanka?” or “how could we play a comb?” or “what pictures can you hear in this music?” or what moves does this sound like? Or what sounds do these moves suggest.” It could be about the obvious - composing and recording a song. It could also be about acting “air band” style to a favorite song, or rapping the classroom rules, musically illustrating a story, or exploring the sound of glass bottles with varying amounts of water in them (obviously with adult supervision! not intrusion!).

The collaborative research project called, How to catch a moonbeam and pin it down (Young, 2005), sought to identify factors which support or hinder artists working in early childhood settings and to explore aspects of young children’s creativity. They found that integration of the arts was imperative and that “young children’s imaginative experience is syncretic and slips easily across mode to mode” (p. 296). All the artists involved in the project, irrespective of their art discipline, “gravitated towards improvised activity in sound and movement.” The “unifying experience of arts-based activity for very young children is its dynamic temporal structure.” “Movement in space is made dynamic and affect-rich through variations of energy input” (Young, 2005). Imaginative improvisations that are allowed to evolve are the stuff of play. Ideas that can change, morph, expand, split are the magic. Young (2005) recommends that “music should move toward versions which allow them to engage creatively with generic time-based, multi-modal improvisations that expand into playful game-like or narrative-like forms” (p.300).

Encouraging Teacher
Early childhood educators typically do not feel pressure to have students pass exams, reach a certain level, have polished performances and so do not tend to push their students. Testing has not hit preschool yet. Characteristically people who choose to work in Early Childhood Education are caring people who love children and their priority agenda is to work with kids, not to teach a particular subject. What matters is whether the child is happy, healthy, having fun, learning to get along with others…developing “normally.”

There are some schools or centers, however, that do have performance expectations that force children to be and do activities that are beyond what little ones should be asked to do. Our recent national study of parents’ perceptions of children’s homework (Cameron and Bartel, 2007) is revealing that homework is now finding a place in kindergarten. This striving for perfection, for skill acquisition, and for learning that pushes or hurries children has the effect often of discouraging, lowering self-efficacy and developing stress. Imagine failing at this fragile age. It would have a much more deleterious effect than going without the schooling.

Little children need time to play. And, they need a teacher who will act as play partner to encourage, inspire, celebrate, cajole, challenge with adequate support, facilitate, nurture and care about each one of them. Encouragement is active and persuasive, it is working alongside, it is provoking ideas and questions while supporting a child’s search for understanding, it is providing rich experiences that inspire and inform. It is not “pushy,” aggressive, and negative.

We do not learn or think readily if we are stressed and pressured. Our best work happens when we are in a safe and caring environment (it bears repeating!). Some music teachers have argued that you need someone who is strict and demanding for progress to be made. We would suggest that that is only one teaching strategy (too often seen as a necessary one for music justified by “music teaches discipline”) and one that has more negative repercussions than is necessary (Cameron & Bartel, 2000).

“People are important in the music-making experiences of children” (Fox, 1991, p.45).
She cites a number of studies that point to the importance of caring supportive teachers in the musical development of children. For example, she reports that John Sloboda’s interviewees remembered experiences that were informal, relaxed, supported by loved ones, and without evaluation or competition, as the most meaningful. In another study, exceptionally talented concert pianists identified as most significant the warm personal relationships they had with a first teacher in early childhood and with a positive role model who cared for them first as a person and secondly as a musician. Supportive adults “who nurtured the musical behaviours all along the age spectrum of development” were the key (Fox, 1991).

Desire to achieve
Little ones want to learn. It has not yet been “whipped out of them.” They don’t complain about boredom when the learning environment is exciting and enticing. Self-motivation is there. The challenge in ECE is to provide the opportunities, the tools, the time, the short interesting demonstrations, the feedback and the fun, and they will take off. Genuine celebration of children’s work is so important to fostering motivation. Little ones seem to live in “flow” (Czsikzentmihalyi).

This motivation, curiosity, and desire assumes, of course, a healthy and well adjusted child coming from a home that is stable. It is amazing how many very little children today are unhealthy, lacking in energy, stressed, scarred, and scared. Music for them may need to be therapy – to soothe their souls and comfort them. But, what many music teachers do not recognize is that the phenomenon imputed to older students, that they have the desire to achieve but lack the ability to self-motivate, probably has its roots in teacher controlling, replicative, perfection-seeking pedagogy of early and middle childhood. The motivation of the older student becomes sabotaged by the “voices” of criticism and control experienced many years before.

Performance-focused feedback
We discussed feedback as a general concern in the model of the conditions of learning above, so we merely reiterate the central ideas. Evaluation needs to focus on what the child has done rather than on the child, whether positive or negative criticism. For example, you might say, “I enjoyed the song that you just sang at the water table. Did you compose it yourself? Where did the idea come from?” Here you are commenting on what the child did. In contrast you might have said, “You are a good girl for making such a nice song.” Person-directed feedback is most dangerous when the child is attacked personally for a poor performance. “You are bad!” “You can’t sing!” “You never pay attention!” This is a tricky thing to remember in the moment but it matters.

Optimistic expectation
Again, we have already raised this point earlier. The teacher inevitably communicates an expectation of potential and achievement to the child – this expectation needs to be optimistic. Max Van Manen (1986) calls for a pedagogy of hope – an approach with children that offers the expectation for positive possibility. Optimism boosts energy, pessimism saps it. This is where a child’s self-efficacy is affected—the realistic understanding of what you can or can’t do. It is also where the pivot point between challenge and support matters. To be in “flow,” one needs to be working at something that is within the “construction zone”…something attainable with effort. Setting goals together with the child that are within his or her zone of proximal development and helping the child believe that it is attainable, is important.

Little ones sometimes believe that they are doing something beyond what is possible. They scribble-write long stories, pretend that they are giants and stomp about the room believing that they are all powerful, and they imagine that they can fly. This optimism is about the power and potential of the imagination and we must remember to believe with them in their pretend play. Why can’t they conduct the symphony or be an opera singer? Early childhood educators need to be good at moving between reality and fantasy.
Let little ones try on musical personas. Let them believe that they are musicians. Let them consider their compositions, performances, and explorations of sound real. Believe with them that they can and they will!

Student-appropriate challenge
A problem in the context of more advanced education is the possibility that the music making of the students under the direction of the teacher becomes musically rewarding for the teacher, and the teacher begins making musical decisions related to what and how music is made to stimulate and satisfy the teacher’s musical and psychological needs. This is rarely if ever a significant issue with teachers of very young children. However, zealous teachers, especially music specialists who work with many levels and “drop in” on the kindergarten group only periodically, may need to remember to keep the musical invitations and demonstrations developmentally appropriate. Give the children choice and ownership. We talk about student-centred active learning as being a positive condition for learning that is engaging. Teacher centred, top-down classrooms are not nearly as exciting, engaging or motivating.

The advantage that little children have is that they have the courage to walk away from things that are not real, meaningful, or relevant to them. They are not inhibited about letting the teacher know what they want to do or not. They ignore bad ideas put forth by over zealous teachers who want to deliver curriculum. When do we lose that courage to be ourselves and do what we want?

Custodero (1998, 2003, 2005) found that children are able to adjust the level of challenge to match what they know and how skilled they believe they are. They seem to know how to help themselves, who can help them and what to seek out to facilitate that learning. Let’s be ready.

Holistic Approximation
The concept of approximation comes from language learning theory. We naturally model language for the infant and the child’s first language attempts are approximations of the fully articulated word. Typically when the child approximates “mama” no matter who distantly, we accept the attempt – no, we rejoice in the attempt—and more vociferously model the intended word. This is very different from “instruction.” Think of the first piano lessons many children receive –reading and technique based verbal instruction with a bit of modeling followed by the requirement of repetitive practice to get it right. When the expectation of fine-grained perfection in that technique sets in, you have the making of discouragement and discontinuation. Typically we have had little place for modeling and holistic approximation of the musical model.

This is easier in the earliest parts of childhood because the expectations are more holistic. Programs like Suzuki that are premised on the nurture by love philosophy ideally teach the parent who models the behaviours for the child and the child learns the music through a process of approximation similar to language—it is the mother-tongue approach to music education. Although the method originally had a focus on making music enjoyable and accessible for young children, current competitive parenting, and teachers personally educated traditionally can easily become focused or even obsessed on getting it right without making technical mistakes. We recently heard of a child was hounded by an overzealous parent to stand right, hold the bow right, bow properly, look in the right direction as the parent hovered anxiously and cringed at every mistake, and then over congratulated in relief when the child was done. What is this mother really modeling in relation to music? What does this do to the young child. She wants to quit and the mother wonders why?! In every musical encounter we need to be aware of what we a re really modeling. We may be saying one thing or showing something but modeling a very different thing. What really matters in early childhood music?
Equality of opportunity
The dilemma connected to this goal becomes troublesome when performance excellence must be balanced with giving all kids a chance to participate. In early childhood situations music performance is typically not competitive…hopefully. However, teachers do have the motivation to present “excellence” when there is public performance. There may even be the temptation to “hand the drum” to the child you know has a more advanced sense of beat than others so that the activity will be more pleasant. In the early years we must be put equity of opportunity ahead of apparent ability or performance excellence.

Another perspective on this, however, raises a different issue. Children develop rapidly in the first few years of life and the nature and quality of the immersion and demonstration quickly create ability and potential disparity among children. This may be a cultural or socio-economic issue. Some children have instruments in their homes. Some have musical family members. Some have music in their lives from all sorts of sources…..but there are some that do not. This may well be an issue of social justice.

Early childhood educators have the opportunity to help make up for what is missing in the child’s early home experiences. We cannot assume that a child’s life is empty of musical experience if he or she is from another culture, socio economic group, or has some developmental difference. It might mean providing some take home CD’s, a lending library, arranging some concert experiences or special performances at school. It does mean celebrating what the child brings.

Some early learning centres have music specialists, musical tools and music as part of the program. There are too many that are lacking. We all need to advocate for music in early childhood education! However, let’s be careful what we are fighting for.

Collaborative environment
Because music is “noisy” teachers at all levels tend to prefer whole group music activities with the teacher firmly in control. This model of teaching corresponds closely with traditional models of teacher-student relations. It also, in music, emulates the role of conductor and ensemble which, traditionally and still in too many places, becomes a small scale reinactment of the tyrannical practices within which the role of musical conductor developed in the 19th century. The dilemma in music education as a whole is how to balance the problems of “noise” with the current practices of student collaboration.

One of the main purposes of ECE from its inception is for children to learn to play together, to share, to get along, to develop appropriate communication skills—to collaborate. Although this is difficult for the young ego centric child, teachers set up classrooms to encourage or require small groups of children to build blocks together, prepare dinner in the housekeeping center together, measure and spill at the water table, create paleontology digs in the sand, and march in the rhythm band. Children move from large group times to small group times, working in pairs, playing side by side, and sometimes finding a quiet corner by themselves. Marks are not posted. Children are not tested. Grades are not given. Direct child-to-child comparison is avoided.

Fortunately ego boosting, relationship destroying competition is not the norm for early childhood education. When competition is introduced, stress, pressure and all sorts of uncomfortable behaviours emerge in the teaching/learning process. Many argue for its merit, many against its because of its negative affects. The main reason given for its worth is that the world is competitive and one needs to be able to survive in that condition. It seems that if one cannot learn to collaborate, communicate, and cooperate, life would be difficult.

St. John (2006) suggests that “Through exploration and manipulation, expansion and invention, collaborative efforts among the child music-makers lead to ownership and transformation of the music content as it unfolds.” When kids work together, great things happen leading to new modes of interaction and enhanced musical experiences. “Ideas traveled around the community of learners culminating in a rich quality of experience that was the result of many contributed efforts” (St. John, 2006. p.253). So despite the inherent difficulties very young children have with true collaboration, it must be an intentionally created dimension with music as well as the sand table.

Authentic music-making
In the discussion of the conditions of learning model above, “use” in authentic situations was examined. Because a child learns in a condition of play and imagination, “authentic use” occurs in many varied contexts. Little ones enjoy making music first and foremost because they love making music on the spot, day and night, everywhere. It is natural to make music while participating in the rights and rituals of society: singing in church, humming lullabies, singing grace, singing carols. It is not about standing on a stage with a song that has been practiced and practiced – although even that can be imagination-infused play of sorts.

Children sing as they walk, play, think, work, lie in their beds, and when they wonder. Sometimes when asked to perform a known song, they stubbornly refuse but later the song bursts out without intention. They dance and love to play instruments. Children are musicians! The most popular children’s CDs are sing-alongs. Music should be fostered as a community activity. We must guard against elevating the stage performance as more important that this spontaneous music, lest we devalue it and thereby quench it. In fact we must encourage and celebrate the spontaneous and activity-imbedded “performances.”

Early childhood “performances” are wonderful because they are genuine, generally without inhibitions. No one can make the children perform perfectly every time—they do it their way and that is the magic. Recitals are typically designed to show off achievement; however, when little children are marched onto the stage to sing in a group, what matters is seeing their enlivened faces and their waving hands while they do their best (if they sing at all!).

Performance can play havoc with engagement and enjoyment when it is contrived. It can create incredible stress, accentuate negative aspects of pride, increase chances of failure in the moment, and develop fear and anxiety related to music which should be a natural form of play and expression. The performers who shine still suffer. “Practice makes perfect” is part of the contrived performance process and will not work in early childhood education.

For all learners, having choice and ownership increases engagement and enjoyment. Teacher-directed, preconceived and structured curriculum that allows little room for the pursuit or children’s individual and spontaneous interests can crush engagement and motivation very quickly. It is our job as educators to immerse children in lots of musical possibilities and to invite children to bring their music to school or daycare. A wide range of possibilities and opportunities to choose will enrich the musical life of the child.

Social Play
This is a “given” in Early Childhood Education. Private lessons and long, lonely, secluded practice sessions are not yet part of children’s life – although the possibility for a motivated parent to start a child in violin lessons at age three exists with the attendant danger of requiring the child to practice increasingly longer periods of time. Music is generally community based in ECE. Patricia St. John (2006) states: “Community is at the heart of creative collaboration. The community provides the enabling foundation from which collaborative efforts emerge: growth in relationship leads to the evolution of thoughts, ideas, and projects” (p.238). St. John goes on to cite Csikszentmihalyi (1990), Dissanyake (2000), and Trevarthen (2002) in her claim that a community of learners where one feels a sense of belonging is “encouraging, expanding, and extending contributions within a community of learners, especially in early childhood.”

Healthy Childhood Holism
A concern mentioned earlier is that parents today feel the pressure to have their children learn more earlier and pass that onto their children. They sign mere babies up for many programs. Products are purchased to foster particular learning: toys, videos, computer programs, CD’s. Parents feel incredible guilt if their children are not in music, dance, sports, a second language, or are not attending the best nursery school. Expectations have been raised in all sorts of areas of learning. Music programs have emerged to buy into this market. Beware! There are long term costs to starting children too young on the road to Carnegie Hall and expecting too much. Burnout, anxiety, boredom, frustration all are results.

A very important consideration for parents and care-givers today is not just what the child is doing, but what the child is not doing because of all the structured activities they are expected to do. Where is the play, the imagination, the time to internalize experience, the opportunity to create? Does the child really have the opportunity for a healthy holistic childhood? Parents, it seems, are the most guilty of pushing peak achievement in early childhood through incessant structured activity motivated partially by the imperative of risk reduction. We would be wise countering this in music education, advising parents to let the children enjoy musical experiences while they are young.

Musical–soulful reward
Why do we make music? As already discussed in relation to authentic music making, there are musical and social reasons to make music – most of which related to the inner life, the soul. Even for the very young music is the voice of the soul. Children can express their deepest feelings through their songs: their joy, sadness, delight, hurt, fear, anger, peacefulness. A few verses of If you’re happy and you know it cheers even the bleakest heart. We have heard children singing very sad renderings as they ponder, soulful pieces emerging from deep within. Then there are the playground songs. Music is for the soul and from the soul in childhood. There is little room for striving for ego enhancing achievement. But, contrived performance – performance that is designed as an educative experience rather than an authentic experience, performance designed to demonstrate a child’s achievement – provides the reward of an ego boost. Music education that makes this the central focus can sustain effort in some children for a long time – even into advanced levels of study. These musicians do music because it is a showcase to demonstrate their ability, their achievement, not because they love music in an authentic socially referenced manner.

Love the music
Our ultimate goal, to which all the goals above are in direct service, is to development in a child a deep and honest love of music.

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