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Music, rhythmic exercises and children’s concerts

Concert at Sto Pociech

Children make music at Summer New Town Festival in Warsaw, Poland © Agnieszka Rekucka

Every child is musical. Although not every Montessori teacher plays the piano nowadays, they can lead an integrated Montessori music program in the prepared environment through education of auditory sense, introduction to music theory, rhythmic exercises and children’s concerts.

We may tend to regard music as the domain of a gifted minority. However, professional musicians and music cognition scientists alike claim musicality to be a universal human trait. In the Montessori approach, music is considered in a way similar to language, in which a child grows from their first expressions to accomplished mastery of its beauty and nuances if exposed to a rich environment. It becomes clear why it is not enough to enroll a child in a weekly class: daily life experiences are indispensable in musical education.

A child starts hearing sounds in the second trimester of pregnancy. Ever since they acquire the culture of their particular time and place also with their ears. Dr. Maria Montessori regarded lullabies, folk songs and dances, as well as music accompanying religious celebrations as valuable sources of diverse auditory experiences. It is worth noting that a complex beat, characteristic of many folk music traditions, manages to stimulate the brain development in a way no popular song with w simple 4/4 beat ever would.

A great part of the enjoyment in listening to music comes when the child first anticipates what comes next and then their expectations are met, with the anticipated phrase arriving as a welcome old friend. Therefore, listening to music plays an important psychological role, helping build the sense of trust to environment, assurance of its order and continuity.

For those wondering where to start and what pieces are the most suitable for young children to begin to appreciate classical music, you can get inspired with the following list.

Dr. Maria Montessori in Montessori Elementary Materials recommends exposing children first to Mozart, Chopin, Beethoven, Mendelssohn and a broad selection of opera classics. Isenarda da Napoli in her booklet Music and the Montessori Method adds the following pieces to the curriculum in the Casa dei Bambini:

  • S. Prokofiev, Peter and the Wolf, symphonic fairy tale
  • B. Britten, Variations and Fugue on a theme by Purcell
  • C. Saint-Saëns, The Carnival of the Animals
  • F. Poulenc, The Story of Babar, the Little Elephant
  • L. Mozart, The Toy’s Symphony
  • W. A. Mozart, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik
  • R. Schumann, Kinderszenen
  • C. Debussy, Children’s Corner
  • P. I. Tchaikovsky, Sleeping Beauty, Suite from Ballet
  • P. I. Tchaikovsky, The Nutcracker, Suite from Ballet
  • G. Rossini, Cinderella
  • A. Vivaldi, The Four Seasons
  • F. Mendelssohn, Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • H. Villa-Lobos, Bachiana Brasileiras
  • P. Dukas, The Wizard Apprentice
  • M. Mussorgsky, Pictures at an Exhibition
  • I. Stravinsky, Petrouschka

As you can see, some of these works were actually created with children in mind, while other resonate well with the young audience due to a clear structure with enough complexity to be interesting, but not so much to be confusing. As it is true with all Montessori materials, music recordings and equipment should be carefully chosen for their quality, to make sure music auditions are pleasant and do justice to both the composer and the performer.

In a Montessori environment, they are not so much meant as a background music, as for mindful listening, a sort of a children’s concert. The next step is talking with children, posing increasingly complex questions, beginning with which instruments were being played, where the selected piece would be heard (church, theatre, concert hall), and arriving at the different sound features (pitch, intensity, length), dynamics, structure and style of the piece.

Tonal awareness followed by musical vocabulary is introduced in an engaging way by a series of exercises first with the sensorial and then with the musical material designed by Maria Montessori and her lifelong collaborator and musician, Anna Maria Maccheroni. The materials are available every day in the classroom and a child can work with them as long as they need, at their own pace. This way, children are also growing in their ability to describe the music they hear.

A few words should be said here on the subject of rhythmic exercises. Maria Montessori was certain it would be educationally backward to give specific verbal commands to children who interpret music with their bodies. The language to decode during rhythmic exercises is, therefore, the language of music, which dictates suitable movement with its beat, tempo, volume, etc. In a gradual process, continuing with daily experiences in the prepared environment, children learn to hear these features and interpret them with rhythmic exercises. However, it is vital to accept that sometimes a child might prefer to use their hands to “conduct” or simply lay still for mindful listening.

Of course, music playback can be only a supplement to live music given by the teacher, guest musicians, attended on a going out, and played by the children themselves. Making music combines mathematics, movement and senses all at once, with real-time fine-tuning. That is why it brings brain development to new levels. And it is simply a special way to enjoy music, full of inherent emotions. If the desire to make music is to become contagious for children, live music should be the primary way to experience it.

Montessori music education incorporates elements borrowed from Orff, Jacques-Dalcroze, Kodaly and Suzuki. That is why it seamlessly prepares for learning to play an instrument, particularly following the Orff or the Suzuki method if the family wishes to pursue it. The Montessori environment will provide a strong foundation, allowing children to mature in their musicality and get acquainted with music theory, and most importantly cultivate a lifelong enjoyment of music as an experience that gets better when shared. 


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