Rina has had three romps on my staircase, of which I’m fortunate to have as a playground substitute. Like most children in her age group, she has an abundance of kinesthetic energy waiting to be channeled creatively, if a teacher has the time, patience, and resources to do so.
Back in the 70s the ideas of Francis Webber Aronoff as expressed in Music and Young Children became popular. And while the educator might not have recommended placing a very young child on a piano bench to stare at an instruction book, she probably would have endorsed a romp on stair steps with a transfer to the keyboard.
I think of my daily dose of scale practice, for instance, as playground play.
Ironically, a book titled, The Playground as Music Teacher by Madeleine Carabo-Cone revolutionized ways of teaching music to young children. They were urged to clap, tap, run, and skip to a rhythmic stream of quarter notes, eighths, and rapidly, light sixteenths.
The author explored the three levels of knowing music: “kinesthetic” (physical), “cognitive” (analytical) and “affective” (emotional). In the total creative musical process, all were meant to fuse together.
On a kinesthetic level, the child has abounding energy that begs for release in movement. Rina warms up with a relaxed flowing, improvised beginning to her lesson. As I play “Harmony of the Angels” by Burgmuller, she moves gracefully to the music.
This is an opening excerpt from Rina’s third piano lesson:
Advancing the clock 12 weeks, Rina takes to the stairs as a continuum of physical activity.
Staircase movement with music alphabet names placed on each step, imbues an awareness of spatial relationships that applies to melody and its directions. “Frere Jacques,” realized by Rina in steps and skips, up and down for the past few weeks, was a great preliminary to her learning the piece at the piano—It also happened to be a great metaphor for musical movement on the staff and in space (Kodaly hand signals apply)
In the cognitive realm, a child may or may not be ready for music alphabet note name recognition, though Rina has advanced, slowly but surely to this level of knowing. She can sing all the letter names of “Frere Jacques,” having had a gradual exposure to the music alphabet on and off the staircase.
Placing long and short sound cardboard circles on the music rack is another cognitive activity that helps enlighten young children about music’s rhythmic dimension.
Rina has had a steady exposure to rhythm and its long and short sounds as laid down in Irina Gorin’s instruction, Tales of a Musical Journey.
She has sorted and created her own rhythms, while also enlisting the “kinesthetic” clapping activity.
Above all she has translated rhythm and melody to artful playing, with relaxed arms and supple (“spongy”) wrists. This is a hallmark of Irina’Gorin’s approach to teaching piano from beginning through Intermediate and Advanced levels. It is a gift to our music education universe and should be shared far and wide.
The teaching philosophy embraces early exposure to how to create a singing tone by nurturing a relaxed motion toward the keyboard with a natural wrist forward follow through. It fosters sensitivity to phrase shaping and tonal nuance in children as young as 4.
In the “affective” universe, a student of Rina’s age can be exposed to Major and minor tonality, without too much labeling. Communicating a light-hearted mood in the “Major” tonality, and more depth of emotion in the “Minor” is not a big leap in comprehension. These emotional tie-ins of course, are musical clichés framed by our Western culture, so while they may be taken with a grain of salt, most of us have been so often exposed to jingles from childhood with Major/minor emotionally tagged associations that we can’t easily rid ourselves of them.
Today I added an echo to the last three notes of the French folk tune, which introduced an affective dimension to the music. As a preliminary, Rina and I sang her name loudly and then echoed it, softly. (or sweetly)
Here’s a snippet of our lesson as it unfolded following Rina’s stair-step activity.