How children learn music

bigstockphoto_Young_Girl_With_Guitar_2339814For children repetition is key to developing skills especially in music but this can sometimes be challenging for those who have to listen. As adults it can become a little aurally challenging to hear the same song again and again. Children on the other hand like repetition for several reasons.

This is a topic that many organisations understand all too well. When Walt Disney built his first theme park he literally walked around on his knees to see how Disneyland would be seen from the child’s perspective. TV shows like Blues Clues would test their shows on children to see what would engage them prior to going to air. The results were often surprising and contrary to popular adult beliefs. Blues Clues became the highest rating children’s show in US history because it was designed for the way children viewed the world. The enormous success of The Wiggles comes from their understanding of how young children view live entertainment. Take them to an opera and chances are they will be bored within minutes.

Teaching guitar to young childrenIf I could only offer one sentence of advice to teachers working with children it would be ‘Small steps and lots of repetition’. Children will assess any challenge and if the step appears too big they will find a way to avoid it. This could be anything from using diversion tactics (E.g. Asking irrelevant questions or acting up) to emotional outbursts (E.g. tears) to simply saying they are bored. All these signs indicate that the challenge is either inappropriate or perceived as too hard to the child.The importance of repetition Repetition helps children to master a skill and gain confidence before moving to the next level. Think how with a child you can play the same simple game again and again and they never seem to tire of it. E.g.’Peek-a-boo’. Through repetition they are developing and refining a motor skill. If they were to learn a new song or skill every week they would not have time to develop each skill and would quickly lose confidence in their ability. Lets use the example of the alphabet song. Children will sing this thousands of times and still not be sick of it. This gives them a foundation to learn the English language. Adults on the other hand are imagining a scene from The Simpsons where Homer is strangling Bart.

Slow and steady wins the race
We do of course want them to progress and move forward and not get stuck on one song for too long so while we encourage repetition we also keep a balance by ensuring students are moving forward. We have found that children need to go through stages when learning any song. The first stage is learning the new material followed by developing the skills required for a period of time and finally enjoying a level of accomplishment. Pushing them onto new songs or skills too quickly can by pass the last stage and ultimately erodes their confidence because they feel no real sense of accomplishment. Children need to know that a skill that is seemingly difficult  can be accomplished through persistence. This builds their confidence to go on and master almost any skill and not just in music.ConclusionThe early stages are more about building their confidence with achievable challenges and lots of repetition. If children are happy playing the same song again and again we applaud them for it. Their confidence will grow as they master each song or exercise especially when those who hear them for the first time playing the song remark “Wow. That was fantastic”.David Hart – Program Director

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