Musically Montessori:#2 A Little About the "Two Maria-s" & the Montessori Preschool Music Curriculum!


Photo from the artists at Dollar Photo Club

Maria Montessori collaborated with her esteemed colleague, Maria Maccheroni (pronounced macaroni) to create an amazing music curriculum for young children. While teaching an AMS Music training workshop a few months ago, it dawned on me that the children's favorite ending song (the little pony song) has the name of the true music maestro behind the Montessori Music Curriculum, Maria Maccheroni, which gave my training students and I a sweet little laugh! 

Photo from the artists at Dollar Photo Club

This popular little song has these words:
I have a little pony, 
Her name is Macaroni
She trots and trots 
Then she stops!...
My funny little po---ny
If you are new to Montessori, you can find out a lot about Dr. Maria Montessori and how Montessori schools are set up at this link: 

Here, in this post, I will briefly explain a little about Dr. Montessori’s music curriculum, how it came about, and what music education was like in her first schools in Italy that began in 1907.

Dr. Montessori based her method of education on the rationale that movement is integral to a child’s understanding of academic concepts. She also observed that children learned through sensory exploration and so, for the development of music learning, Montessori started with activities for practicing aural discrimination. (listening skills)
Montessori wrote in The Montessori Method
It is desirable to have didactic materials used for 'auricular education.' These exercises are an introduction to the acquisition of language, and serve in a very special way to center the child's discriminative attention upon the 'modulations of the sound of the human voice.'...Such sense education has a value in that it exercises aesthetic taste, and may be applied in a most noteworthy way to practical discipline.  

My favorite Montessori listening activity is “The Silence Game”. This is a lovely activity that is usually done in a group, but can also be set up as an individual work. There are many variations, but basically everyone gets very still and silent. During the silence, the children listen to the sounds around them, or simply focus on the silence itself. I love to keep a window open so that we hear the sounds from outside, especially if the window opens to the garden where the children can hear birds or the breeze. I have had children tell me they heard the wings of a bird flapping!

In the beginning, these exercises in silence may be planned for about half a minute, so that the children don’t get too antsy. However, over the months, the children begin to really appreciate how long they can maintain the silence together and I always comment on how well they use their strong muscles to keep still and quiet! Eventually, you will be able to bring the children into silence and then move away from the group, whisper each child’s name, and have them quietly walk to where you are. This is the classic lesson of “The Silence Game.”  

In the Montessori Sensorial apparatus, there are materials called “Sound Cylinders”. These are made up of two wooden boxes, each with a set of 6 wooden cylinders filled with various materials that make sounds when the cylinders are shaken. The sounds range from loud to quiet.  The first set has red lids and the other set has blue lids with cylinder sounds that match the first set. The child begins by lining up the two sets in two rows according to color and then s/he  matches the cylinders that have the same sounds. Later the child arranges the cylinders of the red set from loudest to quietest and then does the same with the blue set. 

I have a delightful memory of a 4 yr old with autism who really loved musical activities in our Montessori Classroom. He is pictured below after arranging a Montessori Sensorial material called the Brown Prisms from thickest to thinnest. He then, used the thinnest prism like a musical mallet to “play” a tune on the brown prisms! Because they are made of hardwood, these prisms have a wonderful sound that changes with each prism and you can actually hear the sound changing from low (thickest prism) to high (thinnest prism) when they are arranged in that order.

Photo by Carolyn at Magical Movement Company

There are many fun listening games that can be played at circle time to practice focused listening skills. You can learn a few at my upcoming posts in this Musically Montessori Series. Stay tuned by signing up for my posts delivered right to your in-box here: SUBSCRIBE FOR UPDATES.

The most beautiful and magical Montessori music materials are the Montessori Bells pictured below:

Photo by Carolyn at Magical Movement Company

Briefly, the Montessori Bells are brass bells attached to wooden stands in a sort of mushroom shape. They were originally developed by Montessori’s trusted colleague, Maria Maccheroni (the other Maria!). There are 2 sets of 13 bells each and they come with a platform to be placed on the shelf that shows where to position the bells. One set is brown and the other set is black & white to correspond with the black & white keys on the piano. The black & white bells are the control and are not generally removed from the shelf. The brown bells are the working bells and the child first learns the care of the bells and then how to match the tones, how to arrange the bells from low to high, and then how to compose little songs. The older children also learn music notation with the materials that go with the lessons of the Montessori Bells. These bells have a very beautiful tone and are made with amazing precision by a company in Italy that was the maker of the original Montessori bells of the early 1900’s! Here’s that link:

If you are a bit insecure about being accurate in your pitch when singing songs with the children in your group, you can greatly increase your ability by working with the Montessori Bells. The authentic (and expensive!) Montessori bells are perfectly pitched and are an excellent guide for matching your pitch to the selected bell. They are pitched at middle C on the piano and go through the scale up to C’(octave higher than middle C). As a classroom teacher, I would always have a child strike the C or the D bell for giving us the pitch to start the song we were about to sing. The children so enjoyed this and we always started on a nice pitch! You can also play a fun game of singing each child’s name up the musical scale (“ascending”) and/or down the scale (“descending”) using the bells.

There are many places to learn more about the Montessori Bells and there are actual formal lessons of these bells that are used in the Montessori Preschool classroom. And, so I will refer you to Montessori training programs for this information, and here is a great one with on-line classes available: Age of Montessori
I teach Montessori Music in two wonderful AMS training programs in the San Francisco East Bay. My training workshops are offered not only to Montessori student/teachers, but to any interested teachers or parents as well. Here are their links: 
Fountainhead Montessori Adult Education.
And here is the link to my listing of upcoming workshops I will be teaching: Classes & Workshops Schedule

In the first Montessori school, Casa dei Bambini, in Rome, Italy, Dr. Montessori and Maria Maccheroni offered many music activities to the children as movement on what is called “The Line.”  There are many delightful movement activities that children perform on “The Line” and in this first school, the children often moved to music played on the piano by Ms Maccheroni. By listening to the little variations played on the piano, the children adjusted their movements. For example, when marching music was played, the children spontaneously began to march! You can recreate this wonderful movement to piano music using the cd s available from Sanford Jones, a renowned Montessori Music Specialist, at the following link: 

Sanford Jones has many Montessori music resources, including an excellent dvd that shows his delightful one-on-one lessons given with the Montessori bells. Link to his website:

Here is a photo of children moving on “The Line” in the Montessori Classroom:

Photo by Carolyn at Magical Movement Company

Of the variety of activities that children performed on “The Line” in the first Casi dei Bambini, many are well-suited to musical accompaniment. Children enjoy marching with miniature flags while listening to any number of cd s of marching songs, including national anthems from around the world. 
One of the favorites for my group has been The King's March from Shenanigan's album Dances #1. Here's the link for their wonderful website: Shenanigans Music. You can also download their music from iTunes.
As you can see from this post, the Montessori Music Curriculum is quite well developed and this post is meant to be a little introduction to what can happen in the Montessori environment. 
You can read more about the fun music activities I offer to over 750 children each week in my Montessori Preschool & First Grade Music classes at my blog here: Music Posts at Carolyn's Blog.

Also, I will be posting a year long sequential Montessori Music curriculum in this ongoing series: Musically Montessori. Stayed tuned for more!

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