Musically Montessori: Six Cognitive Benefits of Exploring Pitch With Young Children

HERE ARE 6 COGNITIVE BENEFITS FOR YOUNG CHILDREN EXPLORING CONCEPTS IN MUSIC...PLAYFULLY, OF COURSE! If you are wondering just how much little children can learn from early music experiences, I have presented a few here for you to read about and even watch in action.
All photos by Carolyn at Magical Movement Company unless otherwise indicated
My Montessori music classes have been zooming along during the past few weeks and it is such a joy to see the skills the children have been developing since the first weeks of school last Autumn! The photo above shows the group at Kiran's Montessori School who are exploring the music concept of pitch while practicing skills with playing child-size castanets.
What exactly is important in early music education?
"MAKING" MUSIC makes the difference!
When speaking of "cognitive" development, I will refer to the Miriam Webster's dictionary:  
"Of, relating to, or involving conscious mental activities (such as thinking, understanding, learning, and remembering)" 

I am certain that a well-planned and carefully implemented early music curriculum adds immensely to the cognitive development in the young child. With such a music program, the "fun factor" of making music with instruments is a crucial component in encouraging cognitive skills development. Here is a quote from a recent article in Time magazine.
"Researchers found that after two years, children who not only regularly attended music classes, but also actively participated in the class, showed larger improvements in how the brain processes speech and reading scores than their less-involved peers." From a Northwestern University Study cited by this Time Magazine article, "Music Can Alter Your Child's Brain" 12/16/2014 
You can see some quick examples of our fun activities featuring the concept of pitch in music in this youtube video from our Montessori music class a few weeks ago at this link: Magical Movement Company Youtube: "Exploring Pitch". 

The secret to engaging young children in music activities is encouraging their ACTIONS that connect the child to the music concepts being presented

MOVEMENT ACTIVITIES in Music Class encourage the development of BALANCE  and COORDINATION.

Children always enjoy moving to music through large motor activities (ex: dancing, as well as both structured and freeform movement activities). In my groups, the "Movement Activities" portion of each music class is one of the most popular parts of the lesson. I have had so many little children say: "Ms Carolyn, I love doing the 'Movement Activity'!"

Benefit #1: Setting up Movement Activities in your early music curriculum helps children develop skills and confidence in understanding how to balance and coordinate the movement of the body. 
Bodily coordination is necessary for being able to hold a pencil and write/communicate ideas. It is also important in understanding how to play the piano, aim and kick a soccer ball, construct a building, and even brace oneself when facing an emergency such as earthquake, tornado, or even physical assault. Young children are in the sensitive period for movement according to Montessori principles, and little ones are developing their balance and coordination abilities throughout early childhood. Every activity that gives them practice with these skills is important for all subsequent development. Music nearly always causes the young child to we have a great tool within music itself to structure movement activities so that children experience the  concept in their bodies. 

Benefit #2: Offering movement to coincide with concepts in music gives the young child a concrete experience to build understanding of more abstract principles. 
Through movement in music class a child gains more understanding of concepts such as "fast and slow", "loud and quiet", "high and low pitch", and more subtle concepts such as comparing higher and lower, faster and slower, louder and quieter, and classification skills, too. (ex: "When you move to this music are you moving fast or slow?"..."What other things in the world move fast...slow?"..."Is a second in time faster or slower than a minute?")


When young children are offered activities with musical instruments, they immediately light up and you can see this by all the big smiles on their faces. But why?
One important reason young children love playing instruments is that the actions involved help feed the young child's developmental needs. 

Benefit #3: Giving children practice in playing instruments offers practice using the small muscles of the hand, important for developing eye-hand coordination skills. 
Recently, our activities have been featuring the concept of pitch in music and each week the children explore different percussion instruments. My older groups (6-9 yr olds) have been learning about pitch using pitched percussion instruments: Xylophones and Glockenspiels. 
With unpitched percussion instruments, such as a tambourine, I have shown my younger groups how to tap on the head of their tambourines on the floor like a drum to make a low sound. Then we shake the tambourines while holding them up high to make a higher pitched sound. Rhythm sticks are also nice for playing on the floor like drum sticks for lower sounds and then tapping them together up high to make a higher pitched sound. 
Last week my groups enjoyed simply moving their castanets up high when they heard music that was higher in pitch and then playing the castanets down near the floor when the music was lower in pitch. We've also used other rhythm instruments in this way as well as props such as rainbow ribbons, a parachute, or a giant stretchy band by simply moving these to a high position for higher pitch in the music and moving them down to a lower position for lower pitch in the music.
Not only are the children listening for the movement in the pitch of the music for the activity, they are also then grasping the instrument or prop and playing/moving it up (for high) and down (for low) as well. This not only requires deciding whether the music is high or low, but then adjusting their instrument/props to match the the pitch of the music. The "grasping" is that important practice with the small muscles of the hand that eventually enable the child to write with a pencil. And, the movement to match the pitch of the instrument involves coordinating playing the instrument and moving it up or down appropriately. (Listening...thinking...acting)
With the older children, this involves actually playing the lower or higher pitch on the barred instruments (Glockenspiel and Xylophone) by coordinating their mallets to strike the bars correctly as well!

Benefit #4: When you give children musical instruments to explore, they begin to understand how different sounds are created.
At birth, the auditory sense is already well developed, and the young child is stimulated by sound. The vibrations of sound flow through the body of the child and when the child is old enough to make sound happen by banging, tapping, striking, and even dropping, then the child is beginning to understand the science of sound. 
While holding a tambourine, the child can actually feel the vibrations of the sound created by tapping on the tambourine head. Then there is a different feeling of the vibrations of the instrument when the tambourine is shaken to create a sound...and this makes a different sound as well.
With older children playing pitched instruments such as the Xylophone, the child can see visually that the longer bars create a lower sound and the shorter bars create a higher sound. 
As you saw in the video above, I played my slide whistle to create a fun game of moving up high or down low according to the pitch I was playing on my whistle. This is yet another way sound occurs that is different from playing a percussion instrument. The children see that I am making the sound by blowing into the metal tube of the whistle and this creates yet another unique sound that is different from the skin sound of the tambourine or the wood sound of the castanets.

STRUCTURING activities with MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS gives young children opportunities for 

When children play music together in a group, structured activities will encourage children to practice coordinating their movements with others, to make decisions and plan how to play, when to play, when not to play, and even how to play and sing at the same time. 

Benefit #5: Structuring music activities in a group offers children practice in decision making, collaboration, and purposeful enterprise.
In music, this is called "ensemble playing", and in the adult workplace this is called "team building". As children build on their skills in music class each week, they begin to enjoy activities that involve coordinating their playing in unison with each other. Starting with practicing rhythm patterns together, then beginning and ending a piece all at the same time, to playing differently at different times in the piece (ex: fast for the galloping horse part and slowly for the turtle walking along, or short notes for rain drops and long notes for the wind in a song) 
These kinds of musical experiences involve planning on the part of the teacher so that the children are given a structure that goes well with the music concept that is featured and scaffolds skills developed from week to week.
As a music teacher, I use a combination of resources to create a curriculum that presents activities in a progression suitable to the ages of the children. Currently, I use the principles I learned in my Orff-Schulwerk training, my Montessori training, and my own formal music training as a child (and adult). In addition, as a music specialist, I often use activities from a wonderful curriculum produced by Bushfire Press, called Music Room. 

Musically Montessori: "First Twelve Weeks" 
and "Instruments of the Orchestra"
Over my years of teaching I have developed a sequential Montessori  music curriculum for the classroom teacher that combines all the training I have received and studied over the past 30 years. I offer this music curriculum for classroom teachers in my Musically Montessori on-line eCourses. You can learn more and even enroll if you like at this link: Musically Montessori: First Twelve Weeks
USE this COUPON code for 20% off retail price: TPT20  

Benefit #6: Playing musical instruments over and over, with new challenges introduced each time, helps the child develop confidence and a feeling of success. This eventually leads to a sense of mastery, competence and a life-long love of learning on the part of the child.
As you can see in the video above, I often use familiar songs to develop a new concept in a lesson. I even use the same song in a particular lesson. Sometimes, in a single lesson, the children will enjoy a movement activity that features a music concept (ex: moving up and down to the change in pitch) and then a few minutes later, we will revisit that song and this time we will play rhythm instruments instead of moving our whole bodies. This way, the children have the experience of repetition that builds skills, with a different twist that keeps the children engaged as well as successful!

My next post will have more details of the pitch lesson from the above video. I will also be offering a new Teachers Pay Teachers Lesson Plan Activity pack: "Exploring Pitch" with a special discount price for my email subscribers. Have you subscribed to my email list yet? If not, you can do it right here on the sidebar of this blog. 


I hope you don't miss the Montessori Monday Link-up at Living Montessori Now! My post is just one of many resources you will find at this wonderful site...many are free, too! Here is that link: Montessori Monday Link-up.

I want to thank you again for visiting my blog today and I hope you have gotten some ideas for music with your own group. If you want to read more of my articles about music with young children click on this link. CAROLYN'S BLOG: MUSIC

Advertising Disclosure: Magical Movement Company may be compensated in exchange for featured placement of certain sponsored products and services, or your clicking on links posted on this website. Thanks for your support!



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