Introducing Dogs and Birds, a wonderful way to teach piano to very young children. Yes, children as young as 3 years can learn piano through the Dogs and Birds method. I have found that 3.5 to 4 years is the lower limit for most children but some children are ready to start earlier.
As a piano teacher I am often frustrated at the lack of musical experiences shown by children when they start piano lessons. Children benefit enormously if they have some sense of beat and sing before they start learning piano. In Australia, unfortunately, it is rarely so. A generation ago children learned nursery rhymes on their mother’s knee, then they would watch Play School or Sesame Street and pick up songs which they sang as they played. My son at the age of 2.5 years would wake us up each morning by singing through his extensive repertoire of songs. I’m not sure why but it doesn’t necessarily happen any more and children often tell me that they don’t sing at home and seem surprised I asked. The consequence is that children are deprived of a happy occupation and source of comfort.
I’ve been teaching these basic music skills to very young children for a few years now, but Dogs and Birds has made me very excited, as it really does include everything to make our little people into fantastic musicians and give them a love of music to last their life. The method is ideal for children aged from 3 to 6 years.
How does it turn a three-year-old into a wonderful musician, and is it hot-housing?
- Dogs and Birds was devised by Elza Lusher, who is a native Hungarian and studied at the Liszt Academy in Hungary. In Hungary all students study solfege for at least a year before learning an instrument. When Elza moved to England she discovered that it was necessary to build musicianship into her piano lessons. Dogs and Birds was born. Ella has taught the method to children as young as 2.5 years, but recommends the method for children over 3. She has
taught groups in a Montessori nursery school with excellent results.
- The materials are beautiful and very appealing to young children. The pictures and stories are designed to capture the child’s imagination and excitement.
- Animal tiles and coloured staves significantly speed up learning notation. Children do not need to know letters or numbers, only colours.
coloured staves and animal tiles
- Children graduate from picture notes to traditional notation.
- Children sing as they play, reinforcing learning.
- Use of arm weight for first pieces ensures relaxed playing.
- Children acquire a good sense of beat and rhythm through activities and games.
- Imaginative play leads to sensitive playing.
- Children are learning the way they learn about everything, through a sense of fun and wonder. Parents do not need to push their children, so hot-housing it is not.
Early music experiences aid learning in many other areas, including reading and maths. This method is perfect for parents who are committed to giving their child the very best start in music. But I have some words of warning:
- This method needs a friendly and gentle approach. Parents need to be deeply interested and involved and be sure they understand what the child needs to do at home each week.
- The helper parent should assist with all home practice, never getting cross or forcing the child to practise. Dogs and Birds is a very enjoyable activity that small children will enjoy. It should be done every day but kept as fun.
- Although it is possible to learn with a keyboard, musicality is greatly enhanced if the child has a piano to practise on. Electric keyboards do not have the nuances and range of sounds that delight a small child.
Please contact us if you have a small child and feel that Dogs and Birds might be right for you.
For more information: Dogs and Birds
To see what people are saying about it: Testimonials
Explorers is a two-year sequential programme for 3.5 to 5.5-year-olds. Those clever little preschoolers are brilliantly catered for!
In 2014 I taught Kinderbach to this age group. Kinderbach is a lovely programme pioneered by Karri Gregor. But as an ex Kindermusik and Kodaly teacher with ideas of my own, I soon found myself changing bits here and bits there, wanting to introduce more fun activities that I’d already used to great effect. So in the end I bit the bullet and spent some months developing my own programme.
The step by step approach of Explorers ensures that by school age children have a good gasp of music basics and are ready to move on to more mature piano tuition. Explorers achieves this in an easy and free manner through many short activities of singing, movement, dancing, beating, rhythm work, ensemble, creating, listening to stories and learning about other instruments, musical genres and composers. Children are taught to read music so that they can sing what they read and write what they hear. Much of this is learned through games. I have also ensured that children do not get out of their depth by careful nurturing and rethinking how to present new material.
This programme is definitely worth taking time to explore. It is not often that you find an activity where children shriek with delight, while learning so many valuable things. And developing their brains through music benefits other learning and character development for the rest of their life.
At my studio I teach a programme called Stepping Stones for 2-3s, and 3-5s. The kindy class, 3-4s is the most popular and I think the most interesting in that there is so much growth that year. Teaching to that age can be challenging but I love it!
YOUR KINDY CHILD AND MUSIC
Music walks hand in hand with language development and children love hearing and moving to music. This is the ideal time to introduce them to the joy of music. They need opportunities to move, sing, listen and interact with instruments. Music blossoms in a rich environment of music and children will start to weave it into the fabric of their lives. Many life-lasting attitudes are established at this time so without music it is unlikely that this love will emerge at a later date.
Make music part of your family life!
Music is experienced with the whole body. Movement is a natural part of music so children need to move to music. This also develops the natural sense of beat and rhythm. Creative movement, make-believe, walking, running, jumping, twisting, galloping, hopping, stretching, finger play, use of balls, bean bags, hoops, balancing, dancing, circle games are all part of movement and experiencing music at this age.
Our first musical instrument is our own voice and singing is a delightful way of entering the musical world of joy and relaxation. Children love singing and although only a small percentage of children will be able to sing in tune at three, singing will give them great joy, and their control of the voice will quickly improve.
Quiet listening activities increase their ability to listen in a focused way, which helps accurate learning.
Children love to experience the physical sensation of playing simple instruments. This can be seen from a very early age when small crawling children discover the saucepans! They delight in the physical feel and the cause and effect of their action. Many very simple instruments can be made at home using kitchen equipment, containers, cardboard, paper, scissors and glue.
5 WAYS YOU CAN HELP AT HOME
1. Provide a home environment that embraces music. No need to go overboard here. You just need to enjoy music yourself and enjoy humming along to music on the radio. Play a variety of music from rock to gentle lullabies. Sing some nursery and pre-school songs together. This will show in a natural way that you value music. Your child will absorb this sense of pleasure as part of family life.
2. Listen to CDs and learn the songs by singing along when ever you and you child feel like it.
3. Make some simple instruments at home together. These are actually better than buying percussion instruments which children quickly tire of. Home-made instruments last just as long as the interest.
4. Think outside the box. Don’t be too rigid in your expectations.
5. If you go to a music class, try some of the activities that were done in class. Look for books of ideas.
WITH MY OWN CLASSES THERE ARE MANY THINGS PARENTS CAN DO TO MAKE THE LESSON RUN SMOOTHLY
These ideas, which help my own parents, may well help you as you explore the world of music with your child.
The class Kindy Kids is designed for 3-4 year-olds and lasts from 40-45 minutes each week. At this age children attend on their own but parents are expected to stay close by. The reason for this is that when parents are present children tend not to participate fully. They are very used to parents doing all the thinking for them and are quite happy watching parents doing everything for them. For many this is the first time they have been valued for themselves in a small group. Some will find this daunting, but with your full support and total confidence in them you will be surprised how quickly they will become a confident member of the group.
They will, of course, copy one another but originality is valued so they will start coming up with their own ideas and the group will flourish. Children this age love to talk and don’t usually need much encouragement!
For the last 10 minutes parents are invited back into the class and the little ones proudly show them what they have been doing and parents join in with a few dances. Circle dances are difficult to do without parents! It always astounds me how children change when their parents come into the room. Sometimes the change is dramatic. Shy children suddenly start bouncing off the walls and outward-going children suddenly become very withdrawn and disinterested. All of this is normal, but don’t judge your own, or other people’s children, by what you see at the end of the lesson. Remember that all children are progressing at their own pace and in different ways. Parents are asked to be encouraging to all children so that the children feel they are in a safe, accepting place and that each is valued by the group.
Parents are asked to join in with enthusiasm. Children don’t notice if you can’t sing very well, or you can’t hop very well. But they will notice if you opt out or look as if you are not enjoying it, and their whole attitude to music will change accordingly. Remember – they see the world through your eyes.
My Stepping Stones programmes have the following broad aims, and you should make sure that any class you enroll your child in has similar aims:
• Build confidence by showing efforts are valued by others
• Develop self-esteem performing alone in small and successful ways
• Develop sense of rhythm
• Develop listening and singing skills
• Increase co-ordination through activities involving gross motor and fine motor skills
• Develop aural memory
• Encourage sharing/cooperation/respect/tolerance/turn-taking/patience
• Musical games and dancing
• Learning songs
• Learning chants
• Playing/exploring a variety of percussion instruments
• Making simple instruments
• Encouraging in-tune singing
• Encouraging solo activities
• Listening activities
• Rhythm/beat activities
• Singing what we write and writing what we sing
• Learning about instruments and other cultures
Life is a game
Each programme in Stepping Stones is designed to meet the needs of children of a particular age from 2 to 5 years and beyond. It is fun, fast moving and child-orientated.
The programme is only loosely structured and will vary depending on the group. While the children are having fun there is much learning going on.
These activities are all planned to introduce and reinforce the following concepts:
1. Beat and rhythm
2. Singing and pitch
3. Memory extension
4. Focused listening
5. Direction of sound
10. Range of songs
11. Adding music to stories
13. Explore: stringed instruments, keyboard instruments, wind instruments, percussion
14. Build confidence
15. Make each child feel valued
If a child has had these experiences before school they will be well on the way to a joyful life of music.
learning through play
Children of this age can be even more confusing than 2 year-olds! Why? Because your child is now in the midst of enormous growth, physically and mentally as they take in masses of information about the world, sort and label and turn rapidly from baby into a small but fully-functioning person. Your child now has a clear picture of him/herself as individual and how he/she fits into the world around him/her.
Motor coordination, spatial awareness, problem solving and social interaction move on apace. Language development is amazing and many children of this age love playing with words.
In the next two years they will want to know about everything and thinking and memory develop accordingly.
During this time they are acquiring fine motor control – cutting, threading, drawing, fitting toys together. They are also able to use their large muscles with much greater control, marching, running, climbing, galloping, jumping, twisting and stopping more quickly. They learn to throw and catch and enjoy paying with hoops.
They are more anxious to watch and play with others and like to work in groups. They learn much by copying: parents and increasingly other children. This leads to imaginative play and they love pretending. Attention span increases and they have a love and need for repetition of favourite experiences.
The sheer enormity of change and development in the two years from 3 to 5 years is staggering. Their thirst for learning and sheer joy of life is uplifting and we need to cherish this special time.
What a lot is going on inside your miraculous child! Hardly surprising that there are some negative elements that need to be understood and coped with. Children of this age have short emotional spans. Because their skills fall behind their desires, they can easily become frustrated leading to quick tempers and even tantrums. This is normal. The easiest way to cope is to cleverly avoid confrontation. Let your child take their time. Emotions are on a short fuse but luckily things are quickly forgotten if something more interesting appears. Distraction can still work, though stubbornness can start to be a problem, even as they approach the stage of amicable 5 year-olds.
Between the ages of 4 years and 6 years children undergo enormous growth, and they are ready to expand and extend their musical experiences.
This age is certainly a more comfortable age to teach (and parent!) than the volatile 3 year-old. But they are also more demanding. The 5 year-old is interested in everything and immensely curious. They are not only ready for, but actively seek new challenges. They are also more able to reason and have good control over their bodies. They can walk on a line, run, stop suddenly, turn, twist, jump, hop and dance. Their fine motor control is vastly better and they can hold a pencil and write. This opens up the possibilities of a music programme enormously, and it is a great time to start group music.
At this stage many parents will want their child to start learning an instrument. Although I have and do teach young children piano, by in large they will endure this discipline but much prefer group music where they can interact with friends and enjoy games. Keyboard skills can be started very successfully but should be part of a range of activities.
At my home studio I have a 2-year programme which covers the preschool and Grade 1 years. The children acquire a firm music foundation which leads to primary music lessons or piano studies.
During this course, through singing and playing glockenspiel and recorder, children learn to write what they sing/play and sing/play what they write. The course builds on Kindy Kids and the children learn through games, singing, creative activities, movement and dances. Building on their knowledge of beat and rhythm they learn about metre. They play and sing in rhythmic and melodic ensembles, learn to listen to each other and to music of different genres and learn a little about music of different countries and cultures. We use lots of props, learning through hands-on. Again I use a mixture of Kodaly, Orff and Kindermusik ideas.
As well as being a wonderful part of life, music helps to develop higher reasoning skills. 5 year-olds are very active and enjoy plenty of movement, but are also ready for writing down and then reading rhythms and pitch. This follows naturally on from their Kodaly singing and hand-signing. I help children write their own music and we look briefly at some famous composers. We even look at different genres of music such as country music and jazz. Later I can introduce some of the wonderful computer programmes for children, including programmes for writing down their music.
Parents need to take a keen interest in any course attended and follow-up enthusiastically at home. Children will be very ready to share what they have learned, especially games! The variety and stimulating activities of music classes are exciting and will be happily anticipated. Children need to be encouraged and music needs to be put high up in household importance if music is to become a life-long love.
In my music studio, from time to time I stop and look at my own teaching and assess what works, what I could have done better and what makes children smile. I know all successful teachers are constantly looking at their own performance. It is a necessary part of growing teacher skills. Sometimes I think we focus too much on what we want to teach, and neglect the how, forgetting to adapt to individual learning styles.
Children should be happy to learn. They learn best through laughter and play. So if children are not smiling and not enjoying their lesson, they are likely not learning much.
I know this, but I still have to keep reminding myself.
Here are some of my thoughts which I hope will start parents and teachers thinking and reassessing how they deal with children in their care. Parents are their children’s first teachers and teachers can have lasting influences on their pupils.
I am passionately interested in how and why kids learn or don’t learn, so here are some points that worry me:
1. Children have an infinite capacity to learn. If we unlock the door by capturing their interest at just the right moment, enormous things can be achieved effortlessly. It feels like riding a huge wave of enthusiasm as large pieces of life’s jigsaw fall into place. But how to open that door…. Trying to push knowledge though the keyhole of a locked door is very difficult as all parents and teachers know! Hmmm…
2. How can I unlock this door by my presentation, and generate excitement without dumbing down learning, in the hope that children might swallow smaller bites. How we bore children – they just stop listening! What works well in my teaching? What bores me and therefore everyone else? These activities can be dropped – there is always another and better way to present.
3. I am lucky to work with quite young children who by their transparency give me instant feed-back of my success. It is wonderful when teaching through fun and laughter to watch the doors fly open as we all move forward together. I review the moods and quirks of the children and how much there reactions reflect their own age and home life. How can I encourage each child to be open and relaxed, so learning can take place?
4. I regard the building of confidence to be the key to all learning. A confident child will take up ideas and run with them. A confident child will be willing to try new things and take risks. A confident child will be willing to make mistakes, learn from them and keep trying. A confident child will be willing to laugh at themselves and encourage others. A confident child is a future leader. How can I encourage this growth, knowing it is all too easy to accidentally put a child down and dampen learning?
5. Do I make children feel happy and secure? Are they drawn to me by my warmth and understanding? Are they happy to follow my leads and add their own ideas? In these days of pedophilia we tend to keep children at a distance. This is understandable, but children need to feel that you care about them as an important person in order to listen to what you have to say. It can be so easy to unintentionally antagonize a child with an unguarded look, a harsh word. It is so important to respect the dignity of each person.
6. Who will need some special help next year? How can I make a troubled child feel especially important?
Hope this has given you fodder for your own thoughts and that we will all strive to make this a very special year for each and every one of our children.