I love kids music classes! When they're newborns, it's a great way to get out of house and meet likeminded moms. When they are toddlers, it's the perfect place for them to expend some energy and develop their coordination. But for so many parents, the music stops at 3 years old. Just because they've outgrown the mommy and me class they loved so much doesn't mean their musical education has to end. The preschool years are an optimal time to take in the building blocks of rhythm, explore more sophisticated instruments, and learn the language of music.
Hoff-Barthelson Music School in Scarsdale offers every level of instruction from mommy and me to adult. For the preschool set, drop-off classes begin as early as age three and focus on instrument playing, singing, and learning to write and read music.
Class 1: Exploring the Instruments
We visited one recent Saturday to get a glimpse into the world of specialized music classes. We first arrived at Getting to Know You: Exploring the Instruments For Threes, Fours, Fives and Kindergarten. This class is hailed as a precursor to private instruction, and it's a great launchpad to pique a child's interest in and understanding of instruments.
Like all Hoff-Barthelson programs, (click here for our article about their Mommy and Me classes), listening and etiquette are an integral part of the instruction. At the start of class, children remove their shoes and wait to be called onto the rug. The teacher plays a game where she sings out a color, and if the child is wearing that color, they're invited to take their spot on the carpet by the piano. Kids stay seated and quiet when needed during instruction. They learn to move in a group as cued by the music, or, when it's their turn, let their star shine bright with a solo song or instrument part.
Since the children in this class were almost school age, the music played for them is more complex. Gone are the staccato solo notes of the baby version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. They've been replaced by a more musically detailed arrangement.
They also learn to make a song their own. Instead of singing the alphabet song with its traditional lyrics, children were encouraged to suggest different syllables or words to sing to. Rather than A B C, they sang "Bug Bug Bug" (to their delight!). When one student raised her hand to pick the next sound, she realized she hadn't thought of something, and a weak "ummm..." escaped her lips. What followed was a rousing rendition of the alphabet song to "Um Um Um Um..."
This week's instrument exploration was the piano. The kids hovered around the grand piano and got to see its inner workings, examining piano parts and keys as they learned how the machine makes sound. They saw, touched, heard, and even smelled the piano pieces as they were passed around the circle.
Since they had learned about the workings of the piano, their teacher wanted them to see it in action. She chose a piece that shows off the breadth of sound a piano can make.
Cued by their teacher singing instructions to stand up, the children circled the room, creating their own dances to a fragment of the arrangement Carnival of the Animals. They became swans and elephants, they danced a lively can-can, then were challenged to dance the can-can again--this time as a turtle would, slow and drawn out. They were excited to race around the room, but they do so noiselessly, as they've learned that talking and listening are at cross-purposes: the teacher's cues for the fun were nestled inside the music and lyrics. Anyone talking wouldn't hear what to do next.
Class 2: Saturday Songs
The other class we visited was Saturday Songs. This class for threes and fours is focussed on rhythm, singing, and musical expression. After being called by name to sit in the circle, kids sing together, then each child gets to invent a four-beat clap/rest combination for everyone else to repeat. They learned the many ways beats and rests combine within a meter of music.
An important element to teach kids in preparation to learn an instrument is to repeat rhythms back and to create rhythms in real time while taking turns around the circle without losing the sense of the beat. They may be simply clapping their hands in this class, but the skills they are learning will be applied to future instrument classes, where they will have their own part and sound to contribute to a larger musical arrangement.
With that in mind, the teacher took to the blackboard, showing the students how to write down the beats they were clapping to create written music notes using Chalk Talk, a way of notating rhythm and turning it into written music. Once they had the notes on the board, they were halfway to creating their own small song! The next step is to come up with a short sentence to fit to the beat. It was amazing to see kids so young participating in making original music this way.
The third part of the class was dedicated to Dalcroze Eurhythmics, where children use their bodies to interpret music. The teacher plays the piano and the kids react by slowing down, speeding up, or changing direction based on the musical cues. Their feet paced around the room to the beat. Finally, they got to choose instruments and play along with the lead piano.
Saturday Songs gives kids exposure to music that will prepare them to play an instrument or sing in a chorus. Interested in learning more? Those aren't the only two classes offered for that age range, so visit their website to view offerings for fall.
Want to see for yourself? Hoff-Barthelson Music School is hosting an open house on June 8 from 10am to noon. Click here for more info.
That's it for this week! Don't forget about our weekly Mommy Meetup at Lil Chameleon from 10:30am to noon most Mondays. For our (almost always free) Event of the Day, follow us on Facebook or Instagram.
And as always, check our website for events and our easy-to-navigate chart of every weekly kids library program in Westchester. Just be sure to check the date you wish to attend against the library's calendar, because many programs are wrapping up for the school year.
See you next time!