When I was a little girl I used to take piano lessons. On top of being tone deaf, I was taught in a very outdated, rigid, and boring manner and, after what seemed like a lifetime, my mother realized how unengaged I was. Thankfully we gave them up, but I have been somewhat wary of music ever since.
So I must admit it was with some trepidation I went to visit the highly regarded Hoff-Barthelson Music School to visit a class for young children that teaches Dalcroze Eurhythmics to children from the age of 4 months old. Visions of doing scales and watching the metronome tick like a never ending clock came to mind so I was somewhat unsure of how much fun this could be for a child.
I have never been more wrong. On entering, parents and caregivers along with their children begin the class taught by Laura Barnet with circle time. Classes will only ever be a maximum of 8 children as this enables the children, parents, and teacher in each class to forge a strong bond. Comfort is further achieved by the reassurance of familiar faces each week and predictable class procedures. As circle time begins Laura plays her auto harp, an instrument that focuses the children’s ears as well as eyes as she strums away playing classic nursery rhymes and encouraging children and parents to rock side to side as a warm-up.
Laura has Bachelors and Masters of Music degrees and an additional ten years of studying Dalcroze Eurhythmics and is a certified teacher in this discipline. While this method of teaching music sounds like a mouthful, it intertwines three components to form the core of basic musicianship: Eurhythmics, which teaches concepts of rhythm, structure, and musical expression through movement; Ear-training, which develops an understanding of pitch, scale, and tonality through activities; and Improvisation, which develops an understanding of form and meaning through spontaneous musical creation using movement, voice and instruments.
Laura uses each of these techniques in a subtle and engaging way. For instance she plays on the xylophone and encourages parents/caregivers to trace the pitch of the notes up and down the child’s arm captivating them and letting out a few giggles along the way. She then uses her hands to show notes rising or dropping as she sings and while playing on the grand piano children walk or run in time with the music. Musical instruments, class participation, and even a little work out for parents/caregivers as you lift children up and down in time to music are also part of this fun class. Laura has a great way with the kids and you can see how happy they are to be there. No child is forced to do anything and her manner of teaching draws out even the shyest of children. Before you know it the class wraps up with a farewell using her magical auto harp and children are on their way.
By attending just one class, and even with my basic understanding of music, I saw how the core of music is taught to children on a level they find fun and will understand. This approach is quite different than other music classes I’ve attended and really makes Hoff-Barthelson’s program special.