Preschool Music: Methods & Schools of Thought

So, my mind has been on early childhood music education a lot lately (remember my preschool piano camp?).

my darling son!

I think it’s probably in large part because I have a three-year-old son who loves music. I loved what Heather Wilson said in her guest post about the seasons of our lives. I feel like in my life and the season I am in right now (being a young mom to a preschooler), my son’s age and development seem to be guiding my musical activities a bit….and I love it! I want him to have access to a great music education, if he so desires, and I love teaching these preschool classes that he can attend with me and we can learn and play together!

We have visited the topic of preschool music a lot here lately, but this week I’d like to delve a little deeper (honestly, because I am so interested in this topic right now – hopefully some of you are as well!). I’d like to talk about the different “schools of thought” of early childhood music education this week, and learn a little more about the people who greatly influenced this movement. I also am so interested in all of the different preschool music methods and programs out there, so we might mention some of those as well.

Digging through my old college notes, I have found so many interesting things to re-read and to research a bit. Here are a few quick tidbits, including a little research on musicality in children, and some basic information on the great influences on preschool music (and please click on the links to learn more if you so desire!).

A little research and some facts about musicality in children, by age

Ages 2 1/2-3: recognition and imitation of folk tunes, often in the form of multiple repetitions of learned fragments and variations; by the end of the third year of life a rhythmic structure is learned

Ages 3-4: capable of reproducing an entire song, as far as overall contour goes (accurate pitch is not always possible)

Age 5: able to keep a steady beat, sing an entire song in the same key with an increasing awareness of pitch

“Critical to musical development in the earliest years is the home environment. Opportunities, not just to hear music, but to interact in musical games and activities is critical to emotional and psychological development….It is becoming increasingly apparent that all human beings are biologically predisposed to be musical and that this inborn predisposition for musicality has important consequences for us not only artistically, but emotionally and socially, as well.”

Influences on Early Childhood Music
Emile Jaques-Dalcroze (1865-1950)
Basics of his philosophy: full body movement (eurythmic practices), solfege and aural training, keyboard improvisation. Sound can be translated into motion and motion can be translated into sound.
Learn more: here
Carl Orff (1895-1982)
Basics of his philosophy: teaching rhythm and melody with speech, singing, movement and percussion instruments; instrument performance and personal expression
Learn more: here

Zoltan Kodaly (1882-1967)
Basics of his philosophy: Music literacy through native folk songs; melodic and rhythmic perception come from use of patterns in singing games and folk songs; solfege
Learn more: here

Now, I would love to hear what specific preschool music programs you teach, have taught, have enrolled your children in or that you have heard about – leave a comment telling us what the program is (whether it be Kindermusik, Musikgarten, Let’s Play Music, etc.) and what you like about it!

Jennifer Boster

7 Responses to “Preschool Music: Methods & Schools of Thought

  • I have a feeling I'm about to write the longest comment in history! This topic is my passion.

    Having been a teacher in the field of music and movement education, working with children from birth to 12 years for 2 decades and also working as a piano teacher for 35 years, and having travelled the world working some of the most amazing teachers in music and movement education, what I most would like to say about ECE music is that it's not about music, it's about child development.

    There is a wonderful association called Early Childhood Music and Movement Association for anyone who is truly interested in learning about education thru music and movement.

    The 2 top programs in my experience are Kindermusik and Musikgarten. Kindermusik is perhaps my favorite because of the inclusion of developmental movement patterning in their programs and the inclusion of creative movement in all programs.

    The more you can learn about brain development and developmental stages of the nervous system the more you will be able to trust your intuitive assessment of a program.

    There are many lovely programs for children that develop the ear but completely neglect how the brain and the mind are prepared to absorb learning and retain it. The other aspect to choosing any program is that there is no one "right" program for all children.

    A well-trained teacher is who I would look for. Someone who can see beyond any program and instead see the child.

    There really are no "schools of thought" in the area of early childhood music. There are effective ways to develop certain things in children. Understanding Kodaly, Orff, Dalcroze, is one approach but none of those areas really historically approach child development from the young ages you are focussing on.

    Of course, the more you learn as a teacher about development, the less you will need a program to rely on. This will only come over many years of practise in teaching. If you are passionate about early childhood music then study child development. If not, just sign up for one of the many programs available. Most programs really offer only music and not the development movement component that would make a program complete.

    In my mind, based on the experts I have studied with, the shelves of books and papers I have read and written, I would say…

    …there is no such thing as a early childhood "music" program only music and movement programs. Any program for a child under the age of 5 or 6 that does not include "developmental movement" is an incomplete offering for that child. It wouldn't mean it was "bad" for them, just that is in incomplete.

    If you do not understand what I am saying by specifically defining "developmental movement", pick up a copy of "The Well Balanced Child" by Sally Goddard Blythe. It's a practical, eloquent, perfect read for those wanting to educate themselves about early childhood learning foundation.

    I think I better stop! Perhaps the best guidance I could give a parent in choosing a program would be to follow your heart! You definitely can not go wrong if you do that!

  • I have taught Suzuki piano for over 25 years and taught Kindermusik for two. The general music classes are fun and a great way to get kids excited about music.

    since you are a piano player, you can start your son early-say 4-6- with the Suzuki method and have a great time. Just don't put a lot of pressure on, make it a fun experience.

  • Susan – thank you so much for your wonderful, in-depth comment! I can tell that this topic really IS your passion and it makes me so excited to learn more about it! Thank you also for the book recommendation, I think I will be checking it out from the library soon 🙂

    And Cathy – thank you for your comment as well! I completely agree that at these young ages parents and teachers need to not put the pressure on. I think it is all about having fun and having a wonderful musical experience.

  • I teach 2 complimentary music programs. The first is Music Pups, which starts with infants and toddlers in a music and movement program that also teaches pitch awareness and rhythm. It is so much fun to teach too! A large variety of interesting songs, that we sing, play rhythm instruments to, use scarves, balls and other props. We encourage the children to make the songs their own by adding their own words, movement or animals sounds.

    From there they move to Music For Young Children classes with their Pre-Keyboard Sunrise Class, followed by MYC's Keyboard classes for children 3 and up. Children learn everything they need to know about music from piano/keyboard, singing, listening exercises, theory presented in age appropriate activities, fun rhythm ensembles, in an active class with movement and cute critters to help lean the notes! A great way to start any type of musical experience.

  • Hi, Jenny,
    I am certified in Kindermusik and Musikgarten, and before all of that, my daughter and I attended Music Together classes! I think that all of these programs are good, but I will confess that Musikgarten is my favorite. Interestingly enough, I just put up a post at my site about early childhood music!

  • I too am passionate about this topic! I've been a piano teacher for 18 years and a few years ago was looking into ways to expand my business when a friend suggested that I teach music in local preschools. Intriqued by this idea, I spent a year researching early childhood music programs and early childhood development. My research into existing preschool music curricula left me disappointed. There were several programs that incorporated wonderful music selections and great movement ideas, but all of the existing programs left out one crucial element: real teaching. Everything geared to preschoolers was about exposing children to essential musical elements, but no one was teaching the children to listen for these elements. I ended up delveloping my own program called The Little Beethovens that is inspired by some of these well known curricula, but that also included real moments of teaching. So children in my class learn basic musical terminology, the names of great composers, how to read and write simple rhythms and beginning note reading skills. I've been doing this for almost 4 years now and every week I am amazed by what the children are able to learn and what they remember from week to week. Preschool music programs should aim to teach the whole child: mind, body and spirit. It should not be simply a musical experience (which is a good thing), but should also engage the mind of the child and help to lay a foundation for continued education in elementary school music classes and perhaps in the private study of an instrument. If you want more information about my approach to preschool music education you can read my blog at

  • Reading your post, I was actually surprised that at age 2 1/2 – 3, the child is able to recognize and imitate folk tunes. A lot of piano teachers like myself want to rush young children to start making music right away. I think we have to remember that young children should start with recognition and imitation, rather than making music right away.

    Piano teacher in California