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Singing the Praises of Early Musical Training

Parents can choose among a variety of methods from Dalcroze Eurythmics to Suzuki - or just the school chorus

By Karen CampbellSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / September 29, 1997


Plato once said that music "is a more potent instrument than any other for education." And scientific research shows that musical studies can promote greater high-order thinking and enhance a child's ability to reason.

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Parents and educators alike are coming to recognize that, far from being an expendable frill, music is an essential enrichment to children's lives and that introducing music early on is important to the development of a well-rounded child.

A variety of methodologies or philosophies are available for teaching very young children (and their families) and offer a valuable forum for learning and for making music with others. Whichever method parents embrace, educators agree the rewards are great.

Children with musical training scored 80 percent higher than their classmates in studies on spatial intelligence, which later translates into complex math and engineering skills.

Parents' observations include not only higher test scores but also a more organized and disciplined approach to learning in general.

"I've found that it really gives kids a sense of what it takes to become better at something, that when you practice regularly and work at something with care, you improve - that's a life lesson," says Brookline, Mass., mother Amelie Ratliff.

Clarinetist Elizabeth Gustin, a high school senior concurs. "The discipline music requires has an effect on your life. It's given me the discipline to study, to have goals and standards. Music also has given me great confidence."

According to a June 1996 Louis Harris poll, 9 out of 10 Americans say that children become more creative and imaginative, developing greater speaking and writing skills and an overall sense of accomplishment through involvement in music and the arts in general.

And children naturally respond to music, some say even before birth.

Great way to unwind

For many, it becomes a primary form of recreation. "When my son gets really wiped out or stressed, he often plays his instrument to unwind," says Ellen Franco, mother of two.

The ideal age for starting children with musical training, is between 3 and 10 years old. So the time to get music strongly entrenched as a part of a child's general education is earlier than many previously believed.

Some private schools, such as the international system of Rudolf Steiner (Waldorf) schools, integrate music so thoroughly that it is a natural part of every school day. Parents participating in the national network of Home Schooling are also advised to include music as part of daily activities.

Since many public school systems, however, lack funds to adequately integrate significant music studies into the daily curriculum, the responsibility for most children's music education rests squarely on parents' shoulders. Yet many parents, especially baby boomers with a lack of musical education in their own backgrounds, may be at a loss as to how best to offer their children meaningful musical experience at an early age.

Most music educators agree that simply throwing a child into formal lessons on an instrument without some sense of basic musical understanding and appreciation is not the most effective approach.

Various approaches

In the past half century, a number of philosophies have emerged that introduce music into a child's life through a classroom approach. Some begin in infancy, and nearly all stress the importance of parental involvement, which transforms the process from a solitary endeavor to an integral part of family life.

Following are descriptions of some of these philosophies: