Joyful Noise

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Every child possesses innate musical ability. The extent to which it blooms often depends largely on how well, and how early, that ability is nurtured. That’s why on Friday and Saturday mornings, a procession of infants and toddlers come to college at the University of North Texas in Denton.The children are attending classes in the UNT Early Childhood Music Program to learn how to interact with the sounds of music.“Children are born as clean slates in regards to what they’re able to learn,” said Dr. Warren Henry, UNT professor of music education and program founder. “Every baby will learn to speak any language fluently if that is the language they are exposed to. Music is the same.”The program, which is designed to nurture young children’s musical aptitudes, is now in its seventh year. And while there are plenty of music programs for children, the UNT program is unique in that its primary focus is on guiding children to “speak musically” by developing their tonal and rhythm skills.During class, the children and their parents are exposed to all kinds of music. Some choose to participate while others simply watch and absorb, Henry said.The philosophy is children learn music in the same way they learn language.“Children need to hear language in order to learn how to speak,” Dr. Henry said. “Just imagine the linguistic skills of a child who was never spoken to during the first two years of life. Music is learned in a similar fashion. In order to build a strong musical foundation for the future, children need to be exposed to music at an early age. Through this exposure, they will be better able to ‘speak music’ as they grow older.”Children from birth to 48 months enroll and classes offered for 10 weeks every fall, and spring, or in an abbreviated series of lessons during the summer. When the program began in 1996, 16 children were enrolled in two classes.Today, the program offers six classes with 10 to 13 participants in each. The cost for a full term is $110 for infants and $130 for nursery-age. And this fall, the endowment created by the program was large enough to provide its first scholarships for UNT students studying early childhood music education. Henry says the program’s students generally come from two types of parents — those who don’t come from musical families or perceive their own skills to be sub par and regret it, or those who have a music background.“It’s a program that provides music readiness for later learning,” Henry said. “We’re not trying to create prodigies. Our goal is to develop the potential to succeed in music since musical aptitude stabilizes by age 8.”The classes focus on teaching patterns of rhythm and pitches so the children become familiar with the building blocks of music by hearing them, seeing them, and speaking them so they can later read, write and improvise with them.“The way you teach that is to bathe a child in rhythm and tonal pattern sounds, just like they’re washed in language so that they can eventually talk.”During the classes, Henry and the parents sing songs without words more than songs with words, since infants and toddlers pay attention to lyrics more than to rhythm, melody or harmony when listening to vocal music. In addition, the children and parents are encouraged to move to the music to develop the child’s natural response to its rhythms. “Parents are the most powerful model for their children,” Henry says. “Everything they do, the child will eventually imitate. If parents don’t participate, neither will their child.” For example, in class, the group uses scarves for dancing and mini-trampolines for bouncing. Everyone participates.And finally, when the children make their own sounds, the adults in the class reinforce it.“Whether they make rhythm sounds or tonal sounds, we repeat the sound they make, and put it in some broader context,” Henry says.If a child responds to the class is singing a song or spoken chant, the class would then make a new song or chant based on the response, while at the same time tapping the beat on the child’s body.The shared joyful noises and expression soon lead to core skills for creativity and improvisation.

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108