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Insight | Discovering the importance of music in Early Years

10 October 2017
From the moment they arrive at Wellington College, the music department aims encourage even the youngest of our pupils to develop a love and appreciation of music that they will hopefully carry with them throughout their school days and into their adult lives. However, while our department’s primary focus is to enable our Early Years pupils to recognise, understand and then create music of their own, this doesn’t explain the full value of what they gain from their music lessons. As they go from Pre-Nursery through to Key stage 1, they are learning musical abilities, but they are also developing a wide range of other key skills at the same time. During classes, our younger pupils aren’t just creating their own music; they are listening very carefully as well. This means that they are developing their listening and language skills as a natural part of getting to grips with new musical sounds. For example, as part of our recently taught theme of transport, the Pre-Nursery pupils have been exploring the musical dynamics of speed and volume. By trying to imitate the sound of cars speeding up or slowing down, or the different volumes of various modes of transportation, music teaches them to identify different sounds and how to replicate them at the appropriate volume, pitch and tempo. Not only does this help them learn specific musical skills, it is also invaluable in developing their linguistic ability, allowing them to express themselves with greater confidence and accuracy. Our lessons also help the Early Years pupils improve their motor skills. Playing percussion instruments is hugely fun and releases a lot of energy, but it also teaches them how to hold their instruments in order to play them comfortably and successfully. Even at this early stage, they quickly learn how to tap, hit, beat and shake their instruments, gaining a range of different physical skills as they realise that by doing things more quickly or slowly, hard or soft, they will produce different sounds. Alongside these vital physical skills, music also has a great impact on the emotional development of our younger pupils. For example, we have enjoyed great success with our ‘Recorder Karate’ technique, where pupils progress through the different coloured karate belts (starting from white, through yellow, red, etc, all the way up to black belt) and they can even wear their current “belt” as a wristband of the appropriate colour. A key part of this technique is teaching them how to look after their recorder properly by cleaning and packing it away once the lesson is over. This instils a sense of discipline early, along with the idea that an instrument is something to be cared for, to be treated with respect and responsibility. Of course, these are two of the five Wellington Values, all of which are taught and reinforced throughout our music curriculum. We see a lot of kindness, courage and integrity in our lessons too, as pupils sing and play together either in small groups or together as a whole class. By identifying and praising these positive behaviours, we believe that we are cementing the five values early on in our pupils’ schooling. Lastly, music in the Early Years helps pupils feel like they are part of the Wellington College community. Each academic year features an exciting schedule of musical and theatrical performances which highlight just how much our talented pupils are capable of. Early Years pupils join in with many of these events, such as the Christmas Concert, Chinese New Year Celebrations and Sing-Along days with Mum and Dad. Usually, we find that these performances in front of appreciative audiences leave them eager to join in with future years’ productions. Music lessons allow Early Years pupils to develop a wide range of physical skills as well as positive character traits. Hopefully, by the time they reach Key Stage 1, they will be more confident, creative and community-minded individuals.

Most commonly asked questions from parents

Q: Is my child musically gifted? A: It’s very hard to tell at such an early stage but we can quickly determine if a younger pupil displays a natural aptitude for music, which should be encouraged and cultivated. Q: When is the best time for my child to start a musical instrument? A: As a rule of thumb, the college does not encourage beginning instrumental lessons until a child has physically developed; this is why the college instrumental programme begins in Year 3. For brass, wind and singing, we recommend waiting until the upper prep age to begin these instruments. Q: Do they need to learn multiple instruments? A: While learning multiple instruments at once can be beneficial, parents need to be aware of the time pressures that this approach puts on their child. Pupils are far more likely to be successful if they are eager to learn one or several instruments which genuinely appeal to them. We would highly encourage pupils to begin with one instrument only and begin a second one if and when they reach a higher level of proficiency. Q: Why doesn’t my child want to practice? A: Learning an instrument has peaks and troughs; sometimes it can feel very difficult to break through to the next level, which can lead pupils to become discouraged and less enthusiastic about practising. Sometimes it’s important for a pupil to focus on specific skills when practising, instead of trying to recite a whole piece of music in one go. Perseverance is key, but that doesn’t mean pupils should force themselves to play when they really aren’t feeling enthused. Q: Does my child have to learn an instrument? A: Not at all, if they prefer, they can explore singing and the theory of music. In the Early Years we allow pupils to experience a solid range of instruments so they can see what appeals to them, which means that there’s no need for them to decide straight away. Jessica Sumerfield Music Teacher