One of the things that so many parents appreciate so deeply about Waldorf schools is the way that music is an integral part of the curriculum. From earliest days in the kindergarten as the children sing and clap and play – as their sense for rhythm is nurtured through the very rhythmical order of the days, weeks and seasons children in Waldorf schools are imbued with the health-giving benefits of music. And "music" here is a very broad word – indeed, Steiner spoke often in terms of the need for a teacher to develop a "musicality" in his teacher. By this Steiner meant harmony, sensitivity, rhythm and fluidity, all essential characteristics of a good teacher and all qualities necessary for every human being to develop.
Homeschoolers are usually as keen that their children become musical as any other parent. One thing every homeschooler can consider is Steiner’s injunction to "be musical" in one’s teaching!
Then come thoughts about which musical instrument for a child to learn and at what age. Other issues also arise when thinking about musical instruments.
The thing that jumps out at me first is the issue of playing with others and playing alone. In Waldorf classroom, the first and second graders all play together with their teacher – everyone works together, listening to each other, imitating their teacher who stands in front of them and plays as they play. Often, especially nowadays (this wasn’t the case when I was a 7 year old in the Waldorf school I attended) they are playing pentatonic flutes – the pentatonic scale is considered to be more "heavenly", more developmentally appropriate for the child than the diatonic scale. And, lastly, when playing a wind instrument such as a recorder, the child IS the instrument, her breath is intimately bound up with the beautiful music which she makes. Steiner repeatedly emphasized how important it was for a child to experience BEING an instrument (singing, is of course, the other way the young child – anyone – can experience this).
So when a child plays an instrument such as a piano or violin, he stands alone (I know that nowadays in many Waldorf schools the children ALL take violin and play together so this is a bit different). From a Waldorf point of view, is it developmentally appropriate for the 7 or 8 year old to "stand apart", to "stand alone" in this way? If I think of other parts of the curriculum – drama, for instance – the first and second grader does not yet stand alone. The group recites together and though individual children may act out parts, they don’t engage their emergent egos in the same way as they would if they had lines to speak. So back to a young child playing the piano or violin – might this not be a premature way of making the child separate, making him "stand alone" as it were? This is what I’m thinking about. And I do wonder if those children who have a musical gift, who are begging for lessons, might need in fact to start this early – but that for the other children, those who will hopefully gain some skill and joy from playing an instrument but who do not have a particular gift, might be better served to wait until 9.
Posted on March 20, 2007 in Waldorf Curriculum