Thinking About Music Instruction

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

  • Barbara Benson says:

    Hi Donna,
    I think you make some good points about music. With my seven year old and ten year old daughters, I had them (aside from recorder and singing with me in circle time and coop) take piano lessons but I made sure that all lessons were in a group format. The program I chose was Music Garten. They go through four levels of books all in a group format. Only by the 4th book (around age 9) do they start alternating between group and individual lessons. And the group lessons involve lots of rhythm work, and group dances and games especially in the first two books.
    My now ten year old started her individual lessons this fall at age nine and honestly she was a bit lonely. So, the teacher had her join a performance class of her older students and added some ones Alana’s age and this class (which meets once a month)has helped.
    In general, its hard to keep a child with real musical talent down. I sometimes wish that I could have started my oldest composer son earlier on his piano but we didn’t even own one until he turned twelve. Yes, he had some catch up to do, and yes, there have been difficulties, but even with his late start at piano, he is now a talented young composer who plays well and is a straight A music student.And he seems to have an intensity and passion for music that may not have been there if he had “programmed” into music at an early age. Hard to tell on that one.
    What I do find with my girls is that the teacher prepares them very well for the two recitals a year and their pieces are played from memory. At the recitals, the group of kids who have graduated from a book also receive a special award from her. Of course they have a few nerves beforehand but it is not too much of a feeling of standing alone for them based on all the group support. It also helps that the music teacher is a very loving and attentive individual who is a mother of five herself!

  • cori white says:

    i am a violin teacher and my two year old daughter begs literally to have violin lessons….so i let her play on mine or one that is a few sizes too big and she dances and fiddles along with me, or along with a violin fiddle cd that i play for her….she is so intense about it though that it concerns me. i was the first teacher of a waldorf mom’s (formerly a consultant on this site) girls and they were definitely naturally musical in different ways individually, so it was a great journey with them to watch their inner musicality develop over the years as i taught them and learned the gentle ways of waldorf education. they began around first and second grades and i taught them together at the same time which helped soften that standing out issue. whereas in my own training, it did not begin until 9 years old and in some ways, i have learned that 9 is too late for some children for this particular instrument. then her little son begged for lessons not wanting to be left out of the music fun, but he was too intense about his lessons and we had to discontinue his violin introduction b/c he would frustrate himself b/c he wanted to be a violinist too much and couldn’t relax and just play at it! 🙂 so in many ways i do believe the child’s own personal nature has to be taken into consideration and then judge whether 7, 8, or 9 years is best. Under her skillful eye, i learned a lot those years and this experience taught me a lesson that it can be actually harmful to begin this standing out process too soon, as my daughter is wanting. so i am creatively allowing her to “play at” the violin without officially doing anything. she even insists that i put music books up on the stand and she pretends to read it as she sways and dances and “fiddles.” Only the Lord knows how I’m gonna keep her appetite for music, violin and ‘lessons’ satiated for the next four years and hold her at bay until she become musically mature to venture out into real lessons!?! I would interested in hearing what other moms do, particularly those who are musicians themselves and find that influence to be highly attractive to their very young children. 🙂

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