OBSERVING YEAR 1 CLASSES
During the first few months of Year 1 classes, students gain many new skills, both in making music, and in the handling of materials and instruments. Parents sometimes feel that this process is awkward and slow. For example, in the beginning of the year, I may repeatedly model the appropriate steps for handling materials and instruments. Occasionally, parents have been concerned that this level of direction may limit a studentís freedom of expression. However, because of these early lessons, the students eventually experience genuine freedom. Once children learn how to handle both the materials and the instruments, they develop a sense of true competency and independence. They can work on their own, without outside interference or help. These newly acquired abilities allow a wide range of creativity. Perhaps most importantly, they are proud of being able to do "it" themselves.
Thus, in September, a simple writing activity may take 20 minutes or more. To parents watching, each step (getting boards, paper, and crayons; writing; labeling; and then putting away paper, board, and crayons) can seem to take an inordinate amount of time. Several children may repeat steps over and over before they succeed. However, the children are completely engaged and happy. In April, the same task will take 5 minutes or less. Observers are not aware of the multiple steps because the students accomplish them smoothly, without reminders. The process has become automatic, and the children are free to concentrate on creative aspects of the activity. One April, a mother, who had not observed class since the previous October, commented, "Youíve really grown and changed in the way you teach the class. Itís so much smoother and the children accomplish so much more." Yet, I hadnít changed- the children had. They had grown tremendously, not only musically, but also in their competency with the handling of materials.
Year 1 students also advance rapidly in their ability to handle musical instruments correctly. In the beginning of the year, I demonstrate the correct way to hold and play each instrument. We discuss, sometimes in great detail, the consequences of alternative ways to handle the instruments. For example- we discuss how the tambourine head will break if you lean on it. Some instruments require a lot of discussion and practice before the children master playing them without problems. Again, this can seem somewhat slow and tedious to adults, but children love the process. A wonderful benefit of this type of discussion is that I never have to say "Stop that" or "Donít do that". The students know how to do it correctly and they are highly motivated to follow through. By the end of the year, the children can express themselves freely on many instruments. At this point, the entire process looks effortless, and the major emphasis is on creative use of these instruments.
I encourage you to observe class as much as possible. Indeed, if you come to class, be prepared to participate as well. We often ask parents to join in our ensembles. Please feel free to comment and ask questions. I always welcome parental input. Indeed, some of my best ideas have come to me from the parents and students with whom I work!