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TCU Magazine "Academe"


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Academic Castaway

Baby that's music to me

TCU's Early Childhood Music program puts a song in little hearts.

By Anna Harrison Philpot '82

The sounds coming from the Student Center Ballroom ranged from singing to drumming to shouts of joy, punctuated by the occasional squawk or tearful peal. It was another Early Childhood Music Program recital, and the participants included a few performers in diapers. To all, it was a grand success, the culmination of weeks of musical training wrapped in the guise of fun.

The idea's simple: Offer music education to children from birth through age 6. Add dedicated teachers, a research-based course structure and an engaging environment, and it's easy to see how enrollment has ballooned to more than 300 from 50 students in the mid-1980s.

Even with this success, the entire Music Preparatory division is little known outside the music school. The division, which oversees the Early Childhood Music Program, functions as a lab where undergraduates get classroom experience and graduate students teach private lessons. Many of the teachers have a degree from the School of Music, thus allowing alumni like Early Childhood Music coordinator Jennifer Heavyside '99 (MM) to maintain ties to TCU.

More than 30 classes are offered in the summer program alone, which means a class time for most anyone's schedule. And that's the point: make music available and enjoyable.

TCU's Music Together curriculum employs songs from around the world, including African folk, Jewish, American Indian, jazz and country. The variety ensures exposure to many sounds and tempos.

Research has shown that any music potential a child has is influenced by the encouragement he receives up to age 9. Those first years are when he learns to audiate, or hear music in his head, before he ever sings a note. By using tonal, rhythm and movement patterns, parents, caregivers and music teachers help children with their preparatory audiation.

"Every child has innate musical capacity," Dr. Linda P. Neelly, an early-childhood music consultant in Rochester, N.Y., said in a The New York Times article published in August 2000. "If we're not tapping in and finding ways to develop that ability, we're not doing our job.''

By laying the framework early, children have a higher likelihood of one day singing or playing a musical instrument. Children are usually ready for piano around age 6, which is when the Music Makers at the Keyboard class begins at TCU.

Because it's easier to teach children who already have been immersed in music how to play an instrument, TCU requires children to take at least one semester of Music Makers Around the World. The Music Makers courses are designed to teach children to learn music by ear. To have an ear for music, researchers agree, preparatory audiation must develop in early childhood. As Heavyside said, "If the child has already learned such necessary components as singing in key and mastered rhythm, the next step is much easier."

For children who want to begin learning an instrument, there are the Piano Readiness classes for 4- and 5-year-olds and Suzuki-based strings instruction for students 3 years and up. Private lessons in piano and other instruments are available from age 6 to adulthood, and voice lessons start at age 12.

"In private lessons instructors normally try to incorporate elements of music reading, ear training, technique and, of course, learning repertoire," said assistant director Lori Christ. "We provide plenty of opportunities for our students to perform when they're ready to do so."

Regardless of the child's musical goals, TCU's Music Preparatory program integrates fundamental music education in a lively, exciting atmosphere.

"We may not all be designed to perform or sing professionally," one parent noted, "but we can all understand the basics of music, and that helps make us musical." And if you start early, it's even easier.

Anna Philpot '82 and daughter Madeleine are avid fans of the music program. The family lives in Fort Worth.

Comment at tcumagazine@tcu.edu.

Early Childhood Music

TCU's Early Childhood Music program is for children from birth through six years. At each stage, songs and experiences are based on research to determine what is appropriate for the child's developmental level. Fees
include a CD, cassette tape, book and age-appropriate rhythm instrument. Call 817-257-6134 to enroll.

Find information at www.music.tcu.edu/early_childhood.asp.

After completing the ECM program, children may advance to strings, piano, voice or other private lesson. For information, call 817-257-7604.