Music as a holistic form of expression of feelings – Music as a social experience.
By Petra Cohnen
My observation child Ergün is now 4;9 years old. He continues to have good contact to other children in the group. Since he has taken part in a number of ‘event days’ he has also made friends with several children from the pre-school group of our kindergarten.
The ‘event days’, which are for children of all groups, are part of our pre-school programme and are attended primarily, but not exclusively, by our pre-school children. The topics are chosen by the children and then prepared by our staff in a way that meets the developmental stage of the children. This is always a good platform for Ergün to acquire new knowledge in cooperation with older children who are of his developmental stage and to make new acquaintances.
… in a nutshell …
Ergün (4;9) wants to learn to play the piano. The author enables him to get to know the piano together with other children; at the same time the children explore the quiet and loud as well as the low and high sounds of other instruments. Above all, they have their first experiences with musical ensemble playing and the joy of “being an orchestra”.
And Ergün is getting one step closer to his wish …
Sometimes Ergün seems absent-minded, he reacts inadequately when addressed. In such situations he mostly does not register the utterances of his counterpart or his answers do not correspond to what has been said to him.
Ergün: “I would like to learn to play the guitar, the piano and the trumpet.” Upon the question what he would like to learn first he simply repeats his statement.
Comment by the course instructor:
Is it that he thinks he could learn several instruments at the same time – or is it that he thinks he would like to try every instrument before deciding which one to pick? If so, the simple repetition of his statement might indicate his insecurity as to what would be the next step in his pursuit. In that case the simple repetition of his statement could be taken as an appeal for help in the decision process of how to go about his project.
He speaks rapidly and he speaks a lot, changes topics and wants to do all kinds of things simultaneously. “We can throw dice now and play with the racing cars, then we can also look at my watch – I bought it in Turkey, my father bought it for me – and I have to show you my harmonica – I can already tell what time it shows.”
Ergün is very fond of the times he gets to spend with me. He speaks about how we can “discover new things again” and that he has many ideas.
Comment by the course instructor:
Maybe his erraticism as mentioned above is caused by his knowing that the ‘quality time‘ he gets to spend with you is always rather limited (with regard to the many ideas and wishes he has: “wants to do several things simultaneously”). He probably greatly values the exciting learning experiences he has had with your assistance. And he is now eager and a little anxious to get more.
He never ceases to enquire about the times we get to spend together, every time we run into each other. After having agreed on a next appointment, Ergün is content and counts the times he has to go to bed before our next session. I have noticed that, while he knows the days of the week quite well, the times on the clock still seem to confuse him. This is how he has, on several occasions, tried to make arrangements for meeting me at six o’clock in the morning.
Comment by the course instructor:
Maybe that is why he wants to show you his new watch hoping that you might help him make better sense of the times of the day.
Preliminary Considerations / Aims / Technical Analysis
Since Ergün makes many proposals for our games I asked him to bring a selection of the things he is interested in the most to our next meeting. So he does.
He brings a little case with several games in it. Yves (5;2), who is also attending, takes them out together with Ergün. Ergün shows and explains racing cars, a dice cup, a whistle and his wristwatch. He appears erratic again and hardly sticks with anything he begins.
Yves discovers the harmonica and both children start a conversation about making music. Yves likes to play the drum, he attends music school and has some experience with “drumming”. Ergün plays a tune on the harmonica and Yves and I accompany him by drumming with our hands on our thighs. This turns into a rather intense playing activity. Ergün and Yves are very concentrated and are having a lot of fun.
Both children manage to coordinate their tempos and volumes rather well. As soon as I notice this I stop playing myself and start to observe the two in their obviously joyous play: Ergün’s cheeks are glowing and his eyes are beaming like they have not in a long time. This activity lasts for no less than 5 minutes.
This occasion prompts me to choose the topic ‘music’, since the children’s enthusiasm and stamina were so obvious.
Comment by the course instructor:
And both children realised how well they were playing together. That will certainly increase their intrinsic motivation to keep making music together.
Afterwards Ergün tells me that he would like to learn to play the piano. I seize the suggestion and offer to bring my portable piano to our kindergarten. I tell him that I may not be able to teach him, since my playing is not very good and that it takes a long time to learn to play the piano well. But he can try my piano and familiarise himself with it.
Ergün is thrilled by this prospect and suggests that he could make music together with Yves (5;2 years), Kevin (4;2 years), Lisa (5;3 years), Myra (4;3 years) and Tobias (4;1 years).
I ask him to check with the children he has named whether they want to join him and to do so before our next meeting. He accepts the task and I can be sure he is going to take care of it as he is very reliable when it comes to such matters.
I am going to conduct some musical activities with the children that aim at the children’s ensemble playing and their shared musical experience. I deliberately do not project a final performance so that the process can develop freely.
I plan to provide the following initial impulse:
Let the children try out freely some rhythm instruments (drums, tonewoods) and some melodic instruments (glockenspiel, xylophone, piano).
What develops out of this will be up to the children, conceivably:
- experience their own bodies as musical instruments
- making up musical stories and telling them
- acting as an orchestra and conducting it
- dealing with the question of building instruments
- graphic notation of music, getting to know musical notes
- getting to know further instruments
- dealing with different musical styles
Ergün has been wishing to learn how to play a musical instrument for quite a while. It was already last year when working on the Questionnaire on Children’s Interests that he talked about this. I want to support him in his persistent pursuit of this goal and give him an opportunity to get to know the piano.
I believe Ergün has quite a few things on his mind these days, one of which will certainly be the sibling to be born soon. By occupying himself with music he is able to express his emotions and feelings.
Ergün has a curious mind and wants to know a lot of things. I would expect, for instance, that he is going to inquire about musical notation. He will be able to expand his knowledge and utilise new information (writing down his own sounds in musical notation) for further activities.
The participating children are invited to do some differentiated listening. Different pitches, lengths of notes and volumes are to be distinguished. Communication about what they hear requires close listening and accurate descriptions of what has been heard.
The children learn to express themselves precisely. As soon as they start playing together they will have to come to a common understanding of what is to be played. Expressing ideas, listening to the other person, putting forward arguments and finding solutions together are the objectives of this process.
As an ‘orchestra’ the children can experience a mutual effort where everybody’s contribution is needed and which cannot be achieved by one person alone.
In this technical analysis I am referring to aspects of music with regard to developmental psychology, which lies at the heart of my work. If the children raise questions concerning specific areas of expertise in music (structure of an orchestra, building instruments etc.), I will answer them to the best of my knowledge or do the necessary research together with the children.
When children make music it is always a mixture of active experiencing and playful creation. It is all about the process as opposed to the result in the sense of a predefined goal/product or a performance which might even be marketed.
Learning with all their senses and living out their emotions defines the child-like approach to music. For the aspects of music that are conducive to the development of character and personality I consider the following areas to be of importance:
- Wellbeing: Music prompts diverse feelings and may thereby contribute to inner balance.
- Expression, imagination and creativity: Communicating ideas and expressing emotions is often easier done through music rather than through the spoken word.
- Social skills: Making music together with others promotes the ability to listen to each other, to be regardful and to exchange ideas. It is also an exercise in taking the lead and then stepping back again to give room to somebody else.
- Speech: Experiencing one’s own voice as a means of expression, every voice has a different sound, singing together requires accurate articulation.
- Attentive listening: Development of speech, concentration, training the auditory memory.
- Cognitive skills: Abstract thinking, information processing and experiencing feelings become one, which has positive effects on the cerebral development and the learning performance of children.
- Body awareness and motor skills: Music prompts motion. It takes sophisticated motor skills to play an instrument.
The instruments are ready but still covered up.
As planned, Ergün has asked the children whether they want to participate. All six children have now gathered in the gym with great expectation.
Since I am aware that the participating children have already had experiences with music, we start off with a round of accounts of these experiences. The children tell each other what they know about singing and about instruments which they have heard or even played themselves. The children’s experiences range from the carnival trumpet (party popper) to choir music, as some of them are active in the local church choir.
I pick up on the topic of singing in choir and tell the children that today they can try different instruments and make music together.
Before we start I want the children to agree on a cue for the beginning and the end so that the following free jam session is at least somewhat structured.
So I ask the “choir children” about their experience and Lisa tells us that the choirmaster gives a cue by hand for the beginning and the end. We agree to adapt these cues and I am assigned the part of the conductor since all children want to be playing an instrument.
The term “conductor” is unknown to the children and this is where Ergün comes in with the explanation that a conductor is to an orchestra what a choirmaster is to a choir. “A choirmaster – but for people who play instruments, like an orchestra”, he elucidates.
Now every child chooses an instrument. We talk about each instrument only briefly as the children know the instruments already. The piano is very popular among them because it is not always at disposal. I explain to the children that everybody gets his go at it. Then I give the cue and everybody starts playing their instruments. At the beginning the instruments are played rather quietly, Ergün (piano) and Yves (drum) are loud. I intentionally let some time pass before I give the cue to stop, this way the children have some time to experience the atmosphere.
Then I want to know how the children have experienced their ensemble play. Yves: “Sometimes we were loud and sometimes quiet, that was good!” “Yes, but Kevin (xylophone) almost didn’t play at all, I hardly heard him”, says Lisa (glockenspiel). “Kevin’s instrument is out of wood, that’s much quieter than yours, that one is out of metal”, says Ergün. Myra (tonewoods) comments that Ergün “played the most notes of all.” “Yes, that’s because the piano has so many keys and every key is a note”, Ergün says.
Now the children are noticing the black and white keys on the piano and their repetitive pattern. Tobias asks about the different colours of the keys and I explain to them that there is only a half tone between the black an the white keys. They’re not asking any further and I don’t have to offer any further explanations. Other things are more interesting to them.
Yves wants to give the cue now. Ergün comes up with cues for playing “loud = arm up” and “quiet = arm down” and this is how the idea of playing “conductor and orchestra” is born. I observe the scene and notice that everybody is quite involved. The children organise the changing of instruments all by themselves. Lisa wants to play the piano now too, but Ergün does not want to give it up yet. He negotiates with Lisa and they agree to play the piano together.
Then the children play several rounds of “conductor and orchestra”. The children manage to follow the conductor’s cues better every time.
Ergün, usually rather dominant in such situations, does accept being conducted. As conductor he has the instruments play at different times. For this he invents a new cue (baton points at the child).
Comment by the course instructor:
He manages the structures creatively.
Kevin has a hard time taking his cue. Ergün is a patient conductor and gives him advice. “You have to keep an eye on me, then you see when I point at you.”
Ergün uses the full range of the instrument when playing. He plays with both hands, tries different combinations of notes and fingerings, hits several keys at the same time, runs his fingers across the entire manual, plays loudly, quietly, high and low notes and clusters.
He appears very concentrated, his eyes are beaming. After a while he says: “Listen to this, Ms Cohnen, this sounds like love!” I confirm his impression and Ergün looks for and finds sounds for anger, fear and boredom. “Boredom” surprises me and I ask him what that might sound like. “Well, like this”, he says and plays the same note over and over again.
The children keep playing for about an hour in changing formations, then everybody has been conductor and everybody has tried every instrument.
In a closing round we reflect upon our music. Everybody wants to join the group the next time again and make music.
“We played just like a real orchestra today”, says Ergün. “Yes, but they always have these things that tell them what to play – we don’t have that”, says Lisa. I agree and we close the session with the idea to look into Lisa’s idea the next time.
At the next session all children come together in the gym again. I have brought some sheet music and I lay it down in the middle of our circle. I find it important that the children get to know music in written notation so that Lisa’s suggestion from last time can be acted upon.
Another aim is to let them experience musical notation in a holistic way, by letting them hear and produce the different pitches themselves. I consider this a necessary prerequisite for them to later be able to produce musical notation that makes sense.
Lisa and Ergün immediately understand that musical notation is a way to lay music down in writing. “If the black dot is on top of a line, it’s a high note, if not it’s a low one”, says Lisa. “But not all dots are all black and some have a line”, Ergün adds.
In the following talk we clarify the look and the meaning of the whole: The half and the quarter note. I tell Lisa she has explained the function of the notes quite well and I propose a game to be played.
For this I stick two parallel lines of tape on the gym floor and I explain to the children that these are the top and the bottom line of the staves and they themselves are the notes. I remove all pieces except the highest and the lowest one from the glockenspiel. Now I ask the children what they think how the game might be played. They discuss this for a while and Ergün says: “I’ll play a note and you have to jump to the right line.”
They play this game for quite a while. At first Tobias, Kevin and Yves, too, have great problems matching the right line with the note. After some time they manage much better.
The children are having a lot of fun demonstrating the different pitches. Myra starts to duck on a low note and to stretch up high on the high note. I ask her what this is all about and she explains: “The low note is when I’m deep down like in a hole in the ground, and the high note is like way up on a ladder.”
After a while the children’s performance is quite steady and I decide to add another line in the middle along with another note on the glockenspiel.
Ergün comes up with a variation of the game: “You run all about the gym and I hit a note. Then you must come and stand on the right line.” I am sceptical at first, thinking this is rather complicated. Yet, the children seem to like the idea and we try it.
Tobias, Yves and Kevin do not get it right most of the time, Lisa and Myra do pretty well, though.
We end this meeting with a closing round reflecting on the music again, everybody relating his impressions during the session. “Today we were the notes ourselves, that was fun”, says Myra. “Yes, and notes can be seen and tones can be heard and every note has its place on the line. It’s just like using letters for writing”, says Ergün. I confirm his perceptions and I tell them that I was very happy about their wonderful playing ideas, and that I see how they do really well when listening closely and discussing what they hear and play.
In the following meeting we work out musical stories. As a starting point I tell them a story about a bear who meets an ant. I assign specific piano sounds to the different animals and events in the story. The children get quite involved and contribute all kinds of suggestions as to how the story might continue.
Among other things Ergün wants to tell a musical story himself. It is about a knight and a dragon and it is accompanied by a diversity of suitable sounds. In the story the child of a king is looking for his father whom he finally finds in the deep forest.
Ergün narrates: “The king’s child wants to go after the dragon together with his father, but they can’t because the king can’t leave the queen alone for so long because she is pregnant. So they go back to the castle.“
Ergün accompanies this passage by a long downwards run of notes on the piano ending in a loud sound of several low notes. It is the abrupt end to his story and he walks away from the piano.
He sits down where the other children are sitting and remains silent. He seems serious to me, but not angry. I ask him whether we may continue his story. He nods, so I ask the other children whether anybody has an idea how the story might go on.
Lisa picks it up: “The kingfather noticed that the kingchild is mad (shrill, loud sounds) and he said: once the baby is born, we’ll go on a dragon hunt, just you and me. The kingchild agreed and soon the kingchild got a little brother.”
Ergün is rather satisfied with the way the story went and asks Lisa: “Are you sure he is getting a brother? I want a brother too, not a sister!” The children talk about siblings some more before our meeting ends. Since Ergün seems at ease again, I do not bring his story up again. I suppose that Lisa’s end to the story helped him deal with his thoughts and emotions about his sibling to be.
In a number of sessions to follow, which I do not describe any further at this point, the children spend quite a lot time dealing with musical stories.
Characters for the different tempos and symbols for the different rhythm instruments are agreed on to be used for accompaniment of musical stories. That is how a “script” is produced and the children always go back to it and use it when retelling the stories.
I feel I have achieved my goals with regard to Ergün as well as to the whole group.
Ergün has been working intensely and joyfully on the new instrument, the piano. It had been a long held wish and it has – to some extent – been fulfilled.
Ergün’s mother told me that because of his enthusiastic reports of our sessions she now considers to let him take piano lessons.
Even though Ergün did not talk much about his feelings concerning the coming baby child, I imagine that his occupation with music deeply touched him on an emotional level and that thereby impressions have been processed on a subconscious level. This seems to manifest in his facial expression and his posture in many situations.
I was thrilled by the precision in which the children exchanged their auditory experiences. Comparisons were made, precise explanations offered in order to understand each other. Making music together, being an “orchestra”, has brought about a sense of joy and pride and the feeling of having created something new.
The group being quite diverse in age and developmental stages has established a common ground which will persist into the future. Most parents of the children in this group have expressed their appreciation towards me.
The children’s joy of discovery has not been exhausted and I want to give many more impulses so that the group will continue to make music for a while.
During one of our talks Lisa mentioned the organ in our church. Everybody was quite interested and I think this is what we are going to deal with next. Many more ideas derive from the above described activities. Certainly we will demonstrate our musical activities to the other children and the staff.
Maybe our “orchestra” is even going on tour within our parish; I will leave that decision to the children, since – as has been pointed out – for the children making music is primarily an end in itself.
Source of the technical analysis:
Bayerischer Bildungs- und Erziehungsplan
Date of publication in German: 2013, December
Translation: Arno Zucknick
Copyright © Petra Cohnen, see Imprint.