This is Josie here, and I’m interviewing Jennifer Hobson Roy, Director of Music Together.
Small plug -> both my girls have done Music Together classes, and I’m their biggest fan.
1. Tell me about your own musical journey. I know you are a music teacher, but how did you arrive at this?
Music was ever present in my house as a child – someone was always singing, playing it or listening to it (for which I am grateful!), so it was very natural for me to train to become a music teacher. It was after teaching piano for about fifteen years (which I loved!) that I began to become interested in learning more about my students’ music journeys BEFORE they came to my studio for lessons – how the very earliest experiences with music exposure and learning might impact future music development and enjoyment of music. That was when I discovered the philosophy and pedagogy of Music Together, and I was hooked!.
2. Why do you believe it is important to expose young children to music? What are the benefits of music?
Firstly – sometimes the best reason is simply to love and play with music for music’s sake alone – it is another way of learning, a language all its own, so is best introduced right from birth. One of the core beliefs of Music Together philosophy is that all children are musical. Just as a child has the innate ability to speak and understand his native language, he also has the ability to do the same with the language of music given that the early environment provides developmentally appropriate nurture and support.
Secondly, there are lots of well-established research findings that music learning supports ALL learning. I also strongly believe that parent/caregiver participation (modeling) and involvement is essential to a child’s musical growth, and that the nurturing parent/child bond created through music-making together carries forth into other aspects of the parent-child relationship.
3. What kinds of things should a parent consider when looking for music classes for their child?
I think that families should do their homework and make sure that music classes follow developmentally appropriate practice, have a sound basis in research, an effective instructor and include the parent as a welcome participant in their child’s learning environment. I would also encourage parents to ask if they can try out a free class to help them decide the best fit for their family.
4. How can parents best support their child’s musical development at home?
By actively making music with them! Listening to music is a wonderful way to incorporate lots of different styles and cultural influences into your household, but can become quite passive if there is no active music-making to complement it – children learn both by watching their important grown-ups play with music and by doing it themselves – open up that Tupperware drawer, pull out the pots and pans! For older children, it’s also important to keep them from feeling isolated when learning (I think we’ve all seen those pianos stuck in the basement)! Normalizing music as something that everyone can do (and not just formally trained musicians) is a great way to encourage beginners too.
5. Is there an instrument that you would recommend a child learn first? At what age, should children begin taking lessons to learn an instrument like piano?
Which instrument? Well I am biased because I learned piano first, but I believe the answer to this question depends upon the individual child (is he or she particularly “jazzed” by an instrument? What instruments do you have access to already?). Making appointments to visit several teachers in their studios is a great way to gain information and help with the decision-making process too. This way you can get all the information about the different philosophies and methods out there (and there are lots of excellent teachers in Victoria!)
In terms of age – in my own piano studio I used to find that most children were ready by 7 or 8. Realistic parental expectations are important here too – if a child isn’t’ ready for private instrument study, regardless of age, he or she may end up becoming frustrated and be discouraged from pursuing music as an interest. In my opinion (and it’s only mine!) any learning situations with a lot of expectations of long practice and performance are best left until after 7 or 8.
6. What is the Music Together program, and how might it be unique? Can you speak to both Music Together mixed-age classes and Music Together Big Kids, and how they might be similar and different, and how these programs set the foundation for one’s musical journey.
I’ll start with the last question first – by mastering one’s “primary instrument” (ourselves!) which means being able to sing on pitch and to move accurately to many different beats children can then apply this knowledge to future instrument and vocal study, dance, community music….in short, it gives them a confident and fluent access into the “country” of music for their whole lives and indeed becomes a strong foundation for all future music learning!
In answer to your question about what makes Music Together unique? Well – evolving out of a research project at the Center for Music and Young Children in Princeton New Jersey in the early eighties, the program was designed as a mixed age family-style learning model to foster experiential learning through music immersion and parent/adult modeling (the way children learn EVERYTHING!), the first music program of its kind.
By avoiding the conventional practice of grouping children according to how old they happen to be (after all, each child goes through the different stages of music development in their own unique way!) This methodology honours all learning styles. Classes focus on learning through play for both adults AND children – one of our best kept secrets is just how much fun the adults have while at the same time taking an active role in their child’s musical journey. .
The other thing that makes Music Together unique is that the curriculum is first-rate – the music is a combination of original compositions, well-loved North American folk songs, world music, and jazz. We are told it is very “parent friendly”, offering up unusual tonalities, rhythms and meters to keep things interesting.
That’s the Interview. Thank you Jennifer
Few other points to note on the Music Together Big Kids program …
It is specially designed for 5, 6, and 7 years-old. While elements of the program are similar to the mixed- age classes (fun being hugely important still of course!), children at this age are ready to venture out and expand their music exploration, often without a parent present (although some children may wish to have their parent stay for the first few classes). The curriculum includes solfege, solos and ensembles, folk dances, harmony singing, vocal development, conducting, improvisation, and story and game songs. So it is a somewhat more structured setting, as children of this age are ready for it, but PLAY and humour are still a huge component. Big Kids classes lay the foundation for basic music literacy, complementing music instruction in school or instrument lessons and continuing the mission of creating a confident music-maker