Early Start makes all the Difference!
by Eric Rasmussen
Instrumental teachers - Stop teaching note names already!
The key to the *musical* success of any program would be to start early—VERY early—but not necessarily with instruments. At the upper elementary, MS and HS levels, my point is almost moot. At younger levels, consider that early music childhood experiences provides for children the crucial readiness for long-term success in music. Starting younger than 4 or 5 is HIGHLY recommended when possible. Bear in mind that children at this age, analogous to children who are in a "language babble" stage, do not need to know any theory, note names, durations, or lines and spaces—just as a very young child is not aware of grammar and punctuation. Still, the immersion and participation in his or her language—or in this case, music—is mission critical to make the most of a child's innate potential for musical achievement. From those listening experiences sprout a performing vocabulary (singing/chanting/playing). Then, teachers would be better off emphasizing improvisation and creativity before introducing the musical "grammar." The emphasis on reading and writing can come later—again, just as it does in language development. Eventually, we all should learn the alphabet to be "literate," but the fact that we share the alphabet with so many latin-derived languages, does not make us able to take any meaning from them. Who here knows Croation? (We share their alphabet of course.)
I'll boldly tell you that many of the top children in your programs who are excelling musically are doing so in large part based upon the early music experiences they had at home or elsewhere during the formative first two or three years of life, including the last trimester in utero as well. Brain development starts to slow down dramatically after 4 and 5 years old. After that, a child's brain is still fairly malleable, but without building a strong neural foundation early, everything else becomes much more difficult later. Of course, like me, a strong intrinsic motivation factors in strongly as not everyone has the best nature-nurture combination in those early years and yet still thrives in music somehow. Hard work, eh hem, I mean hard play!