My eldest daughter was still in my tummy when I introduced her to classical music.
As a training pianist at university I played the piano for 8 hours a day – a solitary activity. This all changed when no children became one, then one child turned into two, and then two into three. I suddenly had a new focus: “Music with Mummy”. As parents, we want to pass on any and all knowledge that can benefit our children. Music was my life and I wanted it to be a part of theirs too. I brought them into my world, introducing pieces of classical music to them in the same way they discovered nursery rhymes, fairytales and other literary adventures.
After my third daughter was born, I had some ‘me-time’ during a hospital recovery where I decided it was time to write up a formula for teaching classical music to children – or, the ‘ABC’ of music. “Music with Mummy” became “Music with Mrs Musry”, when the girls’ headteacher invited me to teach my method at the school, and is now known as “Kids Classics”, where I teach Classical Appreciation classes to 60 children every week, or “SymbolSmash”, the programme that lets others teach in this way.
The Benefits of Learning Through Classical Music
Type this into Google if you would like to read many, many psychological studies. I will not bore you with these. 20 years of assessing my own students has revealed a more in-depth, non-health related list of why it is important for children to learn through classical music (keeping in mind that the main aim of my method is to provide children with a solid foundation of musical knowledge from the beginning). Here are my top five:
• Intelligent listening, analytical skills and confidence – by introducing children to child-friendly pieces of classical music that are easy for beginners to understand, analyse and relate to, those as young as 2 years old develop crucial life-skills from the beginning.
• Expression, creativity and communication – 99.99% of children are just bursting with creativity and need a platform to express themselves. Interpreting ‘stories’ and ‘conversations’ created by elements of the music produces this platform. When children participate in activities and discussions to the music, they forget that they are learning and all become keen to voluntarily communicate, perform and indicate preference. This applies to both the shy and the confident. It is always so amazing to see the former grow into the latter.
• Develop a love for learning – by using skills from English, Maths, Physical Development in music-based activities, children are able to use ‘curriculum learning’ in an enjoyable and stimulating context. This leads to a love and appreciation for the learning process and learning in general.
• Other musical training – Classical Appreciation is especially helpful for children who may one day decide to play an instrument or compose, or for all who just listen to music for pleasure. They will have learned the ‘ABC’ of music. After all, how can you write a sentence or read a book without knowing your ‘ABC’s’? And with reading, writing or listening, the more letters and words you know beforehand, the more you will enjoy the tasks ahead. We love what we understand, and we should always love music.
• Delayed learning and SEN – everyone is ‘equals’ when it comes to Classical Appreciation. At school and at home there is often a ‘right way to behave’. There is no requirement to ‘conform’ to a behaviour, as listening to the music disciplines the child to listen and conform by themselves. I see it day-on-day, year-on-year – children with learning difficulties have proven to me time and time again that they are ‘equals’ in the classroom. They can keep up. They can understand. They can love learning too.
The children are essentially developing skills that they will use throughout their lives, whether they become a musician or pursue any other chosen career. Collaboration, critical thinking, a respect for your peers (I could go on-and-on!) — the list of benefits is endless and inspiring.
‘Catch ‘em Young’
My most important task is to ‘catch ‘em young’. As long as a child enjoys music, they can reap the benefits of classical music. I am sure you will all agree that our young children absorb so quickly. We take our children to ballet and other extracurriculars from such an early age because we want them to learn, form interests and develop. Michael Phelps, UCLA biophysicist says that, “if we teach our children early enough, it will affect the organisation, or ‘wiring,’ of their brains”. If we can teach our children to develop skills through classical music, maybe we are ‘wiring’ their brains for the future. Therefore, if they need to confidently deliver presentations at university, decipher ‘patterns’ in maths in the same way a ‘rhythm’ works in music, or maybe just find their voice and express themselves, they can do so.
Studies provide evidence that children under 5 years old show no preference between popular versus classical music. This is why I focus on teaching children aged 2-5 years old and why catching ‘em young is key.
I love working with children this age – they see so much more than we do. Their storybooks are still filled with pictures and their rooms are filled with toys. Understanding classical music allows them to ‘see’ and ‘hear’, to use their imaginations, to connect concepts they are learning about in school with the world of creativity. It allows them to develop new skills, both musical and otherwise, which will bare relevance throughout their lives.
Marion Musry provides educational opportunities for children based on classical music. She currently runs two ventures: Kids Classics, London-based classes for children aged 2-6, and SymbolSmash, teaching programmes that can be taught by existing school teachers to pupils aged 2-10. Her mission is to give all children the opportunity to love and learn through classical music.