As a private music teacher, you want to teach music to children. You know they love it and there seems to be a plentiful supply of them asking for your help. Besides, lately all your adult students seem to be canceling at the last minute while your teens are more interested in their social media feeds than practicing. Maybe you should teach younger kids?
It does seem hard, doesn't it? Young children have limited attention spans, some lack fine motor skills, and some can’t even spell their names, let alone read a simple word. How do you present the many complexities of music, technique, reading, and playing songs they like in a way that’s simple, fun and won’t drive you crazy?
But what if you could take a 4 year old as a student? What if you could successfully take on a whole bunch of them and keep them for years? Your studio would be instantly full and overflowing for a long time with this group. You might even have a waiting list. But this would only happen, if you were effective, and fun!
The secret is a term that we usually associate with construction. Here in New York City, I see it every single day. It’s “scaffolding.” Scaffolding is the temporary structure that assists the workers in building the building. In the western world, most of it is metal, but in Hong Kong, where I lived for years, it’s still made of bamboo!
But the term scaffolding has been appropriated by educators to mean a similar thing. In education, you offer support while the student learns a new concept or skill.
This reminds me of the time I was teaching my son to ride a bicycle.
When my son was a toddler, I began seeing beautiful handmade two-wheeled, push bikes without pedals. The concept was that the child could focus on balance before learning to use pedals.
It was a phased learning process.
Well, these have been proven to be more of a crutch than a scaffolding.
So, I bought a $30 kid’s bike and adjusted the seat as low as possible without adding the pedals. As soon as my son began to develop balance, which he demonstrated by lifting his feet while rolling along, I knew he was ready. So, one day, when he was 4 years old, I pushed him down the slope of our Brooklyn sidewalk with the pedals turning. He grabbed my hand saying,
“Papa, do NOT let go of me!”
I began to push and run alongside him, holding on as I had promised. Before we had travelled twenty feet, he began yelling, “Let go! Let go! I can do this!”
And sure enough, he pedaled down the block with the most triumphant smile on his face.
In teaching music to preschoolers, I realized that there needed to be something similar. I needed a phased-learning process, some kind of thoughtful scaffolding so the student does not get hit with a multitude of new abstract concepts at the same time.
I started kids with a limited data-set, just five notes on the keyboard that match their five fingers. For the guitar, I taped off three of the strings and just used the three higher strings, using one for melody and the others as drones.
I began to use color as a temporary scaffolding. By directly labelling the keys, the fingering and the notation, I could work on playing songs which they loved while gently correcting their technique over time. Then I could start sneaking in some music theory through games. Eventually, we would start tackling learning to read music on the staff.
My teaching started to break down into these separate but parallel tracks.
1) Playing comes first - but with a limited set of notes that match the middle of the human voice frequency range. This allows the student to engage their voice in the process.
2) Technical facility is gradually developed over time in service of a song
3) Reading of music notation is taught in a 6 stage process from simplest to traditional music notation.
4) Conceptual and abstract music theory is gradually delivered in small gradual steps, usually through games.
Here’s a video of one of my students at a holiday music party after only a few weeks of lessons.
In my ten years of specializing in teaching children, I have consistently had a full roster with a waiting list and the results have been amazing. Last Fall, I began teaching a few other music teachers this method and they too have been experiencing great results. In a few weeks, I will be launching the online course for the Musicolor Method™. If you want to be on the early bird list for notification when it’s ready, you can click here.
One of the greatest joys of teaching kids music is that young children have complete self-confidence and belief that they can do anything. They truly embody the growth mindset. Unfortunately, it seems they begin to lose this the older they get, so starting music lessons at this age dovetails perfectly with their confidence.
I believe that music should be for everyone. It is in our very core - we are all vibrating at frequencies. Let’s share the joy of music with as many people as possible.
I would love to know your thoughts on scaffolding and if you have any similar techniques? Please share in the comments below and thanks for reading!