Parents of young children often approach me asking about piano lessons for preschoolers. While there’s a small chance a child under 5 would be ready for traditional piano lessons, it is much more likely that a preschooler will succeed with music in a movement-based preschool music class.
Piano lessons create the expectation that a young child needs to acquire the skill of learning the piano in a specific timeframe.
However, in a preschool music class, a child can be exposed to many of the concepts that they will later learn at the piano. They can also spend time mastering all of the developmental milestones that are necessary for playing the piano.
Then, down the line, the child will have developed a love for music and will be primed for piano lessons to come naturally and easily.
I see this exact scenario play out year after year. Preschool music students graduate into the best piano students!
Today I wanted to explore concept-based learning for preschoolers and take a closer look at what that might look like in a movement-based preschool music class. This is the approach that I take in all of my own preschool music classes and it effectively teaches children to use and understand fairly complex musical ideas from an early age.
Which Musical Concepts Should Kids Learn?
Keep in mind that concepts are big-picture ideas that go beyond a specific song or activity. They are things your students will eventually be able to transfer to other songs and music activities and later on they will transfer these same ideas to playing a musical instrument, such as the piano.
First, it’s helpful to think through all of the concepts that tend to show up in the first several months of piano lessons. Most of these same concepts are what you want to bring into preschool music classes.
Here are a handful of concepts that beginning piano students always encounter. Regardless of teacher, method or time, these ideas always stay the same:
- Notes can sound high or low.
- We use our left and right hands to play the piano.
- Music can be loud or quiet.
- Our fingers are numbered 1-5, starting with the thumbs.
- Pianos have black and white keys.
- Black keys on pianos come in groups of 2 and 3.
- Music can sound smooth or bouncy.
- Each song we hear has a specific mood or feeling that it is trying to convey.
- White keys on the piano are named letters A-G.
- Notes can be held for different values.
- Music has a steady beat that we can feel.
As you can see, these ideas are not specific to a certain song a child would learn. They are the exact same ideas that our parents and grandparents learned at the piano.
What Does Concept-Based Learning Look Like In Preschool Music Classes?
If a young child can begin to understand and use these concepts as a preschooler, then more complex music such as learning the piano or another instrument will feel intuitive and natural.
So, what does this look like in a preschool music class setting?
Here are a couple of examples:
Pretty much every preschool music class includes time playing small percussive instruments along with pre-recorded music. Egg shakers, rhythm sticks, small hand drums and sand blocks are all very common preschool music instruments. On the surface, it might seem that kids are just jamming along with them music and having fun.
Related: At Home Instruments For Preschoolers
But, every time a child plays a percussion instrument is a chance to practice feeling and staying with a stead beat. This is one of the most vital concepts to learn in music. It’s also an opportunity to hear the mood of a song and match the tone of the instrument to the feelings they hear in the music.
While the teacher doesn’t necessarily need to explain this to the children in these terms, demonstrating and encouraging children to participate will help them to internalize these concepts.
Of course, you can use every day language or music vocabulary as you teach these ideas. But, young children don’t necessarily need to know specific words in order to understand a concept.
Let’s look at the black keys on the piano as another example.
Some young children see the piano keys as a big jumble of black and white lines. As teachers, we know that these keys are organized in a certain way that make it easy to find certain notes. But, young children may not pick up on the details of how the keys are organized.
To understand how the white keys are laid out, children need to understand the black keys first. The black keys come in small groups of 2 and 3. Most children are already practicing how to count to 2 and 3, so this is a good application for them to work on that skill. Instead of trying to help them find the patterns directly on the keyboard, first move away from the piano to help them understand this concept.
Find some objects or toys that could represent piano keys. Something like matchbox cars, popsicle sticks, markers, blocks or rhythm sticks all have the same general elongated shape of a piano key.
Have your students practice lining them up in small groups of 2’s and 3’s. Show them how to make a pattern of 2, then 3, 2, then 3, etc. Make sure you put a noticeable space in between each group. If this type of activity seems challenging for your students, continue working on it away from the piano for a while until all of the concepts start to sink in. There’s a lot going on here: individual groups, the pattern of 2’s and 3’s, the spacing in between the groups.
You can see how this kind of activity would seem fun and engaging for a child, whereas sitting them at a piano and trying to follow instructions about small details in piano keys could easily become frustrating and discouraging.
How Do You Carry Out Concept-Based Learning In A Preschool Music Class?
As I plan my preschool music classes, I make a point to incorporate as many specific musical concepts as possible. Each song or activity gives kids a chance to practice or demonstrate a concept that will stay with them throughout all of their music-learning years.
So, there is never a time where we are just shaking egg shakers or dancing around. Every single activity serves a purpose and presents a concept. Shaking egg shakers should always help a child stay with a steady beat. Dancing should always be used to help kids express themselves through the feeling of the music music or to practice coordination.
I find it helpful to find music and songs that present a variety of contrasting concepts. Songs that have distinct loud and soft sections, music that alternates between smooth and bouncy or fast and slow are all great options.
Children’s musicians Laurie Berkner and Hap Palmer have many songs that demonstrate contrasts. Classics such as Grieg’s In The Hall Of The Mountain King or Brahm’s Hungarian Dance No.5 are also great pieces for teaching concepts to preschoolers.
Do you approach your preschool music classes with concept-based learning? Tell me your experiences in the comments!
Need help lesson planning concept-based preschool music classes
- Check out my preschool music lesson plans on TeachersPayTeachers.
- Preschool Music Lesson Plan Crash Course was designed to help teachers save time with weekly lesson planning.
- Teach Preschool Music is a full curriculum to teach you how to get started creating your own preschool music program.