At a Waldorf school, a child’s development is supported through the creation of an environment that is filled with beauty, warmth and joy. Music is an essential part of this environment and supports the idea that the world is a beautiful and harmonious place. Many people consider music to be a fringe subject that only appeals to those with a natural talent for singing or playing an instrument, yet music holds an important place in all learning and is actually essential to whole brain development. It is a valuable gift that contributes positively to the development of a child’s thinking, it nourishes the feeling realm and also is of great value to the development of the will.
All children experience music within themselves, from the first sounds of a rhythmical heartbeat in utero, to their first sing-song pre-language sounds. Scientific discoveries about language show that babies actually interact and learn to communicate through music. The lilt of a mother’s voice is in fact a musical language, which has been termed “motherese”. All infants respond to this language and use it themselves when they first start vocalising sounds. Music can be seen to be our first language. A baby is born with a highly developed and refined sense of hearing which takes in all sounds without any filters. Rudolf Steiner says that a young infant is entirely a sense organ, absorbing all the sights and sounds that come into their being. The child is then molded by these sensory stimuli. A small child experiences sound with her whole body and as such her entire physical being can be in harmony or disharmony depending on the tones that she is experiencing. In our modern lives, we are constantly bombarded with mechanical, electronic and unmusical sounds, which our young children are unable to shut out. As such, we need to find ways to keep children’s innate and refined sense of musicality intact so that it can blossom and develop, creating for them health and balance.
Music in the classroom aims to create a wholesome and healthy space for joyful expression. Music is a healing gift to each growing child when we bring conscious use of tones and harmonies. Children thrive in an environment where beautiful living musical sounds can be expressed through musical instruments and through their own voices. Indeed, singing is a direct connection to our spiritual selves and can elevate us to the realms of the angels. Music also has a strong connection to our emotional nature. The emotional body is nurtured through music, song and stories and through engaging in activities that are joyful and encourage creativity and laughter. Music connects us to our feelings as well as being a tool we can use to express emotion. The etymology of emotion means “out of movement”. I imagine this could also be expressed as energy in motion (e-motion). We say that music moves us, it can make us dance with joy, tremble with anticipation, or bring tears to our eyes. The movement and tones of music deeply affects a child’s body and soul through this emotional connection.
The styles of music that children experience, as well as the actual sounds of the musical tones, are important. We need to be aware that some types of music may be over stimulating or too powerful for their delicate senses (especially electronic and mechanically produced sounds). Music and sound need to meet our children where they are developmentally. As such, it is necessary to protect and nourish their developing sense of hearing and encourage stillness and listening that will in turn stimulate a deep appreciation of music, sound and feeling throughout their lives.
“I would teach children music, physics and philosophy; but most importantly music, for the patterns in music and all the arts are the keys to learning.” Plato
There has been a great amount of recent research on music and brain development. Of interest is the research that was conducted to see whether musical training in childhood improves the brain areas and functions that are responsible for the general processing of sound (relating to language development, speech perception and reading skills). In this research, musical training was found to be related to better language and mathematical skills as well as greater academic achievement and the development and efficiency of the auditory pathway in the brain was seen to be strengthened. Differences in the brain were found in the areas that relate to hearing, sight and the physical movement of the body between musicians and non-musicians, with better results showing in the musicians.
Research has also been done to explore how engaging in music affects children’s social and emotional development as well as these cognitive functions. Studies were done (over five years) where children were exposed to classical music and learnt to play an instrument in an orchestra. The creation of the music itself, through playing an instrument, was seen to stimulate a complex symphony of electrical impulses within the brain, as well as develop emotional intelligence and social skills through participating in the orchestra.
Another gift that musical education brings is the development of a child’s will. This can be strengthened through the ability to be in stillness and hold a state of attentive listening or through the undertaking and discipline of learning to play an instrument. Rudolf Steiner said that “Proper introduction to the musical element is fundamental for a human being to overcome any hindrance that impedes, later in life, a sound development of a will permeated with courage.”
We can see that music is deeply connected to the stimulation and development of our thinking, feeling and willing. It is essential for our children to immerse themselves in this alchemical magic which transforms the head, heart and hands into gold, allowing them to reach their full potential and shine.
“Ah music,” he said, wiping his eyes. “A magic beyond all we do here!”
Albus Dumbledore (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone)
Tara Taylor, Muisc teacher