MSU Early Childhood Music Ripe for Sharing in Detroit

Early learning in music builds aptitude in language, interpersonal relationships and physical skills for children.

MSU Community Music School–Detroit’s offsite programming served about 400 children ages 6 and under through 32 sessions held at five Detroit locations in 2016.
Music Therapist/Early Childhood teacher Annarosa Mendoza-King at Brilliant Detroit, a social services agency in Southwest Detroit, works with a student during a session.
Early Childhood instructor Christie Lower engages students with inclusive participation techniques to help develop social skills.

An innovative MSU College of Music curriculum for early childhood music is growing legions of wee fans in Detroit and is ready for sharing with a larger audience as demand climbs for programs offered by the MSU Community Music School-Detroit (CMS-D).

Since 2011, CMS-D’s Early Music, Early Learning has offered a curriculum that builds aptitude in music, language, interpersonal relationships and physical skills to more than 1,200 children. In the sixth year of partnership with the PNC Grow Up Great program, CMS-D has expanded access to share the benefits of early childhood music on child development throughout Detroit to children 6 and under and their parents and guardians from low-income neighborhoods.

“We’ve seen significant growth since this program started,” says Jill Woodward, director of CMS-D. “Detroit families are eager for music opportunities for their children and they value the ability to engage the very young. Several major foundation studies have also underscored the value of investment at the earliest stages of life to support school readiness.”

In 2016, CMS-D’s offsite programming served about 400 children ages 6 and under through 32 sessions held at five Detroit locations. Those locations included homeless shelters, preschools, parent resource centers and Detroit Public Schools. Half the locations serve Hispanic and Arabic speakers with a translator on site. This presented music instructors with unique challenges and opportunities to acquaint parents and guardians with music learning, as well as with local educational resources and support. Saturday classes for another 50 children from birth through age 6 provided an additional 30 weeks of programming at CMS-D’s Midtown location.

In addition to developing music skills in young children, early childhood music teaches children about numbers, colors, turn-taking, cultural traditions and more through activities that involve moving and singing. As part of the sessions, parents or guardians are given tools to use at home to build and reinforce skills and to nurture school readiness.

“We have a waiting list of organizations who would like to host Early Childhood music, so a media venue would be a way we could take the curriculum to more children and into homes,” says Woodward. “The ideas are still in the early stages, but it’s a possibility we’re excited to explore.”

The early childhood music programs at CMS-D and its counterpart in East Lansing are based on methods introduced and developed through music education research and practice by Professor of Music Cynthia Taggart. The approach applied at CMS, Taggart explains, is based on the belief that young children learn music in the same way they learn language. Immersing children in a rich music environment and letting them play and explore enables them to teach themselves to sing in tune, become competent in beat, learn music vocabulary, and develop their overall musical aptitude and skills.

“The benefits of early childhood music programs are manifold,” says Taggart. “In addition to the musical benefits, these programs have also been found to support language development, and give children an opportunity to develop social skills as they interact with other children and adults in the classroom.”

Christie Lower studied with Taggart and received her bachelor’s in music education in 2014 from MSU. She taught at CMS-D as a student in 2013, then came back after graduating to work as an early childhood music educator.

Lower’s students range in age from birth to 7 years old. She says she’s inspired by watching them progress through stages of learning, and enjoys the child-driven instruction that involves family members and caregivers in the process.

“Music is important because it gives us that social and emotional outlet that is becoming increasingly important in today’s society,” says Lower. “Music helps us to be creative, to connect with each other, and it’s a communal activity that brings people together. The musical exposure we provide here can only help enrich children’s lives by giving them a musical foundation on which to grow.”

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