TTTV061: Teaching using MusikGarten with Ellen Johansen - Creative Music Education
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TTTV061: Teaching using MusikGarten with Ellen Johansen

By Tim Topham | Early Childhood

Oct 08

MusikGarten

Teaching an early childhood music education program can be a great addition to a piano studio. Not only is it an enriching teaching experience, but it makes business sense too.

Young children are often able to attend classes during times you might not normally be able to fill. Plus graduates of your program can feed directly into your regular piano lessons.

Ellen Johansen

If you’re going to start an early childhood music class, it’s wise to have the strength of a great curriculum behind you. That way you know you’re doing something that works, and you can just focus on the teaching part.

Ellen Johansen has been using MusikGarten for over 20 years, so when she says it works, she knows what she’s talking about!

Ellen has found her MusikGarten students to be better readers and overall musicians. They naturally and instinctively improvise, sing and play with musicality. I’m so excited to have Ellen on today and share some of the wonderful examples of her MusikGarten teaching.

Transcript

Please find a full transcript of this episode at the bottom of this page. Alternatively, click below to download a PDF. If you are an Inner Circle Member, you can find the full video and transcript in the Member Resources AreaNot a member? See below for how you can get $50 off your membership today. 

In this episode, you’ll learn

  • The types of lessons in a MusikGarten studio
  • Why Ellen went in search of an alternative music teaching method
  • The benefits of the MusikGarten program
  • How MusikGarten creates well-rounded musicians
  • How a class with ages 0-3 looks and what the kids are learning
  • The biggest mistakes Ellen made when she was starting out
  • What the transition from music and movement to piano lessons looks like
  • How to train as a MusikGarten teacher and how you can use the materials

Links Mentioned

Podcast Video

piano teaching education

This month’s sponsor

early years piano teaching

Musikgarten prepares children to play the piano!

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For both children and teachers, Musikgarten is the best preparation for playing an instrument. We offer a holistic, age- appropriate curricula designed specifically for the various stages of a child’s early years.

Musikgarten’s sequential material begins with informal music making in our Birth to 3 ½ year old curricula Family Music for Babies and Toddlers and our 3 to 5 year old curricula The Cycle of Seasons. Here children sing, dance, move, and play simple instruments preparing their bodies and ears for the next step.

Then the children move to our first sequential steps with curricula Music Makers: At Home in the World and Around the World for 4 –7 year olds. This two-year sequence gives children a solid music making foundation by including activities to train the ear, coordinate the body and voice, first steps in music notation, establish fundamental skills for instrument playing, ensemble work and creative movement. This is perfect preparation for piano or other instrument study.

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Full Transcript

Click here to read a full transcript on screen

Tim: Ellen, welcome to the show. It's so great to finally have an inner circle community member here to share ideas about one of these topics on the podcast. Great to have you.

Ellen: I'm so glad to be here.

Tim: And look, I think you're one of our founding members but you're also one of our most prolific members. I don't think you've missed a mastermind in the community and you've given so many great ideas to so many people about their teaching and feedback. So thank you so much for all that you do in the inner circle. And I know we're gonna learn heaps from you today about early childhood teaching. So let's get straight into it. Can you tell us a little bit about your current studio? We can see the space behind you. You've got a great set up there. How many kids? What kind of ages? What does it look like?

Ellen: Right. So my studio is in a resort town called East Hampton and that's 90 miles outside of New York City. And it's a rather dysfunctional population. We have winter students or winter population and then we have a summer population. And so we go from 2,000 in my village to 115,000 people in the summer time.

Tim: Whoa. That's crazy.

Ellen: It's wild. We're known for our ocean. We're known for our beaches and we're known for tremendous houses along the beach.

Tim: I'm picturing that series, "Revenge." That was the Hamptons, wasn't it?

Ellen: Yes.

Tim: From a few years ago. I'm sure that doesn't really go on but I remember the houses.

Ellen: I think it does but that's a whole another podcast. I presently have 52 students and they share classes. But I also wanted to mention, many of those students I have a parent accompanying them. So when I have sat down, thought about this, I also have 36 family members who attend the classes weekly. And so there are a lot of people who come to my little studio once a week.

Tim: Yeah.

Ellen: My youngest right now is five months old and the oldest student, if you don't count my adults, my oldest student is presently 14. My 18-year-old just went off to college for Music Technology. And I do have some adults that are in the 80s, so I teach all ages and levels.

Tim: Wow, you really do. That is the full spectrum.

Ellen: Let's see. The groups that I teach, they go in ages of birth through three. Then I do a group of three-year-olds, I do a group of four-year-olds, I do a group of five and six-year-olds. I do a group for six and seven-year-olds and that's my pre-piano program. And then for my seven-plus or the older sixes up to nine, I do group piano lessons that basically follow a curriculum that goes through three years. Those graduates then move into my private or they might do companion lessons.

Tim: What's a companion lesson?

Ellen: A companion lesson would be one where the two would share the same time and then they could do duets, then they could play games and, you know, they can do all sorts of things. I also have what I call piano partner lessons when I can't pull enough children in for a group, I'll take two and they will do the similar curriculum, but I adapt it for two.

Tim: Great. We'll get more into the detail of what you do with the youngest children, but is there a point where it flips over from being general music to actually we're working at the piano now? And if so, what kind of age is that?

Ellen: That's a good question. I wouldn't call it general music. I would call it early childhood music and movement. A teacher might think general music like they get in a keyboard to sixth grade public school. But this isn't anywhere like this. We're setting that foundation and then we're setting the bridge or the link towards formal music study. So I would say that for that young child brain, we're beginning to do sequential music making when they're about five and six, where we're beginning to build and layer different concepts. But we're basing that on a strong movement, an oral-based foundation that's happening between age zero and five.

Tim: Got it.

Ellen: Yeah. And then I'll finally bring out that piano and they were so thrilled the other day. They had their first piano day and those kids in there were like, "There's keyboards." They were so filled with that. They finally had reached that point where we've added that component in.

Tim: Yeah, brilliant. Okay. So, I mean the experience you've got over so many age groups, I'm almost exhausted just listening to what you do, because my specialty is in early childhood which is why I'm so happy to interview someone like you who knows this inside out and does it every day. So let's just talk about this term, early childhood. What are we actually talking about?

Ellen: You know, I had to sit back and think about this. The Early Childhood Music and Movement Association includes the ages from birth to seven years of age. This is the time before what many people call the concrete brain begins to take over. When a child is beginning to accumulate facts from those black and white things. This is a quarter note, this is a half note, this is an A, you know, and they're beginning to add names. We call that the grammatical part of the world. But before the age of seven, the brain is very different for a young child. It is more of an experiential kind of brain where they're experiencing the world from the moment to moment to moment. And they process the world based on those experiences. So a great example of this is if you ask a young child, you know, when is the next time is music class? They don't have a concept of this time because everything is just a moment by moment experience. Music has a dramatic effect on that young child as a result. So, again, it has to do with that type of brain that we're working with, and the very important part that that brain needs to learn through movement as its primary motive of learning.

Tim: Got it, yeah.

Ellen: Yeah, the classes are music and movement, not just a music class.

Tim: So there's no point getting a room full of three-year-olds and telling them to sit down in front of the keyboard or a piano, and let's learn music. This is not gonna work, all right. Even I know that.

Ellen: Yeah. And I'm even surprised when I hear teachers doing it with four-year-olds and five-year-olds. I remember doing other curriculums and I studied every curriculum as I was learning, and I was always amazed that they would take a curriculum that was designed for the seven-year-old and they would just slow it down for the younger children. And that's not really what young children need. In fact, what I've discovered is that if children move appropriately, they can then focus and listen.

Tim: Got it.

Ellen: And that is one of the cornerstones of my studio is I'm teaching them to focus and to listen. And when they have those skills, they can go anywhere. It's one of those amazing parts of learning and teaching this curriculum.

Tim: Beautiful. All right. So let's about this curriculum because I know people are gonna be going, "Yes, I wanna do this better," or "I wanna start teaching early childhood but I don't know where to start." Tell us about the program that you use and what it offers to music teachers.

Ellen: Right. So today, I primarily teach a program called Musikgarten. And Musikgarten was created by basically two teachers. One was Lorna Heyge and the other was a neurolinguistic specialist named Audrey Sillick.

Tim: Okay, neurolinguistic, so brain language.

Ellen: Yeah. And she worked in a Montessori school in Toronto.

Tim: Okay.

Ellen: And the two of them brought what everybody knows as kinder music. They were the original creators of that program. And years later, they then sold that business and the name and created Musikgarten because they wanted a teacher resource program that would evolve and link the early childhood music and movement experience into formal study, i.e. piano. So if a teacher wants to go in and become a Musikgarten teacher, I look through it because in my world you had to go to a training and you had to sign up for the training and we had a live class in the training. And Lorna hired an expert trainers. These were university professors and people who really knew not only the curriculum but knew the philosophy of early childhood. And those people are still there. Their trainers are I think the best in the country and you probably met them because they are always the top speakers in all of the conventions.

Tim: Right. I might not know that they are Musikgarten people but I'd probably seen them, yeah.

Ellen: You probably sat through them. Anyway, so if someone wants to become a Musikgarten teacher in today's world with all the technology, they actually can go into the Musikgarten website, and it says "To become a teacher," and then they actually have a step by step progress which includes webinars and introductions. And then you can move through webinars or you can still go to live trainings. So I have a co-teacher who just I talked to her into becoming a teacher and she's done some of the trainings and now she has a provisional license. What's great about this program though is that the material is available to you to use. You don't have to like join a franchise. You don't have to wait until a head teacher gives you the material. The material is available as a teacher's resource and you can use it in any form that you wish. So you can use it in a private studio like I do. You could use it in a preschool. You could use it in a public school. You can use it as many ways as you can think about.

Tim: And we should say too that neither of us are affiliated with this program. We're just exploring it as a great program that's out there, so we're not getting any kickbacks or anything. And the company name is Musikgarten, M-U-S-I-K-G-A-R-T-E-N, if you're looking it up online or wanna write it down, Musikgarten, which must be German or kind of German-looking. I'm not really sure.

Ellen: Yeah, it is. And it's fun to teach. That's why I do it. I love it, I love the flow of it. I love that it covers all the bases and it answered the most important question for me when I was looking for it 20 years ago. And I was frustrated as a traditional piano teacher. I kept getting students who are following all those method books and they were following everything I was saying and yet they weren't creating music, and they weren't reading very well. And the question kept popping up, "How do I get these kids to read music?" And I mean it became a major issue for me and that when I found this program it answered the question and more. I had no idea and I've never gone back to that traditional mode since then.

Tim: So do you mean you've seen the result of the Musikgarten program in your early childhood kids when they come through to the piano and as they're older, you can see the difference?

Ellen: Oh, yes. And especially if I get a transfer student who's never done this program and then I'll get my own graduates. And I guess the best way I can say is when I'm working with the graduates or even the children that are in the third year of my Musikgarten keyboard program, I'm dealing with whole musicians. You know how we talk a lot about improvisation and using chords and lead sheets and having the children create? These children, it is their natural mode of thinking.

Tim: Wow.

Ellen: And they're coming from a totally different place in their brain. Everything is oral, everything. I just have to start singing the melody and they just continue it. They have no problem playing what they hear. In fact, sometimes I have to kind of say, "What you really need to look at..." Because they'll just go off and start creating. And so they can go into all sorts of places. Many of my graduates who are pianos, I'll hear later that they're in chorus and they'll come back and say, "Well, we have all the lead parts," or "I have the solo part," and I'm like, "Well, I'm not giving you singing lessons." But their voice is so strong and they're so in tune that the vocal teachers and the chorus teachers just select them. And they also have no issue with doing it in front of people because they are sharing music every single week in a group setting, so it doesn't occur to them that there's anything wrong with that or weird, they just, that's what they do. And they can also improvise jazz, blues, they can improvise, oh, you just ask them and they're all...

Tim: Yeah. There's certainly no doubt that starting students young in an oral and singing kind of atmosphere is the way that musicians are built, in my opinion. There's so much evidence to say that that is just so important from a young age. And I remember when I was first starting to teach as a piano teacher, and I was getting help from my own teacher, my own childhood teacher who's retired and everything, and she said, "You can tell the students whose parents sang to them as children," and this was her opinion, of course. There's no scientific basis to this. But her opinion of that was that the mother singing to the child and being immersed in that kind of vocal tradition, for want of a better word, does help the children's ears. They have this natural ability to hear pitch. And I've always thought about that. So I think this kind of a program just makes so much sense and I can imagine that you can see the difference.

Ellen: Yeah, absolutely. And remember as I mentioned, I have my parents in the room every week, so they're singing. Or at least they're trying to sing. Many of them never sang as children and many of them are a little nervous about opening up enough to sing with their children and dance with their children. And when they break through, it's kind of exciting to hear that they need to sing in tune as well.

Tim: Well, you've made me think, we talked just before we started recording, about some footage you've got of you teaching. I wonder whether this could be a good point that we could actually chuck in a video now so that people could see what it actually means for parents and everyone to be singing and moving. Is that a good spot to put a video?

Ellen: Yeah, that would be a great time. So I'll make sure that we do that. Yeah.

Tim: All right, beautiful. Okay. So let's go on and talk about some of the challenges of early childhood teaching, particularly if you've never done it before or just getting started.

Ellen: Yeah. You know, it is a learning curve. And I'd say it looks easier than it is, I'm gonna say it that way. Because if you are used to a one-on-one, you're going to be in for a big shock when suddenly you're in a room with eight toddlers and parents. And suddenly you are in charge of the flow of the room, the greeting, the pace, keeping the kids engaged, adapting to the various things going on in the room. There is so much happening in a half-an-hour. I was just thinking this morning I had taught a half-an-hour toddler class and these toddlers were all over the place. One was setting out an outlet, another one, let's see. Oh, someone brought a baby, a five-month-old baby and so that of course one child wanted to go and play with her nose. You know, it's totally...

Tim: Have you watched the video of you teaching? You must be utterly exhausted after a few of them, particularly if you do a few in a row. I would be anyway.

Ellen: Well, in the beginning in the first five years, I would literally count the minutes. Oh, it's almost 30 minutes. Yeah. But now that I've taught it for over 20 years, I have to be careful that I stay because I can add so much more. And that's what's great about getting to know over 800 songs. When something doesn't work, something else is gonna pop into my head.

Tim: Eight hundred songs, you reckon you've got 800 songs just ready to go in your head?

Ellen: Yeah, all categorized.

Tim: Wow.

Ellen: You know, sitting songs, standing songs, moving songs, finger plays, tapping songs, instrument plays, drum songs.

Tim: Wow. I had no idea.

Ellen: Oh, it's amazing. And then, of course, there's a core repertoire that the music stays pretty much the same, this core that comes through the two, three, four, five, six, seven program. And then we play those pieces on the keyboard. So there's one song that the kids absolutely adore and if I hear it one more time I think my ears are gonna fall off. It's, "Mouse, mousey in the housey, hurry, hurry do. Or the kitty in the housey will be chasing you. Run!" There's a story when they're five and six about Dick Whittington who is the Mayor Lord of London and he has a cat. The cat goes after mice, we sing it there. There's a point when we do it as a circle game. There's a point when we do it as a game which is they run after each other game, you can only imagine, cat and mouse game. There's a point in there playing bars, and they're singing the words, "Cat catch me" because we had to have kids catch each other. And then finally when we bring it to the keyboard, those children who have heard that song since they were three, and I'm teaching them, yeah, right, teaching them, they're already keeping up. They've got those patterns so clear and the rhythm so clear because think about that song. It's got the, "So me Joe." It's got those...

Tim: I'm just thinking it's very triadic or chordal, isn't it?

Ellen: It's triadic, yeah. And so we'll teaching that chord and they'll be teaching the hand position, in D major by the way. And then they'll all be playing that. And really, when we get to the keyboard, it's just a component of something much bigger. You know, they're just wiggling those fingers. And for those few who can't do that yet, they might just do this. "Mouse, mousey in the housey," which we know is accompanying.

Tim: Yeah, absolutely.

Ellen: So even if we get a child who may never ever play that melody, I will get children who will do that and sing with themselves in the same event. Think about the skill set of doing that, and not doing this, "Mouse, mousey in the housey." Right? And yet you get the children to have fun and that's fine. You know, you take the middle levels and slide them up and down.

Tim: Yeah, fantastic. I was just thinking back to, you know, zero. I think one of your age groups was zero to three, is that right?

Ellen: Yes.

Tim: I'm picturing a room of kids just wandering all over the place and I would look at that and go, you know, what are they absorbing from that? Are they not too young?

Ellen: Well, that's a very good question because in the actual Musikgarten curriculum, it's actually 0 through 18 and 18 through 3. And I lately have had a tough time getting parents to agree to bring their babies in. But when I have all babies, and I'm talking about having a class with three lap babies, three sit up, crawling babies, maybe three early walkers, really that class is more of a parent education, where they're learning how to incorporate music into their life, and more importantly I'm having them start to do what's called an external study B. So even from the beginning as we're singing, "Were you ever in Quebec, stowing timber on a deck?" They're keeping a steady beat with that child on their lap. And, you know, children aren't born with that steady beat.

Tim: Moving the child, you mean?

Ellen: Moving the child up and down on their lap or maybe side to side, and then we do all of these things and they pick up these children, they dance and they walk and they float and they do finger games where they touch different parts of their bodies. And then at the very end of that quest, we start to bring out instruments and the first thing those children do is they put it into their mouths. So these are specialized instruments that are only theirs. They get sticks in their mouth. So I like to keep that class separate, but economy and reality has hit my studio and I've had to combine it, which is very tricky. I always focus towards the toddler because the toddler is the middle of the world. To them, the world swirls around the toddler.

Tim: So the toddler, two, three-year-old, two to three, four-year-olds?

Ellen: Eighteen month through two and a half.

Tim: Okay.

Ellen: Because eighteen months is when they can do this, you know, they can actually take...

Tim: Moving, rattling something.

Ellen: Take a bell and they can keep a steady beat. And before that they may do it a little bit. But by then they're really, you know, they can start doing this. And then I'll bring something else, sticks and all, I'll ask the toddlers. You know, what's another way we can tap? Like this morning we did, "Hey, Jimmy long, Jimmy long, Josie. Hey, Jimmy long, Jimmy long, Joe. Hey, tap them, tap them, Josie." And most of the time the parents are keeping that steady beat with their sticks and the children, they're watching a community effort of making music. And then they actually start doing it and they start showing me other ways to play with their sticks. And so they get engaged when they're engaged, and then when they're not they walk away.

Tim: Right, yeah.

Ellen: And so you get to learn this kind of in and out and knowing when to put things down and get everybody up and get dancing, and then bring them down the floor and do a lullabye and bring them up into a walking stop, that sort of thing. Now a three-year-old will be left off in this class because usually the three-year-old's coming because they had no choice. Mom has a two-year-old and a five-month-old. So they can't leave that three-year-old home, so we call that a mix age class. It's a compromise. And my brain is constantly going, "Okay, what can I do for the five-month-old? What can I do for the two-year-old? What can I do for the three-year-old?" So for the three, I'm going to verbally ask him, "What other ways can you use these sticks?" To the two-year-old, I'm just saying, "Look, you can use my sticks." And for the little one, they've got it in their mouth. And I might tell the parent like, "You may wanna gently tap the sticks so they can feel the vibration in their jaw bone."

Tim: Yup.

Ellen: Yeah. So you got to be ready to adapt very quickly in the zero to three. And it's not for someone who's just gonna sit back.

Tim: Yeah. As I can see from your videos, you are on the whole time. And you're singing almost constantly too, I noticed. Yeah. Is one of the videos you've got of students using a percussion?

Ellen: I will look and see, that would be interesting. You know I'll tell you what, if I don't have one, we've been exploring the drum. And this morning, usually what I do in the toddler class is each child gets a drum or I'll bring a separate drum around and they experience it, and then I bring a big drum out. But in my keyboard class, again I can show you that. They're all drumming and as they're drumming on separate drums, I'm working on hand position, on playing below the nail, I'm looking at wrists that are supple. I'm using beat and subdivision of beat, and I'm using the Gordon system of rhythm so they're learning Du and Du De. And we play an oral rep game with the drummer. I will play a rhythm such as and they have to just play it back, and then we'll do that a few times and then I ask them for the language. What's the name of that rhythm and my hope is that they'll say Du, Du De. So yeah, I can definitely put one together, just give me a week. Well, I'll look on my YouTube and see what I got.

Tim: Yeah, that would be great. I was actually, I was thinking as you were saying some of these stuff that it sounds a little bit like it's got some off kind of concepts in it, too. And then back in episode 45, actually some of those was talking about off and demonstrating that and this kind of tapping and clapping and using instruments and things. Have I made the right connection there or is it...?

Ellen: Yeah, you made the right connection, yes. When Lorna created this program, she took the best from all of the philosophies in the course.

Tim: Yeah, it sounds like that. That's exactly right.

Ellen: You've got Gordon going on, you've got Orff going on, you got some Kodaly going on, you got, what is it, Laban going on. You got large motor muscle movement, you got small motor muscle movement. This program, what sets it off again or what I love about it is that it takes all the stuff and makes it a practical tool for the teacher. And that's what I love is that I don't have to sit at every weekend and create new lesson plans every weekend. I have a basic lesson suggestion that has a movement forward. And I'm pretty sure that the concepts are going to continue to be developed in that motion. And then I have the freedom to expand it or remove some if I don't like it. You know, there's some songs that I sing them one more time. And then there something, yeah, where my ear just goes, "Oh, wait a minute, we need to add this song," or I can add a poem or I can add an imaginative story.

Like last week, the children in the threes, we went to the store to buy a blow up swimming pool. And we had to blow it up and then we, you know, we put it out and I said there's something missing in the pool and all the children went, "Oh, there's no water." You know, there's nothing in the room and they went out and they bring the hose and they sprayed it in and then it was too cold. And I put my elbow in, "Oh, it's too cold." And we added hot water and then we dove in and we swam around and the parents are looking there, and there's nothing in the room. And I'll just keep going. I think my favorite was one time we were taking a nature walk of course in the middle of my studio and I said, "Oh, look, look down. What do I see? I'm not sure." And I looked down, of course there was nothing there. And the children came around and one said, "I think it's glue." And the other one said, "I'm sure it's a butterfly." And the other one said, "No, it's a caterpillar." And the parents are looking at the back like, "What is going?"

Tim: I love it.

Ellen: I don't know.

Tim: I think I'm writing, thinking that this probably keeps you feeling young, Ellen. Would that be right? Maybe it makes you feel exhausted and old but there's something about the imagination that keeps you young.

Ellen: Well, they are my two Martini classes, I have to admit.

Tim: Martini classes, what is that?

Ellen: Those are the classes where you go out of the class saying, "I know we got through it but I haven't a clue how it happened."

Tim: And I know the Martini now. Oh, that's brilliant. Now do you need to be a good singer to work effectively with this age group?

Ellen: I think you need to be able to sing in tune. You need to be a good singer. I remember a singing teacher at a convention saying, "I am amazed that the singers here are on tune but they have such a strong mid-range between usually D and D, you know somewhere, this is for a female voice. We love for them come because they bring in a whole new, you know, part. But strengthening that part of our voice makes it so much easier to get lower and higher. And so when we're singing in that area, the children get used to singing in that area which is so powerful for them. Because then, you know, C is a little low and you hear so many choruses where they bring it down into a G and it's like, "Oh, my gosh, they're all groveling." You know, and if they could just keep it in that mid-range for children, and of course children can go higher. But yeah, I think if you don't have a great voice you will develop it just as the fact that you've been singing so much.

Tim: Yeah. And male voices would work as well?

Ellen: Yes, absolutely.

Tim: Yeah?

Ellen: Oh, yeah. I should connect you with Steve Reen. He was Teacher of the Year years ago. He has now nine children.

Tim: That's right. He has nine of his own children.

Ellen: Nine of his own children and if you Google him, Steve Reen, he's always taught Musikgarten and he has raised all of his children to be full body musicians and they sing in harmony all eight or nine, I think they're up to nine. And you can see them, they perform all over the Midwest. And it's amazing to look at the quality. Not only that but they play piano and violin and cello with sort of like a..no...you know the...

Tim: "Sound of Music" family.

Ellen: That music except they're so much better. So check him out. He's quite a musician and one, I've done things with him. I love it when his voice comes in because it is a deep, rich sound.

Tim: And is that Reem, R-E-E-M?

Ellen: R-E-E-N.

Tim: Reen, okay.

Ellen: Yeah, I'll tell you about it.

Tim: Yeah, we'll pop a link in the show notes when we find it. All right. So I want to know, I'm guessing if you can go back 20 years you probably had a number of epic fails in your classroom. Can you tell us one, it will help me get so grounding for us all to hear that someone who's experienced as you still have some shocker classes. Can you think of anything?

Ellen: My favorite one was I was teaching a class of five-year-olds and honestly I had put, it's a little time before internet and I had just finished learning this program. I was so excited and I put an ad in the paper, and I immediately filled it with 12 children. And I had no clue what I was doing. And I walked in and there was the group sitting so nicely and I had no idea what to say. And I said to them, "So, do you know any songs?" And this one little precocious lady said, "Yes, I know Puff, The Magic Dragon and all the verses." And began to sing them. And I didn't know how to tell her, "That's very nice." I let her sing and I lost control of the classroom. Because I gave away my power as the teacher, as the person and that taught me so much. I can't tell you, yeah, you know, you learn from your mistakes. In fact, I probably learn more about that than any other time, you know, don't ever give away your power to a child.

Tim: And not just your power, just the drive, the fact that you've got to drive it really entirely.

Ellen: I have to be the person driving.

Tim: Yeah.

Ellen: This is the thing. This was a big mistake I had done early on. I was really into observing how children move because we have been taught to observe children. What I didn't realize is that one should not do it in front of parents. So the children were all moving and there was this one toddler who just started moving and he was a little off on his feet and I pointed that out. Parent was furious and she left the program. And I realized it was because I had pointed out her child and what I didn't know was that the child had learning issues and one of them that he was smaller and late in everything. Here I was pointing out all the stuff and I was, on that point on, not in front of other parents.

Tim: You could speak to the parent privately if you wanted to help them or have a discussion about it. Yeah.

Ellen: Yeah. You never talk about other children in front of parents. Never, never, never. And that was important for me. The other thing which was a total epic failure was when I first had to teach with seven keyboards. And I don't know if you could see but I have my keyboards all stacked here.

Tim: Oh, yeah, yup.

Ellen: They're usually laid out behind me and I remember the class coming in and of course they all ran to the keyboards and, you know, they're making sounds you know. I didn't know how to stop them and I would do what I thought was the right thing and they'd all play along and they're being loud and they get louder and louder and louder and louder. Oh, my god. Now, when they come into the room, I now say, "We're gonna talk about how we approach the piano." As I laugh so I've learned over the years. Boy, that was a real mistake. That means they're not toys, they're musical instruments.

Tim: And the parents are there of course for your lessons, so they see all this disaster going on. It's not like a school teacher, this way you can have an epic fail but no one knows except you and the kids.

Ellen: That's right, that's right. The parents are right in the room and they're taking notes you know.

Tim: Yeah, absolutely.

Ellen: Oh, my goodness.

Tim: All right. Look, we're gonna start wrapping up soon. I got a few more questions, a couple of quick ones. Do you encourage the parents, particularly the really young ones to keep doing the things and singing the songs at home?

Ellen: That is the most valuable part of the program. It is we want to expand this wonderful community, music making into their home life. Because the reality is that parents are no longer singing or sharing music with their children. Parents are doing this.

Tim: Yup, for those not watching, Ellen's holding a mobile phone.

Ellen: It was just a research where they were studying women who are nursing their children and then nursing their children while working on their cell phone. And they actually found that the children are not thriving. And so this thing, this cell phone, this smart phone, this technology is really getting in the way of good parental interaction with children. And so my goal is to get those parents back to sharing music.

And so one of the things I get in this program is first of all they get a CD that includes all the music we do. So when they go home that CD is playing in their car, at home. The parents tell me that they come back and they find themselves singing with the music. Even when the child is not in the car anymore. For the fours and fives, where the five and six where they're dropping off their child and then join the family time. They're doing dances and we did the "Grand Old Duke of York" where it was a big game where the children are dancing with their parents and were doing square dance and that sort of thing. When they go home, they're getting activities that they share with their child like take a walk through a beautiful marshland and listen to the sounds that you hear.

Can you discriminate the different sounds? Go home and find different ways you can make drum sounds on different parts of the kitchen, or improvising. As a child is improvising, listen in and give them feedback on to, "Wow, that really sounds good. What did you do?" So the parent is a very important part of this program.

Tim: It's great that they've got the resources though, the CD or the music to keep on singing. Because I would imagine that that just makes all the difference. And I know the music learning theory books like Marilyn Lowe's books and things obviously have the patent CDs and things, because it's just so important to absorb all that information while not necessarily actively looking at it.

Ellen: Yeah. I met Marilyn. She's a sweet a person and she's directly into Gordon you know, the thing it's surrounding. Two paths, you know, it's a great program. And she's got a lot of energy.

Tim: Oh, yeah, yeah. I interviewed her. If you haven't watched, the audience generally, episode number 48 was all about Music Moves for Piano which was the first series we had in our music learning theory podcast. So if you're interested in that, that's episode 48. Because there's lots of crossover between what you are doing in the music learning theory as we've said, and off, and Kodaly. It's great. And I love in my own teaching taking, that's why I love interviewing all these people because I can take these great ideas and build my own kind of method which I think is great. And I encourage other teachers to do it, too. All right, let's finish off with, do you reckon you could summarize three of your top tips for teachers teaching early childhood students music?

Ellen: Yeah, you know, the first tip, I think this is a really important one is if you're looking at an early childhood music and movement and you're tasked to do something like this. Do yourself a favor, purchase a curriculum and follow it completely. Do not fall into the path of I'll create my own. It is much more difficult to do than you think. My co-teacher was asked to do this in a week and she called me, and I said, "You know, it takes about 30 years." She's like, "Oh, yeah." A lot of people, "Then I'll just create it myself." It's more than the content, it's the context, it's the philosophy under it. It's the follow through. And so really, whatever you choose, whether it is music or in Kinder Music, Music Together, Harmony Road, or any of these wonderful programs out there, just follow what you chose and do it 100%. Don't adapt to them so you know the program and then jump off.

Tim: And I should say too, I just said before, you know, I love creating my own things. I've been teaching for a while as well. I think you're right. When you get to that, if you're starting off as I did, you start with a method that's proven and tested. And then you can start adapting it when you're comfortable. So I think that's a great tip.

Ellen: Yeah. The second tip is when you're teaching young children, slow down. Children have fast tempo in their bodies but when we're singing to them. For instance, if you think of Twinkle, if you've ever asked the child to sing "Jingle Bells" or "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star," you'll notice that they sing it much slower. They need to hear the language development, they need to feel the pulse, and I always tell new teachers, slow your pace. And I am constantly, even 20, 25 years I'll get in and I'll start singing, "Clap, clap, clap, hello. Clap, hello to each other." I start too fast and I slow myself down.

Another thing is don't be afraid to repeat things. I think one of the hardest things in our world is that we're always thinking we got to present something new. Young children thrive on repeating things over and over and over again. Because that's how they master things. And so I will sing a song for babies 7 to 15 times in a row. And I'll leave it to the parents, "How many more times do you think we're going to sing this?" And they look and I always say, "We have another seven to go." And I will vary the pitch, I'll vary the pace, I'll vary the movement, but I will repeat the song because I'll notice the children will kick in about the eighth or ninth repeat.

Tim: Really? Yeah.

Ellen: Yeah. They need to hear it again. For three years old, they thrive with repetition. And so even if I've done the story of little rabbit and I'll do it and the final week they come in, "Could we do the little rabbit story?" And if I even miss a word or miss a movement, they will tell me. "You missed where we're supposed to jiggle our back, you know, and the tail will go." Oh, yeah, that's right. I forgot about the tail. There's one more tip and that is, this is a big one, when you're working with young children you have to be passionate about it. You cannot just read off of the script. You may buy a script but it's not about the script, it's about you projecting.

And so I've learned from storytellers that when I tell a story I make my eyes very big. Did you hear the story about little rabbit? Do you know the little rabbit went to my garden yesterday? And he ate banana, yes ma'am. And off I go and I know when I open my eyes they all come closer. And I found that those always, you know, when I have to pull back, those are the things. I go back to the curriculum when things are falling apart, I slow myself down, I repeat activities that work, and I make my eyes big and I get really passionate about what I'm doing. And I have a great program because of those things.

Tim: Yeah, brilliant. Ellen, it's been so good talking to you. I knew you'd be the right person to kick-start our month of early childhood sort of focus on the blog and the podcast. Thank you so much for sharing all those great ideas. Where can people find out more about you and read your blog?

Ellen: All right. So to find about my program, you would go to www.ellenjohansenmusicstudio.com. You'll see a website that shows my curriculum, the classes I teach and this and that. I write a monthly blog for Musikgarten.

Tim: And that's on the Musikgarten site.

Ellen: It's on the Musikgarten site, look up blog and I do it once a month. And I talk to teachers and I talk to parents. And there's one blog I think two or three months ago where I just did finger plays. And I think this month I'm doing the value of parents in the music class.

Tim: Fantastic. Yeah, and we've talked a lot about that today so it will be great to even read more because I'm sure we could, I mean we're only touching the surface obviously with all these ideas. But it's great because now teachers who are listening and interested can go and dive in. So we'll pop a whole lot of links to some videos and your blog post in the show notes. And I think that's gonna be such a great resource for people. So that's gonna be at timtopham.com/episode61. Brilliant. So is there anything we've missed, Ellen?

Ellen: Well, all I can say is I encourage teachers to consider an early childhood music and movement class. And while you're at it, you can also check out the Early Childhood Music and Movement Association because there you can hear about all different programs, not just the ones I spoke of, but they represent the entire movement. And they do a convention every other year and they also do, what do you call it, certification for teachers so that they continue to become better teachers. And in fact, I'm the level two chair, I've been volunteering that for I think five or six years. So I help teachers become better at what they're doing as early childhood music and movement teachers. So I look to seeing you there and getting your information.

Tim: Yeah, and I would imagine you would be such a great workshop presenter. It would just be so much fun looking at you teach. I think it would be great.

Ellen: Yeah.

Tim: So, look, thank you for all that you do for teachers and students around the world, and in our inner circle community as well. It's great having you a part of it and thanks for being on the show today.

Ellen: You're welcome.

Tim: All right. I'll see you later, Ellen.

Do you teach music and movement classes?

Do you use MusikGarten or another program?

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Tell us what you’re experience has been with early childhood music classes.

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About the Author

Best-known for his blogging and teaching, Tim is also a well-respected presenter, performer and accompanist based in Melbourne, Australia. You can check him out on Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

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