Stories are a natural way of communication. They have been used as far back as human records have been found, in all cultures and communities. A little like music. To start this series, I am going to share how the pre-school story-theme of magic and royalty can be used to develop musical skills. You may be inspired to create your own musical story!
Royalty and magic are guaranteed winners for children because they suggest escape, power and freedom. There are few things in life that children can control, so this idea is very appealing.
A good and noble King lives in a castle with his Queen. They live with a Knight who is married to a Lady. The King’s daughter, a Princess, meets and marries a Prince. A naughty music-hating Goblin steals the King’s jewels (in the storybook for older children, Elfen steals the Princess). The Knight went in search of the jewels (Princess) and found Goblin hiding them in a dragon’s lair. In the meantime, a passing Fairy heard about this, looked for Goblin, found his gold, and hung it out of reach, on a moonbeam. As the Knight was about to get back the jewels (Princess), the Dragon trapped both him and Goblin in a tower. A beautiful unicorn heard about this, came to the rescue and brought them all back to the castle where they had a big party (Goblin went back to his cave, and Dragon went back to his lair). “And at night, when the moon is right, you can still catch a glimpse of Goblin’s gold in the moonlight.”
The story is in 10 parts, with 10 characters and 10 musical skills. This allows for the story to be told over 10 weeks, introducing a new character along with a new musical skill. This mirrors the benefit of gradually building skills through regular practice.
Rhythms are the building blocks of music. Like Lego, they can be long or short, with different shapes added on that make them more interesting. Being familiar with the core rhythms makes learning music much easier, and these can be easily introduced through movement. Dalcroze Eurhythmic movements are perfect because they use specific actions for different rhythms. A crotchet (quarter) note is walking; a quaver (eighth) note is jogging; a dotted rhythm is skipping. The focus skill can be easily introduced as a warm-up at the beginning, clarified during the character song, and reinforced at the end.
Pulse / crotchet / quarter note
Casual walk to the beat
In order to make these rhythms clear, I either made up my own songs, or used traditional songs (with changes in the lyrics to fit the story). Songs in the minor third (nee-naw ambulance sound) and songs in the pentatonic anhemitonic scale (black notes on a piano) help children to successfully match notes and sing in tune. (All songs are available free on YouTube on the Musicaliti channel; the CD is available on Amazon.com.)
For infants 0–2 years, all songs focus on the pulse using a variety of instruments to shake and tap, and the storyline is introduced through toys or puppets.
Children 2–4 years alternate between walking and jogging, using instruments to beat including drums and triangles, and transition from toys or puppets to dressing up and playing/acting.
Children 4–6 years use walking and jogging, introducing skipping to their movements. They use cymbals and glockenspiels and dressing up to play games and dances.
Week 1: King Crotchet
As we begin, shoes off, we calmly listen to instrumental music as we walk around the room, any direction, either holding baby, or holding hands with our new walker or pre-schooler.
We then warm up our voices: Do you have your whispering voice? Yes, I have my whispering voice. Do you have your speaking voice? Yes, I have my speaking voice. Do you have your singing voice (singing like an ambulance tune)? Yes, I have my singing voice. Ready to sing!
Song 1: Old King Glory (game)
“Build” a mountain of scarves, blankets or pillows in the middle of the room, and take turns leading each other around the mountain while singing the song. When you get to the last line, the person at the back goes to the front as the new leader.
Song 2: I am King (instrumental)
This original song uses one word per note. This makes it great for tapping an instrument, like a drum or a pot!
Make and decorate a paper crown. Walk around the room, singing the song!
A long time ago in a magical musical kingdom far, far away, there lived King Crochet. King Crotchet was big and strong and when he walked past, everyone stopped to watch him because he was so loud and took such big steps. King Crotchet ruled wisely and justly and had a great crown full of every precious stone in the world. People loved King Crotchet so much that they travelled far and wide to find the most precious stone, and every week, he would choose the best new precious stones to add to his crown. The rest of the precious stones were added to the walls of his magnificent castle that shone each morning on the magical hill. Every day, King Crotchet loved to play croquet, a game where he would hit four balls though four hoops in the ground.
Play a modified version of croquet by taking turns standing up, legs wide, and rolling a ball between them.
Find instrumental music with a royal sound and a clear beat. Children can walk to the beat wearing their crowns, acting out the story.
The next article includes the development of the next sessions, showing how different rhythms can be introduced at these early stages by musicians and non-musicians alike!
About the author
Musician, researcher and author, Frances Turnbull, is a self-taught guitarist who has played contemporary and community music from the age of 12. She delivers music sessions to the early years and KS1. Trained in the music education techniques of Kodály (specialist singing), Dalcroze (specialist movement) and Orff (specialist percussion instruments), she has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology (Open University) and a Master’s degree in Education (University of Cambridge). She runs a local community choir, the Bolton Warblers, and delivers the Sound Sense initiative aiming for “A choir in every care home” within local care and residential homes, supporting health and wellbeing through her community interest company.
She has represented the early years music community at the House of Commons, advocating for recognition for early years music educators, and her table of progressive music skills for under 7s features in her curriculum books.
Frances is the author of “Learning with Music: Games and Activities for the Early Years“ “Learning with Music: Games and Activities for the Early Years“, published by Routledge, August 2017.