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Tuning Up Young : At schools like the Philomusica studio in Tarzana, children learn about music and its masters at early ages. Teachers say they learn quickly, and the knowledge lasts.

June 18, 1993|GORDON MONSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Gordon Monson is a regular contributor to The Times

In every one of us there is a musicality. It's important how that is set off.

--Nicolette Bischof, children's music teacher

Zachary and Justin Bright, 3 1/2-year-old twins, appreciate the world's finer music: They be-bop along with Barney and Baby Bop, Bert and Ernie, Ariel and Sebastian, Belle and the Beast, Aladdin and Jasmine, and . . . Ludwig van Beethoven and Joseph Haydn ?

Jawohl . The Woodland Hills preschoolers have been learning about music and its masters since their mother, Claudia Bright, enrolled them in a weekly music class just after their first birthday.

For more than two years at the Tarzana studio Philomusica, the twins have learned about rhythm, differences in tones and types of orchestral instruments. They know the names of composers, and they've developed an appreciation of sweet sounds.

"They've had exposure to all kinds of music and what makes that music," Bright says. "It's amazing to see your 2-year-old blow into a trumpet and create a sound. Now they are learning about notes and preparing to learn to read music. Piano lessons will be the next step."

Some might wonder, the next step toward what? Mozartean genius? Preschool prodigiousness? An eventual college scholarship? A professional career?

"What we want from this for our children is a continued appreciation of music," Bright says. "That's important in terms of establishing routines, relaxation, reducing stress and just pure enjoyment and fun.

"If music is taught correctly, it can have that effect on kids."

The challenge for parents who want music in their children's lives, educational psychologists and musicologists say, is finding the right method and instructor.

"There are a variety of methods and philosophies out there," says Richard Cohen, an educational psychologist and director of the research center at Pacific Oaks College in Pasadena. "Some are more structured, others focus on creativity. The important thing with early music education is that children learn to enjoy it. That it becomes a positive."

Nicolette and Gunter Bischof, owners and directors of Philomusica, say their approach is light-hearted and nearly stress-free.

"We express music, we introduce the basics in an enchanting way," says Gunter Bischof. "We jump around to the music, connecting sound to movements. With heavy, stomping tones, we pretend we're elephants. With high tones, we pretend we are birds."

Into this antic mix, they interject more substantive information about composers, instruments, note reading and other technicalities.

Ideally, says Nicolette Bischof, children should begin classes at 12 months with their parents along. Although students get acquainted with a range of instruments in group classes, Bischof puts off private instrument lessons until children reach 5 or 6. At that point, they're encouraged to start with the piano.

"Having the basic knowledge from our early classes," she says, "once they reach the piano, they fly."

While some parents and educators may think 12 months is a little premature for embarking on any kind of musical instruction, others think it entirely too late.

Pamela Wade, a nationally known Pasadena music teacher with a master's degree in early childhood education, endorses the philosophy of Hungarian composer and educator Zoltan Kodaly. Kodaly maintained that the earlier one is exposed to music, the better.

"He believed if you start teaching children too late, they won't achieve what they could have," says Wade, who has taught in numerous programs at schools, colleges and music conservatories. "The philosophy is that music is learned in the womb, that it's better for children to be exposed to the best music from before birth."

Wade recommends that expectant mothers attend prenatal music classes. Failing that, she says, parents should expose youngsters of any age to good music--"folk and classical music that is appropriate for children."

"Very young children seem to react to that," she adds. "In my classes, I select the music. I stress a lot of free movement within the framework of the songs. I make tones and they echo them back. Every child learns at a different pace."

Typically, a Kodaly teacher will sing a folk song to a group of children and the children repeat the song.

Another prominent method of instruction is known as Orff Schulwerk, named after Carl Orff, the German composer who died in 1982. Orff instruction is thought by some to be less structured than Kodaly and more diverse, utilizing voice and rudimentary instrumentation.

"Kodaly is teacher-directed," Cohen says. "Orff offers more open exploration."

These methods, and others, are often tailored to fit the interpretations and predispositions of an instructor.

Wade, for example, puts off teaching note reading until children turn 6 or 7. Likewise, she believes, children should wait until that age before they actually learn to play piano or violin, because "children need the physical dexterity to handle an instrument."

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