Rhythmic Music For The Little Ones
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
A LITTLE child's training which does not lay the foundation for appreciation of color and form has failed in giving the essentials of a practical education, and the result is a being almost wholly lacking in natural expression. Happily the child himself dictates, and we are learning to follow instead of to lead him in this matter. With the assistance of students of children we are growing wiser each year in finding out what is the most wholesome training for them.
We are constantly warned by physicians and psychologists not to give much fine hand work, but larger material and more nature work, all of which points to a freer and wider field for the child's natural expression. This is why many are beginning to see the value of special attention to work in rhythmic movements for little children.
Enviable, indeed, is the unconscious, natural person, not for her grace alone, but for the freedom which her pliant body gives her mind, and the unconsciousness of this avenue of expression, the most perfect of God's gifts. If the cultivation of grace, and grace alone, were the reason for inculcating early into the life of the child this ease of motion one should ask if the end does not justify the means; but I believe there is a deeper meaning in his early manifestations along this, as well as all other lines, than we are yet wise enough to read, and in this direction more than we are at first perhaps willing to grant.
While we may have the semblance of gracefulness and unconsciouness of self without the true inward harmony with external surroundings, the real thing is only developed through the unifying of thought and action. Here is a point of attack, I believe, for much unrelated work.
A child's whole being is essentially active, and this activity, whatsoever its manifestation, must be our guide in training him. A Mother Goose rhyme belongs to him as truly as it fills his needs. Why should we not train his physical activity now, while his whole body is crying out for direction and help, as well as his mental activity, when it begins to demand nourishment which all hasten to furnish? Why should we not help him to keep time to rhyme or music with his hands, feet and finally his whole body, when it will help him to develop in a rounded way as nothing else can do in his earliest life?
Had every child such a home training for his first three years what wonders in the way of rhythmic movement might be accomplished, which might fix for life the habit of easy and graceful bearing.
Who that has watched the movements of an unconscious infant has not been impressed by its steady growth towards rhythmic grace. His first disjointed, jerking of arms and legs are but the embryonic expression of his future beautiful, free, physical movements. Most of this beauty and grace is lost, and how? So long as the little child remains unconscious of himself and has perfect freedom of action, unhampered by clothing or constant admonitions from those who watch over him, is unembarrassed by the opinions of those around him, his innermost personality shows itself to an admiring world.
When he is old enough to have control of his body under such circumstances his voice rings true, his step is light, his gestures natural and beautiful (always provided his environment is good, as he imitates often to the destruction of his natural expression).
To preserve this simplicity and unconsciousness and its accompanying charm of movement is a problem that merits much thought and study of the nature of children from a physiological and psychological standpoint.
The image, strongly impressed upon the child, of the thought or intent of the movement, withdraws his attention from how he is doing it and steadily directs it to the object of such expression. For instance, let him watch the movements of a horse in harness, in his stall, on the street, when a band is playing, etc., etc. Ask him to represent the different movements. Criticize his representation, not his personality; take him again to see the horse and let him unravel for himself the truest way of expressing the different movements, under the different conditions.
If these conditions were well expressed at the same time at the piano with music, suggestive of the different movements, it would greatly aid the children in expressing themselves freely. The co-ordination of every muscle of the body, resulting in harmony of movement, seems to react upon the child psychologically, and to free him from self-consciousness.
Certain rhythms adapted to certain movements classify different rhythms, and at once this classification opens the way for the appreciation and recognition of music and true expression, which should be the goal of all our activity with music and the children. Music and its physical expression is to a little child almost what the patent medicine promises to a sick person—a cure all, but requiring as an adjunct an intelligent leader in its judicious use.
A word to the mother and teacher who play. Your opportunity for furthering the success of natural expression is unlimited. The pianist who fails to express interest and sympathy in her accompaniments will fail in giving the child the encouragement he needs in working out the fullest development. Above all, make the tones sweet, sympathetic, and soft. The loud, harsh, unsympathetic tone can do almost as much harm as the same qualities in a voice ; and these should be unknown to little children.