Music program takes different approach to teaching children
By Nancy Brumback, Contributing Writer
Westborough – “We put the cart before the horse, rethinking how music is taught to young children,” said Deanna Wong of New England Music Academy. “We teach children how to read and write music and how music works together. We give them the real stuff and make it fun.”
Wong is describing the group music program offered for children ages 3 to 10 at the academy, which she started 10 years ago.
“When music concepts are taught in an age-appropriate sequence and approached as a game, even young children can understand complicated music concepts,” she said. “Every year, students write three or four songs on staff paper. They also learn music by ear. Then they have a strong foundation for any instrument they want to learn to play.”
After the children have learned to read and write music, guitars and recorders are introduced as the children continue their study on keyboards.
In addition to its emphasis on music literacy, New England Music Academy’s approach is different because children are taught in group classes by age and level, and because a parent or primary caregiver is required to take the course with the child.
“I feel parents need to know what is being learned to help children master the skills at home. We have them one day a week and the parents have the other six days. The parent learns along with the child, and the program takes the mystery out of music,” Wong said.
“Mistakes are okay. We want children to love what they are doing. There’s a time for serious study of music, but it’s not during the preschool and kindergarten years,” she said.
Children are grouped by age – 3.5 and 4, 5 and 6, 7 and 8, and 9 and 10, with anywhere from five or six students up to 10, the maximum number, in a group. The curriculum is designed to cover three years, and a group will usually stay together until they “graduate” at the end of that three years, about the time private lessons or school-supported music programs start. The older groups meet for about one hour one day a week through the school year.
Children who start at age 3.5 have a program geared to their age level and then move into the regular curriculum at age 5. Wong emphasizes that, even for these youngest students, her program introduces “real music concepts, not mommy-and-me-bounce-on-the-knee.”
Classes start in September and February, and enrollment is taking place now for the fall session. Children can enroll at any age; there are starting classes for each age group.
New England Music Academy also offers private lessons, for its graduates and for adults and outside students.
Wong uses a group approach to learning music for the fun of it, to make learning the concepts a game, but also “a certain accountability happens in a group setting.” Children are more inclined to practice if they see themselves not keeping up with the group, she noted.
The performance aspect of music at the academy is low-key but present “because sharing music is what musicians do,” Wong said. “When we learn a song, each child is invited to play it as a solo for the class. After doing this for three years, they understand sharing music is fun. For our group lesson students, there’s no big year-end recital.”
Students taking private lessons get together about six times a year as a group for extra lesson time, to play for each other and to play for the community. They have a more formal performance in the spring.
Parents interested in the program are invited to bring their children to sit in on a class and meet the teachers; call to visit a class that’s right appropriate.
New England Music Academy is located in the Westborough Shopping Center, 30 Lyman St., Westborough, and there’s a second location in the Meadowbrook Plaza center in West Boylston. For additional information, call 508-898-3888 or visit www.nemusicacademy.com.