Little Musician is a new software-based curriculum designed to give babies through preschoolers a foundational understanding of music.
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A little back story.
A few years ago, I remember reading this excerpt from Glenn Doman’s “How to give your Baby Encyclopedic Knowledge”
“Babies can learn absolutely anything that you can present to them in an honest and factual way and they don’t give a fig whether it is encyclopedic knowledge, reading words, math, or nonsense for that matter.
They’d prefer great things—reading, math, all the presidents of the United States, the nations of Europe, the great art of the world, the song birds of the eastern states, the snakes of the world, the kings and queens of England, the great music of the world, the international traffic signs, the dinosaurs, the state flowers, or any of the millions of fascinating things there are to know on this old earth.
But they’ll even take nonsense if that’s all they can get.”
Despite the humor in the last line, this quote stirred me deeply. I immediately questioned to myself as to how I could teach my children the great things of the world. “The great music of the world.” What does that mean? As a trained musician, I felt a duty to succeed in that aspect of my children’s training.So far, it has been a haphazard approach.I’ve checked out books at the library about composers. I developed “Beginning Rhythm” with Doman’s philosophy in mind. I’ve played classical music excerpts to my children. I’ve even developed a solfege manipulative system that I will be releasing within a couple of weeks. Music is one area that I really want to succeed in teaching my children well. I have a lot of resources to do it, from instruments, books, and recordings, and I have the skills to do it well. So far, our music program has been fairly good. However, it feels like I’m taking a stab in the dark to get it done.Backing up a little, I want to look at my reading program with the kids. I worked very hard to make materials to teach my oldest how to read. I read several books, I made flash cards, I tried different approaches, and materials. It wasn’t until I purchased “Your Baby Can Read” that we got our foot in the door, and then, I still had a lot of work to help him get to the stage where he was independently reading books. Now, in hindsight, I look back and I can see what worked and what didn’t, and I felt more prepared to teach my other children. Everything that worked was in BrillKids reading system, “Little Reader”. I bought it, I love it, and I’m amazed at the scope of the program. I just have to push play for a few minutes every day, and my younger children will learn to read. I’m a busy mom with 4 little kids, and I need that help if I’m going to be consistent with their reading progress.Why little Musician is a good fit for our family
Consistency. That is what my music program was lacking. Not only that, but after reading some of the success stories of other parents in the BrillKids forum, I realized that I may be cutting my own children short as to the scope of our program. I had to eat a little humble pie, and admit that while I do have the resources and training, I could use a little help.Little Musician has daily lessons that are short, thorough, and taught through the right-brain education methods espoused by Glenn Doman. The lesson presents musical bits of intelligence in a fast paced, engaging way. My children love it!Each lesson teaches bits in the following categories:Chord recognition (similar to the Eugichi’s perfect pitch program), Music Appreciation (an exceprt from famous musical literature), note sounds on the staff, solfege, instrument recognition (including an avatar playing the instrument, to show how it is played), ear training, and steady beat practice sessions. Famous composers are also taught during the course.
There is one lesson for every day, but because of the nature of the software, I can show the same lesson to my children twice and it will be different every time. For example, Lesson 4 teaches the concept of “Ludwig van Beethoven”. A voice says his name, we see a picture, and hear a 5-10 second sample of one of his famous pieces. However, what picture is shown, which voice says the name, and which sample we hear changes every time. The concept of “Beethoven” repeats throughout the course, so there is plenty of opportunity for children to get the whole picture, but I like doing music twice a day for now, and I love the variety the software allows.At the end of every lesson, the lesson takes you to a resource page with links to YouTube to supplement each lesson. Where ever possible, the musicians demonstrating a concept are children. We have really enjoyed this supplement, and I appreciate all of the moms in the beta testing team that volunteered their time to help find these videos. (I should have but didn’t.)
I love solfege and ear training. I think they are important. I didn’t learn these things until I took Aural Skills in college. Many of my fellow students hated these classes, and I’ll admit that it was a lot of work for me as well. But I never hated it, I loved it. It offered a fresh perspective, a paradigm shift, if you will, for how I listened to music, for how I internalized it. Then I had the opportunity to internship with a superb children’s choir, where I saw how young children could thrive on those basic aural skills. I vowed that my future children would have that opportunity. Little Musician is worth it for the ear training alone
Solfege. That brings me to another point about Little Musician. I was a member of the beta testing group for Little Musician, and I remember that there was a lot of discussion on whether the program should teach “Movable Do”, or “Fixed Do.” What each is, and the pros and cons of each, are beautifully explained in BrillKids’ free e-book, "Everything you need to know about Teaching your Young Child Music.”
I was disappointed when they decided to teach “Fixed Do” with this program. I see the merits of both, and have been trained in both, but I prefer “Movable Do” for my children. “Little Musician” is an international product. Their audience spans six continents, and they come from many different cultures. That were sitting in the hot spot, trying to please everybody in the forum, but ultimately they had to make a choice.“Moveable Do” is more prevalent in the United States. I had a lot of things going on in my life, preparing for a new baby and what have you, and I stopped being active in the forum when they chose “Fixed Do”, thinking the product would be incompatible for my children. The product was released last June, and with school starting, I re-examined the product for my children.Little Musician has two semesters of content, with the first semester focusing on “C Major”. In C Major, it doesn’t matter whether you teach “Fixed Do” or “Movable Do”, as it is the same. Also, because you receive the software with the program, I can easily edit the content in the second semester to fit my needs. I can record my own voice singing the scale, and tell the computer to use my singing instead of their voice recordings. I can change the note heads used. I can add my own sound clips. All of this is optional, but for me, the ability to customize the software was a great bonus. In the second semester, I will leave 95 percent of each lesson as it is, and I can tweak the rest of the lesson to reflect my personal preferences. I really like that.
Why Little Musician may not be a good fit for you.
If you have a preference for Moveable Do, you will either have to tweak the system like I will, or eliminate portions of each lesson in the second semester. I say it’s better to learn “Fixed Do” than “No Do”. It really doesn’t matter that much which system your child learns, there really are benefits to both.Another point. Little Musician has a broad spectrum of music appreciation skills that are beneficial to any age group. I’m learning new things with my children, even with my college degree in music. I’m a little rusty in my aural skills, I’ll admit it. I’m making my husband listen to the lessons too. It’s good for him. However, it is important to note that Little Musician was created with the baby and toddler in mind. The names of the composers are presented in a way to help young children read the words, with an arrow pointing left to right. Syllables are also color coded to help young children divide the word, reinforcing phonics. This is fantastic if your child is very young like mine, but you may want to tweak the programming for an older child if they perceive that aspect to be “baby-ish”.But speaking of baby-ish, there is a greater offence. In the clap-along session, the avatar is a toddler boy or girl, clearly depicted in a diaper. You can turn the picture off, but you still see said avatar at the end of the lesson, acting as a conductor, wearing a tuxedo shirt with the diaper and bare legs showing underneath. It’s cute if your student is a young child, or if they are older watching on as their younger sibling does the program. But for the 8-12 crowd, it screams “baby product”, and they may not want to have anything to with the program. It just wouldn’t be cool. I’m going to give BrillKids that feedback, in hopes that they may add an older avator to the program. That’s all it needs to be a great program for these older children. For that matter, the material in little musician would be great for high-schoolers, or college students. Even mommies with a musical background like me. But taking it all in with a diapered avatar is a bit much for some to swallow. My husband joked that if you replaced the baby avatar with a gothic teenager, and switched out the nursery rhymes for punk rock, you would have guitar hero. The steady beat concept taught is the same.The only other reason it may not be a good fit is the price. It’s a premium product. Yes, it’s only a computer software, but it took 4 years of development, and then 6 months of beta testing to get it where it is today. A lot of parents volunteered to gather YouTube videos to supplement each lesson, as well as offer suggestions for music clips in the appreciation portions of the lesson. It takes a lot of work to create digital products. I should know, my husband does it for a living, and I’ve dabbled in it myself. That work has a cost, and it is reflected in Little Musician’s $199 price tag. I came up with the money by deciding not to enroll my preschooler in the local children’s choir. I figure that it will give my children a solid foundation in music that will save money/time teaching these concepts to my children later on. It’s a great deal really, but it’s still not cheap. Unless you’re rich, it will take some budgeting to add Little Musician to your resources. Only you can make that decision for your family.
As a musician, and an Early Learning advocate, I whole-heartedly give Little Musician 5 stars. It’s essentially my dream product for my kids. They love it, and so do I. There are a lot of music products and curriculums out there, many of them very good, but I really do think that this is one of the better ones. Daily lessons, and you just need to push play. Technology plays a big part in our emerging world culture, and I think that media is especially important for music as it is aural in nature. Music can’t be fully experienced in a book. It can be experienced in the head only after the learner has heard the music itself. Little Musician gives young children that aural experience. I highly recommend Little Musician.