Teaching little kids

Hey y’all,

did anyone in here ever try to teach (the basics of) the IFR approach to kids?
I have a son who’s about to turn one year old. Almost daily when I dress him I sing simple melodies in tonal numbers to him. Some extra practice for me, and it might just turn him into some kind of IFR prodigy :yum:
My daugther is three, but not interested at all. I tried to get her to sing the numbers back to me, but she doesn’t want to. Of course i’m not forcing her. Maybe when she’s a little older?

does she like to make noise/ sound?

a old pan as a drum
to make ritme
and you sing the numbers…

maybe after a while sge sings along whit you
while she is drumming…

Don’t forget that kids at that age can gain perfect pitch if exposed to notes and their names. I think the ability to learn it is lost after 5 or 6 years old.

I asked David Reed about teaching kids a few months ago, and I can’t find that email, but the gist of his reply was that…

The IFR exercises we see today were designed for adults, and specifically for adults who already tried traditional music education and wanted something better

Teaching kids music is different than teaching adults, but it’s still an important thing to teach. David suggested focusing on clapping along to songs (how crucial rhythm is) and singing along to melodies of kids songs. And don’t make a big deal about teaching them music; just do it for a few minutes a few times a day so it’s a normal part of their life. Bottom line: let them learn in a natural, non-formal way.

I have found this site to have good advice on teaching music to preschoolers, although with a piano focus not guitar https://colourfulkeys.ie/blog/

I think the YouTube videos about teaching preschoolers associated with that site are very good. Search YouTube for COLOURFULKEYS

Whatever you do, make it fun for the child.

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Have you heard of Edwin Gordon’s “Music Learning Theory” (MLT)?

Gordon wrote this book to explain the discoveries he made after many years of research about how we learn music. It is not a method book, it is more like a model for teachers/parents with ideas on how to help kids develop musical abilities. These ideas can be adapted to any method.

One of the most important things he describes is how we understand and process music by singing in our minds. He invented a term to describe this: AUDIATION. Audiation is not the same as auditory perception which occurs simultaneously when we receive sound through the ear. It’s the cognitive process in which the brain gives meaning to musical sound by capturing the internal logic of the relationships that weave sounds. Nor should it be confused with theoretical explanations, which talk about music and have only an intellectual component. “Audiation” is to music what thinking is to language.

He recommends exposing kids (since when they are babies) to different sound patterns: different time signatures and rhythms, and also melodies in the seven modes of the major scale. I have seen teachers who have developed methods based on the MLT, stimulate kids with “musical conversations” using different patterns. In one of the projects I worked on in Latinamerica, we did musical stimulation sessions with babies and their mothers, and it was magical. Babies that didn’t know how to talk yet, would interact musically with the teacher or the parent.

Some things I like about Gordon’s vision are:

  • I love the idea of audiation. It makes total sense to me!
  • Gordon believes that kids need to learn music like we learn a language: by being exposed to it and later, when they already have internalized how music works, they can start learning sight-reading, theory, etc. It’s like teaching kids how to talk first, and later how to read and write.
  • Music is made of sounds and movement, so that’s the experience they need to have first!
  • Just like in IFR, improvising is a big part of exploring, discovering, and learning music.
  • I love how since the beginning, music is treated like another language that you process in your mind, that you can use to communicate with others and to express yourself creatively.
  • They respect each student’s individuality, and they understand that each one needs to learn at his or her own pace.
  • They develop a relative ear, like we do in IFR.
  • And also, as we do in IFR, they don’t move their “1” in every chord or mode.

In case you are wondering, IFR is not based on MLT. David never read that book. But both are based on very logical observations about how we learn and process music. So it’s not a surprise that they have so many things in common!

To go back to Michiel’s question about how to teach kids with the IFR approach, I think that even though the method and the materials are meant to be used by adults, parents who are very much into the IFR method can adapt it to stimulate their kids. The ideas from MLT combine very well with all we teach at IFR. Some ideas:

  • Sing, sing, sing! I can’t stress that enough. That applies to both adults and kids. :slight_smile:
  • Sing melodies to your kid in different modes. At first, only hum melodies, don’t use numbers.
  • Use tension and release in your melodies and accompany it with movement (for example: with note 5, hands are in the air, and with note 1, hands fall down on the lap).
  • When they are older, start singing using numbers. Some kids love Sing the Numbers!
  • Play games of question and answer. You make a musical phrase that is unresolved and they have to sing an answer. That makes them imagine music, and not just imitate.
  • When they are even older, you can sing and improvise together using just a few notes over simple chord progressions from Pure Harmony Essentials, like chords 1 and 4, or 1 and 5. You can even spend some time sing the roots and Melody Paths, so they can start to hear chords.
  • Sing nursery rhymes in numbers.
  • Play nursery rhymes or melodies with a keyboard or a xylophone while you sing the numbers.
  • Always make it enjoyable like a game and not an obligation.

Some resources:

  1. Here’s a PDF I made many years ago with ideas on how to start improvising with children. You’ll find question and answer games, how to introduce chords and how to observe chords sensations. It’s meant for kids who already know how to play some notes on their instrument:
    PDF: Creativity in the instrument classroom

  2. There is a podcast I love, by Heather Shouldice, a music teacher who uses a method based on MLT. In episode 1 she explains the concept of audiation very well. This is interesting also for adult IFR students!

  3. She also has a YT channel where you can see her in action applying her method in the classroom:

  4. Here’s a long interview they did at Musical-U to Cynthia Crump, President of the Gordon Institute for Music Learning. She talks about audiation, thinking music and the MLT approach:

Luckily, nowadays there are lots of music schools that teach kids through experience, movement, singing, playing, improvising, etc. So maybe you can find a music school or a teacher in your area who has an approach or a philosophy similar to yours. So, the musical stimulation you give to your kids will be a very nice complement to what the teacher does with them. :slight_smile:


Thanks Mireia, I’ve not come across MLT before, it’s interesting. I listened to the first few podcasts you linked to. I’m familiar with the term ‘audiation’, but it’s described very clearly in the podcast. I can see the similarities with the IFR system. As an adult learner, I’m always on the look out for explanations and revelations about how we learn. The parallels between language learning and music learning are interesting, and it’s making me think about how I’m approaching my IFR learning.


Thanks @MireiaClua for your very detailed answer! This is great, you are contributing so much to the value of this forum, thanks again! I am reading your PDF and I love it. I started some of the exercises with my kids. I can’t understand they don’t do these things in many music schools. I recommend everyone to read it, even without a goal of teaching kids, there are a lot of gems and take aways in this document.

For MLT, there seem to be a lot of concepts to learn/understand and a learning curve. I started listening to the podcast, but I think for now I’ll stick with IFR and your PDF :smile:

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Thanks Mireia, that is so very helpful.

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thanks, everyone. Interesting stuff! I’m going to check out MLT. Never heard of it before.

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