Singing in Early Childhood to Create Musical Thinkers

Listen Up!

Singing in Early Childhood to Create Musical Thinkers

By NAfME Members Marissa Curry, Ingrid Ladendorf and Caroline Moore


“Listen Up!”

If your early childhood students are anything like ours, you’ve likely taken many of the same song requests from them over the years… Twinkle never fails, Jingle Bells has been sung well into the spring time, and Frozen has certainly had its day in the sun. Young children will sing their favorites with the same passion most every time – the more that they come to know the song, and the more that they see their peers enjoying it with the same fervor, the more they like it, and the more they want to sing it with their full voice and heart. That is the beautiful musical culture of young children.




When children feel as if they own a song, they naturally sing it with expression and personal meaning. They are thinking musically about the piece because they already understand it in a deep way, and they share their musical expressivity as they weave their own thoughts into the music. Children are able to master and perform complex rhythms, meters, and phrasing far beyond that which they are yet able to read, or that they encounter in the typical early childhood curriculum. So, how can we as music educators connect young children’s natural ability to be expressive and make communicative music to the repertoire that we bring into the music classroom? How do we access their inner musical life and cultivate musical thinkers?


Thinking Musically

And, what does it mean to think musically? Indeed, there are many answers to that question: perhaps thinking musically means to be able to interpret and perform the music of others, perhaps it means to be able to listen and respond to other musicians within an ensemble, perhaps it means to create entirely new sounds in the moment. It is difficult for any of us to know what developing a musical thinker in our classroom today may result in in the future. However, the skill that we know is essential to the development of any type of musical thinker is the ability to listen.




In the early childhood music classroom, we develop each child’s listening, musical thinking, and music competency through frequent collaborative music-making with their peers. Within music-making, children find opportunities to functionally change sound with their own voices, discover moments where they can create their own sounds, develop their responsiveness as an ensemble, and develop the ability to make personal musical decisions. We optimize the children’s vocal accuracy, ear training development, and the development of their expressive capabilities through the immediate modeling and feedback that they get from us, and also through the experience of singing beautifully and joyfully in unison.

Young children will sing many types of repertoire beautifully and joyfully: movement games, songs with percussion instruments, international lullabies, and yes, the songs that they already know and prefer. At the heart of it, the best music-making comes from singing repertoire that is relevant and meaningful to each particular group of children. As music educators, part of our role is to listen and respond to who our students are as a musical community, while also offering them the opportunity to listen to and to become familiar with beautiful, and perhaps unusual, repertoire that they might not have otherwise had the chance to hear. By encouraging our young students to listen to diverse musical possibilities at a time in their lives when they are open and receptive, we expand the catalog of music that will be personal, relevant, and meaningful to them.




Listen to the Voices in Your Classroom

As musicians, our ability to listen allows our music to become more complex, responsive and nuanced. Deep listening also enhances our teaching, and what we are able to facilitate in the music classroom. Many of us came to teaching as a profession because we hope to make our smaller and larger communities stronger and more able to respond and communicate cooperatively with sensitivity and care. Thinking musically and listening aren’t just about creating future musicians. They’re also about creating future citizens. These skills are essential in our individual lives, helping us to connect and grow in our relationships and together in communities.

So, listen to the voices in your classroom. Listen, and allow yourself to truly connect with those voices, and to better understand what makes those children tick. And yes, consider taking the chance to sing Frozen with gusto. If you validate this musical choice, the child’s choice, you might just encourage them to sing Tideo with the same enthusiasm, all the while developing their musical thinking, and their community, too.


Read the authors’ previous blog Singing in Early Childhood


About the authors:

Caroline Moore bio photo

NAfME member Caroline Moore is an Early Childhood Advisor, the EC Preschool Music and Art June Program Director, and the Summer Music Study Program Director at The Diller-Quaile School of Music. Caroline is also the Executive Director and Chief Facilitator of Moore Arts Collaborative, LLC, which provides music lessons, group classes, teacher training, and support for schools, preschools, day care centers, and arts organizations. Caroline holds a B.A. from New York University’s Gallatin School, an M.A. in Music and Music Education from Teachers College at Columbia University, and is currently a PhD student in Music and Human Learning at the University of Texas at Austin, where she has also been an Assistant Instructor. An advocate for teacher training and experiential professional development, Caroline conducts workshops for early childhood teachers, and presents research at both national and international Music Education and Education conferences. 


Marissa Curry bio photo

NAfME member Marissa Curry is the Director of the Early Childhood Program at Diller-Quaile. She holds a Bachelor of Music degree from New York University and Master of Arts in Music Education and K-12 certification in Music from Teachers College Columbia University. At Teachers College Marissa was awarded the Arthur Zankel Fellowship. Prior to her current posi tion, Marissa taught early childhood music classes at Diller-Quaile from 2006-2011. Following this, she was the head music teacher at the Success Charter Network (Success Academy Harlem 3), where she originated a general music program and curriculum for children in kindergarten – 4th grade, as well as a choral program for children in grades 3 & 4. Additionally, she organized professional development experiences for music teachers across seven schools. She received Kodály Level I Certification from NYU and has studied Dalcroze and Orff approaches. In addition to her EC classes, Marissa teaches teacher training courses at Diller-Quaile for NYC daycare and universal Pre-K providers focusing on bringing music into their classrooms. She also presents on the topic at national Music Education and Education conferences.


Ingrid Ladendorf bio photo


NAfME member Ingrid Ladendorf received her B.M. in Classical Vocal Performance and Music Education, with New York State K-12 certification from Ithaca College, and her M.A. in Music and Music Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. She has taught at The Diller-Quaile School of Music in Manhattan since 1996, where she has held numerous positions including: Musicianship Department Head, Curriculum Development Specialist, Undergraduate and Graduate level Teacher Training Course Instructor, and is currently an Early Childhood Advisor, and Rug Concert Program Director. In addition, Ms. Ladendorf was on faculty of The First Presbyterian Church Nursery School, a Reggio inspired preschool, where she taught inclusion classes for children on the Autism Spectrum. She currently teaches at The College of New Jersey, where she teaches pre-service music education students and serves as a Student Teaching Supervisor. She also directs the Joyful Noise children’s choir at Nassau Presbyterian Church, in Princeton, NJ.


Caroline Moore, Marissa Curry, and Ingrid Ladendorf will be presenting on their topic “Singing in Early Childhood: Building musical thinkers and musical people. Prek – 2nd grade” at the 2016 NAfME National In-Service Conference this November in Grapevine, TX! Register today!

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Join us for more than 100 innovative professional development sessions, nightly entertainment, extraordinary performances from across the country, and tons of networking opportunities with over 3,000+ other music educators! Learn more and register today: And follow the hashtag #NAfME2016!

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Brendan McAloon, Marketing and Events Coordinator, October 28, 2016. © National Association for Music Education (