Little Maestros

As music classes sweep the nation, parents and kids are getting in tune.


Three-year-old Ellie is clearly happy to be at her "Music Together" class with her mom. After all, the weekly gathering in an airy room at the Armstrong Community Music School of Austin Lyric Opera in Texas is tailor-made to strike a chord with preschoolers. The 10 kids and their parents play with an assortment of music makers -- drums, tambourines, maracas, bells. They twirl beribboned sticks, sing along with teacher Jeane Burks's piano medley, and with a chorus of giggles, march around the room.

Burks's classes for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers help them expand their range of tones and rhythms. She sings out instructions throughout the class, noting that children remember things better when information is set to a tune. To improve melodic range and mouth movement, students imitate her funny noises and sing a nonsense rhyme accompanied by movement and clapping. "Parents, when you're at home, be sure to take advantage of whatever sounds and rhythms your child makes," she advises. Music selections in class run the gamut from lullabies to reggae; Burks believes the type isn't important, as long as it's something both parents and kids know and enjoy. Providing diverse music types helps young children express emotions and moods, she says.

Ellie smiles broadly throughout the class but only joins in the dancing and singing a few times. Yet neither Burks nor Ellie's mother, Wynne Prager, is concerned. "She's sometimes reserved at class, but when she gets home, it's like a Broadway show," says Prager. "She puts on her dress-up clothes and belts out every word of every song."

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