Music For the Early Years & the Magical Pentatonic Scale


Music is not just important in its own right: it can make a unique contribution to playful learning. Interactive music activities encourage infants to develop new skills in language, motor abilities and cognitive skills.

Approached in the right way, music encourages us to take risks and make mistakes, promotes self-confidence, spontaneity, creativity and originality.

German composer Carl Orff developed a way of tapping into children’s natural sense of rhythm and melody. Orff, who died in 1982, co-founded the Guenther School for gymnastics, music and dance in Munich, Germany and developed a simple way of teaching music to youngsters using percussion instruments. His approach begins from the premise that every child is innately musical and naturally loves to play, sing and dance.

He tuned percussive instruments to the pentatonic scale, and encouraged children to play them ensemble.

Children learn through doing, exploring and improvising. They have a natural instinct to create their own melodies and explore their imaginations. These instincts are directed into learning music by hearing and making music first, then reading and writing it later, in the same way that we all learned our own language. The special Orff melody instruments include pentatonic wooden xylophones and metal glockenspiels that offer good sound immediately.

The pentatonic scale is excellent for improvised ensembles; you can just play around and never hit anything inordinately dissonant. For those unfamiliar with the word pentatonic, the prefix ‘penta’ is a Latin term for five:

i.e. pentagram, Pentagon, pentagonal. Tonic in this case is not referring to the fizzy drink, but to the word ‘tone’, put them together and you get five tones or notes. So a pentatonic scale is a scale of the fizziest five notes. This means that music played in pentatonic scale naturally sounds good as all the notes go very well together.

These scales are developed with five notes and exist as two common types: major and minor pentatonic scales. The major pentatonic scale is commonly used and is denoted as the primary pentatonic scale.

With pentatonic tuned musical instruments, technique is not a problem, given the simplicity of the instruments. Dissonance is not a problem, given the pentatonic scale. When one experiences the simplicity of making pleasing melodies and harmonies on the pentatonic scale, suddenly making music becomes achievable and exciting.

Music in the early years supports children’s all round development and helps to shape their skills in concentration, memory and listening. To aid this physical and cognitive development and lay a strong foundation in aural and rhythmic skills, every child must be given the opportunity to discover their musicality. With a little imagination, music can be incorporated into numerous settings throughout the day. Creating areas for music and sound exploration inside and out will help integrate music into the everyday experience of the children.

For example, the introduction of a musical garden or outdoor ‘soundscape’ will excite and inspire children musically while enjoying the obvious benefits that arise from spending time in the natural environment. Children will be able to explore new sounds whilst enjoying the benefits of the outdoor elements – fresh air and sunshine (well, fresh air at least!) A musical playground will provide young children with opportunities for early interaction and positive experiences with music. A facility where children can explore, create and develop their own musical ideas and sounds – maximising the musical potential of a child during their most rapid developmental period while discovering the joy and empowerment of music making.

The traditional emphasis in education on getting music right has led generations of adults to claim they can’t sing or play an instrument and lack confidence in their musical abilities. I speak from experience, I hated music lessons at school and yet I love music. In a free-play environment, where there are no wrong notes, the experience can lead to a life-long love of music and music making. Creativity, imagination and discovery should be strongly facilitated and encouraged in music education. Through active learning: hands-on, participative and interactive, children’s musical self-expression, self-confidence and self-esteem will grow and grow.

Kris Cullum represents Musical Playground Instrument suppliers Freenotes, instruments that create enchanting music that anyone can play and are also proven to contribute in Music Therapy.

Article Source:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.