The Hartt School's National Center for Music and Movement in the Early Years

by John M. Feierabend, Ph.D. National Center Director and Professor of Music

From Early Childhood Connections, Spring 1998

It is 10:00 a.m. on Friday morning The second Infant/Toddler music and movement class is just ending. The mothers and fathers are gathering their children and browsing through music library items and making their selections. The teacher is speaking with some of the parents about the day's activities and their child's musical development. As the last parent departs, the teacher gathers an assortment of rhythm instruments from a storage cupboard and spreads them around the room on the floor; a rocking horse and small trampoline with a "hold-on" bar are also set up. The next class of ten 3- and 4 years-olds and their parents will arrive during the next 15 minutes and use that time to explore items scattered around the room.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the classroom's one-way mirrors, a class of undergraduate students meet with their professor to discuss the class they have just seen and go over the lesson outline for the class that is about to begin As part of their research, two graduate students are in another part of the observation room operating remote-control cameras and videotaping the responses of the, children involved in the instrumental exploration. The National Center for Music and Movement in the Early Years, an early childhood program of the Hartt School at the University of Hartford, is in full swing


The program used at the National Center of Music and Movement in the Early Years was developed by John Feierabend while a doctoral student at Temple University in the late 1970s. Further refinement of the program occurred when he created "The Academy of Little People's Humanities and Arts" while working at the University of Oklahoma. His early childhood music and movement program finally settled into its current form when he arrived at the Hartt School of the University of Hartford in 1987, and thus the National Center for Music and Movement in the Early Years was established. The curriculum used at Hartt was subsequently published in three volumes as First Steps in Music for Infants and Toddlers, First Steps in Music for Nursery and Preschool, and First Steps in Music in Early Elementary. The current teacher of the center's music and movement classes completed her masters degree in music education with early childhood emphasis from the Hartt School, and now creates her own lessons based on the format presented in those publications.

In its attempt to teach the music of a country to its people, the First Steps in Music curricula is philosophically rooted in the Kodály Approach. All songs and rhymes used in the program were gathered through extensive research, including in-field research with elderly citizens who well remembered the rich repertoire of traditional folk songs and rhymes for young children. Through this body of music literature, children will be engaged in activities natural to their musical development and will learn quality literature-thus planting seeds for appreciation of quality literature when they become adults. It should be added that this curricula has been adapted in other countries by teachers who have been encouraged to research and incorporate the authentic children's music of their own country.


The National Center for Music and Movement in the Early Years, directed by John M. Feierabend, Ph.D., has received widespread recognition and financial support. The present classroom and laboratory facilities were constructed at the Hartt School in 1992 when the program received the S83,000 LEGO Prize, an international award given annually to "an individual who has made distinctive contributions to the conditions under which children live and grow." The rooms have been dedicated as the "LEGO Learning Center," and the space is used both for early childhood music and movement classes and collegiate level music education classes. The National Center for Music and Movement in the Early Years functions on three levels as

  1. music and movement classes for children from birth to age 5;
  2. a laboratory setting for observation and analysis by undergraduate students;
  3. a research facility for faculty as well as masters and doctoral students.


The LEGO learning Center is used for children's music and movement classes six half-days each week. Four classes are offered on each Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday mornings as well as on. Monday and Wednesday afternoons. Afternoon classes are scheduled from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. This time works well as it usually follows afternoon nap time and enables working parents to attend classes after their work day. There are four levels of classes offered.

  • Infant (Birth to 18 months)
  • Toddler (18 to 30 months)
  • Nursery (30 to 48 months)
  • Preschool (4 to 5 years)

Approximately 200 students are currently enrolled, with many others on a waiting list. Enrollment in each class is limited to 8-10 children with their parent(s) or caregiver Two 12-week semesters are offered to coincide with the university calendar. Children's classes begin one week after the collegiate semester begins and end two weeks before the collegiate semester ends. Two summer sessions are also offered, with classes meeting twice a week forfour weeks.

Because the program is fortunate to be administered through the Community Division of the Hartt School, all financial management including registration, billing, and salary) is handled by that division's staff. The tuition charged allows for the teacher to be paid $25 per 45-minute class and for $1000 to be allocated for equipment and supplies. The remaining tuition is retained by the university Parents register and pay by the semester and are allowed to register for the next semester two weeks prior to the enrollment period for new families.

Children enrolled in our music and movement classes begin their music time each week with 15 minutes of "free music play," during which children are free to explore a variety of rhythm instruments.

A rocking horse and a small trampoline are also available to children, while their parents accompany them with bouncing rhymes. Parents are encouraged to play or sing along with their child, always allowing the child to take the lead in the musical exploration. At the end of the "free music play" time. the instruments are gathered and put out of sight.

Following the music play time, group time commences as the children sit in a circle with their parents A 20-25 minute lesson is planned for Infant and Toddler classes that will include songs and rhymes -bounces. wiggles, lullabies, simple songs. and circle games-as well as tapping/clapping activities and dancing to classical recordings A 35-40 minute lesson is planned for Nursery and Preschool classes and will include pitch exploration activities, echo songs, simple songs, spontaneously created songs, creative movement, finger plays and action songs, circle games, beat games, dancing to classical recordings, and stories that are sung by the teacher. The program hopes to develop in children the following: 1) comfortable and accurate singing skills, 2) comfortable and accurate moving skills with the beat in duple and triple meters, and 3) expressive sensitivity.

At the end of all lessons, parents are encouraged to make a selection from the music lending library to enjoy at home for the week. The library includes cassettes and CDs, folk song picture books with accompanying tapes, rhythm instruments, good quality soprano glockenspiels, and video tapes. All books, recordings, and videos support the philosophy of the program in that they represent folk songs or classical music presented in an artful manner. The library is divided into two age groupings: Infant/Toddler and Nursery/Preschool.

Lessons are planned a full semester at a time. After all the songs and rhymes for the semester have been selected and the weekly lessons have been organized according to the curricular format, the teacher creates a "word sheet" packet that is distributed to each parent during the first class. Parents appreciate having this available to them so that at home they can be reminded of the words to the songs and rhymes they are learning with their children in class.


There are many college offerings at both the undergraduate and graduate levels that are connected with our early childhood music and movement classes. Since the state of Connecticut certifies all music teachers to teach nursery school through twelfth grade all undergraduate music education students enroll in an early childhood music methods course that requires observation and evaluation in the early childhood music and movement classes. Field work in area kindergartens is also a required part of that course.

Graduate music, education students pursuing a masters or doctoral degree with an early childhood emphasis take one course which relates specifically to early childhood music and movement development. That course requires guided observation and evaluation of early childhood music and movement classes. Graduate students in music education research classes also become involved in researching the musical development of children. Two additional courses are required in general child development through the School of Education. Two semesters of internship are required for graduate students in this program: during the first semester they serve as an assistant teacher in the National Center classes; during the second semester they design their own lessons and teach by themselves at the University Early Childhood Lab School.

Theses are required of all graduate music students pursuing an early childhood emphasis. Most theses are based on experimental or descriptive research. Topics that have been studied in the past include:

  • Song recognition in preschool children, using songs with words and songs without words:
  • Children's preferred tempo for beat motions;
  • Developing a taxonomy of beat motion from simple to complex;
  • Range and register of preschool children's singing voices;
  • The nature of children's spontaneous songs;
  • Children's developing abilities during "music play";
  • The relationship of aural abilities to oral abilities;
  • The effect of piano and recorded accompaniment on song acquisition.

An extensive library of research related to early childhood music and movement is organized by topic and maintained in the attached Music Education Resource Library. All research has been entered into a data base so that graduate students can easily retrieve studies that will provide insights into their own research.

The National Center for Music and Movement in the Early Years is committed to making a difference in the musical development of the next generation of musicians and appreciators of music.To that end, the center continues to function and evolve on many levels-the synergy at the Hartt School by these combined constituencies is truly exciting. The administrations of the Hartt School and the University of Hartford have come to give strong support to the National Center as it provides music and movement opportunities for preschool children and their parents, allows for a lab setting for undergraduates studying to become teachers, and presents opportunities for graduate students who wish to contribute original thinking through carefully guided research. Any music school at the collegiate level that seriously wants to affect musical culture in this country should consider looking beyond a purely collegiate-level curriculum and strongly advocate for early childhood opportunities at its institution. From little musical acorns grow mighty musical oaks.

For information about the National Center for Music and Movement in the Early Years, please contact John M. Feierabend, Ph.D., The Hartt School, University of Hartford, West Hartford, CT 06117.

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