Teaching music theory to children requires patience, the ability to engage the child and a safe atmosphere. Children that learn music theory early will find that other abstract concepts such as math and reading will also come more easily to them. The best music theory exercises are simple, teach a specific concept and allow the child to experiment with several different outcomes.
Teach the child the names of the notes in the treble clef and explain that this clef plays high-pitched notes. Tell them that when they look between the lines they will see their "FACE." Then explain that the four spaces spell the word "face" from bottom to top. Then teach them the names of the lines (EGBDF) by helping them create an acronym for each line. A commonly used one is "Every Good Boy Does Fine." Let them get creative and try to come up with their own acronyms.
Explain to the child that the bass clef is where all of the low notes lie. Ask them to identify several low instruments, such as the tuba and the cello, and then teach them about the clef. Using the same technique for treble clef, have them come up with their own acronyms for the lines and the spaces. When they have finished, draw a music staff on the board consisting of five lines and four spaces between the lines. Draw six to eight notes on the board and ask them to identify each pitch using their acronyms.
Play a simple rhythm for the child and ask them to repeat it. This works best if you can give them a small drum, or a rhythm stick to play the rhythm on. Gradually increase the complexity of the rhythm until the child makes a mistake. Practice this exercise daily to improve the child's sense of rhythm. With time, they will gradually increase their memory and ability to play complex rhythms.
Play a simple song such as "Row Your Boat" or "Old MacDonald" to the child. Ask them to listen for the parts of the song that repeat. If they hear a section that repeats, they should raise their hand quickly to signify the beginning of the new section. Children that have trouble with this exercise should have extra guidance to help them learn to do this properly. Stop the recording after each phrase so that they can learn to identify each phrase in the piece. In time, they will begin to learn to identify sections and phrases.
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