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  • Music for Little People

    Learning Through Music
  • Music for Little People

    Social Development and Education
  • Music for Little People

    Qualified teachers and musicians
  • Music for Little People

    We provide music classes for nurseries,
    preschools and birthday parties

Welcome to Music for Little People

Music for Little People provides baby, toddler and preschool music classes. All classes aid child learning and development with colourful props, puppets and sensory activities. Developed by Karen Dickinson MA (Music Education) LTCL (Music Education) FISM, a specialist in early childhood music education, the original curriculum enhances and supports learning in the "Early Years Foundation Stage" , igniting children's curiosity and enthusiasm for learning, and for building their capacity to learn, form relationships and thrive.

Music for Little People supports learning in:

  • Communication and language
  • Physical development
  • Personal, social and emotional development

And in addition the Music for Little People curriculum supports children in the four specific areas of:

  • Literacy
  • Mathematics
  • Understanding the world
  • Expressive arts and design

The Story of Music for Little People

phoca thumb l 087Getting Started

Karen Dickinson created Music for Little People classes in 1996 to provide children with a fun and well-structured approach to learning about music. There was a need for classes that introduced children to the basics of musical language such as rhythm, rhyme and lots of singing. Parents no longer had a large repertoire of songs that they could sing with their children. Infant teachers were noticing that children were starting school with a limited vocabulary and listening skills and without an appreciation of the rhythm needed in order to learn language.

A Family and a New Direction

With a career as a private piano teacher and voice coach, and several years teaching music in schools, Karen decided to start a family and enrol in further study to enhance her own teaching. Having studied piano and singing from a young age and with a music degree from Dartington, she enrolled for a Diploma in Music Education from Trinity College of Music. Once completed, and with the discovery of how much her own children learned through song and music, Karen studied for an MA in Music Education at London University's Institute of Education. Her thesis proposed a music curriculum for the under fives in which children, parents and the teacher are all involved in creating music and learning together.


Who is Teaching Your Child?
Music for Little People is unique in recruiting only qualified teachers. Karen has sought out special individuals with a love of children who are qualified in music or drama and also have a proven understanding of early childhood development. The curriculum is also under constant review with discoveries of new songs, contributions from our experienced teachers, and songs especially composed for the classes by Karen Dickinson.

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A Curriculum for the Under Fives?
The Music for Little People curriculum is a progressive one and through music your child will learn social skills, listening skills, and skills that help with reading and writing and lay the foundations for future learning. The smallest children come to understand a feeling of beat while being moved faster and slower by their carer. From the age of two they learn to recognize the puppets used in the classes and tap the rhythm patterns that their names make. The older children learn to recognize and repeat rhythm patterns relevant to that term's topic. The children also learn about notation - they learn that music is written from left to right, can determine high and low notes, and eventually "write" and "read" music on the board using the tonic sol-fa system.


We'd love you to join us
Let us know how we can help you with classes for you and your child, for your preschool or nursery or do you have an event such as a birthday party where you'd like more than a scary clown? Find a class or teacher in your area (link to classes page)
Please note that there is no registration or materials fee for Music For Little People classes. Siblings in the same age group receive a 20% discount. If you recommend a friend to Music for Little People, and they sign up for a 10-week term, you will receive a voucher for one free class to be used in a subsequent term.

school group

Zoltan Kodály

Zoltan Kodály (1882-1967) was an eminent musician and a native of Hungary, a "Composer, Musicologist, and Educational Revolutionary". (G.Russell-Smith in Simpson 1976:78). He came from a family of keen amateur chamber music players, learned the violin as a child and taught himself the cello. He started writing church music as a result of singing in a provincial cathedral choir and entered the Budapest Academy as a student. He was deeply interested in authentic Hungarian folk music and spent the decade from 1905 researching, collecting and publishing a vast body of folk song (from 1906 in collaboration with the composer Béla Bartók).

In 1907 Kodály accepted an appointment to the chair of Musical Theory at the Academy of Music in Budapest. There, he was appalled at the level of musical literacy in students entering what was the highest music school in Hungary. He found that they were unable to read and write music fluently and were ignorant of their own cultural heritage. The only exposure his students had to the vast wealth of Hungarian folk music was through the distorted and diluted versions played by gypsies in cafés. They had grown up in the aftermath of the Austro-Hungarian Empire when the elite considered only German and Viennese music "good" and German influence had dominated since the eighteenth century.

Kodály's work was based on the teaching ideals of John Curwen (1816-80), an English educator who believed that the study of musical symbols should be delayed until experience of music itself had been gained. Kodály possessed a missionary zeal which was to give back to the people of Hungary their own musical heritage and to raise the level of musical literacy, not only in students at the Academy but also in the whole population. Kodály's stated point of view was that "a man without a musical education is considered illiterate." He also wanted to influence what people were listening to, to ensure that it was of good quality, saying "our aim must be to turn out children for whom music, good music, is a necessity of life".

While rehearsing the choral sections of his Psalmus Hungaricus in 1923 Kodály had met with such inadequacies as to convince him that something must be done to improve the musicianship of his fellow countrymen.

"I suddenly awoke to the realization that we have to begin from childhood."

Kodály followed Curwen's method of teaching, which involved not introducing any form of musical notation at first, but instead concentrated on training the beginner's ear. Like Curwen, Kodály believed in training the "inner ear" through singing. But unlike Curwen, good singing was not his ultimate goal but was also a means towards further musical training. He also believed that instrumental music making should only begin after vocal experience had developed the child's aural capacity:

"A child should not be given an instrument before he can sing. The inner ear will develop only if his first notions of tone arise from his own singing, and are not associated with any external, visual or motor conceptions."

Kodály believed that it was very important to be able to sight-read away from the instrument, to be able to hear the music in one's head before an attempt was made to play it. He knew that many professional musicians were unable to read a tune without the aid of their instrument, saying in 1945 "It is indeed an unsound state when many of our qualified music teachers cannot read without the help of an instrument". Kodály came to England in 1927 to conduct the first British performance of his Psalmus Hungaricus at Cambridge and was surprised and gratified by the level of competence already displayed, particularly by the chorus, when compared with the situation that had confronted him at the original rehearsals in Hungary. He was soon made aware of the widely established choral tradition and the parallel tradition of teaching sight-singing in British schools for more than half a century, largely through Curwen's Tonic Sol-fa method. Upon discovering this systematic method of training the inner ear, which formed the basis of Curwen's teaching, Kodály determined to make it the basis of a system designed to meet the special needs of Hungarian schools.

After first experimenting with songs built entirely on one pitch, Kodály began melodic training with the minor 3rd, which he considered to be the most natural interval for young children to sing in tune. Curwen' hand signs and sol-fa names are introduced as are the basic elements of rhythm. Pictures and diagrams precede crotchets and quavers which, when introduced, are presented in several ways to reinforce the skills already learned.

Kodály gradually builds up the pentatonic scale, which was selected as the basic natural scale lacking the semitone, one of the most difficult intervals to sing. Singing games and nursery songs are used extensively, being gradually replaced by folk-songs more suitable for older children. During the first four years of their primary schooling the children are required to learn eighty songs a year.

Kodály had been involved with the collection and analysis of Hungarian folk music since the turn of the century and with Béla Bartók he had collected over 1000 children's songs that had formed the five volumes Corpus Musicae Popularis Hungaricae. It was not surprising that Kodály chose this music as the vehicle through which to teach children as he had a great knowledge of and love for the music of the peasants of Hungary. There were however other pedagogic reasons for his choice. Firstly Kodály believed that as a child naturally learns his own mother tongue before foreign languages, he should learn his musical mother tongue, i.e. the folk music of his own country, before other music. The historical development of music from primitive folk song to art music should follow the development of the child from infant to adult. Secondly, folk music consisted of simple short forms, a basically pentatonic scale, and simple language. These characteristics he considered would contribute to good pedagogical use of such music with children. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, he considered folk music to be a living art that had not been contrived for pedagogical purposes. It fitted well into a systematic scheme for teaching the concepts and skills of music to young children. Swanwick (1985) agrees that the Kodály Method displays a strong element of systematic development both in ideas and teaching method.

If the step between folk music and art music was to be bridged, there also needed to be good composed music suitable for children to sing. In 1923 Kodály began composing works for children's choirs and studying musical education in the schools in depth. As mentioned earlier, Kodály was convinced that the use of vulgar and impoverished material of the kind then popular was actively harmful, and maintained that it was the talented composer's duty to provide more suitable songs children to sing:

"Bad taste is infectious... bad taste in the arts cauterises susceptibility ... We have to get rid of the pedagogic superstition that some sort of diluted substitute art is good enough for teaching ... Nobody should be above writing for children: on the contrary, we should strive to become good enough to do so". (Simpson: 81)

The majority of pieces and exercises that Kodály began to write at this time for school use were not unison songs but two or three-part settings because he believed that...

"If you always sing in unison, you cannot sing in tune. You can only learn to sing in unison by singing in two parts. The two voices correct and balance each other. The only way to sing a series of sounds is to hear how they are related when they sound together. (Sandor: 125)

Kodály endured a lifelong struggle with those in the musical establishment who were content to remain with the status quo of romantic German influence. After the October Revolution of 1918 he was appointed Deputy Director of the Academy of Music under Ernó Dohnányi as Director. However the new regime fell a year later and Kodály was suspended from duties and endured a trial to investigate his 'patriotism'. He resumed teaching in 1921 but still experienced criticism throughout his career. His successes on the concert platform and with his choral revival provoked jealousy and suspicion in academic circles. These same circles breathed a sigh of relief when he retired in 1942 after thirty-five years service but he was soon to stir them up again with his concentrated work on education.

Like Curwen, Kodály also recognized the importance of good teaching. Therefore one of the first steps he took in improving musical literacy was to improve teacher training.

"It is much more important who is the music teacher in Kisvárda than who is the director of the opera house in Budapest... for a poor director fails once, but a poor teacher keeps on failing for 30 years, killing the love of music in 30 batches of children." (Kodály quoted in Choksy: 7)

Kodály involved all those around him, fellow professors at the Academy, colleagues in the area of folk music collection and analysis, and his more talented pupils, in his dream of a musically literate nation. He was also almost single-handedly responsible for causing the required music in teacher-training programmes to be increased to the present four-year teacher's diploma programme in Hungary.

"Good method, devoted teacher, and responsive children ... given the first two, can one doubt that the third component is easiest to get?" (E.Szönyi in Choksy: x)

Kodály adopted John Curwen's sol-fa but only as a mental keyboard for singing, and later playing from staff notation. Curwen's hand signs were also adopted and slightly modified. The evolution of what is now known as the "Kodály Concept" was to occupy the composer and his disciples for many years. Progress was impeded for a long time by the opposition of the Horthy Government (1920-44) which supported existing Austro-Hungarian traditions and banned the use in schools of the overtly nationalistic folk songs and melodies on which Kodály proposed to base the child's musical vocabulary. Through this official opposition his first efforts at reform were necessarily limited to publishing articles and encouraging the formation of youth choirs, the composition of children's part-songs in increasing numbers following his first example, Villö (The Straw Guy) in 1925, and to passing on his ideals and theories to his pupils at the Academy, among whom Jenö Adám, Geörgy Kerény and Benjámin Rajeczky later published school texts of their own following Kodály's principles.

Although that period saw limited achievement, Kodály's general plan of educational reform remained unchanged. There were three basic elements to his concept of initial musical training: sung folk tunes, to provide the early musical vocabulary; moveable sol-fa, to denote relative pitch; and the development of polyphonic sense from the very earliest stages through simultaneous clapping and singing, or singing in parts. As the time for his retirement after 35 years at the Academy approached Kodály began to devote more of his energies to producing songs and exercises for schools.

In 1945 official resistance to Kodály's new pattern for music teaching was finally overcome and the first Music Primary School was founded in 1950. There are now 214 Music Primary Schools in Hungary (Lepherd: 72) where musical standards reach heights virtually unknown elsewhere and even the 'non-music' primary schools have high musical standards. Despite the success of these schools, the Kodály Method was devised for ordinary schools with one or two lessons a week. G.Russell-Smith speaks of the "sense of vital enjoyment and total concentration" in all the lessons he witnessed (Simpson: 86) although Plummeridge and Taylor (1980) comment that the "concentration on skill acquisition could be at the expense of what might be called the "joy" of music and that the obvious enjoyment of kindergarten pupils was not shown by the older pupils. The Kodály concept is organized as a teaching scheme extending from Nursery School to Conservatoire and can therefore only be experienced where all the institutions concerned accept a uniform syllabus. For this reason it can only really be successful where the state has adopted it as their "National Curriculum" as in Hungary. Wholehearted acceptance of the Kodály method in other countries is limited to the individual establishments that follow his methods. However, it must be said that Kodály revolutionized his own country's musical education and redefined for the world the standards of excellence it was possible to achieve, the relationship of music with the rest of education, and the importance of music in everybody's lives. Kodály suggested that every child by the year 2000 should be able to read music.

Although Kodály's first objective was to improve standards of musicianship at the Academy, he became motivated by the belief that a musical education was the right of all and came to the conclusion that a development of an acute aural sense was the means to gain a thorough knowledge of music. Like Curwen, he fostered musicianship and literacy through the voice with the "movable doh" system although good singing was not Kodály's ultimate goal. Kodály was very specific in his use of existing folk music but also went on to compose music specifically for pedagogic purposes. He also introduces the staff early on in his method showing the relative positions of the sol-fa syllables. The training of others in the delivery of his method was also very important for Kodály.


Alexander, J. (1981) 'A tonic for music that could be the key to success'. Guardian, November 3rd.

Choksy, L. (1974) The Kodály Method: Comprehensive Music Education from Infant to Adult Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall

Csébfalvi, E. (1995) 'Hungary' in L. Lepherd (ed) Music Education in International Perspective. National Systems pp.65-87

Moutrie, J. (1981) 'Tonic Sol-fa in the Training of Music Teachers: only relate, only connect' in

Plummeridge et al [lssues in Music Education]-Bedford Way Papers 3. University of London Institute of Education.

Plummeridge, C. and Taylor, D (1980) 'Kodály in Action'.

Times Educational Supplement 28 November

Rainbow, B (1989) Music in Educational Thought and Practice

Boethius Press

G. Russell-Smith (1976) 'Zóltan Kodály in

Simpson, K. (1976) Some Great-Music Educators London: Novello

Sandor, F. (ed)(1969) Musical Education in Hungary London, Boosey & Hawkes

Swanwick, K. (1985:2) 'Systems, Skills and Understanding' Bulletin of the International Kodály Society

Taylor, D. (1982) "Zóltan Kodály-The spirit lives on" Music Teacher, July.

John Curwen

John Curwen was a self-taught musician, having trained originally for the ministry at University College, London, and Wymondeley College. While still a student he became aware of his vocation as a teacher, studying the writings of the progressive teachers of the day and teaching regularly in the school attached to his father's chapel in the Barbican. While there he also developed his 'Look and Say' method of teaching reading as well as putting into practice the basic tenets of Pestalozzi first made known to him by Elizabeth Mayo's Lessons on Objects. The Swiss educator Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746 - 1827) advocated learning through the senses by following the logic of "sound before sight" and "practice before theory". In musical terms, this means that listening and singing experiences lead on to an understanding of notation and theory.

The popularity of Curwen's storybook, the History of Nelly Vanner (1841), soon made his name widely known and passed through fourteen editions. As a result he was invited to address meetings and conferences of teachers, and to outline his views on the educational approach to young children. In 1841 the chairman of a conference for Sunday School teachers, impressed by Curwen's grasp of educational principles, publicly commissioned him to investigate existing methods of teaching singing, and to recommend 'some simple method to the churches which should enable all "to sing with ease and propriety".

Curwen did not particularly have any missionary zeal and consequently accepted his charge to improve singing in the churches with some misgiving. He had no musical training and had limited his own efforts to teaching children tunes by rote. However he did resolve to carry out the task, and began investigating various primers on musical rudiments then popular with instrumental pupils. He also enquired about various methods being used at that time, but nothing seemed suited to the needs of children.

At this stage he turned to examine Sarah Glover's Scheme for Rendering Psalmody Congregational. He found that her method was in harmony with his own teaching ideals by delaying a study of musical symbols until experience of music itself had been gained. He began teaching a child living in his lodgings from Miss Glover's book, while at the same time critically appraising it. Various modifications occurred to him as the lessons proceeded, each revealing Curwen's educational insight. They were to be the first in a lifelong series of refinements that he added in developing from Sarah Glover's Scheme his own Tonic Sol-fa Method. In January 1842, as soon as he was convinced that he had found in Glover's Scheme the basis of "a simple method which should enable all to sing with ease and propriety", Curwen published a specimen singing lesson in the Independent Magazine, a new Nonconformist paper with a tiny circulation. His aim was not to dictate what people sang or played but to enable them to read whatever music they wanted.

What made Curwen's method of teaching unique from that of his contemporaries was that before introducing any form of musical notation he concentrated on training the beginner's ear. In his first lesson he invites children to note the rise and fall of pitch aurally and then goes on to help them to recognize precise musical intervals. His predecessors had attempted to do this by getting pupils to sing up and down the scale with the notes in front of them on a blackboard stave and C was always "doh" (known as the fixed-doh method which is still used in France today). Curwen concentrated instead on a simpler series of notes. He believed the structure of the scale was far from elementary and therefore introduced pupils first to the notes of the common chord. Once the pupil had grown familiar with the aural effect of these three notes, he was taught their names - doh, me, soh. Then followed opportunities to recapture all three notes when only doh was sounded. The aim was to imagine the three sounds in the mind, then to sing them, eventually in any order. This involved developing an 'inner ear' which was capable of conjuring up precise musical intervals by a subtle form of pitch memory.

The next step, taken in a subsequent lesson when the pupil could infallibly recall the sounds doh, me, soh, was to repeat the process with the triad standing upon the dominant- soh, te, ray'. Later still came the subdominant triad- fah, lah, doh'. Once mastered, these two note patterns completed the whole range of the scale. A pupil who had successfully learned to relate each of the note names to its place in the scale was then ready to hear 'in his head' different arrangements of notes, at first in very short phrases and later whole sentences and melodies. Exercises in Curwen's method were devised by the various teachers who practiced it. He also drew on a wide range of music then popular in Victorian England for the demonstration of salient points such as syncopation or a change of key. Provided each step was pursued patiently without forcing the pace, the association between name and sound became little short of instinctive.

The unquestionable popularity of Curwen's Tonic Sol-fa induced many publishers to issue hymnals employing sol-fa notation. In addition, a considerable amount of choral music had been published, also in sol-fa notation (for the sake of cheapness) in the movement's magazine, the Tonic Sol-fa Reporter. Consequently many of Curwen's pupils and their teachers found that they did not need to employ staff notation at all. With the establishment of an independent printing press in 1862 an extended repertory printed in sol-fa notation became possible, at rates within reach of the poor. As a result, Curwen decided to abandon teaching staff notation, leaving it to more serious students to master it at home by transcribing sol-fa exercises to staff, although the majority of pupils thought this unnecessary. Rainbow believes that the consequences of this decision to regard sol-fa notation as adequate in it's own right led many of Curwen's followers into a musical cul-de-sac which was not considered disadvantageous at the time (Rainbow: 246).

Followers of Curwen could read at sight anything put before them in their familiar notation, but deprived of it, they were powerless. As a result many criticisms were leveled against this use of an alternative form of notation. Curwen called his notation an "interpreting" notation and insisted that it was merely a preparation for reading from the staff. However, Rainbow maintains that it could not be said that sol-fa notation was only an 'approach device' as this answer was invalidated by Curwen's failure to integrate sol-fa and staff in his later textbooks. His insistence that sol-fa provided a "New Notation", and his consistent use of the term "Old Notation" in contradistinction, revealed a dogged determination not to give way on this point.

Curwen was not a practicing musician in any accepted sense and his work led him to deal with social classes not usually approached by professional musicians at that period. As a result his work remained unknown, was misunderstood, or was simply scorned by other musical educators (Simpson: 31). His work was viewed as having more to do with social and religious reform rather than with musical training. This obscured his insight into musical processes and his principles were never accepted during his lifetime in the elementary education system of Britain where the "fixed doh" system reigned.

His work did however become widely known. He organized evening classes for adults, and contributed a series of articles to The Popular Educator, a penny philanthropic magazine with an enormous circulation, which carried his exposition of Tonic Sol-fa into thousands of homes from 1852 onward. In the following year he held regular classes at Crosby Hall in central London where many schoolteachers now disenchanted with the "fixed-doh" method attended to learn Tonic Sol- fa instead. By 1853 it was estimated that 20,000 pupils were attending Tonic Sol-fa classes. In September 1857, roughly thirty thousand Londoners attended a concert given by almost three thousand schoolchildren at the Crystal Palace. Even the Times felt obliged to record the event and every other national newspaper carried lengthy notices, one paper remarking that it had been left to an almost unknown organization to draw a larger audience than had ever been assembled in this country to listen to a musical performance. By the end of the decade the movement had 120,000 enrolled members and 600 accredited teachers.

Curwen recognized the importance of the delivery of his method. Curwen's example of a singing lesson, cited earlier, showed qualities of simplicity and an understanding of children's needs. He believed that the teacher should adopt a humane, sympathetic attitude, and should speak to the class at their own level. He requires active teaching by the teacher at every stage and a rapport between the teacher and the class - he was himself celebrated for his ability to encourage in children a desire to learn. The aim of that first singing lesson was to develop a sense of relative pitch and Curwen uses the children's voices and his own to illustrate pitch difference. The children were learning through experience - Pestalozzi's "anschauung"- from the outset. Because Curwen was convinced that the teacher's manner and attitude vitally affected his teaching he set out his lessons verbatim, making clear the simplicity and patience that must govern teaching procedures. Curwen was driven to create teachers of his method from among his own disciples because he was unaccepted by the orthodox world of musical education at that period.

Almost to the end of his life Curwen was still attempting to perfect his method. Following his usual practice of reviewing new teaching devices introduced by other teachers at home and abroad, in 1870 he adopted the 'French Time Names' of Aimé Paris, anglicizing them as taa, ta-tai, etc. and presenting them to his followers in the Tonic Sol-fa Reporter. His final refinement was an idea of his own - the pictorial Hand Signs to denote each degree of the scale, widely used today and first published in the Reporter in 1870. Following his death in 1880 the method which he had devoted 30 years of his life to perfecting was to form the basis of music teaching in elementary schools for half a century.

Whatever it's limitations, Tonic Sol-fa notation provided an easily mastered device enabling ordinary people, whether children or adults, to develop in the mind the association between sound and symbol necessary to sing from the page. In 1899 at a meeting of the [Royal] Musical Association a distinguished paper on 'The Psychology of Sight-singing' presented by W.G.McNaught (1849-1918) reviewed the situation. He concluded, "The syllables used as scale degree mnemonics, with all their faulty results, are apparently still on the whole the only possible method for the great majority." (Rainbow: 247). The majority of beginners found their knowledge sufficient for their needs and the circumstances in which most pupils were taught precluded much more being done. Only the lower certificates of the Tonic Sol-fa College could be obtained without competence in staff notation.

The Curwen movement flourished to an astonishing extent and by the 1860's had spread overseas. In Australia Tonic Sol-fa was adopted by the governments of New South Wales, Southern Australia and Victoria for use in schools, and classes were begun in New Zealand, Canada and South Africa. Missionaries had also introduced it in India, Madagascar and the Pacific Islands. There are two societies that have grown out of Curwen's work, the "John Curwen Society" which deals with the historic aspects of his work and which in turn funds the "Curwen Institute" which was formed to carry on with his work as an educational -method. "The New Curwen Method" integrates sol-fa and staff from the earliest stages, starting with a three-line stave.

Although Curwen's first objective was the improvement of singing in the congregational church, he became motivated by the belief that a musical education was the right of all. He came to the conclusion that a development of an acute aural sense was the means to gain a thorough knowledge of music. Musicianship and literacy were fostered through the voice with the "movable doh" system. Curwen's material for teaching mainly consisted of hymns and other music popular at the time translated into his "new notation". Curwen did seem to abandon staff notation because of a motivation to provide cheap music although "The New Curwen Method" has now rectified that.


Alexander, J. (1981) 'A tonic for music that could be the key to success'. Guardian, November 3rd.

Rainbow, B (1989) Music in Educational Thought and Practice

Boethius Press

Simpson, K. (1976) Some Great-Music Educators London:Novello