Early Childhood Music and Movement Association

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Music’s Expanding Boundaries

Andrea Apostoli is Presidente AIGAM (Associazione Italiana Gordon per l'Apprendimento Musicale).
In this capacity, he trains and certifies dozens of Italian teachers each year in early childhood methodologies using Gordon Music Learning Theory concepts. His classes range from teacher preparation coursework, to classes for expectant parents and their preborn children, to regular parented music/movement classes, to professional concerts for parents and their preschool children. Andrea travels to the United States periodically to renew friendships with many of his Gordon Institute of Music Learning (GIML) friends.


The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily promote official policy of ECMMA.



Continuing about the principles Dr. Gordon stated for a good repertoire of music to listen to and to sing to children I will talk today about “complexity.” When during a workshop I talk about complexity I often perceive skepticism from the students I am teaching. They instinctively think that children should deal with simplicity.

This is a big mistake that consists in the underestimation of the huge absorption and learning possibilities of a child in her early years. The fact is that adults look at the idea of complexity from an adult point of view. For us, what is complex is complicated.

When we are exposed to a speech or a piece of music that is complex we approach it with the instinctual attitude to understand it. To understand means for us to be able know the meaning and, for example, to be able to explain to someone else what we’ve heard. In other words to keep it in our minds, ready for making comparisons and links, and for being a part of our active vocabulary.

Complexity = Richness

I instead believe that for a young child complexity is richness. Yes, only richness and opportunity. The force that pushes a child to be interested in complex objects or music is just curiosity. Understanding and comprehending requires thinking, with an analytic look (or listening) that works as a “filter” between us and the object. Absorption requires only openness and curiosity for something that is merely new. And for a child the whole world is new. This openness is a childhood gift.

The word ‘complex’ comes from the Latin complèxus, past of complector that means “comprehend” or “embrace.” The word is compound from com  (“together”) and plècto (“plot”), and it means a compound of different parts linked and dependent from each other.

When Gordon says that is important for very young children to listen to complex music, he intends that it should be a syntactic compound of different parts. That is generally true for music that is not written for commercial use. We know that the music played from the radio or television every day tends to be syntactically poorer. In the USA, the sociologists talk about a rapid, recent “dumbing down process” throughout media. 

A teen ager not interested in classical or jazz music, during the 60’s and 70’s could listen at the radio music from Frank Zappa, Genesis, Pink Floyd and many other musicians that could sell millions of disks with music that was richly challenging – rhythmically, melodically and harmonically. Turning on the radio or the television, today, means to listen to music that lacks that same type of rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic challenge – conforming mainly to standards that insure the labels will sell many CDs.

Children's Music Today

If we take a look of the music material produced for children the situation is not so better. Duple meter and major tonality are the king and the queen of a big percentage of songs the children listen to and sing in preschools and schools. The rhymes and the texts are complex and change at every ritornello, but the music is usually very poor.

Every time, during workshops, I ask the students to tell me their relationship with the music. I often hear: “I like everything,” meaning, for me, that it means nothing, or “I like the Italian singers,” meaning that they follow the texts and not the music when they listen. Typically, one or two out of every 25 tell another story. (And they smile while the tell it.) “I have to say thank you to my grandmother because when I was very young she always played the piano for me and listened to classical music with me. I am thankful to her today because I enjoy so much to listen to classical music.”

When we can listen to complex music during our childhood, it will sound not at all complicated when we become older. Through listening we develop our audiation that let us comprehend and so appreciate good music when we grow.

The same thing happens with reading. If we read to our children real books and not only childish fairy tails they will read with understanding, and appreciate complex books when older.

Enrich your children by filling their lives with music that is rich.


Julie N Goodro Murray Dec 26, 2011

Thank you for the reminder.  I will think of it in relation to my grandchildren as well as my small students.

Judy Panning Jan 07, 2012

This is a wonderful reminder. It brings to mind an article I saw about teaching guitar to students (middle school I assumed) because every child connects with music and is bored in music classes that teach genres that children are out of touch with. My first thought was that the job of a teacher is to find ways to make good music accessible to children. Though I don’t in any way oppose teaching guitar to older students, this post is a wonderful reminder to maintain high standards and bring children up to them. Thank you!

Movement Matters Jan 22, 2012

Thanks for ‘expanding the boundaries’ of what complexity means . . . and you’ll be happy to know that teenagers are still listening to rhythmically challenging rock music. My son has turned me on to some amazing stuff - like this piece from Dream Theatre that changes time signature 104 times in six minutes! Dance of Eternity: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PfydR1CQ76k.

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