A Case Study

To infinity and beyond

In February 2018, Hopscotch Nurseries in Brighton & Hove asked if we could provide a small-group music service for pre-school children aged 4-5 years. With a brief pause for reflection, the answer was yes we can.

Since 2010, Harp Surgery has steadily developed a library of teaching materials for Reception and KS1 learning and taking this into a pre-school setting definitely had potential. However, there were two caveats.

Firstly, while our team had the necessary safeguarding checks, in case of accidents or melt-downs amongst our newcomers, we would need an early-years helper to sit in. Secondly, we’d need to find solutions for teaching infants how to consciously inhale. Small children are pre-programmed to blow out birthday candles, drink through straws, and hold their breath to prevent drowning. Breathing in, however, is entirely visceral.

For adults, good breath control is a skill that takes time to master. We know we can breathe in and out, but unless our jobs, pass-times or medical conditions require it, we rarely pause to regulate our own breath. For young children, this concept alone is foreign; applying it to the harmonica is complex. A process that can frustrate a student and their teacher, and one that can end in capitulation in the face of an insurmountable hurdle.

Do you know these lifeforms?
Our first caveat was readily met by the nursery team. Addressing the second caveat, Harp Academy researched teaching ‘auto-respiratory control’ to infants. The solutions were few and relatively simple. We took note, applied our findings to the job in hand and gathered some appropriate props.

During the summer of 2018, Hopscotch Nursery (Portland Road) and Harp Academy piloted a 12 week term of harmonica for two groups of eight pre-schoolers. Children and helpers were issued with a four hole Hohner Speedy harmonica and lanyard. Sessions were thirty minutes long and an experienced early-years helper was present.

My eyeballs could have been sucked from their sockets
By the end of the twelve week schedule, our fledgling harmonauts had explored the musical elements, building an impressive vocabulary of musical terms. They were blowing the full C major arpeggio and they were blowing and drawing the full C major scale.

They were also playing Twinkle, Twinkle at various tempos and had mastered the chordal rhythm pattern for Wimoweh (The Lion Sleeps Tonight), as featured in Walt Disney’s The Lion King. A weekly page from our harmonica storybook and musical games completed the project.

We’re now ready for a full year of harmonica with the Hopscotch team at Portland Road, and will also be working with the teams at their sister nurseries in Brighton and Seaford.