PARENTING : Lessons on a Larger Scale : The guru-student method may not be the only way to learn music. Valley group programs find success.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; <i> Nancy Kapitanoff writes regularly for The Times. </i>

It is a commonly held notion in our society that learning to play a musical instrument during childhood will enrich a person’s life forever. Consequently, many parents feel obligated to see that their children take music lessons.

Some grown-ups maintain that the best way to interest kids in music is through one-on-one lessons. But there is a whole school of thought--backed up by several San Fernando Valley-based programs--that argues otherwise.

Mary Shamrock, professor of music at Cal State Northridge, believes that though “the guru-student relationship is time-honored, one on one per se is not the only viable way to learn music. It can be more efficiently and joyfully done in a group.”

Shamrock, who specializes in music education, said it is in a group atmosphere that young children, including babies just 18 months old, can really develop musical responses. These include pitch, rhythm and tempo, which youngsters learn through singing, dancing, rhyming, chanting and clapping. Sometimes they can pick up quite a bit of musical knowledge without even touching an instrument.


Later, she said, they “can move from that kind of context to an instrumental situation.”

When children do play music together, “there’s a whole lot of interaction that happens in a group,” said Larry Newman, executive director of Children’s Music Workshop, a private service that teaches children to play instruments in groups at public and private schools. “They’re out there doing it in front of their peers. They come to the support of each other.”

Such endorsements--coupled with the savings involved in bypassing private instruction--make group lessons appealing to many. A brief survey of Valley programs shows the range of options parents and children have.

The First United Methodist Church in Burbank offers after-school music programs that are open to the public. The church presents a variety of group activities, including a music education program called Orff-Schulwerk.


Developed by German educator and composer Carl Orff (1895-1982), this creative approach to teaching and learning music is based on things children like to do: sing, dance, keep a beat. It incorporates poems, rhymes, games, songs and dances into music made by children on xylophones, glockenspiels and various percussion instruments.


Alice Rucker, who teaches the Orff process at the church to kids ages 4 to 12, also teaches two Kindermusik classes, one for children 18 months through 3 years, the other for 3 1/2- through 4-year-olds. Grown-ups accompanying students in the younger group must partake in the program’s singing, moving, playing and listening to sounds and rhythms.

The cost of Kindermusik classes ranges from $70-$78 for 15 weeks. The Orff class is $35 for 15 weeks.


Kindermusik classes as well as Yamaha music education courses are taught at the Crescenta Valley Yamaha Music Studio in La Crescenta. Yamaha, the Japanese company that produces motorcycles, grand pianos and other musical equipment, began its group music education system in Japan in 1954. Its goal, using Yamaha keyboards, is to foster a love of music through ensemble playing, composition, improvisation and performance.


An adult must accompany each child to the Kindermusik classes as well as Yamaha’s basic musicianship classes for children ages 4 to 6. It is also recommended that parents attend keyboard fundamentals classes for kids ages 7 to 9.

Fees range from $7 for a half-hour Kindermusik class to $14.50 for a one-hour Yamaha class for kids age 4 and up.


Piano Play in Sherman Oaks also offers the Yamaha music education program. Parents must accompany children up to age 6. Fees range from $11 for a 45-minute class to $15 for a one-hour class.

Valley Cultural Center--the group responsible for the free Concerts in the Park series at Warner Park during the summer--also has a no-cost Music in the Schools program. To supplement the limited music instruction in the public schools, it has sponsored orchestras and musical instruction at Valley elementary schools during the past five years, and plans to continue.

Much more extensive are Children’s Music Workshop programs to teach children at both private and public elementary and junior high schools how to play musical instruments. Director Larry Newman, public-school music teacher for over 12 years, visits school assemblies each fall and demonstrates sample instruments. He tailors his programs to each school’s needs. Group sizes and fees vary. The workshop includes an easy-pay plan for buying an instrument.

Group Lessons


* First United Methodist Church, 700 N. Glenoaks Blvd., Burbank. Contact Chris McShane at (818) 761-6707 or Kathy Keller at (818) 845-1531.

* Crescenta Valley Yamaha Music Studio, 3043 Foothill Blvd., Suite 4, La Crescenta. Contact Connie Kuhne at (818) 248-2789.

* Piano Play, 14235 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. Contact Sharon Simpson or Chelo Jones, (818) 789-6110.

* Valley Cultural Center’s Music in the Schools program, 5955 De Soto Ave., Suite 200, Woodland Hills 91367. Call (818) 704-1358.


* Children’s Music Workshop, 12636 Huston St., Valley Village, 91607. Contact Larry Newman at (818) 98-MUSIC.