At East Elementary School, students urged to take music deep into adult life |

At East Elementary School, students urged to take music deep into adult life

Teacher Tanya Young taps technology, theory and love of music in her interaction with students

Michael Neary
East Elementary School Music Teacher Tanya Young practices with fourth-graders Gerardo Guereca Morales, left, Ruby Short and Joselyn Moriel.
Michael Neary

— When students at East Elementary School come to Tanya Young’s music class, they enter the room singing. In fact, the first few minutes of interaction — and much of the communication after that — take the form of song.

For Young, who’s taught at East Elementary for about nine years, cultivating that musical spirit is vital. She described how the act of being sung to, as well singing, can help to fashion a child’s musicality.

“If they’ve been sung to as toddlers and young children, they’ll have a lot more experience with it,” she said.

That sort of interaction, she said, creates an effect that’s much different from listening to a radio or some other mechanized recording.

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“When you have babies, you talk to them so they learn the language,” she said. “If you have children listening to music on CDs that’s at least exposing them to music, but if you sing to them you interact. Music is an interaction. It’s something that can create a bond. There’s a reason why mothers sing lullabies to their babies.”

Young said she’s developed an even greater appreciation of music since she’s become a mother.

“I sing all day long,” she said. “They’ve had music from when they were in the womb.”

Young said she and other music teachers in the Moffat County School District have been looking especially hard at the musical teaching approaches advocated by John M. Feierabend. Young had a book by Feierabend close at hand, and she said she’d recently listened him deliver a presentation at a Colorado Music Educators Association conference.

“He has this program called ‘First Steps in Music,’” she said. “He made up some words: ‘artfulness,’ ‘tunefulness’ and ‘beatfulness,’ and so his program works on those three aspects of music making.”

Feierabend writes of “the music that is interwoven throughout our lives” on his website, and that’s clearly a concept that Young threads into her teaching, as well.

“He advocates movement, lots of movement,” she said. She also noted that he encourages cultivating a kind of “artfulness,” a way of thinking about music that’s different from everyday speech and communication.

“You work on using the voice and you try to get the kids using their head voice,” she said, demonstrating with a soaring musical note. “Most of the kids use their speaking voice, which doesn’t get them into singing.”

Throughout her teaching, Young is tapping technology, including iPads, but she offered a caution.

“I want students to use them as a tool, rather than as a toy,” she said.

Young said she’s experimented with a “flipped classroom,” where she’s made videos to complement the material she’s presented in class and then asked students to apply lessons from those videos to their own playing. Students send her videos of themselves playing, and she gives them written feedback.

East Elementary School Fifth-grader Samantha Willems talked enthusiastically about those iPads, and she said Google Classroom is helping students to prepare for a recorder concert later in the year.

The recorder is the instrument assigned to fifth-graders.

Samantha also noted the way Google Classroom allows students to practice songs, accumulate points, and move step by step through various levels.

That, explained fifth-grader Ian Trevenen, is where practice becomes important.

“It was kind of hard reading the music on the lines,” he said. “I wasn’t used to that on the recorders. But now that we have a little bit more practice it’s been easier to read these notes.”

Ian said he’d learned to read music in Young’s classes — a point that led East Elementary School Principal Sarah Hepworth to note the importance of music classes in the students’ lives.

“For most of the students in our school, it’s probably the first exposure students have had to music,” she said.

Young describes her goal in teaching music as something that goes beyond any kind of professional preparation.

“You want them to go into life and to be an appreciator of music — and maybe make music, or at least to go to concerts, to sing lullabies to their babies, to dance nicely at their weddings,” she said. “Music is such an enrichment to life, but it’s not necessarily something that everybody is going to become a professional at.”

Contact Michael Neary at 970-875-1794 or or follow him on Twitter @CDP_Education.

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