Making Music Together

Parents and kids learn to speak the language of music



life’s first musical notes at Music Together in Princeton, rhythm instruments are part of the learning fun.


Staff photo by

Mark Czajkowski

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   SLOWLY, the room began to sizzle.

   It all started with a few tentative shakes of a couple of small, egg-shaped maracas.

   First, one child gave a playful rattle, inspiring his neighbor to shake her tiny instruments with giggling aplomb.

   Then, like an irresistible fever, the blissful sound spread. Moms, dads, babies and preschoolers all moved in unison to create a gleeful, soul-stirring noise through a simple flick of the wrist and an unassuming "shick, shick, shick" sound.

   And, somewhat surprisingly, the parents were just as excited as the children. That’s precisely what the creator and instructors of the Princeton-based Music Together program are shooting for, a musical experience that is active and contagious. Children, said founder and director Kenneth K. Guilmartin, learn best and earliest when they see their caregivers making music instead of passively consuming the art form.

   "That’s the way music should be learned," said Mr. Guilmartin. The Music Together Program was created by Mr. Guilmartin and his Princeton-based Center for Music and Young Children in 1987. Students range in age from birth to 4 years old. The program springs from the belief that the ability to make music is inborn in all human beings.


Staff photo by Mark Czajkowski

Music Together’s founder and director Kenneth Guilmartin encourages moms and children to move their hands and fingers to a rhythmic beat.

   "All children have music intelligence," said Mr. Guilmartin.

   The children who rattled those egg-shaped maracas displayed that intelligence. It was the first class of the spring semester in early April but it didn’t take long for the children to pick up the rhythms Mr. Guilmartin was offering. Although many of the children were not new to the program, the collection of songs featured entitled "Maracas" was a brand-new introduction to the course.

   Mr. Guilmartin did not pass up the opportunity to take note of how the children physically involved themselves in the music. Some, he noted, held the maracas with the tips of their fingers. Others cupped them in their palms. Another child clapped them together. Mr. Guilmartin encouraged the children and parents to shake the maracas up in the air, from side to side and in a circle. That physicality of music making stems from the program’s belief that music and movement are intertwined.

   "Movement is basic to music because it is rhythm," said Mr. Guilmartin. And Music Together gets everyone moving. Caregivers do not get a free pass to sit idly by while their children explore the musical offerings. Instead, adults are urged to sing audibly, move around and play their instruments just as boldly as the children. Mr. Guilmartin said parents must be music makers themselves if they want to nurture their children’s musical abilities. "You’re not going to get it listening to a CD at 2 years old," said Mr. Guilmartin. "You get it from mommy."

   That is not to say that parents need to be able to play a musical instrument or even sing in tune. The simple acts of singing a song, clapping hands and dancing around are enough to provide an example of musical activity.


Staff photo by Mark Czajkowski

Above, Connie Sullivan and daughter, 3½-year-old Christine, count beats in Music and Movement class for 3-4 year olds.

   "You have to set the model of being a music maker," said Mr. Guilmartin. The program has seen it’s share of reticent parents but Mr. Guilmartin said the instructors know how to bring caregivers out of their shells. "We train our instructors to be good facilitators," he said.

   These instructors come from a wide variety of musical and educational backgrounds. More than 800 families are registered for spring classes in the Princeton area. Along with two Princeton locations, classes are offered in Hamilton, Hillsborough, Cranbury, Kingston, East Brunswick, Pennington, Hopewell and East Windsor.

   One of the most important aspects of the Music Together program is not what goes on in the classroom, but what happens at home. Included in the price of tuition is a songbook, CD and cassette which participants are encouraged to use outside of class. Songs featured include original compositions written by Mr. Guilmartin as well as some traditional favorites, many of which have been arranged and adapted by Mr. Guilmartin.

   Along with lyrics and sheet music, the songbooks provide suggestions on how to tailor the songs to fit each child’s everyday life. For instance, one song "Dancing with Teddy," written by Mr. Guilmartin, is a waltz-style piece that enacts a child dancing around with his or her teddy bear. The songbook suggests changing the action from dancing to reading, sleeping, snuggling or whatever is appropriate for that point in the child’s day. Doing so helps further incorporate the rhythms of the song into the child’s life. The class itself uses the songs featured on the CD, cassette and songbook along with instruments such as the maracas, drums, sticks, tambourines, bells and other age-appropriate instruments.

   For each 45-minute session, children and parents ring their bells, beat their drums, and move their bodies to the rhythms as the instructor guides the class. At times, some instructors will guide participants using a piano, guitar or violin.


Staff photo by Mark Czajkowski

Alexander looks hesitant about joining his mom, Dianne Sreba, during warm-up exercise at Music and Movement class.

   Anne Greenbaun of Pennington said her 4-year-old son Cole has definitely carried what he has picked-up in class into his everyday life. "He just incorporates music into everything," she said. "He may sing something where another child may simply say it. "Ms. Greenbaun and Cole have been attending Music Together classes since Cole was 7 months old. She said the classes have helped her family become more musical.

   "Coming here helps us incorporate music into our lives in a way we may not have otherwise," she said.

   Chris Bell of Monroe Township recently signed her 19-month-old daughter MacKenzie up for a second semester at the Music Together East Windsor location. Ms. Bell said MacKenzie also brings her classroom experiences home.

   "When I play a CD at home she can re-create the movements we’ve done in class," she said.

   Ms. Bell said she believes the program has helped MacKenzie become more musically savvy, recognizing and favoring certain types of music over others.

   Getting involved in the class has not been an issue for Ms. Bell who finds herself just as active as MacKenzie.

   "I jump right into it with her," she said.

   Ms. Bell’s attitude is right in line with one of Mr. Guilmartin’s aspirations for the program.

   "We want to appeal to the adults as much as the children," he said.

   Additionally, Music Together strives to make children more musical without burdening them with stringent goals, such as learning a particular instrument. Children are free to participate at their own pace. Mr. Guilmartin said the overall focus of the program is to help children become adept at things like singing a song and keeping a beat.

   "We want children to be able to speak the language of music," he said.

The Music Together program is offering 2002 Summer and Fall classes. For more information, visit
or call (609) 924-7801.