Barbara Cass-Beggs was born in Nottingham, England in 1904. She studied at the RCM (Royal Conservatory of Music) and taught music to children. In 1939, she moved to Canada and served as the director of the University Settlement Music School in Toronto, taught at the Conservatory of Music at the University of Regina in Canada, and founded the Regina (later Saskatchewan) Junior Concert. She collected and recorded a number of Canadian folk songs. She initiated music courses for teachers of pres-schoolers at Algonquin College, Ottawa, in 1969, and taught music to children while lecturing to teachers.
Listen, Like, Learn and Your Baby Needs Music
Barbara Cass-Beggs created a method for teaching music, which combined principles established by Orff and Kodaly—attempting “to help children discover the relation of music to the other arts. It also is concerned with basic training in pitch and rhythm” and provided age-appropriate ways to teach music to children. In 1983, she named her program Listen, Like, Learn and traveled around the world presenting papers and giving classes. Utilizing the Listen, Like, Learn method, Your Baby Needs Music classes were for children from birth to age two and Your Child Needs Music was for children from ages two to four. In 1982, Cass-Beggs was awarded the Children’s Service Award by the Association for Early Childhood Education.
Cass-Beggs wrote many wonderful books, including:
Your Baby Needs Music
Canadian Folk Songs for the Young
Your Child Needs Music: A Complete Course in Teaching Music to Children
Folk Lullabies, 77 Traditional Folk Lullabies From Every Corner of the World
The Listen, Like, Learn Approach
The Listen, Like, Learn Approach grew out of Barbara’s observations that children respond well to musical experiences that include “Listening, because he enjoys music;liking, because he is participating; and learning, which is wanting to discover something more about music (Cass-Beggs 1986, 17). “Your child must like music before he/she can learn it. The earlier she learns to listen to music and enjoy it, the more she is likely to benefit” (Cass-Beggs 1986, 13) “The basic elements of the Listen – Like – Learn program are the basic elements of music, which are: singing, movement, rhythm and melody, and these elements can only be introduced successfully if, at the same time, the children are learning to listen” (Cass-Beggs 1986, 21).
Cass-Beggs describes conditions which help children to learn music effectively as being:
- Security and Stability: This includes having a musical outline that follows a logical sequence, because children like a sense of order and security. Activities should be geared for the child’s developmental readiness offered within an age appropriate amount of time. In addition, “infants’ sense of security is helped by continuing the rhythms and sounds to which they have become accustomed as a fetus” (Cass-Beggs 1981, 132).
- Curiosity: It is important to arouse each child’s curiosity since “children learn because they are curious” (Cass-Beggs 1986, 13).
- Feelings and Emotions: For babies, feelings and emotions “take precedence over the cognitive and intellectual skills.” They “trigger interest in new things” and thus are an integral part of each baby’s development. “The use of imaginative and emotional skills is a vital learning tool” (Cass-Beggs, 1986, 13). This can also be referred to as expression (Cass-Beggs 1986, 86).
- Imitation: Babies enjoy imitation, and imitation “plays a major role in the learning process. If a child can satisfy her curiosity, feelings, emotions, and imitate those she loves there is not reason why she shouldn’t learn all the time! Isn’t it the adult, not the child, who thinks that learning is something unnatural, difficult or boring?” (Cass-Beggs 1986, 13)
- Variety: “Babies love novelty, not tedium. They enjoy complex patterns and bright colors, and dislike over-repetitiveness and lack of imagination. Because of their short attention span, babies and young children concentrate better when they are not expected to participate in one event for very long.” (Cass-Beggs 1986, 13).
- Dynamics can be used to create variety through various musical techniques such as the gradation of loudness and softness in the musical tones (Cass-Beggs 1986, 86).
In a forward to one of Barbara’s books, Klara Kern, Professor of Music in Vienna, Austria commented that the prerequisites that Barbara found important for a truly good music lesson were “opening the ear for sounds, noises, and melodies; the involvement of the mother; awakening a feeling of rhythm, and getting acquainted with different kinds of music and instruments” (Cass-Beggs 1986). William Belanger, from the University of Ottawa’s Department of Education called Barbara’s approach “facilitative rather than intrusive since she respects the integrity of each child as a unique and worthy person” (Cass-Beggs 1986). These all correlate with recent findings in the field of brain development.
Barbara passed away in 1990, before the plethora of information surfaced provided by technology on baby brain development. Despite this, she knew how to look at research on infants and music, and draw conclusions that were startlingly similar to what has been proven recently about the connection between brain development and optimal learning environments, ritual, repetition with variety, connections with caregivers, language development, emotional health, movement, social skills, and relaxation.
Barbara was well ahead of her time in terms of making connections between research, child development, and the importance of programs for children. In addition to writing age-appropriate songs for very young children, teaching music to children, and training teachers, Barbara wrote on music in connection with the skills babies are born with and what they are capable of, using the voice as an instrument, music as a way to trigger speech, promoting positive body image through body awareness, creating optimal learning environments, expression emotions, dealing with stress and learning how to relax, promoting security through recreating the atmosphere of the womb, the need for repetition with variety, learning through play, including movement, music as an equalizer, and the importance of lullabies and croons. For teachers of music, Barbara promoted the importance being enthusiastic, using nursery rhymes, recognizing different learning styles, using musical instruments, and following a structure. She told leaders not to worry about whether or not they were professional singers; she gave some singing tips but asserted that enthusiasm, motivation, personal warmth, and connection with the children were most important. Barbara also mentioned the value of using music for children with disabilities and for bringing together people from different cultures as a universal language.
Barbara’s work is a gift to all of us. Barbara wrote in language that is easily understood and her words make so much sense! If you would like more information about Barbara and her work, please consider reading her books Your Baby Needs Musicand Your Child Needs Music.