String & Keyboard Musik: inspiring young children to become music makers

Cameron Bray, editor of Music Teacher and head of content (music) for Music & Drama Education Expo
Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Following a difficult childhood medical experience, Karen Karana Tse decided to dedicate her life to music. Eventually, she set up the String & Keyboard Musik programme, a captivating method of introducing music to children. She is now bringing the programme to the UK, where it is poised to meet a growing demand for music provision in early years.

Currently, music education in England is governed by a publication called ‘The importance of music: a national plan for music education’ (commonly referred to as the National Plan for Music Education). Published in 2011, the document has served as the backbone for the provision of music education and resulted in the subject being devolved to local hubs which operate with a great degree of autonomy. In theory, this model allows a hub to react to the needs of its community. However, there are a number of shortcomings with the National Plan, including that it only provides funding for music education between the ages of five and 18. Some hubs do offer provision outside of this but they must seek funding for it elsewhere, resulting in patchy provision.

The National Plan was only intended to last until 2020, and its replacement is currently in the consultation phase. Several recent research publications indicate that funding will be expanded to cover music education from birth to 25, but there are already those working hard to meet the clear need.

String & Keyboard Musik
Karen Karana Tse is the founder of String & Keyboard Musik, an innovative programme that seeks to help young minds learn music in a fun and accessible way. When she was nine, Karen required brain surgery to remove a dangerous blockage which was impeding blood flow, and again three years later. It was during this second set of surgery that Karen’s doctors advised her to take up music.

‘After both surgeries, doctors were concerned that my illness would affect my brain development at such a young age – at which point they suggested that I begin training in music and learn different musical instruments to stimulate my brain development and to assist with the recovery from my surgeries,’ she says.

‘Since then, my diligent practice in musical instruments has afforded me the ability to tremendously improve my memory, coordination, reactions and language development.’

What followed was an exciting musical career, beginning with the piano and eventually including both violin and harp. This love of music led Karen to study music therapy in Canada before returning to Hong Kong where she proceeded to teach for about a decade.

Inception and implementation
During her time teaching, Karen found that her younger students struggled to focus for long periods of time, which slowed their progress. These experiences caused her to develop teaching methods which would respond to the needs of a developing mind. In 2015, Karen launched the String & Keyboard Musik Programme, aiming to bring her methods to a wider audience.

‘Music has changed my life,’ says Karen. ‘Inspired by my personal trauma and experience, I have started various musical programs and lessons with the firm belief that proper musical learning dramatically improves children’s brain development and can further enrich their lives ahead.’

The company has achieved a huge amount of success in such a short time, with a presence in five countries across the world including the USA, France and China. 

The programme uses brightly coloured instruments to engage budding musicians. The strings of the harp and violin are individually coloured, meaning that students as young as two can follow simple tunes, which helps with a number of key development areas such as language, dexterity and memory. By introducing key musical concepts which do not require knowledge of notation – such as pitch and tempo – at an early age, children can engage with music in a meaningful way, satisfying their natural desire for creativity and self-expression. The lack of traditional notation means that this method is accessible for non-musical practitioners.

The two levels of the programme are designed for ages 2 to 8, after which students progress onto regular instruments. This gradual approach helps avoid frustrations that can arise if young students start with traditional instruments.

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