Creating a Musical Foundation for Young Children in Bristol: The Blackbird Approach


Today’s post on Bristol Mum is written by Helen Reid, MA ARCM. A former piano finalist in the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition, Helen is the Founder of Blackbird Early Years Music, offering classes for 3.5 – 7 year olds, and instrumental lessons. Helen lives in South Bristol and has two young children.


We are constantly bombarded with research about the benefits of music for children, even starting from before they are born. As a professional pianist, teacher and mother to two young children, I am often asked by parents about the best way to introduce children to music and more specifically, to playing an instrument.

This, as well as having two small children of my own (now aged 3 and 5) inspired me to really think about the process. Children are such natural musicians, and encouraging and fostering this innate ability and love must always remain at the forefront of musical activity.

In 2014, in response to parents’ enquiries, I founded Blackbird Early Years Music classes, for 3.5-7 year olds. The classes aim to build on the natural ability of the children, whilst building a musical foundation to help ease the transition to an instrument.

The children learn to read rhythm through fun characters, and using words – the counting comes later, when they are ready. We create and improvise our own pieces; talk about how different music makes us feel, or the stories it makes us think of; and we use the body a lot, inspired by the Dalcroze method of teaching, so that the children learn to feel the pulse and the rhythm of the music.

We use original songs, composed to help children with many different musical techniques. After a few terms, the children can read rhythm confidently, which is a great foundation for instrumental learning. Children can then also progress to beginner violin or piano lessons, if they wish, which combine musicianship activities, with tuition in the instrument, in groups of 2.

One of the things I love about the small classes, is the ability to respond to the children’s individual needs and personalities. A child brought in a book he loved, and we decided that we would use some of the lesson to create some music to go with the story; the rhythms which the children copy often include their favourite animals; and the stories which the children come out with about the music they hear (which is always played live) has made me laugh, and brought tears to my eyes (‘It sounds like a girl playing cello on a hill, alone, and she is crying.’).

The children love to conduct us when we play, because as one child said ‘we get to control you!’ Seeing children grow in confidence within their group; find their voice and use their imagination is something really special, and I hope the children graduate from the classes with an enthusiasm, curiosity and love of making music together, which will stay with them.

Blackbird classes take place across Bristol, and we are currently taking bookings for new classes starting in September in Montpelier, Southville, Coombe Dingle, St George and St Werburghs ( I am always happy to chat about the classes, and the most helpful route for your child.

Please email me at