Tuneful Journey, a colorful new storefront at the North Grand Mall, offers music education to children through a special program called Kindermusik.
Wendy Nutini has owned the business since 2017 when she took over the business from Judy Keeling. Keeling had been teaching Kindermusik at Ames since 1996.
Nutini taught orchestra and music at Gilbert and South Hamilton Middle Schools for 14 years and took her own children to the Kindermusik program.
When Keeling announced his intention to retire, Nutini said, “I’ll take care of it!”
Nutini obtained his Kindermusik license and accreditation in 2017. His business was previously located in a church in South Ames.
When the mall storefront became available, Nutini renamed the business to Tuneful Journey, where it offers the only Kindermusik lessons available in town, as well as piano lessons. She says she plans to add more programs in the future.
“We’re still Kindermusik accredited, and that’s the heart and soul of what we do,” Nutini said.
She describes Kindermusik as a world-renowned, research-based, age-appropriate music and movement program for babies all the way up to 7-year-olds.
“It’s not necessarily about teaching music so much as using music as a tool to enhance child development,” Nutini said. “For example, we move to develop our balance and coordination, but it’s so much more engaging to switch to music – it’s such a natural response.”
Rhyming words in songs help build vocabulary. And the repetition of rhyming words in the stories and literature that Tuneful Journey uses also helps with language development.
“And, of course, we have instruments that help with fine motor skills and a steady beat,” Nutini said.
But it’s not just about learning musical notes and rhythms — it’s about playing through the music, she said.
“A baby’s brain doubles in size in its first year,” she said. “So you can imagine everything that’s going on in there. We love helping to form these bonds with their adults. All this emotional development is also very important to them.
Classes are also a great time for adults to disconnect – to spend time and focus on that connection.
“Children attend with their adult until they’re about 3 1/2 years old — that preschool age,” Nutini said. “Parents play with them and guide them.
Kindermusik also offers resources that parents and children can use at home, so they can continue the experience outside of school hours.
Nutini herself became involved in music at an early age, begging to learn the piano because her older sisters were taking lessons. “I asked at 3 or 4 years old, but my mother made me wait until 5 years old,” she laughed.
She found success in music during her years at Gilbert High School and studied music education at Iowa State. Her own children are now 8 and 11 and are also students at Gilbert.
Tuneful Journey also offers Play a Story lessons, which are group improvisation piano lessons.
“The piano program we use is more of a pre-piano course. It is not meant to substitute for traditional piano lessons,” Nutini said. “It helps children succeed. Piano lessons can be really overwhelming for a very young child as there is so much to learn.
The Tuneful Journey program is based on improvisation and does not use books. Classes focused on hand position and the use of creative expression, as different stories create different moods.
“They’re still learning basic theoretical concepts that will transfer over once they start reading music – but it’s still in that group setting, incorporating movement so they’re not sitting still for 30 minutes. “, said Nutini.
These piano lessons are for children around kindergarten age and are taught by Angi Nespor, a licensed piano instructor.
Group settings are valuable for children and enrolled adults, Nutini said. And there is a lot of movement during school hours.
“A common misconception is that we have to come and sit in a circle all the time while we sing songs,” she said. “Although there are times when we slow down a bit, you never expect a 2-year-old to have to stand perfectly still. We go up and down frequently. Parents sometimes compare it to an exercise class.
“There’s a lot of lifting, assisting and dancing. This is very fun.”
There’s also a great opportunity to bond between child and adult as well as child and peers – Nutini says that kind of joyful connection is an important part of the experience. Even babies are starting to learn the concept of sharing and other social skills, she says.
“I really love that about it,” she said. “And I love the reasons why we do each activity.
“It’s not just for fun.”
Playing with scarves, for example, is an opportunity to imagine this fabric as a superhero cape or a puddle. It’s also a great sensory experience as kids grab onto the material and work the little muscles in their hands, improving their throwing skills as they toss it in the air.
Tuneful Journey has a plethora of props and instruments – things like stuffed animals, hula hoops, drums, dulcimers, xylophones, tapes, storybooks, and songs.
“There’s a lot going on with every activity that lights up their brains,” Nutini said. “It’s cool for me to learn that and then communicate it in class.”