Can you hear the cinnamon?

16 Feb

My 8-year-old daughter is not a big fan of cinnamon in her baked goods. Sometimes I make cookies or muffins and try to sneak a little cinnamon in the recipe, just because the rest of us in our house really like the spice, and still she can taste it right away. (That means more muffins for the rest of us, but that doesn’t seem quite fair.) At the same time, she loves cumin and is happy when that flavor crosses her taste buds (though, I confess, I don’t put cumin in my oatmeal cookies just ’cause she’s a cumin-lover). What I notice in all this is that she has had enough exposure to a variety of spices to actually recognize them and form opinions about them, and I am happy to have given her a rich assortment of foods to experience.

Same goes with music. Our family sings and listens to a rich variety of music (pop, blues, rock, musical theater, world music, classical), and my children can recognize (and form opinions about) the “spices” used in certain songs. Once, during a musical interlude at Sunday services, my daughter said, “Hey, they’re playing a Chinese song!” Now, I don’t know if the song was from China, but it shared the same “spice” as other Chinese songs she’d heard (she was taking Mandarin in school at the time). In this case, that “spice” she heard was the “pentatonic scale,” and the pentatonic scale is the “basic scale of the music of China” (source: Wikipedia). She recognized that pentatonic-spice quality in the song and was able to describe it with words, which allowed her to have a deeper connection to the music than she otherwise would have had. (Luckily she reacted better to the pentatonic scale than she does to cinnamon.)

Each Music Together collection is loaded with a mixture of musical spices. Most songs in our Western culture sound a certain way — they’re in a “major key” and they have a four-beat, “marchy” rhythm (think: “The Wheels on the Bus”). If we only listened to those major-marchy tunes, it would be like eating plain noodles with a little salt — all the time. Instead, we throw in songs like “The Love Song of Kangding” (not major! it’s in the “pentatonic” tonality); “Happy Puppy, Silly Cat” (not marchy! it’s got an “asymmetric meter,” with three-beat and four-beat chunks taking turns); “Mix It Up!” (not major! it’s in the “mixolydian” tonality, like The Kinks: “You Really Got Me”); and, let’s not forget the song of songs (as far as this blog is concerned), “Spin and Stop” (not major OR marchy! it’s in the “dorian” tonality AND it’s got a three-beat, waltz meter).

By giving our children this musical variety, we are filling their developing musical brains with examples of different tonalities and meters that — once they encounter them again in life — will enable them to have a deeper connection with music, a greater facility with music, a heightened appreciation for music, and a generally easier time with music. Given how many U.S. adults these days consider themselves to be completely non-musical (argh!), this is a great gift to our children!

So, why don’t you throw on a little Kinks and take a listen to “You Really Got Me,” again, now that you know it shares the same spice as “Mix It Up!”. Can you hear the “cinnamon” in both songs? Your child probably can, and that’s pretty cool.

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One Response to “Can you hear the cinnamon?”

  1. Rebecca March 7, 2011 at 1:22 pm #

    Ha! What a great analogy! After spending a week in the Caribbean this winter where we heard bachata music a lot, my toddler learned to recognize the particular ingredients in other bachata songs. As soon as he hears that steel drum and i-am-too-musically-illiterate-to-describe-it beat, he goes nuts with “bachata! bachata!” … and starts dancing, of course.

    He also requests the “Chinese song” and the “Irish song” on our Sticks album.

    As someone who doesn’t really have the words to talk about music much, it’s great when I can identify a song by some other characteristics to help my son articulate something about it (especially if it has no lyrics).

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