In Praise Of the Rhythm-Stick-Comb, the Tasty-Drum-Hat, and Other Spontaneous Musical Discoveries

14 Jun

In a recent study, researchers gave 85 four- and five-year-old children a never-before-seen toy to play with. Some children were told what the toy can do, and others were simply given the toy and allowed to discover it on their own. Get this: The more information and demonstration the researchers gave the children, the less they explored and discovered the toy; the children who were given little to no prior information explored the new toy longer and discovered more about the toy than the other children.

I’m thinking now about our Music Together classes. I say it all the time, “Grown-ups, resist the urge to show your children how to play with their eggs/drums/sticks/etc., and let them explore all on their own.” Reading the results of this study leads me to think about how well-meaning grown-ups might inadvertently close exploration pathways by showing children “the right way” to do things. In music class, by playing around with our instruments in our grown-up fashion, we are modeling ways that we have discovered to play, but we don’t mandate to our children how they should play. In fact, we oftentimes imitate the ways in which children play with instruments. In doing so, we are not only valuing the child way of playing (and discovering) but also learning new ways to use eggs/drums/sticks/etc. that we may not have discovered (since we already know “the right way”). I only started doing “comb your hair” verses with rhythm sticks after watching a little girl use her stick as a “comb,” and now it’s a way that I love to play with sticks every semester!

So, keep playing your drums (or tupperware-drums) at home in your own, grown-up way, and relax while your child turns it upside like a hat, gives it a taste or two, or puts her foot in it like a shoe. She’ll no doubt discover far more about what that “drum” can do than we ever thought possible (have you ever seen “Stomp?!”) Eventually, she’ll discover that the way you’ve been playing your drum all along works pretty well, too.  (And, maybe it’s time for a tasty-drum-hat. Hey, you never know…)


Bonawitz*, E.B., Shafto*, P., Gweon, H., Goodman, N.D., Spelke, E., & Schulz, L.E. (in press) The double-edged sword of pedagogy: Teaching limits children’s spontaneous exploration and discovery. Cognition. (* joint first author)


One Response to “In Praise Of the Rhythm-Stick-Comb, the Tasty-Drum-Hat, and Other Spontaneous Musical Discoveries”

  1. Sarah Orfe June 14, 2011 at 11:52 pm #

    Dang – I wish we could fit this onto a bumper sticker!

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