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“Where did that song come from?!”

11 Sep


question mark, exclamation pointIt’s been about a year since we played with “Here is the Beehive” in music class, but one three-year-old surprised her mom this summer and started chanting it in the backseat of the car. “Out of the blue, she started doing this,” her mom wrote to me in an email. Even though this preschooler’s parents do a lot of singing with their daughter, they’ve not chanted about those bees very much since last Fall; she simply unearthed it from her brain’s music archives all on her own. The music that children absorb early in life becomes a sort of “developmental playlist” that they can access when they’re ready — they spontaneously pull out songs from this list and sing/play with them to practice skills they’ve already mastered and explore new concepts that their developing brains are now ready to learn.

I see this in my own children, too. In my classes this Fall, as we do the Flute collection, we’ll be singing “Shake Those ‘Simmons Down.” That happens to be one song that my now-13-year-old has spontaneously sung over the years, often wondering out loud, “Where did that song come from?” Way back when he was a one-year-old, we did the Flute collection in our first semester of Music Together, so “Shake Those ‘Simmons…” was a song we listened to and sang over and over again. As a result, I like to think that he has a special section of his brain dedicated solely to this song (when he was about 7, he changed the words a bit and all of a sudden “Shake Those ‘Simmons…” became a gospel anthem).

You can help your child build her own playlist by exposing her to as much music as possible early in life — and while recorded music is lovely, it’s the live music that you make that will have the most impact (so go ahead and turn on your iPod…just sing along out loud!). One day, your child will pop out with a song seemingly from nowhere, and you’ll know that it’s been tucked away, waiting for that moment for your child to start making it her own.


“Me, me, me, me, little star…”

15 Apr

blog_me-starSTORY FROM A MOM

This weekend I co-led a workshop on how children’s brains are wired to make music and how families can use music to deepen the bonds with their children. After the workshop, a mom pulled me aside to share this story: Her 3-1/2-year-old daughter just recently made up a singing game using “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” in which the daughter sings the first phrase on the syllable “me” (“Me, me, me, me, me, me, meeee”), then points at the mom, commanding her to sing the second phrase on another syllable (say, “La, la, la, la, la, la, laaaaa”), then the turn comes back to the daughter, who chooses a third syllable, and so on to the end of the song. The mom told me that they’ve been singing together as a family since her daughter was born, making up words to songs, inventing up goofy songs about diaper changing and dinner-making and the like. Given all the family music-making, it makes sense that this little girl comes up with her own ways of singing songs and, now that she’s getting older, her own song games. The mom was so happy to learn that she was instinctively doing “the right thing” musically with her daughter (and to hear me use the very grown-up word, “improvisation” to describe her child’s creative music-making–it’s a word that freaks out adults, but children do it all the time!).


Take any song that you know well (“Twinkle, Twinkle,” “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” “Happy Birthday”), drop the usual words, and put in your own syllables. Maybe you’ll sing “me” and “you,” or “yes” and “no,” or “hi” and “bye,” or just “la-la” or “dee-dee.” Oh sure, you’ll be modeling musical “improvisation,” but you’ll also be joining in your child’s way of learning by simply playing around with the music. One day, like the mom in this story, you’ll find your child taking the lead in her own music game, and you can play along knowing you’ve laid the groundwork for her independent music-making.

Goofy, Messy Music

4 Oct

I don’t think there’s any goofier song in Music Together than “A Ram Sam Sam.” We’re singing goofy “words.” We’re making goofy hand motions. We’re “messing up” all over the place. And that’s just why this song is such a perfect teaching tool. We have way too many opportunities for our children to see and hear people making flawless music (much of the time with the help of machinery and computers to remove any flaws that make it out of the rehearsal studio). But that’s not the kind of music our children make–they make messy music that most of the time doesn’t even look to adults like music at all. So, imagine how thrilling it is for our children to see us making musical messes, too!


The next time you’re singing with your child, make as much of a musical mess as you can stand. (Hey, it’s a lot less work than making a mess in the kitchen, or with finger paints.) Turn on the radio and dance like a loon around the house, flailing your arms and waggling your tongue. Sing a song using a fake opera voice or an imitation cowboy twang. Make up wacky words to a song (“Sprinkle, sprinkle, little shoe; Sprinkly, jinkly, minkly, moo”). Pick up a ukulele and play it backwards, with the strings to your belly. Your child might laugh, might stare at you in disbelief, or might correct you, but the message that they’re getting loud and clear is that it’s OK to play around with music. And, since that’s exactly how children learn–through play–you’re communicating that their way of learning is A-OK.

Let me know what happens when you make your musical mess!

Music Helps 4-Year-Olds Become Helpers!

11 Jul

Every week, I see children and adults work together in class to not only make music within their own families but to also help each other make music as a group. And it does take work! (Especially when Miss Anne “makes” the class sing rounds or execute square dance moves.) Beyond the community of music-making, though, I see children work together to put away instruments and otherwise conform to group norms in class–something that’s really not developmentally appropriate for two-year-olds. This evening, I read an account of a study that helps explain why all this teamwork and helping behavior is taking place.

Evolutionary psychologists Sebastian Kirschner and Michael Tomasello (“Joint Music Making Promotes Prosocial Behavior in 4-Year-Old Children”) found that when four-year-old children were given the opportunity to dance and sing together, the music-making children were afterwards far more likely to help other children in need than were those who hadn’t been making music together (even though the latter group had been equally physically active and verbally interactive). Here’s what the researchers have to say:

We propose that music making, including joint singing and dancing, encourages the participants to keep a constant audiovisual representation of the collective intention and shared goal of vocalizing and moving together in time — thereby effectively satisfying the intrinsic human desire to share emotions, experiences and activities with others.

Well said. And I’ll let you decode that research-speak to your heart’s content. My take-away is this: The more we make music, the more harmonious and helping we are, and we all need more of that in life! (In a couple of days, I’ll reprise a post from my family camping trip a year ago that reinforces this assertion…and I’ll remember to sing and dance more on our trip this summer, to increase my pre-teens’ helpfulness and community-mindedness.)

So…sing and dance with your children, and give them lots of opportunity to sing and dance with each other and with other grown-ups.  Who among us couldn’t use more helpers? (And who among us couldn’t use more music?!)

For more information:

Watch Your Step!

4 Jun

Today in class, I noticed a lot of foot-watching going on. At one point, a crawling baby stopped and stared at our grown-up feet as we marched to the “top of the hill” and back down again. Another time, a toddler alternated between moving her feet and stopping to scrutinize ours. She even bent down in the middle of the song and peered intently, trying to get a close-up view of our steps.

Adults tend not to spend time foot-gazing. At lunch, for example, I opt to talk and laugh above the table top, instead of bending down under to stare at my friend’s feet. Along those same lines, the grown-ups in music class tend to engage with each other eye-to-eye, not eye-to-foot. So, we forget that children watch everything: faces, hair, arms, hands, shoulders, hips, legs, and — yes — feet. When we’re standing up, our legs and feet might receive more of the children’s visual attention than our other body parts. In those moments, what we do with our feet becomes more important to the children, and that gives us a golden opportunity to turn our toes into teaching tools.

While moving around the room — either in class or at home — take advantage of your child’s foot-focus and exaggerate your walking, marching, stomping, waltzing, and tippy-toe-ing. Your strong, purposeful movements will give your child a clear model for how to move to the beat, with her feet. It may be a long time before she is able to accurately imitate your movements, but every time she sees your beats in your feet, she is learning volumes about beat and movement and music.

Two Minutes of Baby Singing

30 Apr


In the first week of my Babies class, I pointed out how much the babies were singing (cooing and ahh-ing on pitches all over the place), and I showed the grown-ups how to reinforce this singing by echoing the babies’ sounds back to them. One mom went home that night and listened for the baby-singing she might hear at home. Every time her 7-month-old baby cooed or toned, the mom sang those sounds right back to her. Most of the time, the baby just looked at the mom when she sang back, but at one point, this coo-and-echo game expanded into two full minutes of “musical conversation.” It went something like this:

Baby: “Aahhhh”     Mom: “Aahhhh”  (on baby’s pitch)
Baby: “Ooohhh”     Mom: “Ooohhh”  (on baby’s pitch)
Baby: “Yayaya”      Mom: “Yayaya”  (on baby’s pitch)

Well…you get the picture. We reinforce early “words” (language sounds) all the time, and this reinforcement has a profound impact on language development. We do this intuitively because we just know it works. By reinforcing early singing, this mom is supporting her baby’s music development in the same way that she supports language development, and it’s such a gift to her baby.

Listen for your baby’s (or toddler’s, or older child’s) singing. (You might think it’s just talking, but I bet it’s also singing!) Whatever sounds you hear, echo them back–both the syllable and the pitch. The more you echo, the more they’ll sing again, and again, and again. You might even end up with your own two minutes of singing.

Baby Sings Skin Care Jingle! (And Mom Notices…)

16 Feb

STORY FROM A MOM (in her own words)

“I was watching TV this morning and my baby was in the room. A commercial for some European skin care product came on, and they have this cute little song that’s all in ‘la-la’ ‘words’. Well, he just started singing along. Like, literally singing along. For once I can say that I knew he was singing the same notes! I think the little song only has a couple of notes, but mostly stays in one or two, and he was totally singing the major two and even saying ‘la’ as his little musical sound. It was so shocking that it actually got my attention. Something about the melody pleased him, and I think he really liked that I noticed and went back to play along with him, as if I understood his side of the ‘conversation’. It was very sweet and cool, and without you teaching us that in MT, I don’t think I’d have noticed and had that moment…I love that you teach us so much about the way our kids play with music and are learning it like its own language at such a young age. Just like when he said, ‘Momma,’ the first time and I latched onto that and reinforced it, I know now to do the same with his musical language.”

Wow. Thank you, Momma.

(Hey…I found the commercial. Those “la-la”s are pretty catchy! This is not a product endorsement, by any means, but in case you’re interested in hearing the jingle, here it is…)