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“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.


See the Molly Galloping, Galloping!

8 Apr

“See the Pony Galloping” is one of those all-time favorite Music Together songs that children will ask for again and again (and again!)…especially if you scoop your child onto your lap and bounce her up and down for the gallop, or if you gallop yourself around the living room while holding her in your arms. She’ll be having immense fun, and she’ll also be learning loads about music (if nothing else, this song is a waltz, so consider this early prep for the ballroom dancing lessons she’ll take before her wedding day).


Want to take this musical experience to the next level for your child? Swap out the word “pony” for her name (or his name, if you’ve got a boy, of course). “See the Molly galloping, galloping…,” or, “See Elizabeth galloping, galloping…,” or, “See the Mason galloping, galloping down the country lane.” And, if you’re lucky, they really will be all tired out at the end of the song (so you can take a much-needed break from all that galloping).

Roo-by, Ruby, Roo (or, A Song About a Dog)

9 Oct


Today in class, a mom shared with me that she and her almost-three-year-old son have been singing their own version of the song “Sweet Potato” — about a dog named Ruby. “Roo-by, Ruby, Roo / Sing rooooo-by, ruby, roo-oo,” goes the chorus of the song, and during the verse they sing about what Ruby does. “Soon as Ruby eats all her dinner, all her dinner, all her dinner / Soon as Ruby eats all her dinner, she lies down on her bed.” Sometimes the mom makes up the words, and sometimes her son takes over. “I need to start writing down all the verses he invents,” she said. For now, they’re just having fun singing about Ruby and what she does and what she might be thinking. What a lucky dog.


You don’t have to have a Ruby in your life to make up your own words to this song. The verse on the CD is all about making and eating supper, but you could sing about going to the supermarket or brushing teeth, instead. “Soon as Mama buys eggs and sugar, eggs and sugar, eggs and sugar / Soon as Mama buys eggs and sugar, we can bake our cake!”  Or: “Soon as Molly gets out her toothbrush, out her toothbrush, out her toothbrush / Soon as Molly gets out her toothbrush, she can brush her teeth.” Let me know what you sing about at home!

“Share It Maybe?”

5 Oct

I love this.

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!

The Washing Machine Dance

30 Jul


What happens when a Music Together two-year-old helps out with the laundry? Here’s one family’s story (“S” is the daughter, “J” is the dad):

S. went to the basement to help Daddy with the laundry. J. told me she was bopping rhythmically and S. said, “I’m dancing to the music.” “What music?” he asked. “The washing machine,” she said.

One of my goals in teaching Music Together is that families get a lot of opportunity to make music without official musical instruments–we tap our laps, we stomp our feet, we snap, we clap, we buzz, we zoom, and, of course, we sing. Making music without stuff (including recorded music most of the time) means that we leave room for the music that emerges–the music we make ourselves and the “music” that always surrounds us (like my neighbor’s air conditioner’s note that I find myself humming from time to time). I hope that this is what happened with S.’s Washing Machine Dance. Maybe her ears are used to finding the beats and tones that bubble up around her, so hearing the washing machine’s rhythm and hum as music came naturally.

Next time you’ve got laundry to do, why not bring your children along and find the music in your machine? I’ve got a load washing right now, myself. Maybe it’s time to do a little dance.

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.