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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.

MT, Unplugged

9 Nov

Hurricane Sandy brought many challenges, including loss of power, loss of heat, and loss of sleep. But for some families, it also brought an opportunity to sing Music Together songs without the CD. I call it “MT, Unplugged” (sorry, MTV). Here are two of those stories.


“Every night after dinner, we usually put on our Music Together CD and sing along–it helps fill those two ‘witching hours’ between dinner and bedtime. But with no power, we couldn’t play the CD. Then I realized, ‘I have the sheet music in the book!’ So, we lined candles along the piano (very dangerous!), and I played every song in the Fiddle book over and over again. We sang those songs for two hours every night, and it turned those hard evenings into happy family time.”


“We have to play the Music Together CD multiple times every day–it’s the only thing that soothes my son when he’s cranky. When we lost power, I wondered what we were going to do! So then, I just started singing the songs. I’d look at the CD case and do the songs that I remembered (some of them, I couldn’t figure out from the title, so I just skipped those). We sang ‘Ram Sam Sam’ and ‘Sweet Potato’ and ‘Apples and Cherries’ over and over and over. My son loved it!”

The wonderful upshot is that the music means even more to these children now that their parents are singing the songs without the CD. The hurricane left a lot of disaster in its wake, so I’m grateful to have found some bits of silver lining that resulted in joy-filled moments and the rediscovery of home grown music-making. TRY THIS AT HOME: Don’t wait for a power outage–turn off the stereo, iPods, etc. and sing and dance to music on your own, unplugged!

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!

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.

DIY Music Together

5 Jul


He never comes to class and I’ve never met him, but when a certain dad wanted to craft the perfect 1st birthday party for his daughter, he put together a do-it-yourself Music Together experience that (ahem) rocked. He created a set list, printed up a program and lyric sheets, and stocked their living room with shakers, drums and scarves. Then he and his wife led all the other party-goers’ parents in their DIY Music Together class.  The grownups sang “Hello” and “Goodbye,” of course, and in between they shook eggs, danced with scarves, sang quietly, and belted to the rafters. I love what this communicates to the birthday girl (and all her music-making friends)–that music isn’t just something we do once a week in class but something we do on our own, in our home, with our friends and family, in our own way.


You don’t have to wait for a birthday party or other special occasion. If you’ve never done your own mini-Music Together class at home, why not give it a try? (In addition to your regular routine of music-making at home, of course.) You don’t have to print up programs and lyric sheets–just start with “Hello,” end with “Goodbye,” and toss in a few other songs in between. And, if you can get family and friends to join you, even better. If you’re anything like me, the items on my DIY to-do list are pretty overwhelming (paint the bathroom, fix the porch light). Why not go the music DIY route, instead? It’ll be much more fun!


“She screaming! … She quiet.”

2 Jul


Here’s a video of the group Alabama Shakes performing their song, “Hold On,” on the David Letterman Show. A mom sent me the link after her two-year-old daughter responded to it in an interesting way. “She likes to talk about the dynamics,” the mom wrote. Her daughter notices the contrasts in volume and energy throughout the song and adds her two-year-old commentary: “She screaming!,” or, “She quiet.” This is why it’s so much fun to play with contrasts in dynamics (loud/soft), tempo (fast/slow), pitch (high/low), and so on–children are searching for those sharp contrasts to help them learn more efficiently. Was this little Alabama Shakes fan more tuned into the dynamics because of our play in class? Who knows. All that really matters is that she’s noticing, learning, and talking about it…and her mom is listening.