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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).

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!

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:

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!