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!


Singing With Others – The Key to a Long, Happy Life

1 Oct

Recently I caught an installment of “This I Believe” on the radio, and I discovered what experimental musician/producer Brian Eno holds to be his truth: that singing–especially singing with others–is the key to long and happy life. In his words:

Well, there are physiological benefits, obviously: You use your lungs in a way that you probably don’t for the rest of your day, breathing deeply and openly. And there are psychological benefits, too: Singing aloud leaves you with a sense of levity and contentedness. And then there are what I would call “civilizational benefits.” When you sing with a group of people, you learn how to subsume yourself into a group consciousness because [group singing] is all about the immersion of the self into the community. That’s one of the great feelings—to stop being me for a little while and to become us. That way lies empathy, the great social virtue.

It’s no surprise that I agree! I also believe that singing (and music-making in general) is an essential part of life. What I especially appreciate in Brian Eno’s words is his focus on the power of making music together. I see it all the time in class–adults who never met before this semester share a laugh, a moment, an awareness of one another that they would not have discovered if their children had merely played together at the park. Music connects us in a way that other interactions simply cannot.

Eno declares that the world would be a better place if singing were included in the core of school curricula, and I heartily agree. But even if that were to happen, those of us over 18 would still have to find our own opportunities for group music-making. Thankfully, we sing together all the time in my house, and I know my children will do the same with their children, and so on. I hold the deep hope that families in my classes are doing the same–establishing a lifelong routine (and legacy) of singing together. If Brian Eno is right, we’ll all be smarter, healthier, and just plain happier for it.

To read the transcript of Brian Eno’s “This I Believe,” follow this link: And, don’t miss his paragraph that begins, “I believe that singing is the key…” Hot stuff!

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.

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!


“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.

Unconditional Music Love: “I love to hear you sing”

8 Jun

I remember being in 6th grade and singing a song to myself in school — maybe at recess? maybe in the cafeteria? — and some boy saying, “Hey, who sings that song?” After I called out the name of the singer, the boy said, “Better let HIM sing it then…’cause you sound AWFUL!” Ha, ha. Very funny. And I can still feel the sting of that “joke.”

As children go through life, they all encounter “music bullying” like this. Sadly, it seems to be a part of our culture. As parents, perhaps we can provide an antidote to this kind of music bullying. WE CAN SING!  The more our children hear us sing, whether we’re “good” at it or not, the more they develop an understanding that music is just something we do as part of our daily lives, regardless of what other people do or say. And, we can say to our children, “I LOVE TO HEAR YOU SING” — regardless of what they’re singing or how they’re singing. (Of course, we can do the same thing with instrument play: “I love to hear you fool around on the guitar.” Or, “I love to watch you play the drums.” And we can fool around and play ourselves, too.)

Instead of being so focused on the end result, saying, “I love to hear you sing,” simply honors the process of singing, regardless of outcome. It’s unconditional musical love. Instead of saying things like, “You sound great,” (which is all about the product, not the process) it’s easy just to say, unconditionally, “I love to hear you…,” or, “I love to see you…” That’s what I strive for in music class — with the children AND the parents — and it’s what I strive for at home. I’m hoping that when some music bully says to my kids, “You couldn’t carry a tune if it was in a bucket!,” the unconditional music love antidote will go to work, and they’ll just keep on singing.