Tag Archives: music development

“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.


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).

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.

“My son loves those doo-doo songs!”

31 Jan


Last week, a mom came to class and told me that her son responds the most to the songs that have no words (you know, the ones that go, “doo-doo,” or “dee-dee,” or “la-la”). “He’ll try to sing along with them,” she said, “Or start singing them on his own.” This almost-two-year-old is in the thick of developing language skills, and he’s therefore naturally distracted by the words in the language-filled songs. So, when a song without words comes on, his language processing can take a break and he can just enjoy, and participate in, and play with the music. Sure enough, in class that day he “la-la’d” and “baa-baa’d” along when we started singing a “doo-doo” song (and I don’t mean a song about poop–I leave those to the grown-ups to make up at home!).

How great it is that this mom noticed the difference in her son when he heard the two different types of songs. She’s started singing more “doo-doo” songs to him at home, too, which is a beautiful honoring of what her son needs developmentally. Our children get tons of language reinforcement all day long in our language-filled culture. Being able to relax into the music of the songs without words is a wonderful musical gift to offer to our children in the middle of a “talky-talky” day.

“My baby flies over the ocean…”

24 Oct

The past couple of weeks, I’ve seen a lot of flying babies in my classes. This is mostly because I took great liberties with “My Bonnie” and led it in class as a dance-around-the-room song, including the verse, “My Bonnie flies over the ocean, my Bonnies flies over the sea…” Without fail, the grown-ups with babies held them under their bellies and zoomed those little ones around the room like private jets. While babies love this flying motion in general, they especially respond to being “flown” towards another person, another baby/child, or towards a mirror. So, when we sang, “Bring back, bring back, oh bring back my Bonnie to me, to me,” some of us swung, some of us ran, but the babies all flew to the middle of the room — right towards other adults, toddlers or babies. The smiles and squeals have been priceless.

Developmentally, babies are working on being comfortable separating from their important grown-ups, and this in-and-out flying supports that development. Moving rhythmically close and then far, close and then far, etc. allows the baby to predict the coming and going (precisely because the movement is rhythmic). Prediction gives the baby a sense of having more control, of knowing what to expect. That predicting and knowing can help ease the process of separation, even just a little. So, our flying game in class is supporting not only their music development but also their brain/social development.


Turn your baby (or toddler, or older child, if you’ve got the strength!) into an airplane and fly them here and there while you sing or dance to music. To amplify the effect, zoom your child in-and-out towards another adult, towards a sibling, or towards the mirror. If nothing else, your biceps will be ready to separate from the flying game by the time you’re done!

The Hiking Trails of the Brain

6 Sep

Each summer, my family loads up the car and heads west on Route 80 into the wilds of Pennsylvania. We’ve been camping at Clear Creek State Park since long before our children were born, and now I can’t imagine a summer without that park, its creek, and all those hiking trails. This August, I decided to explore a trail in the park that we don’t usually hike, mostly because it’s a little harder reach. Well, I can safely say that most people who wander through that park don’t hike that trail, either! The path was so overgrown in some places that we had to stop and search for signs of which way to go. That’s when I remembered a tidbit I’d read in a Music Together publication about the neural pathways in our brains being like natural pathways on the ground — the more we “walk” on neural pathways, the clearer they become; and if we don’t walk on these pathways, the become overgrown and disappear. (Maybe that’s why my French is no longer what it was when I was in high school…)

Neurobiological research suggests that the best time to establish clear, efficient neural pathways is early in life, when the brain is the most elastic and open to shaping and change. The first six years of a child’s life are critical because this is the time when neural pathways develop most rapidly. This is the stage of life when the window is fully open for musical growth and development — when they can not only listen to but also begin to understand the music they are hearing. Once these super-efficient brain trails are established, music input has a clear pathway on which to walk as the child grows and takes in more and more complex information.

If I’d been a new song hiking through someone’s brain a couple of weeks ago, instead of just plain old me hiking that overgrown trail in the Pennsylvania woods, I’d have wished for a little Music Together and family music-making to help clear out the underbrush and sharpen up that trail. We got through the hike alright, with just a few extra scratches on our legs, but the trek took longer than expected and we lost energy along the way. Think of how happy songs and rhythms and harmonies are as they travel along the hiking trails of our Music Together children’s brains — their trips are quick, their paths are clear, and they have musical energy to spare when they get to where they’re going. So, do those music hikers a favor and keep making music with your children as much as you can!

I’m Like a Kid in a Zumba Class

9 Mar

After hearing people rave about local Zumba classes for a couple of years, I finally tried one. (Surprise: I love it!) Now, if you’re in one of my Music Together classes, you know I like to get my move on (“Well, at least I don’t have to exercise today,” said one mom a few weeks ago), so it’s not surprising that I like the up-tempo, up-energy of a Zumba class. Even more fantastic than the hip shakes and salsa legs, though, is the overall attitude: It’s about having fun, not about getting it right. Now, that’s right up my alley.

In Zumba class, I feel like one of the children in my Music Together classes — I see what the “grown-ups”  (the experienced Zumba-ers) are doing,  I try the moves in my own body, and the two don’t necessarily match. But, instead of expecting that I’ll “get it right,” I let myself play (like a kid would). Sometimes the swish of my hips looks just like the teacher’s, but more often than not I’m still missing the mark. Once, I looked in the mirror and saw a look of smiling-concentration-wonder on my face, and I later thought about how many times I’ve seen that same look on a child’s face in music class.

I love that we let children come to a place of eventual mastery in their own way, at their own pace in Music Together, and I am thoroughly enjoying being on the kid-end of music development in Zumba. I think I’m getting a peek at what it’s like to be a kid in a Music Together class, and I’ve got to tell you — it’s a whole lot of let-me-be-me fun!