Tag Archives: music

“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.


“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.

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.

Shakers on a Plane

27 Mar


One of my Music Together families just came back from a trip to Eastern Europe, where they visited family in their homeland. They were worried about their one-year-old daughter feeling out of place in a foreign country with a foreign language, so they brought a treasure trove of things from home to keep her grounded in the familiar. Included in this “home bag” were the Music Together CDs and songbook, egg shakers, baby maracas, and a little drum. The mom shared with me that they kept the long airplane trip manageable by singing and wiggling to Music Together songs in their seats (and shaking those shakers!). I can only imagine the looks and (hopefully) smiles they got from their airplane neighbors.

Once in Europe, the family held their own mini-Music Together classes throughout the trip, including extended family members. The mom said that the music helped the little girl feel more settled, and she developed a closer bond more quickly with the previously-unfamiliar family members because they shared in making HER music.

What an inspired idea this family had! The de-stressing nature of music made it a perfect choice to bring along on the journey, especially since the little girl’s Music Together routine is so joy inducing for her and for her parents. Anyone else contemplating a long trip this Spring or Summer? Might I suggest taking along some shakers for your plane, too? The folks across the aisle would likely much rather hear a family sing than a child scream, and everyone will be a little less stressed on the trip.

Baby Sings Skin Care Jingle! (And Mom Notices…)

16 Feb

STORY FROM A MOM (in her own words)

“I was watching TV this morning and my baby was in the room. A commercial for some European skin care product came on, and they have this cute little song that’s all in ‘la-la’ ‘words’. Well, he just started singing along. Like, literally singing along. For once I can say that I knew he was singing the same notes! I think the little song only has a couple of notes, but mostly stays in one or two, and he was totally singing the major two and even saying ‘la’ as his little musical sound. It was so shocking that it actually got my attention. Something about the melody pleased him, and I think he really liked that I noticed and went back to play along with him, as if I understood his side of the ‘conversation’. It was very sweet and cool, and without you teaching us that in MT, I don’t think I’d have noticed and had that moment…I love that you teach us so much about the way our kids play with music and are learning it like its own language at such a young age. Just like when he said, ‘Momma,’ the first time and I latched onto that and reinforced it, I know now to do the same with his musical language.”

Wow. Thank you, Momma.

(Hey…I found the commercial. Those “la-la”s are pretty catchy! This is not a product endorsement, by any means, but in case you’re interested in hearing the jingle, here it is…)

“It’s not about being perfect…”

14 Feb

At the Grammy Awards this past Sunday, the band Foo Fighters won the awards for Best Rock Album, Best Rock Song, and a few others. The lead singer, Dave Grohl, said something incredible during an acceptance speech: “The human element of making music it’s what’s most important…It’s not about being perfect. It’s not about sounding absolutely correct. It’s not about what goes on in a computer. It’s about what goes on in here [pointing to his heart] and it’s about what goes on in here [pointing to his head].”

The music industry, and its ever-more refining production techniques, have resulted in a proliferation of recorded music that no human can really, truly sound like. When “regular” people listen to that music–and compare the music they make to that recorded product–they come away thinking that only people who sing or play like the recording have the right to make music. And, since that “music” is created by a team of technicians, computers, and other equipment, the truth is that no one person can ever sound like the recording. It’s an impossible standard that leaves the millions of musical people in this world feeling like they aren’t musical at all.

Baloney! “It’s not about being perfect…It’s about what goes on in [your heart] and it’s about what goes on in [your head].” If we can impart to our children the core belief that the music they make is valuable in it’s own right, exactly as it is–without alterations or corrections or auto-tuning (please, no auto-tuning)–then we will have given them the power to express their musical selves, the freedom to enjoy the music around them, and the armor to deflect the cultural expectations of unachieveable perfection. Now, that’s something that’s pretty close to perfect, if you ask me.

The Musical Pacifier

13 Feb


Over the past couple of weeks, I have noticed four babies/toddlers sucking pacifiers in rhythm to the music we’re making in class. There’s a lot of cultural pressure in our society for parents to “un-plug” children with pacifiers, so I try to reassure grownups that it is OK for their little ones to keep pacifiers (or nursing moments, or thumb-sucking) during music time. But, sometimes those parents and caregivers need extra reinforcement. Well, here it is: For pre-verbal children, pacifiers are great in music class! As we sing and move to the beat around these little ones, our music stimulates their brains and bodies. And since these children clearly have a natural need to suck, a key way that they join in is through their mouths. And, doesn’t this make sense? When we grownups sing, our mouths are totally in action, so the pacifier-children participate with their mouths, in their way. I’m lucky that I know what to look for, because when I see a pacifier bouncing up and down to the microbeat or hear a baby humming the resting tone of the song we’re singing, I get a little thrill. And you can get that thrill, too! The next time your child has a pacifier in class and you’re worried that she can’t participate if she’s “plugged up,” take a breath and look for pacifier-beats, or lean in close to hear a pacifier-hum. Then, relax and know that your child’s music isn’t being plugged up at all.

Want more on this subject? Check out one of my previous posts on pacifiers in music class.