Why Sing the Blues?

Babies and young children respond to the use of the “Blues Scale” and the use of echo songs (call and response) that are a natural part of singing and playing jazz and the blues. If parents aren’t sure of how we use the blues, the first song “Bop it in the Rocket” on my CD “Bop it in the Rocket” is a great musical example of how we this minor blues scale with echo, nonsense words (scat).

The babies in our musical play classes for babies really get into the groove of singing, moving and communicating when we come to the blues section of our musical play. Often a baby will take over the singing using shrieks, squeals, singing clear musical notes and showing obvious pride when we all copy his/her sounds. We sing this song using the babbling sounds of young babies and they quickly start joining In with their own movements and sounds. We sing the blues echoing the babies. They demonstrate obvious enjoyment of the repetition, predictability and emotional quality of the blues.

The blues originated from African Americans and has played a huge part in American Music history and in many of our pop songs. The blues helped the singers to express a wide range of emotions, to move, sing about their experiences, to draw comfort and inspiration from these songs.  Many of the pop songs we enjoy have been inspired by the blues. Jazz originated from the blues. Composers like Gershwin use a lot of jazz and blues elements in their music.

When a parent and their child get into the swing of communication this leads to wonderful singing, moving, turn taking that resembles the singing and taking of parts of  Jazz musicians. This bluesy singing and playing has strong rhythmic and melodic elements.

The baby or young child might take the lead as conductor. The parent copies the sounds, gestures of the child. This reinforces what he baby is offering and gives vital feedback which helps the child to develop a strong sense of self and pride in their musical offerings. This turn taking is the beginning of communication. What is happening is a kind of musical sound game between two musical people: parent and child enjoying every moment of their blues games. There is a real sense of structure, waiting, watching, listening, appreciating, turn taking, feeling the emotional bonds of connection.

Trevarthen says that even a newborn can take the lead in the earliest  “conversations” between mother and child. Although the infant’s sounds have no semantic meaning they are conversational in terms of the exchange of sounds and gestures. To quote the words of the well-known song by Irving Mill and Duke Ellington: “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing”.

With our older children 3 years and upwards we use the blues scale using a range of props, so that they can see, hear and feel the pitches (notes) and start to use elements of this scale in their own play. A grandmother showed me a video of her grandson listening to ” Teddy Bear Blues ” track 4 from my CD “Swing Me A Song” . He kept dancing and singing along. When the song stopped he would put it on again on his IPad. She said he had been practising his dance moves every day with the repeated song and she could hear him singing snatches of the blues in his everyday play.  I quote a seven year old from my after school music class who was dancing and singing his own words: ” I really, really, really love to sing the Blues, and I like wearing my blue suede shoes”.

References:

Bjorkvold, J.R. (1989) The Muse Within. Harper Collins. New York

Trevarthen, Colwyn 1988) “Infants Trying to Talk: How a Child Invites Communication from the Human World.” In Ragnhild Soderbergh, ed. Children’s Creative Communication. Lund and Kent.


Testimonials

Dearest Julie, Today you are celebrating 25 years of Julie Wylie Music in the Christchurch Transitional Cathedral with a Christmas Concert for Early Childhood. Even though we are in Canberra, Australia I want to acknowledge the profound influence your work has had on our work. Every time I go into an early childhood setting there you are on my shoulder as a major mentor, smiling that beaming smile and advocating on behalf of following the child and play-based learning, moment by moment making magical, musical connections. Spending time with you in the Champion Centre some time ago observing your work was a huge privilege. Hearing you articulate the basis of your own philosophy, your own story, your understanding of neuroscience and music, and your passion for music-making has been nothing short of inspiring. We stand on your shoulders to share the gift of music with many other children and their families here in Canberra. Today we honour your enormous contribution and carry your energy in our hearts and into every musical interaction. I hope today many other also acknowledge your enormous contribution in the field of early childhood musical play and music therapy.

Love, Emma & all at Rocking Horse Music, Canberra, Australia xxxxxxxxxxxx

Rocking Horse Music, Canberra, Australia
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