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

Yesterday’s workshop (The Art of Musical Play : A Summer Workshop) was a stunning time of exploring art and music through play. The day was infused with sheer joy and creativity, a refreshing reminder of the value of expressive play for adults and children alike. Julie Wylie is such an inspiration in her vast knowledge and the beautiful way she shares her love for music and people.

The perfect setting for a Summer Art Music Workshop.

Painting to "We are making music together" using long toi toi fronds.

Sam Gauntlett
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