Have you noticed the innate musicality of babies and young children? Watching and listening to the babies in our music class on Monday was pure joy. After singing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and leaving a pause at the end, a baby aged 6 months sang the fifth note (the note that the second word “Twinkle” is pitched on). I waited and watched her. She started moving and waving her hands and sang the note again, a clear signal that she wanted the song sung again. When we sang it again she beamed and wiggled with delight. At the end of the song, another little boy aged 7 months repeated the last note, which was immediately imitated by another baby.
Mothers and fathers were smiling with pride when we watched, waited and listened, and another baby blew a raspberry, while another sang a little motif, setting the tone for more vocal exploration.
The secret to musical play for babies and young children is to give them time, to use pauses, to echo their sounds, and follow their lead. When a baby sings a note, I always copy. Parents quickly learn to echo what their babies are singing. One mother said on Monday that she has noticed how her little girl Georgie is singing when she wakes up and will practise her singing in her cot for some time, before she will give a cry as if to say, “Come and pick me up”.
Older children love it when parents sing and play with them. Several parents have told me that their children are giving concerts at home, taking pride in being the conductor and delighting in leading the family in musical play. For example, Sam aged 3, found a piece of driftwood at the beach, which is now his microphone. He and his Dad have created a little stage area in their lounge and every night before he goes to bed he sings to his parents and siblings and gets them to join in. His parents have filmed these sessions and say it is a daily highlight for them all and is the perfect way of getting the children ready for bed.
Take time to watch, wait, listen and wonder through musical play. You are helping to promote your children’s musicality and creativity, as well as musical bonds of loving interaction with your child.
Today we had one of our relationship based baby music classes. The babies, their mothers, and a grandmother, had only had one previous music session together. Last week we had improvised together, with the mothers and grandmother joining in echoing and singing the blues. We didn’t use words, but rather babbling sounds and sounds from the babies themselves. In this first session, several of the babies sat and watched, taking everything in, watching, waiting and listening intently. If we think of the mirror neurons firing in the babies’ brains as they watched and listened, this explains the purpose of these neurons. As we can imagine, all these babies’ brains were trying to figure out how the sounds were created, in preparation for being able to mirror or echo them back. The babies were responding emotionally and physically to our music making and everyone in this group was connected through the musical play (Levitin, 2006).
don’t simply memorise every word and sentence they’ve ever heard. Rather, they
learn rules about musical form and apply them in perceiving and generating new
speech and use of musical language. Babies often sing their first words.
Through watching, waiting, listening, and use of sound and silence, the
children are not simply imitating what they learn through their senses, but
rather, their brains are developing theories and rules about speech and the
language of music that they can then apply in their own musical play.
The Power of Imitation and Echo Songs
This week, in our second session, all of the mothers and babies were relaxed and happy, able to anticipate the musical sequence of events. We started with a “Hello Song” singing to each baby in turn. Half of the babies reached out to touch the marionette puppet as it danced for them one by one. There were lots of smiles, as well as anticipation and turn taking. There was a clear predictable structure to the whole music session, with a clear beginning, middle and end.
After the Hello Song, I sang a pitch song using a five note scale, with the pitch matching the physical massage of the babies’ feet, knees, tummy, shoulders and head by the mothers, who used firm pressure to massage their babies in time to the song, which started on the note C and went up to G, in the C major scale. This scale is within the child’s pitch range middle C – A. Regular use of such scale songs helps babies and young children to sing in tune. The earlier we sing to babies, the more likely they are to develop perfect pitch and to sing in tune.
When we introduced the drums and started improvising, matching the babies sounds and movement, several babies started bouncing and using their singing voices tunefully with our singing. Sometimes it was a single calling note, or a vocal pattern. Rose, aged one year, sang, bounced and briefly played on the drum, smiling and looking very proud of her music making. She looked at me intently when I matched her actions and sang her note. The babies started crawling into the middle of the circle and their play was intentional, musical, interactive and very engaging. They were leading me in our musical play.
After our improvisation, the grandmother joyfully shared a bouncing song from her childhood called “Walter Wagtail”, thereby passing on a vital part of her early childhood music tradition. This is how we develop a sense of music community within each musical play group. There is no right or wrong way to play, and families interact musically and learn how to play musically at home, throughout daily routines and playful times together.
In an earlier class, one of our former music babies Audrey, now aged “four and three quarters”, came over to play a beautiful sounding wooden tongue drum duet with me. When she was six months old, she used to end musical phrases with three beat rhythmic patterns which were always in perfect time, always musical, and which always completed each of my musical phrases. Today she was anticipating every aspect of my drum play. She matched my energy levels and took the lead, but could just as easily follow my musical sequences. She played confidently and musically with me, in front of the whole group and we finished on the same beat. Like a jazz musician, Audrey showed an amazing sense of timing, emotional engagement and ability to weave her rhythmic and tuneful patterns to fit in with my play. She made use of humour, dramatic pauses and rhythmic patterns. Her music had a natural sense of rhythmic flow and sensitivity to whatever I played. Her musicality flows into everything she does and she moves and plays with an innate sense of grace, creativity and pride.
When we sing, dance, interact and play musically with our babies and young children we are helping to prepare them for their mental and emotional life ahead. It is so beneficial for health, self-confidence, well-being, musicality and general learning – and it’s fun!
Levitin, D. J. (2006). This is Your Brain on Music. Dutton. Penguin Books. London, England.
Recently I was presenting at the New Zealand Home Based Care National Conference in Auckland. Kimberley Crisp inspired me with her passionate presentation, in which she challenged us to think of our daily interactions with our children as “choreography of the soul, fuelled by love which grows the brain”.
She started with the question: “How am I with myself?”
To get to the heart of the art of loving, interactive musical play, we must first love ourselves and see ourselves as worthy play partners, worthy of imitation. How do we develop relationship? “Emotional satisfaction and enjoyment is the key to creative free play”. We can learn to let go our inhibitions, think from our heart, trust our intuition and enjoy each moment as play partners, knowing there is no right or wrong way to play. Thus, we are building strong bonds of love in a secure relationship, which is the essence of helping the infant to make a positive start in life.
Musical play allows us to engage the heart and soul of the child as we journey together from birth as equal play partners. “Children are biologically programmed to play”. The child leads, and we follow. This innate turn taking validates the child’s offerings. We are watching, waiting, hearing, seeing, and imitating, allowing the child to fly. When we empower the infant to be the leader, there is a strong sense of timing, rhythm, gesture, and movement. The level and depth of play is dependent on rich relationship, humour, imitation, rituals, routines, repetition, and loving care. Many researchers describe playful communicative interactions between mothers and infants as being musical and “dance like” (Malloch and Trevarthen 2008 p.1).
As followers of the child we need to:
View the child as the miracle they are.
Understand that we are physical, but we are incredibly divine.
Help them to develop a strong sense of self and compassion for others.
Give them many opportunities to explore the world through play.
Help them to see a world of opportunities and possibilities.
View the world with the sense of wonder of a child.
Be consistent in all that we think, feel, say and do.
Be in a constant state of learning.
Value the precious moments of childhood.
Take time to play, and delight in the lost in the moment joys of interactive play.
Realise that childhood is short and we are the decisive key to relationship and inspiration.
Take opportunities to swing together in joyful harmony and synchrony.
Malloch, S., and Trevarthen, C. (2008). Musicality: communicating the vitality and interest of life. In S. Malloch and C. Trevarthen (eds) Communicative Musicality: Exploring the Basis for Human companionship, pp1-11. (Oxford: Oxford University Press)
Following on from the previous blog, here are some beautiful video clips of Elsie and her mother Frances, enjoying musical play, as they sing and improvise together. Their songs are full of musical expression, including use of teasing, humour, joy and love. They play around with sounds, matching each other, using loud and soft, fast and slow, and high and low.
At 14 weeks (clip 4), Elsie’s singing is becoming increasingly structured, with a sense of timing, rhythm and use of pitch. She and her mother sing on the same notes and copy each other. Their music interactions are like watching tennis players. Elsie sings to her mum, and her mum sings back to her, with distinct turn taking occurring. Their songs have pronounced pitch contours, they are slow with lots of repetition, and include accented sounds that each player picks up on.
When we play and really enjoy the lost in the moment playful activities, our brains release the chemical dopamine that gives us a sense of excitement, joy and allows us to move in a highly coordinated way. Play stimulates our senses, creativity, learning. It activates our brains, with over 80% of our nervous system involved in processing and organisingall the sensory input from our bodies and the surrounding environment.
Play with your child and give them many rich sensory experiences within a secure, nurturing environment. Appreciate nature. Look at the moon, a sunrise, a beautiful sky. Go to the beach, swim together, play in the park, go for walks to new and interesting places, climb a hill, trees, explore, make up songs, stories, dance, read, go to the library, cook together, collect treasure, make things with the treasure you find.Move, dance, sing and play. Playing keeps you young and vibrant. When we are playful we are flexible,relaxed, loving, sociable, creative. We can take risks, we can come up with new ideas. Taking time out to play helps us to problem solve and come up with new solutions and new ways of doing things.
Children learn the art of play. They learn how to do things in a variety of ways and how to adapt to changes. They learn to play alone or with others. They learn how to lead and how to follow.They learn the rules of play and can also create new rules of their own in a playful game. Through play we learn to let go of the things that are stressful. Play involves laughter, humour, sharing and caring.Wonderful carefree play builds strong, positive memories that stay with us for life.
Babies are play partners from birth. Play is as important for them as food and sleep. Play gives babies and children a strong sense of belonging, connection and wellbeing.When parents spend much time gazing at, talking,singing, dancing playing, touching, holding their baby, this helps healthy brain development, promoting high levels of oxytocin and endorphins in the brain. Play fosters a strong loving relationship which is essential for helping children to become confident, caring, creative, self assured and loving members of society.
Take time to play, to laugh, to make music, to enjoy the wonders of nature, be flexible and enjoy all the rich playful experiences together. It will build strong bonds of love, energise, inspire, enrich your life and your soul.
The children are now responding to our weekly music sessions and seem more comfortable and relaxed enabling them to participate more freely. The older nursery children are now recognising the tunes and joining in with the songs they are now familiar with through the repetition and revisiting that Julie and Sarah are using in the sessions. The younger children are following the instructions in the songs and following the lead of their older peers and teachers supporting the concept of tuakana-teina and a reciprocal learning environment. All the children are really enjoying the session and enthusiastically join in with extended concentration and it has become a wonderfully joyous time for all of us.
The nursery teachers have all observed and had conversations on how much more the children are singing in their play. Some of the children are replicating the pitch songs we have been doing, “ba, ba, baaaa” etc and have initiated it all on their own as they play. We have also noticed the children are much quicker to respond to music when we play it through the sound system. There has even been an increase in the amount of parents coming into the centre and asking about certain songs that they have heard their children singing at home and if they can learn them so as to join in. This has been a fantastic response and shows how the tamariki have taken their learning from preschool and using it to express themselves in other environments and contexts.
The nursery teachers have all made a conscious effort to incorporate music more into their practice, not just at set music times. The teachers have begun to use the concepts of pattern, rhythm and pitch into a lot of different aspects of their day to day teaching, from spontaneous teaching moments to routine times. The children respond really well to the singing especially when they recognise the pitch or a tune that they have learnt during music time.
The music sessions have been beneficial for both the children and teachers in many ways. It has given the children new ways to express themselves, especially with many nursery children being non-verbal and it has provided new means of communication between both the children and teachers. The teachers have learnt new strategies of incorporating music into their practice as well new ideas to freshen up our existing music programme. It has been a great reminder of how important music is for our very young children and made the nursery environment much more musical.
Kiwi, Pukeko Music Reflections (2 ½ – 3 ½ year olds)
The things we have noticed in the preschool with having the music sessions integrated on a weekly basis is that children are including music elements in their own directed play and singing among themselves and to each other. Children have been making up their own words to familiar tunes used during our music sessions in all areas of the curriculum.
The children have also been talking more about music and our Thursday sessions and ask throughout the week “is Sarah coming today?” The teachers are singing more throughout the day and incorporate this into our routines, especially transitions more frequently. The teachers are using a more varied range through teacher led music sessions. We are feeling more comfortable using our extended range of resources during music time since the beginning of our professional development and weekly music sessions.
The music play programme has been very beneficial for our whole centre and we are all on the same page and bounce ideas between each other more frequently. We have also felt more relaxed about extending our duration of session times. Other staff have said they have become more confident in teaching music and use it more for instructional teaching purposes. Children have been singing more and have been particularly responsive to body part songs.
Kea and Moa Music Reflections (3 ½ – 5 year olds)
We have noticed that the children are now more settled when participating in music sessions which is great to see as it allows our music sessions to start quicker. Children are very excited when they hear that music is about to start, a favourite song of theirs to sing is ‘Bop it in the rocket’ which they can now perform without any teacher help. This song is also hummed during the day by some children while outside playing, we have observed children sitting in small groups tapping out beats on their laps with their hands while humming ‘Bop it in the rocket’ and also ‘The wheels on the bus’. It is interesting to also note that the children are singing/humming these familiar tunes outside and inside, sitting at the kai table and even while using the wharepaku (toilet) so this has been a very positive area of interest for the children.
Children are very much talking about the music programme, they know that Thursday is their special music time with Sarah, they look forward to these and we have overheard conversations about ‘who is going to sit next to Sarah’ so there is a sense of excitement and expectation with the children.
We have been singing instructions to the children (sometimes we don’t realise we are doing it) but we have found this a very effective teaching tool especially when the children lose concentration during group time, we have found it a great way to bring the children backaround…the tune and actions to ‘head..head..shoulders..shoulders..tummy..tummy…knees…knees…feet…feet’.
Very responsive children!!
We have definitely grown in confidence in this area and this is reflected in my music sessions. The music play programme has been of huge benefit to the centre in my opinion as it is not only having a positive impact with our children but also with our teachers showing more confidence and range of musical activities such as bean bags, rainbow ring, rakau etc.
Music and movement helps children develop an understanding of the numerous possibilities of physical movement and how their body works and moves. Use of hoops in musical play, songs, and games supports timing, rhythmic flow, energy, effort and an understanding of space. Through a variety of movement activities children develop movement efficiency and expressiveness.
When children are sitting in the middle of their hoops in a circle watching, listening, moving their hoop in time and doing the actions of a song such as “Wheels of the Bus”, they are learning how to follow the sequence of sung instructions such as round and round, up and down, side to side, backward and forwards. They learn how to move their hoop quickly and slowly in time to the music, they develop social skills, listening, playing in synchrony with others in the circle. They are also observing and experiencing how everyone has their own space within their own hoop.
When each child places their hoop on the floor and follows sung instructions such as: one foot in the hoop today, the other foot in the hoop today, one hand in, the other hand in, both hands in and both hands out, noses in and noses out etc. they are learning how to organize their body in relation to weight, space, time, energy and rhythmic flow.
Circle dances with each child holding a hoop helps them to be able to keep in their own space within the circle, to walk around for eight steps, to change direction and walk around for a further eight steps, holding their hoop they go into the middle for four steps and walk backwards for four steps. The hoops promote spatial awareness and ensure that children can’t get too close to others. Songs and dances from my CD “DANCING IN A CIRCLE” such as “Shoo Fly” and “Floating Down the River” teach listening, timing, anticipation, directionality skills and ability to move and play together in synchrony.
Songs that use ascending and descending notes or pitches of the five note C major scale C, D, E, F, G…. G, F, E, D, C with the instructional words “Up, Up, Up, Up, Up,Down, Down, Down, Down, Down” help children to listen and respond, taking their hoops upor down,following the direction of the notes in space and to beginto know where those notes are in relation to their own space. This helps children to visualize where the notes are in space and to begin to sing in tune. If you are not sure about singing these notes, purchase a box of chime bars from a good music store. These chime bar sets have the 8 tuned notes of the C major scale and are a great way of ensuring that you are singing in the young child’s pitch range.
Hoops are a great way of helping children socialize and develop a sense of rhythmic flow as they move their hoops from side to side, up and down around and around, using jig zag patterns etc. They can hold a hoop with a partner doing a dance together, or spin or bowl the hoop backwards and forward with their partner. The children are feeling, seeing experiencing the continuity of movement. Their movement might be very controlled, careful, contained, or fluid, flowing, depending on the sung instructions or music accompaniment.
Sing songs about what the children can do with their hoops.To the tune of “Skip to My Lou” sing “What can you do with your hoops today? X 3 Show us what to do”. Enjoy a wide range of music and movement experiences and creating hoop songs and games.Explore space standing in one spot (non-locomotor) and moving through space (locomotor) walking, running, skipping, galloping, or jumping with hoops. Explore, create, imitate and appreciate. When children’s ideas are appreciated and validated through imitation they develop self-confidence, movement dexterity, timing, expressiveness and self -esteem.
A Brief Overview of the Framework of Laban Movement Analysis
Julie has been invited to present a peer reviewed workshop “The Key To Wellbeing is Musical Play” at the 2016 International Society of Music Education later this month in Glasgow, Scotland. This is a huge honour. Julie will be working with top musicians from all around the world. She leaves on the 14th July for Vienna, Salzburg and Berlin prior to the conference. The classes are in very capable hands with the music team while she is away. Julie will be back on the 2nd August.
On Monday evening we held a seminar: “What’s in the Box” for parents from our Julie Wylie Musical Play classes.
This was an opportunity for parents to meet one another, to ask questions, to experience some simple musical play and understand how music works in relation to the brain and how to use music to calm and settle their children at bedtime, or when they upset and over-aroused.
We also explored the elements of music in relation to the body, use of instructional and narrative songs to sing children through sequences of daily routines, and singing about what their child is doing.
Musical play was emphasised as something every parent and child can enjoy at home, in the car, anywhere.
Questions from parents related to how children communicate musically, join in or watch during a music class, how they play musically at home, examples of their children’s musical play and when children are ready to go on and learn a musical instrument.
We enjoyed meeting parents and hearing their music stories about their children and having a group discussion about the benefits of musical play classes.
Thanks to our fabulous music team we all enjoyed a delicious array of food.