Miriam’s Monkey in Musical Play

Wednesday 5th March 2014

Universally children delight in musical play. I am constantly learning from the children as they interact musically with their parents and with each other. The word play contains such musical elements as sound and movement. Sound and movement are a part of the infant’s sense apparatus and perceptual basis from the beginning of life. As parent and child interact playfully, their movements become synchronised as they watch, listen, turn take, imitate each other’s sounds and read each other’s emotional and physical cues. The child becomes a play partner, interacting playfully and joyfully, learning to make sense of his or her world.  In many languages the equivalent word for play, such as French (jeu) and German (spiel) has a double meaning, relating either to a game or making music. The word ‘play’ denotes musical engagement.

Yesterday in my musical play class for children aged from 20 months to two years, Miriam aged twenty-one months carried in a soft toy monkey as she came in with her mother and baby sister Esther aged six months. Her mother reported that Miriam had chosen to bring her monkey and she proceeded to copy all the actions of the lap games with the monkey on her knee, then rowing in time with her monkey facing her to the song “Row, Row, Row, Your Boat”. All the time she sat very close to her mother, who although holding and interacting with baby Esther, cuddled her with one arm, smiling and affirming her every move. Miriam has been watching the music facilitator very closely since she came as a four-month-old baby. Sometimes she has left her mother to come into the circle so that she can observe the bigger picture of the group.  Miriam danced around in a small circle with her monkey in perfect time to the song “Ring-a-ring a Rosy”. She was able to follow all the action sequences, to “fall down” and get up for the music cues.

At the end of the session Liz our facilitator went around each child in turn with the marionette puppet singing the “Good-Bye” song. Right behind her was Miriam who waved the monkey’s hand purposefully and gently to each child. Although she is only twenty-one months old, Miriam’s play demonstrated her recognition and anticipation of action songs and musical activities. Her musical play is characterised by a high affective level, focussed listening and concentration, joyful, rhythmic music interaction and great sensitivity towards her family and other children in the group.

Musical play is not only to learn actions, but also to practise emotions, such as surprise, anticipation, excitement and climax. Children like Miriam learn how to be the leader, to create and to communicate musically. Musical Play ‘lights up’ the brain like no other human activity and neuroscience continues to show that listening, active participation and musical creativity engages multiple  areas of the brain, either simultaneously or in intricate, interrelated and very rapid sequences.