A ‘Note’ for Every Parent by Wendy Jones Williams

April 9, 2014 at 5:19 am | Posted in Kindermusik | Leave a comment
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“When is the music coming?” A voice comes from near my waist. “We’re making the music!” I reply, looking around at my group of moving, merrily singing preschoolers. “No,” she persists, “I mean the real music, not us.”   Why are there so many children who don’t believe in their own power to be musicians, to indulge in the joy of spontaneous, unbridled song? 

            The first, most important question is, are all children musical? The answer is a resounding yes! The building blocks of music are within us all from birth. Watch a baby shake a rattle or bang a spoon, intent on the sound they are producing. Toddlers dip and wriggle, responding to music they hear, and explore with delight the entire range of their vocalizations, from deep growls to siren squeals.  The great composer, Rossini, said, “The language of music is common to all generations and nations; it is understood by everybody, since it is understood with the heart.” So why do so many of us as adults assume that music is somehow the special providence of a few gifted individuals, rather than the birthright of all?

            Part of the reason lies in our own understanding of musical ability and how it develops. In early childhood, music and language development mirror each other. We don’t expect baby to begin by speaking full, clear sentences; we hang on every coo, every babbled syllable, and proclaim, “She’s trying so hard to talk!” We respond, and baby is rewarded for their efforts, and encouraged to continue. The preschooler, picking up a book and finding familiar letters or creating a story from the pictures, is cuddled, read to, and hears their proud parent tell friends and family, “He really loves to read!” Which of us would casually laugh and say, in a child’s hearing, “Well, I guess he’ll just never learn to read; I sure can’t”? Music has its beginnings in musical ‘babble’ as well- clanging pots and pans with a spoon to discover beat, or singing fragments of words or melody before developing a reliable sense of pitch. Whether or not these children continue their musical explorations and development depends on the response they get from their valued parents and caregivers. Do you sit on the floor and break into song, clapping along with the beat your child is producing? Or have you turned to a friend with a smile and a shrug, saying, “Well, she’s just like her mother; I can’t carry a tune either.”

            Personal musical expression, in our culture, has become separated from our daily lives.  What does it teach our children, if every time we want music for them we reach for a video or CD? Like my young friend in class, we risk sending the message that only that is ‘real music’, not achievable by a small person without benefit of a backup band, flashy costumes, and a recording contract.  

But why is it so important to encourage musical expression in babies and young children? Music has benefits that reach far beyond performance. Whether clapping, walking, bouncing a ball, or cutting with scissors, a sense of steady beat will assist a child in moving with grace and confidence. The rhythms and sounds of sung language aid in developing speech fluidity and expressiveness. Patterns in music and movement have been shown in studies to develop neural connections that can later be used to understand pattern and sequence in math and science. Other studies have found benefits that include improved emotional expression, social skills, and nonverbal reasoning.  So, with all of the signs pointing towards including music making in the lives of the very young, how do we go about it?

            Children need to be offered the tools for musical exploration, freedom to make choices and offer input, and a loving, attentive adult model for uninhibited enjoyment of music making. Sing with and for your child often- don’t worry if you usually sing in the opera or in the shower, sing! Add nonsense sounds for more fun and additional language play value. Having an assortment of small percussion instruments offers a variety of tone qualities and a chance for play together, but at home you can and should supplement with ‘found’ instruments-perhaps brush-style hair curlers to rub together, pot lid cymbals to crash, or glasses of water to tap with a spoon. Most importantly, move! Children learn through movement- dance high and low, with short pokes or long glides, on tiptoe or with stomping feet; let them learn musical concepts by expressing them with their whole selves. Don’t limit you and your child’s explorations to traditional children’s recordings- why not sample some new styles together? Maybe jazz, classical, Eastern, or bluegrass music will be just the sound to excite your own inner musician.

  Today we recognize the benefits of early learning; music, with its impact on so many parts of development and its innate appeal to young children, should be a natural and joyous element of every child’s life, beginning as early as possible. By overcoming our own notions of who ‘ought’ to make music, we can bring to our children the gift of a lifetime of confidence in their own ability to learn and create- a gift that belongs to every child.

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