About Arlene

Kindermusik teacher, Keyboard & Piano instructor

Music – a Crucial tool for Self-Regulation

“Self-regulation – the ability of a system or being to take steps in order to keep itself in balance”. This may apply to businesses, organisations and individuals.

When I was at university, I knew exactly why I wanted to get my degree qualifications in psychology – I liked ‘working out’ how other people think, what makes them behave the way they do, and so on. Someone mentioned that there was a rising demand for teenage counsellors, an area which interested me the most,  so that was where my path was heading to.

Once I started a family and had my own children however, my thinking shifted. It dawned on me that it is the first 5 years of a child’s life that is actually the most crucial period – there was no need to wait and try to ‘fix’ our children when they reach their teens – what they experience and learn, from birth to pre-school, were likely to have vast long-term effects in all aspects of their development in subsequent years.

Professor Shanker, a research professor in Philosophy and Psychology, states that, with regards to children’s emotional, social and cognitive development, self-regulation is one of the key indicator of a child’s healthy growth, affecting her or his ability to learn and develop positive habits in later years. The early years are crucial as it becomes more difficult to alter children’s education and life outcomes once they reach Kindy or Grade 1 (Shanker, 2009, Developmental Pathways: Scaffolding for Early Learners)

 

Shanker (2012) emphasises that self-regulation is a learnt behaviour and does not happen naturally as a child matures. As in many learning opportunities, a child learns to self-regulate, such as emotionally staying calm and alert, or being able to delay gratification,  through observing the behaviour and responses of trusted adults around them.

So when I am in class teaching music to children, whether they are babies under 1 year old, or 6-year olds learning to play the keyboard for the first time, I always keep in mind what and how we can practise self-regulation in varied, fun and challenging ways. When we are doing a particular activity, I ask myself what is the end purpose of this activity,  how can we enhance this so that a child benefits not just musically, but also in learning how to manage behaviour?

 

Music is such a natural, easy way to help children to self-regulate. Playing games like ‘Stop & Go’, or singing songs like ‘Who’s that knocking on the Window’,  or dancing to ‘Piggy Jig’ (where you follow a series of movements) – . – all are activities that require children to stop and listen, to delay an expected response and wait for a cue, and to anticipate what is going to happen next.

Without realising it, children develop sound self-regulatory habits simply through playing, dancing, singing and moving to music. Even poems such as ‘Round and round the garden’ and ‘Five Little Peas’, or quiet songs like ‘The Water is Wide’ exposes children to predictive patterns that help them wait and stop before giving a response.

In our class, I am constantly filled with gratitude as days, weeks, months and even years pass – and I get to watch how our children evolve and develop solid self-regulating habits.  Each have their own endearing quirks and personality traits (who wouldn’t want that!), each have quiet or loud ways to express themselves, each have their own dance moves and individual ways to respond to a stimuli.

But each child is learning to self-regulate effortlessly.  As a mum and a music instructor, it is infinitely more satisfying to help children now in their formative years than in later years, to open their young heart, brain and body to the positive, wonderful and long-lasting impact of music.

 

Our Values

Welcome all families and friends to 2018!

Our school year started this week – lots of new bags, new teachers, new classrooms…

For us, it is the right time to revisit the values that we cherish, and underpins the what, why and how, of all the things we do here at 7 notes Studio

 


 

Why is Music So Much Fun?

Music Movement and Laughter

Why are children attracted to music? So many parents come to us to say that the reason they have decided to enrol is because they have watched their child really respond to music – their eyes light as they bop along, sway and bounce lightly on the spot as they listen to their favourite music playing.

 


So what is there about music that makes us feel good?

Well, first of all, when we move our bodies to music, our brain releases the feel-good hormones called endorphins. These hormones bring about that feeling of well-being both physically and emotionally. And because we feel good, we are motivated to keep moving so we can make that feel-good feeling lasts that much longer. So it has a roll on effect.

Another beneficial hormone to consider is neurotrophins – any movement activities that give our body a work out stimulates the brains to produce neurotrophins – these hormones are responsible for nerve cells growth and making new neural connections in the brains. As children develop elaborate neural connections, any learnt movement (such as kicking or jumping) becomes easier to master.

Finally, did you know that learning is always more effective when we are in a feel-good state and experiencing positive emotions? The optimum environment for acquiring new skills is when laughter and learning are present at the same time.

Young children are not really much into the intricacies of what makes their muscles and nervous systems grow. Children will happily respond to a positive, relaxing and rich learning environment, where they are sorounded and lovingly supported by their grown ups, carers, family and friends.

In each and every one of our music classes, we make sure there is always plenty of movement and lots of laughter, because we know where there is more fun, then learning naturally happens.

 

Music – Inspiration and Interpretation

My son is preparing for his Grade 3 Piano exams. Of all the pieces he has to play, he seems to be having trouble putting the correct tempo and leading beat to an otherwise very easy arrangement of ‘Desperado’ by the American rock band Eagles.

A 1973 song, it is familiar to me, played on the radio over and over again when I was little. There has been lots of renditions sung during local talent quests and amateur nights at the pub.

 

 

But then it suddenly occurred to me that my 11-year old son would never have heard of this song!  I haven’t heard it played at all recently on air. So off we go to Youtube, looking for the original piece. After hearing it a few times with his headset on, he is beginning to ‘understand’ how to interpret this song. He tries to play it with more emotion. He puts music dynamics to give the piece more expressiveness.

My heart does go out to him – here is a song which reminds me of my childhood. I watched my older siblings play this Eagles album on vinyl records using my parents’ turntable. That was many summers ago, long before smartphones or iPads.  Now I cringe (on the inside) as I watch my son attempt to interpret a song sung nearly 40 years ago! A song he has never heard before.

Funnily enough, I heard him tinkling on the piano a few days ago, trying to make up his own song.  Like many children his age, he is an avid fan of the Star Wars movie franchise. He has a ‘Jedi’ sword and a Star Wars costume. He has watched all the latest Star Wars films over and over again.

His piano ‘composition’ actually sounded very much like the theme song from Star Wars. It has that repetitive forceful drone chords (he made up for his left hand), paired with a harmony for melody on the right hand. He was very proud to show us and let us listen to his composition (quite a few times!)

It goes to show how much emotion each of us invest when composing, playing music or making choices about which type of music or artist we like to listen to. We may play a musical instrument with as much finesse as we can, depending on our level of ability. We can also play a musical piece effectively just by following all the instructions and music dynamics written for the piece.

But ultimately, it is how we relate to that music on the emotional level, based on our own personal experience, that determines how successful we interpret a piece of music and bring it to life.

Here is a strong yet graceful performance from one of the most inspiring artist I have discovered of late (Piano solo from 4:25)

 

 

What inspires you?

 

 

 

 

Music and Emotional Intelligence

How can music help our children develop healthy emotional intelligence? Emotional intelligence is a person’s ability to understand ones feelings, discern different types of feelings, emphatise with others, and regulate one’s behaviour and thought processes through this awareness.

This term,  in our 4-5 year old music class, we have been exploring 2 separate Units entitled “Giggles” and “Feel the Music”.

‘Giggles’ delves into the pre-schoolers emerging sense of humour, which at this age focuses mainly on the idea of incongruency, such as simple puns or word play,  or wrongly attributed characteristics, like an owl barking or a camel with 5 humps. What is funny or unfunny is of course very much dependent on a child’s understanding of and corresponding cultural inferences in the world that they live in.

We listened and sang to appropriately matched songs; we danced giddily to fun songs such as ‘Boom boom ain’t it Good to be Crazy’, and our literacy activities focused mainly on jokes, including our very own funny home-made jokes and drawings.

 

 

‘Feel the Music’ explores emotions – happy, sad, angry and scared – to name a few. The children love taking class ‘selfies’ on the iPad, each showing their happy face, sad face, angry, scared or sleepy face. They love contorting their faces to make exaggerated expressions – frowning, smirking, scowling, lightening up – they are so willing to explore all sorts of different emotions.

We have been dancing and moving to vastly different music pieces which could draw out different feelings – think ‘The Turkey Reel’ for that fast happy upbeat feel, or ‘Into the Woods’ for that scary spooky feeling.

Both these Units illustrate clearly how much making music or listening to music elicit certain emotional responses from us. Back then and even to this day, composers and songwriters tend to create songs and music to elicit  certain emotional responses from their audience.

 

Research shows that the more children are accepted and supported in exploring and experiencing different types of feelings, the more they are able to navigate and identify ways to deal with their emotions as they grow up.

These past few weeks, I have been amazed at how much the children in my class have embraced the feelings of highs and lows/happy and sad, of freely manipulating their faces and bodies to demonstrate anger or fear, of really listening to the emotive feature of each music piece and responding expressively.

I am humbled by their willingness to talk about feelings, and at such young age, at their depth of understanding of the kind of situations they may encounter where they experience these feelings.  They have a generous capacity for empathy with their peers in class, and they are truly on their way to developing and strengthening what I would rightly call as, Emotional Intelligence.

 

Music and Motivation

Your child tells you one day that they would like to learn to play a musical instrument. Hooray! So you sit down and discuss together which musical instrument they would like to learn, you do your research, find a suitable teacher, somehow managing to put aside the costs within your family budget, and off we go…

However, there comes a time when your child will say ” I’m bored”, or “It’s harder than I thought”, or woe of woes, “I hate practice!”

So how do we motivate our child to fall in love over and over with their playing, where they feel the need to play, practise and get better and better at mastering their music instrument?

 

There is no one fix approach. Some music teachers create an incentive program, physical and visual, where a child could receive rewards (stamps, points, stickers, small toys) when they reach a certain goal.

However, there are two long-term motivational factors that parents need to keep in mind, which for me, are far more important, especially as your child advances into teenage and young adult years:

  1. Giving them choice – children want to learn the music that they love, perhaps something they love to sing and dance to, with musical pieces that are at their level of mastery so that they feel emotionally connected to the piece.
  2. Social settings – learning any instrument, away from the 45-minute             weekly lesson, can be a lonely experience (although you do need that time alone someplace quiet where you can focus on your music). But people are social beings, children all the  more so.  Giving children the opportunity to play with others (as a duet with teacher & student, or two students as a pair, or in group classes), or playing for others (monthly recitals, family gatherings, Christmas specials), do wonders to a child’s confidence, elevates the fun factor, and motivates your child to learn even more!

In our Kindermusik classes, these two factors are always at play:

We love it when children come up with their own imaginative ideas on how to dance, move or play along to a piece of music. We strive to create an atmosphere of non-criticism, affirmation and emotional pleasure in learning new activities,  where sharing musical experiences with family and friends are at the forefront, so that a child grows up developing a natural affinity and fondness to all things musical.

 

What is Scaffolding?

“Scaffolding” – meaning: A temporary structure used for holding workers and materials during construction or repair of a building.

In our Kindermusik classes, we use plenty of scaffolding when it comes to better understanding and appreciating our children’s qualities and abilities, through these 3 simple steps:

  1. Observe – really look at what your child likes to do for self expression. They may like to imitate the other children in class at first, but through scaffolding, they will soon develop their own ideas and expressive movements. For example, during instrument play, watch how your child likes to manipulate their egg shakers – are they shaking these from side to side, or slow, or fast? Do they like to hold the shakers close to their body or hide them under their legs?
  2. Acknowledge and imitate – acknowledge what your child is doing.  Imitate their actions while you label what they do: “Look Chloe, you are shaking your egg shakers really softly!” or “I can see that you like to move your rhythm sticks from side to side Joshua!” Every child is unique so you will always get a variety of responses from the same stimulus.
  3. Extend – once your child is engaged in the activity, see if you can add a little challenge: “Now can you shake your egg shakers really loudly this time Chloe?” or ” How about if you move your rhythm sticks up and down Joshua?”
Observe, acknowledge, imitate and extend = scaffolding

Scaffolding gets you into the habit of reading your own child. Acknowledgement from you, their primary carer, builds trust and gives them confidence and reassurance that their own efforts matter.  Giving them small challenges allows them to understand that they alone can manipulate objects and adjust their own actions to achieve a different outcome. They begin to understand the concept of self regulation.

In our child’s early years, we are their scaffold: their temporary structure to hold them up as they build themselves up to grow into  independent and confident thinking little human beings!

 

Nursery rhymes and Piano lessons

Nursery Rhymes

As I spend more time giving one-to-one piano lessons to very young children (5 & 6 year olds), I find a distinct contrast between children who have been exposed to nursery rhymes frequently as opposed to those who perhaps rarely heard them during their baby & toddler years.

Just when you thought nursery rhymes were there to sing to our babies because it’s easy and fun, and they were the songs we knew off by heart (sung to us by our parents), these much-loved songs actually help children so much more as they reach the age where they can begin music instrument lessons. (And I experience this time and again as I teach children who have come from different (musical) backgrounds.

Take for example a simple song we know: ‘Hot Cross Buns’

Child A, who knows this song well, will correctly sing and play this song in 4 beats with a rest on the fourth beat:

Hot (1), cross (2), buns (3), pause (4)

Hot (1), cross (2), buns (3), pause (4)

Child B, who is unfamiliar with the song, will instead play this song matching each word per beat, without the pause:

Hot (1), cross (2), buns (3), Hot (4),

cross (1), buns (2) … no pause

Spending extra (lesson) time teaching Child B how to sing & clap to this simple song can be fun in itself, but it also delays Child B’s progress because there is less time for actual keyboard playing.

Hot Cross Buns in C-major

So don’t hesitate to show off your prowess when it comes to nursery rhymes!

  • Sing as many nursery songs as you can remember to your baby and young children – sing together, while pretending to strum on a wooden spoon or a broom (if a ukulele is not handy).
  • Hum the tune or make up the words if you can’t remember the lyrics – there’s lots of nursery rhymes readily available on-line if you need a refresher!
  • Make it visual – try and get your hands on nursery rhyme books so that you can point at the pictures while enjoying singing the songs together.
  • Make your own diorama – cut out a dog to call B-I-N-G-O so you can sing an all-time favourite dog song, or cut out animal photos from magazines so you can both make animal sounds and sing about your collection of farm animals in ‘Old Macdonald Had a Farm’

Farm Animals

In our Kindermusik classes, this ‘layering’ of music is applied in all levels throughout our curriculum so that a child, from baby all the way up to Kindy years, will have had experienced nursery songs in different formats and in many ways:

A simple nursery song may be presented in a lively orchestral setting for use in a parent/baby group dance (during Baby class), which we may then learn to sing together a-cappella (in Toddler Class), and which further on, your pre-schooler child may play on the resonator bars (during Big Kids class).

This way, our songs are best taught in the most beneficial and loving way, enriching our children’s experience with music all throughout their growing years.

 

 

Preparation – how important is it?

Parenting over the years, we have each developed our personal array of strategies to help our children deal with new events and experiences.

Most children do not perform well in new situations – moving house, travelling on an airplane for the first time, first day at day-care… any disruption or change in their routines can upset or change our children’s behaviour.

Preparing children before a change of event goes a long way in minimising stress, both for you and for them. Talking about the upcoming event, or showing them photos or picture books may help children to understand what is to come. For example – visiting your soon-to-be new house a few times before the actual move may familiarise and help ease your child’s anxiety of leaving behind your old home.

In our music classes, preparing children ahead of their lesson plays a very important part in student engagement – in their level of participation and enjoyment in each of the activities, and their willingness to interact, cooperate and learn with the other children in class.

The Best of Kindermusik CD
The Best of Kindermusik CD

Our Take Home CDs ensure each child can continue to listen to all of our songs, poems and stories away from class. Browsing through the available activities for each Unit through digital access on-line, the children are able to recollect, recapitulate and re-live the lesson’s highlights of the week.

The on-line materials are also full of fun ideas and little projects parents can do at home with their children- crafts, memory games, vocal play – helping to prepare and prime their children before each weekly class without even realising it!

Let's make Ankle Bells
Let’s make Ankle Bells