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

 

 

Rambo – Sambanistas Drummer

Well, after a fun (but too short – only 1 hour?) drumming session with Rambo last week, it’s only apt that we learn a little bit more about him…

Born in Port-Louis Mauritius, Rambo remembers picking up his first drum at age 3, his grandfather having given him his very first drum.

Now living in Perth, he continues to lead and drum with Sambanistas, the first ever Samba group in Perth founded in 1990. You will find the Sambanistas drumming at Corporate events,  Festivals around Perth, during the City to Surf fun run and festivities at Elizabeth Quay. They practise at East Perth, at the City Farm Markets on Sundays, and everyone is welcome to join the group. https://www.facebook.com/Sambanistas

Drumming has taken Rambo to all corners of the world – Europe, USA and South America. Even drumming outside Frankfurt Airport at one time! The highlight of course is having the opportunity to drum at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, during the 2011 Rio Carnivale! Describing the once-in-a-lifetime experience in his own words, “It was AWESOME! Imagine playing in a group that had 300 drummers, and 3000 dancers!” He describes Brazil as the ‘pinnacle of drumming – loved it, loved it, loved it!’.

 

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So why are the Brazilians so good at drumming? Rambo says that there are no special music or drumming classes for kids – the children simply grow up sorrounded and immersed in the culture of drums – they listen to and watch the adults play drums at home and in the streets around them. As they grow up, drumming becomes a pastime that comes easily and naturally for most.

Apart from drumming, Rambo has been an active volunteer for Make-A-Wish Foundation Australia since 1999. The world-wide Charity Foundation helps bring hope to children living with life-threatening medical condition by granting their wishes. https://www.facebook.com/MakeAWishAustralia

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He also volunteers for Camp Quality (camp activities, games, sports) and Radio Lollipop (as DJ or visiting kids in wards to play games and entertain). It is all about giving hope as they battle through ‘tough times’ , and “putting smiles on kids’ faces – that’s a very motivating cause”.

Rambo believes there are many different benefits to drumming apart from the fun and enjoyment, both for the young and old. It helps build self confidence, improve hand-eye coordination and teaches people to be able to work as a team.

 

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Your Child’s Language Development

 

Although we tend to define language development as the acquisition of verbal skills, communicating to your children right from the start should not be limited to spoken words. There are several other ways you can communicate to your child to encourage early language development:

  1. Sign Language – from 6 months onwards, you can use sign language when speaking to your baby, through gestures or by labelling objects while showing baby. (You can refer to AUSLAN or American Sign Language for some basic signs). By using the same sign and repeating the same word in different context, for example – ‘high’ – ‘your chair is so high’; ‘look! that bird flies so high’ , baby begins to grasp a better understanding of the word.
  2. Baby talk – respond to your baby’s vocalisations verbally – wait until they finish their ‘baby talk’, then speak back to them in the same intonation and length so it feels like you really are taking turns ‘conversing’. Although it’s mainly babble and incomprehensible sounds, responding to baby’s babbles teaches them the etiquette of social exchange – babies thrive on it!
  3. Everyday Chat – talk to your baby, tell him/her what you are doing, what your plans are for the day, how your day has been – it’s fun for both of you, and gets you in the early habit of communicating meaningfully with your children.

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4.  Finally, it’s all about the music!

  • Sing or hum to your child right fom when they are newborn, until when they finally ask you to stop
  • Use songs for rituals around the home : bath-time, bed-time, cleaning up time
  • Make up silly songs and invent nonsense words that impart a positive uplifting tone
  • Bounce & exercise Baby to rhythmic upbeat songs

Best of all, you can come and join us while we sing, dance, listen and create music together in our Baby Class. Our parents and caregivers appreciate the time spent sharing stories and experiences about Baby’s growing years with one another in class.

Babies are social curious beings right from the start. They get such joy seeing other babies around them. Our music class tends to put a smile on everyone’s face!

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