I’d like to introduce my son who goes by the nom de plume ‘Stumpy'(before we had to put his name down on the birth certificate, this was actually what we called the poor child).
Stumpy loves words: the sound of them , their rhythm, singing them, mangling them, making up new words. He also likes paint, mud, orange juice , coins and ice cubes. Especially when allowed to mix them all up. He does NOT like being taught how to sing words. Or what colours to use when he wants to paint. Or just how much water he should use to make a muddy puddle. Or how to form a triangle using coins
Stumpy taught me one very valuable lesson: that sound is just a manipulable – just like paint or mud. And it made him very, very happy to be able to explore and experiment with his favourite materials.
Occasionally, he would become curious about my musical work materials and ask to play with them. I would then bring them out to show him and he would immediately touch them or try and make patterns with them. 3D graphic scores are very popular with Stumpy. Big circles = big sounds, little circles = quiet sounds.
When he asked to play with my bottle caps note values, he got very excited at being able to recognise the letters ‘p’ and ‘o’ (ie. minims and semibreves).
Me(jumping at the chance to pass on some musical knowledge): “Look, this symbol is for a 2 count sound and this is for a 4 count sound”.
Stumpy : “No, Mummy it says ‘poo’. Look, you can make many, many ‘poo’s!”
A musical colleague recently asked me what I do as a musical mum with my child (I have a 4 year old son who recently started school).
My first thought was “Ummmm…….nothing?” But then I thought about it properly and this is the reply I sent to her:
Since my son loves exploring things and experimenting to see what effects he can create, I prefer to let him take the lead in our joint musical experiences. He does not enjoy ‘organised’ musical activity with me but loves singing , making up little songs and sounds. My little one is a joyfully out-of-tune singer but has a great sense of pulse. He enjoys singing and accompanying himself by beating the pulse on a drum/ stomping/bopping to the beat. I guess that stems from being surrounded by so much music since he was in the womb. Throughout my pregnancy and up until he was 2, he was with me when I worked. He has spent countless hours sitting in a dance studio listening and watching whilst I played for ballet class ( possibly where he developed quite a strong sense of pulse??). We used orchestral music in rehearsals and he would nap in a sling whilst I worked, falling asleep hearing rich and complex music .
In the car, we listened to Gene Vincent sing Be Bop A Lula on the radio and he said he liked it, and asked me what it was. When I told him, he kept asking for it on Youtube. When my sister got an Alexa, he learnt how to ask for it and would dance to it. Sometimes, he would tell me if he liked /did not like a piece of music which was on the radio and we would talk about the mood of the music.
As for instruments, I’ve learnt to leave them lying around the house on convenient places. He likes trying out sounds on the piano, ringing the ‘dinner bell’ at mealtimes, drumming on a cake tin to keep himself in time when singing. For me, I guess enabling these musical things to happen are more important than music lessons because my child is learning to listen critically
Music a.k.a organised sound is really just an aural manipulable. Children will gleefully use it just as they would crayons and paints to describe anything that captures their imagination.
Musical storytelling allows children to come up with creative ways to describe a scene. All we need to do is to provide the means (a space laid out with an inviting array of sound-makers) and opportunity (‘Can you use music to tell us a story about the captain’s cap?’). An attentive audience also tends to help!
It’s amazing how children will pounce on this musical pretend play. One child may use steady beats on the drum to depict a boat sailing on a calm sea, followed by faster/louder beats to show a threatening thunderstorm. Another child may choose to use single quiet notes on a xylophone to describe little waves and change it to broad sweeps of sound across the xylo blocks (‘strong winds blew the captain’s cap off his head!’)
This is musical creativity at its most basic raw form. Just the simple control and deliberate use of pure musical elements: pitch, pulse, rhythms, timbre, dynamics, tempo. Those with more advanced musical knowledge may opt for little compositions to paint the picture (repeated phrases for falling rain, arpeggios for the rocking of the boat, long rhythm/melody crescendo ending in a chordal crashes for thunder).
The beauty of it is that it will suit a wide range of personalities and ages (ahem…..’grown-up’ kids take note) . The shy kid who won’t utter a word might surprise you by coming out with a very vivid music picture. The boisterous one who won’t sit still might show his capacity for focus by keeping a steady musical pulse.
So the next time you need an engaging , non-messy activity for your kids, have a go at musical storytelling.
Before you spend hours trawling the Internet choosing just the right musical experience for your baby/ toddler/school-aged child, STOP….. have a look at this fantastic resource called Musical Development Matters.
Last week, after some complicated juggling, I managed to clear a day to attend a brilliant and inspiring course called Musical Development Matters The course and its accompanying document is really a labour of love by Nicola Burke, one of UK’s leading lights in early childhood musical development (0-5 years old).
“The overall purpose of Musical Development Matters is to support practitioners, teachers, musicians and parents to see the musical attributes of young children and to offer ideas as to how they can support and nurture children’s musical development by offering broad musical experiences.”
Over the course of a day, Nicola guided us through discussions on:
awareness about how babies and young children learn
good practice when working musically with very young children
examples of how we as parents, teachers and educators can help and support their musical journeys
The course was such a timely reminder that children are capable of so much creativity and musicality from a very,very young age. We adults would do well to respect that and support that ability on our well-meaning quest quest to give them a musical education.
Life is always so busy . Work, school run, laundry, swimming classes, drama class, dance class, feed the kids a good meal, homework, more laundry …….but I’d like to think that we can always find the time to learn how to do meaningful things which help our children thrive.