"Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature can not do without." ~Confucius

Monday, January 30, 2012

Traditions Passed On

I married into a great family. I love my own family too, of course, but I'm thankful for my husband's (and now my) family too.
Little K's middle name is after his Grandpa. This Grandpa is a rugged man who enjoys singing his heart out. When we go up north to visit, Grandpa always brings his guitar out and starts singing some old hymns or songs from the country. In church, Grandpa is one of the strongest singers and won't hesitate to share his love for singing of his Lord when asked to do so for a special song.
He loves to sing with his kids, too. They grew up seeing and hearing about what he holds dear. That may be why all three of his kids love music and it's a big part of their lives too.

What I am thankful for is this gift being observed by his grandkids. There is already a sacred fascination grandkids have with their grandparents... and one of many things I love about my father in law (and my own dad too) is that he sings his heart out.
I can remember standing next to my dad in church when I was little and I think I asked him to sing quieter because I was getting embarrassed that he was so loud (sorry Dad....). But I remember him singing. And singing with emotion. It still left an impression.

Lots of people sing. And for many reasons... some more lasting than others. But what speaks to me - and what I imagine will speak to my kids - is what is so beautiful about music... that is transcends time and is a vehicle for expressing your deepest emotions - gratitude, awe, love, sorrow... It is not for the nerdy kids or the emotional ones. It's for my rugged, won't-sit-and-rest-for-5-minutes, hunting, log-splitting father-in-law; and I pray my boys find that type of freedom to express their deepest feelings in robust and tender song.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly

This classic tune is a gem as far as teaching a sequence of events... and kids think it's hilarious that this odd lady keeps swallowing creatures.  The above book version by Simms Taback is great because of the cut-outs in the page that let you see all the animals "inside" and watch the lady get larger and larger.

When I was teaching, my only hang-up was that the word "die" is used in every verse... and then she dies at the end (after trying to swallow a horse...duh!). I thought some kids might not feel comfortable singing a song like that.  But then, I remembered all those Road Runner and Wile E Coyote cartoons I watched as a kid.... and all the times the coyote "died" while trying to catch road runner. And, I don't think that my young worldview was rocketed into emotional stress because of those cartoons - so, maybe  it's not so scary after all.

Check out this melody if you don't know it already (go here), then go see if your library has this book so you can sing along with the story!

The boys loved it (yay!). I got very animated at the hilarity and ridiculousness of the lady swallowing the animals. And it's great for following sequences. I pointed to each animal who was swallowed to catch the next animal and K sang right along.

And I love all the extra quotes all throughout this book - makes the reader laugh even more than the kids!

And then we followed up later with some poster-board and my amazing art skills... I know you'll all be REALLY impressed. There are a hundred more awesome ways to do this... just look online for ideas, but this is what I had available at the moment... and it was still successful. :-)

I would have printed some animals out via clip art, but my color printer was out... So, I drew a large woman with a big stomach ready to be filled. K dictated to me what each body feature should look like (crazy hair, big mouth, big eyes, little feet, etc... I think she looks more like the Batman Joker than an old woman, but anyway...)

Then I drew each animal and put tape on the back of each one.

We sang through the song (K and J alternated turns taping them up onto the crazy lady's belly).

 Have fun!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Bouncing Baby Boys (and Girls)

For the two of you out there who don't know, babies love to be bounced (although, preferably not on a full tummy...). Bouncing babies and toddlers is not only fun for  bouncee and bouncer, but did you know that it develops their inner musical aptitude as well?

Think about a baby bounce that most of us are familiar with... Humpty Dumpty, for example.
Now think about all the great things about bounces:

1. They rhyme - teaching patterns of sound and speech
2. They're often a descriptive story or scenario - developing their imagination
3. They have "high spots" of anticipation - teaching expectancy and outcome like "Humpty Dumpty had a great... FALL!"
4. They are sing-songy, or a full-fledged song - teaching melody and rhythm.
5. Baby's body is (appropriately) bounced to the beat of the song - teaching innate rhythm through shared body motion.

You didn't know they were so beneficial, did you? (or maybe you did....)

In a world where you can buy an electronic toy with any number of sounds and songs and languages, I bet that your baby still would choose YOU over any plastic toy.
We could give our little ones Baby Einstein videos all day, and their musical ability would not develop in any way that would be comparable to the extreme value of the physical, vocal and happy experience of bouncing.

Baby bounces are gems that are passed down from a grandparent to parent and so on. They are memorable, wonderful rhymes used for one purpose - joy. Joy in the child's face. Joy in the giver's face. There is nothing like the pure delight of a child enjoying such direct attention from their loving family.

I don't remember the first musical toy I had, but I have great memories of my dad bouncing me on his knees to "humpty dumpty sat on a wall..." and then dropping me down (gently! Thanks dad...) to "he had a great...... FALL!" and all the giggles that followed... as well as repeated appeals to "do it again, Daddy!!"

So, I will list many bounces on this site because they are priceless little activities that our children need from us.

I'll start with a little bouncing "how-to"

Here are three ways to bounce your baby or toddler:

1. Lay baby on his/her back on your lap. This is best for newborns/infants who don't have much core strength yet:

2. Hold baby up on your knees:

    3. Hold baby standing on the floor:

This is the one my 8-month-old currently likes because he's all about standing and jumping now-a-days.

Or, bounce them while standing up and holding them.... or lying on the floor with them on your knees... there are lots and lots of options!

Next, choose a bounce! I've listed some of our favorites below. They can be chanted or sung, but you should be sure to bounce your baby to the beat. I've put the strong beat in caps so you have an idea how to chant each one.

Ride Charlie Ride

RIDE Charlie RIDE,
RIDE that horsey RIDE  
Then finish with a louder "Yeeeeeeee-Ha!" where you bounce baby high, or wiggle him around.

Also... feel free to insert your own child's name for "Charlie"

Clap Hands 

Clap HANDS, clap HANDS
'Till DADDY comes HOME
with BUNS in his POCK-ets

Clap HANDS, clap HANDS
'till DADDY comes HOME
and MAMMY has NONE.

(This one can be good to do with baby in your lap so you can "clap" his or her hands.

Ride a Cock Horse 

to BANberry CROSS,
to SEE a fine LADY
upON a white HORSE
and BELLS on her TOES
SHE shall have MUSIC
where-EVER she GOES!

I like to wiggle baby on "where...eeeehhhver" with a neighing sound like the horse.... I'll let you imagine. :-)

So, there are three to start with!
I'd love to hear what you do too!

And... next time you plop baby down and reach for their electronic-toy, consider trying a bounce or two instead. You won't regret it. :-)

Monday, January 23, 2012

There Were Ten in the Bed...

I have always loved the song "Ten in the Bed" but do not often have 10 children to play it with... So, today we used our stuffed friends!

One way to encourage otherwise timid kiddos to sing and get involved in action songs is to have them do it with a favorite stuffed animal (K calls all his stuffed animals "puppets" even though none of them are puppets... I think it's cute, though).

The boys had a great time with this song/activity - wanting to do it several times. Unfortunately (or fortunately, for mom) nap time beckoned them away.

If you're not familiar with the song (*gasp*), go here to learn it.

Here's what we did:

1. Collect your "puppets"

2. Arrange animals on a bed where they can "fall out." We had to use the guest bed since their beds are up against the wall.

K counted to make sure we had 10:

3. Start singing through the song and when you get to the part where one falls out, let one drop to the floor.  K wanted to make sure his teddy was at the far end so he got to "sleep" at the end of the song. J got to put his at the end the next time through.
It would be rather tedious for all involved to "roll over" each animal individually, so we pushed from the far end until one fell off. It was fun to call the one that fell off by name too ("...so they all rolled over and Scout fell out...").

J sometimes wanted to just knock them all off the bed, so mommy had to intervene once in a while, but for the most part, we all sang and played and had a great time. :-)

K singing and motioning, "roll over, roll over..."

Little Buddy Teddy (the white bear's name) stays on the bed!

...much to the dismay of the others. :-)

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Fruit Salad

I am seriously missing summer fruit.... strawberries, blueberries, peaches... aahhh....
So, I remembered doing this activity with my Kindergarten class, so I thought J and K might like it too.

This one is oh-so easy and colorful too!
The goal is to get them thinking rhythmically by clapping out the syllables of the various fruit names.

Think about each fruit's syllables:
For example, STRAW-berr-y  or BLUE-berr-y or ba-NA-na are all three syllable words and thus get one clap on each syllable.
APP-le, KI-wi, OR-ange all get two claps.
Grapes, Pear, Peach all get one clap.

So, here's what we did:

Go online and get some free clip art of each fruit you want to use. I definitely included ones that I knew were favorites of my kiddos, since I was wondering if this would be a stretch to get them to enjoy this... ya never know. :-)

Put the pics in a Word Document and type the name underneath.
Print off the fruit pics with name underneath.
Cut and paste or tape onto colorful construction paper.

Get a plate (we used plastic).

Call kiddos to come make a fruit salad!
K and J were both pretty stoked - Yay!

Have kiddo/s look at the fruit:

Then they pick out two, three or four (depending on age/ability) to put on the plate.

You can chant something like "Sarah's got a fruit salad, isn't that great! Let's see what she puts on the plate!" while they're selecting fruit.

When they've put the fruit on the plate, take each and put them in a line on the floor.
Chant each fruit name rhythmically while clapping each syllable.

This one was "APP   - le,   CHER- ries,   KI      -wi"
                    CLAP-clap, CLAP- clap,  CLAP-clap

Not very diverse with the combination of 1's, 2's and 3's, but we got better as we went along. :-)

You as parent will be demonstrating as you go - encourage them to join in as they can. K (who is 4) could do it on his own after a little while. J (who is 2) just clapped the number of claps on each word - but they both had fun combining different fruits and clapping the names out rhythmically!
Be as enthusiastic as you can and make it as rhythmically interesting as you know how!

Have fun! And then go make a smoothie to celebrate all your hard work. :-)

And.... the BEST ever book to pair with this activity? 
"Jamberry" by Bruce Degen. Love it. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Sing, Sing, Sing

When I was a music teacher, I would often have some loving parent of a 1st grader say to me, "Oh Johnny is just FABULOUS on the drums. Can I sign him up for lessons with you for the band program?" Or "My little 5 year old Jenny plays the recorder around the house all the time. I think she's ready for flute. Can she be in the band program?"

I was super excited that these parents noticed interests and possible talents in their children. I am glad that we encourage our kiddos to know and love instruments. But, what I always said to these well-meaning parents who wanted their kids to jump into something a little too early was this: Get them SINGING. If you want your kid to be a good musician, get them to sing. Do it now - while they are young.
Sing in the car. Sing in the bath. Sing while setting the table. Sing, Sing!!!!

Instruments are great in time... but instrument + a child who has already developed an ear for melody = priceless.

You may say, "Well that's fine for you - you're a music nerd, you can sing! I can NOT sing."
Au contraire!
Your tot does not need you to belt out O mio babbino caro for this to be meaningful. 

Can you sing "Twinkle, Twinkle little star" or "Mary Had a Little Lamb" or "Hot Cross Buns"? If you're even close on any of those, that's a great start. 
Little kids (ages 1 through whenever) naturally LOVE to sing. So, encourage it as much as possible. Sing whenever you can. Put new words to old tunes to describe what you're doing in song:

For example, (to the tune of Hot Cross Buns) 

Where's Your Coat? 
Where's Your Coat? 
Go and find out where it's hiding,  
Where's Your coat? 

Or, (to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle or The ABC's)

Where oh where did your doll go? 
Let's go find her, yes let's go. 
Up the stairs and down the hall. 
We will search and find your doll. 
Where oh where did your doll go? 
We will find her, yes you know! 

Those are very unglamorous examples... but the point is - you don't need anything exciting to sing about. Just sing. Set the example. If no one is around but them, even better! No one for you to feel silly in front of. They will love it and will join right in when they are able. :-) 

So, in the words of Dory the forgetful fish, "Just keep singing..." 

What are your favorite songs to sing with your little tykes? 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Chinese New Year!

I've never been to China... but we have some friends over there (Hi Amber!) and it's always fun to have an excuse to talk about different countries and their instruments.

Enter.... Gong.

Gongs are Eastern instruments used originally as a signal sounded to begin and end the work day or a call to military action. They can be as small as a few inches in diameter or larger than your average human being. They are flat metal discs suspended on a cord and struck by mallet. In China, some suspended gongs could be heard for many, many miles they were so incredibly resonant.
Now you can find them in concert halls, museums and high school stages for the always entertaining "Gong shows."

So, why not make one?

Did anyone get one, two or ten of those metal containers of popcorn this Christmas and you don't know what to do with the tacky metal tin? Well, I thought the lids at least could come in handy for making a gong.

I pounded a hole around the top part of the lid with a hammer and nail. Of course, unless you are closely  supervising an older kiddo, this is not a step your child should do! And, when pounded through, there are some protruding metal pieces on the back side from the hole, so be sure to cover those up with a piece of duct tape on the back, then pound the nail through again to get a hole in the tape... or whatever you think works best.

The larger the nail, the better for threading a string through it. Mine was kinda small, but I couldn't find a bigger one at the moment.

Thread a ribbon or yarn through the hole and tie.
You may have a mallet from another instrument/toy. I wanted to make ours kind of rustic, so I fastened a paper towel on top of a wooden spoon with a rubber band. So glamorous, I know.

I found the boys doing this before I had to lure them in to play with the gongs:

But, they seemed really excited - especially since anything you hit is a big thrill to them. :-)

We talked about the gong and how to strike it. They loved it.
Of course we had to incorporate a song. What other than, "Gung Hay Fat Choy" a New Year folk tune from China.

The link I used for this tune is no longer working, so to search for the tune, type "Gung Hay Fat Choy" into YouTube or a similar site to find a few examples of the melody.

I instructed them to hit the gong after each line of the song

This is what we did:

Mommy sings: "Gung hay fat choy"   Boys: "bang, bang, bang"
Mommy: "Gung hay fat choy"   Boys: "bang, bang, bang"
Mommy: "Sing happy new year"   Boys: "bang bang bang"
Mommy: "Gung hay fat choy"   Boys: "bang, bang, bang"

K tried to sing while he was striking his gong.
J just liked banging it as loud as he could.

We'll pull these out at random times this week and practice singing the song and hitting the gong.... incorporating some simple patterns as we go. Fun, fun, fun!

Happy Chinese New Year!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Work With What You Have

I have come to the realization that I will not have children who will sit quietly in a circle and sing "Little Boy Blue" with angelic smiles and voices.

My experience would be boys starting nicely, but then getting up, jumping in place, then crashing on the ground laughing while they try to outdo each other with their awesome crash.... to the background of mommy still trying to sing, "Little boy blue, come blow your horn...."

So, I thought... I'll take WHAT I can WHEN I can.... Often, it comes in simple things like bowls and spoons. I took these bowls out for little K, but he set them up.  He experimented with different timbres... although he didn't know he was doing this (mua-ha-ha!). And, I think I even heard him doing some patterns.

Pattern meaning - a repetition of a group of notes - fast or slow.
For example: HIT, hit-hit, HIT, hit-hit.
Or: hit-hit-hit-hit. BANG. hit-hit-hit-hit. BANG

As the hearer, we can encourage our kiddos in making music (which when boiled down, is sometimes just organized sound) by demonstrating simple patterns to them.

For example, parent (sitting down next to kiddo with spoons in hand) does this:
BANG! tap-tap
Parent says: "You do that!"
Kiddo: BANG!
Parent: repeats BANG! tap-tap. "Can you do that?"
Kiddo: Bang! tap.... (gives parent questioning look)
Parent: Great job!

And it continues from there....

Basically - show your kids patterns whenever possible. Encourage them to mimic simple ones.
Don't be discouraged if they can't do it perfectly right away. Give them time to work it out, but keep showing them at various times.
You'll be pleasantly surprised when you hear them making some patterns of their own when you're not sitting next to them.

Oh, and if using bowls for drums, use different materials and sizes - metal, plastic, small, large, tall, round, etc... The more variety, the more experimentation with different timbres!

Have fun!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Why do kids of musicians grow up and want nothing to do with music?

I've seen it too many times... Two parents. Drawn dynamically together by love for each other and sharing a love for music. They had great plans of raising their kids to know and experience the same love THEY have for beautiful things in music. But, over the years, the love dwindled, the follow-through became difficult, and the kids never saw anything really worth pursuing in music because mom and dad didn't really either.

Do I want this for my family? No! Can I see it happening? ....Yes.

It's not necessarily bad, right? The kids will go their own way, find their own likes and dislikes. Music must not have been their thing.

I don't know if that will fly with me though... Although, I think I will need to incorporate different methods than I had previously imagined....

My oldest is only 4. Already, I don't know if I can communicate to him why great, deep things in music are so important, so worthy of listening and studying and getting lost in. I want to play Bach, Beethoven, Brahms all day and have him say to me, "Yes, Mother - I see its worth - it's beautiful! I want to listen to this all day!!"

OK, maybe not exactly that.. but I have been thinking and wondering how to develop in my children a love for music that is modeled by who they see the most. Us.

I realize that all this must be age appropriate. I realize that "fine" things in life take time to be appreciated. But, I am up for the challenge of making my silly, athletic little boys giddy with glee about wonderful things in music - because I truly believe and feel that there are SO MANY wonderful things to be experienced when music wraps itself around us and speaks to us in ways only it alone can. It is a mysterious and wonderful thing.... a great gift. Can I share this joy with my family?

We shall see....