Music-Making and the Rhythm of Life

Thank you to Miss Emily for contributing this month's blog post!

Do you remember the song "Sandpiper" from the Flutes collection? My daughter Louisa and I haven't forgotten it — because we have been singing it on our way into preschool almost daily for the past two years! Sometimes it's hard getting out of the car and into school, but as soon as one of us starts singing "Sandpiper, sandpiper, running through the sand," off we go. It never fails! We make it on time, she doesn't feel rushed, and I don't feel irritated. Parenting win!

 

  • We Prelude teachers often hear from families that certain songs make life go more smoothly. Some examples:
  •  "Wash, wash, washing our hands, washing our hands, my darling" (to the tune of "Skip to My Lou")
  •  "Brushing, brushing, brush your teeth, come and brush your teeth" (to the tune of "Dance With Me")
  •  Asking your child, "Can you do what I do?" as you put on shoes

 

Any of the other myriad songs you may know from Music Together®® or your own musical collection will work!

Many families turn on favorite music during transitional times, such as bedtime, because they find that their children have an easier time settling down. Why does music work so well in these moments?

Why Our Brains Love Music-Making

One reason is that when we sing together – with a parenting partner, our children, friends, family, anyone! – the brain responds by releasing "feel-good" chemicals. (Incidentally, this is why we almost always feel better after music class than we did before.) When we make music, a brain structure called the striatum releases dopamine, creating a feeling of pleasure similar to what we feel in response to sex or good food. This neurological reward system tells us that music is important and adaptive, particularly when we experience it in community.

Research also suggests that music-making stimulates the production of oxytocin, associated with feelings of relaxation and well-being. As a parent, I can testify that there are certain times of day when those relaxed, happy feelings are in very short supply! Those are the best times to change the mood through music.

A Natural Response

When we use music to change the mood, we are practicing musical entrainment. We naturally respond to external rhythms through an autonomic mechanism. (Think of how, when one person begins clapping or marching, we experience the urge to clap or march along). Making music together causes this autonomic mechanism to occur in tandem with our natural emotional and neurological response to music. In this context, think how powerful music-making must be to a young child who has been bonding musically with parents or other caregivers!

If you aren't already employing musical entrainment at home, give it a try. Use music that speaks to you, or that you know your child responds to. If this works well for you, or if you have any other musical stories to share, please bring them to class! We are a community, and we always love to hear about your music-making experiences.

What are your family's favorite songs?