Being Active Music Makers

Many thanks to Miss Emily for contributing this month's blog post!

Last month, I talked about the importance of trusted, beloved adults as musical models in our lives. Our children need to hear us sing so that they can become active singers themselves, and this week, I’ll be thanking all the parents in our classes for being models for active music-making. 

There's way too much passive music consumption in our culture, which we want to move away from — so congratulations on being active music-makers! And on behalf of your children, thank you for the model and the GIFT you provide. It is something that your children will carry with them for their whole lives.

So, Prelude parents, have you heard your child sing in class yet? Maybe you’ve heard your baby coo or sing a vocable on the resting tone. Or perhaps your two-year-old sings some of the tonal pattern or attempts the rhythm patterns. Maybe your older child does it all — even more than you expected!

Even if your child is still closing the loop between receptive musical experience (listening, watching, processing) and expressive music (singing, dancing, keeping the beat), learning is still taking place. Sometimes children who have been musically expressive will return to "receptive mode" as they continue to learn and process what they are taking in. And someday, if you are modeling music-making, you will have a child who fully, joyfully makes music as well.

Children’s voices and perception of pitch are different from what we experience as adults. A big reason why we teachers always find the starting pitch before beginning a song – with the guitar, piano, pitch pipe, or resonator bells – is that children are quite sensitive to pitch. For example, if we begin singing “I’m A Bell” in a different key than what’s on the recording, children will notice if they’ve been hearing the recorded version. It won’t sound like what they’re used to or what they expect!

Our recordings are designed to be vocally accessible to both children and adults. As grownups, we often tend to sing in a low register – but when singing with your children, see if you can counter that. Perhaps you could sing a little higher than what you feel is your comfortable register, because your natural adult singing voice is lower than your child’s natural voice. Even better, let your child begin a song and echo what he or she is singing. If you are using your songbook at home, play the recorded music while looking through the book, and eventually your child will begin to sing the song when he or she sees the illustration.

If your child is already singing along, there are many singing techniques to try. One that we often try in class is audiation – it's what we mean when we say “sing it in your head!” The pioneering music educator Edwin Gordon coined the term as a way to describe imagining music: If we can’t imagine or “hear” a pitch accurately in our heads, how could we replicate it using our voices?

At home, try leaving off parts of songs, leaving silence at the conclusion of a musical piece, or asking your child to sing a phrase or verse “in your head.” It’s one of the many ways we build music competence – and YOU, the parent or caregiver, are key.

Thank you again for being an active music-making model for your child. The opportunity to make, feel, and enjoy music is something only you can give. More next month!