How Silence Makes Us Musical

In a Music Together classroom – Anywhere, USA

Hello everybody, we’re so glad to see….
(silence…)
(……………..)
(Sixth month old vocalizes) eeeeeehhh…
(Two year old)  You!
(Grown-ups join in) Youuuuuuu!

If you’ve been in a music together class, you have probably experienced a scenario like this – the grown-ups leave space in a song and the children fill it in!

So many exciting things can happen when there is silence in the classroom and in our musical play. Whether it’s in between songs or within the song itself, silence is very important in facilitating your child’s musical absorption, audiation, and participation in class.

Purposeful Silence

When we pause for silence during songs, we are really allowing our children to take in and process what they’ve just experienced. Research has taught us that babies need three full seconds before they can process what they’ve heard and then even more to respond!  So to meet the musical needs of babies, we must make silence a part of their musical experience. This allows their brains to catch up – ours, too!

We also know how important contrast is to children’s learning. We often play with fast next to slow, loud next to soft, thereby giving greater meaning to both concepts. Likewise, we play with silence and music. In these instances, whether it is with singing, chanting, or instrument play, the music becomes more meaningful and the silence becomes filled with energy and anticipation!

                   Jack in the box, resting so still

                  Will you come out? 

                  (wait for it, wait for it……………….)

                  YES!  I will!

The purposeful silence within songs and chants also allows us to see if our children are able to audiate what comes next. Have we repeated the song/chant enough?  Can they hear the song in their head without us singing it? If the answer is yes, then we may hear a child sing out. If it’s a song like Trot Old Joe, a child may simply start pushing back on their grown-up because they know what to expect next –  a roll back on “Whoa!”. As teachers, we also like to leave space after we sing a tonal pattern and before you sing back. This space allows the children to receive the pattern and try to sing it themselves. These musical moments and expressions need purposeful silence to come out!

Silence is golden…

You have probably heard us say many times in class that your voice is your child’s favorite voice in the whole world, but did you also know that your child is attuned to your voice above all? This means that whether you are singing in class or talking to a neighbor in class, your voice is what your child is noticing most. At this young age, your child lacks the auditory filter to “tune you out” so we want to keep the talking to a minimum and the singing at a maximum!

There are golden opportunities for silence in every class when we are transitioning from one song to the next. When we are silent in between songs, we can help keep our children’s musical minds active. Even though the song activity is over for us grown-ups, it is far from done in your child’s mind. Your child is still absorbing the song and maybe audiating or “thinking” the song even after we’ve sung the last note. This is the time that we often hear children sing out! Giving your child a silent space to allow processing and self-expression is such a gift. So if you need to relay something to your child in class, try singing it to them! During our precious time together we want our children’s musical minds active and absorbing the whole time.

When you play with your child musically and add purposeful silences, you are supporting their musical development by giving them time to absorb, audiate and express themselves. Here are some ideas for at home and at play:

  • Sing a song that is familiar to them, maybe one from class. When you get to the end of a phrase or a verse, leave off the last word and see what happens! Your child may sing the ending or if they don’t, you can do it for them. You can try this with a chant, too!
  • Similar to the activity above, sing a song and this time leave out repetitive phrases from a song.

Flies in the buttermilk, shoo, fly, shoo

Flies in the buttermilk, (audiate)

Flies in the buttermilk (audiate)

Skip to my Lou, my darling.

See what happens!

  • Again, sing a song that is familiar to your child and make unexpected pauses or freezes in the song. Children love starts and stops in music as it provides contrasting experiences while filling the song with excitement and anticipation!

Remember when playing with your child that it is not about results, it’s about having fun and connecting musically. So sing, dance, and have fun!

Till we make music together again….

Michelle Jamail
Certification Level II, Music Together Teacher

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The Joy of Family Music

Heartsong Music teaches Music Together®, the internationally recognized early childhood music and movement program for children from birth through grade two and the adults who love them.

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