Archive for the 'Try This At Home' Category

Holiday Music on Repeat

holiday musicAll of a sudden it’s here again; the holidays! Regardless of which holidays you celebrate, or what your family beliefs and traditions are, there is a common association with this time of year-and I don’t mean frantic shopping benders, I mean music. Holiday music starts pumping through the air waves before we’ve even finished our Thanksgiving dishes.

Most of us are so familiar with holiday tunes that we often sing or hum along without even thinking about it. (I catch my husband whistling “Silver Bells”, completely unaware that he’s doing it!) We’ve had decades of Decembers to hear and learn these songs. We may not know the words to all 5 verses, but we know the chorus, and we can belt the melody with the best of ‘em! I had a moment in class last week, that really stood out to me, and made me think about these carols from a different perspective…

Looking around our community circle, the parents were singing and smiling as we exuberantly sang “Jingle Bells” together. The children, I noticed, for the most part were looking around the circle without smiles. Their expressions were more of wonder, curiosity, and even a bit of confusion, as if thinking: “What the heck is this song that all the grownups are having so much fun singing?” Only in that moment did it fully occur to me that most of them are too young to have clear memories of it from the year before. For some, it may well have been the first time they’d heard it! Imagine, not knowing “Jingle Bells!”

Music Together knowingly emphasises repetition in its curriculum. We’ve just been singing the same set of songs for 12 weeks! Though many children are able to enjoy the songs from the first week of a session, it isn’t usually until after the recording has been played dozens (maybe hundreds) of times in the car, and they’ve attended class several weeks (even about 6) that they really dive in and get the most out of the music.

In the past, I remember including “Jingle Bells” in my lesson plan two weeks in a row, and then again at a holiday sing-a-long after the session ended. When a 3-year-old requested it for his January birthday party, I thought this was the best thing ever! He was not done with the repetition yet! He needed more!

So my challenge to you is this: give your children as much repetition with holiday music as we do our song collections each session. Don’t settle for it being only in the background, bring it to the foreground, and give your kiddo the wonderful opportunity to experience the holiday spirit through music. Choose a couple of your favorite songs or an album that you love dearly, and focus there for your own family’s holiday music session. Sing with the recordings, but also sing without them. Make a point to get out instruments, get up and dance, and have holiday music making time, but also sing them casually while you’re cooking, cleaning, shopping, playing, and while you’re snuggling up for bed. Doing this will spread the holiday cheer, share (and create new) family traditions, and give your little one a deep, memorable musical experience. And just maybe, the gift will keep giving next year and in a lifetime to come.

Vanessa Heilman
Music Together Teacher, Certification Level I


Music and Memory

Heartsong Music InstrumentsHave you ever heard a song or sound from a certain time or place in your life, and been instantly transported? When I was in the 5th grade CD players were brand new, and I was thrilled beyond measure to receive one for Christmas. With this new CD player came 3 CDs: an instrumental guitar sampler, “Rubber Soul” by The Beatles, and “The Best of The Mamas & the Papas.” The oldies station on the radio was my favorite, so my parents had chosen music they knew I would love. I played those CDs nearly to pieces! I had one of them playing whenever I was in my room, whether I was reading, playing with friends, studying or even sleeping. So it makes sense that recently when I heard the-oh-so familiar strains of “California Dreamin’ ” by The Mamas & the Papas, I experienced a startling rush of emotions. I felt like I was 11 again! I remembered how it felt to be sitting on my twin bed, listening to the voices of my parents and siblings. I felt safe and content. I could even smell the way my bedroom had smelled, particularly the scent of my books, my drawing pastels, and laundry detergent. The experience was a reminder of what a wonderful childhood I had, and it really struck me how intense these recollections were.

During class we always begin with the “Hello Song” and end with the “Goodbye, So Long, Farewell” song. Part of the reason we do this is because of the musical memory that we are building by singing these ritual songs. When we sing the “Hello Song” together, we are preparing to begin, we are getting excited and warming up our voices. Scientific research shows that our brains are hard-wired to connect music with memory. Even for those who are experiencing dementia or suffering from Alzheimer’s, music can bring up deep emotional recall. There are studies that show familiar music calming brain activity and enabling the listeners to focus on the present moment.

Singing the same songs to begin and end every class allows our children to experience a time of beginning and preparation with “Hello” and a natural ending with “Goodbye”. This is also why singing goodbye to instruments, scarves, and other classroom props is so powerful! The musical memory of those two notes, “good-bye”, are ingrained in the children’s brains. Try singing goodbye to things at home to indicate an end to playtime (good-bye toys!), people (good-bye grandma!) or even TV time (good-bye Nickelodeon!). You may find that it is easier for your child to give up their favorite toy, not only because you have transformed saying goodbye into an activity by singing, but also because you have tapped in to that musical memory of saying goodbye in a safe and fun way.

Happy music making!

Sally Nava
Music Together Teacher

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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