Sunday, June 26, 2011

Music is Child's Play

Picture by Larry and Laura via Flickr
A child’s job is to play.  I don’t mean on an X-box or sitting in front of Cartoon Network.  I mean real, old-fashioned playing.  Exploring, building, creating, imagining, figuring things out.  Building forts, playing pretend, exploring a park: that is the work of children, and there is nothing better for their mental, physical and emotional development.

The problem with so many music opportunities for children is that they lack one of two essential ingredients: either they lack the “play” element of fun discovery, or they lack pedagogical basis of actually learning musical skills.  How many “music day camps” are there out there that give children things to bang on and songs to sing along to but never explain the concepts of meter and notation, never make an attempt to make sure they’re singing on the right pitches, and never explain to them the difference between their high and low voice?  How many kids and adults “used to” take piano lessons but quit as soon as they could convince their parents that it was way too BORING!  What are we doing here?  Is there no happy middle ground between fluff and the whip?

Of course there is!  Children LOVE music.  They love to sing and dance and bang on things.  They love to learn gestures that accompany songs (think “The Eensy-Weensy Spider”) and they love to pretend that they are a Disney princess or hero singing their favorite songs.  What we sometimes forget is that children also love the sense of accomplishment that comes from learning and performing a song for their parents or peers.  They love passing off a song and putting a sticker on the page to prove it.  They love the satisfaction of seeing all the progress they have made in developing their musical tallents; they just need to be having fun during most of it or they lack the patience to stay with it.

The new Very Early Beginner Level A of Singing Lessons for Little Singers is full of fun games and activities that are all carefully constructed and arranged to ensure that students are learning and progressing in their skills, whether they know it or not!  Games like the vocal “Airplane Ride” to practice raising and lowering pitch, the catchy “Beat Cat” game to practice meter, rhythm and tempo, and the four-verse version of the classic circle-game “Ring Around the Rosies” chock-full of fun actions and movements that will keep students wanting to sing the ingeniously crafted pentatonic melody again and again.  You have never seen a private or group music lesson like this before!  Children will think it is all fun and games, but teachers and parents will see the children learning their scale intervals and singing more in tune, training their melodic and rhythmic “ears,” learning fundamental (potentially voice-saving) singing techniques of support and registration, beginning to read music notation, and fostering abstract musical expression through imaginative lyrics, gestures and motions.

Play is the work of children, but the smart parent ensures that their child’s activities are structured to best facilitate their development.  We buy them good children’s books at their reading level to build their literacy.  We take them to children’s museums that present arts and technology in fun, approachable but genuine ways.  We even buy them cartoon-themed backpacks and school supplies to show them that learning is not all bland drudgery.  Numerous studies have shown that children who participate in genuine music training (with ear and theory training) get better grades in school, have increased mathematical and language abilities, and even have up to a 46% increase in their IQ scores.  (I’ll give you the reference for that study because I know you won’t believe me: Rauscher, Shaw, Levine, Ky and Wright, “Music and Spatial Task Performance: A Causal Relationship,” University of California, Irvine, 1994.)  Do your young children and students a favor and make Singing Lessons for Little Singers a part of their lives.

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