Sunday, 15 May 2011

Encouraging Singing

One of the most beautiful sounds in the world is the sound of a small child singing.  But how do we encourage children to sing?  Here are some useful ideas...
Parents and teachers often wonder how to encourage children to sing.    How can they give the gift of singing to their child when they may not feel confident in singing themselves?  In a society where there is so much recorded music there is less call for people to make the music themselves.  Are we forgetting how to sing? 

Consider the Zimbabwean proverb:   
If you can walk you can dance, if you can talk you can sing. 

Apart from the profoundly deaf, we all have the capacity to sing.  We just need to learn to drive our voice, and focus our ears.  Here are some fun ideas to encourage singing with children. 

  • Stories: when you read stories to your children look for any opportunities to make sound effects with your voice.  Encourage your child to join you in making the sounds.  When children make high and low sounds with their voice (animal noises, machine noises etc) it helps them explore what their voice can do and how to create those sounds.  This exploration is necessary before children can sing in tune. For example:
-     The Hairy Maclary stories have lots of different dog/cat noises.  Make these at different pitches with your voice.
-     Use different voice pitches for different characters in a story.  E.g. Goldilocks and the three bears.  Papa Bear can speak in a low voice “Who’s been eating my porridge?”, Mama Bear in a mid range, and Baby Bear in a high voice. 
-     Stories with tractors, trucks, and helicopters give great opportunities to make engine noises as you and your child read the story.

  • Sing the machines in your house.  With your child, try matching the pitch of the vacuum cleaner!  The vacuum cleaner is a good one because when it is turned on it rises to a stable pitch level and stays there.  This gives children a chance to listen and match the pitch.  It then falls in pitch when you turn it off. 
  • Sing the cake mixer (if you have time to bake!).  My old Kenwood mixer would rise up the scale as we turned the numbers on the dial.  My daughter used to love controlling the dial and singing the sound of the mixer as we baked.
  • Sing the hair dryer.  Most hair dryers have 2 speeds.  Hum the different pitches.
  • Singing conversations:  Use just two notes initially.  The so-me interval is a good beginning.  If you can’t think of the notes just think back to your childhood and hum “I’m the king of the castle,” then you’ll get the tune.  Sing conversations such as “What do you want on your toast today?”, “Would you like a glass of milk?”, “Which story did you choose?”, “Where are you hiding?”.  Encourage your child to sing the answers.
  • Sing the stairs. Whether it is a full flight of stairs or just a few, sing and count them as you go up and down.
 Have fun singing and vocalizing interesting sounds with your kids...
...and the very best thing is that your child doesn't care if you are a rock star or not. She will just enjoy the smile on your face and the fun you are having together.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Music when you are young helps when you are old!

Did you know music study as a youngster helps the brain when it gets old? We now have research to prove it.
There has been a lot of research done on how children who study music do better in school than those who don't but this is the first research I have seen which relates early music study to old age.  Even if the person had not played an instrument in decades the benefits still remained.

The following article was printed in the New Zealand Herald 23rd April, 2011. It is fascinating.

Hours spent practicing the piano as a child could pay off in more ways than one, scientists have found.  Not only will it lead to you mastering the instrument, but it will also provide a boost to your brain decades later, it is claimed. 
Even if you no longer play into adulthood, it will keep the mind sharper as you enter old age.  The researchers found that pensioners who had piano, flute, clarinet or other lessons as a youngster did better on intelligence tests. 
“Musical activity throughout life may serve as a challenging cognitive exercise, making your brain fitter and more capable of accommodating the challenges of ageing.” said lading researcher Dr Brenda Hanna-Pladdy at the University of Kansas Medical Centre.
 “Since studying and instrument requires years of practice and learning, it may create alternate connections in the brain that could compensate for cognitive declines as we get older.”  The study, published by the American Psychological Association in the journal Neuropsychology recruited 70 healthy adults aged 60 to 83 who were divided into three groups based on their levels of musical experience.  The musicians performed better on several cognitive tests than individuals who had never studied an instrument or learned how to read music. 
While much research had been done on the cognitive benefits of musical activity by children, this was the first study to examine whether those benefits could extend across a lifetime, said Dr Hanna-Pladdy, who conducted the study with her colleague Alicia MacKay. 
The three groups of study participants included individuals with no musical training; with one to nine years of musical study; or with at least 10 years of musical training.  All of the participants had similar levels of education and fitness and did not show any evidence of Alzheimer’s disease.  All were amateurs who began playing and instrument when they were about 10. 
More than half played the piano while about a quarter had studied woodwind instruments such as the flute or clarinet.  Smaller numbers performed with stringed instruments, percussion or brass.  The high-level musicians who had studied the longest performed the best on cognitive tests, followed by the low-level musicians and non-musicians.