Hello! I’m Dave Trouton. I’m a musician and composer and I normally work in Theatre, creating music that helps to tell stories. Ten years ago, I was asked to work with some Nursery children to see if my fun approach to telling stories with music would help them as they took their first steps towards reading, writing and learning about the world. Today, thanks to funding from the Youth Music Initiative, I am privileged to work in many different Early Years settings across Scotland, where the Music and Me programme that began back in East Lothian in 2010 is flourishing and evolving all the time – helping further generations of children discover the fun of learning through the Arts. The chances are that if you are reading this I have already been working with your child’s class and they will know me well! Please feel free to share the video clips, games and music files in the “Children’s Space” section with your child and enjoy their reactions to the music.
Week 1 Welcome to Music and Me!
Normally at this time of year, I would be visiting your child’s nursery each week to share songs; play rhythm games and listening games; tell stories and make up music with them. Unfortunately we can’t do that at the moment, so each week I’ll be posting some Music and Me games, songs, stories and exercises in the Children’s Space section of this website instead. I know it’s not the same…I’m really missing my daily interactions with the children whose reactions, enthusiasm and brilliant ideas usually shape the sessions in the nurseries I visit. But perhaps this is an opportunity for you to share that experience – to see just how much your child enjoys having fun with sounds, rhythm and language…and just how important it is to their development at this stage.
Each week I’ll also be sharing information in this “Parent’s and Carer’s Space” about the project, the research and science behind it, links to video clips and further information about music and the role it has in learning. A lot of this will be stuff you already know about the importance of listening, singing and stories in early childhood, so feel free to dip in and out as you see fit, share the information you find interesting and please do contact me if you have any ideas, comments or new information to share.
Above all, please have fun and enjoy Music and Me!
This week’s Music and Me video session in the Children’s Space is about Comparing Loud and Quiet sounds, making shakers and dancing to different styles of drumming. Please do watch the clip with your child and hopefully you will both enjoy singing along and joining in the fun!
So…what’s the big deal about music?
First, let’s start at the beginning…
Music and Babies
The first year of a baby’s life is obviously a time of immense development. Different parts of the brain are forming connections that will enable them to process information and make sense of the world around them.
Sound plays a very important part in this.
The first sensation that a baby feels, before it is even born, is the sensation of sound. Inside the womb a baby can hear its mother’s heartbeat, her voice and the rhythms of her body when she walks.
Babies continue to make sense from patterns in sound throughout childhood.
Draw your child’s attention to sounds all around – indoors as well as when you are out for a walk! Describing and comparing sounds really helps to focus their listening skills…essential for later learning!
The natural way that mothers talk with their babies – Babytalk or “Motherese” is similar all over the world.
The imitation of the sounds the baby makes; the exaggeration of pitch and intonation and taking turns to make silly sounds – create a means of communication between mother and baby.
Before understanding spoken language, the baby understands how the mother is feeling through the tone, pitch and rhythm of the mother’s voice.
Many researchers believe that this type of structured, rhythmic, meaningful communication is a form of “Musicality” with which we are all born, and which lays the groundwork for developing verbal language.
Watch this video of Colwyn Trevarthen, Emeritus Professor of Child Psychology at Edinburgh University talking about “Communicative Musicality”
Some scientists think that before humans evolved spoken language, our ancestors communicated through some type of rhythmic music, song and dance. This reinforces the idea that we are all born with musical ability.
Read “The Singing Neanderthals” by Professor Steven Mithen for more about the distant origins of music-making.
So don’t be hung-up about singing aloud or playing musical games with your child – it’s a skill that we all have… built-in from birth!
Week 2 Music is a fun way to develop your child’s listening and patterning skills
This week’s Music and Me video in the Children’s Space is all about listening…sounds in the garden, sounds in the street…there’s an echo song about listening…oh, and we go on a big train journey too! I’ve also uploaded the musical accompaniment for the song and printed the words so you can sing it together any time at home! Enjoy.
Modern brain scanning technology is helping researchers to understand a lot more about the way children learn.
When playing and listening to music, our brains are automatically contrasting, comparing and recognizing patterns to make sense of the sounds, and it is thought that exposure to this activity must have beneficial effects on many other skill areas – especially reading and writing.
It doesn’t seem to matter what particular music it is – all music has this effect!
Many of the problems that children can encounter when learning to read occur because of a difficulty in recognising phonemes – the tiny differences in the sounds that make up individual words.
Music can really help children to learn how to listen – differentiating between loud and quiet, high and low notes, fast and slow, bumpy and smooth passages, as well as recognizing the tone of different instruments.
Share your own favourite music with your child at home – pop, rock, classical, rap, funk, jazz. It doesn’t matter what type of music it is – If you like it your child will like it too. Talk about the music, tell them why you like it, clap along, dance and move to the music, encourage their curiosity – it’s all valuable learning!
What sort of music do you listen to at home?
Do you have favourite songs or rhymes that you remember from your own childhood? Why not share them with your child.
If you are interested in music and its effects on the brain and learning, I would highly recommend Daniel Levitin’s book “This is your brain on music”. Once well known sound engineer and music producer to the stars in his native Canada, Daniel Levitin is now a world leader in the neuroscience of music and writes about it in a very down-to-earth and entertaining way!
Here’s some music I recorded for a project called “Music in Transition” in West Lothian Nurseries and Primary 1 classes a few years back. The music was intended to be useful in the classroom for different stages of the day…see how you get on with it at home!
The first piece is called “Quiet Time” :
…and the second is called “Tidy Up Time”…self-explanatory, I suppose!
Remember, do feel free to comment, ask questions or join in the debate on the Blog page
or send a private message on the Contact page.
Week 3 Sharing Stories
In week 3’s video in the Children’s Space we’ll be singing a few favourite songs and helping with a story all about listening. Stories are a very important part of Music and Me and usually form a good part of our weekly sessions. There is also a soundfile that tells a story of a walk in the woods…enjoy!
Sometimes, adults can feel anxious about reading stories aloud to their child, thinking that it is a special skill that they have yet to acquire.
This can especially happen if sharing storybooks was not a feature of a parent’s own childhood experience.
DON’T PANIC !
A storybook is just a great play activity you can share with your child in your own way. You can read the story together if you like, or make up your own story using the pictures, or act the story out in the garden…it’s the focused, shared time together that your child will love!
Stories help children to understand how things work.
Following the steps of a story helps children to understand how information is organized to make sense of the world.
A desire to know “what happens next” encourages the process of sequencing – another important part of learning to read.
Stories give children the opportunity to discover how characters feel and why, contributing greatly to their emotional development and empathy.
Stories often give valuable guidance by describing causes and effects, actions and consequences…if a character does something silly, something bad might happen.
Stories help to unlock a child’s Imagination!
…so here are some Top tips for storytelling you may find useful:
• Don’t panic if you don’t feel confident reading the story – tell it through looking at the pictures together.
• Find a time when you can have a few quiet minutes together without distractions…Turn off the TV!
• Take your time: children need longer than adults to take in all the information.
• Look at the pictures together and talk about them.
• Babies love stories too…even if they are too young to understand the words they love hearing your voice and spending focused time with you.
• When children find a story they like, they often want you to repeat it over and over. We know that connections between parts of the brain grow stronger with repetition.Repetition also helps children understand and remember language.
• Don’t just save books for bedtime – read in the bath, on a bus or even at the supermarket. Remember – words are everywhere!
• Lead by example – you are the most important person in your child’s life, so show your child that you enjoy reading too…books, newspapers, magazines …have plenty of things to read about your house!
• Join the library – even babies can join! There are “Bookbug” sessions you can enjoy together and it doesn’t even matter if books are returned damaged.
• Reading is for the whole family, so get everyone involved! Encourage others to read to your child – grandparents, babysitters, older brothers and sisters.
• Start off with short stories and rhymes – as children grow older they’ll enjoy listening to and joining in with longer stories.
Next time we’ll be looking at the very special thing that happens when we mix story telling with music and sound… a combination that offers great opportunities to explore our emotional worlds….in the meantime:
Listen along with your child to the sound file “A walk in the woods” that is posted on the Children’s Space this week. I just edited together some recordings I made on my phone during an evening walk last week. There is a passing car, a bicycle, a parent and child talking, lots of buzzing insects…and lots, and lots, and lots of different birds! See how many different sounds you and your child can hear.
And here is a piece of music that I recorded one hot, sunny summer’s day a few years ago…its called Dreamy and is pretty good for relaxation…so close your eyes and listen to it together….careful not to fall asleep!
If your child has enjoyed this week’s Sound Detectives story, maybe you would like to download this .pdf file, which has the template for making a Sound Detective badge…simply download, cut out, colour in and wear with pride!
The Children’s Space video this week is a long one! It’s all about songs and rhyming, so do watch along with your child and see what other household items you can find rhymes in! I’ve also uploaded an instrumental version (accompaniment only) for the Shopping Song, in case your wee one would like to sing along by themselves.
Week 4 How music helps to tell stories
Music has the power to dramatically effect how we feel, and is found everywhere in modern life – in shops, in the car, in restaurants, on CDs, computer games, the radio, on television, in films and theatre.
Think about the music in a favourite TV series or film, and how it helps to convey the mood within a scene and the feelings of the characters.
Or even consider one of your favourite songs… the chances are that you love it because of how it makes you feel.
Music is also used in advertising to effect how you feel about a product, and in shops to influence what you buy – often without you even realising.
For example, in a recent study carried out in an off-sales, different music was played in the store and the sales receipts monitored. When French folk music was played, more French wine was sold. When German folk music was played, German wine sales rocketed.
Also, when French classical music was played there was an increase in sales of more expensive French wine, and similarly when German classical music was played, sales of expensive German wine went up.
When interviewed leaving the store, most customers reported they did not even notice that music was being played!
The influence of in-store music on wine selections By North, Adrian C.; Hargreaves, David J.; McKendrick, Jennifer http://www.deepdyve.com/lp/psycarticles-reg/the-influence-of-in-store-music-on-wine-selections-fcS0wk7n6w
In film and television, background music helps us to experience the emotional journey of the characters, telling us when a character is sad, happy, excited or scared.
In a lot of familiar TV programmes, it’s the the music that dictates how we interpret a scene (e.g. Who do you think you are, The Apprentice, Nature Documentaries, Masterchef, The Repair shop).
Do you have a favourite song, and why do you like it?
Children engage with music emotionally from a very early age. From about age 3, children can identify music as being happy, sad, angry or scary, partly because of their already vast experience of music helping to tell the story in TV videos and films.
Even very young children have an emotional reaction to music and it can inspire them to dance, sing and move about, or help them to feel calm and relaxed.
Notice how music is used in children’s TV programmes to support the narrative of a story. Watch this short clip from ‘The Bear in the Big Blue House’ and observe how a constant underscore of music and sound effects helps to guide the young viewer through the programme:
Week 5 Music and emotion 1
For Week 5’s video in the Children’s Space I decided to play some piano. Piano is my first and favourite instrument, though I rarely get to play it much in early years settings. Children do seem to enjoy seeing an instrument played live, especially an acoustic instrument, and when the opportunity arises to take apart a piano case and show them how the mechanism works, they are spellbound!
I also find that the piano is the best medium for showing and explaining the mechanics of how music works on our emotions – how just a few notes can suggest happiness, sadness, joy, anger, excitement, menace, fear…you name any emotion and music will find a way of expressing it!
Of course, children respond intuitively to music in this way… some responses are innate, some culturally defined and some are based on their experiences of hearing music from birth.
When we hear a person’s voice for the first time, our brain scans its memory bank to match the accent with accents we’ve heard before. Although we don’t immediately shout out, “Hey, you’re from Dublin!” for example, we use that information unconsciously to add to our understanding of that person and what they are saying.
Similarly, one of the many brain processes that occurs when we hear music is that of scanning the memory to match what we hear with previous music experiences, in an attempt to “make sense” of the information.
When we hear those first 2 notes followed by a long pause in the theme from the movie “Jaws”, for example, part of our response is associated with the memory of the film…that sound reminds us of the dangerous feeling or presence of an attacking shark!
But when John Williams wrote that theme, he was also tapping into a profound intuition that we all share:
Our ancient ancestors lived in hostile natural environments and were constantly at risk from predators. A sudden sound, followed by silence immediately draws our attention…
Could that be a predator sneaking up on us?
The sound stops…
Is it still there?
We hear the sound again…
Is it coming closer?
Now its gone…was I just imagining it?
Here it is again…faster…louder…CLOSER!!!!!
It’s just got us!
Our brains have evolved to make sense of sounds in this way as an urgent matter of survival.
These are just some of the processes by which music serves to communicate ideas and meaning – creating a multi-sensoral or multi modal experience of life and learning that can be of great benefit to young learners.
Next time, we’ll talk about how music and stories together can offer great opportunities for our children to explore ideas, feelings and emotions.
Week 6 A musical imagination
This week’s video in the Children’s Space is another train Journey. We go to the beach and spend some time there playing with various ideas – building sandcastles, eating a picnic – before taking the train home again.
Pretend train journeys like this are some of the most popular activities in the live sessions I deliver in early years settings across the country. The children get to actively join in the music-making – imitating the different sounds we encounter along the way. Having given them “permission” to pretend and use their imagination, they really enjoy this type of shared experience with an adult. The game provides a multi -sensory story that involves seeing, listening, moving touching, tasting and smelling, as well as remembering a sequenced order of events as we get on and off the train. The children don’t realise it, of course, but activities like this one are really preparing them for reading stories for themselves later on!
Young children may be most familiar with stories through TV, films, computers and picture books. In these cases, characters and environments are presented for them. In sound stories like our train journeys, imaging how the story sounds allows the children’s imaginations to really get to work creating the visual world of the story for themselves….and what each child imagines will be different.
If your child has enjoyed going on our train journey to the beach, why not ask them to draw some pictures for you…..What did the beach look like? What did the train look like? Can you draw the pretend ice cream you had at the end?
Please also listen with your child to the recording I made of another bike trip…this time to the beach. Encourage them to listen carefully for clues that will help them work out the location….what sort of birds are those? Why do the footsteps sound different? What is that low, loud sound that appears half-way through the recording?
Remember, do feel free to comment, ask questions or join in the debate on the Blog page
or send a private message on the Contact page. See you next week!
Week 7 Transition
The video for week 7 has some specially requested songs and a favourite story – The Town Mouse and The Country Mouse. This Aesop’s Fable makes for another simple “Sound Story” – encouraging participation by helping with the sounds that occur throughout.
The story also raises the opportunity to talk about some issues relevant to transition – so what better time to tell it than now!
If you watch the story with your child, you can maybe ask some pertinent questions:
How do the characters feel at different times in the story?
Why was Town Mouse frightened in the Countryside?
Were the cows and sheep really scary, or was he just not used to them?
Was Country Mouse right to be frightened of the fire engine, or was it just a strange sound that he wasn’t used to?
Can you think of anything that you have experienced together tht you thought was strange and frightening until you became familiar with it?
Now that Summer Term is over, I’ll still be posting videos, sound files and features on the site, but not every week. Please keep an eye on the site, Facebook and twitter and I’ll let you know when there is something new to watch, listen to or read!
Have a great summer!