Studies now show that everyone, not just kids, should turn off their screens well before they are to go to sleep. Some say an hour, some say 2 or 3 hours. Electronic devices – TVs, smartphones, tablets – emit a blue light that signals the brain that it is daytime. Screens can upset your circadian rhythm and your sleep-wake cycle is affected. Hints for getting a good night’s sleep all begin with “Turn off the electronics, or better yet, remove them from the bedroom.”
As children become more and more accustomed and adept at manipulating phones and tablets, handing a child your phone to play some games or a story or video on an iPad becomes increasingly normal. In fact, it may take time not only for children but their parents to really turn off the iPhone an hour before bed and switch to a printed book to read before going to sleep.
Tired parents after a long day are, well, tired. By the time dinner is finished and the dishes are in the dishwasher, most parents yearn for some quiet time during that post-dinner pre-bedtime hour or two. If screens are not a good option if you want your child to have a good night’s sleep, what can you do?
Modern Parents Messy Kids came up with some great before bedtime activities that foster independence and are screen-free that included puzzles, dolls, cars for younger children, and for older children reading, Rubik’s Cube type of challenges, legos, and perhaps weaving. They also highly recommend audiobooks.
How to make children feel less lonely when they are left to entertain themselves? Try putting on some music. Below is a short list of music that you might put on for your child during the quiet time before bed. It is a combination of restful and cheerful. Listen to these samples on Amazon to see what appeals to you as a parent.
Bach Cello Suites Nos. 1, 5 & 6
Bach Brandenburg Concertos
Handel’s Water Music
Debussy - Estampes, Images, Préludes
Debussy Clair de Lune
Debussy Petit Suite
Mozart String Quartets
Haydn Cello Concertos
Satie 3 Gymnopédies
If you would like to some quiet, no work for you, time with your kids, try listening to the Maestro Classics’ Stories in Music series together. Children love stories and music, and parents and older children will enjoy the composer biographies and friendly talks about music by the conductor. Not sure where to begin? Start with the listening guide.
1. Rideout, Victoria “ Generation M: Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year-Olds”. A Kaiser Family Foundation Study The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Jan. 2010 https://kaiserfamilyfoundation.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/8010.pdf
2. Merga, Margaret Kristin. "Research shows the importance of reading with children - even after children can read." The Conversation. 27 Aug. 2017. Web. 24 Sept. 2017 https://theconversation.com/research-shows-the-importance-of-parents-reading-with-children-even-after-children-can-read-82756
3. Nott, Angie. "Teaching Your Child to be a Good Teammate." Omaha World Herald. 07 Sept. 2017. Web. 24 Sept. 2017. http://www.omaha.com/momaha/extras/expert-advice/teaching-your-child-to-be-a-good-teammate/article_e54137fe-8f43-11e7-8dba-9be2c91085ce.html
4. Fallon, Claire "In The Digital Age, Young Kids Need Classical Music More Than Ever." Huffington Post. 05 Oct. 2015. Web. 24 Sept. 2017.http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/classical-music-for-kids-digital-age_us_560eee6ee4b0768127021a69
5. Wells, N.M. “At Home with Nature: Effects of “greenness” on children’s cognitive functioning.” Environment and Behavior 32.6 (2000): 775-795. http://eab.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/32/6/775
All instruments are difficulty to play, but the French horn is probably the most difficult brass instrument to play well. The French horn is made of an enormously long piece of brass tubing. If you stretched out a French horn it would extend half way across the front of the stage! The tubing is actually 25 feet long.
Something very strange happens to a brass instrument when the tubing is very long. Suddenly, you push down the valves, but instead of the right note coming out, lots of different notes can come out and YOU have to pick out the right one with your lips! On the trumpet, when you press down the first valve, you might get a B-flat instead of an F, but a B-flat is a lot higher than an F, so you would know that it is wrong. On the French horn, if you press down the first valve you might get a D or an F or a B-flat, and because the notes are closer together, it is more difficult to tell if you are right or wrong.
Until the 19th century, French horns had no valves. The player carried a suitcase filled with crooks, or extra lengths of tubing. Depending on the key he was playing in, he put in a length of tubing that was the right length for that key. By the end of the 19th century, horns were made in F, and people learned to play them, but it was still very difficult, so an extra set of tubing was added to create a "double" French horn, to help musicians play the high notes more accurately. Today, there are even "triple" French horns, to help players.
The American Horn Quartet
The American Horn Quartet is amazing because of how well they play these very tricky instruments. They make it look and sound very easy, but anyone who has ever tried to play the French horn knows that these musicians are practically wizards on this beastly instrument.
Recordings by the American Horn Quartet
French Horn Cases
French horn cases come in two styles: the standard one that is in the shape of a French horn, and the slim rectangular one that looks like a suitcase or backpack.
HOW CAN YOU FIT A FRENCH HORN INTO A FLAT, RECTANGULAR CASE?
The bell of certain French horns screws off so that they can travel in flat cases. The standard French horn case will not fit under any airline seat or in any overhead compartment! With a standard case, you either have to buy a seat for your horn, lock it and put it in with the luggage (always dangerous!), or purchase a horn with a removable bell.
visit www.hornguys.com for more French horn cases.
Bores, Boars, Boring, Bored...
The Mandolin is a cross between a violin and a guitar. It is tuned like a violin, having four notes, but each note has two strings which increases its volume. It has frets (thin metal cross bars) on the finger board, like a guitar.
The first mandolins that we hear about are in Italy in the late 1600's. In the 1700's compositions like Vivaldi's Double Mandolin Concerto were being written for the mandolin. Handel included the mandolin in some of his music and so did Mozart. But suddenly, in the 1800's, the mandolin was forgotten.
Divertimento in F major (KV 138) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart performed by the Dutch Mandolin Chamber Orchestra
In the 1880's people in Germany and Austria began to re-discover the mandolin, and traveling Italian mandolin troupes began to travel in Europe. But an amazing thing happened: The mandolin also became very popular in Japan and the United States!
Unlike the violin, the mandolin has no bow. It is simply plucked with a pick. During the 19th century, it became popular to pluck very fast back and forth using the pick to create a tremolo effect.
The mandolin is tuned like a violin. Instead of 4 strings, however, it has 8. This means that there are 2 G strings, 2 D strings, 2 A strings, and 2 E strings. A piano can be quite loud because it has 2 or 3 strings for every note in order to create a richer sound. The same is true for the mandolin, it has two of each string to make it louder.
CASEY AT THE BAT
(Great poem to memorize for school.)
The outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville Nine that day;
the score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play.
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
a sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.
A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
they thought, if only Casey could but get a whack at that –
they'd put up even money, now, with Casey at the bat.
But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
and the former was a lulu and the latter was a cake,
so upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
for there seemed but little chance of Casey's getting to the bat.
But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
and Blake, the much despised, tore the cover off the ball;
and when the dust had lifted, and the men saw what had occurred,
there was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.
Then from five thousand throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
it rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
it knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
for Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.
There was ease in Casey's manner as he stepped into his place;
there was pride in Casey's bearing and a smile on Casey's face.
And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
no stranger in the crowd could doubt 't was Casey at the bat.
Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt.
Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
defiance gleamed in Casey's eye, a sneer curled Casey's lip.
And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
and Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped--
"That ain't my style," said Casey. "Strike one," the umpire said.
From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore.
"Kill him! Kill the umpire!" shouted someone on the stand;
and it's likely they'd have killed him had not Casey raised his hand.
With a smile of Christian charity great Casey's visage shone;
he stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;
he signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew;
but Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said: "Strike two."
"Fraud!" cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered fraud;
but one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
and they knew that Casey wouldn't let that ball go by again.
The sneer is gone from Casey's lip, his teeth are clenched in hate;
he pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate.
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
and now the air is shattered by the force of Casey's blow.
Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
the band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
and somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
but there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out.
If the Mozart Effect really does not spark your child to score higher on spatial reasoning tests or produce higher SAT scores should you forget classical music and try vitamin pills?
The question brought to mind an interesting story in the New York Times this past year. A woman spent a year intensively studying Italian. Before she began, she had taken some mental ability testing, being a little worried that she was not as sharp as she used to be. After her year of working on Italian, she decided to be retested. To her surprise, all her scores had gone up. The take away: study a foreign language if you want to increase your brainpower. That might have been the end, but another person wrote a letter to the editor and quipped,
“Only in America would one think that the reason to study a foreign language was to improve your mental agility!” It went on, and I paraphrase: Traveling there perhaps? Ordering a meal in Italian in Rome? Meeting new people from a different country? Etc.
And so I turn to the Mozart effect with a similar thought. Why parents would think that the primary reason for children to play an instrument or to listen to great music would be to improve their test scores?
Consider the following: Have you ever thought of listening to classical music just because it, like a painting, can be beautiful? But, we go to museums both to look at beautiful paintings – eye candy – but also because paintings have the ability to make us see our world differently. Paintings can make us think about angels, wars, and fashion. Paintings can open our eyes to a beautiful sunset or a handsome horse. They can make us wonder why someone would pay millions of dollars for a painting of two colored squares (Rothko). And, like all great art, each time we go back, we see something different.
Similarly, music can be beautiful – ear candy. It can treat us to new sounds and beautiful melodies. It can describe a walk in the woods with birds twittering or a thunderstorm and military battle. But perhaps most importantly, music has the ability to change how we feel.
(NOTE: All the musical examples cited below are from YouTube because they are free. If you find something you like, I encourage you to go to Amazon and listen to samples to find a performance that you really like. The sound quality will be better - MP3s are good; CDs have the best sound quality - and you may be surprised at the differences in interpretations.)
Try this simple test. Listen to the following short musical examples and answer how you feel.
People often say that music is the universal language because it speaks to our emotions. When the BBC opened its broadcasts during the Second World War with the opening notes to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, it elicited the serious, hard times at hand. And, almost like a bookend, Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” the final chorus in his Ninth Symphony exudes feelings of peace and brotherhood.
Nations have recognized that singing national anthems elicits feelings of patriotism. When the band or orchestra begins the Star Spangled Banner everyone immediately stand up and joins in. In France, the same thing happens when the Marseillaise is played. Even the European Union decided that it needed a national anthem and chose Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” (Flash mobs Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, NBA Video with Beethoven's Ode to Joy)
Composers in the 19th century decided that they wanted their music to tell stories. Richard Strauss composed Til Eulenspiegel (The Merry Pranks of Master Till) to recount the tales of the naughty boy Till. Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain is another descriptive work. But Beethoven described a day in the countryside when he composed his Symphony No. 6, The Pastoral ($ version). (This YouTube performance is accompanied by an excellent description so that you know what Beethoven is trying to say.) And, of course, there is Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.($ version), with birds and ice storms that you will recognize immediately.
The above are all examples of classical music. Is classical music the only kind of “good music”? Definitely not, but one thing that makes classical music different is that, like a great painting, every time you look at it you will see or hear something different. If you stand in front of a Monet painting of a bridge over the Seine in Paris, you will be surprised to see that the fog lifts.
The painting does not change but what you see in it does. Similarly, the first time you listen to Haydn’s Surprise Symphony, ($ version), you may not get the joke, but after a few listens you will hear where Haydn is playing with us. Another great example, especially for young people, is the two tracks on the Casey at the Bat (Maestro Classics) recording. If you listen to “Flight of the Rabbit” on Track 5, it will just sound like, well, music. But if you then listen to Track 4, “In a Cabin in a Wood,” the conductor will tell you all the things that you might not have heard the first time. Every time you listen to it afterwards, you will hear the rabbit jumping and the guns shooting.
Finally, I would offer that you have probably heard more classical music than you realize. Movie producers, restaurant owners, airline publicists all avail themselves of classical music. Ever flown United? Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue)($ version). If you want to discover just how much classical music you probably already know, go to Kickass Classical’s Top 100 list. A good way to introduce young people to the world of classical music to start with this list. For a dollar a week, your child could begin to build a music library and become musically literate. You may be surprised at what they like!
If you are still looking for things to listen to, I recommend this article: “10 Essential Classical Music of All Time.” In addition, some of my favorite performances of Baroque and Early Classical music are:
Stay tuned for more suggestions for music composed after 1750.
If you didn’t go to KickAss Classical’s top 100 list before, , I suggest that you take a moment now. Every time I click through the samples, I listen for 5 seconds to each and smile. How so many different emotions can be pulled out of me in the course of two minutes never ceases to amaze me.
Most parents who embark upon music lessons for their children hope that they will become skillful and enjoy it sufficiently to continue playing into adulthood. They often lament, “I wish my parents had forced me to practice,” or “I wish my parents had not let me quit.” The truth is that the parents of these adults were products of their times. They thought that if they bought the piano, found the teacher, drove the child to lessons, and told her to practice once a day, the music would stick if it were meant to be. Few of them had thought about Mozart’s father who devoted his life to teaching and practicing with his son, or Wagner’s wife who locked him in his study every morning and only let him out for lunch. Most professional musicians today will tell you the importance of the parent who practiced with them.
Pianist Ann Schein related a wonderful account of her childhood. She began piano lessons at age 4. Her mother was a professional violinist and practiced hours with her daily. When Ann was 13, her teacher announced that he was spending the summer in Mexico and Ann could not be left on her own, pianistically, for the summer. It was agreed that her family would spend the summer in Mexico too. Ann was shocked to discover that her teacher arrived at 9 a.m., had a cup of coffee, and at 9:30 am they began to practice together! He left at lunchtime, returned, and they continued on until dinner, whereupon he ate with the family and went home, only to return again the following morning. Seven days a week, all summer long, this very great teacher arrived and practiced with Ann. Forty years later, this accompanist for singer Jessye Norman believes that teaching students how to practice is still one of the most valuable skills that can be passed on to the next generation.
The successful child is inevitably the product of that successful triangle of teacher-parent-student. In the early years, the parent brings organizational and memory skills to the practicing. “Remember; we have to work on the E-flat major scale this week. Take a moment to think about rounding your fingers. I’ll set the metronome.” Sometimes the child is fortunate to have a parent who is a musician or an amateur musician, or even someone who took music lessons as a child. Often this is not the case. The enthusiastic and committed non-musician parent, however, is as valuable as the musician parent. Attending the lessons together and taking the time to practice together every day is the key. Remember, “Shall we practice now?” will ultimately reap far greater rewards than “Have you practiced today?”
The question looms, however, will you ever be able to wean your child from needing you to practice with them? Good question! The bad news is that your child will be able to do homework alone long before being ready to practice an instrument alone. The good news is that the time finally does come. The question is when is the right time and how do you do it.
One of the determinants of weaning is the skill level of the parent. For the non-musician parent, there will be a time when the child turns to you and says, “Mother, it says allegro, you are going much too slow. Anyway, it is in the key of G minor, so it doesn’t sound anything like the way you are singing it.” Having now surpassed the “home teacher,” as Suzuki calls the parent, your superior child will feel confident to proceed on her own and your role will fall into, “This would be a good time to practice, because you have a soccer game and afterwards you are going to Susan’s.” At this point, take on the role of student yourself; ask questions. “I see that you have been assigned a new piece; what does ‘adagio’ mean here in the upper left hand corner?” (even if you know the answer). Your role has become one of seducing your child to take the instrument out of the case and begin to practice. If they are putting it away after 5 minutes, return and say something like, “I only heard the end of that last piece. I really liked it. Would you play the whole thing for me?” This is the time for the light touch, good humor, no suggestions, lots of praise, total admiration for how far she has professed and how much she has learned. You will be amazed at how the youngster will blossom.
For the more musically skilled parent, weaning will take longer. The child knows that you know how many sharps are in the key of C# minor, how to count the rhythm, and that no one can practice for 5 minutes and cover everything that is expected. But if your budding musician is approaching the age of 11, the time may have come to start thinking about transferring some of the practicing responsibility over to your child.
The parents who have diligently practiced with their children for years have felt the price of accomplishment, even if they have never played a note. To suddenly think of not having the lesson prepared is like showing up for a meeting without having written your speech. Separating yourself and your pride from the practicing situation is one of the most difficult aspects of weaning your child from practicing with you. Consequently, step one is a serious talk with your child’s music teacher. Discuss whether the teacher thinks that this is a good time to begin the weaning process. Many teachers feign surprise that you are still such an active participant, but don’t minimize your role. If your child would never practice without being dragged to the keyboard kicking and screaming, say so. If you have to promise Skittles for every scale played, say so. This is the time for full disclosure. Obviously, if you and the teacher still have the fortitude, whatever you are doing is working. If the teacher feels that none of this should be necessary and you know that the instrument would never leave the case if you didn’t do all that you are doing, perhaps it is time for a new more realistic teacher. (I will never forget an interview with Pinchas and Eugenia Zuckerman. When the interviewer commented that their children love to practice with all the wonderful music in their home, they laughed and quipped, “Of course they hate to practice. Everyone hates to practice. Practicing is work.”)
You and your child’s teacher must adopt a strategy. Try small increments of the lesson, which will be the child’s sole responsibility. In the beginning it should be outrageously simple, perhaps even just two measures that the child will have to learn without your assistance and perform at the next lesson. Request that the teacher spend part of the lesson discussing the art of practicing and then show the child how to work on a two-measure passage. Put on the metronome; practice slowly, what are the sharps and flats, which are the tricky rhythms. In short, how does one dissect the passage, study problems, and then put it all together again. You may even want to be part of this “learning how to practice” lesson. Remember, it is an art, but it also can be taught. In fairness to your child be certain that the teacher is teaching the skills necessary to becoming an independent practicer. The key is to start small and build confidence. Two measures played perfectly is far preferable to an entire exercise played with several mistakes. Expectations must be very clear and lots of praise must be lavished by the teacher for a job well done. You should report to the teacher how things have gone at home, and the teacher must share ideas with you. You both must agree about what is reasonable to expect in the coming weeks.
In the beginning, your child will not be as well prepared as when you work together, but will eventually own this wonderful skill and be enormously proud of it. The in-between is like pulling fish in on a line. You are fostering independence, but you don’t want to let them quit. You must encourage, but not criticize. You must lure them on to do more than they ever initially think is necessary. All of your diplomatic skills will be necessary to cajole your child into rigorously attacking a difficult passage or understanding that practicing every day means seven days a week, not four.
Practicing with your child takes unending amount of patience. Weaning your child takes an equal amount. None of this happens in a month. Several years is probably more reasonable. In the meantime, while you are cajoling, suggesting, requesting, begging your child to get practicing over with, consider sitting down at the piano yourself or dusting off the instrument you used to play and playing for five minutes. You will be amazed at how much you have learned during your child’s lessons and how rewarding practicing can be for you!
Many music teachers encourage parents to go to lessons and help with practice. Research shows that successful young musicians usually do have the support from their parents, so there’s no doubt that it’s a good thing. But parents can be troublesome, and it’s worth remembering that they need guidance and encouragement too. Train your parent to be a “Perfect Practicing Companion with these Handy Hints.” So began an article titled “Practicing with Parents: a Survival guide” in the magazine MUSICLUB, a bimonthly magazine for young music students published in Surrey, England.
For many parents the idea of providing music lessons for their children means transporting them to lessons, paying the bills and hoping they like it enough to practice. The unfortunate truth is that no one likes to practice! And the only thing wore than practicing oneself is practicing with one’s child. It is like being a two-headed monster: both heads must agree on when to sit down and do the dreadful deed; both must acknowledge when the music is too fast, out of tune, or incorrectly fingered; and both must ultimately decide that the joy of playing is worth the suffering of practicing. The good news is that as your children get older, they will be able to practice alone, but don’t hold your breath! The hardest hour of my day, which runs the gamut from being Executive Director of the Washington Chamber Symphony to juggling a household with conductor husband and two children, is the hour I spend practicing the trumpet with my 9-year-old-son, Basil.
In the early 1980s when I was living in Tokyo, I traveled to meet the famous violin pedagogue, Suzuki Sensei (sensei means “teacher” or “master” in Japanese) at his school near Okayama. I listened to his master class, heard his international orchestra of teachers-in-training and listened to some of the children at the school. With cigarette dangling from his mouth, he used his samurai-sword sharp wit and carried forth. I have come to the conclusion after many years as a music educator, Suzuki parent, and orchestra administrator, that Suzuki’s greatest gift to the music world has not been his violin pedagogical technique but rather the internationalization of the Japanese concept of the kyoikumama or “Education Mother.” In Suzuki teaching this is the “home teacher” or, put more simply, the parent who comes to the lesson and then practices every day at home with the child. This idea is neither surprising in the music world (How many hours do you think Leopold Mozart spent practicing with little Wolfgang Amadeus?) or in the Japanese world where the vast majority of educated mothers stay home with their children and devote their energies almost exclusively to the educations of their children. Yet for American parents this has been a relatively new idea, and many parents who commence music lessons with a non-Suzuki teacher are often surprised when the teacher announces that he or she will only instruct the young student if the parent agrees to come to all lessons and practice with the child. Why is “Suzuki’s idea” so universally held to be true?
YOU as a parent are the most important ingredient in your child’s success in music! Before you agree to give your child lessons, look at YOUR schedule and see where you can fit in his/her lesson and where you will put the thirty minutes to one hour of practicing into your day. Not playing the trumpet or not being able to read music is not the critical issue, the critical issue is time.
If you don’t play an instrument or read music, do you still need to practice with your child? YES! Take heart, you will learn faster than they do at the beginning, and you will bring all of your other intellectual skills. You also will be good moral support. Listen carefully at lessons, take notes, and try to have some practice time yourself after your child has gone to bed or when he/she is out of the house. You may even decide that you want to play the piano yourself, but remember: Never compete! You are the coach.
Why must you practice with your child? First, you are ensuring that all of his/her time and effort is not spent practicing something wrong all week only to discover it after seven days of hard work. You are giving your child the benefit of your note taking skills, your ability to understand everything his/her teachers says during the lessons and to ask questions. You are an extra set of eyes and ears at every practice sessions. If you give the task your best not your worst, hour of the day, you will offer a sense of humor and the ability to make a difficult task more fun.
Some do’s are: (1) Try to practice in the morning. Twenty minutes before school is worth forty minutes before bedtime when you both are tired. (2) Try to maintain a routine so that you both know when the fateful deed must be done each day. (3) Play every day, even if it is only for a five minute run through. (4) Compliment what is right as often as you point out what is wrong. (5) Turn it into a game whenever possible. (6) Maintain your sense of humor.
I am the coach in my household. My trumpet fingerings are excellent although I cannot play a note. Together we sing, make up rhymes to remember key signatures, and fight over wasting time and whether the scale really was played correctly. There are intense, emotionally charged times. His teacher worries that I, not he, may burn out. I worry too at times. But then performance time comes. I am the coach. I sit hanging on every note, sighing with relief as he glides through the difficult passages, which we have worked on, standing back as others congratulate him. He comes over and gives me a hug and says, “Thanks, Mom. Without your help I never could have done it. And we both know it has all be worth it. But then, Sebastian is now 5 and should begin music lessons this fall. I am already asking, where will I find another set of practice hours in my schedule.
Simon, Bonnie. “Music Practice with Children: A Parent's Guide.” Washington Parent September/October 1992: Print
Will studying music make a difference in my child’s I.Q. or his or her scores on the math SAT or produce the next Bill Gates or Thomas Edison? Pythagoras would have answered, “yes”, having considered music one of the four branches of mathematics. Music was played prehistorically; music was a necessary part of being educated in Europe for centuries; and, until the recent siege of budget cuts, music was required in almost every school curriculum through eighth grade. While everyone thought that music was good for children, few considered that it could have an impact on how well a child might perform in other areas of academic studies. Then, in the latter part of the 20th century, neurologists began to discover a correlation between music and spatial reasoning, namely, the ability to perceive the visual world accurately, form and transform mental images of physical objects, and recognize variations of objects-all very necessary for chess, higher mathematics, IQ tests and the ERB!
Music is ordered patterns of sounds. The decoding of music is actually a highly complex brain function, which consists of neural firing patterns organized in a highly structured spatial-temporal code over large regions of the cortex for some tens of seconds (Boettcher et al., Mathematics and Music, 1995). The provocative studies by Frances H. Rauscher and others at the University of California Irvine postulated that music and higher cognitive functions share these same neural highways. The questions became, could listening to or studying music set up “highways” in the brain along which other her brain functions could travel as well.
The first proactive study, performed by Rauscher in 1993, postulated that perhaps there was not simply a correlation between spatial reasoning and music but a casual relationship. The experiment required a group of undergraduate students to take three sets of spatial reasoning tasks on a standard IQ test. Each set of spatial reasoning tasks was preceded by (1) listening to Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major, K. 448, for 10 minutes, (2) listening to a relaxation tape, or (3) silence. All 36 students participated in all three listening conditions. When translated into the actual spatial IQ scores, they were 119, 111 and 110, respectively. In short, listening to Mozart increased their performance 9 points on an IQ test.
Surprising as the results of Rauscher’s IQ studies were, the effects of listening to Mozart were only short-term. Having proved fundamental causality between math and music, the researcher now questioned whether it was possible to affect the brain’s ability to think spatially more permanently. If musical study is applied at a time when a child’s brain is still maturing, perhaps music could have a permanent effect upon a child’s ability to reason spatially, or, as the researchers put it, “to provide long-term enhancements of nonverbal cognitive abilities.”
Thirty-three children, ages 3 years to 4 years, from Los Angeles County preschools were studied for nine months. One half was used as a control group, and the other half was given music lessons for eight months. The training consisted of weekly 10 to 15-minute private electronic keyboard lessons, daily supervised practice periods, and daily 30-minute group singing sessions. The five tests administered at the conclusion of the eight months were the spatial reasoning portions from the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence-Revised and the Stanford-Benet Intelligence Scale. The group of children who had studied music for eight months scored significantly higher on the object assembly tasks, where they were shown pieces of a puzzle and told to put them together to make something as fast as they could. The tasks required that a child form a mental image and then orient physical objects to reproduce that image. In the other four tasks, where children were given solid objects or drawings to match or copy, requiring no mental image, there was no difference between the group that had musical training and the control group that had not.
These studies have validated what many of us have felt for years: music study is good for kids. It is good for them socially, it is good for them physically, it is good for them intellectually. Electronic keyboards sell for as little as $25. Buy one for your child and let him or her have fun! And listen, listen, listen. Remember Mozart will actually make you think better.
It is interesting to note that listening to minimalist or rhythmically repetitive music, such as that by Philip Glass, did not enhance spatial task performance; so listening to heavy metal or rap will not help your child’s spatial reasoning. Similarly, listening to an audio taped short story did not facilitate spatial reasoning; the TV is not helpful either! Many mathematicians from the mathematics faculty at UC Irvine, when interviewed, stated that they could do lower-level math with music on but found classical and baroque music virtually impossible to listen to while doing their research. This is probably because these use the same areas of the brain.
As the world unfolds before your toddler, you, as a parent, want to present experiences which will not only delight your child, but which also will inspire him or her to build upon these early encounters. You seek books with beautiful illustrations, take your child to the natural history museum, smell flowers together in the park, share the taste of raspberries off the bush. Invariably, after the eyes, the nose, and the taste buds are taken care of, one thinks of the ears. A CD/MP3 player in the baby’s room and a collection of CDs that also travel to the car are a great idea… and then you see the set of plastic rhythm band instruments in the toy store. STOP!
Listen to the Rhythm
A collection of rhythm instruments can be some of a child’s favorite toys. They will offer hours of entertainment for both the parent and the child, as even you, the parent, discover that almost any piece of music is more fun if you can play along. You can play along with anything, from Bach to Tchaikovsky to Raffi. You are not destroying the music, but rather discovering rhythms, volume, texture – and just having fun. Your child will intuitively discover how rhythms change and how to listen for loud and soft.
The beginning of the experience will be like parallel play in the playground; the recorded music will do its thing and your child will play whatever he or she feels like playing. Soon, however, your child will begin to pick up cues and he or she will discover that it is possible to march to the music and play the drum, tambourine or triangle in time with it.
You Get What You Pay For
If rhythm band instruments are such fun, why don’t you just purchase that brightly colored plastic set at the toy store? The answer is simple: when you purchase rhythm band instruments you are purchasing sound, and plastic instruments sound like plastic food tastes. In short, it is worth the trip to the local music store and a visit to the percussion section. In order to get what you are looking for, however, you may need a few tips.
First, don’t be put off by the company: you probably will find yourself surrounded by at least a few purple-haired rock drummers. Second, do not admit that you are buying for a 3-year old; a small fib like, “I’m buying these for my step-son; he’s 17 and is into percussion,” will help you with the sales-man. (No one will believe that you are buying high quality instruments for a toddler.) Third, in addition to the list below, look for anything that looks like it is fun to play. Try everything! If you do not find it fun to play and do not like the sound, I guarantee that your child will be equally bored with the instrument.
Percussion Instruments and Imaginative Play
The first instrument which you want is a tambourine. Good tambourines are fairly tough and make lots of noise. (You will be amazed at how quickly you can feel like a Spanish dancer with one of these in your own living room!) Hand drums also can be found and should have a nice, fat sound. If you purchase a snare drum you must also purchase sticks and a stand. This is a more substantial investment, but any 3-year-old will love it! (Price: $100 - $150) Triangles come in several sizes – I recommend a medium. Price often determines quality; again, listen and compare. (Price $10-$12; the beater comes with it.) Good marachas, like tambourines, not only make prettier sounds but also can produce a much bigger sound than the toy variety. Claves are two sticks that you hit together, a simple idea but a good set makes a great sound. Wood blocks make several sounds and are hit with a stick (which you purchase separately). And after that, you are on your own. Look, ask to try, listen. If it is fun and it if fits within your budget, buy it!
This will be the beginning of your child’s instrument collection. If your child enjoys them, you will move on to the trumpet mouthpiece, the harmonica, the penny whistle and the recorder. Unlike the plastic set, these instruments will never be thrown out. Ours are packed every summer and always find their way into the picnic basket. To the surprise of many, wafting across the bay on the way home from a day’s sailing, one can hear strains of Gilbert and Sullivan or “Baby Beluga,” as the instruments purchased when our boys were toddlers are still brought out, played and enjoyed.
Simon, Bonnie. “I Got Rhythm: Buying Quality Percussion Instruments for Your Preschooler.” Washington Parent July/August 1996: Print
© MAESTRO CLASSICS. DIV OF SIMON & SIMON, LLC, 2015.