Music and Motivation

Your child tells you one day that they would like to learn to play a musical instrument. Hooray! So you sit down and discuss together which musical instrument they would like to learn, you do your research, find a suitable teacher, somehow managing to put aside the costs within your family budget, and off we go…

However, there comes a time when your child will say ” I’m bored”, or “It’s harder than I thought”, or woe of woes, “I hate practice!”

So how do we motivate our child to fall in love over and over with their playing, where they feel the need to play, practise and get better and better at mastering their music instrument?

 

There is no one fix approach. Some music teachers create an incentive program, physical and visual, where a child can get rewards (stamps, points, stickers, small toys) when they reach a certain goal.

However, there are two long-term motivational factors that us parents need to keep in mind, which for me, are far more important, especially as your child advances into teenage and young adult years:

  1. Giving them choice – children want to learn the music that they love, perhaps something they love to sing and dance to, with musical pieces that are at their level of mastery so that they feel emotionally connected to the piece.
  2. Social settings – learning any instrument, away from the 45-minute             weekly lesson, can be a lonely experience (although you do need that time alone someplace quiet where you can focus on your music). But people are social beings, children all the  more so.  Giving children the opportunity to play with others (as a duet with teacher & student, or two students as a pair, or in group classes), or playing for others (monthly recitals, family gatherings, Christmas specials), do wonders to a child’s confidence, elevates the fun factor, and motivates your child to learn even more!

In our Kindermusik classes, these two factors are always at play:

We love it when children come up with their own imaginative ideas on how to dance, move or play along to a piece of music. We strive to create an atmosphere of non-criticism, affirmation and emotional pleasure in learning new activities,  where sharing musical experiences with family and friends are at the forefront, so that a child grows up developing a natural affinity and fondness to all things musical.

 

What is Scaffolding?

“Scaffolding” – meaning: A temporary structure used for holding workers and materials during construction or repair of a building.

In our Kindermusik classes, we use plenty of scaffolding when it comes to better understanding and appreciating our children’s qualities and abilities, through these 3 simple steps:

  1. Observe – really look at what your child likes to do for self expression. They may like to imitate the other children in class at first, but through scaffolding, they will soon develop their own ideas and expressive movements. For example, during instrument play, watch how your child likes to manipulate their egg shakers – are they shaking these from side to side, or slow, or fast? Do they like to hold the shakers close to their body or hide them under their legs?
  2. Acknowledge and imitate – acknowledge what your child is doing.  Imitate their actions while you label what they do: “Look Chloe, you are shaking your egg shakers really softly!” or “I can see that you like to move your rhythm sticks from side to side Joshua!” Every child is unique so you will always get a variety of responses from the same stimulus.
  3. Extend – once your child is engaged in the activity, see if you can add a little challenge: “Now can you shake your egg shakers really loudly this time Chloe?” or ” How about if you move your rhythm sticks up and down Joshua?”
Observe, acknowledge, imitate and extend = scaffolding

Scaffolding gets you into the habit of reading your own child. Acknowledgement from you, their primary carer, builds trust and gives them confidence and reassurance that their own efforts matter.  Giving them small challenges allows them to understand that they alone can manipulate objects and adjust their own actions to achieve a different outcome. They begin to understand the concept of self regulation.

In our child’s early years, we are their scaffold: their temporary structure to hold them up as they build themselves up to grow into  independent and confident thinking little human beings!

 

Nursery rhymes and Piano lessons

Nursery Rhymes

As I spend more time giving one-to-one piano lessons to very young children (5 & 6 year olds), I find a distinct contrast between children who have been exposed to nursery rhymes frequently as opposed to those who perhaps rarely heard them during their baby & toddler years.

Just when you thought nursery rhymes were there to sing to our babies because it’s easy and fun, and they were the songs we knew off by heart (sung to us by our parents), these much-loved songs actually help children so much more as they reach the age where they can begin music instrument lessons. (And I experience this time and again as I teach children who have come from different (musical) backgrounds.

Take for example a simple song we know: ‘Hot Cross Buns’

Child A, who knows this song well, will correctly sing and play this song in 4 beats with a rest on the fourth beat:

Hot (1), cross (2), buns (3), pause (4)

Hot (1), cross (2), buns (3), pause (4)

Child B, who is unfamiliar with the song, will instead play this song matching each word per beat, without the pause:

Hot (1), cross (2), buns (3), Hot (4),

cross (1), buns (2) … no pause

Spending extra (lesson) time teaching Child B how to sing & clap to this simple song can be fun in itself, but it also delays Child B’s progress because there is less time for actual keyboard playing.

Hot Cross Buns in C-major

So don’t hesitate to show off your prowess when it comes to nursery rhymes!

  • Sing as many nursery songs as you can remember to your baby and young children – sing together, while pretending to strum on a wooden spoon or a broom (if a ukulele is not handy).
  • Hum the tune or make up the words if you can’t remember the lyrics – there’s lots of nursery rhymes readily available on-line if you need a refresher!
  • Make it visual – try and get your hands on nursery rhyme books so that you can point at the pictures while enjoying singing the songs together.
  • Make your own diorama – cut out a dog to call B-I-N-G-O so you can sing an all-time favourite dog song, or cut out animal photos from magazines so you can both make animal sounds and sing about your collection of farm animals in ‘Old Macdonald Had a Farm’

Farm Animals

In our Kindermusik classes, this ‘layering’ of music is applied in all levels throughout our curriculum so that a child, from baby all the way up to Kindy years, will have had experienced nursery songs in different formats and in many ways:

A simple nursery song may be presented in a lively orchestral setting for use in a parent/baby group dance (during Baby class), which we may then learn to sing together a-cappella (in Toddler Class), and which further on, your pre-schooler child may play on the resonator bars (during Big Kids class).

This way, our songs are best taught in the most beneficial and loving way, enriching our children’s experience with music all throughout their growing years.

 

 

Preparation – how important is it?

Parenting over the years, we have each developed our personal array of strategies to help our children deal with new events and experiences.

Most children do not perform well in new situations – moving house, travelling on an airplane for the first time, first day at day-care… any disruption or change in their routines can upset or change our children’s behaviour.

Preparing children before a change of event goes a long way in minimising stress, both for you and for them. Talking about the upcoming event, or showing them photos or picture books may help children to understand what is to come. For example – visiting your soon-to-be new house a few times before the actual move may familiarise and help ease your child’s anxiety of leaving behind your old home.

In our music classes, preparing children ahead of their lesson plays a very important part in student engagement – in their level of participation and enjoyment in each of the activities, and their willingness to interact, cooperate and learn with the other children in class.

The Best of Kindermusik CD
The Best of Kindermusik CD

Our Take Home CDs ensure each child can continue to listen to all of our songs, poems and stories away from class. Browsing through the available activities for each Unit through digital access on-line, the children are able to recollect, recapitulate and re-live the lesson’s highlights of the week.

The on-line materials are also full of fun ideas and little projects parents can do at home with their children- crafts, memory games, vocal play – helping to prepare and prime their children before each weekly class without even realising it!

Let's make Ankle Bells
Let’s make Ankle Bells

 

 

Rambo – Sambanistas Drummer

Well, after a fun (but too short – only 1 hour?) drumming session with Rambo last week, it’s only apt that we learn a little bit more about him…

Born in Port-Louis Mauritius, Rambo remembers picking up his first drum at age 3, his grandfather having given him his very first drum.

Now living in Perth, he continues to lead and drum with Sambanistas, the first ever Samba group in Perth founded in 1990. You will find the Sambanistas drumming at Corporate events,  Festivals around Perth, during the City to Surf fun run and festivities at Elizabeth Quay. They practise at East Perth, at the City Farm Markets on Sundays, and everyone is welcome to join the group. https://www.facebook.com/Sambanistas

Drumming has taken Rambo to all corners of the world – Europe, USA and South America. Even drumming outside Frankfurt Airport at one time! The highlight of course is having the opportunity to drum at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, during the 2011 Rio Carnivale! Describing the once-in-a-lifetime experience in his own words, “It was AWESOME! Imagine playing in a group that had 300 drummers, and 3000 dancers!” He describes Brazil as the ‘pinnacle of drumming – loved it, loved it, loved it!’.

 

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So why are the Brazilians so good at drumming? Rambo says that there are no special music or drumming classes for kids – the children simply grow up sorrounded and immersed in the culture of drums – they listen to and watch the adults play drums at home and in the streets around them. As they grow up, drumming becomes a pastime that comes easily and naturally for most.

Apart from drumming, Rambo has been an active volunteer for Make-A-Wish Foundation Australia since 1999. The world-wide Charity Foundation helps bring hope to children living with life-threatening medical condition by granting their wishes. https://www.facebook.com/MakeAWishAustralia

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He also volunteers for Camp Quality (camp activities, games, sports) and Radio Lollipop (as DJ or visiting kids in wards to play games and entertain). It is all about giving hope as they battle through ‘tough times’ , and “putting smiles on kids’ faces – that’s a very motivating cause”.

Rambo believes there are many different benefits to drumming apart from the fun and enjoyment, both for the young and old. It helps build self confidence, improve hand-eye coordination and teaches people to be able to work as a team.

 

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Your Child’s Language Development

 

Although we tend to define language development as the acquisition of verbal skills, communicating to your children right from the start should not be limited to spoken words. There are several other ways you can communicate to your child to encourage early language development:

  1. Sign Language – from 6 months onwards, you can use sign language when speaking to your baby, through gestures or by labelling objects while showing baby. (You can refer to AUSLAN or American Sign Language for some basic signs). By using the same sign and repeating the same word in different context, for example – ‘high’ – ‘your chair is so high’; ‘look! that bird flies so high’ , baby begins to grasp a better understanding of the word.
  2. Baby talk – respond to your baby’s vocalisations verbally – wait until they finish their ‘baby talk’, then speak back to them in the same intonation and length so it feels like you really are taking turns ‘conversing’. Although it’s mainly babble and incomprehensible sounds, responding to baby’s babbles teaches them the etiquette of social exchange – babies thrive on it!
  3. Everyday Chat – talk to your baby, tell him/her what you are doing, what your plans are for the day, how your day has been – it’s fun for both of you, and gets you in the early habit of communicating meaningfully with your children.

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4.  Finally, it’s all about the music!

  • Sing or hum to your child right fom when they are newborn, until when they finally ask you to stop
  • Use songs for rituals around the home : bath-time, bed-time, cleaning up time
  • Make up silly songs and invent nonsense words that impart a positive uplifting tone
  • Bounce & exercise Baby to rhythmic upbeat songs

Best of all, you can come and join us while we sing, dance, listen and create music together in our Baby Class. Our parents and caregivers appreciate the time spent sharing stories and experiences about Baby’s growing years with one another in class.

Babies are social curious beings right from the start. They get such joy seeing other babies around them. Our music class tends to put a smile on everyone’s face!

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At What Age should my Child begin Music Instrument Lessons?

As a Kindermusik Educator, this has to be one of the most common question I get asked from parents, especially when their child reaches pre-school and Kindy age.

While there are always exceptions, in general, my suggestion to parents is to wait until their child is at least 5 or 6 years old. There are many compelling reasons for this – I’ve outlined some below – milestones by which most 5 or 6-year olds have or are beginning to achieve:

  1. Self-control – one-on-one music lessons usually means your young child has to sit still on one spot, focussed, for around 20 to 30 minutes at a time.
  2. Steady beat – something that we as adults perhaps take for granted. But the more solid a child’s command and execution of steady beat, the easier they grasp the rhythm of a musical piece, the quicker they are able to play using separate hands (with left hand providing the steady base in most pieces), and the quicker they reach the stage where they play the pieces with the fingers in each hand moving separately at different times, whilst maintaining a steady count in their mind.
  3. Finger separation – children need to be able to move their fingers separately (or show the beginnings of discrete finger control). Most musical pieces require separate fingering for each note or strings played, in either one or both hands.
  4. Basic reading skills – the more competent your child is in recognising their alphabet, especially the first seven: A, B, C, D, E, F & G (which are the 7 letters used to label each note on the scale), then the quicker they make the connection as they look down and see what each finger is doing,  and matching this with what is written in notation-form in front of them.
  5. Counting and Finger Numbering – Playing music requires being familiar with finger numbering and positioning. Children need to get accustomed to positioning each finger correctly on the corresponding key or string on an instrument. This is vital, as the ability to move ones’ fingers fluently and with ease between chords or across the keyboard, starts with being able to quickly recall and execute the correct finger positioning.
  6. In Tune – we expect all musicians to have sound auditory memory, however, this too takes practice. For children, being in tune not only means the ability to sing back or hum a melody in the matching pitch and rhythm, it also means being able to internalise the melody accurately,  play it on their instrument correctly, and recognise if something is out of tune and adjust or make the correction themselves.

Ultimately, from my experience, the most powerful motivation for a child to persevere in learning to play an instrument, especially as they reach their teenage years, is for them to have formed an innate love and intimate connection to music during early childhood. A child exposed to music right from birth, having associated music as something that is fun and familiar, where a loving bond has been created together with mum or dad or a caregiver, will approach music learning not as a task, but as a lifelong journey of enjoyment and discovery.

As parents, laying the groundwork is easy: 1) create an environment at home that puts music-making as an important part of family life, whether that means banging on pots and pans in the kitchen or dancing to music together, or singing and making up songs together (wooden spoons make great microphones!), 2) listening to recorded music is great, but attending and listening to musicians perform live (check your local community notices for free or affordable children’s music concerts) is so much more effective, 3) find a simple but caring music group or class where music is created, shared, celebrated and learnt together.

For a child, learning to play a musical instrument can often be challenging requiring patience and consistency, but when paired with a child’s unlimited curiosity and imagination, learning how to play a musical instrument becomes an artistic, delightful and fruitful endeavour that will last a lifetime.

Piano playing from a young age

 

 

Transitions and Tantrums – Toddlers’ Sanctum

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Whether we are in the Baby music class or in our Big Kids class, we place great importance in transitioning from one activity to the next. Different methods help prepare the parents and children with what we are about to do next, so everyone remains engaged and interested. Creating conversations about our next topic always helps. Singing or creating fun steady beat by clapping or using drums also help to shift our focus on to the next activity.

At home, it is really helpful for parents to have 1 or 2 techniques up their sleeve, to help transition their little toddlers from one activity to the next. As adults, we can easily map out our day just by picturing it in our head, or even making a list. Not so easy for our young toddlers.

It takes a while for children to grasp the concept of time. That’s why Christmas and Birthdays remain so exciting for children, even when they reach their early teens.

For toddlers, their time ‘map’ is probably limited to meal times (when they can smell cooking or watching you prepare their food), bath times and sleep times.

So while you might think nothing of making a quick stop at the grocery shop to grab something for dinner, this little detour can sometimes lead to toddler tantrum, especially if combined with tiredness, hunger or just plain out-of- the- normal routine experience.

Here’s a couple of tips which may help to avoid these tantrums:
1. Distraction – even a simple new object (not necessarily a toy), which they can safely play with, will hold their attention and may do the trick.
2. Fun transition – why not make the transitions themselves fun! See how many yellow cars you can both spot in the car park! Or see if anyone is wearing your child’s favourite colour at the shops today?!

At 7 notes, we make sure our class transitions are enjoyable activities in itself, so music time is a smooth, simple and happy time for all!

How to calm an over-active child

In our music classes, there are moments when the children become quite excitable, working themselves to a point where they could trip over from running around the room so fast, or cause mishap to the other children present.

Here are a few small tricks you can count on to calm your over- excited child:

  • Remove your child from the stimulant. It is difficult to calm a child when there is loud noise around, or lots of toys or fast-moving distractions, so try to take your child to a quiet or dim corner before speaking to them. Or if there is loud TV or music blaring, turn these off first before speaking to your child.
  • When speaking to your toddler, crouch down to their level (it is less threatening for a child), and address them using a slow, low and calm voice. Try and use actions to accompany your words, e.g., the AUSLAN sign language for ‘STOP’ is one palm open flat in front of you, and with the other open palm strike downwards onto the middle of the flat palm.
  • If they persist on charging around the room animatedly, re-direct this energy by joining them in some ‘heavy-duty’ activities, such as stomping around the room like elephants with big heavy steps, or pulling a heavy ‘delivery van’ (a bag full of books) around the room, so you can drop off and ‘make deliveries’  at different spots.
  • Any activity that allows the left and right hemisphere of the brain to connect will ‘balance’ out both sides of the brain and bring about calmness after a few minutes. Crawling on the ground is a perfect example of increased left/right hemisphere connections.
  • MUSIC ! – just as much as we want to hear loud thumping music at a dance party, playing calm music sets a calmer quieter mood in the room. Children are a lot more sensitive to music than adults are. Soft, calm music will, invariably, help regulate their mood and emotion.

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