To Maria, Irma and Harvey….From Sandy

It was five years ago today that Hurricane Sandy upended the lives of so many people in my community. October 29, 2012. Looking back, the way we helped young children through those early days stills rings true today. To all the children and families affected by Maria, Irma and Harvey – our hearts are with you.

Go Away, Hurricane Sandy!

Routine, Reassurance, Recognition and Resilience

Dark. Noisy. Confusing. Mom and Dad upset. No TV.  Cold. The hurricane that roared through our area was really scary for so many little children.  And scary for grownups, many of whom felt powerless both literally and figuratively.  My friend Christine, shared these thoughts in an e-mail after returning to work at her pre-school – “So many staff members and family have lost everything at my site! People were crying in the halls in each other’s arms. A 4 year old girl told me there were fish and crabs swimming though her house.” 

How can we help our children feel safe in a situation like this? How can we help our children feel safe if we don’t feel safe ourselves?  This is a question for all grownups, including music therapists, who care for the young.  I have been thinking about how music could be one answer in this situation and in other crises that children face.  My music therapy colleague continued in the e-mail – “I spent a few hours considering how to structure my sessions. I decided not to start things I had planned on starting and focused on providing a sense of the familiar by doing the same gathering songs and music from two weeks ago. In some sessions we talked about the lights being out and being in a different house and how I’m still me. “Routine, reassurance and resilience.

Here at Raising Harmony we believe that making music is a natural part of development and that making music can help children develop. This includes a trait as important but as elusive as resilience.  Resilience means that we support the little child in feeling, expressing, understanding, coping and creating solutions.  In early childhood music therapy practice around the world, clinicians speak about the importance of prevention and early intervening in helping the child gain strength and health.  We can give the child and family the opportunity to prevent long term difficulties from the emotional upheaval of a crisis through music and music making.

What does developing resilience sound like in music? Christine gave us some good ideas. Here are a few more thoughts.

Repetition, Routine and Rhythm

Rhythm unifies and brings people together. The day I returned to work after the storm, I invited all the children and staff into one room.  Sitting on the floor, I began to pat knees in a very matter-of –fact way. The children joined in first, followed by the staff.  Slowly we began to sing a very familiar gathering song. The tempo was just as matter of fact, neither slow nor fast, but just right. The melody was fairly narrow in range.  We kept the structure very predictable, just like we had always done. You could feel the children begin to relax and give into the compelling patterns.  The message sent through the music was of trust and confidence. For just that musical moment, everything was going to be okay.

Recognition and Respect

One little guy I work with struggles with any change in routine and reacts to any loud or sudden sounds with terror. Can you imagine what this storm meant to him? His family shared with me that it had been a terrible week after the storm.  How could this child begin to express and begin to understand when I knew he couldn’t find the words to talk about fear? Well, we began at the piano with a favorite song- consonant harmony and triadic melody.  Since we know each other well musically, I then took the musical risk of introducing a flatted sixth chord into the harmonic progression.  We both jumped back from the piano and I sang “Scary”.  The flatted six chord resolved to the flatted third, and finally the V7 and back to the tonic chord.  The stage was set musically to feel the panic, then give a word and sound to describe the feeling, and then a resolution back to an area of comfort.  He and I played this game again and again and again until he showed he was anticipating the unusual chord. This musical experience recognized and respected that something really traumatic had happened.  But the pattern also allowed for the ‘scary’ to be resolved into something that this child could control.

Response and Resolution

To develop resilience for both this young boy and the group the music had one more job- to give voice to how to cope with problems and create solutions.  That’s where songs came into play. Songs can be created that are specific to the child’s needs. Songs can be remembered and re-created by the child at times of stress.  For this terrible storm, we adapted an old folk song:

“Shoo fly, don’t bother me. Shoo fly, don’t bother me. Shoo fly, don’t bother me. I want you to go away.”  “Go away, cold, dark house. Go away, trees falling down. Go away noisy wind. Go away Hurricane  Sandy.”

The melody is strong and the rhythm is crisp. The structure is clear and decisive.  And like the music after the storm, so are the kids.

Have you worked through crisis with young children? Share some of your ideas and thoughts, because we all need to be ready for what life brings. Thanks, Christine for getting the conversation started!

I look forward to hearing from you.

Beth

Need a Summer Boost? Try Mixing Meters!

I always looked forward to the change of seasons.  Fall to winter. Winter to spring.  Especially spring to summer when school let out and everything seemed more relaxed and care-free. But as a music therapist, I have learned that the children and families that I work with do not get a break from the challenges that they face. The preschool program in which I work runs year round so that the children will have the consistent support that they require.

Even though I know that this is often best for the children, I get sad when the children or families tell me that they don’t have the time or energy for normal fun. Fun, like going to the beach to swim.  So if the children can’t get to the beach, how about bringing the beach to them? We don’t need actual sand and water, we just need music that gives the feeling of the waves and surf.

Here is a new song you can use this summer. It relies on mixing the meters of 2 and 3 to give the sense of momentum and flow that we feel in the cool water. Give it a try with instruments or lovely flowing scarves. I use one that I picked up on a vacation a long time ago.

 

Come With Me and Swim…E.K. Schwartz 2017

Come with me and swim. Come hold hands and jump right in.

Come with me and swim. Come hold hands and jump right in.

The water is cool, the weather is fine. So take a deep breath, it’s almost time.

Bend your knees. Curl your toes. Take a breath. Hold your nose.

Ready. Set. Go! OH!!

Enjoy!

Beth

Finally! A Brand New Raising Harmony Course

Are you working this summer? So are we! We’ve got two brand new Raising Harmony courses for you. Only $49 with 3 CMTE credits, lots of new songs, and tons of great ideas for early childhood music therapists. Open the video to get a taste of how to create effective preschool groups, then head over to www.RaisingHarmony.com/training to sign up.

Clapping – Containment, Communication, Celebration and Community

I can’t believe that I was so sloppy in researching just how important clapping is to children and to all people!  Just recently, I was trying to explain to a new intern how and why children clap. Of course I told her that I would send her some links to literature on early clapping from my previous writing. Guess what? There was nothing there! Yes, there were some references about when it should happen and lots of ideas of clapping interventions, but I glossed over clapping as if it were just another on the list of markers of early childhood development. Whoa! The children and families I work with use clapping as the ‘go-to’ musical response –way before they are willing or able to sing or play an instrument.  How could I have been so blind to how important clapping is?

I felt a little better after doing a search of scholarly articles on clapping. Although my exploration was certainly not thorough, I couldn’t find the comprehensive neurological, physical, cognitive, emotional and social overview of clapping that I was hoping to find.  So here are some thoughts about clapping as a vital human response.  While I think about clapping within a musical context, clapping is about so much more- it is about  the development of ‘self’.  It helps me to think in categories so here are the four areas of clapping that I think of most with small children- Containment, Communication, Celebration and Community.091312CC128 (533x800)

Containment

Infants come into the world wired to absorb. From the first, they take in sounds and smells and sights. The problem is that early on babies have few mechanisms to shut off the flow of experiences. When babies fuss or cry, it is often because they don’t have a way to understand or change the stuff that is thrown their way, whether it is a wet diaper or a great Aunt who comes just a little too close. It takes much of the infant’s first year for their body and mind to begin to gel into one operating system.  A signal that they are starting to understand the boundaries of their body comes when the infant brings their palms together, and then begins to practice the movement which is the precursor of clapping. The sensitivity of the palms touching provides a way for the body to connect with itself.  The baby starts to sense the line that defines themselves. Try really focusing while putting your palms together and see how it feels.  It is no wonder that many of the world’s spiritual or religious movements use the palm-together gesture as a way to concentrate on deeper thoughts.  I see many children with special needs use hand wringing or clapping in a way that makes me think that they are trying to find or define themselves. Independently using clapping as a way to contain can be very important in developing a healthy ‘self’.

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Communication

Clapping is an outward gesture that we can see and feel and hear. So while clapping might start as helping a child with containment, it soon begins to take on meaning that other people can recognize. Spend time with a new family and you will hear the oohs and aahs when the new baby first smiles and first claps their hands. It is almost as if we need to see and hear these gestures to really believe that there is a ‘person’ inside.  Babies soon begin to recognize that grownups respond when they bring their hands together.  As the child grows and starts to make sounds with clapping they use the gesture to show pleasure or to get attention.

Adults also use clapping to communicate with children.  A little one takes a first step, the grownup claps. They finish the food on their plate, and the grownup claps. The sound of clapping can also communicate a different message very clearly. I remember my mother who raised eight children without ever raising her voice. How did she let us know when she was displeased? A very loud sharp clapping sound that could be heard above the din of even the noisiest of days.

Celebration

How did clapping become the way we celebrate? We clap to show appreciation, we clap at important events, we clap at concerts, and we clap at the end of movies. Why? In trying to answer that question, I found very little in the literature except to say that that is what humans do.  When I observe young children, though, I think I can see where it comes from.  When something excites us or moves us, our brain signals our bodies to express that excitement or stimulation. I think that clapping started as a way to let the energy out when our brains can no longer keep it in. Similar to dancing or jumping, clapping is a way to expel and dissipate energy.

For very young children, clapping can be a physical indication of intense emotions that they are not ready to express in other ways such as using words.  Clapping as a unique gesture generally begins in the second half of the child’s first year.  For the next few years, the child will clap sporadically and often non-rhythmically. It feels very spontaneous and seems to me to support that gesture as being a physical release.  However, when I see little ones bringing their hands together in carefree and joyous movements, I can’t but help celebrate life!

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Community

Of the studies on clapping that I found, the use of clapping to support a sense of community and belonging was the most researched.  I think I can now safely say that there is strong scientific evidence that synchronous movement is directly connected to social bonding. Clapping, along with dancing, might be the most ubiquitous synchronous movement in our current culture.  Try ‘googling’ clapping and you will see page after page linking clapping to social, artistic, religious and sports gatherings.

For young children, the instinctual clap that starts as bringing the palms together gradually grows by about age four or five into the ability to clap in unison with others.  They can control their gestures to make a musical sound and regulate the tempo to join in with everyone else. Through the clapping they become part of a community.

So I will go back to work with a renewed respect for all the stages and meanings of clapping for my young music makers and their families. And yes, I will probably clap for myself that I finally woke up to a better understanding of the seemingly simple gesture of clapping.

Enjoy clapping to the music!

Beth

 P.S. Visit http://sproutingmelodies.com/2016/07/14/im-so-glad-to-be-me/ for a brand new song I wrote about the joy of clapping.

By Music Therapists, For Music Therapists


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It was so great to meet and sing with so many of you at the regional conference!

Check out the Raising Harmony web site to learn about one of the newest ways we support music therapists…
And if you’ve been thinking about signing up for the Sprouting Melodies Training, but need to break up the payments, you can now register and pay your registration in installments!
It is not too late to sign up for the Spring 2016 course starting April 6.

Register Today to Get Started!

Can’t Sit Still?

Can’t sit still? Neither can we!

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Come and join us and other like-minded music therapists.
The next Sprouting Melodies Training begins April 6, 2016.

New thinking, new music, new career opportunities!

Visit www.RaisingHarmony.com/training.

Still can’t sit still?

Head on over to www.SproutingMelodies.com/blog for a brand new song all about how hard it is to sit still!

Perfect for you next early childhood group!

http://sproutingmelodies.com/2016/03/13/cant-sit-still/

Joy to the World!

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Are you ready to bring this kind of Joy to the World?

Come join us for Sprouting Melodies Training to learn how. Our next on-line course begins January 13, 2016.

Register Now! @ www.RaisingHarmony.com/training

The Sprouting Melodies® program offers music therapists a chance to use your education, skills and experience to bring the best possible early childhood music experience to families in your community. Learn how to recognize early childhood musical responses and how responses function in the overall development of the child.

*Earn 23 Continuing Education Credits
*Journey with an intimate group of Board Certified Music Therapists
*Become a member of the Raising Harmony™ Community

Sprouting Melodies® training will give you an extensive background in planning for, creating and presenting music that is developmentally appropriate as well as engaging and motivating for children as well as families. A core repertoire of quality interventions and songs will be available through Sprouting Melodies® in order to help you design session plans. There will also be support and guidance if you choose to create unique musical material.

The weekly trainings are accessed via the Community Login from the Raising Harmony™ website. Each weekly session includes recorded presentations and self-guided assignments, supported with student and teacher forums. A participants will also be invited to  Live Conference Calls with Meredith and Beth to complement all that you are learning in the course!

Our Next Online Course Begins January 13, 2016!

The fee for this 10 week course is $395  and includes all course materials, web-based learning forums with the instructors and other music therapist participants and includes a copy of Elizabeth’s Schwartz’s book, Music, Therapy and Early Childhood: A Developmental Approach.

Visit the Sprouting Melodies Training link on www.RaisingHarmony.com to register today!

 

Wedding Wisdom or Learning to Say No

There is a temptation at every stage of parenting to think that you have finally reached the end of the textbook. You feel sure that you now know all the wisdom that a parent would ever need. Well, I am here to tell you that that is simply not true! Those of you who read these blogs know that I am in the ‘grown-child- not fully out of the nest’ stage.  This summer we celebrated a new rite of passage- the wedding (and marriage!) of one of our children.  Looking wistfully at the pictures reminds me that it was glorious, joyous, amazing and all those adjectives that you could hope for.  But the days and weeks leading up to the wedding gave me plenty of opportunity to think back on the challenges of parenting in contemporary society and all the pressures that bombard young children and their parents.

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It all started with the first phone call looking for all the things a wedding seems to need – food, flowers and of course the dress.  As soon as I said the word ‘wedding’, the sales pitch started, telling me in no uncertain terms that we needed to….well you can fill in the blank, but the lists went on and on and the costs got bigger and bigger.

Fortunately, I learned from my parents (and hopefully instilled in my kids) that making thoughtful decisions and staying true to self is more important than frilly drink straws or monogrammed coasters.  The bridal couple worked hard to keep their thinking and decisions clear and grounded in reality. So while we worked to have a beautiful ceremony for my daughter to say ‘yes’ to her new husband, here are some thoughts I had about helping parents and children learn to say ‘no’.  These ideas can work in your early childhood music groups, but will probably work just as well for parents in the store, at daycare or at home.  Share them!

Set the stage for ‘yes’ more than ‘no’

Give children an environment which is safe and sturdy.  Use instruments or toys that can be picked up and explored and tested.  Set up the room or space so that children can use the entire space securely.  If this is not possible, use mats or rugs or dividers to create a clear boundary. Look critically at everything in the environment. Ask yourself, ‘Can children play with this? Can children go there?’ Make sure the answer is ‘yes’ more than ‘no’.

Here is a little chant to use music to set the boundaries. “Inside the mats! That’s where it’s at!”

Make sure you know why you are saying ‘no’

Think long and hard before saying ‘no’.  Is it for you or for the child? Try to use ‘no’ when it will help the child learn and grow in a healthy way.  Issues of safety or the safety of another child might be a time to use the word ‘no’.  If you find yourself saying (or thinking) ‘no’ because the child’s actions don’t fit your plan or your concept of how things should go, you might need to refocus the experiences you provide to be more developmental than task specific.

If the music experience is making shaking sounds, does it really matter if the child is shaking a maraca? Or a jingle bell? Or their toe?

Say ‘no’, then let it go

Adults often feel an emotional undercurrent when using the word ‘no’.  We might be re-living moments when the word ‘no’ made us feel bad about ourselves.  We might feel ambivalent or lack trust in our decisions for children. The best way to avoid this is to make ‘no’ a simple, clear signal without further repercussions. If saying ‘no’ is in the best interest of the child, then state it simply and clearly.  This is the time to not use music or a musical, sing-song voice.

Stop the music, say ’no’ and then let it go. Get right back into the music to let the child know that ‘yes’ is usually a lot more fun than ‘no’.

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So did I follow my own advice on ‘yes’ and ‘no’ for this wedding? Well, for the most part! And the Monday after, we looked back and were grateful that we were able to say ‘no’ to outside wedding pressures and thankful that we said ‘yes’ to the things that really mattered.

Enjoy the music!

Beth

Birds, Bats, and Babies: Perfect Pitch Play

There was such a beautiful bird song outside the bedroom window the other day! Too bad it was 5 am in the morning. The initially sweet melody was very loud and went on and on and on.  Since I couldn’t get back to sleep, I wrapped my mind around figuring out the intervals and the exact pitch of each sound.  I tried to visualize the song as notation. This is not the easiest thing to do, especially at 5 am. Next came the inevitable question of why. What was the bird’s message? Was anything or anybody going to answer it so that I could go back to sleep? Why did the melody never waiver? What was that bird trying to say!?

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Later in the day, and fortified with a number of cups of coffee, I surprised myself by going out of my way to listen to a similar pitched melody sung over and over and over again by the young babies in our school’s day care room.  It too was difficult to pin down in terms of exact pitch, but the contour was unwavering.  This time I worked hard to put aside my analytical mind, and tried to just enjoy the sounds. It was obvious that the babies were enjoying making these songs.  They sang them again and again and again. Each time brought a fresh round of smiles, as if they were just discovering something new and exciting.

First birds, then babies, and later in the day I came across an article about the study of bats. (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/baby-bats-babble-through-childhood-like-we-do/). It seems that baby bats begin life babbling away using pitched sounds and fragments of melody. The melodious babble is the way the bats begin to communicate. It isn’t until later, after learning from adults, that they develop a more sophisticated sequence of sounds that have precise meaning (to other bats anyway).

Pitch – both processing pitch and producing pitch – is a very early human achievement.

Before words, or concepts or gestures, there is pitch. Infants can process and match pitch within their first few months of life.  Like bats, young babies begin to form meaning of their world through repeated and learned connection of pitch to context. But do we need to always view baby’s use of pitch as a means to an end? Is early pitch use only valuable when it leads to language?

Why do birds, and bats, and babies sing? Well, there are many, many scientists studying these questions looking to uncover meaning and purpose behind this behavior. But after trying to listen to the birds and babies the other day, I began to tell myself…they sing because they can. They sing because they do. They sing because it is in their nature to sing.

This led to a bit of an ‘aha’ moment.  Pitch, and the use of pitch, by babies or children should be valued just because it is a natural part of development.

Although adults can begin to shape pitch into communication with external meaning, we can also celebrate the child’s natural motivation and ability to create pitch.  We can and should view pitch as an important part of the child, separate from language or other meaning and unique in its communicative qualities.

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Try and wrap your head around it as you go through your day. Here are some tips for listening for and valuing pure pitch play.

  • Think about a smell or scent that you love. Remember how you savor that delicious smell as you take a long sniff? Now think about a pitch that you love. Hard to do? Scent and pitch are sensory experiences that can be valued in the same way. Try to find a pitch that feels especially good to you. Enjoy it just as you enjoy a favorite smell.
  • Practice listening for and imitating pitch. Close your eyes and pick out a sound in your environment. Use your voice to try and replicate the pitch that you hear. This might not be entirely specific, since each person might assign a different frequency as being the most prominent in any pitch sound that is not precisely pure.
  • Play with pitch in your own voice. Try not to connect it to any song or familiar musical structure. This might seem silly at first, but keep in mind that this was one of the earliest ways that you let the world know that you existed.
  • Sit down with the babies or children that you work with as they play. Listen to their use of pitch and try and imitate it. Work hard not to place adult thinking about meaning on the sounds, but try and enjoy the act of making these sounds.
  • Join in this pitch play, and let the babies and children teach YOU about this very natural way of being!

 

Enjoy the music!

Beth

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chicken Soup and the Musical Mechanisms of Change

I just came back from an amazing international conference on current research in music therapy.  It is always refreshing to hear truly great minds present their ideas with a passion that is backed up by charts and graphs and big name journal citations. A thread that ran through many of the presentations was the call for further research focusing on the ‘mechanisms of change’ that allows for music therapy to work.

I guess that I am pretty naïve,  because when I am making music with little children and their families, I think that I know what those ‘mechanisms of change’ are.  The search for validation through research just seeks to precisely explain human nature and the place of music in humans, even though this phenomenon has existed throughout time.  It is kind of like my mother-in-law’s chicken soup.  It tasted awesome every time.  When I asked her for the recipe, she looked at me quizzically as if to say “Why?” She then proceeded to throw in a little bit of this and a little bit of that and set it to simmer on the stove for hours. It was undoubtedly just the way she learned from her mother, and her mother learned from her mother. It was within the ‘doing’ that the ‘understanding’ became clear.

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But this making of the chicken soup did not exist in a vacuum. There are really four critical mechanisms in the know-how of chicken soup:  The Ingredients; The Cook; The Cooking; and The Eater (that would be me!). Each of these parts needs to be present in order to complete the chicken soup experience.

So here are some of my ‘throw in a little of this’ thoughts from chicken soup on how music and music therapy works.

The Ingredients of Music

It is the unique variation in the elements, or ingredients of music, in each music experience that creates one mechanism of change.  Research has pinpointed the physiological and psychological changes created by some of these ingredients such as rhythm or harmony.  Much more needs to be done in the less studied ingredients such as timbre or pitch. With careful observation in my sessions, I can see how each tiny change in any of these elements creates changes in me and my music and in the music makers who join me.  Effective music therapy means knowing how to include, exclude, vary or expand each of these ingredients.

 The Music Cook

No matter how precise a person might be, there is always an individual imprint on everything we do. Research itself really struggles with this uniqueness of humans.  Each and every one of us, thankfully, is an independent variable! The cook then, becomes a critical mechanism of change, no matter how much we try and control the ingredients.  Music as we know it is created by humans (yes, even humans program the music generating programs).  So the music cook, or the music maker, cannot and should not be left out of the equation when figuring out how music and music therapy works.  As a composer, I know that even though others re-create my music with young children, it never is an exact replica of my musicing. The cook matters.

Cooking the Music

I might be out on a limb here, but I believe that music only exists as a process. Because music (we are not talking notation) only happens across time and within experience, the process of musicing is the third mechanism of change.  It is within the process of making the music (whether receptive or expressive) that the music becomes a human experience.  Research has given us a lot of background on the process of the human music experience including sensory and emotional progressions. However, I think that music process is the mechanism that is the least understood and studied by music therapists. We often look to other disciplines and professions to help us understand changes within our clients when we should be immersed in understanding the process of music making. Our real soup is bubbling right beneath our nose!

Eating the Music

I might have taken this analogy a little too far, but visualizing music making the same way we visualize eating might help to understand the ‘eater’ as being vital as the final mechanism of change.  I love parsnips in my chicken soup. My husband hates them.  It doesn’t matter that he knows that they are really healthy, or that they add to the flavor, or that they make the soup look more like his mother’s. He still hates them.  Without a music ‘eater’ who wants the soup, or the music, the way it is made, there is no way that the chicken soup experience will happen.  He just won’t eat it.  In my music therapy groups, there are kids who love melody and kids who seem to care less. There are kids who only get excited or calmed through rhythm. As music therapists, I think we have given far too little attention to the individual’s personal proclivity for music ingredients and the music process. Yes, we do ask about musical preferences, but this often becomes more about a list of songs or a specific genre than a thorough understanding of the very individual nature of musicing.

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There you have it. So as I go to work every day as a clinician, I look toward the day when the graphs and charts and journal citations will empirically recognize what I think is already happening in my practice. I will not stop reading the cook books, but I will continue to make the soup in the way I learned from my music and music therapy ancestors.  And I will make sure that the soup is one that all of my children and families will want to eat.  And if I am asked for a recipe….I’ll  tell them to first read the cookbooks, but then take what they learned and just put in ‘a little bit of this, and a little bit of that’.

Oh… always remember that if you are having guests, you need to make sure you ask them how they like their soup. That way you can all sit down together for a satisfying meal.

Enjoy the soup and the music!

Beth

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