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

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’.

091312CC134 (800x533)

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!

091312CC138 (800x533)

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.

I Told You So!

Maybe it is because I grew up as the second child. Maybe is it because I chose to devote my life to a profession, music therapy, that requires constant explanation and promotion. Maybe I am really just obnoxious. But I love it when respected scientists report findings that support the things that I have known for years. So I am particularly crowing this summer with new research out of McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. The study finds significant correlation between synchronous musical movement and social skill development in young infants. In other words, when we bounce to music with our babies, we are opening a world of connections that go way beyond keeping the baby entertained.blog (940x300)

In my early childhood groups and in the Sprouting Melodies program we have seen this connection develop week by week. The children that move and sing and play along with their grownups to developmentally responsive music show huge growth in their interest in others and their engagement in being part of the social group. They watch their peers more closely and choose to play with them or near them. The relationship with their grownup becomes one of joy and togetherness rather than stress and conflict.

Why is this important? Because we are primarily social creatures who live and work and play and learn in groups. Those early social connections are the foundation for later success in our families, our schools and our communities.  We know this and now hard science is giving us a strong backup.

As early childhood music therapists, we often feel the need to justify our value. But with science like this behind us, we can confidently articulate to parents, educators, administrators and funding sources why good quality, developmentally focused early childhood music programs are essential.

To help you out, the article citation and abstract is below. Thanks to the researchers and McMaster University, there is also a video explanation of the findings that you can share.  As an added bonus, I have also included a link to a Sprouting Melodies Sing at Home video with a brand new song using music and synchronous movement that I wrote for little ones just about the same age as the babies in the research. Sing it, move with it and share it with your families and your colleagues.

And maybe, just for now, it okay for all of us in early childhood music therapy to put on a bit of attitude and say loud and clear – “I told you so!”

 

Enjoy!

Beth

 

Cirelli, L. K., Einarson, K. M. and Trainor, L. J. (2014), Interpersonal synchrony increases prosocial behavior in infants. Developmental Science. doi: 10.1111/desc.12193

 

Abstract:

Adults who move together to a shared musical beat synchronously as opposed to asynchronously are subsequently more likely to display prosocial behaviors toward each other. The development of musical behaviors during infancy has been described previously, but the social implications of such behaviors in infancy have been little studied. In Experiment 1, each of 48 14-month-old infants was held by an assistant and gently bounced to music while facing the experimenter, who bounced either in-synchrony or out-of-synchrony with the way the infant was bounced. The infants were then placed in a situation in which they had the opportunity to help the experimenter by handing objects to her that she had ‘accidently’ dropped. We found that 14-month-old infants were more likely to engage in altruistic behavior and help the experimenter after having been bounced to music in synchrony with her, compared to infants who were bounced to music asynchronously with her. The results of Experiment 2, using anti-phase bouncing, suggest that this is due to the contingency of the synchronous movements as opposed to movement symmetry. These findings support the hypothesis that interpersonal motor synchrony might be one key component of musical engagement that encourages social bonds among group members, and suggest that this motor synchrony to music may promote the very early development of altruistic behavior.

A video abstract of this article can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IaqWehfDm7c&feature=youtu.be