What’s the Deal with Dorian?

Well, I’ve done it again! There is something about the Dorian mode during the winter season that really draws me in. And what I’ve noticed again and again is that it also draws young children into the music in a way that is unique.

I think that it is the ambiguity which the Dorian mode creates that fits so well with my style of music therapy. I want children to explore and express and examine. I don’t always want to box children in to a certain harmonic structure that will lead them to a foregone conclusion. The Dorian starts out with the flatted third that tricks the ear into thinking it has a specific path. But then, along comes the raised sixth. It surprises me every time. It no longer feels minor, but it doesn’t feel major either. That is another reason that Dorian is perfect for young children as they explore all types of pitched and melodic sounds. Anything they contribute musically seems to have a place in Dorian.

I also like to add the Dorian mix into the pot during the holidays. By the time December is nearing its end, many of us are ready for a break. We sometimes get stuck in the stress of season and keep our jingle bells on constant loop. Dorian digs me out.

Maybe this song in Dorian will help you find a little bit of novelty and newness in these last few days before the New Year. Give it a try this week. “Look and See” invites you and your children to take a break from the normal and find some creative play time. Let me know if you, like me, find a big deal in Dorian.

Enjoy the Music!
Beth

Look and See!
E. K. Schwartz 2017

1, 2, 3. Look and see!
1, 2, 3. Look at me.
1, 2, 3. Look and see!
We can play together. We can play together.

Come and play with me.
Come and play with me.
Come with me and you’ll see, we can play together.

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’.

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.

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.

20150807_171632

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’.

DSC_0163

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

The Power and Persuasion of Musical Scales

20140308_090705

Yesterday was tax filing day here at my house.

Actually, it has been tax filing week.  Each year I seem to get more and more bogged down with finding and filling out forms.  I like to think I’m organized, but every spring proves me wrong.  The stress builds as I frantically search for Box 3 (B) subsection A, Item 1 on small pieces of paper that I can hardly read. If only there was a reliable system that I could trust would be the same from year to year. As I drifted off to daydream about numbers jumping off the page to taunt me, I began to think about how much stress is caused in our everyday lives by the demands of having to understand things that make no sense.  And of course this led to thinking about how this kind of stress impacts my young students with disabilities all day, every day. That same wide-eyed panic that I feel when faced with a clutter of torn bits of paper and crumpled receipts is the same look I see in the eyes of my little ones when they face new or novel situations.

But new experiences, just like taxes, are a fact of life.

Being able to absorb and integrate novelty is critical for young children as they develop.  Luckily, as music therapists, we do have a system that can give even the newest idea or experience a context and a familiar reference – musical scales.  All of the children that I work with not only seem to ‘get’ scales, but they can demonstrate on a daily basis that they ‘get it’.  Music cognition research fully supports this innate ability to ‘get’ familiar scale patterns.  One of the music researchers that I often go to for information on music and patterns is Dr. Aniruddh D. Patel.  You can read his comprehensive 2007 compendium- Music, Language, and the Brain – or access some of his lectures on YouTube or at http://nihrecord.nih.gov/newsletters/2013/06_21_2013/story2.htm.

Here are two suggestions of how I use the power and persuasion of scales to help my kids feel safe and able to understand what is happening, even when though don’t understand language.

key of g

Sol – La – Ti – Do:  Moving  Up and Forward

This upward scale sequence is so familiar to us that we might take it for granted in our work with children.  I use it to introduce a new experience or to get us ready to start something.  Often I will just sing or play the single tones with no other harmony and wait with an extended pause before finally moving to the ‘Do’.  The silent anticipation of the children as they wait makes the air almost crackle with expectation.  Those focused seconds of listening and regulating are followed by such excitement as they break into music making. They get it.

Sol – Fa – Mi – Re – Do: Moving Down To Completion

Descending down these five tones to the fundamental ‘Do’ gives the children a clear signal that things are coming to an end. I often pair the tones with words that explain such as “I sure had some fun”.   Hearing this sequence again and again at the end of a session or end of an experience will help the children internalize the patterns of completion. Most of the students I work with will vocalize this descending scale along with me. And then I hear them using the same sequence independently helping to make the world a more understandable place.

Whew, I feel calmer already! Okay, now back to making sense of those tax forms.

Enjoy the music!

Beth

Making Merry When Joy is Elusive

Earlier in December I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the National Training Institute of Zero to Three – an amazing organization that “provides parents, professionals and policymakers the knowledge and know-how to nurture early development” (www.zerotothree.org). There was an incredible display of expertise and action and it was so invigorating to be a part of it. Speaker after speaker drove home the point that good developmental outcomes are built on good, solid early relationships. Most interesting to me were the reports by neuroscientists about the biological and neurological underpinnings supporting the critical need for bonding and nurturing in the early years.
The one thing that rattled me though, was to walk outside of the conference center to blue skies, ocean swells and palm trees covered with Christmas lights. Being from the North, I never could rectify the idea of Christmas and summer-like weather. How could everyone be so nonchalant about Santa in a bathing suit while I felt so weird and out-of-touch? How come nobody else noticed that something was just not right?

20141211_125657

Fast forward to the next week, going back to the therapeutic preschool where I work as a music therapist. The school had made plans for a ‘Holiday Party’ and invited families to come in for the day to celebrate with their little ones. The hustle and bustle of the holidays is often a whirlwind for typical children, but can be totally overwhelming for our kids with developmental disabilities and autism. Partying within the safe confines of our school gives them a chance within the familiar structure to experience some of the holiday without too much stress. Of course, one of the biggest parts of the day is the family sing-a-long. We do songs and instruments that the children already know and we invite the parents, grandparents and siblings to join along. The children seem so excited to share their music with Mom or Dad, and they look toward them with the spoken or unspoken command to ‘sing along’.
As I sat up front, though, and looked at the sea of little and grownup faces, I couldn’t help but linger on those few grownups (mostly Moms) that had that same look that I must have had on my face when seeing the Christmas displays on the beach. The look said ‘Why do I feel so weird and out of touch? Why is everyone else so joyful and merry when I am just not feeling it?’ These are just the parents and caregivers that I had been learning about at the Zero to Three conference. The ones that wanted to be a good Mom or Dad, but just couldn’t find the energy or resolve to respond to their child with joy and happiness. Those are the grownups I know I need to reach out to if I really want to help their child.

20141211_202545

So my resolve for the New Year is to work harder at including the entire family system into my work with young children. Here are some thoughts that I hope will guide me and perhaps will help you in your practice.

Understanding the Disconnect

There are many reasons why a disconnect happens between parents and children, especially those with disabilities. Here are a few:

Depression

Maternal depression is more common than you might realize and makes it difficult or maybe impossible for Moms to pick up on and respond to the signals of their child.

Denial

Diagnosis of developmental disabilities is often a long, drawn-out process. Many of the signature symptoms don’t manifest until later. Some parents deny that a problem exists. Holding on to that denial is often exhausting and the work it takes to keep it up prevents parents from responding to their child.

Disappointment

We live in a society that values achievement and success. Sometimes having a child with a disability feels like a failure. The feeling of failure can become overwhelming and can block a parent from being able to respond to their child’s strengths and positive personality.

What Can I Do to Help?

Again there is much that we can do to help parents. A few things to keep in mind:

Recognize

Learn to recognize the signs of depression. Understand from a parent’s perspective the challenges that they face every day. Know how those struggles impact how they respond to their child or to you.

Relate

Although my job is to help the child, I can go a long way in helping the child by creating a relationship with the child’s parent. Reach out to parents as people and work to show respect and understanding.

Refer

As professionals, we have access to information about available services in the community that can help parents. Once you have created a relationship with a parent who might be struggling, share information on resources.




What does any of this have to do with music? Well, within music we can give parents an opportunity to be in a safe environment; to learn simple ways to play with their child in a way that all can respond to; and we can use music to create a respectful and mutual relationship.
Thanks for taking to time to think about being ‘ in’ and ‘out’ of touch in this holiday season.
Beth

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