Fostering Freedom in Music

It’s the time of year when there is a cluster of patriotic celebrations in this country – Memorial Day, Flag Day and Independence Day, the 4th of July.  As a child, I was raised to value and respect the liberty and opportunities available as a citizen of the United States.  I tried to pass these beliefs on to my own children while teaching them that these privileges came at a price and a responsibility. The lesson was very close to home, since their father was an officer in the Air Force and was deployed during the first Iraq war. As small children, they experienced the burden of responsibility to freedom when saying goodnight to Dad meant writing him a letter or waiting for a phone call from overseas.

 One of the clearest indications of how a society instills values is the way that children are raised and taught.  The direction of the society can be seen in how we parent and how we choose to educate. It can be seen in our literature and media and music. It wasn’t until later in life when I had the chance to travel to other countries that I really began to understand, though, just how much being an American shaped my life and my career…and yes, my music.  I am sure that many great minds have made the connection between the creation of jazz as a musical genre and the culture of individuality and innovation prized in this country.  I can turn on the radio or computer and freely listen to any kind of music I want.  Music here has been freely used as a vehicle for supporting or challenging the morals and tenets of our country.  These freedoms are assured by our system of law and governance.



So I am thinking most today about freedom and the freedoms we have in this society.  But how do I symbolize and pass on the values of my country when making music with the children and families in music groups? How can we create an atmosphere where young children and their families can experience and embody freedom within the music? Here are some thoughts and suggestions about fostering freedom within music.

Give children the freedom to be free.

Freedom only can feel free if you are secure in knowing that freedom is secure.  That means that in our country as in music, the very presence of structure and restraint is what allows us to be free.  In musical terms, that can mean that the configuration of a song or rhythm or melody is the framework that makes our more adventurous ideas, or improvisations, become musical rather than chaotic. Young children will need a context for their sounds which means setting up musical boundaries and melodic, harmonic or rhythmic organization.  How does this happen? Repetition, repetition, repetition.  Rather than being stifling, musical repetition in early childhood gives the child the sturdy base from which to experiment and play and be free.

Respect individual expression.

Individualism and the right to be free to’ be who you are’ is considered by many to be a hallmark of the American way.  Our individual rights are again supported by law. In this country, we may focus on creativity and emotional interpretation of the music rather than technical stringency that is primary in some other countries.  In music groups for young children, the grownups might have to remind themselves that each child can have their own musical response and still be making music. So I will tell parents that even if the words of the song say “Clap your hands” it is okay for one child to be clapping and another to be stamping and another to be patting. The idea is for each child to show their independent way to make music through moving rhythmically in whatever way they choose.105

 Create the chance for independent discovery and musical choices.

In most of my music groups for young children, I simply put the instruments out in the center of our music circle and invite the children through music to come and get one!  Some crawl, some walk, some grab their mom’s hand and lead them to get the maraca or bell.  As they pick up the instrument, I ask parents to model how to play and encourage the child to experiment and explore and figure it out themselves.  Again it is about the child using a tool or instrument to express their own musicality.

Be careful to provide freedom through limiting entrainment.

Research has shown that the brain has a very strong response to rhythm, which is sometimes referred to as entrainment. Our movements tend to match the tempo and intensity of the musical rhythm in the environment.  The same thing happens to young children.  When there is constant fast-paced musical and rhythmic input from the radio or iPod, the children can become almost captive in a frenzied rhythmic cycle.  Set children free from this by turning off the music now and then or turning on slower tempos or longer durations of sounds.  Sit back yourself and watch the kids relax.



 Enjoy the opportunities that freedom brings.








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