The Amazing Human Musical Mind, Part 9
Part 9 of Mr. A‘s series about music’s impact on cognitive development in children & toddlers speaks about some of the differences in talking to children vs. singing to them. Those differences center on the range of pitches that we use for each. When speaking, we use a relatively limited pitch range, and when singing, we use more.
Children, apparently begin to learn how to sing by employing more of the talking range while speaking words from a song. I remember our toddler doing that. There were definitely high and low pitches, but they do seem to have been the same high and low pitches, repeated. Eventually, she learned to move on from that and add in a whole range – including raising her voice at the end of Row, Row, Row Your Boat or Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.
To encourage singing, and thus utilization of the entire vocal range, Mr. A recommends playing with a slide whistle. I’ve actually never owned one of these, but Amazon has a bunch, from between $4 to $10. He recommends beginning by using descending sounds only and having children (and instructor) mimic them. This will cause them to start on high pitches and out of their speaking range. Speed can be varied for fun. Their imitation gives them confidence using their singing voices. Once they’re able to do this, then ascending sounds can be introduced as well.
Later on, after the children are used to this, we can tie in the sounds to concepts of “up” and “down” – when we raise or lower our hands or when we do other actions. From his suggestions, it looks like even things like zipping up or unzipping a jacket could work, as long as its accompanied by the sound.
He says that once their voices are warmed up and they’re using the correct part of their voices to sing, they can sing song fragments. He recommends that these be short and easily divisible, and within a small tonal range – particularly songs that stay within a range of 3-5 notes. When they imitate small sections, children learn musical patterns, which is akin to learning words. He also recommends singing and then having the children sing back what was just sang. He likes to use songs with patterns for this, like “No More Pie”. I’m not familiar with this, but the concept seems similar to “5 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed”. He calls these echo songs and says that they’re useful for memorizing just about anything or causing children to respond to a question.
I’ve done something similar with our toddler. She’s 2 1/2 right now, not 3-4 like the children that he’s writing about. I notice that she gets angry when I change words (which can be fun at times) but sometimes, when she’s in a more playful mood, also mimics the new phrases. I have a bunch of altered nursery rhymes that are used for changing her pamper, for example. These also cause her to run, because she likes to make me work for it before I clean her, so be wary of what you’re conditioning as well.
He also says that an important thing to remember with echo songs is to not sing with the children. The goal is for you to sing to them and then for them to sing to you. This forces them to think and respond to the patterns, instead of using you for support and not thinking. He compares it to conversing – we don’t generally speak to children at the same time that they’re speaking to us. We take turns. Its the same process.
Here’s the rest of the series from Mr. A.:
When we talk—our young children and we–we do so with a limited range of pitches, and those pitches are relatively low in the range of our voices. This can easily be demonstrated with our stand-by, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. First speak the words. Now, try to sing the song using the same sounds you used to speak it. You won’t get very far before anyone who hears begs you to stop. Do you see what I mean? Many children will try to sing this way at this age, or will just speak the words on one or two pitches instead of actually singing. To really sing, we need more pitches, and we need higher pitches to sing. Our job here is to get the children to start using that upper part of their voice, the part they don’t need for talking, but they do need to voice musical ideas. So we use…
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