As part of my #10wks10yrs series of guest posts for the tenth aniversary of Patch of puddles, I’m delighted to host this post on exploring music with babies and toddlers.
I’m not much of a music person, it was always a chore for me to learn to play and I hated the ‘classical music face’ my parents pulled when they went through a phase of nothing but that. I like words. I’ve encouraged my girls to play but I’m not good at listening – I should try harder really.
Here is a post from Classical Babies that tells a story I can appreciate but not quite manage myself! I can however identify with some of it – I have 2 children who wince at wrong notes and minor keys 😆
My passion for classical music started young. My older siblings played the violin (badly!) and I begged to play too and to do their practice for them when they moaned about it. When I was three, my sister taught me to play ‘Twinkle twinkle little star” on her violin and it only fueled my drive, but my mum stood firm: We couldn’t afford to pay for lessons and I had to wait until I was seven and at Junior School where lessons were free. So frustrating! But good things come to those who wait and, to cut a long story very short I’m now a professional violinist of ten years’ experience and a mum of two small boys. (Three and a half years’ experience there and still no clue what I’m doing!) At work I’d played for young school-children and I have taught violin to all ages. I love babies and had always wanted to be a mum. But music and babies? Never connected the two in my mind.
Then I had Gabs. From day one I played CDs to him, mostly classical but not always (he was partial to a bit of ABBA ‘Dancing Queen’ when teething). As soon as he was old enough to focus on my face, I used to put on Mozart Piano Concertos and bend over him, singing all the crazy-fast runs in the piano right hand and first violins. It made his little face light up and kept him interested for so long. When he was old enough, he’d giggle, before that he’d just move and stare intently and had such stamina for listening before getting tired or over-stimulated, I couldn’t believe it. All my instincts told me that as ridiculous as I sounded, singing these virtuosic scale passages way out of my vocal range (!) was teaching him to understand the music and once he recognised his mother’s voice he would pick out the same lines in the music on the CD. I was literally teaching him how to listen. The slow movements used to calm him and put him to sleep on the floor at quiet time.
At three months old, when Daddy was practising Sibelius violin concerto for an upcoming performance, Gabs would cry every time the music went into the minor key and stop promptly when it changed back to major. So I knew babies were sensitive to music, maybe more sensitive than adults, and I remember feeling sorry that Gabs had all this wonderful music in his life that was giving him such mental and emotional stimulation and making his brain come alive in all sorts of ways, when other babies didn’t, simply because he was born into a family of musicians. It didn’t seem fair! But I put these thoughts to the back of my mind and focused on my lovely baby and the weird time-warp tunnel of no-sleep, joy and tears that is being a new mum.
At six-months I took Gabriel to baby yoga and met fellow mum, Estela Garcia and daughter Hannah. I was telling her one day how Gabs reacted when I played the violin, or classical CDs to him and how I wished I could give this experience to all my friends’ babies too. Her simple response,
“So why don’t you?”
was the start of a new life-passion for me, a new career: Classical Babies. It started in my living room, with my string quartet playing for five of my NCT friends and their babies and when we saw how the babies loved it and sat and stared up at us, we took it into a local hall and invited paying mums to bring their babies and toddlers.
With all this passion for bringing classics to babies, you’d think I have had the same beginnings, but no! My earliest musical memories are of taking all my clothes off and dancing around the living room to ABBA’s ‘Super Trouper’ (aged 3) The Beatles and The Shadows!
So why classical music?
There have been plenty of studies over the last few years about the so-called ‘Mozart Effect’ and I don’t need to re-hash them here, so I’ll just give my own take, in my own words. It’s a musicians-mum’s view, not that of a child-development expert or an academic but here goes:
Classical music (and also renaissance, baroque, romantic & contemporary music) is multi-layered. You have complex chord structures with melody, sometimes sitting on top of the chords, sometimes woven into it. Sometimes the melody passes between different parts in the music and the ear has to follow it around, like a kind of moving, audio “Where’s Wally”! Time in music is divided up into rhythmic note values and also stretches of bars of different phrase-lengths, so your brain is picking up not only note-to-note mathematical fractions but also longer arching patterns. Melodic and harmonic themes can disappear and reappear later on inverted, in a different key, the music can have repetition, sequences and complex divisions of time, like three notes played against two notes. All the while this is going on under the surface, we’re listening to something ethereal, emotional or spiritual, enjoying the way the music makes us feel! You think a baby’s brain doesn’t catch all this?! Neither does mine, consciously… but our subconscious brain does! And babies’ brains are unbelievable machines at this age. You can almost see them growing on brain-scans, the number of new neural pathways appearing each day is mind-boggling! Can you imagine the synapses firing in their tiny brains when they’re exposed to Beethoven, Mozart or Bach??
Put much more simply:
I would teach children music, physics and philosophy; but most importantly music, for the patterns in music and all the arts are the keys to learning. Plato
More generally, a recent study at Buffalo University in the US concluded:
“Music is one way that children can learn rhythm and rhyme of text, be exposed to new vocabulary and learn to discriminate a variety of sounds.. Children need daily appropriate music activity to stimulate their neural activity to develop tonal and rhythm audiation that in turn appears to help their emergent literacy skill.” (Runola)
Parents should take note of these results and encourage their preschoolers to listen to a variety of music from recordings and especially in live venues… Moreover, parents should interact with children musically, in the same way they interact with them using spoken language. At a minimum, they should chant nursery rhymes and dance with them to music on radio, TV and recordings.
But to be honest, it’s not the intellectual side of music which interests me, especially not as a mother. Listening to classical music helps babies and children to identify and express a vast range of emotions and not only uses the rational, left-side of their brain but also taps into their creative imagination, helping them develop into well-rounded and balanced individuals later on. It combines maths, art, language, science (the physics of sound, vibration and acoustics) and exercises the body.
Playing music together also teaches unbelievable social skills and camaraderie. Have you ever seen the string section of an orchestra play together, or a great quartet play live? Their bows move exactly in sync. They breathe together, move together, communicate a common emotion. In a world where religious and political division is rife, the news shows us daily the repurcussions of two or more groups of people feeling and thinking differently and failing to see that, “We are all One”!
Classical musicians are all different. We come from different countries, hold different faiths and play different instruments but in playing music we collaborate on a spiritual level and speak one common language. My goal is that ALL babies, everywhere have the chance to learn this language. Because it is a language, and as with any spoken-language, the earlier you hear it the better. I’ve always had an uneasy feeling at all the children’s school concerts I’ve ever done, as much as they are clearly enjoyed at the time, thinking, “We’re too late!” They’re already ‘Beliebers’! Classical music is already alien to their ears and ridiculously complex! It’s like reciting Baudelaire to someone who doesn’t speak French…what the hell is the point?! Just like learning French, we have to catch them early, or we have to break it down into spoon-fed chunks – a bit of 8-chord Pachelbel’s ‘Canon’ followed by Mozart ‘Eine Kleine’,and then to be honest you’ve already lost them, because this is far from the best music that the classical genre has to offer.
So, that’s all there is to it. We would never think to deprive our babies of pop music, nursery rhymes, lullabies or the soundtracks they hear while we watch TV. So why cut out the classics?
There is a common, human thread throughout ALL types of music. Can you imagine a wedding without music? A funeral? A film, a TV programme, a party? A long car journey, a weekend?! Classically-trained musicians work as backing artists for pop groups, music therapists, orchestrate soundtracks to films, write pop songs, teach, arrange and perform music for television; they play in schools, hospitals, documentaries, the Olympics, the Oscars: It’s hard to think of an area of life a classical musician hasn’t touched lightly, indirectly but definitely. They are more core to our society than people realise!
And our babies are tomorrow’s society.
Hopefully, if we give them the chance, they will grow to recognise the powerful role that music plays in their world.
And they will enjoy it and protect it long after we’re gone.