Playlists

Black History Month – Composers

October is Black History Month, and so it seems fitting that my playlist this month exclusively features Black Composers. The music of Black Composers has traditionally been given very little, if any, attention and their music has been largely ignored for many years. I did a music degree in the 1990s that was fairly academic, and had not heard of many of the composers mentioned here during my studies, other than twentieth century composers. Happily, things are starting to change, but this is exactly why we need Black History Month to shine a spotlight on the work of these great musicians, so more people can listen to and love their music.

Some of the composers on this playlist you will have heard of; some pieces have featured on previous playlists; and some composers you may not have heard from before. It is always good to discover music that is new to you and to see if a composer’s works are ones you or your children enjoy or are inspired by. So sit back, relax and have a listen to this whistle stop tour of music through the ages.

Prior to the Classical period in music history I have not found information about Black composers working on music of the western tradition.

I have put together a Spotify playlist featuring most of the works mentioned below. Sadly I could not find all of the works I mention here in this post on Spotify. However, if you would like to listen to most of these works all together, you will find my playlist at the end of this post, or you could simply access it with this link.

Classical Music

Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745 – 1799)

Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges was a French composer, amazing violinist, conductor of the main Symphony Orchestra in Paris and a famous champion fencer! In fact when he first performed as a violinist, the audience were surprised that the famous fencer was such a good musician. A few pieces of Chevalier de Saint-Georges’ music:

Romantic Music

George Bridgetower (1788-1860)

George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower was a British composer of African heritage born in 1788. He was a virtuoso violinist whose performance impressed Beethoven so much that he dedicated his Kreutzer Sonata to Bridgetower. Sadly most of his compositions were lost, and he was mostly remembered as a violinist, largely due to the dedication by Beethoven.

Francis Johnson (1792-1844)

Francis Johnson was the first African-American composer whose compositions were printed as sheet music, he was also the first African-American composer to give public concerts in the United States and to take part in racially integrated concerts there.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875 – 1912)

Born in 1875 in London, Coleridge-Taylor, named after the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, was a composer and prominent conductor in the early 1900s. Despite being a successful conductor, Coleridge-Taylor struggled financially and so he sold the rights to what became his most successful work, Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, for a small sum to make some immediate money. He learned from this experience not to give up the rights to his creative endeavours.

Early 20th Century

Scott Joplin (1868-1917)

Scott Joplin was an American composer and pianist who was known as the “King of Ragtime”. One of his first pieces became ragtime’s most influential hit, the Maple Leaf Rag. Joplin’s compositional style, and his use of harmony and rhythm were hugely influential on composers who followed him, and you can hear echoes of these harmonic and rhythmic ideas in music composed today.

Florence Price (1887-1953)

The first African-American woman to be recognised as a symphonic composer, and the first to have one of her works performed by a major orchestra, Price was also a pianist, organist and music teacher. Price studied at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts and became Head of Music at what is now Clark Atlanta University. In the late 1920s, following a number of racially motivated incidents in Atlanta, Price moved with her family to Chicago and a number of her works for orchestra were performed by the Chicago Women’s Symphony and the Women’s Symphony Orchestra of Chicago amongst other ensembles.

Late 20th Century

Duke Ellington (1899-1974)

Edward Kennedy Ellington, known as Duke Ellington, was an American composer, pianist and jazz artist, leading his own Jazz Orchestra which became famous through their appearances at the Cotton Club in Harlem. Duke Ellington was one of the most significant jazz composers, creating the distinctive Big Band style of performing. Ellington called this “American music”. He was a prolific composer of both jazz songs, and instrumental, more “classical” works.

Margaret Bonds (1913 – 1972)

Margaret Bonds was an American composer, pianist, arranger and teacher, who was one of the first Black composers and performers to gain recognition there. She studied under Florence Price, amongst others and she was one of a few Black students at Northwestern University, where her experience was marred by the hostile and racist environment she found herself in. She moved to New York after graduation to attend the very prestigious Julliard School of Music. Margaret Bonds is best known for her arrangements of African-American spirituals.

George Walker (1922 – 2018)

George Theophilus Walker was the first African-American composers to win the Pullitzer Prize for Music in 1996. George Walker’s music is influenced by many different musical styles including “classical” music, folk songs, jazz, church hymns. He did not want to confine himself to one particular style of composition and so he uses many different musical styles within his compositions.

Miles Davis (1926-1991)

Miles Davis is probably known to you as a trumpeter, but he was also a composer. He was born in Illinois, America, into a musical family as his mother was a violinist and music teacher. Having spent much of his younger years performing at school and home, and going on to play in bands in clubs in St Louis and New York. Miles Davis’ album Kind of Blue is the best selling jazz albums of all time, and he is one of the most influential and respected jazz musicians, influencing many, many musicians who came after him.

Nina Simone (1933-2003)

Eunice Kathleen Waymon was an American singer songwriter, musician and civil rights activist. A brilliant pianist with dreams of being a concert pianist as a child, she changed her name to Nina Simone when she started to play in nightclubs in Atlanta, so her family would not know that she was playing in cocktail bars, playing “the devil’s music”. Playing in the clubs, she was told that she would have to sing as well as play piano, starting her career as a singer. For many years Simone performed her most popular music only to help her fund her classical music studies, she was rather indifferent to her recording contract. She had a change of record distributors in 1964 and this gave her the opportunity to change the content of her songs to be much more focussed on the civil rights movement. Nina Simone became more and more involved in activism, and so she wrote and released less music.

Composing and performing today

Eleanor Alberga (1949 – present)

Born in Jamaica, Alberga started performing and composing at a very early age. She studied music at the Jamaican School of Music and moved to London to study at the Royal Academy of Music after winning the biennial West Indian Associated Board Scholarship. Alberga initially worked as a concert pianist after graduating from the Royal Academy of Music, but stopped performing in 2001 to concentrate on composing. Her music draws on her Jamaican background with its colour and cross-rhythm. Alberga uses influences from jazz music, tonal harmony and repeated rhythm patterns.

Errollyn Wallen (1958 – present)

Errollyn Wallen was born in Belize but moved to London with her family when she was 2 years old. She was brought up largely by her uncle and aunt after her parents moved to New York. Wallen started out training as a dancer, but after going to study a the Dance Theatre of Harlem, she decided to become a composer, returning to the UK. She studied composition at Goldsmiths’ College, Kings College, London and later at King’s College, Cambridge. Wallen was the first Black female composer whose work was performed at the BBC Proms in 1996.

Concerto starts approx 16 mins into recording

YolanDa Brown (1982 – present)

Yolanda Brown was born in Essex, UK. Brown initially studied at business school, and she gained Masters degrees in business and in social research and studied management science at doctorate level before deciding to pursue a musical career. Yolanda Brown was the first person to win the Music of Black Origin (MOBO) award for Best Jazz Act twice. Brown mixes jazz, reggae and soul music in her work.

Parents of young children will know her best from her CBeebies programme Band Jam, which we love in this house. In fact before the pandemic hit we had bought tickets for her Band Jam show near us. If you haven’t already discovered Band Jam, then go and find it on CBeebies, it’s a great, fun show full of music to make your children get up and dance, and Yolanda Brown teaches your children about different instruments and musical styles inviting guest musicians onto the show.

The first two clips I have linked to below are from the brilliant Band Jam, and the final piece is one of Brown’s compositions.

Ayanna Witter-Johnson (1986 – present)

Ayanna Witter-Johnson is a cellist, composer and singer-songwriter. She began playing piano at a very early age, and took up cello at 13. She studied music at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Drama and later studied for her Masters degree in music at the Manhatten School of Music. Witter-Johnson fuses classical and pop in her music, singing and playing cello. She has described hr song writing style as “a bit of soul, hip-hop and reggae”.

If you have got to the end of this blog post, thank you very much for reading and I hope you have enjoyed, or got something out of this post! If you have enjoyed what you have read, and would be interested in supporting me to keep this blog running, I would be absolutely delighted if you would consider buying me a coffee using the following link: Buy Me A Coffee Thank you!!

Spotify Playlist

Learning a Musical Instrument

About practice

Music practice is absolutely crucial so that children can go from being an absolute beginner on an instrument to becoming a musician. Getting your children to practice can be really frustrating, and lead to a lot of battles between parents and their children.

So what can you do as a parent to support and encourage your children to practice, how involved do you need to get in your children’s practice, and why do they need to practice?

Why do you need to practice?

Playing a musical instrument is something that requires learning a lot of different skills:

  • They need to have the physical ability to play that instrument – so they need to learn how to actually get their instrument to make a sound; by pressing keys, using a bow, or blowing down or across their instrument. Often several of these physical skills are required to get a sound out of their instrument. Those physical skills need a lot of practice to develop.
  • They need to be able to listen to the music they play, to hear how their instrument sounds, to hear whether they are playing the correct notes with the correct tuning; if playing music with other people, they have to be able to listen carefully to everyone else they are playing with to know how their part fits in.
  • Children have to learn a new language – both the (often) Italian terms used in sheet music and the series of dots and squiggles on the set of 5 lines that is music notation.
  • They have to learn a lot of patience and perseverance. When you first start playing an instrument, it can be a bit dull – the pieces you play are very simple, maybe even just one or two notes at a time. It possibly doesn’t sound too nice (no, not thinking about the violin or recorder here at all!). It takes a long time to get to a point where your child can play something that sounds great. And it takes a lot of patience and perseverance to keep going with learning an instrument to get to the point where your music sounds great, or good, or even just not too bad.

When I was a child I absolutely loved performing. I loved to put on shows for my parents, relatives, frankly anyone who would put up with listening to me. I loved to play something or sing something for about 5 minutes then stand up, take a bow and wait for their rapturous applause.

Unfortunately, I did not like the practising side of things and so outside of sitting down to perform for my long suffering parents I hardly played in between lessons. I started taking violin lessons when I was about 5 – I am not a violinist. I moved on to guitar – I do not play guitar now. I moved on to flute and took lessons for several years. I was about to give up as I was still not practising or getting anywhere, when my teacher decided to put me in for my Grade 1 exam to see how I would do.

On the day of the flute exams my year had a school trip to the science museum and those of us who were doing our flute exams stayed behind in the school library to wait for our exams. There were about five of us, four doing Grade 1, and one doing her Grade 5 flute. The girl who was taking her Grade 5 decided to practice her sight reading for her exam by playing through all of our exam pieces that we had been working on for ages.

It dawned on me in that session watching a girl who had practiced and played more than I did, that she could play whatever she wanted of out pieces, that she had so many more options as to music she could play because she knew what she was doing. She could pick up any of the pieces and just play them. I went home and that night started practising properly for the first time and never looked back, more than making up for lost time in the next few years. Sometimes I wish I had come to this realization sooner, but mostly I am just glad that I came to it at all.

What are the benefits of music practice?

Music practice clearly helps your child develop their musical skills, but are there any other skills that learning an instrument can give them?

  • I mentioned at the start of this post that playing a musical instrument is a very physical activity. And so it stands to reason that practising helps your child develop physical skills – manual dexterity, that can help with things like drawing, or writing; learning how to recognise and play with the rhythm, or pulse of music, that can help with dancing, walking, games and PE, even with reading skills as language has a rhythm whether it is poetry or prose; playing wind and brass instruments or singing can help strengthen lungs.
  • As you see from my little anecdote above, the more you practice, the more music you can play, and the more fun you can have with music. You can find music that suits you, that you like listening to, that is fun to play. And music tends to get more interesting the better you can play – the more musical skills you have, the more choice you have over what to play.
  • Part of being a musician is learning to perform, and performance is a great thing for building a child’s self confidence. Performance doesn’t have to be a solo performance with everyone staring at one person, although it can be, but performing as a group can be hugely rewarding. Playing music with your friends can be a really fund, bonding, and brilliant experience. It can help build your child’s self esteem.
  • Playing with other children in orchestras or bands, or ensembles is great for learning skills such as turn taking, co-operation, listening skills, whilst also working on the physical skills involved in learning to play an instrument. It is also a lot of fun, and can help make learning a musical instrument seem so much more worthwhile.
  • Music is a very creative activity, whether performing a composer’s works, improvising (messing about?) or composing their own pieces. Music helps your child express themselves, express their emotions, or express their own point of view; it helps them find their own voice. Music can help with regulating your child’s emotions, both playing and listening to music and writing their own. And of course, the more your child practises, the more they understand music and can learn how to express themselves through music, or find solace in it when they need to.
  • Music can also be very precise. You have to learn how to use your breath or your fingers to make the right sound to be in tune. You have to count to know how many notes in a bar, to know where you are in the piece you are playing, to know how to play that piece, or to know where to play when playing in a band or orchestra. To play with other people (unless you are all improvising), you have to play exactly what is on the paper you are reading. Skills involved in mathematics and other analytical skills are developed when learning an instrument.
  • Music and playing a musical instrument is something that involves the whole of the brain. Children’s developing brains are highly benefitted by playing a musical instrument, helping their brains form new connections as they play and practice.
  • When your child gets into the habit of practising, they are learning how to be self motivated. They may be set certain tasks by their teacher, but they have to manage their time in between lessons to accomplish those tasks.
  • Above all, playing music can really help to deepen your child’s enjoyment of music. We are surrounded by music – on TV, on the radio, on the internet, when you are put on hold on the phone, in shops, everywhere. As they get older, children bond with their peers through their love of music, they start to push back against their parents and start finding their own interests often through the music they share with their friends rather than with their families. Having spent time playing and practising an instrument can deepen their love of music, and this will last them a lifetime.

Parents’ role in practice

So, what should you do, as a parent, to help your child with their practice and how involved should you get? If you are not a musician yourself, how on earth can you help with your child’s practice when you do not play an instrument?

The good news is that whether you have any musical experience or not yourself, you can be a very valuable support for your child, and you can help to support your child’s music practice. And there are some very easy ways that you can do this. Your level of involvement will vary depending on how old your child is, and what stage they have got to in their musical journey.

The first thing to do is to communicate with your child’s instrument teacher. Have a chat with them to find out what they expect from your child in terms of practice. Some teachers may say that they expect their students to practice every day/most days. Some may specify a length of time they expect students to practice for each time they practice. Some may not talk in terms of amount of time/days of the week they expect students to practice for, but may instead set specific goals. Find out what those expectations are, and then you and your child can work together to try to meet those expectations and find out if they work for you and your child as well. And talk to your child’s teacher if you find that you can’t absolutely meet their expectations, for example the teacher says your child needs to practice every day for 45 minutes, but you find that they can’t do that because of other after school activities/homework. Talk to them and you should be able to work it out together.

You can help your child develop the habit of practising. Help them to find a good time of the day or week to practice. The main thing with setting your child up so that they can practice well independently in the future is for it to become a habit, something they just always do. In our house, my son usually practises as soon as we get home. We drive home from school and he has a snack in the car on the way home. Our habit is to get in the door, take shoes and coats off and then I go into the kitchen to start getting books out ready for homework, and he goes straight to the piano while I am getting the books out. He knows that he has to do his practice and homework before he gets to watch TV or play video games, and he knows that he doesn’t have to do either homework or practice on a Friday. It has become part of our routine and is just what we do.

I mentioned above that some instrument teachers will suggest that their students need to practice for, say 30 minutes or 40 minutes a day, but some may not specify how long a student’s practice session should last for. How long your child will need to practice for will depend on many factors including how old they are (my 4 year old simply cannot sit still for as long as my 7 year old and so when she plays it is just for a few minutes at a time before she moves on to something else), what stage they are at with their studies, and what other pressures there are on their time. My son has after school clubs 3 days a week at the moment, and other school homework, and so he is practising for 10-15 minutes a day. In the absence of any other advice from your child’s teacher, then especially at the start of their musical studies (see above about forming the habit of practising), then it is better to play for a relatively short amount of time – 10,15 or 30 minutes say – every day, or most days, than it is to have one or two long practice sessions each week and little to no practice the rest of the week.

Don’t underestimate how much your child will value you being with them in the room, or close by, as they practice listening to them and showing an interest in their music. Find things you liked about the music they played, something like:

I loved how you played that piece both loud and quiet

I liked the section with the short, spiky notes

I can hear how much you enjoy playing that piece of music

I really liked that piece of music, Can you play it for me again?

Encourage and praise the effort they are putting into their practice. Tell them you are proud of them for working hard with their practice. Talk with them about how you can hear improvements in their playing. You don’t necessarily need to tell them that all of their playing sounds great or literally applaud your child’s practice session, as I often demanded from my parents, but if you praise the effort as much as, or more than, the results of their practice, then it will encourage your child to keep going. Especially while they are young. I haven’t yet hit the teenage years with my two, so I am sure my practice encouragement techniques will need to change at that stage!

With musicians, as with all arts, you often hear people talk about someone who is very good at playing an instrument, singing, composing etc as being very talented, a natural talent. It sounds like something that only a few blessed or gifted people can do. In truth, that very talented person may well have some natural ability, or affinity with music. They may enjoy it more than many people. But they will also have practised, practised, practised and practised some more. Practising the physical skills involved, spending time learning how to play loud and quiet, fast and slow, when to play strictly on the beat and when you can be a bit flexible with playing the notes exactly how they are written, these are all skills it takes time to learn.

The only way to become a musician, whether your aim is to become a professional musician, or just to be able to sit down and play something as a break from your other studies or work, it all needs practice. And the more your child practises, the more fun they will have with it, the more options they will have as to what to play, when to play and how serious or not they want their musical journey to be. It may even make learning some of the skills they need for other studies (like self-motivation or team work) easier for them in the long run.

If you have got to the end of this blog post, thank you very much for reading and I hope you have enjoyed, or got something out of this post! If you have enjoyed what you have read, and would be interested in supporting me to keep this blog running, I would be absolutely delighted if you would consider buying me a coffee using the following link: Buy Me A Coffee Thank you!!

Music Book Review

Music Book Review: The Bear and the Piano

The Bear and the Piano is a lovely book written and illustrated by David Litchfield.

You can read my review of his other book The Bear, The Piano, The Dog & the Fiddle here.

The Bear and the Piano is the story of a bear who, one day when he is very young, finds a piano in the middle of the forest. He has a go at playing this object and when he touches it, the thing makes a sound he has never heard before. Startled, he runs off.

The bear comes back to the piano day after day, each time having a go at touching this object and becoming more and more familiar and comfortable with the sounds it makes. He goes from just touching the piano to playing it beautifully.

One day, the bear’s talent is discovered and he is encouraged to travel away from the forest to perform for audiences far and wide – well you would be intrigued to see a bear playing the piano, wouldn’t you?! I won’t say any more about the plot of the book, you will have to read it for yourself.

The book explores the bear’s journey from cub who finds a noisy object he doesn’t understand to virtuoso pianist, and how he feels about that journey. To my mind, it is a great book to explain why it is important for children to practise their chosen musical instrument, no matter how plinky plonky, or awful it sounds when they first start out. By practising every day, like the bear, they too could become a virtuoso performer and it could change their life.

Not only is this a lovely story that I have very much enjoyed reading with my children, but it is beautifully illustrated by the author/illustrator.

I love this book, and my children have loved it as well. I will be very sad when they don’t want me to read it to them any more!

Instrumental Facts

Interesting facts about the violin you need to know

You will have heard loads and loads of music played on the violin. You may play the violin yourself or have children in your house learning to play the violin, but how much do you actually know about this beautiful instrument? Well, here are 17 facts about the violin you need to know. OK, so need to know may be a bit of an exaggeration, let’s go for facts you want to know….

  • The main body of the violin is typically made out of wood. Generally spruce for the front of the instrument, and maple for the back, neck and scroll of the violin.
  • A violin maker is called a luthier. A luthier is a highly skilled craftsman, who spends many hours making each violin. In fact, a luthier may make only 5 or 6 violins in a year.
  • You play a violin by either plucking the strings, or using a bow that is run over the strings. To change the note played, you put your fingers down on the neck of the violin trapping the string in a specific place.
  • When plucking or bowing the strings this makes the strings vibrate, and that vibration is transmitted onto the plates (the front and back wooden pieces) of the violin by a wooden bridge that the strings sit on towards the bottom of the instrument, and a small peg inside the instrument.
Photo by Tom Swinnen on Pexels.com
  • Why do you use rosin on the bow? Rosin, when rubbed onto the violin bow before playing, helps the hair on the bow to “grip” the string.
  • Violin bows contain between 160 and 180 hairs. There are some bows that are made from synthetic fibres, most commonly (and traditionally) they are made from horsehair.
  • Violin strings used to be made out of sheep intestines, known as catgut. These days they are usually made out of the less stomach churning materials such as nylon or steel, sometimes even silver plated.
  • The largest violin in the world is 4.27 metres (14ft) long and 1.4 metres (4.5ft) wide, with a 5.2 metre (17ft) bow!
  • The smallest violin in the world is a mere 3 inches long!
  • Violins come in various sizes to match the size of the people playing them. The smallest size for very young players is a 1/64 violin, although this is far less common than a 1/32 or 1/16 size. Violins go up in size through 1/4 or 1/2 size to full size for older children and adults.
  • The world’s most expensive violin was made by renowned luthier Antonio Stradivari in 1716. It is known as the Messiah Stradivarius and is valued at $20million! The Messiah Stradivarius is housed in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England.
  • The modern violin was invented in the 16th century in Italy by Andrea Amati.
  • The word violin comes from the Latin word ‘vitula’ or ‘vitulare’ meaning to sing or rejoice.
  • Playing the violin is great exercise! It is estimated that playing the violin for 1 hour burns around 170 calories.
Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko on Pexels.com
  • The first violinist in an orchestra used to act as the orchestra’s conductor until the 1900s when the conductor became a separate role in itself.
  • Violin strings are tuned to the notes (from low to high) G, D, A and E.
  • The composer Mozart was a child prodigy violinist.

If you have got to the end of this blog post, thank you very much for reading and I hope you have enjoyed, or got something out of this post! If you have enjoyed what you have read, and would be interested in supporting me to keep this blog running, I would be absolutely delighted if you would consider buying me a coffee using the following link: Buy Me A Coffee Thank you!!

Music at home

I have joined TikTok

Hello!

Well I have thinking about this for a little while, and have finally set up a TikTok account. I plan to use it to share things like:

  • Ideas for music-themed toys and products
  • Short videos on how to use musical instruments, especially percussion instruments for your music box
  • Ideas on music games you can play with your children
  • Ideas on musical things you can to do to help your little one’s development

And I am sure I will come up with lots of other ideas as time goes on.

For my first TikTok, I have made an acoustic guitar from Nanoblocks. Check it out here.

If you have got to the end of this blog post, thank you very much for reading and I hope you have enjoyed, or got something out of this post! If you have enjoyed what you have read, and would be interested in supporting me to keep this blog running, I would be absolutely delighted if you would consider buying me a coffee using the following link: Buy Me A Coffee Thank you!!

Instrument spotlight

Spotlight on Halilit Calypso Band set for babies over 6 months old

You have recently had a baby, and have read about how important music is for babies’ development (hint: music is an amazing activity for all areas of your baby’s development), and you like the idea of having a music box at home for your children to help themselves to. But where on earth do you start with the dizzying array of instruments to choose from? How do you know what instruments are safe for your very young children to play with?

The image above shows a box with Halitlit branding and marked Calypso Band. The box contains three musical instruments – a blue tambourine, a yellow bell, a green maraca. The box says the instruments are suitable for babies 6 months and older.

Well, the Halilit Calypso band is a great place to start!

This is a lovely set of instruments, a Baby Band in a Box if you like. They are nice, brightly coloured instruments that have perfect sized handles for small hands to hold. There are three instruments in this box:

  • A maraca – a green shaker with a chunky handle, played by shaking the maraca up and down or side to side. The maraca can be shaken fast or slow, a really lovely, audible and easily understandable way for children to start learning these concepts.
  • A bell – this bell is encased in a yellow ball and has a big handle for little hands to easily grip onto. Just like the maraca, it is played by shaking it up and down, or side to side.
  • A tambourine – this is the blue instrument in this set. A tambourine is made with zithers (metal discs), attached around the edges of a drum. On a standard tambourine these zithers can break off and become a choking hazard for small children. With the Halilit Calypso Band tambourine, however, the zithers are entirely encased (like the bell above) in a blue plastic case. The tambourine is thinner on the one side to help small children grip onto it and play it. Again this is an instrument that can be played by shaking it up and down, or side to side.
The image above shows the back of the Halilit box. There is a picture of a happy baby holding the yellow bell and the blue tambourine on the box. The writing on the box describes some of the benefits of the instruments for small children, e.g. builds a sense of rhythm, enhances motor skills, develops musical ability.

The beauty of this set of instruments is that each one of them can be played by the children themselves. They can grab hold of them and shake them by themselves. I mentioned above that you can shake the instruments fast or slow, introducing these concepts to small children with an easy to understand demonstration. You can also shake them very gently and quietly, or with huge enthusiasm and loudly (especially the tambourine) to demonstrate the difference between loud and quiet, telling your child that you are playing loud or quiet as you do so.

To see a demonstration of how to play these instruments, have a look at my TikTok on Wednesday where I will show you how to play them!

The instruments are made out of plastic and any small parts, namely the bell and the zithers in the tambourine, are fully enclosed in their plastic outer casing, so you do not need to worry about your baby putting the instruments in their mouths. I am not saying that you can leave your baby unsupervised as they play with them, as your baby can still give themselves a good whack in the face with them – or their siblings…. but they do take away an amount of worry about babies putting instruments in their mouths.

For very young children, being able to play instruments themselves helps your baby to understand cause and effect – your baby will move, or shake the instrument and a sound will come out of it because of their actions. It’s a great independent activity for them, they don’t need you to make the sound for them. (Your little one will need to be able to grip things by themselves to be able to play independently.)

A picture of the three instruments from this lovely set. These are the green maraca, the yellow bell and the blue tambourine on a blue background.

This is an absolutely lovely set of instruments, and a perfect set to start off your music box.

I bought this set from Amazon, and at the time of writing, the set costs £14.99.

If you have got to the end of this blog post, thank you very much for reading and I hope you have enjoyed, or got something out of this post! If you have enjoyed what you have read, and would be interested in supporting me to keep this blog running, I would be absolutely delighted if you would consider buying me a coffee using the following link: Buy Me A Coffee Thank you!!

Music at home

A big hello from me!

Hello. How are you? September, to me, is more about new beginnings and feels more like the start of a new year than January. Obviously we have the start of a new term in schools, and my two have recently started their new academic year. Many of the jobs I have had have started in September. When I worked in the theatre, it was always the start of a new season in September that ran until the following summer. And it’s my birthday in September. This year is quite a big year for our family as my eldest has just moved up into the Junior School part of his school, and my youngest has just started Reception and is now in school 5 days a week!

So I thought I might start off the new school year, and the new blog year (if that is even a thing!), by introducing myself to newer readers.

Family Life

I’m Jhodi. I live in Birmingham in the UK, which is where I grew up. I live with my husband and two children who, at the date of writing this post, are aged 4 and 7. The children keep me on my toes, and I am really enjoying seeing their personalities and their individual interests growing as time goes on. Both of my children love music – which is not really surprising given what I do, and that both my husband and I love music and listen to a lot of music at home. In the last year, of course, the children have spent a lot more time at home than they usually would, and my son especially had extended periods doing his school work at home. At times last year, he struggled a lot with being at home, away from his friends, and he found music to be really helpful to help him with this feeling of struggling with things. We had tried to start learning piano with him when he was younger, and tried learning to play ukulele together without much success the year before, but he started playing piano again in early 2021, and has really taken to it this time round. My daughter, at just 4, loves singing and dancing, and messing about on the piano. Like I did with her brother, I am going to start trying to teach her to play this year. We will see if she enjoys it or not. As her brother gets time playing the piano with me regularly, she is quite keen on the idea and getting her own time playing together at the moment.

Music Education and first career

I am a flute player and singer who studied music at University many years ago. Whilst at University I of course studied performance and played in orchestras and sang in choirs. I also developed an interest in music psychology, in how musical ability develops in children, how people react psychologically to music, and the therapeutic benefits that music can provide, especially to people who may otherwise struggle to communicate. After University I worked Front of House in arts venues. I got to work in some fantastic venues in the Midlands and London, including Birmingham Symphony Hall, The Birmingham Rep Theatre, The Royal Shakespeare Company in both Stratford and London and The Royal Albert Hall. I got to know audiences, and how to work with people and manage people.

A bit of a change

In my 30s I made a little detour training to become a solicitor and spent the best part of a decade working in medical negligence law. Although this may sound like a huge departure, it wasn’t really. I was still working with people and resolving disputes, but on a far more formal (and serious) basis. I left the law when I had my son. I did not feel that I could give as much as I wanted both to being a solicitor and being a mum, and so was a stay at home mum for a few years while my son was small and then I had my daughter.

Back to music

Like many other mums I took a few classes with my children, and the one both the children and I enjoyed the most and got most out of was a music class we went to each week (I ended up teaching with this organisation for just over a year before the pandemic hit). We went to a number of music events together, including some concerts for children, the Just So Festival one year (I would love to go back when the children are a bit older, well my daughter at least as I think my son would now really enjoy it) and to the musical picnics at Birmingham Symphony Hall regularly.

I mentioned above that I got a job as a class teacher or class leader with the music classes that I had attended with both of my children. So I lead music classes for babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers and their carers. This was such a lovely job, watching babies grow in confidence, and watching their faces light up with the activities we all did together. Sadly, just over a year after I started this job the pandemic hit, and so I stopped teaching these classes, and decided to spend more time working on this blog – well that and there may have been quite a bit of time where the children were at home trying to do their school work.

When I’m not writing about or thinking about music, or looking after the children, I love crafting away with crochet, sewing and recently I have discovered making things out of resin. I try baking with the children and each year we have our own Bake Off competition following along with the programmes bakes (mostly – the odd weeks like medieval week or German bread week we give a miss). We work in teams, me and my son against my husband and daughter. My son appoints himself as the main judge, and I do find that the scoring for each week’s bakes seems to be quite generous in my team’s favour. No idea why!

Music Book Review

Music Book Review: Jazz Baby

This month I am reviewing Jazz Baby by Lisa Wheeler and beautifully illustrated by R. Gregory Christie.

Jazz Baby is a new book to me, but was written in 2007 by American author Lisa Wheeler. It is a book about a baby whose world is filled with music. Everyone in Jazz Baby’s life sings, or dances, or taps/claps out rhythm throughout Baby’s day and Baby gets to join in too. The music starts gently, with a little tapping, and builds to the point where even the neighbours are joining in, then calms down to a gentle rhythm again to lull baby off to sleep – in much the same way as many pieces of music start off quietly and gently, build to a crescendo, and then gently die away at the end.

This book is written in verse, unashamedly rhythmic verse, you can even hear music accompanying it as you read it aloud – maybe that’s just me! But I doubt that anyone reading this book aloud would be able to avoid at least tapping their feet along to the beat, or pulse of the verse!

It is a good book for starting to explore different ideas of rhythm and sound and how they are made with your little one:

You can read the book using different voices – use a high voice when it says “Mama sings high” or “Mama swings high” and a low voice when it says “Daddy sings low” or “Daddy swings low”. Use a loud voice as Baby exclaims “GO, MAN, GO!” There is plenty of opportunity to explore using your voice in different ways in this book, and in my experience babies love to hear you using lots of different voices, and the full range of your voice from high to low and loud to quiet when reading to them.

Jazz Baby would make a great bedtime story for small children, and would be good for young readers to attempt for themselves. It uses simple, easy to understand language, and the rhythm of the words would help younger children understand and enjoy the book. On Amazon it suggests that it is suitable for 4-7 year olds. I think this is a suggestion only in terms of the child being able to read the book by themselves, as I would suggest it is aimed at children 4 and under if you are reading to them.

I bought this hard cover copy of Jazz Baby from Amazon, and at the time of writing it was priced at £10.44

If you have got to the end of this blog post, thank you very much for reading and I hope you have enjoyed, or got something out of this post! If you have enjoyed what you have read, and would be interested in supporting me to keep this blog running, I would be absolutely delighted if you would consider buying me a coffee using the following link: Buy Me A Coffee Thank you!!

Playlists

An Introduction to Late Romantic Music – a Playlist

What is Romantic music? Is it all hearts and flowers? Love songs? Music only to be played at Valentine’s Day or at weddings?

No, in music history, the late Romantic period refers to music written between approximately 1900 and probably around 1930. This period in music history includes a movement known as Impressionism. Much like the Impressionist moment in art history, composers at this time created a particular atmosphere, or mood or told a particular story. However, where Impressionist artists used the idea of light and colour to create an “impression” of their subject matter rather than necessarily an exact replica of it (I am no art historian, so please don’t rely on my description of art history movements!), composers of this time used sound, harmonies, different scales, or the orchestration of their music to create the impression of the mood, atmosphere or story they chose. Orchestration broadly means which instruments they chose to compose for and how they chose the different instruments of the orchestra to play different themes or harmonies in the music.

You can have a look at my suggested Introduction to Classical Music playlist and also my Introduction to Early Romantic Music for more information on these earlier period in music history.

In earlier periods we generally have a couple of composers who are most famous, but in the Romantic period many composers from all over the world found fame for their composition and their fame continues to this day. So I had to split this period of music into two separate playlists; my earlier post covered composers writing between around 1830 and 1900 and this one covering music written around 1900 to 1930. My aim here is to give you some examples of music to listen to from the most famous composers of this period with your children. I have sought out music that I think would be most appealing to children, but with such a busy period inevitably there will be loads of music and composers I have left out. This is just a playlist to wet your whistle really, and if you would be interested in me doing some playlists for particular composers to give you more information about them and their lives and music, let me know and I can plan that into future blog posts. I will be writing about other periods in music history in future weeks and months.

For now, here are some lovely pieces of music from some of the leading late Romantic/Impressionist composers. You can listen to these pieces of music by following the YouTube links in the post below, or by listening to them all together, perhaps over dinner, while doing something else like painting with your children, or as background music while they play. For the majority of the works below, a different artist or group will be performing the piece than the one listed here, and I have tried to include the whole work. Do not feel obliged to listen to the whole work either, it is just there for you if you would like to listen!

My Spotify playlist with this Introduction to Late Romantic Music can be accessed here, or at the end of this post.

Nikolai Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov was a Russian composer who was a member of a group of composers known as The Five. The Five worked together to create a nationalistic, Russian style of music in the mid to late 1800s. He often used fairy-tales and folk legends as the inspiration for his music. One of my favourite pieces from this composer is a piece that perfectly captures the way a bumblebee flits and flies about trying to find pollen.

Sir Edward William Elgar

Elgar is a British composer, a lot of whose music has become part of the established repertoire of concert halls across the country, with his Pomp and Circumstance Marches being a part of the Last Night of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall every year. Whilst he is considered as a very English composer, his musical influences were actually very European. Elgar was one of the first composers to take the invention of the Gramophone seriously, conducting a series of recordings of his works.

Frederick Theodore Albert Delius

Frederick Delius, born Fritz Delius, was born in Bradford, England into a family of merchants. His family encouraged him to enter the family business and as part of this encouragement he was sent to manage an orange plantation in Florida in the USA. This did not last long. However, it was long enough for Delius to have been influenced by the musical style of African-American music. This influence, along with the influence of his contemporary composers, can be heard in his music especially his early compositions.

Claude Debussy

Claude Debussy was a French composer who was known as the first Impressionist composer, a title that Debussy himself very much rejected. Debussy was a talented musician from an early age. So much so that he won a place at the prestigious Conservatoire de Paris at the age of 10. Debussy’s music was, in many ways, a reaction to and against the classical, Germanic style of music of Classical period composers and earlier Romantic composers like Wagner.

Bedrich Smetana

Bedrich Smetana was a Czech composer, who has been referred to as the Father of Czech music. He had a number of difficulties in his life, however, and by the end of his life he was completely deaf, and had mental health difficulties for which he was placed into an asylum. Although the Father of Czech music, Smetana is probably not the best known Czech composer (that title probably belongs to Dvorak whose music will feature in a later playlist).

Ralph Vaughan-Williams

Ralph Vaughan-Williams was an English composer born into a wealthy family. He strongly felt that music could and should be available to anyone. He wrote many pieces of music for amateur and student performers.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

Born in 1875 in London, Coleridge-Taylor, named after the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, was a composer and prominent conductor in the early 1900s. Despite being a successful conductor, Coleridge-Taylor struggled financially and so he sold the rights to what became his most successful work, Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, for a small sum to make some immediate money. He learned from this experience not to give up the rights to his creative endeavours.

Sergei Vasilyevich Rachmaninoff

Sergei Rachmaninoff was a Russian composer born into a musical family which inspired him to start playing piano at the age of 4. He was very influenced by his contemporaries like Mussorsky, Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov. After the Russian Revolution Rachmaninoff’s family relocated to America, settling in New York in 1918 where he remained until his death in 1943. Rachmaninoff is perhaps best known for composing beautiful and brilliant, but very difficult works for piano and orchestra.

Gustav Theodore Holst

Gustav Holst was an English composer and teacher. He was a pioneer of music education for girls and composed many pieces for the students St Paul’s Girl’s School where he taught from 1905 to 1934. I have given you one of the movements from The Planets Suite and St Paul’s Suite to listen to. See if you can spot the now famous tunes contained within them. As a hint for the St Paul’s Suite, as the whole of that piece is linked to below, the tune you are looking for is in the finale, Dargason.

Maurice Ravel

Ravel was a French composer who was, like his contemporary Debussy associated with the Impressionist movement in music history; although he, like Debussy again, did not like this association. Ravel was not as prolific a composer as many of the others in these playlists. He worked very slowly, and was as involved with orchestrating (arranging the music that was written for, say, piano for the orchestra) other composers’ works as writing his own. He was quite heavily involved in recording as a way to bring his music to a wider audience. He took part in several recording sessions and supervised some other recording sessions of his own works.

Scott Joplin

I thought hard about whether to include Scott Joplin in this playlist because his music does not fit the sound that I would associate with Romantic or Impressionist music – it would not, really, as he composed ragtime music – but he was composing at the same time as the composers above and so I decided that he should be included in this playlist. Joplin was an American composer and pianist who was known as the “King of Ragtime”. In fact, one of his first pieces became ragtime’s most influential hit.

If you have got to the end of this blog post, thank you very much for reading and I hope you have enjoyed, or got something out of this post! If you have enjoyed what you have read, and would be interested in supporting me to keep this blog running, I would be absolutely delighted if you would consider buying me a coffee using the following link: Buy Me A Coffee Thank you!!

Spotify Playlist

Homemade Instruments

DIY Bottle Top Wind Chime

I do love the sound of a wind chime tinkling away in the breeze on a summer’s day. I have previously made a wind chime with some lovely, brightly coloured jingle bells, and if you want to have a look at that post, you can do so here.

So, this wind chime needs a little equipment to complete such as a drill, or a jewellery hole punch – I guess you probably could use a nail and hammer as well but I think that would be difficult because of the size of the bottle tops you will be working with. Basically you need something to help you make a hole in a metal bottle top.

I have been planning this wind chime for ages, well over a year in fact and so I started collecting the metal bottle tops when we had a bottled beer in preparation for this in the spring of 2020. I didn’t use all of the bottle tops I had collected, but I think I used about 45 of them for the wind chime.

So, the equipment you need to make a bottle top wind chime is as follows:

  • Beer or other soft drink metal top
  • Dream catcher hoop, or similar
  • Fishing thread
  • Jewellery hole punch

As I had been collecting the bottle tops for some time, the first task when making this wind chime was to give them all a good wash and dry. An odd experience to be sat at the kitchen table washing old beer bottle tops I have to say!

I then used my jewellery hole punch to make holes in the sides of the bottle tops. I knew that I would want to thread the fishing wire through both sides of the bottle top, so roughly aligned the holes to be able to do this. While it was pretty easy to punch holes in all of the bottle tops, because they are made with quite thin metal, there was one brand with gold colouring on it that had far softer metal than the other brands. I would say that it probably took about 45 minutes to wash, dry and hole punch all the bottle tops, and this was doing more bottle tops than I really needed to use as I wasn’t sure how large I wanted to make the wind chime.

Once all the bottle tops were clean, dry and hole punched, then it came time to make the wind chime itself. I collected the hole punched bottle tops, the dream catcher hoop and fishing thread and settled down to make the wind chime. I used this thread because it is quite strong, will withstand rainy and windy conditions outside and also because it is clear and hard to see.

Firstly I attached four lengths of the fishing thread to my dream catcher hoop. I chose quite long lengths of thread and chose to make two of these lengths of thread longer than the other two. The longer two lengths of thread were attached opposite each other on the dream catcher hoop. To attach the thread to the hoop I simply double knotted them. If I wanted to make them feel more secure I could have used a hot glue gun on the knots, but didn’t really feel I needed to for this.

I threaded the fishing thread through the top hole in the bottle top, and knotted the thread just underneath the hole so it could not slide up and down the thread, and then through the bottom hole in the bottle top, this time not bothering to knot the thread. This way the bottle top lay nice and flat on the fishing thread and none of them stuck out at awkward angles. I thought it looked nicer that way.

I did this with about 8-12 bottle tops for each of my four lengths of fishing thread on the dream catcher hoop, then used another, shorter length of the thread to loop at the top of the dream catcher hoop to create a hook to hang the wind chime from.

I put our new wind chime in various places both in the garden and even in our house. I quite liked having it in the kitchen near our kitchen table and listening to it tinkling away when the kitchen window was open. However the children also really liked having it there, playing with it and grabbing the tops and trying to make them hit each other – it was only a matter of time before someone accidentally got hit in the eye with it, or something like that! It could not stay there, so out in the garden it went!

I think the outcome is quite lovely. It is not so loud that it will annoy the neighbours, but is loud enough that we will hear it when sat out in the garden this summer.

This is a project for older children given the need to use equipment like the drill or jewellery hole punch. Or for slightly younger children with a lot of adult supervision. I would probably let my 7 year old have a go at threading the bottle tops with the fishing thread, but would not let my 4 year old try this activity, no matter how much she wanted to (and she would want to if she saw me or her brother doing this). The reason I would not let my 4 year old have a go is firstly that I don’t think she would have the manual dexterity for the fine threading the thread through small holes in the metal bottle top. In addition, when punching holes in metal, there could be some sharp edges on there to watch out for.

If you have got to the end of this blog post, thank you very much for reading and I hope you have enjoyed, or got something out of this post! If you have enjoyed what you have read, and would be interested in supporting me to keep this blog running, I would be absolutely delighted if you would consider buying me a coffee using the following link: Buy Me A Coffee Thank you!!

Music Book Review

Product Review: Music Instruments Colouring Book

I have reviewed a music-themed colouring book before- last time one that was supposedly aimed at adults- now here is my review of the children’s music themed colouring book I bought at the same time. I was not at all impressed with the adult’s colouring book when I reviewed it, and must admit that I was not very much more impressed with this one.

The first page of the book was, of course, a name page. Most children like putting their name on their books, and mine was no exception. It was clear from this page that the book was not written by an English speaker. My daughter didn’t care about that, and we had to put her name in it as soon as she saw it (picture taken before my daughter got hold of the book):

There were some nice pictures included in the book, the pictures of the mermaids playing instruments I knew my daughter would particularly love.

And there were some images that were a bit boring, I felt.

There were some where the print quality was really not very good at all, the pictures being quite blurred.

And, the pictures only appeared on the right hand page. If I was looking at this with my positive head on, then I guess it helped prevent the colour from one picture bleeding onto another picture when using felt pens. Perhaps less charitably, it helped cut down on illustrations to include in the book and maybe made the book appear bigger than it was on the shop shelf. My daughter did quite enjoy having a page to doodle on next to the picture she was colouring in, though.

This page was, frankly, inexplicable. I have no idea what it is there for, unless it was not intended to be included in the book.

As predicted my daughter went straight for the mermaid pictures, and left what she termed as the “boring” pictures for me to colour in under her direction – she does like to watch me colour pictures in for her!

All in all, the book was OK. I am not convinced that it was worth the £5.99 I paid for it given the print quality of some of the pictures. This is a colouring book for young children. My 4 year old was very pleased with the book, but my 7 year old would not have looked twice at it. I would say it was aimed at under 5s. I bought mine from Amazon and the link to that product, if you are interested is here.

If you have got to the end of this blog post, thank you very much for reading and I hope you have enjoyed, or got something out of this post! If you have enjoyed what you have read, and would be interested in supporting me to keep this blog running, I would be absolutely delighted if you would consider buying me a coffee using the following link: Buy Me A Coffee Thank you!!

Homemade Instruments

Baker Ross DIY Tambourine Kit

As readers of this blog will know I do like to make instruments with the children, and for the children. For their part, the children love messing about with bells, paint and having fun making their own musical instruments. So we do this quite a lot, especially in the holidays.

I am also a big fan of Baker Ross craft kits and always purchase a few before any of the school holidays begin. They are great to pull out on those rainy days when you have run out of any other ideas of things to do with the children. We have had Christmas or Easter themed sticker scenes, we have bought things like Paint Your Own mug or tea light holder kits for the children to make presents for relatives with. I love them. I was delighted to see that Baker Ross did a set of DIY musical instrument kits.

The first one I had a go with, and my 4 year old loved painting this with me, was a wooden tambourine kit.

In the kit you are given some wooden tambourine shapes each with 10 pre-drilled holes in them, some jingle bells, some pre-cut lengths of ribbon and a very sparse set of instructions, that are mainly in picture form. Much as I love Baker Ross kits, I do find that their instructions can be a little confusing as they are generally all in picture form, and sometimes it seems impossible to do what the picture suggests.

A quick note of caution before I move on from the contents of the kit, there is a small bag of silica gel in the kit bag, which you should be careful to dispose of before your children get hold of the kit.

You could make the tambourine with the contents of the kit alone, but we like to make the instruments look a little prettier – besides the activity takes more time if you decorate the tambourine as well, and can stretch to fill most of a morning or afternoon. Baker Ross generally do not include any paint or anything to decorate these wooden kits with, so we use the paint we have at home. It is just children’s ready mixed SCOLA poster paint. We have had these very large bottles for years. I can’t remember when we bought them. It was certainly a while before the pandemic and we do a lot of painting at home, especially when we were homeschooling in the last 18 months or so. These tubes of paint are still going strong, and well worth the investment!

The first thing to do was to paint the wooden tambourine shape. I painted both sides of mine, allowing each side to dry before turning over and doing the other side. On one side of mine I chose to paint flowers and on the other side (pictured later on down this blog post) I did some simple stripes. I did have to put a couple of coats of the purple paint on to get good, dark coverage as the wood is quite porous. My daughter saw the tambourine drying when she came home from school (I had done mine earlier in the day to take pictures for this blog post and also so I knew what to do when helping her or my son make the tambourine), and could not wait to get her hands on one of them and some paint. She went for quite a stripy look for her tambourine as well.

The next stage was attaching the bells. For this stage I needed the decorated wooden tambourine shape, 10 ribbons (there were 10 pre-drilled holes in the wooden shape) and 10 jingle bells.

Following the picture instructions I threaded a ribbon through the first pre-drilled hole.

Tied a half knot into the ribbon and threaded the ribbon through the jingle bell, tying another double knot under the bell.

The jingle bell was firmly tied onto the ribbon, and I checked a couple of times that the knot would not come undone when shaken.

Finally, I threaded the rest of the ribbons through the pre-drilled holes, and tied a jingle bell onto each ribbon to complete the tambourine.

All that was left was to play it.

What do you think, does it sound like a tambourine? To my mind, this sounds rather more like jingle bells than a tambourine:

I did this activity with my 4 year old, and she loved painting the tambourine. She kept calling it a smile though, rather than a tambourine, and really loved using it to play with expressions – happy face, sad face turning the wooden shape upside down for the sad face. She played with the wooden shape without the bells for ages before we attached the bells to her tambourine. As a 4 year old she didn’t quite have the manual dexterity to thread the ribbon through the small holes in the wood, and she certainly couldn’t manage knotting the ribbon around the bell. My 7 year old would have just about managed it – however, he was more interested in playing on the Xbox at the time so hasn’t had a go yet.

If you are doing this activity with children, it does require quite a bit of parental support with younger children. The jingle bells are a choking hazard so you should not leave very young children alone with them. I believe the package says it is not suitable for children under 3 because of the small bells. It is a very fun activity to do, and you get a musical instrument to play at the end!

I bought my kit direct from Baker Ross at a cost of £4.95 for a packet of 3. They can, of course, be purchased from other retailers including amazon. If you buy direct from Baker Ross, they do options for school teachers of much larger packs to make it more cost effective to buy them for the whole class.

If you have got to the end of this blog post, thank you very much for reading and I hope you have enjoyed, or got something out of this post! If you have enjoyed what you have read, and would be interested in supporting me to keep this blog running, I would be absolutely delighted if you would consider buying me a coffee using the following link: Buy Me A Coffee Thank you!!

Music Book Review

Product Review: I Love Music Coloring Book

Today I am kicking off a new series of blog posts, reviewing musical products, with this colouring book that, according to the Amazon description for it, is aimed at adults to help them with relaxation and stress relief. Apparently this is a great present for a music lover. (I may be giving away a little of what I think about this book there…)

Colouring books for adults have been big business for some time now. I was never that interested in colouring until my children came along, but have quite enjoyed colouring in with them in the last few years. Colouring is a great activity for mindfulness, thinking about the colours you are choosing, thinking about the patterns you want to create in the picture, or bring out of the picture. It is an activity you can just do without having to think about anything else. I do find it really quite relaxing, and I like seeing the results at the end.

Like all children, my two have gone through phases where they really enjoy colouring, and my daughter, who is 4, is really into colouring books at the moment. It is one of the activities she can do for a good stretch, along with stickers and play dough, as usually she just bounces around from one activity to another. My son generally prefers drawing a picture to colouring it in, or colouring anything pre-drawn in.

When we do our colouring together my daughter likes for us to colour the same picture. I have to somehow guess which colour she wants to use and then she gets me to colour one area of the picture while she colours another area. Over lockdown I was listening to some parenting podcasts, and one of them was talking about colouring with their children, inspired by Romesh Ranganathan, as a non-screen based activity for the whole family. The idea was that Romesh Ranganathan and his wife had got out colouring books and started colouring, and their children had come along to see what they were doing, and decided to get their own colouring books out. They were all colouring together.

I thought that sounded nice and wanted to try it with my children, so got hold of a colouring book for adults. I specifically choose one on Amazon that said it was a colouring book for adults, as the idea was that I would just get this book out and start colouring, maybe having a colouring book available for the children nearby to see if I could get them to come along and join me. This is not a blog post about this idea of mine, largely because I would have to admit that my children completely ignored me and I was basically just sat colouring on my own – I tried it a couple of times, and absolutely nothing…! Oh.

The very first thing I noticed about the book, was this front page, which I thought was rather odd for an adult colouring book, a child’s one yes, no problem, but for an adult?

So many of the pictures in the book were OK for an adult. They are music themed, and have some quite intricate designs, which I think is what most adult colouring books contain. They were perhaps a little simplistic, but OK. Like these:

There were a couple of other pictures that I was not sure were quite aimed at adults, maybe more for a young teenage audience. Unfortunately there were more of these sorts of pictures in the books than the above:

And then I saw this picture. I mean, I would not be surprised to find this in my 4 year old’s colouring book!

I had bought the book, and wanted to try this experiment to see if I could just interest the children in joining me colouring without explicitly suggesting it, and so I chose a couple of pictures.

I’ll be honest, I got bored with this picture, and this is as far as I got before giving up. I have tried colouring mandalas before, and while they are also very repetitive, there are at least plenty of different shapes, and nice patterns that you can create depending on how you colour the picture in. So I tried a different picture.

Again, this one was OK, but I still felt it was a little childish in subject matter.

I do not think this is a colouring book for adults in the least. Maybe if your child is at the end of junior school, or the very start of secondary school at a push, they might enjoy this colouring book, but much beyond about 12 I think they would feel like this book is far too young for them.

I bought the book from Amazon for £5.99, link here if you are looking for a colouring book for a slightly older child. But I would not buy it for yourself. There must be better music-themed colouring books aimed at adults out there.

If you have got to the end of this blog post, thank you very much for reading and I hope you have enjoyed, or got something out of this post! If you have enjoyed what you have read, and would be interested in supporting me to keep this blog running, I would be absolutely delighted if you would consider buying me a coffee using the following link: Buy Me A Coffee Thank you!!

Instrument spotlight

Spotlight on Rainsticks

This month’s spotlight is turned onto another untuned percussion instrument, the rainstick.

What is a rainstick?

A rainstick, traditionally, was an instrument made from a hollow wooden or plant based tube (in Chille, hollow cacti are used to make rainsticks) partially filled with small objects like small pebbles or beans. The tube would have spikes pushed into it. The rainstick would be held vertically and then turned over so the small pebbles or beans inside would fall from one end to the other, bouncing off the spikes inside producing a sound like falling rain, hence the name.

We have a rainstick as part of our music box, a box in our playroom with various musical instruments in which are generally inexpensive. Our rainstick is not a traditional one, but rather a brightly coloured plastic instrument aimed at children.

How do you play a rainstick?

It is easy to play a rainstick. As described above the most basic way to play is to hold it vertically one way and then turn it upside up down.

  • Hold the rainstick vertically, and turn it upside down, then back over, then over again very quickly.
  • Hold the rainstick vertically and turn it the other way up very slowly.
  • Hold the rainstick vertically and shake it up and down.
  • Shake the rainstick from side to side.

Rainsticks and young children

While traditional rainsticks are a rather different kettle of fish where small children are concerned, these plastic ones are perfect for entertaining even small children.

They are brightly coloured, which is always appealing to young children, and as they are made of plastic with no detachable parts, you do not need to worry about what would happen if the rainstick went into their mouths. Toddlers will enjoy shaking the rainstick and getting it to make a noise by themselves, and even quite small children will enjoy pushing and rolling the rainstick on the floor.

Developmentally, for young children, using a rainstick in this way, and especially getting them to do as much as possible for themselves can help teach your baby about cause and effect – I push this object and it makes a sound.

I bought my rainstick from ELC about 6 years ago when my eldest saw it and didn’t want to let it go. A very similar one is available on Amazon at a price of £7.95 at the time of writing.

This is an instrument, and toy, that I would highly recommend having in your music box at home. It’s fun and easy to play, and (as long as you get one like the one we have at home that is made from plastic) can be used by even very small children.

If you have got to the end of this blog post, thank you very much for reading and I hope you have enjoyed, or got something out of this post! If you have enjoyed what you have read, and would be interested in supporting me to keep this blog running, I would be absolutely delighted if you would consider buying me a coffee using the following link: Buy Me A Coffee Thank you!!

Instrument spotlight

Spotlight on Handbells

My first memory of a handbell is of one being rung in the school playground calling me back in from playtime for more lessons. Years later when I worked at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon I used to absolutely love using one of these old school style handbells to let people know the show was about to start, or re-start after the interval. It is mean I know, but it was particularly amusing if I made someone jump when I started ringing the bell.

What is a handbell?

A handbell is a tuned percussion instrument. Percussion instruments are instruments that are struck, shaken or scraped. Many percussion instruments are made so that they do not play a specific note, however tuned percussion instruments are made in such a way that they can produce a specific note.

Here are a couple of fun examples of music played with handbells from YouTube:

How do you play handbells?

Handbells are metal bells, with a clapper (sort of like a ball) inside the bell. The clapper is hinged, or in the case of the handbells I have at home mounted on a spring inside the bell and the clapper hits the sides of the bell to produce the sound. Handbells traditionally had a leather handle, but many, like mine at home, now have a plastic handle. To sound the bell you raise the handle up and down, or side to side so that the clapper hits the sides of the bell.

You can also play the handbells by placing the on a table or floor and hitting the outside of the bell with a beater.

The set of handbells I have at home are lovely, brightly coloured bells that can easily be played by children, even quite young children. I have a set of 8 at home (although my children have put one of them somewhere in the house that is not our music box so I can’t find it at the moment). They absolutely LOVE grabbing the bells and ringing them as loud as they possibly can do!

Each of my bells in this set are pitched to a note from the scale of C major – I may do a separate blog post explaining what scales are and how they work at a later date if people are interested in knowing more about them. When they first arrived in our house each bell was labelled with a sticker on the top of the handle with the note it was pitched to along with a number from 1 to 8, 1 being C, the first note of the scale for these handbells. Helpfully, given that most of the stickers have long since disappeared (children and stickers!) the same number that was on the sticker is also labelled on the main body of the bell.

As the bells are tuned, and each one is labelled, you can learn to play very simple tunes on the bells and play those with your children. I’ll be honest here though, even as a musician trying to show my children how to play a tune on the handbells they have completely ignored my attempts and just grabbed any old bell and rung it. To be fair to them, they were quite young at the time, and my now 7 year old may be more interested in playing an actual tune, but as young children they just think it is far more fun to shake the bells – and they do so love to do that!

This set of handbells is more expensive than many of the instruments I write about on here. The set I have at home was given to us as a gift for my daughter’s first birthday, and at the time of writing this blog post a very similar set of handbells was available on Amazon (other retailers available, of course), priced at £19.29.

Handbells Music Handbells Easy to Play Metal Hand Bell Children Musical Instrument Multi-function for Home for Children: Amazon.co.uk: Musical Instruments

Handbells and babies/toddlers

As we all know, babies and toddlers put pretty much everything in their mouths. When they are tiny they do this as part of their exploration of the world, and as they get older I think they just do it for fun – in the case of my 4 year old, I am sure she still sticks loads of things in her mouth just because I ask her not to! In addition, babies are not able to control the movement of their hands and arms, and young children. Bells are made of hard materials that will hurt if they are hit against your little one’s bodies, and the clapper can come away from the bell and be a choking hazard if the bell is mouthed. So young children should not be allowed to play with the bells unsupervised and you should keep a close eye on your children when they are playing with them. They are a lot of fun, though, and for my children they have been well worth putting up with the noise the children make when playing the handbells.

I will leave you with one final video I enjoyed of people who are far more skilled than I am playing handbells, and this time there is added Lego animation:

Music Book Review

Music Book Review: The Story Orchestra – Swan Lake

This month’s Music Book Review is another in The Story Orchestra series, this time Swan Lake using the music from the ballet by Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky. The book is illustrated by Jessica Courtney-Tickle.

This book, with its gorgeous illustrations, tells the story of the ballet Swan Lake. There is a Prince, Siegfried, who starts the tale at his 21st birthday party where he is told that he must find himself a wife and take on his role of looking after the kingdom. Siegfried does not want to do this, so he runs off from his party. He meets and falls in love with a Princess who has been cursed by an evil sorceror to appear as a swan during the day and only at night can she take on her human form. The evil sorceror tries to trick Siegfried by getting his daughter to pose as the Swan Princess so that his curse cannot be lifted (of course the curse can only be lifted when the Swan Princess Odette finds true love). Will the curse be lifted, and will Odette spend the rest of her days as a swan? Well, you will have to read the book to find out if you don’t already know.

This is a sound book, so throughout the book there are musical notation symbols which, when pressed, play excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.

At the end of the story, the book gives you a glossary defining some of the terms used that your children may not be familiar with, such as “ballet”, “motif” and “scoring”. There is also a very short biography for the composer along with a very brief introduction to the ballet itself and how it is usually performed.

Finally, you can hear all of the different excerpts from the ballet in one place on the final page of the book. For each excerpt, there is a short description of the music as well as information about where in the ballet you can find this particular excerpt.

I love these books. I have a couple of them now, this one and The Nutcracker, which I will probably review around Christmas time) and they are an absolutely excellent introduction to the ballet and the wonderful music of those ballets.

At the time of writing The Story Orchestra: Swan Lake was available on Amazon priced at £11.45

Music Book Review

Music Book Review: Giraffes Can’t Dance

This month’s Music Book Review is one of my favourites for reading with my children: Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees.

This is the story of Gerald the Giraffe who would love to dance in the annual Jungle Dance, but who is not very good at dancing like the other animals.

As the story continues, Gerald experiences the pain of being laughed at by the other animals when he cannot dance the way they can, but he eventually finds his own way of dancing.

This is not a book that is explicitly about music, no; however, it is a story written in verse which is very musical, especially when read aloud. The animals in the book dance to different styles of music, and I have read this to my children, playing the different types of music as we go along. Sometimes, depending on how close we are to bedtime and whether I want them to calm down ready to sleep or not, we have taken our time over the book even having a little go at the dances as they are mentioned (cue many giggles over Mummy being a bit silly getting them to do a waltz or a tango).

The book deals beautifully with the difficult subject of bullying, tackling head on how Gerald feels when the other animals laugh at him as he tries to dance. And by the end of the book Gerald is helped to find his own style of dancing, his own way of expressing himself or his own voice if you like, by a cricket with a violin.

What I love about the book, apart from the fact that it is a lovely story told with beautiful lyrical language and lovely illustrations, is that Gerald is helped to find a way to express himself through music – an absolutely brilliant lesson for children as music is such a great tool for self-expression.

We have had this book at home for several years, and it is available for sale from your book retailer of choice in paperback, board book and sound book versions. It is absolutely lovely and a book you won’t mind reading many times over!

Instrument spotlight

Spotlight on Triangle

You do not need to purchase any instruments to make music at home with your children; there are a lot of household items that you can use as instruments. However, if you are considering investing in a music box, or box of musical instruments, for your children to be able to play with at home (a fantastic idea, by the way), then you could not go wrong adding a triangle to your instruments in that music box.

What is a Triangle?

A triangle is a very simple instrument. It is literally a tube of metal bent into the shape of, yes you guessed it, a triangle!

The triangle is an untuned percussion instrument. Percussion instruments, are ones which are played by being hit or scraped by a beater. Most percussion instruments are untuned, which means that they cannot be tuned to play a particular note, or notes.

How to Play the Triangle

It is played by hitting the sides of the triangle with a metal beater. The triangle needs to be dangled, usually from a string or something similar, although it can just dangle from a finger while you are playing it. I have lost the rubber band thing that my triangle came with, so in making the videos below I improvised using a pipe cleaner to dangle the triangle from.

So what would you do with the triangle at home?

  • Play along with some music on the radio, or that you have chosen to listen to
  • Try to hit the triangle in time to the beat, or pulse, of the music you are listening to
  • Play the triangle as quietly as you can. It is quite a quiet instrument anyway, but can you hit it as gently as possible and make a really quiet sound?
  • Play the triangle as loud as possible. To play loudly, well loud for this instrument, you just need to hit it hard (when playing with young children, watch out for the triangle, and beater perhaps, swinging around quite wildly!)
  • Have a feel of the triangle and discuss its properties – is it hard or soft, warm or cold etc
  • Use it in imaginative play, perhaps as a school bell, or alarm in a fire station; let your imagination run wild

Here are a couple of videos showing the very basics of how to play the triangle:

Another way of playing the triangle:

And once you have mastered the basics, it shouldn’t be too long before you can easily do something like this (well, a few weeks at least):

If you have got to the end of this blog post, thank you very much for reading and I hope you have enjoyed, or got something out of this post! If you have enjoyed what you have read, and would be interested in supporting me to keep this blog running, I would be absolutely delighted if you would consider buying me a coffee using the following link: Buy Me A Coffee Thank you!!

Playlists

An Introduction to Early Romantic Music – a Playlist

What Is Romantic Music?

What do we mean when we talk about Romantic Music? Is it music that is full of hearts and flowers? Love songs? Music only to be played at Valentine’s Day or at weddings?

In music history, the Romantic period refers to music written between approximately 1830 and the early 1900s. Composers of this time became more expressive writing music that was full of drama, finding their inspiration often in books or paintings. They used their music to write about their emotions, not just love, but grief and tragedy as well.

In earlier periods we generally have a couple of composers who are most famous, but in the Romantic period many composers from all over the world found fame for their composition. My aim here is to give you some examples of music to listen to from the most famous composers of the first part of this rich musical period with your children. There are so many to choose from that I have split this period into two separate playlists, the Early Romantic and the Late Romantic/Impressionist periods. This first post covers Early Romantic composers. I have sought out music that I think would be most appealing to children, but with such a busy period inevitably there will be loads of music and composers I have left out. This is just a playlist to wet your whistle really, and if you would be interested in me doing some playlists for particular composers to give you more information about them and their lives and music, let me know and I can plan that into future blog posts.

You can have a look at my suggested Introduction to Classical Music playlist for more information on this earlier period in music history.

For now, here are some lovely pieces of music from some of the leading early Romantic composers. You can listen to these pieces of music by following the YouTube links in the post below, or by listening to them all together, perhaps over dinner, while doing something else like painting with your children, or as background music while they play. For the majority of the works below, a different artist or group will be performing the piece than the one listed here, and I have tried to include the whole work. Do not feel obliged to listen to the whole work either, it is just there for you if you would like to listen! Finally, unfortunately I could not find George Bridgetower’s Henry, A Ballad on Spotify when putting this playlist together. If you happen to spot it (ha!), please let me know and I can add it in.

My Spotify playlist with this Introduction to Early Romantic Music can be accessed here, or at the end of this post.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was a Russian composer born in 1840. He was the first Russian composer whose music would be well known outside of Russia, and who would influence the music of later composers. The first of these examples is probably the piece of music that you will most likely recognise as it is a staple of Christmas productions schedules in venues all over the country. It also featured in the wonderful Disney Fantasia that I remember from my childhood and that I have been sharing with my little ones thanks to Disney+.

Nutcracker Suite
1812 Overture
Swan Lake

Willhelm Richard Wagner

Willheim Richard Wagner was a German composer best known for his operas. Especially a set of 4 operas known as the Ring Cycle, which were loosely based on elements of German mythology. You often find opera companies staging the whole of the Ring Cycle, and many audience members like to book tickets for the whole thing on successive days – that can take a very long time as each opera is, in itself, very lengthy! Unlike many other composers Wagner also wrote the libretto (or the words to be set to music) as well as the music.

I am not the biggest opera fan, and have to admit to not being very keen on Wagner in particular (and this is not because of his very questionable political views, but just the music itself does not appeal to me); however, no Romantic period playlist would be complete without a bit of Wagner. The piece I have chosen is the most fun, in my opinion.

Ride of the Valkyries

Johannes Brahms

Another German composer born in 1833. As a virtuoso pianist himself, he would often be the first performer of many of his own works. Brahms’ music may be the most similar, of the composers featured in this playlist, to the music of composers from the Classical period as he liked the form and structure of music from that earlier period. His music sounds very different, however, because the orchestra had grown enormously in size since the Classical period, giving orchestral music a much more full sound.

Hungarian Dance, No 5
Lullaby

Hector Berlioz

Louis-Hector Berlioz was a French composer born in 1803. Berlioz wrote programme music, music that tells a story. And this story is told not just in the lyrics of an opera, say, but in the music itself. So a purely orchestral piece of music can tell a story.

Clara Schumann

Clara Schumann was a German composer and pianist. She was regarded, during her lifetime, as one of the foremost pianists, but her composition was rather overshadowed by the work of her more famous husband, Robert Schumann. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a virtuoso pianist, her music for piano is particularly beautiful.

Modest Mussorgsky

Modest Petrovich Mussorsky was a Russian composer born in 1839. He wrote music inspired by Russian history and folklore. Like Berlioz above, he wrote programme music, music where the music itself tells a story. Mussorsky is another composer whose music was featured on the Disney film Fantasia.

Night on Bald Mountain
Pictures at an Exhibition

George Bridgetower

George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower was a British composer of African heritage born in 1788. He was a virtuoso violinist whose performance impressed Beethoven so much that he dedicated his Kreutzer Sonata to Bridgetower. Sadly most of his compositions were lost, and he was mostly remembered as a violinist, largely due to the dedication by Beethoven.

If you have got to the end of this blog post, thank you very much for reading and I hope you have enjoyed, or got something out of this post! If you have enjoyed what you have read, and would be interested in supporting me to keep this blog running, I would be absolutely delighted if you would consider buying me a coffee using the following link: Buy Me A Coffee Thank you!!

Spotify Playlist

Playlists

An Introduction to Classical Music – Playlist

What Is Classical Music?

This question can be answered in a couple of different ways. When most people talk about classical music as compared to other types, or genres, of music like pop music, or folk music, they are probably talking about instrumental and vocal music composed before the time of pop music, so before around 1950.

In reality there are many different periods of classical music, each period having a different name and representing a different time in music history. Each of these periods have distinct musical styles which are clear to hear once you have been introduced to them. One of those musical periods was named the Classical period (and it is music from this time that musicians are talking about when they discuss Classical music) and it is this period that I would like to focus on today. To try to be as clear as possible I will use the word Classical with a capital C, to refer to the Classical period in music history.

The Classical period ran between approximately 1730 and 1820. Composers of this period included Mozart and Beethoven (although Beethoven was also composing during the Romantic period of music history, so he was something of a cross-over composer) as well as composers like Haydn, Gluck and Salieri (a contemporary of Mozart’s, and famously rumoured to be the cause of Mozart’s death. This is not true, but it does make for great drama in the film Amadeus).

I have given you 3 pieces by each composer apart from Mozart and Beethoven as they are both very prolific composers whose music is absolutely beautiful and will already be highly recognisable to you, to give you and your children a flavour of music from the Classical period in music history. Some of it you and they might love, and some you might not, some you might downright hate. That’s ok. To my mind, the point with music is to find pieces of music you enjoy and get something out of – whether that is finding music to dance around the kitchen to, or music to help you relax and calm you down before bed, and you will find them in every period in music history.

You can listen to these pieces of music by following the YouTube links in the post below, or by listening to them all together, perhaps over dinner, while doing something else like painting with your children, or as background music while they play. For the majority of the works below, a different artist or group will be performing the piece than the one listed here, and I have tried to include the whole work. Sometimes some of the movements may have escaped me, as I seem to be using a very cumbersome method of adding the pieces to my playlist – something I must change, and soon – so please excuse any omissions if you spot them. Do not feel obliged to listen to the whole work either, it is just there for you if you would like to listen! Finally, unfortunately I could not find Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges’ 5th string quartet on Spotify when putting this playlist together. If you happen to spot it (ha!), please let me know and I can add it in.

My Spotify playlist with this Introduction to Classical Music can be accessed here, or at the end of this post.

Mozart

Mozart is, undoubtedly, the most famous, the most iconic of the Classical period composers. His life story and the story of his music has been written about countless times, and for very good reason. Mozart was an unusual composer, in his day, because while he was a respected mainstream composer, he also wrote music that more ordinary people could listen to, not just music for the Court. So a lot of his music is more light hearted, more fun than many other composer’s of this era. You will have heard some of Mozart’s music, even if you don’t already know it as his, not least because one of his melodies, Ah vous dirai-je, maman, became the melody to Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and the ABC song. I have very strong memories of listening to a Roald Dahl story CD in the car as a little girl, and one of the tunes used for the song about the bad guys Boggis, and Bunce and Bean, came from Mozart’s Horn Concerto. Here you have just a flavour of Mozart’s musical work as an introduction:

Beethoven

Beethoven was another giant of this period in music history. In all music history really. Beethoven composed music that fits into the timeline for both the Classical and the Romantic periods (this will be my next playlist blog post, so look out for it in the coming weeks). Beethoven had a very dramatic personal history, and there are loads of books, articles and films dealing with this so I won’t delve into it here. He wrote some absolutely beautiful pieces of music, and here are just 3 that were written in the Classical period that would be great as a starting point to get to know his music:

Haydn

Haydn was an Austrian composer of the Classical period. His work writing many string quartets and symphonies earned him the titles of “Father of the Symphony” and “Father of the String Quartet”. A couple of Haydn’s works to listen to:

Gluck

Christoph Willibald Gluck was a German composer who is mainly known for his opera compositions. Gluck was so influenced by the fashion for French opera at the time he was writing that he moved to Paris in 1779 where he stayed for a few years before moving back to Vienna where he stayed for the rest of his life. Some of Gluck’s works:

Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges

Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges was a French composer, amazing violinist, conductor of the main Symphony Orchestra in Paris and a famous champion fencer! In fact when he first performed as a violinist, the audience were surprised that the famous fencer was such a good musician. A few pieces of Chevalier de Saint-Georges’ music:

CPE Bach

CPE Bach, or Carl Phillipp Emanuel Bach, was the son of the more famous J S Bach who was a composer from the Baroque period of music history, the subject of a later playlist. CPE Bach was a composer in his own right, however. His brother, Johann Christian or JC Bach, was also a composer based in London, whereas CPE Bach lived in Germany. While his brother was known as “London Bach”, CPE was known as “Berlin Bach”, or later on “Hamburg Bach”. Here are some of the musical works of CPE Bach to introduce your children to his work:

Spotify Playlist

Homemade Instruments

DIY Windchime with bells

As I write this blog post the weather is improving (well it is not currently raining, I can’t guarantee it won’t be by the time I finish the post!) and we are spending more and more time in the garden. I have been thinking about the sounds you hear in the garden and so this week decided to make a wind chime.

If you look online for ideas to make wind chimes you will find loads of them, and I think I will have a go at a few over the next few months to see which is easiest and most effective; there are hundreds of options.

For this very simple wind chime I used the following:

  • Some fishing wire
  • A small metal dream catcher hoop
  • Colourful jingle bells
  • A pair of scissors

To make the wind chime I measured out and cut a length of fishing wire and tied the end onto one of the jingle bells with a double knot.

I tied another couple of bells onto the same length of fishing wire and then tied it onto the dream catcher hoop.

For this small wind chime I decided to do the same with another 2, slightly longer, lengths of fishing wire with the bells arranged so that they did not hit each other. The fishing wire was tied around 1cm apart to allow the bells to move freely in the wind.

A final length of fishing wire was tied to the top of the dream catcher hoop to use as a hook. I thought it was really pretty, and while it looked lovely in my front room window, I wanted to hear it as well as see it, so I hooked the wind chime onto a nail on my garden shed where it tinkled away in the wind.

This was an easy thing to make and adds an extra sensory element to our garden, albeit a quiet one. It would be good for children to help with. Threading the wire through a relatively small opening on the bell, knotting the fishing wire and tying it onto the dreamcatcher hoop can be a little fiddly, so I would suggest it would be difficult for children under about 5 without a lot of parental help as they just would not have the manual dexterity to achieve it on their own.

Using colourful bells immediately makes the wind chime very attractive. There is a little less creativity involved as the children can’t add their own decoration really, they can just choose which colour bells to add onto the wind chime.

Now we just have to sit back and relax in the garden listening to the lovely tinkling sound of our home made wind chime, maybe with a G&T in hand. Sounds lovely.

Concerts and Events

Academy Tots from the Royal Academy of Music

On Friday my daughter and I attended a music class from the Royal Academy of Music: Academy Tots.

It is a music class aimed at 2-4 year olds which takes place every other week at 10.20am on a Friday morning. The class is run by students at the Royal Academy of Music and is part of a course those students are on to give them experience of running sessions like this. It was, therefore, free of charge, though places had to be booked in advance and participants are encouraged on the website to make a financial donation.

This is, I feel, a benefit of the pandemic. Before this happened there is no way that I could have taken my children to a class at the Royal Academy of Music because of where we live. Now for us that wouldn’t be too much of an issue as we live in Birmingham with Symphony Hall, the Town Hall, the CBSO Centre and many other wonderful venues only 15 minutes drive away, but if you live in an area without access to so many arts venues then being able to access virtual classes is fantastic.

On to the class itself:

We were admitted into the room after the class had begun and were greeted by one of the students waving hello (a nice touch which made my very excited little girl smile), before our screen showing two musicians performing an improvisation on French Horn and percussion. My daughter listened intently for a while. I did feel that this improvisation was a little long as it was for nearly 10 minutes at the start of the session. Children this age have very short attention spans, and are built to move as much as possible (I often comment to my family that my daughter especially is only still while she is asleep – and even that is not guaranteed), so a 10 minute listening experience is quite a difficult task for them. The hello song followed this improvisation.

The rest of the session took the form of a mix of children’s songs such as a nice peekaboo song set to the tune of What shall we do with a drunken sailor, a sleepy bunnies song Hop Little Bunnies Hop, Hop, Hop; hymns like Morning Has Broken – my daughter tried to copy the actions of the musicians she could see on screen which was very cute; and some further listening exercises for the children including getting them to take part in a unicorn ride to the Mozart Horn Concerto in E flat Major, to me this piece is always associated with Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox as it was used as the song for the bad guys in the book:

Boggs and Beyoncé and Bean

One fat, one short, one lean

These horrible crooks so different in looks

Were equally horrid and mean

We had a Roald Dahl story CD that was played in the car that had this song on, and that chorus pops into my head every time I hear the Horn Concerto!

The theme of the session was animals and before the class we were asked to bring our favourite stuffed animal, and the theming was evident in the music chosen and activities such as the unicorn ride. My daughter chose to bring 3 animals to the session (I must work on her working within a brief!), 2 that she insisted on referring to as Winnie the Pooh despite clearly being a general bear and a panda, and a unicorn. I loved the fact that each of the musicians had their own animal stuffed toy that they also introduced. The session leaders made some lovely attempts to get the children involved in the class with getting them to jump up and down, ride their unicorns and act like sleepy bunnies. They asked children lots of questions and were very engaging. Sadly there weren’t many children attending the session and of the children who were there two were under the suggested age range for the class. For our part, my daughter stopped wanting to join in at all after the sleepy bunnies task because she took it a bit too literally and decided she was going to remain a sleepy bunny for the rest of the session, and that was that!

The only criticism I would make of this class was that for children of this age I think it was a little long. The classes I taught were all 30 minutes long, and attending other classes as a parent with my children, the ones that were around 30 minutes were the best length. Any that lasted longer needed a break for just general play in the middle of them, just to match the children’s ability to concentrate, do one thing, and stay relatively still.

In future sessions it would be lovely to be advised to have a musical instrument – a shaker, a set of bells, or a saucepan with a spoon, to play along with some of the music.

I would recommend these sessions if you have a 2-4 year old at home with you on a Friday, it was a lovely thing to do to start the weekend off.

You can book a free ticket for this by following the link below:

Academy Tots, Royal Academy of Music

Parents’ Involvement in Children’s Musical Life

Should I Play Just Nursery Rhymes For My Young Children?

What music should I play for my baby/toddler/young child? Should the music I play for my little one change as they get older?

When my children were very young I would sing a lot of nursery rhymes to them; we attended a parent/baby music class which involved a lot of children’s music; and I used to play the radio a lot. The radio was mainly for music I liked, especially in the car as my babies fell asleep in the car and I wanted something for me to listen to. I also wanted the children to hear lots of different types and styles of music, and felt that just having the music on at home or in the car was a great time to do that. Some of my friends were surprised that I would put radio 3 or Classic FM on to listen to when playing with the children, rather than just nursery rhymes or similar music.

Parents and carers have a huge influence on their children’s musical tastes. For a while, at least. Once they hit adolescence, children start to break away from their parents’ musical tastes to form their own, and to help with bonding with their friends (that is a subject for another day). However, those experiences with their parents’ or carers’ choice of music in their formative years does affect the music they will listen and enjoy to in adulthood.

Listening to music together is a very good activity to promote bonding with your children. Sharing, listening to, dancing to or singing along to music is a great communication tool to employ with your children, right from their earliest days.

Obviously, the reaction to or response to music will change as children get older. They will be more able to express an opinion on the music you are listening to together. I have tried to get my eldest to do things like tell me what certain pieces of music have made him think of (does it inspire a picture in your mind), or paint a picture inspired by the music, but he hasn’t been quite ready for that. It is only in recent months that he has started to join in with describing a scene he says is inspired by the music.

I don’t think there is, really, any music that is not appropriate for children to listen to. You may want to watch out for language used in some songs, or if watching a music video together, watch out for the imagery used. But with the music itself, there isn’t anything that children should avoid, even music that seems quite complicated.

When you listen to a new piece or style of music, your brain works hard to understand it, to start to learn what to expect from the music; and your brain forms new connections in doing this. In children this is happening all the time. Music exercises the whole of their brain and is of huge benefit for children in developing neural connections in their brain. When they hear the same piece of music for a second time, their brain is better able to anticipate what it will sound like and what they can expect to hear. The more they hear the same piece of music then the more familiar they will be with it, and so the more they will like it.

So nursery rhymes are fantastic to help children learn as they have very simple melodies, very simple harmonies, and very simple words with simple meanings to them. However, there is no reason why young children should only hear nursery rhymes. Even very young children can listen to and enjoy complicated pieces of music, and of course as they get older the music will have more and more interest for them. I have played pieces by Stravinsky, Mozart, Florence Price, Fiona Apple, Bjork and many other composers to my children. My husband loves jazz and is far more keen on opera than I am, so he listens to a lot of jazz and opera while they are playing together.

I would encourage you to play whatever you like listening to whenever your children are around. Your love of that music will be infectious, and may even influence their musical tastes in adult hood. At the very least it may provide your children with a very happy memory of you listening to music together.

If you have got to the end of this blog post, thank you very much for reading and I hope you have enjoyed, or got something out of this post! If you have enjoyed what you have read, and would be interested in supporting me to keep this blog running, I would be absolutely delighted if you would consider buying me a coffee using the following link: Buy Me A Coffee Thank you!!

Music Book Review

Music Book Review: Where Are All The Instruments

This month’s Music Book Review is Where Are All The Instruments: European Orchestra. The book is written by musician, author and music education blogger Nathan Holder and illustrated by Charity Russell.

The Jumo orchestra have arrived at the concert hall to play their concert, only to find that their musical instruments have all gone missing. Lucky for the orchestra, the Why Squad are on hand to help them find their instruments. We follow the Why Squad (a group of very helpful children) as they explore the park, the beach, even space in their search for the orchestra’s musical instruments. As they find each instrument, the children describe some of the characteristics of it. For example, they discuss how a string instrument is played with a bow, a french horn looks like a snail, a flute has a high pitched sound.

The Why Squad save the day and at the end of the book they stay to listen to the concert.

After the conclusion of the book all of the orchestral instruments are set out in their “families” (violins, violas, cellos and double basses are all part of the string family, for example), and there are a few tasks set, together with the answers, for the children to look and try to find all of the hidden instruments, so to have a really good look at them in the book).

This is one of a series of books about music and musicians featuring The Why Squad – curious children asking questions about music and music history. This is the first that I have read with my children, but I doubt it will be the last.

It is a beautifully illustrated book and perfectly pitched for young children to introduce them to what instruments of the orchestra look like, and give them a little idea of what they might sound like as well. I read it with both of my children, and it was most enjoyed by my 3 year old who liked searching for the instruments and seeing where they were hidden on each page. It prompted discussion about what the instruments would sound like, and following on from this discussion I found excerpts of each instrument for them to listen to. This was invaluable for my older boy as well, although at nearly 7 I felt he was a bit too old for the book; he has really got interested in music and in playing the piano since this latest lockdown, and his school will offer him one year’s tuition on an orchestral instrument next year, so we are talking quite a bit about which instrument he will be most interested in learning to play.

We bought Where Are All The Instruments: European Orchestra on Amazon for £8.99, but it is available with other book retailers.

Music Book Review

Music Book Review: I Spy Music Instruments

This month’s Music Book Review is one aimed squarely at very young children whose parents want to introduce them to the names of musical instruments. The blurb on the back of the book says that it contains 20 puzzles with over 100 cool illustrations from A-Z.

I am not entirely sure what I expected when I bought this book- a lockdown purchase over the internet, so I didn’t look through it before I bought it – but I am not convinced that this was it.

The book does what it says on the tin really. You know the game I Spy, it goes along the lines of: I spy with my little eye, something beginning with….. and you say a letter. We have played this game with my eldest to pass the time especially on car trips, with my youngest valiantly trying to join in even though she was just 2 at the time. It’s a great game so I do understand why it is a good premise for a book like this.

There are 20 of the I spy puzzles – one for every letter of the alphabet. Some are combined into one puzzle on one page, others have their own page. Each puzzle has a question page where the author asks “I SPY [sic] with my little eye something beginning with….” and gives the letter(s) for that page. Then there are illustrations of various instruments including one beginning with the correct letter underneath:

You turn the page for the correct answer to the “puzzle”:

I mentioned above that there is an I SPY for every letter of the alphabet. To find instruments that start with every letter there are some more unusual instruments (to Western eyes) included. I did like this aspect of the book, but I couldn’t tell my children anything about some of them. I could guess if they were wind or string instruments from the picture but that was about it; where were the instruments from, what sort of music are they played in?

Of course there were plenty of more familiar instruments included.

Generally I thought the book was OK. I felt it missed a bit of a trick I thought in not giving any information about the instruments at all. I think if you are buying a book like this then you are probably interested in music and your children are, or you want them to be. Unsurprisingly a main feature of a musical instrument is what it sounds like, so why not give us at least a little bit of basic information about the instrument we have just “spotted” by telling us where the instrument is from? Is it played in a band, a group, solo? Is it a folk instrument? Anything.

We bought this book for £6.59 from Amazon, so it wasn’t an expensive book. It is aimed at very young children, it does get them looking at musical instruments and learning their names. So it is good for a first introduction to this subject in many ways. However, I personally think there are books that do this in a better way, they cost more, but at least let you hear what the instrument sounds like.

Music Book Review: Welcome to the Symphony

Music Book Review: Usborne Listen and Learn Musical Instruments

Homemade Instruments

DIY Guiro

What is a Guiro?

A guiro is an untuned percussion instrument, often made from wood. It comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, most often a hollow cylinder with ridges all over the sides of the instrument. It is played by rhythmically rubbing a stick along the side of the guiro, like this (from about 20 seconds into the video):

Making the Guiro

This is probably one of the easiest instruments to “make” at home, and can involve as little effort as just finding a bottle and a stick, or wooden spoon. Yep, that can be it.

As you can see from the picture above, I used a plastic fizzy drinks bottle and a wooden spoon to act as my guiro. I also thought I would see what it would sound like to use a reusable water bottle as my guiro.

Firstly I tried out the plastic fizzy drink bottle, and ran my wooden spoon along the long side of the bottle:

Then I tried out doing the exact same thing with one of my children’s reusable water bottles. To be honest we have more of those in the house than the fizzy drinks bottles, so I thought it would be worth a try. I actually think that this particular water bottle worked far better at replicating the sound of a real guiro. It was louder as well – many of the homemade instruments I make are very quiet (which can be a blessing with small children around), but this was was a little louder and more satisfying to play. The sound produced with this bottle was all down to the plastic ridges on the side of the bottle, which many do not have. But if you have a similar water bottle at home, it makes for an excellent “homemade” guiro to play with.

I decided to paint my plastic fizzy drink bottle to make it look prettier, which is something you can’t do with the reusable bottle; well, I could have had a go at painting the purple bottle but I don’t think my children would have forgiven me for it! To paint the clear plastic bottle, I used

  • Water based paint that we have at home.
  • PVA glue.
  • Paintbrush.
  • Bowl to mix the paint and glue.

This was also very easy to do. I simply mixed the PVA glue with some paint and then painted it onto the bottle. With one coat, the bottle was still very streaky, so it definitely needed two coats of paint/glue to cover the bottle. The bottle took quite a long time to dry.

Playing with the Guiro

My little girl could hardly wait to get her hands on the painted bottle. She thought it looked like a lot of fun! Whenever I make these instruments, I demonstrate to the children how they can be played, and then see what they do with them. Invariably, one or both children comes up with a number of different uses for them that I wasn’t expecting. With the guiro, my little girl had a go at playing it the way I showed her, then it became a drum, a microphone and a spyglass!

Playlists

Why Listen to Nursery Rhymes?

One of the first types, or genres, of music that a baby will hear is a nursery rhyme. As soon as my children were born I started singing nursery rhymes to them. I sang them for a couple of reasons:

  • They would look up at me, smile and coo when I sang to them (babies absolutely love the sound of their parents’ voices, over and above anyone else’s voice or any other music)
  • It will be no surprise, given the subject matter of this blog, that I felt it was important to get the children listening to music from an early age
  • I remembered singing nursery rhymes with my parents
  • Whenever I couldn’t think of anything else to do to entertain my babies, a nursery rhyme would pop into my head
  • It would make doing things like changing nappies easier as the baby was listening and reacting to the song, so was not squiggling about as much when I was trying to get their nappy changed, or get clothes onto them.

Right after my eldest being born, and despite being a musician myself, I could not for the life of me remember any nursery rhymes at all. They all soon came flooding back once I started singing one of them.

If you have Spotify, you can listen to the nursery rhymes I suggest below by following this link. Alternatively, click on the Youtube link for each song.

What is a nursery rhyme?

A nursery rhyme is defined as

A simple traditional song or poem for children.

There are a lot of nursery rhymes you can choose from, from favourites like Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star and Baa Baa Black Sheep to one that I liked to sing to my children Michael Finnegan.

Michael Finnegan

Why listen to and sing nursery rhymes?

Nursery rhymes help with bonding

Nursery rhymes are absolutely fantastic to listen to and sing with your children. We use music as one of the first ways of communicating with our babies before they are able to speak and understand language, either through songs or by using a sing-song style of speaking. As I mentioned above, babies absolutely love listening to the sound of their parents’ voices. These are the first voices they hear, they feel safe and comforted hearing your voice, and as far as they are concerned your voice is the most beautiful sound they have heard. Singing to and with your baby is a fantastic way of bonding with your baby.

Nursery rhymes are repetitive.

They use simple, short melodies and phrases, and simple rhythmic, rhyming language. Babies and small children learn through repetition, in fact we all do and nursery rhymes are perfect for helping them do this. As they use short, simple melodies and phrases, your little one becomes familiar with the tune quite quickly, they learn what to expect from the music. It is in becoming very familiar with a piece of music, and being able to predict what will come next that children start to really enjoy the songs. Their simplicity also helps you to remember the song and sing it, especially when you are very sleep deprived!

Nursery rhymes help with language learning and reading skills

As the songs use simple, rhyming words written using what is often a lilting, soothing rhythm, they can help children to learn language. Rhyming words are fun to listen to. Reading and singing a poem or song you will inevitably use a lilting rhythm, and this rhythm will help your children to learn the language and understand them. I will write another day about all of the benefits that developing a sense of the beat, or pulse, can give to your children, but nursery rhymes are a great introduction to feeling the pulse of the song and language involved, helping your child recognise the sounds involved in the language used in the song/poem.

Singing nursery rhymes, and even the experience of singing and hearing nursery rhymes from a young age, can actually help children when they start to learn to read later on. The combination of the simple language used, and the pulse or beat that the song is set to, has a great effect on learning and recognising the sounds involved. Anyone who has experience with their children learning phonics (my youngest is at this stage at school now), will know that they start by learning the sounds that the letters represent, then how to put sounds together, so their early experience with recognising the sounds in these songs is very helpful. Songs often place every syllable on a different note or sound, helping children to recognise the syllables in the words, also helping them with later reading skills.

Nursery rhymes help learn specific things, like counting skills or the alphabet

For many years as a child, I can remember singing the alphabet song in my head if I was asked a question about letters of the alphabet. That song was how I learned the alphabet and the order the letters appear in it. My son, as a very young boy, used to love walking up from his classroom balancing on a curb and singing this song when I was collecting him from school.

The ABC Song

There are loads of counting songs available to help children learn to count, especially for lower numbers. I have put together a playlist of counting songs, which you can read here; the ones that come immediately to mind when I think of counting songs are 1,2,3,4,5 Once I Caught a Fish Alive, This Old Man He Played 1, 10 Green Bottles.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Once I Caught a Fish Alive
This Old Man, He Played One
10 Green Bottles

Nursery rhymes are great for helping children develop motor skills and burn off energy.

There are a lot of nursery rhymes that have actions with them to illustrate the words used, Incy Wincy Spider and Hickory Dickory Dock for example. This is both another aid to understand the words used, but also as children start to join in with the actions for the song, it can help them with the development of both gross motor skills (marching around a room along to The Grand Old Duke of York) and fine motor skills (using their hands to show Incy Wincy Spider going up the water spout, or showing the rain coming down).

Incy Wincy Spider
Hickory Dickory Dock

Children dancing around to the songs can help them to burn off energy as well – ahhhh the goal of tiring out your little one so they might possibly sleep at night! – songs like The Grand Old Duke of York and The Hokey Cokey immediately come to mind.

The Grand Old Duke of York
The Hokey Cokey

Nursery rhymes help children start to learn to express themselves.

Music is, essentially, a creative endeavour. Playing and singing music is a great way for children to engage in a creative activity. They are making something with their own voice, with their body. Music is a fantastic activity for children to express themselves, to find and use their own voice both literally and figuratively. And as nursery rhymes are the first songs, and lovely simple songs that even very young children can learn to sing for themselves, they are a wonderful tool to help children with their self-expression.

Here are a few more nursery rhymes that you might want to sing or listen to with your little ones:

Baa Baa Black Sheep
Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star
Mary Mary Quite Contrary
If you’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands

Spotify

You can listen to all of these songs on my Spotify here, by following the link above or by exploring my spotify account, GetKidsIntoMusic

Music Book Review

Music Book Review: Poppy and Mozart

POPPY AND MOZART is a lovely book illustrated by Magali le Huche.

The back cover of the book introduces it by saying :

Poppy loves to play the music of Mozart with his best friend Frannie. Today, the two friends will hear musicians all over the city, because today is the festival of music in Paris!

Poppy and Mozart is a sound book, and there are a number of icons on the book to press, which then play either excerpts from some of the composer Mozart’s works (a speaker icon in a red circle), or a sound effect, like the sound of a bicycle bell (a squiggle in a yellow circle).

The story follows the two friends as they travel around Paris, hearing Mozart’s music wherever they go. Their day culminates in a performance of the opera The Magic Flute, and the famous aria from this opera The Queen of the Night.

The story is a little limited, as many of these sorts of books are. However it is a nice way to introduce the music of one of the great composers within a beautifully illustrated story.

There are some really nice touches to this book. After the story, a few facts about Mozart’s life and music are given to the reader, as is a list of the works that feature in the book together with the artist or ensemble who performed each one. All of the sound effects and musical excerpts are also provided together for your child to explore at the end with the name of each piece of music. Finally, there is the all important on/off switch which is essential in my mind both so that you don’t waste the batteries before you get to actually read it, and so that your children cannot drive you absolutely up the wall playing the one excerpt over and over again. Not that mine would ever do that sort of thing……

The back of the book suggests that this is a book for age 4+ and I would broadly agree with that assessment. My daughter is 3, nearly 4 and she is only just starting to show interest in the book as there is less fantasy or fairytale to it than many of her other books of this nature. She is also only just developing enough strength in her hands to be able to press the icons and get them to actually make any sound herself.

Music games to play at home

Call And Response Games To Play With Your Children

Hello everyone. How are you all doing? I have my two children at home with me and am trying to homeschool them both. My children are 3 and 6. My eldest has lessons set by school (they are mercifully good at telling everyone to only do what they can and that they don’t expect everyone to do all the work set: some days we do it all, some days we barely scrape through 2 classes.) My daughter has activities set by school as she is in preschool 3 days per week. She could be in school given her age. We all got coronavirus over Christmas, with my son getting it at New Year, so we assumed our 3 year old had it too and kept her home. She went to school for 1.5 days after the contagious period was over, and came home with a stomach bug. Then one of her teachers tested positive and the whole year groups had to self-isolate.

This is a rather long winded way to say that life is pretty challenging at the moment, as it is with pretty much everyone, and I am struggling to find any time at all to write on here.

For today I wanted to write a quick blog post about a nice and easy call and response game I played with the children at home yesterday using our drum. This game can be played with any instrument, or even a plastic bowl and wooden spoon.

Call and response games are great for developing:

  • Listening skills
  • Patience
  • Turn taking
  • Imitation skills

They simply involve you playing (or singing) a very short phrase and getting your children to copy you when you have finished. They should play exactly the same phrase back to you.

These games are great for helping your children start to understand rhythm, develop a sense of playing to the beat and, as an added bonus, can help your children with counting skills! Who wouldn’t want to play them?

We started our game with playing just 4 beats and counting them out loud. My 3 year old didn’t always manage to beat the drum on all four beats, but both children played/counted out on the beat.

I started to add in more complicated rhythms for them to copy, and for each round of the game the rhythm became more complicated. You can use any rhythm that comes into your head for this- think about songs you like, tv theme tunes etc and use the main melody to beat the drum to that melody.

My 6 year old managed more complicated rhythms than his younger sister, which is to be expected, but both had fun playing the drum and making lots of noise. They used up a bit of energy as well with this game-always a winner when stuck at home in lockdown!

Homemade Instruments

DIY Slide Whistle

I currently have both children at home given the situation in the UK at the moment. My eldest is set work from school which occupies him (and me with cajoling him to get back to it and helping him understand what he is supposed to be doing), but not the whole day. So we are back to trying to find things to do to pass the time- their baths get earlier and earlier!!

I was looking at Pinterest the other day and came across a post from DadLab looking at the science of sound. You can find the post I saw here.

This immediately appealed to me because my boy loves science and it’s another route into getting him interested in music and making music. Long term readers will also know that we love making DIY musical instruments and this fitted beautifully with that as the sounds made we’re just like a slide whistle.

A slide whistle looks like a recorder, but it has a thin pole that goes through the middle of it. To play the slide whistle you blow into the mouthpiece and move the metal pole up and down. This changes the pitch that is played, like this

Now, the DadLab video is pretty self explanatory about how to make this whistle, but here is a step by step guide. To make the DIY slide whistle you will need:

  • A straw, more than one if there are a few of you doing this together.
  • A pair of scissors (a grown up will need to use the scissors for this as it would be extremely difficult to do, if not impossible, with safety scissors)
  • A glass or cup of water, pretty full.

Cut through the straw about 1/4 to 1/3 of the way down the straw. You don’t want to cut all the way through, leave about 1/4 of the straw still attached.

Put the straw into your glass of water. The cut part of the straw should not be submerged into the water. I had quite a full glass of water when I did this with my two. My 3 year old can largely be trusted not to always knock a glass over, but I must admit to hovering right over her when she went anywhere near the glass! You do need plenty of water in the glass/cup to demonstrate the effect, so if your little one is very clumsy (that would be me still!) then perhaps you should just demonstrate this or use a plastic cup sat in the middle of a tray.

Your straw should bend a little where you have cut it allowing the air to escape. Blow through the straw gently and as you do, listen carefully to hear the pitch change from low to high and back again just like a slide whistle.

When my children had a go, they had great fun not only making the sliding sounds but also just blowing bubbles in the water. Our table was quite soggy within a few minutes!! As it was just water that I used it was easy to clean up with a tea towel afterwards.

When playing it we talked about whether the heard a low or high sound when the straw was at the top of the glass or the bottom of the glass.

Sound is made from waves and generally the further a sound wave has to travel, the lower the sound it makes. If the sound wave has a shorter (or thinner) distance to travel, then a higher note is produced. You can see this is musical instruments – a large double bass with very long strings will sound lower than a violin that has shorter strings. So with this slide whistle as the straw is at the top of the glass the air, and so the sound, can travel all the way to the bottom of the glass making a lower sound. When the straw is moved to the bottom of the glass, then the air only has a short distance to travel down the straw, and so it makes a higher sound.

This was a fun experiment, and a very quick and easy DIY instrument to make.