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 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. I would never, of course, have been amused if I made someone jump when starting to ring 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 them 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!

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 imprinted onto 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.

Handbells 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 for the absolute joy they experience playing with them.

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

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.

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