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Saying hello and introducing myself

I haven’t done this on the blog before, but I thought I should probably introduce myself to you all.

Hello. I’ll start with the basics: My name is 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 3 and 6. They are, like probably all children of their age, both absolutely amazing, brilliant, and keep me young; and utterly exhausting at times. My son is obsessed with superheroes (it was Star Wars last year, and Numberblocks the year before), and while he likes music, he prefers drawing and playing with lego. He is a performer, though, and does love to put on dance shows for us after dinner. Always after dinner! My daughter, the three year old, loves music. She is always singing away to herself and to her dolls. She loves playing with her dolls, with vehicles, and as her brother is always playing superhero games she can do a very good Hulk Smash.

I studied music at University many years ago, and part of my degree involved studying how musical ability develops, studying how people react psychologically to music, and a little bit of music therapy. After University I worked in Customer Service working 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 and The Royal Albert Hall. I got to know audiences, and how to work with people and manage people. I also developed my theory that you can understand a lot about a company’s attitude towards its customers by the state of the toilets….

I made a little detour 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 to both 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.

My first job after having the children was back in music. I got a job as a class teacher or class leader for a national organisation that runs music classes for babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers. This was such a lovely job, watching babies grow in confidence, and watching their faces light up with the activities we all did together. These were classes that I had gone to with both of my children and had thoroughly enjoyed as a customer, and I loved being able to give other parents a similar experience with their children. This job got me back into music, into thinking about music and playing it; thinking about musical activities to do with my children, about their musical education; it got me back into thinking about how children benefit from musical activity at a young age and exposure to music at a young age.

I had already started to write this blog as the pandemic hit and so, knowing that the classes available to teach with this organisation would be very limited once face time face teaching was allowed again, I decided to leave as it wouldn’t be financially viable to continue.

That brings us to today. My children have just gone back to school (one for 3 days a week, the other full time) for the Winter Term, and who knows how long they will actually stay there for before some sort of new lockdown. I am now spending my time writing this blog, getting back into my own deliberate musical practice and thinking about how to get children into music, both from personal experience as a mum (and now former baby music class teacher) and from a music psychology basis.

I look forward to seeing where this blog takes me.

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Back to school

A couple of days after other schools as ours had INSET days last week, my two children are back in school. One in Pre-school Foundation (the year before Reception) and one in Year 2. They were both happy and excited to be going back. My eldest to see his friends, especially his best friend, and my youngest to be wearing a uniform and going into the big school.

I have come home and done what many parents around the country will have done on their children’s first day back at school:

  • Had a cup of hot coffee
  • Sat in silence
  • Remarked on the quiet of home to my other half
  • Put a load of washing on (aiming to do at least 2 today!)
  • Got the vacuum and steam cleaner out and CLEANED MY FLOORS! They will stay clean until approximately 4.05pm, around 10 minutes after we have got home!

I do this every start of term: reclaim the house, clear away the grime of the last few months of having the children home all the time and not getting time to do anything other than the basics.

Of course not everything is the same. My husband gave up his office to work at home, so he is upstairs working rather than me having the house to myself. My children are going back to a familiar but different environment and I am a little nervous about how things will be, this term especially- how long will they actually be in school for? Will there be more home schooling? Will they be healthy? Will they unknowingly bring illness home with them? But the calculated risk of them returning to some normality, getting to play with friends and children who don’t mind play fighting as superheroes, learning, seeing people who are not their family, is worth it I think. I think.

This time last year I had a part time job teaching music to babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers. My first job since having the children and one I loved. I am not working there any more and will miss seeing the children and their families very much. But I am very excited to see what I can do with this blog.

There are so many challenges ahead for arts organisations of all genres right now. The devastating impact that Covid-19 has had on the performing arts sector in this country, the impact on people’s finances as a result maybe meaning that parents are less easily able to afford to take their children to play groups or baby music classes, or to afford individual instrumental teaching. Some of the things I have heard in the news about schools maybe being encouraged to “concentrate on core subjects”. The difficulties music teachers will have with teaching classes next door to other subject teachers and not in their own dedicated space where they don’t have to worry about the noise they make. Concerns that have been raised about the heightened risks of loud talking or singing.

This will all have an impact on children and young people’s ability to experience music and what it can do for them, how it can help them. I hope, with this blog that I will be able to help those of you out there who want to help foster a love of music in your children- whether that be as a musician themselves or as a keen audience member at whatever concerts or gigs they prefer.

I am spending the next few days planning what I want to do with this blog this year: posts about different instruments, playlists you can listen to with your children, musical games you could play together, posts about the benefits of music education and exposure for children etc. If there is anything you would like to see covered here, let me know and I will see what I can do.

For today, though, I shall enjoy the quiet and maybe go and play without one of my children telling me to be quiet or joining in!

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Learning to love music

It is a fairly common idea that in order to become a professional musician a child will have amassed 10,000 hours worth of practice by the time they are starting music school.

Photo by Pok Rie on Pexels.com

When I was a child I did not spend the hours required practising and I am not a concert standard professional musician, so I may well be proof of that statement. Music, and working at the physical, repetitive aspects of music and becoming a musician did not click for me until I was 11 years old. Before then I took music lessons, enjoying performing for my parents or anyone foolish enough to let me play for them, but did not practise. I did, however, learn to love music and that is probably why, although I am not a professional concert or orchestral musician, I am someone who has worked with and around music for most of my working life. I put that down to a couple of things:

Firstly, I grew up in a house full of music, art, drama and books. My whole family is very arty. We had music on a lot at home, in the car, everywhere. If I think back to my childhood, some of my happiest memories are associated with music – my mum putting on one of her favourite songs “Open the door and come on in” by Judy Collins, and playing it loud while we sang along or danced around to the song. My parents’ large collection of vinyl records, quite a lot of it from my dad’s job as a young man of being a sales rep for a record distributor.

Secondly, when I started taking instrumental lessons I started, as many children do, at around 6 with the violin. My teacher Mr Vandolin had a rather unconventional approach to learning music, which my parents did not find out about until some time into my lessons. He would get me to play a little in each class, but what he would also do is play the violin in the lessons himself and ask me to dance along to the music. When he talked to my parents about his approach he told them that what he was trying to do was not only teach children how to play one instrument, but also instill a love of music in them.

I do not play the violin (I never practised you see, and eventually went through failed guitar classes as well before the flute finally clicked with me in the first year at Senior School), but I remember those classes; I remember my first music teacher, and most importantly I do have a love of music. Learning a musical instrument, as well as being incredibly beneficial for children’s development as a whole, should above all be fun. If it is fun, it is so much easier to stick with the more boring, repetitive work that is needed to be able to play an instrument really well.

Also, not everyone who learns to play a musical instrument will become a professional musician, and nor should that be the aim. Some people love to play an instrument to relax, some love to listen to music at home or in a concert hall (when we can finally go back). However people enjoy or use music, it is equally valid and all starts, I believe, with developing a love of music.

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Ukulele Challenge Week 2

This week did not start off too well, to be honest. The plan (in my head) was to practice on Wednesday night, then for my son to have the night off on Thursday as my mum was going to visit for tea – ah, the joys of the social bubble. I thought I would also allow him to have the day off from it one day over the weekend.

However, on Wednesday – a very hot day – my daughter came home from school very tired and generally upset. She fell asleep on me as soon as we got out of the bath for about 20 minutes and was then really grumpy for the rest of the evening. So we abandoned ukulele practice for the night.

We did play on Friday and Sunday, and have managed to play Monday and Tuesday this week so far. We will see if this continues this week. My son’s practice avoidance attempts changed last night and rather than telling me all the instruments he would rather play instead of ukulele, he told me last night that he hated music. Once we started playing, he seemed to really enjoy it, but I was a little worried that he was saying he hated music – the idea of these lessons and getting him to be able to play is for him to love music, and love his ability to pick up an instrument and make music! He is just 6, though, and me getting him to play was getting in the way of his playing with his lego, so I am hoping and assuming that was the reason for his statement, rather than actually hating music!

Progress made: my son can now strum chords on every beat in the bar, we are sticking with 4/4 time, or 4 beats in a bar. We have added in the chord G7 (G major with an added 7th note), and I chose to teach him G7 rather than simply G major as it is in the nursery rhyme Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Speaking of which, we started learning Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, and last night he was able to play through the whole of the song by himself. I wanted to get into playing recognisable songs as soon as possible, so that hopefully he sees the benefit of learning to play rather than getting bogged down initially in just learning technique.

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Homemade Instruments

Why make instruments at home?

We have a lot of instruments in our house – I am a musician myself, and a music teacher, so there is no shortage of musical instruments for the children to play. These range from my own instruments – at the time of writing I play flute, piano and am learning to play the ukulele; but we also have a violin, guitar and saxophone at home. We also have a load of percussion instruments at home – some the children were given as presents by relatives, some I have found for a good price in local shops, and occasionally I have spotted some nice instruments in local charity shops (although I always steer clear of any pre-used wind instruments from the charity shop). I do love making instruments with the children, though. Why on earth would we make them when we have other instruments at hand?

There are a couple of reasons:

  • My children love making things – my son, who is 5, loves art and drawing and is at an age where he wants to know how everything works; and my daughter, who is 2, loves getting her hands into things like play dough, clay, paint, anything she can make a mess with
  • Tapping into their interests with this helps get them interested in music – so talking about how we can make the instrument, what we are doing and why, and giving them free reign as to how the instrument is decorated keeps them playing with it and participating in it longer.
  • I like to get them to think about the sounds that are made by their new instruments, and so by extension, the sounds their more standard instruments make.

Above all, it is a fun activity that we really enjoy doing together. I have, so far, made shakers and kazoos with the children, which I will blog about; and I plan to make several more!

This is the first post on my new blog. I’m just getting this new blog going, so stay tuned for more. Subscribe below to get notified when I post new updates.

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Introduction

Hello, and thank you for visiting my blog.

My name is Jhodi and I would like to introduce myself, to give you a little background about why I have decided to launch this blog.

I trained as a musician in the 1990s (my goodness, that sounds a long time ago written down like that!) and after leaving University with my music degree I spent 10 years working in a number of performing arts venues – both theatres and concert halls. I worked front of house, and so was around but not involved in music making on a daily basis. I got to see and work with audiences for concerts, opera and theatre.

Working in this area is wonderful, but does not pay much money, so I made the decision to leave the arts and retrain as a lawyer thinking that I would get to do interesting work, and be able to afford to go to the concert hall to watch the concerts myself rather than just stand outside them watching other people attend them! In 2014 I had a little boy, followed nearly 3 years later by his sister, and I did not want to return to work as a lawyer. I stayed at home with the children for their first few years, which I loved and was very lucky to be able to do, and then found a job teaching pre-school music to babies and small children. The youngest babies in my classes have been a couple of weeks old, and the classes I teach (for a national organisation) run up until children start attending school. I love this job. I love seeing how the babies react to the music and other multi-sensory activities we do in class. With the toddlers and pre-schoolers, I love seeing children’s confidence growing week by week. I love being a musician again, listening to more and more music at home, and so exposing my children to more and more music. I also practise class activities with the children (although they are far less likely to actually follow me, often preferring to do whatever they want instead of the activities I am trying to get the to do!)

At University the first time all those many years ago, I studied the psychology of music and how musical ability develops in children, and this remains a very keen interest of mine, and one I am revisiting with the books I read, the podcasts I listen to and the TedTalks I watch.

I am a firm believer that it is in playing music for and with children, that a keenness and fondness for music – both listening to it and playing it – is formed in children. I believe that this lasts well into adulthood, and I would like to use this blog to explore this further.

Thank you very much for reading this far and I look forward to writing more blog posts and hearing your views and experience of music in the early years – either your own or your children’s.