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!!

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 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.

Playlists

My Favourite Christmas Songs

Ah, Christmas. A season with so many fantastic songs. Most years you can’t escape Christmas music with Wham’s Last Christmas playing in the shops from mid September. This year everything is a bit different, so I am not absolutely sick of hearing these songs yet. So here is a playlist of some of my favourite songs for the festive season for you to enjoy with your little ones. There are so many songs that could be included in this list (I would be appalling on Desert Island Discs, how can you possibly choose so few pieces of music to take with you?) but as this is a family friendly list I have only included songs that you would be comfortable playing in front of the children.

You could sing along, play along with any instruments you have at home, or even using a bowl and wooden spoon, or just enjoy listening. You can listen by clicking on each link below, or by playing them all through from the spotify playlist which I have linked to right at the bottom of this blog post.

If you prefer Christmas Carols, then I have written about my favourite Christmas Carols here, and my next playlist will be all about classical music for Christmas, so come back to see that playlist in the next few days. I’d love to hear what yours and your children’s favourite Christmas songs are, please let me know on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram – hint, I am on there so please come and find me.

It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas by Meredith Willson

Have Yourselves A Merry Little Christmas by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine

White Christmas by Irving Berlin

The Christmas Song (Chestnuts roasting on an open fire) by Robert Wells and Mel Torme

Santa Baby by Joan Javits and Philip Springer

Winter Wonderland by Felix Bernard and Richard Bernhard Smith

We Wish You A Merry Christmas (Traditional)

Santa Claus is Coming to Town by J Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie

Spotify Playlist

Music Book Review

Music Book Review: The 12 Engines of Christmas

It’s 1 December, so I feel it is appropriate for this week’s Music Book Review to be a Christmas book – this one is a version of the song 12 Days of Christmas.

The 12 days of Christmas is a superb song. It is, essentially a memory song. As you will know, if you are familiar with the song, each day your True Love brings you a gift. On the first day you are given a partridge in a pear tree. On the second day you are given another partridge and this time two turtle doves as well. On the third day, three French hens are added to two more turtle doves and another partridge and so on.

It is a good song for children to learn because of its repetitive nature – we learn through repetition, especially as small children – both the words and the melody are repetitive. It is good for young children to learn numbers as well, for obvious reasons.

The book is not a sound book, so it is up to you whether you read the words or sing them. I cannot help myself but sing it every time. The last time we read this book, which was in the middle of June this year – honestly children have no concept of an appropriate time for these things! – my son decided that he was going to sing most of the song , and that I should chime in with “5 holly wreaths”.

The 12 Engines of Christmas, as you can see from the front cover, is a re-writing of the song for fans of Thomas the Tank Engine. We went through quite the train obsession phase when my son was very young and everything was Thomas the Tank Engine based. We have had this book for about 4 years now, and as mentioned above, both children love to have it as their bedtime book no matter the time of the year. It is quite dog-eared now. It is a board book, so stands up well to small people trying to chew it and their general heavy handedness. There are large tabs along the top edge of the book to make it easier for small children to turn the pages by themselves, and each engine has their own page. It starts with the first day of Christmas “what did Thomas see?” (as Engine number 1 on the Island of Sodor, of course Thomas must go first) and works through 11 more engines and what Christmassy items they saw.

It stands up to the test of time as well. We got this during my son’s train obsession phase, but eve though he is now 6 he still enjoys getting the book out, though he now likes to sing along himself rather than just turn the pages or point out the trains.

Instrument spotlight · Ukulele Challenge

Our Ukuleles

As some of you who have been regular readers of this blog will know, I am trying to teach my eldest the basics of playing the ukulele. He has often expressed an interest in learning guitar and this is a good starter instrument to learn the basics with before moving on to something else like a guitar. And for me beginner ukulele is much easier to listen to than beginner recorder!

My decision to try to teach him ukulele was also partly based on my own desire to play the instrument. I had bought a cheap ukulele from Flying Tiger to try it out (I have written more about that ukulele below as it is now my 3 year old’s instrument), and then got a much nicer instrument for my birthday that year. It made such a difference to the sound that I made when playing and so my enjoyment of playing and motivation to practise, that I felt it important to buy my son a proper ukulele rather than give him a toy to play with.

I got him a Makala dolphin soprano ukulele from Amazon. I liked the colour of it (red is my favourite colour) and the fact that the bridge was shaped like a dolphin and I thought that my son would quite like it. It cost me around £30 at the time, and at the time of writing there are other Makala dolphin ukuleles available on Amazon at a cost of £35.99 like this one. It is easy to play, has a nice, warm sound to it, holds its tuning well and is a pleasure to play. I should say that if you do buy a ukulele, you do have to tune it several times when you first get it so that the strings settle, if you like, and that is the same when you change strings.

As I mentioned above I had previously bought a ukulele from Flying Tiger when I first decided I wanted to learn to play ukulele myself. It cost about £10, and was pretty, so I thought it was worth a try.

This ukulele is made out of plastic and has plastic strings, and the materials it is made out of makes a huge difference to the sound it produces. It is just not as nice or warm a sound, and the strings do not stay in place, so the tuning of the instrument slips all the time. You tune the ukulele and start to play and sometimes the strings move while you are playing, so it just doesn’t sound nice or right. I kept thinking that I was playing the wrong chords when I was not, and I quickly became quite disheartened with playing. This is very much a toy, not a proper instrument.

It does, however, work very well as an instrument for my 3 year old to play. She is very much into music and always singing away to herself and to us, songs she has learned or just made up. Whatever her older brother is doing, she also wants to get involved with herself, but at the moment she doesn’t have the concentration to learn to play like my eldest is doing. It is really good for her, though, to have an instrument I am happy for her to play around with for her to play along with us and feel involved with our lessons and our music making. As a plastic instrument I am not worried about her bashing it on the floor or the furniture, I am not worried if she plays along with it gently or not, and because it was only £10 it doesn’t bother me if she only picks it up for 5 minutes every few weeks. It serves a purpose that way, but will never be good to actually learn how to play ukulele.

Instrument spotlight

Spotlight on Sensory Scarves

This might not sound like an item that would have a place in a music box, but sensory scarves are a great addition to any musical play you do at home. They are an inexpensive and versatile thing to include in your music box.

What are sensory scarves?

Sensory scarves are brightly coloured, lightweight scarves that can be used in a range of sensory activities, including music. They can be used by children of all ages, including very small babies.

Sensory scarves are a small square of soft, usually see-through chiffon material. They come in many different colours, often very bright colours, which children love. They can be referred to as sensory scarves, dance scarves, juggling scarves when you are looking for them to purchase, and come in multi-packs of, say 12 or 20 scarves. They are generally machine washable, which is great when your baby puts everything in their mouths, but should not go in a tumble dryer. That’s not really a problem though because they dry really quickly. The only thing you have to really watch out for with these scarves is leaving them on the floor because they are very slippy.

How to use Sensory Scarves

We have used these scarves for both musical and non-musical play. I will talk about how we use sensory scarves with our musical play below. In non-musical play we have used them to used them to play hide and seek with – burying the children or toys under a pile of scarves (we have quite a lot of them at home!) and then going to find them. We have played at wrapping things up with the scarves, playing birthdays or Christmas. I have put the scarves inside a Green Toys recycling truck and got the children to pull the scarves out from the different slots in the truck; that was a great game that kept my children busy for at least 5 minutes when they were very small. We have used them to make rainbows. We have used them to hide behind when playing Peekaboo. I am sure there are lots of other games we have played with them, but I can’t think of them right now.

As the children are at school today, I had an able assistant in the form of Giant Peppa Pig.

Musical Play with Sensory Scarves

Sensory scarves are great for musical play. As I mentioned above, they can be used by even the youngest children. They are easy for small hands to grasp hold of and, as they are machine washable, it doesn’t matter if they go in baby’s mouth (although obviously any toy should be played with under close supervision with small children). Scarves are very soft and so you can run them over your little one’s body, they can be put over their heads, they can be thrown in the air etc without worrying that they will hurt anyone. So what musical games have we played with sensory scarves at home?

  • We have held the scarves in our hands (me holding them when the children were babies, and as the children have grown, they have held them scarves themselves), and moved them in time to them music. The scarves can be moved up and down in time to the music, or from one side to the other.
  • Waved the scarves in the air above the children’s heads, or at eye level, or even down on the ground to get them to follow the movement with their eyes or heads. When doing this I tell the children what I am doing, and again I time my movements to coincide with the beat of the music I am playing.
  • Put a song like The Grand Old Duke of York on and used my scarf to illustrate the song – as we sing about the Grand Old Duke’s men going up the hill I wave my scarf up in the air, and when they go back down the hill my scarf moves down towards the ground.
  • When singing Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes we place the scarves on our heads, shoulders, knees or toes.
  • When singing songs about hiding, or playing peekaboo using a sing-song voice, I have used a scarf to either hide behind myself, or to hide one of the children. Removing the scarf with a flourish is a fabulous, fun and very clear way of playing peekaboo with your little ones. Peekaboo is a great game to make small children laugh, as well as a great way to teach your children about object permanence – that people and things do not disappear if you cannot see them.
  • Singing the rainbow song, and using the scarves to point out the colours.
  • As my children have got older, I have given them a scarf or two, put some music on and got them to just dance around moving the scarf to the music as they see fit.

Here’s an example of musical play with sensory scarves, playing along to Dance of the Knights from the ballet Romeo and Juliet by Sergei Prokofiev:

Instrument spotlight

Spotlight on Sleigh Bells / Jingle Bells

It is coming up towards that time of year when you start to hear sleigh bells in a lot of music. Sleigh bells are definitely a feature of Christmas music, and they make a fantastic Christmas present for children who enjoy music, or whose parents do. I would not buy these as a present for small children who mouth objects, but they can be played by them with extremely close supervision.

What are Sleigh Bells?

Sleigh bells are percussion instruments made by having a sheet of metal bent into a ball shape with ball bearings or a small metal rod inside the ball. Generally several of these balls are attached to something like a wooden stick.

How do you Play Sleigh Bells?

Sleigh bells are incredibly easy to play. You can play them by:

  • holding the sleigh bells in your hand and shaking them. Yep, that is it!
  • holding the sleigh bells in one hand and hitting the palm of your other hand with them.
  • tapping the sleigh bells on your body or on the floor.

Here is a video of the various ways to play sleigh bells.

Shaking the sleigh bells
Shaking the sleigh bells on the beat/to a pulse
Tapping sleigh bells on your hand
Tapping sleigh bells on the floor (this can be loud!)

Sleigh Bells and Small Children

Small children, especially those who mouth objects (chew on them or otherwise put them into their mouths), should never be left unsupervised with sleigh bells. The bells could detach from the wooden stick and could cause a choking hazard.

They are instruments that even a small child can play independently, as long as you are right by their side when they are playing them to stop them putting them in their mouths. The bells make a nice sound and so children really do enjoy playing with them. For us, it was easier to let my son play with the sleigh bells from a younger age than my daughter as he largely stopped mouthing objects from around 2 whereas my daughter has only just stopped putting everything in her mouth at over 3. You know your child best, but in our household the bells have only just gone into the main music box that both children have easy access to. A safer alternative to bells are enclosed mini tambourines, and you can read my blog post featuring these instruments here.

We have a set of bells attached to material that goes around the ankle, and both of my children absolutely love them, running and dancing around with them and making as much noise as they possibly can with them! Once again, while these are great for young children to play with young children shouldn’t play with them unsupervised because the bells here could come off the material as well. With older children, they can dance around with them on to their hearts’ content!

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: Welcome to the Symphony

My Music Book Review for today is the sound book Welcome to the Symphony by Carolyn Sloan and illustrated by James Williamson.

It is an exploration of both the instruments that play in a Symphony Orchestra, and also the 5th Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven. You almost certainly have heard this symphony before as it is very, very well known. If you would like to listen to it in full, you could listen to it on Spotify here:

The book is a sound book, so as you go through the pages there are prompts to press corresponding buttons on the book that demonstrate the sound of the violins, the cellos, the oboes or the trombones that go into making up a symphony orchestra. I don’t know about your children, but being able to press buttons and make noises when reading a book is just the best thing in the world ever. So a noise book is always a winner in this house. It’s also a great way to get the children enthused about a book about music. Music is all about what you can hear, so it makes perfect sense to have a book you can listen to as well as read.

There is an on/off switch on the back to save the batteries, you just have to remember to turn it off, something I don’t always do.

This book, goes further than talking about the instruments of the orchestra (which this book I have previously reviewed covers, as does this one), and also introduces your children to an amazing work. It explains what terms like melody and harmony mean, again giving examples for your children to listen to, and explains the main structure of the symphony. All of this is presented in very simple form so that its young readers can understand the concepts explained.

Music Book Review: First Book About the Orchestra

There are lovely illustrations with an adorable audience of mice.

I would say that this book is mainly aimed at younger children, so pre-schoolers or those just starting school, especially if you are reading the book with them. For developing readers the book is written in simple language so that young readers would be able to read the book independently. My 6 year old thoroughly enjoys the book and I have sometimes found him sat on his own reading the book, pressing the buttons and listening carefully to the examples given. It has prompted him to ask to listen to Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. I would love to say that he sat transfixed listening to the music, and he did concentrate on it for about 5-10 minutes before getting something out to do while the music was on.

Music Book Review: Usborne Listen and Learn Musical Instruments

We bought this book from Amazon, and on the day of writing this blog post (because Amazon’s prices do change) it is for sale at a cost of £15.19.

Instrument spotlight

Spotlight on Mini Tambourines

Mini tambourines are a good instrument choice for smaller children. They are easier for small children to hold onto, and therefore play independently; and for very small children who mouth objects, enclosed mini tambourines are available, which are much safer for them to use on their own.

What Is a Tambourine?

Tambourine means little drum, and is an instrument from the percussion family. Percussion instruments are those that are played by hitting, shaking, rubbing or scraping them. They are generally hand held, but can be fixed into position, like a drum kit. Tambourines have a round frame with metal discs, called zils, within that frame. The frame can be left open, so just the frame with the zils; or a drum skin can be stretched over the top of the frame.

Spotlight on Tambourine

How Does a Mini Tambourine Differ from a Normal Tambourine?

A tambourine looks like a drum with bells around the side, whereas mini tambourines look much more like a sleigh bell type instrument. We own two, one that is enclosed and one that is open. The open mini tambourine is shaped like a crescent, with a hand hold that does not have any bells on it. It is made out of plastic and so is very hard wearing with children who drop it all the time, chuck it back into the music box, even at each other on occasion if I have not been looking.

Our other mini tambourine does not really look like a tambourine. Again it is made out of plastic. The zils are covered over with plastic as well so that the children cannot actually access them. There is a handle attached to the instrument for easy holding. This type of instrument is the safest option for small children who like to put everything into their mouths as the zils cannot easily detach from the instrument, and if they do detach they cannot escape their plastic container.

How Do You Play a Mini Tambourine?

Basically, a mini tambourine is played in the same way as a tambourine.

  • You can tap the mini tambourine with your hands or with a stick.
  • You can hold the instrument in one hand and tap it against the palm of your other hand.
  • You can tap the instrument against your body, for example your legs, or feet. If you choose to tap your mini tambourine against yours or your child’s head, it would be worth doing it gently, perhaps!
  • You can shake the mini tambourine.

Basically, these are the same instrument as a tambourine, but on a smaller scale. In the case of the enclosed mini tambourine, they are a much safer alternative for very small children to play independently. You don’t have to keep your eyes on your child constantly with the mini tambourine, and you just have to watch that they don’t hit themselves or their siblings (or the cat) too hard with them!

Mini tambourines are a great alternative not only for tambourines, but also for sleigh bells when playing Christmas music, especially the enclosed ones. They make a similar sound and can be played in the same way as the sleigh bells.

Instrument spotlight

Spotlight on Wooden Sticks

This is the next blog post in my series of posts highlighting different, simple and affordable musical instruments that you may wish to purchase to start playing with your little ones. These instruments are almost exclusively percussion instruments, and for each of them your child can start playing them independently to a greater or lesser extent from an early age.

Today I am looking at musical sticks. Very simply two pieces of wood that can be tapped together, or on the floor or on yours or your child’s body. The sorts of sticks I tend to use for this are wooden sticks, but they can be made out of plastic or (and I wouldn’t recommend these with children) fibreglass.

Wooden sticks have been used in music for many, many years. Aboriginal Australians used clapping sticks (also known as musicstick, bilma, bimli or clappers) to accompany voices and keep the rhythm of the chants used in traditional ceremonies. Northern Australians would use these instruments to accompany the digeridoo. A similar instrument, known as claves, were used to play repeated rhythm patterns in Cuban music. You can hear the claves right from the start and throughout this piece of music, Espiritu by Ann Reynolds:

Learning about musical pulse with wooden sticks

So, when playing the sticks with your child, you do not need to to attempt anything remotely complicated at all. Simply, the sticks can be tapped or hit together while you are listening to music together or singing together. Tap the sticks one onto the other along to the beat of the music you are listening to or singing. Every piece of music has a beat, if you find yourself tapping along to music you will most likely be tapping along to the beat. This beat is what you should use when tapping your sticks together.

Wooden sticks are great for helping to teach your little ones about feeling the beat or pulse of music – I will write another day about why is so good for your little ones to learn how to feel the pulse in music; it has perhaps some surprising benefits, but the most obvious one would be in helping children develop motor skills.

Choose music with a strong beat to play along to such as marching music (usually have two or four beats in a bar), waltzes (3 beats in a bar), or many pop songs where you can play along with the drum beat to help you find the pulse.

Demonstrating Playing on the Beat

2 beats in a bar
3 beats in a bar
4 beats in a bar

Learning Dynamics with Wooden Sticks

You can also explore how to play loud and quiet with wooden sticks. You can tap the sticks together very gently, even rub the sticks together to play quietly, telling your child what you are doing. You can bang the sticks together with more force, or bang the sticks on the floor (a hard surface floor), or on a table to make a loud sound, again telling your child what you are doing.

Playing loud
Playing quietly

Independent Musical Exploration

Playing wooden sticks can be very easy, so is great for even very young children to attempt to play.

  • As a tiny baby, your child will not be able to play the sticks themselves of course, but you can play them in front of your baby, to one side of their head and then the other, towards the top of their head, encouraging your baby to turn their head to see where the sounds are coming from. You can gently tap the sticks on their body – their hand or legs for example – when tapping along with the beat. That was your baby is feeling the pulse of the music you are playing.
  • As an older baby and toddler, have two sets of sticks – one for you and one for baby. Encourage your child to hold onto the sticks to see what they feel like. Wooden sticks tend to be fairly thin and so easy for very young children to hold onto. They may try to hit the sticks together, or on the floor, or they may just try to eat them!
  • An older toddler and pre-schooler can copy what you are doing with your sticks more and more, so are more able to play loudly and quietly, or along with the beat as you are doing.
  • As your child grows, you and your child can play “call and response” or turn taking games with wooden sticks – you play a rhythm with your sticks, and see if your child can play the same rhythm back to you. Or you play a rhythm, and see if your child can play their own rhythm in response to yours. Of particular importance here is that you each take turns to play, waiting for the other person to finish before playing yourself.

Music Book Review

Music Book Review: The Bear, the Piano, the Dog and the Fiddle

This week’s music book review is the lovely story , The Bear, the Piano, the Dog and the Fiddle by David Lichfield.

This is a story about friendship, the friendship between Hector, the fiddle player, and Hugo, his dog.

At the start of the story we meet Hector, an older man who is a fiddle player. Hugo, his dog, is his biggest fan and travels with him as he plays his fiddle as a busker in town. As Hector gets older he plays his violin less and less, and spends more and more time at home. So Hugo picks up his violin.

Hugo proves to be a very good fiddle player and when Hector finds out he was jealous, but he decided to teach Hugo everything he knows about fiddle playing. Hugo becomes a better and better musician (practice makes perfect, after all!) and one day is approached by the famous piano playing bear (the subject of his own rather lovely book that I may review here one day) and Hugo leaves to join the bear on tour.

Hector’s reaction to Hugo’s talent and success is explored in the remainder of the book, and I won’t spoil the ending for you, other than to say it is a lovely book with, of course, a happy ending!

The themes of friendship, jealousy, hard work leading to success, all framed within a story about musicians are all explored within this book. The moral of the tale is not hammered home, as it can be with some stories, but it is introduced gently and resolved without it feeling like you are being hit over the head with “the lesson to learn”.

The author is also the book’s illustrator, and he is an illustrator first and foremost I believe.

I bought this for my son who was 5 at the time I bought it, but both children like listening to the story. It is fast becoming a favourite for my little girl.

Playlists

Animals in classical music

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I have previously put together a playlist of children’s songs that have animals as their subject matter. Animals are not only a good subject for children’s songs, but also provide great subject matter for composers of classical music. Here are some classical music pieces that feature animals as their subject. This blog post contains links to YouTube videos of these pieces, extracts of them for the longer works, or alternatively, you can have a listen to the whole playlist on Spotify, my Spotify playlist is at the bottom of this post.

The Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saens

Written by the French composer Saint-Saens in the late 19th century, the Carnival of the Animals is a set of 14 pieces of music that were written for children. Each piece of music is intended to describe a different animal. So you have an elegant, graceful swan in one piece played on cello with long, smooth graceful notes accompanied by a tinkling piano suggestive of the water the swan is swimming along on); a lumbering elephant played by low stringed instruments that are painting a picture of how big and heavy an elephant is; a piece about birds in an aviary that is played by wind instruments – flutes playing high, fast notes suggesting the way that birds flit and dart about in the air. I have put this music on at home sometimes when I want the children to dart about and burn off some energy getting them to pretend to be the birds, or to be horses running along really fast. I have also put this on and asked my eldest to listen carefully to the music and tell me what animal he thinks is the subject of each particular piece.

Peter and the Wolf by Sergei Prokofiev

This piece of music was my son’s favourite thing to listen to and watch for a good 4 or 5 months when he was 2 years old. We put the Disney version on one day to try to get him to watch something that wasn’t Peppa Pig I think, and he was absolutely hooked. We had to play Peter and the Wolf every day for a while – that wolf was caught and taken to the zoo so very many times. He even got us to make the characters out of play dough and then air drying clay so he could play Peter and the Wolf. I’ll be honest, all of the shapes I made for the characters were incredibly similar, just the wolf was perhaps a bit longer, but it didn’t seem to matter to my son.

Peter and the Wolf was written by the Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev in 1936. It is a musical symphony written for children telling the cautionary tale of Peter who is warned by his grandfather to stay at home after reports of a wolf in the area are received. Of course Peter thinks he can tackle the wolf himself and save the town, so he ignores his grandfather’s warnings and sets off to catch the wolf accompanied by a duck a bird and a cat.

Each of the characters in the story – Peter, the duck, the bird, the cat, the grandfather, the wolf and even the hunters – has their own theme tune which introduces the character and appears regularly when that character is part of the action, helping young listeners understand the story.

Flight of the Bumblebee by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov

Another composition from the Romantic period in music history, this was written originally to be featured in an opera, The Tale of Tsar Saltan. The piece sounds like a bumblebee flying, darting around and changing direction. There are many versions of this work available to listen to. The most common are for violin, flute or piano. The piece works very well as an energy buster for young children – ask your little one to dance around like a bumblebee to the music and it will quickly wear them out! It is a very descriptive piece of music, so an older child could be asked to guess what animal is being portrayed when they listen to it. I have linked to the piano version below, but the spotify playlist with these pieces of music on has a version of this piece played on violin. Which do you prefer?

The Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughan Williams

Originally composed for violin and piano by Ralph Vaughan Williams in 1914, and inspired by the poem The Lark Ascending by George Meredith, Vaughan Williams re-wrote it for violin and orchestra during the First World War. It is the version for violin and orchestra that is most often performed today. Listening to this piece you can hear the bird, the violin, flying up high into the sky, with the orchestra painting a picture of the landscape below that the lark is flying over. The piece ends as it began, with just the violin, at the end the lark flies high up into the sky as the violin plays up in its highest register. It is beautiful.

On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring by Frederick Delius

This is a tone poem (a piece of music in one movement that paints a picture of a poem, short story, painting etc) composed in 1912. Here as the orchestra plays it is depicting a countryside scene. The clarinet is the cuckoo, and at first you can only hear it occasionally, but the clarinet plays more and more as the piece continues. With an older child, ask them to listen to the piece and count how many times they hear the clarinet and its cuckoo sound. Perhaps you could have a competition between yourselves to see how many cuckoo calls you can hear in the piece?

Le Merle Noir by Olivier Messiaen

This is a piece of music that I know quite well as I am a flautist. I battled with trying to play this whilst at University, not always successfully! The subject of this twentieth century composition is a Blackbird. The flute (an instrument that is quite high in its register, and so is often used to evoke birdsong) is the ideal instrument for this piece of music.

The Firebird Suite by Igor Stravinsky

This orchestral piece of music, a ballet, was based on a fairy tale about a magical glowing bird that is imprisoned in a castle with a beautiful princess. Prince Ivan searches for this bird and tries to rescue the bird and the princess. The ballet tells the tale of Prince Ivan’s search and rescue and what happens afterwards. The Firebird Suite featured in Disney’s updated animation Fantasia in 2000 and it is the audio of this version that I link to below.

Playlist

Playlists

Animals in Children’s Songs

There are so many children’s songs about animals and with animal sounds in. For small children, these songs are absolutely fabulous. They are full of animal sounds or fun actions that will amuse your baby and that your toddler can learn and join in with. I think I could put together about 17 playlists of songs about animals (and I will put together a separate playlist of animals in classical music later on), but for now here is a playlist of 11 songs featuring animals to get you started.

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

Animal Fayre

This was one of the first songs I started singing to my son, usually during nappy changes. I added actions into the song, and made a big thing of the elephant sneezing and falling to his knees to entertain him while I was changing his nappy – to get him to stay still, or a little still while I was doing it. Fast forward a little, and after school we sang it together as he was eating Animal biscuits – if he called out that he had pulled a monkey out of the bag of biscuits, then I sang Animal Fayre.

It’s a great song for starting to learn about harmony as well, and choral singing. Once you get to the end of the song “and what became of the monkey?” you can repeat the word monkey to the same note as someone else sings the rest of the song. Two people singing at the same time and each person singing something different, it is a lovely introduction to people singing together.

Old MacDonald Had a Farm

This song can go on for as long or as short a time as you want it to, depending on how many animals you want to have on Old MacDonald’s Farm. It’s a great song for teaching small children about animals and the sounds they make. You can sing the song all the way through, or for each animal you an stop, show your little one an animal picture or puppet; ask them what the animal is and what sound they make and then sing the song. With my children we have gone through many animals – the usual farm yard animals and some more unusual ones as well – at times we have had frogs, hippos, aardvarks and even dinosaurs on Old MacDonald’s Farm. We have had to dig deep into our imagination to come up with the noises some animals make that we have been asked to add into the farm.

Who’s at the Door from Tee and Mo

I have mentioned the TV programme Tee and Mo before as there are so many brilliant songs in it, including one of my favourite lullabies. This one is a really fun song, with very no words, just a doorbell and then an animal sound. We didn’t actually see this on the cartoon, but I bought the album which had this song on, and it was a great song for the post-school/nursery journey home to lift spirits with the children calling out the animals as they recognised the animal’s sounds in the song.

How Much is That Doggy in the Window

This was a favourite bath song for our boy for several months. Like Old MacDonald it’s a great song for learning animal names and sounds. This time generally more domestic animals, though again during his dinosaur obsession phase my son liked to challenge us with creatures we could include in the song. My son would shout out the animal/creature he wanted to be in the window, and we would sing the song, making up the sounds it makes and adding in an attribute. For example:

How much is that T-Rex in the window?

(roar, roar)

The one with the big, shiny teeth

BINGO

Although this is largely known as a spelling song (and yes, it is all about spelling the word Bingo), I think of it more as a memory song. The song is about a farmer whose dog is called Bingo, and the dog’s name is spelled out in the song:

There was a Farmer and his dog

And Bingo was his name, oh

B-I-N-G-O

B-I-N-G-O

B-I-N-G-O

And Bingo was his name, oh

The same words are then repeated, but the second time instead of singing the B of B-I-N-G-O, you clap your hands (great clapping practice for very small children). Next verse you can either clap for both the B and the I, or just the I of B-I-N-G-O etc until you have gone through the whole word. This is why I think it is a good memory song as you have to remember where you have got to in the dog’s name, and you have to remember to come back in singing after you have clapped enough times.

The Ants Go Marching Two by Two

You will find this song on my playlist of counting songs, because, well the ants start off marching one by one, then two by two and all the way up to ten by ten. But this is not just a counting song, or just a song about ants. It is also full of lovely rhymes – the ants march two by two and the little one stops to tie his shoe; the ants march three by three and the little one stops to climb a tree etc.

Baa Baa Black Sheep

A lovely nursery rhyme, one of the first you will probably sing to your baby. It is sung to a variation of the melody to the French song “Ah! Vous dirai-je, maman”, and you may notice that this is almost identical to the melody for nursery rhymes “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and the Alphabet Song. As the melody is very similar to a number of other songs for small children it is easy to remember and sing with your little one. As a variation of the song and to keep my daughter awake on car journeys to avoid a danger nap (a nap too close to bed time that will stop her going to sleep at night), I have sung baa baa red sheep, or green sheep or whatever colour my daughter could shout out from the back of the car. It was a favourite song of hers for a while.

Hickory Dickory Dock

You are highly likely to know this song already. A mouse runs up a clock and the clock strikes one. This is a nice song to sing with very small children. When singing the song you can tickle your little one, running your hands up their arm as the mouse goes up the clock and down again as the mouse runs down the clock.

Cat Came Fiddling out of the Barn

This is an odd but fun song that is fun to dance around to. At one point in the song a mouse marries a bumblebee – happens every day around here!

Incy Wincy Spider

Another lovely nursery rhyme to sing with small children. The song lends itself to using actions that go together with the words to the nursery rhyme – moving your hands in the air in front of your child from low to high as Incy Wincy (may also be referred to as Itsy Bitsy Spider) climbs up the water spout; holding your hands up palms out and fingers spread out and wiggling and moving from high to low in the air in front of your child as the rain comes down, etc. As these are quite simple actions, like with Hickory Dickory above, your child can actually join in with the song with you from a very young age, copying your actions.

Hey Diddle Diddle the Cat and the Fiddle

I loved this song when I was a little girl. We had the lyrics in a book of a collection of nursery rhymes and I distinctly remember the pictures that accompanied it – a cow jumping over a moon, an anthropomorphic dish and spoon running off together. This is a fun, nonsense verse set to music.

Playlists · Themed Music

Classical Music for Autumn/Fall Playlist

It is now officially Autumn (or Fall for those in the USA). Music has always been written about and for the seasons, and Autumn is no different. I am writing this on September 21, the equinox, or the day on which there is equal amounts of daylight and darkness. From now on, the nights will start drawing in, the leaves will change to beautiful oranges and reds and eventually fall off the trees. We will start wrapping up in scarves and coats and gloves. I love this time of the year, and I love the music that is written about this season. If you are planning to sit down for a relaxing day with your children, or are looking for a playlist to accompany your child’s learning about the season, then you could do worse than playing my classical music for Autumn playlist that I link to at the end of this blog post.

The Four Seasons – Autumn by Antonio Vivaldi

A playlist about the seasons has to, of course, start with The Four Seasons by Vivaldi for obvious reasons. The Four Seasons was written as four separate, but thematically linked, concerti for violin and orchestra. The third concerto in this series was written in the key of F major and was entitled “Autumn”. At the same time as publishing The Four Seasons Vivaldi published a set of accompanying sonnets telling his audiences what he had tried to convey in the music. Listen out for hunters with horns and dogs in the second movement (the Allegro, or faster movement) and see if you and your children can hear them in Vivaldi’s music.

Das Jahr by Fanny Mendelssohn

Das Jahr translates as The Year. Fanny Mendelssohn’s piano song cycle was written in 1841 as a set of 12 pieces, each roughly attributed to a month of the year. It was written as a sort of musical diary of a year she spent in Italy with her family.

The Fall of the Leaf by Imogen Holst

Imogen Holst composed this piece for her friend, the cellist Pamela Hind o’Malley. It is a set of three studies on a piece of music by Martin Peerson, the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book which was composed around the 16th or 17th century. It’s title places the piece in this season. This piece does not feature on my spotify playlist below as I could not find it on spotify.

Music for Rainy Weather

Folk Songs of the Four Seasons by Ralph Vaughan Williams

Vaughan Williams wrote this for a women’s choral festival based on English folk songs. Autumn, here, is made up of three songs, two harvest songs: John Barleycorn and An Acre of Land sung by the whole chorus; and a song called The Unquiet Grave for 3 unaccompanied (or acapella) voices, a somewhat bleak song about a girl meeting her dead lover at the grave.

Shaker Loops by John Adams

This is not actually a piece of music that is written about Autumn, but listening to the string instruments it sounds a little like wind rustling through leaves, first gently, and then in a much more stormy fashion.

9 Songs for Summer

Autumn Gardens by Einojuhani Rautavaara

A beautiful piece of music from this Finnish composer, written at the turn of the century, this is a beautiful musical portrayal of the colours and sounds of an autumn garden.

String Quartet no 15 by Ludwig van Beethoven

This piece of music was composed in 1825 after Beethoven had recovered from a near fatal illness. String Quartets are pieces of music for four instruments – two violins, viola and cello. This string quartet is in 5 movements, the third being a song of thanksgiving entitled Holy Song of Thanksgiving of a convalescent to the Deity, in the Lydian Mode. For this reason this piece is often played in November, near Thanksgiving in the USA. This is the movement you will find immediately below. I have included the whole string quartet in my spotify playlist.

Playlist

Playlists

Songs for Halloween

Halloween is a celebration that has been growing in popularity over the years. In our little community we have had a lovely tradition each year where most of the houses in the streets near us decorate the front of their houses, and on one Sunday afternoon near to Halloween all of the families who want to take part in trick or treating meet at the bottom of one of our streets and we all go Trick or Treating together. The majority of the families here have young children, so it is a really nice, safe way to take part. For obvious reasons we will not be going Trick or Treating like this with the children this year, but we will still celebrate Halloween this year, especially as it falls at the end of half term, and I will be looking for ways to keep the children entertained at home. On Halloween itself we will probably do some sort of scavenger hunt at home, and have a Halloween party. The following songs will be on our playlist:

Monster Mash by Bobby “Boris” Pickett

This song tells the story of a mad scientist in his lab who comes up with a new dance that becomes a new dance craze.

Thriller by Michael Jackson

It goes without saying that Thriller will feature on a Halloween party playlist. Writing this now, I am wondering if my children are old enough to attempt the dance routine – you know the one. Well you will do if you watched the video to this song as often as I did when I was a child!

Ghostbusters by Ray Parker Jr

Who are you going to call?

Of course Ghostbusters has to feature on a Halloween playlist. It’s a fun song to dance to and sing along to for children of all ages.

Harry Potter Theme Tune by John Williams

Not a song, I admit, but something from the Harry Potter soundtrack will definitely feature on our Halloween party playlist. Harry Potter, if you don’t know already, is a boy brought up by his awful human uncle and aunt until he finds out that his parents were quite famous in the wizarding world and that he is to go off to wizarding school himself. The books by J K Rowling have been made into films, and the instantly recognisable main theme is a worthy inclusion in any Halloween party play list.

Somebody’s Watching Me by Rockwell

What could be more Halloween and spooky than having the feeling that you are being watched. The music in this is insistent, creepy and spooky right from the start, but also good to dance to.

The Adams Family

They’re creepy and they’re kooky

Mysterious and spooky

They’re altogether ooky

The Adams Family

A brilliant family friendly Halloween film, and the theme tune is now synonymous with this time of year.

Vampirina Theme Tune

My daughter loves Vampirina on Disney +, and will almost certainly be dressing up as Vampirina for Halloween this year. I have already had to promise her that I will paint her face purple like Vampirina. So there will definitely be some songs from the show on our Halloween playlist.

Halloween Sharks by Pink Fong

Oh god!! My daughter loves this song. She loves Baby Shark generally, and this is just a Halloween version. They do Christmas version as well in case you haven’t had enough of the song! This goes round and round my head for hours after it is played. To be fair, it does get played about 17 times every time it is put on.

Ukulele Challenge

Ukulele Challenge Update Weeks 5-7

As expected, we have not practised ukulele as much as we were doing in the last few weeks as it is holiday time here. We are starting week 4 (of 8) of the summer holidays right now, and I have to admit that this holiday is going really slowly. Probably because we are at home almost all of the time, and if not at our home, then at my mother’s home. In order to give each of my children plenty of one on one time, they are each spending a night at their Grandma’s house each week and some time with me and their father just them each week. Our routine is very relaxed and so it is very easy to forget to do the ukulele practice every day. We have, however, been playing fairly regularly, and some progress is being made.

Progress Made: We have been plodding along with the same two songs for the last few weeks; but my son is starting to play more and more on the beat and he has been practising chord changes that are becoming more fluid. I have been teaching my son how to tune his ukulele as well and he now has a good go at doing his own tuning before we start playing. Tied to this, we have been talking again about the way in which the ukulele works (and all string instruments), and I have been explaining to him about how the sound is produced when playing – the string is plucked or strummed and it vibrates, it is that vibration that produces the sound that he can hear. The shorter the string is, then the higher the sound is produced and the longer the string is the lower the sound is that is produced. I have shown him that in placing his finger down on the strings before he strums them, he shortens the string and produces a higher note.

I taught my son his first scale on the ukulele (just the scale of C major) and so picking out single notes rather than just strumming chords. We talked about the note names as he was playing them and the names of the 4 strings.

Plans for the next few weeks: Let’s be honest, I am unlikely to have made much more progress with him this week, especially as it is his turn to stay at Grandma’s this week, so it will be a couple of weeks at least before we have made much progress. I want us to add at least one more song to our repertoire, and learn one new scale. I want to introduce him to the idea of an “ending” to each of the song and get him to listen to the songs he is playing and see if he thinks a song sounds finished or not.

Playlists

Lullabies I Have Sung To My Children

I have been singing to my children from their very earliest days. I love to sing, and am a singer, so there are very few days that go by when I don’t sing at all at some point, whether my children want me to or not!

Photo by Rene Asmussen on Pexels.com

Babies absolutely love the sound of their parents’ voices. The hearing function in a foetus starts at around 4 months gestation, although the ear is not fully formed for another 2 months. Babies can hear sounds closest to them from very early on in their development. The sounds that are closest to them are their mother’s bodily functions, like the sounds her lungs make as she breathes, the sound her heart makes as it is beating, and the sounds of her voice as she is talking. They become very familiar with her voice and the voices of people closest to her. Once a baby is born, the sounds of their parents voices and those of people who have stayed close to their mother during pregnancy are very important and comforting to them, and the most beautiful to them. So, no matter what you think of your own voice, your baby will love it and will love to hear you sing to them.

I have sung to and with my children in celebration, to get them to dance around, as entertainment for them and for me, to comfort them, because I couldn’t think of anything else to do, because it made them smile, because it calmed and reassured them and helped them sleep.

Here are some of the songs I have sung to my children in an effort to get them to sleep.

Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace is a hymn that has been around since the 18th century. It became popular in America, particularly in Baptist and Methodist churches, after the composer William Walker set the words to a new melody; the tune that is most frequently sung today. Amazing Grace is a song that holds memories not only of my mother singing to me, but also of it being my Grandma’s favourite hymn. My son was not a good sleeper for the first 2 years of his life. So in common with many sleep-deprived parents I turned to baby sleep books. One recommended putting sleep cues in place for baby when trying to lessen reliance on feeding to sleep, such as having the same routine, using the same smell for bedtime, and singing the same song every night so that baby would associate that song with sleep and (the theory went) fall asleep just by smelling that smell and/or hearing that song. So I chose Amazing Grace and sang the song to him every night for months and months, possibly even a year. He never fell asleep by the end of the song, but he does like it! When my daughter was born, after singing the same song to her brother every single night, Amazing Grace popped out of my mouth when singing to her to go to sleep without even thinking about it. This video is me singing Amazing Grace to my daughter when she was 3 months old. It was VERY familiar to her by then and I am sure she is joining in!

Goodnight Sweetheart by The Spaniels

This song was used in the film 3 Men and a Baby, and the song magically got the baby to sleep within seconds just like it always happens with TV/movie babies. In the same way, that in TV/movies parents can say goodnight to their children, give them a kiss and ruffle their hair, turn the light out and their child instantly goes to sleep. That never happened with my children, but it was a nice song to sing to them.

Wiegenlied (or Lullaby) by Johannes Brahms

If you were asked to think of a lullaby out of the blue, there is a very good chance that the melody to this piece of music would be one of the first you would think of. One of the composer Brahms’ most popular pieces of music, it was composed in the 19th century for voice and piano and first performed in December 1868 by Luise Dustman and Clara Schumann, a pianist and composer in her own right. The original Lyrics were taken from a collection of German folk poems, Des Knaben Wunderhorn, or The Boy’s Magic Horn. I have included an instrumental version here, for obvious reasons – the baby just couldn’t resist going to sleep here!

Stay Awake from the film Mary Poppins

As my son got older, and I wanted a change from singing Amazing Grace to him (as an adult you can get sick of any piece of music!), I started singing this song to my son. On the surface the lyrics seem to be encouraging the children to stay awake because they are not sleepy at all, hence the title, but really enticing the children with their soft, deep pillows and the world all being fast asleep. My son really liked this song and still occasionally asks me to sing it to him before he goes off to sleep.

Go to Sleep from Tee and Mo

I loved the CBeebies programme Tee and Mo. Tee and Mo is a lovely cartoon about the adventures a monkey called Tee and his mum Mo have – all very ordinary things like going shopping, but it’s lovely. And the songs from the show are brilliant too. I don’t think it was around when my son was very small, but my daughter loved it, and I bought the album to play in the car for her (and me to be honest). There are so many great songs on there to sing with your children, but this one has to be my favourite.

Lullaby by Josh Groban featuring Ladysmith Black Mambazo with lyrics by Dave Matthews

This is just a beautiful song, a fusion of Western and South African music. I heard this song long before I had children, and it was one I knew I would want to sing to my children when I had them.

Coventry Carol

OK, this is a rather odd song to include in a list of lullabies as it is a Christmas song. I include it because for all of my thinking about what I would sing to my children/ how I would be with my children etc before they actually arrived, in the fog of new motherhood this was the song that actually popped into my head as I was pacing up and down the bedroom in the dark trying to get him to sleep largely because of the lyrics to the song “Lully Lullay, Thou Little Tiny Child” Despite some of the sad (That woe is me, poor Child for Thee) or even violent lyrics (Herod the king, in his raging, Charged he hath this day. His men of men of might, in his own sight, all young children to slay), the melody is gentle, and beautiful. Needless to say I only ever sang the first verse!

Homemade Instruments

Making DIY Castanets

It has been a little while – about 1 1/2 months – since I last wrote a blog post showing you how to make a musical instrument at home, so I thought it was high time I did a new one. This time, I have made a couple of pairs of castanets. There are different ways to make these instruments, but this is how I made them today.

What is a castanet?

Firstly, what is a castanet? A castanet is a percussion instrument, known particularly for their role in Spanish Flamenco music although they feature in music of many more traditions and cultures. They were traditionally made of hardwood, although fibreglass is becoming more popular, and of course castanets that are suitable for children, especially young children, are often made from plastic. A pair of castanets (each instrument is a pair already) is played by clicking or hitting the pair together. Two pairs are played together, one in each hand and each pair would make a slightly different sound.

How to play the castanets

There are different ways to play, but here are three simple ways to play that you can use at home:

  • Hold a pair of castanets in one hand looping the string over your index finger. Put your index finger on one side of the pair of castanets and your thumb on the other. Open and close your index finger and thumb to click the castanets together.
  • Put the pair of castanets on the floor and tap on the top of it with your hand.
  • Put the pair of castanets in one hand and use the other to tap on the top of it.

I don’t have a pair of castanets to demonsrate for you, but here is a short video of castanets in action.

Making your own castanets

You can make your own castanets with some very simple things that you may already have at home. You will need:

  • Craft sticks (I used large, plain craft sticks because that is what I have at home, and also once the castanets were made I could leave them for my children to decorate)
  • Bottle tops (I used beer bottle tops, obviously it was a chore for me to have to drink the beer in order to get the bottle tops. Any bottle tops would work)
  • Small amount of cardboard
  • Elastic bands
  • Scissors
  • Glue (I used a hot glue gun, but other glues or even sticky tape would probably work just as well)

Firstly I hot glued the bottle tops onto the craft sticks, making sure that the bottle tops were roughly level with each other.

Next, I put the craft sticks together so that the bottle tops were touching each other. I placed an elastic band at the other end of the craft sticks and tried to play the castanets. They did not quite work, as there was nothing there to make the craft sticks spring away from each other after they have been tapped together.

So I cut a small piece of cardboard, mine was slightly wider than my craft sticks, but I could have made more effort to make the cardboard the same width, or thinner than my craft sticks. I folded the cardboard into a V shape and hot glued the cardboard to each of the craft sticks so that the open side of the V faced upwards towards the bottle tops. The cardboard, which made a lever inside the castanet, was approximately half way up and I took care to ensure that the bottle tops would still be level with each other.

I made two pairs of castanets, one for each of my children. I found that one of the pairs of castanets worked best with an elastic band would around the bottom underneath the cardboard lever, and one of the worked best without the elastic band. Here they are in action:

Now it will be over to my children to decorate them however they see fit.

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 glockenspiel

This is the second post in my series on musical instruments you might want to purchase to have in your music box at home.

All of the instruments featured in this series of posts can be bought relatively cheaply from various shops (even, dare I say it, Amazon, because we have all found ourselves on Amazon at 3am when up with the children, haven’t we?? OK maybe just me then!) They can sometimes be found at charity shops. This is one of the glockenspiels we have at home, the Halilit Baby Xylophone. We actually have about 3 of them, no idea why, but there you have it. (I should point out here, that I have always thought these instruments were xylophones, but someone kindly pointed out on Twitter that actually the instrument I was writing about was a glockenspiel as xylophones are actually wooden instruments!)

A glockenspiel is a percussion instrument. Percussion instruments are instruments that are played by hitting or striking them, in this case with a beater. The glockenspiel is a tuned percussion instrument, metal bars of different lengths arranged in a similar way to the piano. It is the different lengths of the metal bars that produce the different notes of the glockenspiel as they are hit. The longer the metal bar is, the lower the note produced.

Some of the reasons why I like this instrument with small children in the house are:

  • It isn’t too loud – this glockenspiel can be played nice and quietly, and even when your child is able to grasp the beater him- or herself and hit the thing with all of their might, it isn’t an instrument that goes right through you!
  • It is a simple, easy instrument and does not take much practice to be able to play a tune out of it. Ours came with a little booklet that had a few recognisable tunes you can play in it to get you started. You can also easily play around with glissandi (where you slide the beater up and down all of the notes, and it makes a sort of magical sliding sound. My children loved this.)
  • Your baby can start to play with the glockenspiel as soon as they are able to hold the beater by themselves. They can start to learn about cause and effect playing this instrument – they hit the glockenspiel with the thing in their hand and it makes a noise.
  • It is neat. Such a mum thing to say, but when tidying up I love that I can put the beater back in its place on the back of the glockenspiel and then next time my children get every single instrument out of the music box, we still have everything we need to play the glockenspiel was all together.
  • Our glockenspiel is a lovely bright colour, which is very attractive for the children. The metal bars that make up the glockenspiel have their note names labelled on each bar, and this helps the children play tunes (as they get older), because I can tell my son to play two Cs, then two Gs, for example, to start playing a tune he can recognise.

To play the glockenspiel you use a beater and hit the beater against one of the metal bars. To make a nice sound, you need to hold the beater loosely and hit the glockenspiel with a sort of bouncing action, like this:

If you hold on to the beater too tightly, or hit the glockenspiel too hard, then you will get a much harder, less tuneful sound like this:

That is pretty much it for the glockenspiel , other than having a play around with it, trying some tunes out. I will end this blog post with me playing a quick Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star on our glockenspiel.

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!!

Ukulele Challenge

Ukulele Challenge Week 3

This week started off really well. We practiced on Wednesday night after school without any repetition of the statement that my son hated music. On Thursday my children went to their Grandma’s for tea and so he had a night off practice, but he played with absolutely no fuss on Friday night. Pretty much the whole of Saturday was taken over by Frozen fever as Frozen II came out on Disney + the day before (my son had said he would wake up extra early on Friday morning to watch it before any of the rest of us got up, but that didn’t quite happen). I managed to convince him to practice a little on Sunday by getting him to play for his Grandma, and my youngest decided she wanted to get her “keker” out to play too.

We didn’t do so well on Monday though, as my son complained of a stomach ache all day at school so he came home early. Although once he got home he was clearly absolutely fine as evidenced by the running around and shrieking like a mad thing with his sister just before tea!

Progress made: we have been practising chord changes and strumming to the beat, developing his sense of pulse which is so important in playing music (it has a lot of other developmental benefits as well, but that is a subject for another post another day). He is starting to hold the ukulele better, straighter. He puts his finger next to the string a lot of the time rather than pressing down on the string so we talk regularly about how the string needs to be able to move to make a nice sound, demonstrating how putting his finger next to the string stops it from moving and vibrating, so deadening the sound. He is taking this in and is producing a better sound than he was this time last week.

We concentrated mostly on Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, and today we started looking at Baa Baa Black Sheep. This starts with exactly the same chord pattern as Twinkle Twinkle for the first couple of bars, which my son noticed. He had to learn a new chord, G, in order to play this song so he has added a new chord to his musical belt.

Plan for next week: the school term finishes on Thursday this week. He will be off school for 8 weeks. We will need to establish our school holiday routine, which will be very flexible. And I promised him that he could stay at his Grandma’s house, just him without his sister so he gets some 1 to 1 attention, in the first week. So I don’t expect us to make too much progress. Just sticking to playing for 10 minutes most days, and practising the 2 songs he has learned so far.

Instrument spotlight

Spotlight on tambourine

If you have read this blog before you will know that we very much enjoy making our own musical instruments. We have made all sorts of instruments from drums, to windchimes, to shakers, and I have more in the pipeline to make with the children over the summer holidays which are due to start at the end of the week – 8 weeks of holidays!! We are also lucky to have a number of musical instruments at home as well – I am a musician after all!

If you are wanting to start a collection of musical instruments for your children what should you start with? And how would you play those instruments if you got hold of them? Where would you find those musical instruments at a reasonable price? I can hopefully try to help you with these questions over time, and I thought I would start with providing a spotlight, if you like, on some of the instruments we have at home for the children to play with. If you have any specific questions, please ask, but for today let us have a look at the tambourine.

Tambourine means little drum, and is an instrument from the percussion family. Percussion instruments are those that are played by hitting, shaking, rubbing or scraping them. They are generally hand held, but can be part of a drum kit and so fixed into position. Tambourines have a round frame with metal discs, called zils, within that frame. The frame can be left open, so just the frame with the zils; or a drum skin can be stretched over the top of the frame.

We have had a few tabourines over the years. Both of my children, together with pretty much all children who are allowed anywhere near a television I think, discovered the delights of Peppa Pig when they were small. At times they have been bought Peppa Pig magazines, and on one occasion there were free gifts of musical instruments on the cover of the magazine. These were small plastic instruments and I think there was a guitar, a harmonica and a tambourine included. None of these instruments survived all that long, I think the guitar broke within days, but the tambourine lasted for quite a while. It was made entirely out of plastic, and so produced a rather muted sound, but the children enjoyed playing with it.

I found our next tambourine in a charity shop, and this one has stayed with us much longer. I have found many musical instruments in charity shops over the years, and would recommend having a look in there, especially when your children are small and like to either chew or chuck instruments more than try to play them. Obviously, especially in these times, anything you buy from a charity shop needs to be cleaned before your children play with them, especially wind instruments like recorders!

For one of the children’s birthdays we asked one of my relatives to buy a set of musical instruments for them, and so we were given the lovely closed tambourine pictured at the top of this blog post. This makes a much nicer sound than the plastic tambourines that we had previously, but it is a little more expensive, and easier to damage, than a plastic tambourine.

So, the tambourine, can be played in three ways.

Firstly, it can be hit or banged like a drum using a beater or hands, as long as you have a tambourine with a skin on rather than an open tambourine. For very small children you can either play the tambourine for them, letting them feel the vibrations of the instrument while they listen to the sound it makes, or you can take their hands or feet and gently manipulate them to play the tambourine themselves. Older children can go wild hitting the tambourine and making their own music, if they want to!

Secondly, a tambourine can be shaken; either gently to produce a quiet sound, or more vigorously to produce a loud sound. Very small babies will be unlikely to be able to shake a tambourine by themselves and will need your help to hear the sound it makes. However, as soon as they are able to grasp the tambourine themselves, your baby will thoroughly enjoy being able to make a noise with it. It is an instrument they can start to play independently from a very young age. It will help your baby to understand cause and effect as well – I move my hand while holding this and it makes a noise.

Finally, it can be played combining the two above. If you use a clapping action, hitting the tambourine with one hand while holding it in the other, or shaking it then hitting it with one hand like this:

You could even use another part of your body, like a leg or your tummy, tapping the tambourine against it to make a sound.

I must sound a note of caution, however. Babies put everything in their mouths, and the metal discs, or zils, on the sides of tambourines that give them their distinctive sound are not safe to go into a child’s mouth. They can be very sharp, they are generally made of metal so not a great material to be chewed, and the spokes holding them in place can break so they could be a choking hazard. A normal tambourine can be played with only under close adult supervision, therefore. You should not leave your baby or young child alone with it. There are baby tambourines, like this one that you can buy that alleviate this problem as they enclose the metal discs and so your baby can’t get them into their mouths. These are great, but the downside is that they cannot be played as a drum like a normal tambourine, so are a little limited in their application. They can provide great peace of mind if your baby always finds the things they are not supposed to be playing with on their own as soon as your back is turned, however.

Music Book Review

Music Book Review: Debi Gilori’s Nursery Rhymes

When I first had my son, my eldest, was home from the hospital,everyone had been to visit and we found ourselves alone for the first time, I thought I would sing to him. I was a musician and had spent a lot of time at school and Uni singing so I must know what to sing to him, right? In the fog of new motherhood, with the lack of sleep, I could not remember a single nursery rhyme to sing to him. Not one!

So I was very pleased when I was given this book by one of my friends. It was an anthology of nursery rhymes, pretty much all of the songs I then remembered my mum singing with me as a little girl. Just reading through the book reminded me of the songs I was reaching for to sing to him!

It is illustrated by Debi Gilori, the illustrations capturing the spirit of each nursery rhyme.

A little extra information about some of the songs is given- background to the songs, why they were written or how children used to dance or play along to them for example.

And a CD is included of all the songs in the book. You do not need to use the CD to enjoy the book, I have not spotted any extra information or songs on the CD at all, but it is a lovely extra to have. Some of the songs are sung on the Cd, and some spoken, there is a nice mix of the two, and Debi Gliori gives a nice introduction to the CD and how to use it to accompany the book.

Music Book Review

Music Book Review: Usborne Listen and Learn Musical Instruments

Today’s Music Book Review is Listen and Learn Musical Instruments from Usborne Books.

We do have quite a lot of Usborne books at home. They are quite fantastic for young children – and that is my experience so far as my eldest is 6 years old as I write this. My recommendations may change as my children get older. It is a rather different book than many of my other recommendations as there is no story to be told here at all. It looks a bit like a list of instruments. The book is actually meant to be listened to rather than read.

It gives children an opportunity to hear the sounds that different instruments make. The book consists of a number of different cards that have pictures of musical instruments on. To hear each instrument, you need to press the “go button” at the top of each page/card and then press on the picture of the instrument. The name of each instrument is given as well, and they are grouped into various categories – instruments that are played by hitting them, by blowing into them, by plucking their strings etc.

In addition to the set of wind instruments on the main page, a further 4 double-sided cards are included in a pocket each with 9 further instruments to listen to. To hear those instruments you slide the card into the keyboard frame, press “go” and select the instrument you want to listen to.

As with all sound books, there is an on/off switch so if your children will not leave it alone and it starts to drive you mad you can turn the sound off, and also to make sure the battery doesn’t go flat when you are not using it.

We really like this book, and like exploring the different instruments depicted – I had probably heard but never seen a shofar or a serpent before reading this book. Both my children like it – it involves pressing buttons, what is not to like?! And I chose to write about this boom today largely because my 6 year old found it yesterday and was playing around with it yesterday by himself.

The volume on the book is fairly low, which is great when listening to it at home. However, if you are using this as a resource in a group setting it only works on a one to one basis or very small group basis. I tried using this in a larger group setting once and it just did not work as it was too quiet to grab the children’s attention. One on one, though, it is a lovely guide to the sounds that different instruments make. I would highly recommend it.

And here it is in action with a couple of the pages in the book:

Music Book Review

Music Book Review: Baby’s Bedtime Music Book

For today’s Music Book Review I have another lovely Usborne Books sound book, Baby’s Bedtime Music Book.

This is a lovely book to snuggle up with and read at bedtime just before sleep. It combines a little tale about the animals of Dreaming Valley getting ready for bed, settling in for the night and being serenaded by the owls of the valley who are playing beautiful lullabies to help their fellow animals drift off to sleep.

There are extracts from 5 different pieces of classical music included in the book with an easy to press and clearly labelled button on each page to hear the pieces. Even small children can press the button and get the music to play- there are some sound books where you have to press the button really hard to get any sound out of it at all and my children quickly give up with these books because they can’t get them to work by themselves. These books are different because they only need a light touch, and even at 2 my youngest was able to get the book to play for herself.

There is an on/off switch at the back of the book so that you don’t waste the battery and you can turn it off when you have had enough of the pieces! There are only 5 short extracts after all.

I won’t play them all here, but here is the cover page in action with an extract from Brahm’s Lullaby:

Playlists

Music to burn off some energy

My children finished their school year this week, and while lockdown is easing and we will try to have a few days out over the holidays we will largely be spending the next 8 weeks, yes 8 glorious, wonderful, oh my good grief how many, weeks at home. With a 6 and 3 year old.

Now I don’t know about your children, but mine, especially my youngest, do not sit still. In fact I think the only time my 3 year old is still is when she is asleep- and even that is not guaranteed. So I need to find ways to help them burn off a lot of energy at home.

As always, I turn to music (who could have seen that one coming, eh?!) Dancing around to music is so good

  • It’s fun!
  • It is great physical exercise, getting the heart rate up
  • It’s great for helping children develop a sense of pulse
  • It helps develop their gross motor skills
  • It helps develop their sense of balance
  • It helps develop your children’s understanding of their place in space
  • It helps children with developing self-expression

Here are 11 pieces of music I use to help me.

Hokey Cokey

Absolutely our favourite piece of music to dance around like lunatics. We have danced to this since my son was a few months old and I flew him towards his Daddy and his Grandma. In more recent years my children like to listen to this song after dinner while my husband and I clear up. My daughter wants to hold hands with her brother to do the dance properly, but he likes to just run across the room for pretty much the whole song. Even without the unusual dance technique my son prefers, this is a good workout!

Jump Around by House of Pain

The clue to this song is in the title. No, it is not a children’s song, but young children don’t really listen to the lyrics and you can’t argue with getting your children to jump around for 4 minutes to burn off any excess energy.

Superman by Black Lace

This is an action song. The singer calls out actions for the children to follow as the song goes on. I think it was a staple of the parties I attended as a child. Just the opening bars and I am transported back to church halls and party dresses and eating too many sweets before being taken home by my parents.

Happy by Pharrell Williams

We use this song for musical chairs, musical bumps etc. My children love these games. Whenever we have a difficult day (and there have been many over lockdown!), I break out a bit of Pharrell Williams and we play either musical statues or musical bumps and after a couple of rounds everything is so much better!

Ring a Ring a Roses

This nursery rhyme has been around for a long time, possibly as early as the 1790s. There were versions of this song in Britain and America, and even from India and New Zealand. I always thought it was a song about the plague from 1665, but there are historians who contradict this. Whatever the song’s history it is good for getting children moving. Children form a circle, holding hands and move to the left or the right as they sing the song. On the line They all fall down the children jump down to the floor, jumping up again on the line We all jump up with a 1, 2, 3.

Flight of the Bumblebee by Rimsky-Korsakov

Flight of the Bumblebee was written by the composer Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov as an orchestral interlude to his opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan. Listening to the piece evokes the way a bumble bee darts around from flower to flower in search of pollen. When I play the song at home I often get the children to pretend to be a bumblebee and fly around the room.

Agadoo by Black Lace

Another song from my childhood and another song in this list by Black Lace, Agadoo was released in 1984. I am not sure if it was intended this way, but we use it as an action song, and I remember doing the same when I was a child. The lyrics tell you to jump up and down and to your knees etc. The song is, as it was described in Q Magazine, “magnificently dreadful”

Heads Shoulders Knees and Toes

This is a song that helps children to learn body parts. They touch their head, shoulders, knees or toes along with the song, and as they do this several times over the course of the song it is a surprisingly good workout.

Jumping Up and Down in Muddy Puddles

The clue as to why I have included this song in this list is in the title! It is a Peppa Pig song, so if you have children under 3 you are pretty much guaranteed to have heard it once, twice or 17 bazillion times already. This morning. It’s always a quick win with my children to get them engaged in something, to put something they are familiar with on.

William Tell Overture

The William Tell Overture is an overture to the opera William Tell by the composer Rossini. It is a piece of music that lasts for 12 minutes and paints a picture of life in the Swiss Alps. However, for me it is much more closely associated with horse racing than mountains in Switzerland. The finale to this overture is a fun piece of music to dance around to and with the horse racing connection, it is fun to put this on and pretend to be jockeys racing around the house!

Gallop Infernal from Orpheus in the Underworld by Offenbach

Otherwise known as the Can-Can after the music from this opera was adopted by the Moulin Rouge and Folies-Bergere to accompany their can-can dance. It is fun, lively and clearly a great piece of music to dance around to. It is perfect for getting the children to bounce around the house for a while to burn off some of their excess energy.

Concerts and Events

Concert Review: B’Opera Relaxed Concert, Teddy Bear’s Picnic

Concert: B’Opera Relaxed Concert Teddy Bear’s Picnic

When: Saturday 27 June 2020 10:30

Where: via Crowdcast

Our experience: a lovely, interactive concert for pre-school children introducing classical music and opera to our little people.

For 2020 I had booked us up to see quite a few concerts. We went to see Peppa Pig: My First Concert, read my review of this show here, and a fabulous concert from the Notelets series at the CBSO centre in March, and you can read about it here. It feels like that was about 6 million years ago now! We had several other concerts booked as well, and were looking forward to a year of regular live entertainment. Of course we now do not anticipate being able to go to see any of those concerts this year, very sadly. So I was delighted to see that the Birmingham based organisation B’Opera were doing one of their relaxed concerts online last week. It was on the theme of a Teddy Bear’s Picnic.

I have taken my daughter to one of B’Opera’s live relaxed concerts before at St George’s Church in Edgbaston, just over a year ago and was very impressed with the concert. We had been to a concert run by a different organisation and that had been billed as a concert where small children were absolutely welcome, in fact the concert was for the children and their grown ups, but I had not been impressed with this other organisation’s concert. It felt like it was a concert for the parents where their small children were tolerated rather than being aimed at the children. B’Opera’s relaxed concert was entirely different. It was a concert that was genuinely for the children who attended. It was for adults to bring their small children along to introduce them to music, not just nursery rhymes. Nursery rhymes were included in the performance, as something familiar for the children, but there were many other songs in the concert as well. I left the concert feeling that this was an organisation that really understood how to put on a concert for small children and babies, and no wonder because they held music classes for babies and small children at Birmingham Hippodrome every week (owing to the coronavirus pandemic these classes are online at the moment).

Booking tickets and accessing the concert

I was really looking forward to watching this concert with my children. The relaxed concert on Saturday morning took place at 10.30 and lasted for about an hour. It cost £7.50 for a ticket and was broadcast on the service Crowdcast. There is an iOA app for Apple users, a website if watching on a laptop, and probably also an Android app. It was very easy to access crowdcast once tickets had been purchased, although I had not downloaded the app until just before the start of the concert, so we ended up watching the concert on my iPad via the website. I think that the experience would have been better if I had managed to get the app downloaded in advance of the concert so that we could have used that for the concert.

The live concerts are very interactive and online Zoe Challenor and Jacqueline White, who are professional musicians and who run B’Opera, added in as many interactive elements as they could. There was a chat function on the crowdcast app, and Zoe and Jacqueline answered as many comments as they could onscreen. One of the B’Opera team, Aliyah was also answering comments on the onscreen chat as they happened, but we could not see them – technical limitations of, well, me I’m afraid as I could not work out how to get the chat box up on the website without messing around and I didn’t want to do that while the concert was ongoing!

Interactive concert

There were several games played during the concert, like Peekaboo with scarves that my children quite enjoyed, and a game of fruit snap. At the end of the concert I asked the children what they had enjoyed most about it and my 3 year old said “me like fruit game”! There were also some lovely touches, like cakes being passed and water glasses filled up between Zoe and Jacqueline.

Programme

The programme was picnic and summer themed. There were a mix of live performances and pre-recorded songs, the pre-records being performances by the pianist Phil Ypres-Smith who would usually be performing at the relaxed concerts, and a duet between Jacqueline and Zoe. The concert started with Debussy’s song about mandolin players, Mandoline, and included songs like Fleurs by Poulenc (Flowers), the Flower Duet from the opera Lakme by Delibes, and Where the Bee Sucks, There Lurk I by Thomas Arne. All songs about things you would see or experience if you were on a picnic. There were two fun songs by composer Jenny Gould performed towards the end of the concert as well including My Face is Made of Funnions. The concert ended with a rendition of, of course, Teddy Bear’s picnic and requests for favourite nursery rhymes were taken and performed.

Experience of watching concert online

What I really like about B’Opera’s concerts is that they strike a really good balance between children’s songs and traditional, familiar nursery rhymes and other classical music, proper arias from opera that are not at all dumbed down. Zoe and Jacqueline give the children attending their concerts the chance to listen to, to experience all sorts of music, more complex, “difficult”, less familiar music for them is included, and so children have the opportunity to become familiar with lots of different music.

It is far easier to keep children’s attention in person, and my two did not concentrate very well at all for this online concert – they were at home, my son could feel the pull of his lego upstairs, my daughter just wanted to play babies, and so they did not take in as much of the concert as I think they would have done if we had attended in person. I think that the concert, at one hour, was maybe a little too long. That may be because my two are at school and nursery so we don’t attend the weekly First Songs classes that B’Opera are offering at the moment, or it may just be my children, especially my 3 year old who absolutely cannot stay still for even 2 minutes at a time! For us I think the concert could have been shorter. However, this is not in any way a reflection of B’Opera, it is the circumstances we are in, that we cannot attend concerts in person at the moment. On the other hand, with the cost of the concert, as just one ticket is purchased for an online concert rather than paying for 4 people to attend, then it is easier and more affordable to take a chance on an online concert. If the children don’t enjoy it, or are not in the right mood to watch it on that particular day, then you have not spent as much money as you would buying separate tickets for the whole family. B’Opera also leave the concert available on crowdcast for a week at no additional cost, so you can watch it at any time or as many times as you like during that week. This is brilliant for people with small children as they love to watch things over and over again, and as mentioned above sometimes they are just not in the mood right then and there to watch a concert just because Mummy says it is time!

All in all, this was a really good concert, a lovely thing to do on a Saturday morning, and felt like a step towards normality, that we could go to a concert even though we were still at home. The arts in general, and organisations that are reliant on singing in particular, are really struggling at the moment with social distancing requirements, so I would urge you if you are at all tempted to try something like this out to do it and support these organisations like B’Opera so they are available still for live concerts when all of this is over and we can gather to enjoy music together.

Music Book Review

Music Book Review: My Favourite Things

After the rain and storms of the last few days, I ended up reading and singing this book with my children. This book is basically a write up of the words to the song of the same name from the musical The Sound of Music.

I found this book on one of my previous visits to Foyles with my little girl. She was busy playing with the train set there and I had time to browse the shelves. When I was a girl myself I loved The Sound of Music, I still do to be honest! The songs have stayed with me my whole life and I often find myself singing them to the children, especially this one, the fun High on a Hill Lived a Lonely Goatherd and Doh a Deer. So when I saw this book I had to get it for the children.

The song is all about when something bad or scary happens, think of nice things and it will make you feel better. For anyone who doesn’t know the song or musical, the reference to the storms of last week is because in the film there is a thunderstorm. All the children of the house run in to the nanny Maria’s bedroom because they are scared of the storm. She talks to them a little about the storm and then they sing this song together and all feel better about it by the end of it.

When the dog bites,

When the bee stings.

When I’m feeling sad,

I simply remember my favourite thibgs

And then I don’t feel so bad

The book is illustrated by Daniel Roode, each page showing a different line from the song.

The book could be read through, and is a board book so is easy for small hands to turn the pages by themselves, or sung through. The illustrations capture the song beautifully so even your little ones who don’t read words yet, can read and understand the story for themselves. Inevitably I can’t help myself and sing the book to them, and lately my eldest especially has started to sing it to himself and to my youngest too. It’s really lovely watching them read it and sing it together.

Playlists

Counting songs

Music is fantastic for learning. As a student I would often struggle to remember texts I was supposed to learn, and would absolutely not be able to tell you about any of the stuff I learned today; but song lyrics I heard in my teenage years, even younger, can flood back in an instant as soon as I hear the music. For young children, too, music can help them learn things far quicker than many other methods. So for today, here are 9 songs to help your little ones learn to count.

There are a number of similar features with them all. They are all nursery rhymes, or songs for children. They are all very repetitive – that is how children learn, they become more and more familiar with the musical, rhythmic and lyric patterns they hear and that is how the information is learned. It is all about the repetition. So even if it drives you absolutely mad, keep playing and singing these songs with your children and they will be counting away before you know it. Maybe backwards, but it still counts!

Each of these songs I have sung with my children, often while they are in the bath – many of the songs have an aquatic theme anyway. The children now sing them back to us regularly. They are both very good with numbers, and while I know in my heart of hearts that it is largely Numberblocks on CBeebies that has developed their mathematical abilities, I do think that these songs helped build the foundations of that interest they have in numbers.

1 2 3 4 5 Once I caught a fish alive

A song about a fish who grabs hold of a finger, and sneaks in practice at counting from 1-5 and 6-10.

5 Little Speckled Frogs

This song is about frogs sat on a log who eat delicious grubs before they jump into a pool. Full of lovely rhyming words that develop their language skills as well as a countdown from 5-1, the first verse starts with 5 frogs, the second with 4 etc through to there being just one frog left on the log.

10 Green Bottles

10 Green Bottles is actually a great song to sing in the bath. We would line toys up along the side of the bath and when each bottle accidentally fell, a toy would be pushed into the bath accompanied by squeals of delight. It quickly became a favourite bath time song.

5 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed

This song works in a similar way to the 5 Little Speckled Frogs, but with the added joy of involving jumping on the bed. So of course my own little cheeky monkeys love to sing this song while jumping on, and off, the bed!

10 Fat Sausages

Sausages sizzling in a pan, one goes pop and the other goes down. In this song you learn counting down in twos, and there are some fun sound effects that little children love – each time a sausage goes pop I make a popping sound with my cheek, and then clap my hands for the bang sound. very small children can join in at least with the clapping sounds, and they hear you counting down the sausages from 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 then no fat sausages.

1-2 Knock on my Shoe

There are lots of lovely rhyming words in this children’s song that I remember singing with my mum. There is plenty of scope to join in with actions to the song.

The Ants Go Marching

Counting and marching around the room in this song, so you can get some counting practice in and get your little ones to burn off some energy! What is not to like!

5 Little Ducks Went Swimming One Day

Another song that is perfect for bath time, this time playing with rubber ducks. It is a song that, in addition to offering some counting and number practice, can help your little ones develop the concept of object permanence as you can hide the rubber ducks behind yours or their backs when they go off swimming and one doesn’t return at the end of each verse, and then bring them all out from their hiding place at the end of the song.

There Were 10 in the Bed and the Little One Said

Another song in the tradition of 10 Green Bottles, you count down from 10-1 as you go through the song. Again the song lends itself to fun action as you roll your child over singing this song getting them to play the role of the Little One.