Homemade Instruments

Baker Ross DIY Castanets Kit

I love a Baker Ross craft kit to do with my children. I often get one or two of their kits to do over the holidays. Usually things like sticker scene kits (there’s some nice nativity scene sticker kits available), suncatcher kits or even paint your ow ceramics that we have done for gifts for relatives. A couple of months ago I saw that Baker Ross did a few DIY musical instrument kits, and so of course we had to give them a go.

I have previously made one of their tambourine kits, and you can read about how I got on with that here.

Fore more information on how to play castanets, click here.

These kits are generally easy to use, and mostly involve decorating the instruments you are making. Be warned that they don’t actually come with any instructions, just the picture on the front, so you do have t do a little working out of how to put them together once the children have finished painting them. Luckily, you have my blog post here to read through and can avoid making the same mistake I made at first (I shall come to that a little later in this post)!The other thing that you should be aware of is that the bag the castanets come in contains a little packet of silica gel. You will need to make sure that your children don’t get hold of this packet and that you throw it away as soon as you spot it.

The kit contains all you will need to make 3 castanets. No decorating materials are included, so you and your children can choose whatever you want to decorate them with. I went with some Scola Artmix paint that I have at home. I bought a set of about 9 paints something like 3 years ago, and we have used them a lot. Especially when both children were at home all the time last year. I am only just getting to the point where I will need to replace some of the bottles of paint now.

As the castanets are made of wood, they are very porous and need several coats of paint to give them a vibrant colour. I painted 3 coats of the green paint on my castanet top and bottom before adding the blue and red pattern on top, and the pattern needed a couple of coats on it as well. I went for a spotty pattern on one side and, as you will see from the short video at the end of this post, a hearts pattern on the other side.

The kit comes with three different coloured lengths of elastic to tie the 2 side of the castanet together, and a small wooden ball that goes inside for the top of the castanet to click onto, to make the instrument’s sound. You could tie the 2 halves together without it, but it would be much harder to play the castanet without it.

Now, this is where my mistake with this kit comes in. Once I had painted the 2 halves of the castanet and let them dry, I threaded the elastic through the pre-drilled holes in the top half and then picked up the little wooden ball, thinking I would thread the elastic through that before attaching the bottom half. There was no hole in the wooden ball, and then I noticed that there were 3 pieces in the kit that had an extra pre-drilled wooden hole in them. This is actually where the wooden ball is meant to go! Push the ball into this separate hole and it fits nice and snug.

So, I quickly painted the actual bottom half green to match the top, and now I have 2 of them. It’s a good job they come in a pack of 3!

I then threaded the elastic through the bottom half of the castanet, pulled the elastic tight and tied it with a double knot so that the knot was underneath the castanet. You could tie it so that the knot is inside the castanet if you prefer to make it look a little neater, but I am not sure it makes much difference to the sound, and might prevent you from getting the elastic pulled as tight as you need it to be.

There are different ways to play the castanets, here are 3 suggestions (using another castanet).

And here you have a timelapse video of me making the castanet and showing you how to put it together:

I bought this Baker Ross craft kit direct from Baker Ross and at time of writing this post it costs £4.50 for a pack of 3 (there is an offer on, and the kit is priced down from the usual £6.95). You can have a look at the Baker Ross website and the range of DIY instruments they have here.

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

Playlists

Black History Month – Composers

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

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

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

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

Classical Music

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

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

Romantic Music

George Bridgetower (1788-1860)

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

Francis Johnson (1792-1844)

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

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875 – 1912)

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

Early 20th Century

Scott Joplin (1868-1917)

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

Florence Price (1887-1953)

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

Late 20th Century

Duke Ellington (1899-1974)

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

Margaret Bonds (1913 – 1972)

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

George Walker (1922 – 2018)

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

Miles Davis (1926-1991)

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

Nina Simone (1933-2003)

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

Composing and performing today

Eleanor Alberga (1949 – present)

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

Errollyn Wallen (1958 – present)

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

Concerto starts approx 16 mins into recording

YolanDa Brown (1982 – present)

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

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

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

Ayanna Witter-Johnson (1986 – present)

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

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

Spotify Playlist

Music Book Review

Music Book Review: Wheels on the Bus from Cocomelon

You will almost certainly have heard of Cocomelon if you have a child under 5, as they have been all over YouTube for a long time. We have been watching Cocomelon songs on YouTube for years. In fact, I have linked to several Cocomelon songs on my playlists in the past.

I like Cocomelon videos for my children because they are animated versions of children’s nursery rhymes. They largely use the tune and words that I know and sing with the children, and they aren’t too annoying. Now my children are older and it’s all about Ryan, Lol Surprise dolls and Minecraft, I almost miss the time when they could watch Cocomelon songs for ages while I made dinner, or just caught my breath. Even though at the time, 5 or 10 minutes of it could feel like about 10 hours.

So when I saw that Cocomelon had released a picture book of one of my children’s favourite songs, The Wheels on the Bus, I couldn’t resist it.

This is a picture book for young readers. It is a board book, so stands up well to young children’s explorations. Young children are not necessarily the most gentle readers – everything goes into their mouths, books are dropped, pulled and sometimes chucked across a room or into boxes, so they need to be quite robust.

I would say that this is a book for babies and toddlers if you are reading it to them – it is literally the words of the song with illustrations, so there is not much to the book to interest older children unless they are starting to learn to read for themselves where this would be a good book for them. The words would be familiar, and simple for new readers to follow along and attempt to read for themselves.

I do like these song books. Children love singing along to their favourite songs, and their parents and caregivers singing songs with and for them. As far as babies and young children are concerned, their care givers’ voices are simply the most wonderful sounding voices in the world! They also love snuggling up together with their loved ones to read a book. So this book perfectly combines the two.

The illustrations in the book are taken directly from the YouTube (now CBeebies series as well) video for the same song. They show the actions taken in the video for each of the verses – rolling hands and wrists round each other, for the wheels on the bus going round and round, a mummy saying ssh, ssh, ssh and so on. There are some colourful musical notes decorating each page as well. It is a short, and brightly colourful book that will appeal to children and they will really enjoy reading this book with you.

My only real gripe with the book, and it is simply because this is what is sung in the Cocomelon version of this song, is that each verse says that The wheels on the bus go round and round all through the town, instead of all day long. I am sure my children don’t care whether we sing either version of the son, they just like to sing it! And yes, we generally sing through the book rather than read it.

I bought this cute book from Amazon, and at the time of writing it costs £5.39. You can have a look for yourself by following this link.

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 Products Reviewed

Music Product Review: Kazoo that Tune game

I was having a bit of a browse on Amazon the other day looking for ideas for Christmas for my children (I know, far too early, but then there’s all this talk of supply chain shortages and my children’s expectations of Father Christmas getting them something they want), and I came across this game. I thought it looked fun and wanted to give it a go.

The game is called Kazoo that Tune, and the box contains everything you need to play the game. There is a set of 4 kazoos, a little sand timer to time your go in the game and a couple of sets of cards with song titles on them.

To play the game you play in teams of 2. One player from the team takes a card from the pile. On each card are two options of songs, one easier to play on the kazoo than the other. Players have a short time (as the timer runs out) to play the tune on the kazoo, and their team member has to guess what song they are playing before the timer runs out – it sounds easier than it is! The team with the most points wins the game.

I don’t know if you have ever played a kazoo, but they are very easy to play. You sort of hum down the kazoo rather than try to blow down it or anything.

So, we had a bit of a go with the family, but the game wasn’t really intended to play with a 4 and 7 year old. My husband and I played it later on after the children went to bed, and it was a fun game. We sort of felt like we were on Never Mind the Buzzcocks (am I giving my age away here?)

I bought Kazoo that Tune from Amazon, and at the time of writing this post it costs £9.10.

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

Music at home

Singing songs in rounds – a fun way to introduce harmony to your children

What is harmony?

In the dictionary, the term harmony is defined as

The combination of simultaneously sounded musical notes to produce a pleasing affect.

Any piece of music has a melody – a main line within the music that you can identify as the main tune of the piece. And that melody can be separated out to be played by itself. A composer will add in other lines of music, other notes or phrases around the melody line, that make the music more interesting. These extra lines of music can make the piece more interesting, more beautiful, give it more depth.

If you have looked at TikTok, even in passing, recently you will probably have noticed that a lot of people are taking part in a harmony building challenge based on the Mika song Grace Kelly. People taking part in this challenge start singing the different lines of harmony from the song, adding one layer at a time until they end with the main melody of the song. Here’s one example:

https://vm.tiktok.com/ZM845dBTv/

When you are just starting out singing in harmony achieving something like the harmony building in the Grace Kelly song can be quite difficult. There are lots of different tunes to learn to sing, and it is hard to learn how to hear the different parts and continue singing your own tune without becoming distracted.

Well, learning to sing songs in rounds can help to start you off on learning to sing in harmony.

What are songs in rounds?

Rounds are simple songs, often songs you already know very well. They are short and repetitive, and they use just one melody. Everyone singing a round will sing exactly the same thing, so there is just one tune to learn. Hurrah!

To make it into a round you need more than one person (it can be as many people as you like), and one person will start singing the song and the next person to join in will start singing the exact same song as the first person reaches the end of a phrase, or line of the song.

So how do I do this?

To demonstrate how to sing in a round, I will use a very simple song, Row, Row, Row Your Boat. Firstly you need to learn the tune for the song:

So, the first person will start singing the words

Row, row, row your boat

Person 2 will start singing at the end of this first phrase with exactly the same words and melody. Both people will continue singing to the end of the song. If we wrote down what they were singing and when, it might look a bit like this:

It might sound a bit like this:

And you can add in more people, singing the same melody and words, as many as you like. You can keep going with the song as long as you like. It is entirely up to you. Your singing doesn’t have to be perfect (as you can tell from my excerpt), you don’t have to be entirely in sync with each other. The only thing that matters is that you have a go, and enjoy yourselves singing together!

I have given you one option as to where, but in this piece there are actually up to 4 places that people can join into the round. It might sound a bit like this:

Give me some examples

So, what songs can you sing as a round? Obviously Row, Row, Row Your Boat as you can see from the examples above. But there are some other really simple children’s songs you can try as well.

London’s Burning
Frere Jacques

Kookaburra Sits In The Old Gum Tree, The Farmer In The Dell and Three Blind Mice work very well too; and there are lots of other songs that lend themselves to being sung in rounds, but give these ones a go with your family first. You will be feeling like the Von Trapp family in no time at all!

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!!

Learning a Musical Instrument

About practice

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

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

Why do you need to practice?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are the benefits of music practice?

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

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

Parents’ role in practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

I loved how you played that piece both loud and quiet

I liked the section with the short, spiky notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Music Book Review

Music Book Review: The Bear and the Piano

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instrumental Facts

Interesting facts about the violin you need to know

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

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

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

Music Book Review

Music Book Review: Jazz Baby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Playlists

An Introduction to Late Romantic Music – a Playlist

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nikolai Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov

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

Sir Edward William Elgar

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

Frederick Theodore Albert Delius

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

Claude Debussy

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

Bedrich Smetana

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

Ralph Vaughan-Williams

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

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

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

Sergei Vasilyevich Rachmaninoff

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

Gustav Theodore Holst

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

Maurice Ravel

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

Scott Joplin

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

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

Spotify Playlist

Homemade Instruments

DIY Bottle Top Wind Chime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Music Book Review

Product Review: Music Instruments Colouring Book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homemade Instruments

Baker Ross DIY Tambourine Kit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All that was left was to play it.

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

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

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

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

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

Instrument spotlight

Spotlight on Rainsticks

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

What is a rainstick?

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

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

How do you play a rainstick?

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

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

Rainsticks and young children

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instrument spotlight

Spotlight on Handbells

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

What is a handbell?

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

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

How do you play handbells?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Handbells and babies/toddlers

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

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

Music Book Review

Music Book Review: The Story Orchestra – Swan Lake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Music Book Review

Music Book Review: Giraffes Can’t Dance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instrument spotlight

Spotlight on Triangle

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

What is a Triangle?

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

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

How to Play the Triangle

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

So what would you do with the triangle at home?

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

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

Another way of playing the triangle:

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

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

Playlists

An Introduction to Early Romantic Music – a Playlist

What Is Romantic Music?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

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

Nutcracker Suite
1812 Overture
Swan Lake

Willhelm Richard Wagner

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

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

Ride of the Valkyries

Johannes Brahms

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

Hungarian Dance, No 5
Lullaby

Hector Berlioz

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

Clara Schumann

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

Modest Mussorgsky

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

Night on Bald Mountain
Pictures at an Exhibition

George Bridgetower

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

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

Spotify Playlist

Playlists

An Introduction to Classical Music – Playlist

What Is Classical Music?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mozart

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

Beethoven

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

Haydn

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

Gluck

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

Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges

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

CPE Bach

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

Spotify Playlist

Homemade Instruments

DIY Windchime with bells

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

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

For this very simple wind chime I used the following:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parents’ Involvement in Children’s Musical Life

Should I Play Just Nursery Rhymes For My Young Children?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Music 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.

Playlists

Classical Music For Christmas

I have shared some playlists of my favourite Christmas Carols and Christmas Songs in the last couple of weeks, but for today I thought I would share some rather lovely pieces of classical music on a Christmas theme (I use the term classical to refer to music that is not pop or folk music, not just music from the classical period). These will be really nice works to listen to with your children while you are doing other things like making or writing Christmas cards, or doing a bit of festive baking, or maybe while you are having dinner one evening. Perhaps get out your sleighbells, tambourines or wooden sticks (wooden spoons would work well for this too), to play along with your little ones.

As usual you could play each of the YouTube videos I have included below, or play the whole playlist from my spotify, a link to which is included below.

For now, and once again with no further commentary, here is my playlist of 8 pieces of classical music for Christmas (and I use the term to refer to non-pop or traditional music, rather than music from the Classical period).

A Ceremony of Carols by Benjamin Britten

Christmas Oratorio by J S Bach

The Nutcracker by Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky

Symphony of Carols by Victor Hely-Hutchinson

L’Enfance du Christ by Hector Berlioz

The Messiah by George Frideric Handel

Christmas Concerto by Arcangelo Corelli

Leroy Anderson Sleigh Ride

Spotify Playlist

Playlists · Themed Music

My Favourite Christmas Carols

I love Christmas. I love everything about it. I love the lights and the decorations. I love the mulled wine. I love to see presents under the tree (although these days if any presents are left under the tree any time before the children are in bed on Christmas Eve, they will get opened no matter who the presents are intended for). There’s Christmas films to watch and an excitable air around the house. I have two small children at home and this will most likely be the first year my youngest really knows what Christmas is rather than just being swept up in my eldest’s excitement; it may also be the last year that my eldest believes in Father Christmas. So despite everything that is going on in the UK, and indeed in the world at the moment, we will still have a really lovely, exciting festive period, albeit a very different and far more homebound experience.

Of course for me as a musician, music is a massive part of the festive period. As a child at school and a music student at University I sang in the choir. Christmas and the Christmas Carol Service at school was the best time of year to be in the school choir. Then as an adult working in music venues, we would hear all of these songs every single day, and every single night, for about 2 weeks straight. And yes, I was slightly sick of them by the end of the festive period, but never for long.

There are so many Christmas carols and songs, and pieces of classical music to listen to at this time of year, but offered below for yours and your little ones’ enjoyment, and with no further commentary, are 10 of my favourite Christmas Carols (my favourite Christmas songs will follow on another day). You can watch them on YouTube as you go through this list, or listen to them using my spotify playlist which you will find at the bottom of the blog post. I hope you enjoy this playlist and I would love to hear what your favourite Christmas Carols are.

Silent Night

O Little Town of Bethlehem

Once in Royal David’s City

Coventry Carol

In the Bleak Midwinter

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

In Dulci Jubilo

Away In A Manger

Carol of the Bells

Spotify Playlist

Music Book Review

Music Book Review: The Twelve Days of Christmas, or Grandma is Overly Generous by Alex T Smith

This month’s Music Book Review had to be a Christmas book. Last year I reviewed the 12 Engines of Christmas, a Thomas the Tank Engine version of this festive favourite song, and this year I have found another brilliant book version of this song. To be honest, we have at least 3 book versions of this song that I can immediately think of, and I can never resist singing the book to and with the children rather than just read it with them.

The Twelve Days of Christmas, or Grandma is Overly Generous is written and illustrated by Alex T Smith.

The Song

The Twelve Days of Christmas, as well as being a favourite Christmas song, is a cumulative song. What on earth are cumulative songs? They are ones that exercise your memory, each verse building on the last one. You have to remember and sing the words from the previous verse before singing the next one.

No one really knows where the song comes from originally, but many think it may be French, and have come from a children’s memory game – like the game we often try to play in our car on long journeys where you go to the shops and each person buys more and more things each turn. I say try to play it, as with a 7 and 4 year old, the game is never very successful! In any case, the first written record of The Twelve Days of Christmas comes from a children’s book called Mirth Without Mischief published in 1780.

There are many different versions of The Twelve Days of Christmas, all with slightly different words, different gifts, and some versions have just 10 days rather than 12. The most well known version, and the one I know, comes from an arrangement of a traditional English folk melody written by Frederic Austin in the early 20th Century.

When are the 12 Days of Christmas?

The 12 days of Christmas run from Christmas Day on 25 December until 6 January. In the story of the nativity, the 12 days of Christmas go from the day Jesus Christ is born, until the visit of the Three Wise Men. I am not sure what the traditions are where you are reading this, but in the UK it is traditional to make sure you have removed your Christmas decorations by the 12th night, I have been brought up to believe that it is bad luck to keep the decorations up beyond 12th night. My husband would take them down on Boxing Day if he thought he could get away with it. He can’t!

Onto the book

Every family has different traditions when it comes to Christmas, and every family has different rules and traditions when it comes to gift giving at Christmas. My family has always been very generous at Christmas, probably especially my mum. So when I saw this book with its sub heading “or Grandma is Overly Generous”, I couldn’t help but smile and had to buy it! I am very glad that I did.

This is a really lovely retelling of the story/song. In this version the gifts come from Grandma rather than a True Love, which is highly appropriate and believable for children, even if some of the gifts themselves test children’s suspension of disbelief.

The book generally sticks pretty faithfully to the words of the original song but with a few notable alterations such as 10 rhinos racing, and the gift on the 12th day, which is probably my favourite given the rest of the song. I won’t spoil the book by telling you what it is here.

The book was written and illustrated by Alex T Smith who was the official World Book Day illustrator in 2014. At the end of the book Mr Smith explains that as Frederic Austin arranged the song with the tune it is now known for in the Edwardian period of UK history, he decided to set the book (and his illustrations) in this period. He has tried to be faithful to the fashions of the time in his beautiful illustrations.

I think the details I like best in here are the postmarks for each parcel, which give just a little hint of what that day’s new gift might be before you turn over and find out for yourself.

This is one of my favourite retellings of one of my favourite Christmas songs. It is definitely written with children in mind, given that it is Grandma rather than a True Love who is giving the gifts, but I don’t think there is really an age limit either upper or lower, for enjoying this book. Especially if you sing it together rather than just read it!

At the time of writing this review the book was available on Amazon priced at £6.84 (down from £9.99).

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.