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 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!

Music Book Review

Music Book Review: The 12 Engines of Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instrument spotlight

Spotlight on Sensory Scarves

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

What are sensory scarves?

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

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

How to use Sensory Scarves

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

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

Musical Play with Sensory Scarves

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

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

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

Instrument spotlight

Spotlight on Sleigh Bells / Jingle Bells

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

What are Sleigh Bells?

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

How do you Play Sleigh Bells?

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

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

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

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

Sleigh Bells and Small Children

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

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

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

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

Playlists

Classical Music for Halloween

Photo by Gabby K on Pexels.com

I made some suggestions of songs that could feature on a Halloween playlist in a previous blog post, but it is not just pop songs/soundtracks that are appropriate for the spooky season. While we may or may not play these works at our Halloween party I will certainly be playing this music over the half term break while we are doing Halloween crafts and playing Halloween games. The link to the spotify playlist to listen to all of these suggestions together is at the end of this playlist.

Night on a Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorsky arranged by Rimsky-Korsakov

Written originally by the composer Mussorsky when he was a young man, it is the version of this piece that was arranged by his contemporary Rimsky-Korsakov that has become famous and that is included in this playlist.

Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saens

Danse Macabre, or Dance of Death is a tone poem (an orchestral work that paints a picture inspired by a work of fiction, poetry, or art) written in 1874. According to legend Death appears each year at midnight on Halloween. Death then calls the dead from their graves to dance for him while he plays his fiddle (violin). This piece begins with a harp playing a single note 12 times (midnight) before the orchestra starts playing its dances. This is a piece that always sounds rather mischievous to me.

O Fortuna from Carmina Burana by Carl Orff

The Carmina Burana are a set of over 200 poems and dramatic texts from the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries. In the 20th century based on 24 of the poems. They discuss issues such as the fickleness of fortune and wealth, and the perils of greed and gluttony to name a few of the themes of this work. O Fortuna begins and ends the work. I love Carmina Burana, and one of my favourite memories of this piece is playing percussion for a performance in Sheffield Cathedral in my final year at University. It was such a fun piece to play!

Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by J S Bach

One of the most famous pieces of organ music, composed by Bach. The piece starts with the Toccata section, which is composed as a virtuosic piece of music – or as a piece of music designed to show off the skill of the performer. The fugue follows. A fugue is a piece of music that has two themes that follow one another, almost like they are chasing each other. This is a very dramatic piece of music, the loud opening on the organ lending it a rather spooky atmosphere.

In the Hall of the Mountain King by Edvard Grieg

Composed originally to accompany Henrick Ibsen’s play Peer Gynt, In the Hall of the Mountain King later formed part of Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite. It is a dreamlike, some would say nightmarish, fantasy piece of music from a story about trolls, goblins and gnomes. What could fit Halloween better than that?

Totentanz by Franz Liszt

Translated as Dance of Death, this is an obvious inclusion in a playlist of music to listen to at Halloween.

Third Movement of Piano Sonata no 2 in B flat Minor by Frederick Chopin

The composer Chopin wrote many, many pieces of music for the piano. He is probably mainly known as a composer of beautiful, romantic pieces of music. The second movement (a sonata is written in a number of movements, here 4 movements) is a funeral march and has been performed at many funerals, including Chopin’s own funeral.

War Requiem by Britten

I could have chosen almost any Requiem to include in this playlist. A Requiem Mass is part of a catholic service, a mass for the dead. There are many beautiful, dramatic, wonderful Requiem Masses to listen to, but I am including this one because it has as its subject matter the horrors of war as well. This is the Libera Me. The text is Libera me, Domine, de morte aeterna which means Liberate me, master, from eternal death.

Dies Irae from the Requiem Mass by Verdi

The Dies Irae appears in every Requiem Mass, and translates as the Day of Wrath. This is such a dramatic piece of music. Another that always comes to mind for me from a performance in a cathedral. This time from my school days as a flautist, but I can’t remember where I was. I remember how exhilarating this was to perform, however, especially this part of the Requiem.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Paul Dukas

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a piece of music all about magic. It was written based on a poem of the same name by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The Disney Fantasia version has Mickey Mouse as the apprentice who is tired of having to fetch water himself and who has a go at using magic to get the chores done with unexpected results. I have mentioned Fantasia several times in my playlists, and in fact a couple of the other pieces of music in this playlist featured in the first Fantasia film because it had such a good selection of music, and the cartoons that was made to accompany these pieces of music made the music so much more relevant, affecting and memorable for me as a child watching.

You can listen to the whole of this playlist here:

Instrument spotlight

Spotlight on Mini Tambourines

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

What Is a Tambourine?

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

Spotlight on Tambourine

How Does a Mini Tambourine Differ from a Normal Tambourine?

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

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

How Do You Play a Mini Tambourine?

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

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

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

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

Music Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Playlists

Animals in Children’s Songs

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

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

Animal Fayre

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

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

Old MacDonald Had a Farm

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

Who’s at the Door from Tee and Mo

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

How Much is That Doggy in the Window

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

How much is that T-Rex in the window?

(roar, roar)

The one with the big, shiny teeth

BINGO

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

There was a Farmer and his dog

And Bingo was his name, oh

B-I-N-G-O

B-I-N-G-O

B-I-N-G-O

And Bingo was his name, oh

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

The Ants Go Marching Two by Two

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

Baa Baa Black Sheep

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

Hickory Dickory Dock

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

Cat Came Fiddling out of the Barn

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

Incy Wincy Spider

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

Hey Diddle Diddle the Cat and the Fiddle

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

Playlists · Themed Music

Classical Music for Autumn/Fall Playlist

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

The Four Seasons – Autumn by Antonio Vivaldi

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

Das Jahr by Fanny Mendelssohn

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

The Fall of the Leaf by Imogen Holst

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

Music for Rainy Weather

Folk Songs of the Four Seasons by Ralph Vaughan Williams

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

Shaker Loops by John Adams

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

9 Songs for Summer

Autumn Gardens by Einojuhani Rautavaara

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

String Quartet no 15 by Ludwig van Beethoven

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

Playlist

Playlists

Songs for Halloween

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

Monster Mash by Bobby “Boris” Pickett

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

Thriller by Michael Jackson

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

Ghostbusters by Ray Parker Jr

Who are you going to call?

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

Harry Potter Theme Tune by John Williams

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

Somebody’s Watching Me by Rockwell

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

The Adams Family

They’re creepy and they’re kooky

Mysterious and spooky

They’re altogether ooky

The Adams Family

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

Vampirina Theme Tune

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

Halloween Sharks by Pink Fong

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

Ukulele Challenge

Ukulele Challenge Update Weeks 5-7

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

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

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

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

Homemade Instruments

Making DIY Castanets

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

What is a castanet?

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

How to play the castanets

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

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

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

Making your own castanets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instrument spotlight

Spotlight on glockenspiel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instrument spotlight

Spotlight on tambourine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Music Book Review

Music Book Review: Debi Gilori’s Nursery Rhymes

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

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

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

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

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

Music Book Review

Music Book Review: Usborne Listen and Learn Musical Instruments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Music Book Review

Music Book Review: Baby’s Bedtime Music Book

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

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

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

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

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

Playlists

Music to burn off some energy

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

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

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

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

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

Hokey Cokey

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

Jump Around by House of Pain

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

Superman by Black Lace

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

Happy by Pharrell Williams

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

Ring a Ring a Roses

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

Flight of the Bumblebee by Rimsky-Korsakov

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

Agadoo by Black Lace

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

Heads Shoulders Knees and Toes

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

Jumping Up and Down in Muddy Puddles

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

William Tell Overture

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

Gallop Infernal from Orpheus in the Underworld by Offenbach

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

Concerts and Events

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

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

When: Saturday 27 June 2020 10:30

Where: via Crowdcast

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

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

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

Booking tickets and accessing the concert

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

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

Interactive concert

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

Programme

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

Experience of watching concert online

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

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

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

Music Book Review

Music Book Review: My Favourite Things

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

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

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

When the dog bites,

When the bee stings.

When I’m feeling sad,

I simply remember my favourite thibgs

And then I don’t feel so bad

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

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

Playlists

Counting songs

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

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

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

1 2 3 4 5 Once I caught a fish alive

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

5 Little Speckled Frogs

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

10 Green Bottles

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

5 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed

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

10 Fat Sausages

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

1-2 Knock on my Shoe

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

The Ants Go Marching

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

5 Little Ducks Went Swimming One Day

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

There Were 10 in the Bed and the Little One Said

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

Learning a Musical Instrument

Ukulele challenge week 1

We have done the first week of our ukulele challenge, how have we got on?

My son, who is in Year 1, went back to school last week which is why I thought it was a good time to start this challenge- we had to start a new after school routine anyway with needing to make sure the children changed their clothing as soon as they got home etc. That said, it was his first week back at school after several months at home so I was expecting him to be utterly exhausted when he got back, and didn’t want to push it too much.

Last week we managed only two nights of ukulele practice as a result, and as we had my husband’s birthday and Father’s Day this weekend the poor ukulele stayed on its hook then as well. So far this week, though, we have played both nights and I plan to get him to practice again tonight.

My boy has, however, told me both nights this week that he doesn’t want to play ukulele or guitar any more, he wants to play flute (I am a flautist), or piano (we started that last year and it didn’t go too well, so we’ll try piano again once he is more used to playing), even beat boxing! Basically anything new rather than sticking to the instrument I am getting him to play every day!

Undeterred, because I think he will be pleased once he can easily pick up an instrument and play it, and I think it is good to teach him the discipline of practice, we have made some steady progress this week. He is now holding the instrument correctly so that when playing the chords he lets each string sound, whereas before he held it quite flat on his lap and trapped some of the strings, preventing them from sounding. And he has learned the chords of C, A and F.

I am combining teaching my son how to play chords on the ukulele with teaching him some basic music theory- right now I am getting him to practice very simple chord progressions and getting him to change chord on the beat while counting 1,2,3,4 (the pulse) out loud. We have played a fun game of shouting out the number 1 and saying the rest of the numbers more quietly, learning about placing emphasis on the first beat of the bar, and then shouting out the number 1 at the same time as playing the chord.

Yesterday, I got him to strum the chord on the 1st and 3rd beats, again while counting out loud, more practice at feeling the pulse in music, learning that there are stronger and weaker beats in a bar and how to keep playing in time.

As we continue this week I want to add in one more chord, G7, and get to a position where we can strum the chord on every beat of the bar. The plan is that once he has learned how to do that I can teach him how to play Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.

It is lucky that in our situation I can sit down with him to do this every night because that gives him the direction he needs and stops him from getting distracted when he should be practising-something that is so very easy for young children especially. As a child I started learning to play the violin around my son’s age, but never practised so gave up. Then the guitar but never practised, then gave up. Then the flute but rarely practised at first and nearly gave up, and then something changed and flute playing clicked for me.

As a child I wanted to be able to pick up an instrument and play. I’ll be honest, I was a dramatic little girl who wanted to be an actor and I wanted to be able to play something and get applause from my audience -my poor parents!- straight away but of course I lacked the discipline to put in the work. So hopefully by doing this with my son in these early years that discipline will become second nature to him far sooner than it did for me, and he will see the results of putting the time into practising.

That’s the plan anyway!

Playlists

8 Happy Songs

For this week’s playlist, we have a selection of very happy songs, or pieces of music. These are all fun, bubbly, joyful works that will have you up and dancing and maybe even singing or humming along to them. If you ever need a pick me up, these would all be ideal to listen to.

If You’re Happy and You Know It

Probably one of the first songs you will sing with your babies, and probably one of the first they will actually be able to join in with you with the actions, this is a lovely song. The tune is very simple, and has just one verse that repeats throughout the song. Starting with clapping your hands, then stamping your feet you can add any action you like at the end- nod your head, jump up and down, twirl around, kiss your mum/dad/gran. This happy song can get your little one moving around and can help them burn off some energy. You could add some instruments to it as well, for some extra musical fun – If you’re happy and you know it, tap your sticks, bang your drum etc.

H-A-P-P-Y

A song from my childhood, I distinctly remember my mum singing this to me when I was little. It is the theme tune from a sitcom Only When I Laugh that was on when I was young, and while I don’t remember the sitcom much I do remember singing the theme song! Having listened again to it for this blog post I realised how sad and bitter sweet it is in the show’s intro – the main character is trying to convince himself he is happy, rea;;y. However, at the end it is much happier, and so that is what I have included here.

Happy by Pharrell Williams

This song was written for the film Despicable Me 2 by Pharrell Williams. It is, as the name would suggest, a very happy song! With its steady beat it is great for dancing along to, and this is usually the first song I would put on when playing musical statues or musical bumps with my children (games they absolutely adore!)

Get Happy by Harold Arlen with lyrics by Ted Koehler

Get Happy was written in 1930 for the Nine-Fifteen Review. It is, however, known today for Judy Garland’s version of the song. Get Happy is influenced by the African-American Gospel Music Tradition of the same name that referring to the experience in Church or receiving the Holy Spirit. The song asks people to forget their troubles, come on get happy. I love this song!

Don’t Worry, Be Happy by Bobby McFerrin

Written by Bobby McFerrin in the late 1980s, this song was featured in the film Cocktail starting Tom Cruise. Bobby McFerrin was inspired to write the song by seeing an inspirational poster bearing the words “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”. The song is a cappella, which means voice only, there are no additional instruments used. The song’s lyrics speak for themselves!

Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys

This song is quite complex and experimental using unusual instruments such as an Electro-Theramin. The music was composed by Brian Wilson who was inspired to write it by his mother talking to him about dogs barking at some people who had “bad vibrations”; his band mate Mike Love wrote lyrics to the song using good vibrations as inspired by the hippie flower power movement. Even in the title the song suggests happiness!

Gloria by Vivaldi

The Gloria is a sacred work, so written to be sung as part of worship. The words to it are Gloria in excelsis deo, or Glory to God in the Highest. The music for this piece shouts out its praise, almost can’t contain its joy and enthusiasm. This Gloria was featured in the film Shine in the late 1990s which told the story of pianist David Helfgott. Listening to Vivaldi’s Gloria on headphones in the film Helfgott is jumping on a trampoline. That is exactly what this music makes you want to do.

Overture to The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart

I challenge anyone not to find this piece of music absolutely joyful right from the word go. This overture begins a comic opera written in 1786. It is bright, and exuberant. Written in a major key- in Western music major keys are associated with happy music, with a fast tempo, again it is very difficult not to want to dance along.

Music Book Review

Music Book Review: Usborne Peep Inside a Fairy Tale – The Nutcracker

Usborne Books have published a series of books – Peep Inside a Fairy Tale. These books tell the story of famous fairy tales, like The Nutcracker, simply for young children. They are all beautifully illustrated. As they are peep inside books there are little windows throughout the book where you can see through onto other pages, giving hints of what is on the next page, They use doorways, or snowflakes, or little mouse holes to give these little hints of what is on different pages.

The Nutcracker is the story of two children Fritz and Clara playing with their new Christmas presents under the Christmas Tree. Clara’s favourite toy is the Nutcracker, who could crack real nuts with his teeth. She carries on playing with her Nutcracker toy late into the night, and at the stroke of midnight she shrinks to the size of a doll, meets the Nutcracker and they have a series of adventures together.

The Nutcracker has been told countless times, and when I was a child I remember going to see Tchaikovsky’s ballet of The Nutcracker at the Birmingham Hippodrome, and watching it in the Disney film Fantastia. In my memory (though a child’s memory can be fallible) the Nutcracker ballet was on in the theatre every year. It was a feature of every Christmas, much like The Wizard of Oz, or Sound of Music being on every Easter.

This is a really nice version of the story. As mentioned above it is simply written for younger readers, the illustrations are great and tell the story as much as the prose. It is a lift the flap book as well, which again is always a hit with younger children, something that they can do for themselves, and something they can discover for themselves. It is a great introduction to the story, lovely to read at Christmas – or year round frankly; my children seem to like Christmas stories best in May or June!! – and when we are able to go back to the theatre together, this would be a very good introduction for children before they go to see the ballet for the first time.

Music Book Review

Music Book Review: First Book about the Orchestra

I bought this book for my little girl about a year or so ago. She was just over 2 at the time and she really liked just turning pages over. She also LOVED a noisy book, anything with buttons to press! Most of the noisy books in the house at the time had been bought originally for my eldest and he loved to remind her that they were bought for him, so I wanted to get her a noisy book of her very own.

In those days, you know before a global pandemic hit us and you could vary your days with little ones by taking them out of the house, and even to the shops, we liked to go to Foyles in Birmingham. I have taken both of my children there because there is a lovely children’s department that has (had?) a Brio train set for the children to play with while you were browsing. So we went quite regularly. I saw this book there and loved it.

Happily my little girl has also loved this book, and it has proven to be a great book for her to look at independently as well.

Published by Usborne Books, this is a guide to the orchestra. The book goes through the different sections of the orchestra – strings, woodwind, brass, even timpani (large tuned drums), and plays Hungarian Dance no 5 by Brahms. Showing children what those instruments sound like. At the end of the book the whole orchestra is brought together to play a short excerpt of. And the role of the conductor is briefly explained.

There is a round button, clearly marked, on each page to press to play the music, and this is easy even for small hands to press – we have had some noisy books in the past where you have had to press really very hard to get any sound to come out, and the book has quickly been abandoned.

Best of all, because we all know that noisy books can very quickly become a pain, there is an on/off switch at the back of the book for when it just gets a bit too much!

It is a lovely book that I would highly recommend, and a nice way to start introducing orchestral music and the instruments of the orchestra to very young children. Here it is in action:

Learning a Musical Instrument

Ukelele Challenge

Ukelele is a great first instrument for children to learn. It is small, so a good size for small hands, it has 4 strings, so is not overly complicated, it is quite easy to play, and you only have to learn a few chords before you can start to play tunes you know and like. So children can very quickly get into playing “proper music” rather than getting stuck in trying to make a nice sound. They realise they can actually make music themselves, and hopefully then get the bug for learning an instrument before moving on to an instrument that takes more work to master.

Now, of course, as with any instrument, it takes a lot of practice to play ukelele well, and there is so much you can do with it, but it is a great instrument to start developing your child’s interest in creating music for themselves.

I had intended to get my son to learn through the lockdown, but with both children at home all day, and my son getting the majority of the homeschooling attention, my daughter was not having it when I tried to spend time with my son on this.

They have now gone back to school/nursery for a few weeks (who knows how long it will last for), so I have started a new post-school routine with them. We get home and have a bath straight away, and then my son does 10 minutes ukelele practice/playing before he is allowed to play or watch TV.

The new routine started yesterday, and we were practising chord changes from C to F, and a few rhythm games to get him to do the chord changes in time. I am hoping that with 10 minutes every day we will get into a good routine, so that we continue over the summer. If we manage this challenge then he will be playing lots of lovely songs by the end of the summer!

I shall update you on how he gets on with this challenge.

Homemade Instruments · Music at home

Making a DIY hand drum

We made these drums just before half term (which was last week here in Birmingham, UK) on a Saturday morning. I was trying to tempt the children away from the iPad and using screens, and hadn’t yet got them out of their pyjamas – well it’s not like we had anywhere to go to! This was a nice activity that kept them busy for about 20 minutes, decorating and sticking stuff onto their paper and cardboard. As I wanted nice, clean cardboard circles for the drums, I did prepare the circles in advance, but if you are not too bothered about them being exact, it would be great fine motor (pre-writing) scissor skills practice for your children. If I had just my 5 year old with me, I may have been tempted to get him to cut the shapes out for this activity himself.

So, what do you need to make this drum?

  • Some cardboard
  • Some paper
  • A compass, or something round to draw around, we used a roll of masking tape
  • Scissors
  • A pencil
  • A couple of beads
  • Some yarn or string (only a very small amount)
  • Pens, washi tape, stickers, anything you want to use to decorate your drum
  • 1 straw for each drum
  • Glue. We used Pritt stick, but you could use PVA glue, or even hot glue if you are not doing this alongside your children. Mine were helping with the assembly of the drums so I wanted to use something they could both easily use by themselves
  • Hot glue gun (optional)

First of all, I drew around my masking tape roll. You need 2 of these for each drum you make. I made 4 circles because I was making 2 drums, one for each of the children. I then cut out 4 same size circles out of paper.

Once I had my circles all ready, I called the children in to help me put them together. My son had decided he had had enough of helping mummy making these instruments, and definitely did not want to be doing this. He really wanted to be playing on the iPad to be honest and I had said no, so he wasn’t best pleased with me at that moment in time. However, as soon as he saw glue and pens out and realised I was asking him to make something fun he changed his mind.

The children used Pritt Stick to stick the paper circles onto the cardboard circles. My son used felt pens to draw a star on either side of his drum, and my daughter used washi tape to decorate her circles. Interestingly, when we started making things with washi tape astound christmas my daughter, who was 2 at the time, would peel off as much tape as she could and stick it mostly to the table, rather than the paper or card we were using. I noticed with this task that she was much more purposeful with putting the right size tape onto the paper and trying to smooth it flat. She was starting to make much more conscious design decisions than haphazardly placing the tape as she had done only a few months earlier.

While the children were decorating their drums I cut 2 pieces of yarn. I cut about 4 inches. The yarn or string needs to be around 2 inches or more longer than the diameter of your cardboard circle. It will lie across your circle, so that there are 2 lengths of yarn either side that are roughly the same length. This is easiest illustrated with a picture I think!

The children chose 2 beads each, and we threaded them onto each side of the yarn.

Next we got a straw, 1 for each drum and flattened the top of it and folded it over slightly. This is the end of the straw that will be sandwiched between the 2 halves of the drum.

To make up each drum, we took 2 circles, liberally glued one half (I used hot glue, so didn’t let the children do this, so the drum would hold together better) and placed the yarn onto the glued circle together with the flattened and folded straw.

I then placed the other half on top, covering the first circle. Then as our beads kept trying to escape from the yarn (thicker yarn or beads with smaller holes, or even better knot tying would possibly resolve this!), I tried to put a little blob of hot glue on either end of the yarn to keep the bead from escaping. I did not do a very good job with this, and got in a bit of a mess with it!

To play the drum, your children (or you) will need to hold the straw in between their palms with the cardboard at the top. They with then twirl the straw around in their palms so that the beads hit the cardboard and make a noise. It is another nice, quiet instrument, but lots of fun. My children have had it out several time since making it. I mentioned above that I didn’t do a great job first time with the hot glue on the end of the yarn – so much so that one of the beads flew off the yarn the first time, so be generous with the glue if you are using it, or tie several really large knots in the yarn/string!!

Homemade Instruments

Making a DIY cardboard box guitar

Another incredibly simple instrument to have a go at making at home this week. Today we have a box guitar!

Now you can make these guitars as fancy or as plain as you like. We opted for plain so we could get on with using them- the children couldn’t wait to use them! You can make necks for the out of kitchen roll tubes, or a long, thin box, but essentially they boil down to a cardboard box with some elastic bands around them. That is it!!

We opted for very plain white boxes as I had been sent a lovely Easter gift in the box. It was a great size for my little hands to hold onto as well. I found some different size elastic bands, some thinner than the others, and it so happened that mine were multi-coloured. We stretched the elastic bands to fit the box and I spaced them out on the box so they were roughly equally spaced. You could tape the elastic bands down but I chose not to.

It is a very quiet instrument, but by using different size and thickness elastic bands I could produce slightly different notes or sounds. If I’d had more sizes of elastic bands I could have produced more notes.

For no reason, other than that is what I found and was able to get on the box before one of my children excitedly grabbed it and took it off with them, one box had 4 and one had 5 elastic bands on. As you can see below my children loved them!

My son was so enamoured of his “guitar” that he showed his school friends in his zoom storytime/show and tell. I also had to take it off him before he went to sleep the other night as he had been singing his dinosaurs a lullaby with it.

My daughter found another use for it altogether when she finished her boogieing! I have no idea what the Paw Patrol has done to deserve it?

How does it work?

This instrument works on the same principles as a guitar, or any other plucked stringed instrument. When the string, or here the elastic band, is plucked, it vibrates over the space below it. Here it is the open part of the box, and in a guitar it would be the hole under the string. The vibrations make sound. You can change the sound made by using a different length or thickness elastic band. Shorter elastic bands are pulled more taut on the cardboard box and so they vibrate faster when plucked. The faster an elastic band vibrates, the higher pitch we hear and so different length bands produce higher or lower notes. It would be the same with different thickness of elastic bands with thicker bands vibrating more slowly, producing a lower note.

Music at home

How music has been helping us through homeschool

So it is the end of week 6 of lockdown for us, and the end of the first week that we have had organised home learning from school.

I had thought that it would help us enormously having access to a full timetable of activities from school for my eldest, and his teachers have clearly worked very hard to provide this full timetable of work. Prior to this week I felt that my son needed a little more structure to his days, my ideas of what on earth to do we’re starting to run out, and he was starting to take a long time to get to sleep every day. I thought he needed more mental stimulation.

It has not exactly worked out as I had imagined though. For a number of reasons.

Like many parents of primary aged children, we are grappling with Seesaw. It is brilliant having access to a platform to host these activities, but it has been very hard to work out how to use it. I am not convinced we are doing it right, and my son, my husband and I have all got thoroughly frustrated with it several times this week.

Having a younger sister who has no set homework, is noisy and whose tasks mummy sets her to keep her busy, or plays with her while he is working is very distracting for my poor boy. At times it seems like she has more fun, because she gets to scribble in a colouring book or stick stickers in a book for 10 minutes before she can go back to just playing with her toys. It has been very hard for him to concentrate, and he often has not wanted to sit and concentrate on his school work. It has not helped that it has been harder to get outside this week with the rainy weather.

We started the week with great intentions of doing all the English and Maths set work, and probably some of the other stuff set too. By the end of the week, we do a phonics activity and either English or Maths, and sometimes do one of the other set activities, though not every day.

The rest of the time we draw or paint, and of course we have a lot of music at home. So how do we use music at home at the moment?:

  • We are still making DIY instruments, and actually my son in particular is really enjoying this. I’ll write about the DIY guitar we made this week at some point. It’s a creative task, and while the making part is generally quite quick, sometimes the children play with it for a while afterwards. It is something new for them, and passes some time!
  • I am trying to teach my son to play ukelele, and learning it with him. We tried learning the piano at the beginning of the academic year, but it didn’t capture my boy. He is much more willing to give this a go and we have learned a few songs so far. I think the fact that I am learning along with him and playing it with him helps.
  • We sing lots of songs together, they can be as loud as they like when we are singing! And my daughter loves singing away to herself.
  • We get our instruments and either just play anything we want to, play along with some music, or just use them to get some frustration out of our system. It’s fun seeing how loud you can play the instruments! They also, unwittingly, are working on their listening skills when they are trying to play along with some music input on for them.
  • When things have got quite tense and the children have been fighting with each other a lot, I have been known to find a “happy songs” or “children’s party songs” playlist and get them to dance away. Our favourites are musical bumps and statues. The children like the idea of musical chairs but my daughter, who is just 3, doesn’t understand how you play the game at all so it always descends into chaos! They burn off some energy and get to jump around like crazy things.
  • I put music on while my son is supposed to be doing some of his work. We have lots of different styles of music on in the background at different times of the day. The children get to listen to and get exposed to many different sorts of music, some they are familiar with and some not so familiar with. I will write more about this, and why it is so good for children another day, but I am hoping it will develop their love of and appreciation for music in the future.
  • When my temper is fraying (and oh my goodness, my patience has been tested on at least a daily basis by us all being together all the time), pretending I am in a musical or opera, and singing to them instead of talking (shouting!) has helped enormously, and I have just about managed to control my temper. Other days I have to walk out the room for 5 minutes…

Do you use music with your homeschooling or to help you cope with lockdown? What do you do and how do you find it helps you?