Playlists

Black History Month – Composers

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

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

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

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

Classical Music

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

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

Romantic Music

George Bridgetower (1788-1860)

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

Francis Johnson (1792-1844)

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

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875 – 1912)

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

Early 20th Century

Scott Joplin (1868-1917)

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

Florence Price (1887-1953)

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

Late 20th Century

Duke Ellington (1899-1974)

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

Margaret Bonds (1913 – 1972)

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

George Walker (1922 – 2018)

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

Miles Davis (1926-1991)

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

Nina Simone (1933-2003)

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

Composing and performing today

Eleanor Alberga (1949 – present)

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

Errollyn Wallen (1958 – present)

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

Concerto starts approx 16 mins into recording

YolanDa Brown (1982 – present)

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

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

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

Ayanna Witter-Johnson (1986 – present)

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

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

Spotify Playlist

Music at home

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

What is harmony?

In the dictionary, the term harmony is defined as

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are songs in rounds?

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

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

So how do I do this?

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

So, the first person will start singing the words

Row, row, row your boat

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

It might sound a bit like this:

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

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

Give me some examples

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

London’s Burning
Frere Jacques

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

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

Learning a Musical Instrument

About practice

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

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

Why do you need to practice?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are the benefits of music practice?

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

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

Parents’ role in practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

I loved how you played that piece both loud and quiet

I liked the section with the short, spiky notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instrumental Facts

Interesting facts about the violin you need to know

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

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

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

Music Book Review

Music Book Review: I Spy Music Instruments

This month’s Music Book Review is one aimed squarely at very young children whose parents want to introduce them to the names of musical instruments. The blurb on the back of the book says that it contains 20 puzzles with over 100 cool illustrations from A-Z.

I am not entirely sure what I expected when I bought this book- a lockdown purchase over the internet, so I didn’t look through it before I bought it – but I am not convinced that this was it.

The book does what it says on the tin really. You know the game I Spy, it goes along the lines of: I spy with my little eye, something beginning with….. and you say a letter. We have played this game with my eldest to pass the time especially on car trips, with my youngest valiantly trying to join in even though she was just 2 at the time. It’s a great game so I do understand why it is a good premise for a book like this.

There are 20 of the I spy puzzles – one for every letter of the alphabet. Some are combined into one puzzle on one page, others have their own page. Each puzzle has a question page where the author asks “I SPY [sic] with my little eye something beginning with….” and gives the letter(s) for that page. Then there are illustrations of various instruments including one beginning with the correct letter underneath:

You turn the page for the correct answer to the “puzzle”:

I mentioned above that there is an I SPY for every letter of the alphabet. To find instruments that start with every letter there are some more unusual instruments (to Western eyes) included. I did like this aspect of the book, but I couldn’t tell my children anything about some of them. I could guess if they were wind or string instruments from the picture but that was about it; where were the instruments from, what sort of music are they played in?

Of course there were plenty of more familiar instruments included.

Generally I thought the book was OK. I felt it missed a bit of a trick I thought in not giving any information about the instruments at all. I think if you are buying a book like this then you are probably interested in music and your children are, or you want them to be. Unsurprisingly a main feature of a musical instrument is what it sounds like, so why not give us at least a little bit of basic information about the instrument we have just “spotted” by telling us where the instrument is from? Is it played in a band, a group, solo? Is it a folk instrument? Anything.

We bought this book for £6.59 from Amazon, so it wasn’t an expensive book. It is aimed at very young children, it does get them looking at musical instruments and learning their names. So it is good for a first introduction to this subject in many ways. However, I personally think there are books that do this in a better way, they cost more, but at least let you hear what the instrument sounds like.

Music Book Review: Welcome to the Symphony

Music Book Review: Usborne Listen and Learn Musical Instruments

Music games to play at home

Call And Response Games To Play With Your Children

Hello everyone. How are you all doing? I have my two children at home with me and am trying to homeschool them both. My children are 3 and 6. My eldest has lessons set by school (they are mercifully good at telling everyone to only do what they can and that they don’t expect everyone to do all the work set: some days we do it all, some days we barely scrape through 2 classes.) My daughter has activities set by school as she is in preschool 3 days per week. She could be in school given her age. We all got coronavirus over Christmas, with my son getting it at New Year, so we assumed our 3 year old had it too and kept her home. She went to school for 1.5 days after the contagious period was over, and came home with a stomach bug. Then one of her teachers tested positive and the whole year groups had to self-isolate.

This is a rather long winded way to say that life is pretty challenging at the moment, as it is with pretty much everyone, and I am struggling to find any time at all to write on here.

For today I wanted to write a quick blog post about a nice and easy call and response game I played with the children at home yesterday using our drum. This game can be played with any instrument, or even a plastic bowl and wooden spoon.

Call and response games are great for developing:

  • Listening skills
  • Patience
  • Turn taking
  • Imitation skills

They simply involve you playing (or singing) a very short phrase and getting your children to copy you when you have finished. They should play exactly the same phrase back to you.

These games are great for helping your children start to understand rhythm, develop a sense of playing to the beat and, as an added bonus, can help your children with counting skills! Who wouldn’t want to play them?

We started our game with playing just 4 beats and counting them out loud. My 3 year old didn’t always manage to beat the drum on all four beats, but both children played/counted out on the beat.

I started to add in more complicated rhythms for them to copy, and for each round of the game the rhythm became more complicated. You can use any rhythm that comes into your head for this- think about songs you like, tv theme tunes etc and use the main melody to beat the drum to that melody.

My 6 year old managed more complicated rhythms than his younger sister, which is to be expected, but both had fun playing the drum and making lots of noise. They used up a bit of energy as well with this game-always a winner when stuck at home in lockdown!

Homemade Instruments

DIY Slide Whistle

I currently have both children at home given the situation in the UK at the moment. My eldest is set work from school which occupies him (and me with cajoling him to get back to it and helping him understand what he is supposed to be doing), but not the whole day. So we are back to trying to find things to do to pass the time- their baths get earlier and earlier!!

I was looking at Pinterest the other day and came across a post from DadLab looking at the science of sound. You can find the post I saw here.

This immediately appealed to me because my boy loves science and it’s another route into getting him interested in music and making music. Long term readers will also know that we love making DIY musical instruments and this fitted beautifully with that as the sounds made we’re just like a slide whistle.

A slide whistle looks like a recorder, but it has a thin pole that goes through the middle of it. To play the slide whistle you blow into the mouthpiece and move the metal pole up and down. This changes the pitch that is played, like this

Now, the DadLab video is pretty self explanatory about how to make this whistle, but here is a step by step guide. To make the DIY slide whistle you will need:

  • A straw, more than one if there are a few of you doing this together.
  • A pair of scissors (a grown up will need to use the scissors for this as it would be extremely difficult to do, if not impossible, with safety scissors)
  • A glass or cup of water, pretty full.

Cut through the straw about 1/4 to 1/3 of the way down the straw. You don’t want to cut all the way through, leave about 1/4 of the straw still attached.

Put the straw into your glass of water. The cut part of the straw should not be submerged into the water. I had quite a full glass of water when I did this with my two. My 3 year old can largely be trusted not to always knock a glass over, but I must admit to hovering right over her when she went anywhere near the glass! You do need plenty of water in the glass/cup to demonstrate the effect, so if your little one is very clumsy (that would be me still!) then perhaps you should just demonstrate this or use a plastic cup sat in the middle of a tray.

Your straw should bend a little where you have cut it allowing the air to escape. Blow through the straw gently and as you do, listen carefully to hear the pitch change from low to high and back again just like a slide whistle.

When my children had a go, they had great fun not only making the sliding sounds but also just blowing bubbles in the water. Our table was quite soggy within a few minutes!! As it was just water that I used it was easy to clean up with a tea towel afterwards.

When playing it we talked about whether the heard a low or high sound when the straw was at the top of the glass or the bottom of the glass.

Sound is made from waves and generally the further a sound wave has to travel, the lower the sound it makes. If the sound wave has a shorter (or thinner) distance to travel, then a higher note is produced. You can see this is musical instruments – a large double bass with very long strings will sound lower than a violin that has shorter strings. So with this slide whistle as the straw is at the top of the glass the air, and so the sound, can travel all the way to the bottom of the glass making a lower sound. When the straw is moved to the bottom of the glass, then the air only has a short distance to travel down the straw, and so it makes a higher sound.

This was a fun experiment, and a very quick and easy DIY instrument to make.

Playlists

My Favourite Christmas Songs

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

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

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

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

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

White Christmas by Irving Berlin

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

Santa Baby by Joan Javits and Philip Springer

Winter Wonderland by Felix Bernard and Richard Bernhard Smith

We Wish You A Merry Christmas (Traditional)

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

Spotify Playlist

Music Book Review

Music Book Review: The 12 Engines of Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instrument spotlight · Ukulele Challenge

Our Ukuleles

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instrument spotlight

Spotlight on Sensory Scarves

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

What are sensory scarves?

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

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

How to use Sensory Scarves

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

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

Musical Play with Sensory Scarves

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

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

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

Instrument spotlight

Spotlight on Sleigh Bells / Jingle Bells

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

What are Sleigh Bells?

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

How do you Play Sleigh Bells?

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

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

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

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

Sleigh Bells and Small Children

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

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

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

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

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:

Reaponses to Music

Learning to Listen to Music: What Does This Music Make You Think Of?

We have music on a lot of the time at home. I love pretty much any music, and my husband particularly loves classical music and jazz. So we have music on when we are cooking, when we are eating, when we are working, when driving the car, when the children are playing….. It is almost always there in the background, like a soundtrack to our lives.

While it is great that my children hear lots of different musical works from different genres, I also want them to be able to properly listen to that music, to properly hear it rather than just use it as a soundtrack, to think about that music, and express their opinion about it: Do they like it? How does the music make them feel? Do they want to dance to it?

To do this, I have tried a number of techniques to get the children to tell me what they think of it, with varying degrees of success. Sometimes, the questions I have asked or the things I have asked them to do have just been way too advanced for them, but my questions sometimes produce some very funny and lovely responses, especially from my son who can go off at a stream of consciousness tangent at the best of times!

When driving the car with the children when they were very small, I would ask the very simple question “do you like this music?” The answer was always yes. I don’t think they were always telling me their actual opinion on whether they liked the music, they were just giving me the answer they thought I wanted. I would answer my own question, and talk a little bit about why I liked a piece of music, or why I was not so keen on that piece of music.

I started putting some music on at the same time as getting paints and paper out at home. I would ask the children to paint something as a response to the music. They would paint exactly what they wanted, and in no way was their painting anything to do with the music. However, they were engaged in relating their pictures to the music being played.

At dinner time I sometimes talk to the children about a piece of music and what it makes me think about: what pictures come to my mind when I hear a piece of music. My husband does the same, he has different pictures in his head when hearing the same piece of music. The music means different things to us both. My children are both asked for their opinions on the music as well – what does the music make them think of? Does it make them imagine a particular scene, or imagine a story? Generally my three year old just shouts out “Peppa Pig” and my son says something about superheroes, or bad guys, whatever he is interested in at that point.

Although their responses are not necessarily about the music they are listening to, what I am doing with this exercise is encouraging the children to develop their own opinions and express those opinions about music. Their opinions and what they want to tell me about it are valid. To show them that music can be a prompt for your imagination, that it can tell you a story, and that it is what the music means for you that is important.

As I said, it can be quite amusing to listen to what my children says the music means to them, and I thought it might be a fun series of blog posts to write, noting down their responses to various pieces of music. To see how their responses develop over time, and whether they start to match the music a little more, rather than just be a stream of consciousness response on the subject of superheroes or Peppa Pig for example. Watch out for it here, and I would love to see the results of you doing this with your children too.

Music Book Review

Music Book Review: Welcome to the Symphony

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

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

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

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

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

Music Book Review: First Book About the Orchestra

There are lovely illustrations with an adorable audience of mice.

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

Music Book Review: Usborne Listen and Learn Musical Instruments

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

Instrument spotlight

Spotlight on Mini Tambourines

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

What Is a Tambourine?

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

Spotlight on Tambourine

How Does a Mini Tambourine Differ from a Normal Tambourine?

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

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

How Do You Play a Mini Tambourine?

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

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

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

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

Instrument spotlight

Spotlight on Wooden Sticks

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

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

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

Learning about musical pulse with wooden sticks

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

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

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

Demonstrating Playing on the Beat

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

Learning Dynamics with Wooden Sticks

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

Playing loud
Playing quietly

Independent Musical Exploration

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

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

Music Book Review

Music Book Review: We’re Going On A Bear Hunt

Ostensibly the book We’re Going On A Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury would not appear to be a book that should be included in a series of reviews of books about music. However, the language in the book, the words used and the poetry of it is musical in itself.

Poetry and music are linked. The most obvious link between poetry and music is in song. Lyrics to songs are poems in their own right. Many composers set poets’ works to music, matching the rhythms of the music to the rhythm of the poem.

Poetry without music has rhythm, it has its own beat and when reading poetry you can feel the beat or pulse of the poem, just as you can with a piece of music. Poetry plays with words and the sounds they make, as music plays with sounds.

We’re Going On A Bear Hunt tells the story of a family who, one day decide to go out for a walk and on that walk they hunt for bears. As they roam, they encounter obstacles such as long grass, or a river or a snowstorm that they have to navigate. As they walk through the long grass it swishes and swashes; they splash and splosh through the river; they squelch and squerch through mud. They explore different natural materials that they have to pass through to go on their bear hunt, and while we know that the family would have experienced the look of the grass, the feel of it, the smell of it, this is evoked for the reader using sound.

Reading this book with my children, we often act it out – we go on a march through the house or in the garden and take plenty of time making and recreating the sounds in the book: swishing and swashing, or squelching and squerching (my children’s favourites!) We think about the sound of the word itself, the rhythm they make. It prompts me to ask the children to listen to the sounds around them: wind in the trees, the sounds of other children in the neighbourhood playing in their gardens, the sound of emergency vehicles at the top of the road (we live very close to a city centre so there are regularly emergency vehicles going past the top of our road).

This is not a book that has music as its subject matter, but it is a very musical book. It is also a fun book, and one we love reading.

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.

Ukulele Challenge

Ukulele Challenge Update Weeks 5-7

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

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

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

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

Playlists

Lullabies I Have Sung To My Children

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

Photo by Rene Asmussen on Pexels.com

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

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

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

Amazing Grace

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

Goodnight Sweetheart by The Spaniels

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

Wiegenlied (or Lullaby) by Johannes Brahms

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

Stay Awake from the film Mary Poppins

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

Go to Sleep from Tee and Mo

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

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

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

Coventry Carol

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

Homemade Instruments

Making DIY Castanets

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

What is a castanet?

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

How to play the castanets

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

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

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

Making your own castanets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instrument spotlight

Spotlight on glockenspiel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ukulele Challenge

Ukulele Challenge Week 3

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

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

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

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

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

Instrument spotlight

Spotlight on tambourine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Music Book Review

Music Book Review: Debi Gilori’s Nursery Rhymes

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

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

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

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

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

Music Book Review

Music Book Review: Usborne Listen and Learn Musical Instruments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Music Book Review

Music Book Review: Baby’s Bedtime Music Book

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

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

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

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

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

Playlists

Music to burn off some energy

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

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

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

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

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

Hokey Cokey

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

Jump Around by House of Pain

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

Superman by Black Lace

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

Happy by Pharrell Williams

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

Ring a Ring a Roses

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

Flight of the Bumblebee by Rimsky-Korsakov

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

Agadoo by Black Lace

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

Heads Shoulders Knees and Toes

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

Jumping Up and Down in Muddy Puddles

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

William Tell Overture

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

Gallop Infernal from Orpheus in the Underworld by Offenbach

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

Concerts and Events

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

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

When: Saturday 27 June 2020 10:30

Where: via Crowdcast

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

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

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

Booking tickets and accessing the concert

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

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

Interactive concert

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

Programme

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

Experience of watching concert online

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

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

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