All Ages Benefit from the Power of Rhythm and Sound
Music evokes emotions, memories and social and spiritual connectedness. It’s the one medium that cuts through boundaries of age, culture, disability and disease. Music helps us express feelings and communicates a sense of safety, security and comfort, especially with young children. Plus, it’s a fun way to learn.
There are endless ways we can bring music into children’s lives, and our own, to enrich overall well-being and quality of life. Let’s begin with pregnancy.
An unborn baby can hear Mother’s heartbeat and the melody of her voice, according to David Chamberlain, Ph.D., author of “The Fetal Senses: A Classical View”. Singing quiet lullabies comforts both and helps form a family bond. Recording these lullabies and playing them at the moment of birth and after birth makes them a familiar environment that helps calm baby. During the birth process, other forms of music help distract the mother from the pain of labor and delivery.
Lullabies for Little Ones
Many lullabies tend to have a tempo similar to a resting human heartbeat, about 60 to 80 beats per minute, advise music therapists. Singing lullabies to children is a way to nurture them and communicate our love. These gentle songs comfort crying babies and help them feel secure when going to sleep.
Incorporating lullabies into a bedtime ritual helps ease the transition at night or nap time. They may help if a child wakes in the middle of the night, has a nightmare or is sleeping away from home. Playing a recording of lullabies only when nursing just before bed is conducive to sleep, as the little one will associate music with bedtime and the comfort of nursing. In my own experience with dozens of mothers, we’ve also discovered that playing the lullabies when weaning creates an association that can even make weaning easier.
Crying is Musical
Crying is the beginning of speech, language and singing. Through crying, we discover our voice and communicate our needs. Like singing, crying has a pitch and continues for a specific length of time. Eventually, cries become vocal sounds, squeals and babbling.
By imitating baby’s vocal sounds, we encourage her to vocalize even more. Before long, we’re having a conversation with our baby in nonsense words. Even very young babies are aware of such communication, which lays the foundation for talking and learning how to have a conversation.
We can also incorporate vocal sounds into familiar songs. Instead of singing the words to a song, sing syllables of ba, da, ma or la. Parents often are surprised to find their baby singing along to the familiar ‘words’. Soon, baby will combine these syllables into real words, able to communicate thoughts and feelings.
Facilitate further language practice with a maturing child by leaving out the last word of a musical phrase to a familiar song; the child will usually fill in the word. Continue doing this until the youngster is singing along with the entire song. The Institute for Music and Neurologic Function notes that music involves both sides of the brain. In an article in Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy, certified music therapist Joanne Loewy explains how music helps develop speech and language.
Drumming for Children
A drumbeat is the human way of imitating the heartbeat. Babies as young as 6 months can play a drum to match the beat of a song, even if only for a few beats. Children at every age love to move to the beat of a drum.
Experiment by using different rhythms and volumes to indicate how to move: fast for running, slow and steady for big steps, soft for tiptoeing, silence for stopping. Or, make some up.
This type of activity helps children develop listening skills, sound discrimination, gross motor skills, and awareness of starting and stopping. With younger children, take turns doing drumming and movement. As children get older, they can become involved in drumming groups, or the family can drum together.
Music for Relaxation
Calm, quiet music helps reduce stress and enhance relaxation. Tune in to relaxing music in the morning to ease the routine, and again at dinnertime, when the family is hungry, tired and stressed after a long day at work or school.
Relaxation music can be used to reduce anxiety prior to surgery, in a medical situation where children feel anxious, or when children have difficulty falling asleep. Some relaxation and guided imagery CDs are made specifically for children.
Music for Education
Songs teach children skills. The song “B-I-N-G-O” can teach a child how to spell their name, by substituting the letters of the child’s name. Children learn the alphabet by singing the “The Alphabet Song”. Anything that needs to be memorized can be put to music, including a home address and phone number.
Learning to play an instrument increases self-esteem, develops fine motor skills and, in the case of brass and wind instruments, oral motor skills as well. Reading music develops reading aptitude, eye-hand coordination and math skills. Playing an instrument enhances social relationships and teaches discipline. Often, children who play an instrument earn better grades and stay in school longer, notes the National Association for Music Education.
Music to Enhance Relationships
Singing or playing music together with family or friends can be a fun way to enjoy being together. For young children, accompany songs with hand motions and movements, perhaps doing the motions hand-in-hand. Youngsters love the physical touch, play, eye contact and, most of all, the love that comes from being with their parents.
As children learn to play instruments, participating in a school band or orchestra, or gathering with friends in a garage band, is a fun and social event. Participating in and attending musical performances create irreplaceable family memories.
Music to Express Emotion
During adolescence, music becomes part of most teens’ identity. Join in by listening to their favorite music. Ask them why a song is important, and pinpoint their favorite lyrics. It’s a way to communicate with a teen and get a sense of things that parents might not know, otherwise. It’s also a great way to talk about values. Adults don’t have to like teens’ music, but do need to be respectful of their taste.
The most important years to involve children in music are from birth to age 10. According to Dr. Robin Brey in Neurology Now, music can help create connections in the brain. Songs the family sings together today will be forever connected with family memories. Playing instruments teaches skills that will be useful throughout a child’s life. Music truly is a gift to a child that keeps on giving.
Jamie Blumenthal has a masters degree, is a board certified music therapist and owns Family Music Connection: North Bay Music Therapy Services in Santa Rosa, CA. Reach her at 707-695-4145 or MusicTherapy@msn.com.