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If you don’t consider yourself ‘musical’, should you still engage musically with your children?
I recently attended a music concert at my daughter’s primary school. During one particularly up-tempo number, I was struck by something that happened. Within seconds of the performance starting, most of the audience were clapping along in time (well, trying to!), despite the fact that nobody had asked them to. I found this intriguing, but as the song ended and the next one commenced, I realised something even more so.
The clapping was being led by the children in the audience. Once they started, it seemed as though it gave permission for the adults to do what they were naturally itching to do; participate in the performance.
I’m fully aware that for a brain that hasn’t been highly trained in music, this wouldn’t have been a noteworthy event. This, perhaps, contributes to the point I’m going to highlight.
It seems as though, somehow, music is ingrained within us.
Throughout my years performing music, teaching music, and creating music, one common theme seems to come up among adults;
“I’ve always wanted to play music, but I’m just not ‘musical’.”
While there’s no doubt that there are those who are naturally gifted in music, the statement of not being able to play music because one isn’t ‘musical’ simply isn’t true. The very adults sitting in that school auditorium, clapping along with the choir, were creating music without ever intending to do so.
Before we can even say our own name, we hit things, clap our hands, and make purposeful, melodic sounds with our voice. The act of creating music is such a fundamental human instinct, that we often do it before we even know how to walk.
If music is so naturally ingrained within us, we can surely conclude that it’s equally as important as other natural abilities, such as walking, standing and speaking. Somehow, music is viewed as an ‘extra curricular’ skill or activity, as opposed to something imperative to our learning and development.
A child who showed no inclination to start walking, despite being at the physical age to do so, would likely be taken to a doctor for assessment. While we can conclude that walking is more important than knowing the words to ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’, being actively encouraged to engage in music could be considered a close second.
According to Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner (1983), music intelligence is equal in importance to mathematical intelligence, linguistic intelligence, spatial intelligence, kinesthetic intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, and intrapersonal intelligence (Levinowitz, 2021).
The simple exposure to differentiating sounds assists with the ear training necessary for speech and communication. For example, our ability to detect someone’s true feelings through their tone comes from being able to, subconsciously, observe and interpret pitch. The simplest way to identify pitch is through frequent exposure to music.
Sound communicates emotion in ways often words can’t. We would be less likely to cry during the sad part of a movie without the carefully curated soundtrack behind it. An orchestra that builds to the apex of a piece of music, surely brings with it a flood of feeling that overcomes the listener in ways they simply cannot describe.
I remember as a child often using the piano to manage and communicate my emotions. Instead of yelling or hitting my brother, I would take myself to the piano and emphatically thump out ‘Tocatta and Fugue in D Minor’. This was always a sure sign to my family that I needed some time out. To this day, as a 33 year old with four young children, I still use music to manage my emotions. As I touch the ivory keys, they seem to absorb my anger, frustration and hurt, and offer peace and calm in exchange.
Parents are often hesitant to engage musically with their own children, for fear that they will somehow do more damage than good. Their own insecurities about their musical abilities hinder these important opportunities.
To those parents, I would firstly advise that you are not alone! I have taught music to children and adults for over 15 years and can confirm that this is a common theme.
What I do say to those parents may very well be the climax of this article, and the main takeaway idea;
It doesn’t matter ❤️
It doesn’t matter if you think you can’t sing in tune.
It doesn’t matter if your high school music teacher suggested netball tryouts instead.
It doesn’t matter if clapping along to music takes more concentration than your driving test did.
The simple exposure to music is all that’s required.
Singing, dancing, clapping and moving all overwhelmingly support the development of a child in ways that nothing else can.
Perhaps above all, the main benefit of music is how it makes us feel.
I would encourage you to observe the feelings in the room at your next school concert. Look at the faces in the audience, watch how their bodies move and their brains light up.
Finally, make music with your children. Sing with them, dance with them, play instruments with them.
Nothing but good can come from it.
Written by Joanna Predo, author, long-time music teacher and musician.Joanna spends her days negotiating with book printers, stealing time at the piano, and cutting the crusts off sandwiches. Before creating her own tribe of little people, Joanna worked as a jazz singer and pianist for many prestigious clients around Brisbane. She played her first song on the piano at age 2, sung her first jazz number publicly at age 8, and taught her first piano lesson at age 14. Joanna has dedicated most of her 33-year life to the in-depth pursuit of music, and says she is constantly humbled by the fact that she has been selected as a vessel to carry it.