Making Music Makes You Smarter!
by: Diane Flynn Keith
posted: March 6, 2005
Let's talk about music and what simple things you can do to incorporate music into your preschooler's life. It is essential to their brain growth and development. Here's why...
Throughout history, in all cultures, music has provided the soundtrack to human life. Archaeological evidence of musical instruments such as bone flutes and drums predate agricultural tools! Music not only moves us emotionally, it helps us relate to one another socially.
Indeed, research conducted by psychologist Frances Rauscher of the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh and physicist Gordon Shaw of the University of California at Irvine specifically links the study of music to necessary brain development. They demonstrated that preschoolers who were given early exposure to complex multi-sensory stimulation -- in this case, musical key-board lessons and group choral singing -- scored higher on tests measuring spatial reasoning, a skill used later in math, science and engineering.
A growing body of evidence suggests that when parents and/or teachers and caregivers engage young children in these activities on a regular basis, they are helping to hardwire the children's brains for successful lifelong learning. Early exposure to experiences which involve simultaneous coordination of many different senses (as happens when a child plays an instrument with both hands) and which encourages symbolic learning (reading musical notation, for example) may help the child's brain organize and store information that the child can retrieve and use to sort and combine all kinds of learning later on.
Does that mean that you need to provide a complex musical curriculum or expensive music lessons? No. It means that regular exposure to music, musical instruments, and music theory in the early years of life will help your child develop their brain potential. How do you do that? Here are some ideas...
Make Musical Instruments:
Drum -- Save a Quaker Oats cylindrical oatmeal box and lid. Cut a piece of construction paper to fit around the box. Before gluing it to the box, invite your child to decorate one side of the paper with markers and/or stickers. Attach the paper to the box. Tell your child to use his/her fingers like drumsticks to tap out different rhythms with or without musical accompaniment. Don't forget that overturned pots and pans make good drums when you beat on them with wooden spoons -- and pot lids are great substitutes for cymbals when you crash them together! An empty coffee can with a plastic lid makes a great "hurry up" drum as well.
Drumsticks -- Not only can you use them to beat on drums, they make great instruments if you bang them together. Buy an inexpensive piece of dowel at your local hardware store and cut it into two even pieces. Sandpaper the edges smooth. Try tapping them together keeping different tempos from slow to really fast. Bang the drumsticks on fence posts, garbage cans, bricks, cement, and pipes. Listen to the variety of sounds they make. (You can also just buy a real pair of inexpensive wood drumsticks at a musician's supply store.)
Shaker -- When my kids were little I put two paper plates together (facing each other) and stapled them all around the edges. Before placing the final staple, I put a few dried kidney beans inside and then finished stapling the plates closed. I used masking tape to cover the staples so that they wouldn't scratch little hands. Then, I gave the kids crayons and stickers and let them decorate their shakers. They loved marching around the house to music and shaking their instruments to the beat.
Maracas -- You can fill small plastic containers with lids (margarine tubs, film cannisters, frozen orange juice containers) with different substances like rice, sand, and dried peas to make instant "maracas." Each different filler will produce a different sound -- and varying the amount you put in each one will also change the sound.
Tambourine -- Place two, very strong paper plates together (facing each other) and staple, glue, or tape them together. Use a hole punch to make holes evenly separated around the plates. Purchase some silver or gold jingle bells at a craft store and tie them to the holes on the plates with string or colorful ribbon. Shake your tambourine to music.
Guitar -- Use a shoebox with a lid to make a guitar. Cut a hole in the middle of the shoebox lid. Put the lid back on the shoe box and stretch five rubber bands that are different widths across the shoebox making sure each one is stretched flatly across the hole in the shoebox lid. The different widths of the rubber bands will make different sounds as you pluck them. You can glue a paint stick or a surdy piece of cardboard in the shape of a guitar neck to the back of the shoe box to make the box resemble a guitar.
Kazoos -- Take an empty paper towel roll and put a piece of waxed paper over one end of the roll securing it with a rubber band. Poke 2 or 3 small holes into the waxed paper. Then, hum into the open end of the "kazoo" to produce a musical sound. It may be hard for little kids to understand the concept of humming into the instrument -- so be sure to demonstrate what you mean.
Note: Kazoos are really inexpensive and can be found at most toy stores and even party supply shops. In general, metal kazoos make clearer, louder sounds than the plastic variety. Kazoos are easily transportable and great to take along in the car. You can play along with whatever song is on the radio or CD player. :)
Okay, now you have instruments, what else can you do with them? Visit children's singer and songwriter Nancy Stewart's website to find lots of musical activities and singing exercises that you can do with young children at home, and find more instructions for making really artistic and unusual handmade instruments.
Be sure to visit Sesame Street's Music Zone! It's an "online music learning center for children and grownups to enjoy together! Sesame Music Zone is designed by child development and music education experts, and offers interactive educational games and activities led by your child's favorite Sesame Street friends. Sing along with Bob McGrath, dance with Zoe, or tap a beat with Oscar! Children will have endless opportunities for learning through creative play that builds on their natural attraction to music and their interest in music making."
On a personal note, both of my sons are musicians. I encouraged their musical awareness from the time they were born, and thought I'd share some of the ideas I used with you:
- I played classical music to sooth them to sleep and played lots of children's music like Raffi singable songs at home and in the car.
- I used a small portable, well-tuned children's xylophone to teach them the sounds of the music scale and the names of the notes that identified the sounds. (You could use a piano keyboard or accordian as well.)
- I bought lots of musical instruments for practically nothing at flea markets and garage sales. They didn't learn to play them all -- but having them at home led to hands-on exploration of the different types of instruments and the sounds they made. Because the instruments were used and inexpensive, it didn't matter if they broke or got banged up a little.
- I took them to free community sing-alongs, jazz festivals, performances by opera troupes in the park, and symphony-for-kids shows.
- I played a variety of music from different cultures (available from my public library's audio department).
- I was an enthusiastic perpetrator of song and dance -- and even eventually used music to teach the multiplication tables, grammar rules, and biology concepts.
- Music is everywhere in your environment. It's piped in at the grocery store, at the mall, in elevators, office buildings, and amusement parks -- especially at holiday times. Wherever we were, I tried to be aware of music and made a point of bringing it to my children's attention. "Listen, do you here that? I wonder what kind of instrument makes that sound. Do you know?"
If I recognized a song title I told the children what it was. If I knew the musician or composer, or some trivia fact about the song, I would tell my children about it. These are simple ways to reinforce music education. Don't forget that as you do this -- you are literally helping them to grow their brains. :)