Tuesday, May 6, 2014

What!? Music Makes My Brain More Plastic??

I really love making music with young children and their mommies, daddies, grandmas and caregivers!  I feel so fortunate to have been able to do this awesome work for many years and, while I truly believe that music-learning for it's very own sake is KING (and also supports a child's development in almost all areas), I was recently listening to a talk at our annual Music Together Conference, from Karl Paulneck, and learned how music learning is even MORE powerful than I had previously known and it even helps the brain develop and grow!

First of all, here is a little bit of brain information:  we know that brain' ability to make new connections, repair themselves and restructure is super important.  This helps us learn new things, solve problems, and relate to the world.  Can you imagine not being able to learn new things just because you were turning 50 soon?  This would be so personally disturbing.  We used to believe that the brain was a physiologically static organ, but new research is showing otherwise!  Yaaa!  The brain's plasticity, also known as neuroplasticity, describes how our experiences reorganize neural pathways.  When we learn new things, our brains get structured accordingly.  This is super exciting.

More exciting news that I learned from Karl Paulneck:  there are FOUR things that stimulate the brain's neuroplasticity.  Drum roll please......

  1. MUSIC
  2. Intentional EXERCISE (and movement)
  3. PLAY 
  4. NUMINOUS EXPERIENCES (experiences that take us away from our ego and when our sense of self is abosorbed, such as spiritual experiences or possibly singing in a choir/ playing in a band or group music making at Music Together)
Anyone who has been to a Music Together class knows that we do all four of these things each and every week we get to see our families.  The numinous experience happens when families are singing and moving together with their children and get lost in that awesome soup of sound with silly ostinatos, or rounds, or precious lullabies into babies ears.

I love that our brains are "plastic"!

♥   Kathy Rowe
Music Together in Phoenix

PS  Read more about Karl Paulneck's Welcome Address at the Boston Conservatory:  Welcome Address

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Singing and Dancing Children


Another fun, yet frenzied, Monday Night Music Together class: it's a little bit on the smaller side for our typical classes (5 children and with one make up family), but last night's benefit was getting to really see (and hear) the children's music responses!

We have a family "making up" and coming to class for almost the first time.  Mom and Dad marvels at how pre-walking, baby Cale immediately started rocking his little torso with our "Hello Song" while he squealed with happy sounds.  Cale's strong rhythmic response did not stop until the very end of class.  The whole class took notice and we sang a verse on his happy yowl sound - Cale smiling as if to say, "yes, that's MINE!"

A set of adorable soon-to-be 4 year old twin brothers (also with both Mom and Dad) immediately start to moving parts of their bodies to the beat.  J.J. leads the class with his pointer finger as we warm up with "whooo" sounds going higher and higher and then quick down to the ground.  Colton is sitting really close to mom; he's smiling but says "no thanks"; we follow Dad's finger "whew, whew, whew" up and down.

Jack and his Mom are holding hands rocking side to side like a HUGE bell for the "Ding Dong" song; Jack taking the lead!  We switch to a "row boat" motion, still with parents/children holding hands.  I hear mommy voices, daddy voices AND children's voices - it's so awesome!  

Noah is smiling big when it's time to going on our pony rides and bounce on the grownup's laps!  He has wandered across the circle and so I get to take a turn being Noah's "pony" for "Ride O"!  At the end of the song, he initiates the next verse by bouncing his little bottom.  It's time for fast running horses!  

Siobhan, the only 3 year old with a vocabulary of a middle adolescent, is coming in to class and quickly joins in!   The whole group moves up to dancing as we transition into our "Betty Martin" tiptoe song.  Siobhan picks jumping for the next verse!  Mom & Dad all follow along as we all dance & sing, "Hey Siobhan, Jumping, Jumping....".  She is the one that explains the concept of sharing to her newest best-friend, Jack.

Our weekly 45 minutes of JOYFUL family music is most definitely not about children performing; nor do we ever worry about the children "getting it right".  The awesome grownups in class model for their little ones, and typically the babies babble, the toddlers toddle, preschoolers practice and play along.  It's always empowering to acknowledge the musical behaviours we see in class and celebrate these milestones with the families!   We agree that ALL CHILDREN ARE MUSICAL!

Monday, November 21, 2011

MIX IT UP! The Value of Having Mixed-Age Classes and Mixed-Age PLAY

Imagine a group of children getting together to play. . . In your imagination, do you see children mostly about the same age? Or, are there children of different ages mixed together? I am guessing that most people conjure up the first image. Unless you have a large family or extended family nearby, it is often more common to see same-age play as opposed to mixing it up. There has been much recent evidence on the value of MIXING IT UP!

From a recent blog Freedom to Learn in "Psychology Today", Peter Gray shares that mixed-age play is valuable in the zone of proximal development (or "the realm of activities that a child can accomplish in collaboration with more skilled others but cannot accomplish alone or with others at their same age"). This makes sense if we think about an 8-year-old playing ball with a four-year-old. While two 4-year-old children would probably get discouraged trying to pass a ball back and forth; it could be a fun challenge for an 8-year-old to catch the erratic throws of a 4-year-old. In music class, the toddlers often ogle or imitate the sassy dance moves of an energetic 4-year-old. The older child also gets the benefit of being able to be a leader in class.

In Music Together, most of our classes are mixed ages, infants through age 5. One of the things that attracted my family to this program, aside from the crazy fun music, was the fact that I could bring both my daughters to the same class. I couldn't imagine the time or the resources of securing a babysitter for one child to take the other for music and then repeating this for our second child. I really loved that it was both fun and developmentally appropriate for both children!

While we occasionally face challenges of helping everyone feel comfortable with active preschool children and sweet cooing infants mixed together, the benefits are still huge! Here are a few reasons we love mixed-age classes:

  • Less comparing. When children are grouped together by age, it is inevitable for adults to notice differences in what they see each child doing. Some parents might worry, "why isn't my child bouncing to the beat yet?" or "why can't my child sing bum-bum like all the other two-year-olds?". There is a huge variance for "normal development" in a child's musical growth.

    Just as the early walking child does not relate to being a gifted mover as a teen, achieving basic music competence as a three-year-old also doesn't mean the child is Mozart. It is vital to trust that all children are musical, and, if their musical atmosphere is rich and supported, all children can arrive at basic music competence.

  • Natural learning. Without performance pressures, learning can happen in a very natural way. Children get to go through their primary rhythm and tonal development at their own pace without being rushed to keep up with peers.
  • Role-model supported. The mixed-age setting provides a rich learning environment because children of different ages thrive when they interact with each other. Older children in class, if they choose, may play a leadership role such as how to play their sticks, which animal to sing about and they often enjoy helping/sharing with the younger children. Babies are often fascinated by watching the older children make music.
  • Family-style learning. Families are able to bring one or more siblings together to the same class that is developmentally appropriate for both children. We had an amazing mom come last semester with triplet infants and her almost 3-year-old! She often brought a helper along, but had come solo on more than one occasion!! Daddies, grandmas, and older siblings may come along to share in the joy of making music together. This creates very strong family bonds and beautiful music memories to last for years.

If you are still not convinced that your 3-year-old can prosper if surrounded by toddlers, we will try to find a class that will make you happy! We can never guarantee the ages of a specific class unless you have signed up for one of our "8 month and under" Babies Only classes or the 5-7 year old Big Kids class. A true mixed-age class, with a few babies, a handful of toddlers, and a smattering of preschool age children is my favorite class to teach and can be an amazingly rich environment for all children to thrive!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Who Is Your Child's MOST Important Music Teacher?

YOU are your child's first and MOST important music teacher! Many mommies’ shriek in disbelief: they might say they can't “sing to save the band” or maybe they can't “keep a beat in a bucket.” In reality, even if this was true (and most likely it is NOT), it really doesn't matter. Children get their disposition and LOVE of making-music by seeing the important adults in their lives making music and having fun doing so!

"No intelligence or ability can unfold unless given the appropriate model environments" says Lili Levinowitz, Professor of Music Education, Rowan University and Director of Research, Music Together LLC.

This is why parents/caregivers are their child's first and most important music teacher. Children can learn music skills from a teacher, but they acquire their LOVE of making music from their parents.

Here are a few ways to easily be a great music role-model for your child:
• Sing and dance for your own enjoyment! Sing songs you love and find new songs to love and sing them too. I have just found Pandora, the easy and free online music-station-maker-program that plays songs similar to the ones you already love. Find music that makes you want to move and dance to it. Let your child see you having fun with music and remember little ones are not judgmental or care if it is "in tune" or "on the beat"!
• Be an enthusiastic music maker! When teaching family Music Together classes, I often notice adults coming to class tired; baby hasn't slept or maybe their toddler just had a fit on the way to class. Or it is even possible that the current song is not their favorite. I always encourage parents to take some big relaxing breathes and challenge themselves to have the most fun time in class for their little one (and for themselves, too). Music can really change a disposition like no other activity I can think of.
• Find different and creative ways to enjoy music with your child. There are many fun outdoor FREE venues to experience music as well as cool elevator songs to groove to (just kidding about that last idea).

Sharing the music you love with your child can be like sharing a precious heirloom out lasting any toy in the toy box! As an adult, I am realizing how I crave the Johnny Cash tunes my grandpa sang to me as a child (not so much in my teen years though). When you sing and dance with your little one (or with them near by), you are giving your child a gift: the disposition to be a music-maker and to have a lifelong love of music.

by Kathy Rowe, M.A. in Music Education
teacher and center director @ Music Together in Phoenix

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Nurture Your Child’s Inner Musician, Part 1

All children are musical! It is hard to find a Mommy or Daddy that does not agree with this statement. All children are born with much music-making potential! If this is true, why don’t we see most grown ups making music for fun, playing in bands or dancing for the joy of it?

The ability to make music is our birthright. This ability, however, is not an inborn “talent”. Just as a child who is learning to speak needs lots of reinforcement and an environment rich with language, the process of blossoming into a music-maker also needs an environment that is musically rich with lots of opportunities for babble and play. A child’s budding musical growth needs nurturing to blossom and grow.

Here are a few ways to create a super rich music atmosphere for your child:

· Sing, sing, sing! Sing songs with and to your child. Sing about what you are doing or where you are going. Change the words to songs to make them your own. Sing in the car and at bath time, but most importantly, sing at bedtime. The lullaby can be sweet, calming musical magic.

· Dance party! Put on your favorite music and dance! It is fun to dance with baby, but it is also really awesome for our little ones to see us dancing for our own enjoyment as well!

· Kitchen Jam! Have a kitchen play along by turning plastic bowls upside down and use wooden spoons for mallets. Fill empty plastic water bottles will beans and glue them closed for shakers. Put on fun music and play, play, play!

· Instrument Jam! It is also great to have a basket of assorted child safe instruments; eggs, sticks, drums, tambourine and triangles and create a fun ritual of family jam time. Any music that you and your child enjoy will work.

· Go to a show: attend live music performances, many are outside and free. At the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Art’s Sunday A’Fair, children get to be outside with other music lovers and are free to dance to their little heart’s content. The Phoenix Symphony has a series of child friendly concerts to attend http://www.phoenixsymphony.org/education/family_concert_series.aspx

· Join a weekly music class that is appropriate for little ones!

Making music with your child helps them to grow up as music-makers and creates bonds that last a lifetime.

Kathy Rowe,MA in Music Education, Center Director, Music Together in Phoenix

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Holiday Message from Music Together in Phoenix

The joy of the seasons are here; lights twinkling, bell ringers around town and Santa's o' plenty. All of us at Music Together in Phoenix send thoughts for joy & peace, celebration and fun to your family!

Music is an essential part of many holiday traditions. When we share the music that we enjoy with our children, it can be like a heirloom. Our favorite holiday songs and traditions will be what our children pass along to their children. Precious memories are made when trimming the tree, lighting the menorah or baking cookies together while singing favorite holiday songs. These connections are locked deep in our little ones' hearts.

My family has a silly tradition of hiding a pickle ornament inside our Christmas tree. Last year, we never found it until the tree went down. My daughter was proud of her hiding talents (I think she possibly hid it in her bedroom). We always listen to the Charlie Brown X-mas CD as we are decorating. This year, I put on my new Mindy Smith, but my family changed it back to Charlie Brown.

May you have many magical moments of merriment with your loved ones this season!

Kathy and everyone at Music Together in Phoenix
Sumr, office manager, Stacie, outreach and social media, Sarah, Jennifer and Mary, awesome teaching team


Thursday, September 2, 2010

Unplugging the Music

The i-pod is out of juice. The electricity has not made it to this town. There are no stereos or wi-fi. How do we get the music?

While having a fun experience of my lifetime with my family this summer hiking the Inca Trail (and a brief overnight with a sweet family on Lake Titicaca) in Peru, I had this really cool experience of spending time in places with out any plugs! Was there music? Yes, of course, YES!!

Actually, my teenager daughter's i-pods seemed to last for days without running out of juice; the people, however, who lived in these sweet car-less communities did not have such accessories. It was inspiring to experience how these communities made the music themselves: singing, playing quena & zampoa pan flutes, drums and small Peruvian guitars. As an early childhood educator who gets most my vital nutrients from live-music making, I was in HEAVEN!! We even happened upon one of the many multi-day festivals that involved entire groups of people in song, dance and quena flute/drum ensemble which I believe was the most juicy part of the trip.

For young children, live music making is a vital for them to develop through primary music development, rhythmically and tonally. In class, we repeatedly share how important it is to make music with our children. Families love playing CD's as there are great arrangements for even the adult ears; jazz numbers, sassy blues songs, and rockin' folk numbers. While children can get great exposure to a plethora of genres' and multi-cultural music by listening to CDs, this is not a substitute for making the music on your own. My music mentor, Lili Levinowitz, Ph.D. professes that "children get their disposition to be a music-maker, from the important role models in their lives, their parents"; we just need to make music with them!

I am guessing that if we were raising our children on Lake Titicaca (or along the way to Machu Picchu ), it would be silly to have a Music Together class because life would be like a Music Together class! In the meanwhile, it is SO fun to get to MAKE the music with families each week. Keep singing with your kids!

Kathy Rowe M.A. Music Education and Center Director for Music Together in Phoenix