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The Fundamentals of Music

A feature on sharing the joys of music with your children while assisting their development

If you can walk you can dance,

if you can talk you can sing.

—African proverb

Music is interwoven into our lives. We all want to feel comfortable singing happy birthday to our friends, singing at a sporting events or religious ceremonies, and singing lullabies to the children in our lives. Music helps us feel connected to our communities through singing and dancing.

For those of you who may think you are tone deaf, only 4% of the population is actually tone deaf. You can take this test if you’d like to have a better answer. If you believe you’re one of those people who can’t carry a tune, it may be just a problem with audiation or how we internalize and retain what we hear. If you feel like you fall into one of these categories, it doesn't mean that your child will. Just like multiple languages can be learned much easier at a younger age, singing in tune and keeping the beat can be taught.

Infants and Toddlers

Exposure to music starts as early as in the womb. A baby can hear the mother’s heartbeat, and after they are born, can be comforted by a familiar song that was sung to them in the womb. Lullabies are found in every culture and are used to rock babies to sleep. A child can develop a sense of beat based on how they are rocked. The fetal heart rate after 12 weeks is between 120–160 bpm (beats per minute). The ideal tempo for young children to move to the beat is 120–140 bpm.

Infants and toddlers explore all the possible sounds they can make by imitating their surroundings. This is the beginning of finding a singing voice. We can also try to illicit a response from them by leaving out a word here or there in a poem or song. Bouncing games are great fun and help children develop a sense of beat. Children love bounces like Trot Trot to Boston.

Children in Primary

Children between the ages of 3–6 have a very small vocal range, but by the age of 3 should be able to sing in tune. If for some reason your child is older than 3 and still not singing in tune, make sure he is using his singing voice, and the song is in an appropriate range. To help children find their singing voices, use different types of vocal exploration. Think sirens, tracing a line that looks like a rollercoaster, tossing a ball in the air. The physical movement also helps the body use the appropriate voice. Most children will instantly switch to their singing voice. Short folk songs, in the correct range, tend to be the easiest for young children to sing. The repetitive nature of folk songs also aids in the learning of the melody. Echo and Call and Response songs are also favorites of this age. Also be sure to share music that you love with your children.

Children in Elementary

It is my goal to solidify fundamental skills of singing in tune, showing the beat, and moving artfully with music in all students by the age of 7. In elementary, students start to refine their skills based upon their musical foundation. Students start to learn to sing more that one part, more complex dances, to play different melodic instruments, and create their own music. With the strong foundation, advanced students are primed to appreciate music for a lifetime.

What are some ways you enjoy music with your children? Share ideas in the comments below.

Katie Quann is the Music Specialist at Newton Montessori School. She presented on this topic at the recent Montessori Schools of Massachusetts conference; her talk was titled “Making Music Easy.”

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