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Music

Stop Forcing Your Child to Take Music Lessons

Perhaps, as conscientious parents, you have read about the positive benefits of music in childhood, such as increased neural pathways in the brain, enhanced abilities in math and language, and improved attention span. These benefits are all real enough, but these are beneficial side effects of practicing and playing music. They aren’t what music is about.

I have taught guitar, ukulele and general music to children for over 25 years. I have a degree in music, and a professional background in both music and dance. And on behalf of children and music teachers everywhere, parents, I beg you: please stop forcing your children to take music lessons.

Music is an essential form of human expression. It’s an outlet for joy or sorrow. It’s a way to soothe a child to sleep, or entertain a kid who’s bored. It’s a way for a community to come together and heal after tragedy. Music can be a vehicle to woo the object of one’s affection, co-ordinate large-scale work efforts and inspire courage in soldiers marching to battle. It is a way to send messages, embolden resistance movements, unify people behind a cause or country, and criticize injustice. Music is a way to tell stories, record histories, and minister to the sick in body or spirit. Music is an integral part of most of the world’s religious and spiritual practices, and is used to aid in meditation and relaxation.

In other words, if you’re laser-focused on the positive effects music lessons might possibly have on your child’s GPA ten years in the future, you’re really missing the point.

If your child is passionate about music and wants to hone their skills, then by all means, get them into private lessons. Students who practice spontaneously and enjoy building their musical skills can thrive with individual attention from a skilled teacher. If your child finds joy and comfort in music; if they take pride in mastering new skills and concepts, then music lessons are a wonderful gift to enrich their life.

On the other hand, if your kid chronically comes home from their music lessons grumpy, and says things like “I hate music!” or “Why do I have to keep taking these stupid lessons?”, it’s time to take a step back. You’re doing no one any favors – not yourself, not the music teacher, and certainly not your child – by forcing them to continue lessons on a specific instrument or with a specific teacher if they are consistently telling you they don’t want to do it.

Of course, even the most enthusiastic music student can become discouraged occasionally. A few frustrating practice days isn’t reason to throw in the towel. However, pushing a child to continue music lessons when they have consistently expressed a preference to stop is more likely to entrench a negative impression of music in general than provide any tangible benefit.

Should your child have music in their life? Absolutely! There are many ways to incorporate music into their – and your – daily lives. The most effective way to inspire a reluctant student is often to get involved with them. If your kiddo is under 5, consider a parent-tot music class such as my Music for Tots program, or if you don’t happen to live near areas where I teach (Seattle, WA & Portland, OR), I recommend the international Music Together program.

If your child is older, and if you go to a church or synagogue, you may already sing at services. For additional musical enrichment, your little one could join the choir. Even if you’re not religious, many churches will allow non-members to participate in their choir for free – or, you could join a secular family choir.

Do you play an instrument, or have you always wanted to learn? Establishing a family music night could be a fun way to motivate you to practice, too. Choose some songs the whole family can sing and play together. (Hint: it’s okay if you’re not “good” at it, as long as your music time together is fun.) If you need song ideas, my YouTube channel has over 200 videos with fun songs to play and sing with kids. I also have a series of music books with sheet music and chords, and recordings to accompany them that you can stream for free through my Bandcamp site (these are also available for easy mobile streaming with the Bandcamp App), and I teach ukulele lessons and classes in Seattle, WA.

Even if you don’t feel musical yourself, you can introduce your child to examples of regular folks in your community making music together. Does your community have a local drum circle you could drop into? Drum circles are often casual, low-cost or free, and welcoming to newcomers. Or check out an Old-Time Music Jam or an Irish Session at a local pub, coffee shop or restaurant. You’ll often find that pubs host these kinds of events in the afternoons, during hours when minors are allowed. You could also visit a local open mic or song circle.

Attending community music events together and listening to a variety of musical styles might be the best music education you can offer to a reluctant student. You can show them that – even if they received a negative impression of one particular musical style, or one particular teacher – there is still a huge, wide world of music out there for them to explore. Hopefully, they will find something in it that inspires them.

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Music

Baby Needs Music!

Music changes your kiddo’s brain – for the better! According to neuroscientific research, the study and practice of making music actually makes people smarter – including your little ones.

No, I’m not making it up. According to neuroscientists Moreno and Bidelman, “music training provides robust, long-lasting biological benfits to auditory function” as well as “non-auditory functions necessary for higher-order aspects of cognition (eg, working memory, intelligence)”.

Meanwhile, there is no comparable benefit to overall brain function associated with other art forms, or other popular activities for children, such as dance, gymnastics or sports. Researchers are still studying why this is the case, but most seem to believe at least part of the reason is music brings several kinds of brain functions together in a co-ordinated effort. Listening, concentration, fine motor skills, eye-hand-co-ordination, memory, decoding and even mathematical understanding are employed, often simultaneously, in the study and practice of music.

Research in neuroscience also shows that early childhood is likely a sensitive period for learning music – which is to say that, like language, it’s much easier for your baby to learn certain musical skills now and up to the age of 7 than it will be later in life.

However, if your babies are already older than 7, or if you aren’t a parent at all, don’t despair! Music has cognitive benefits at any age. A June 2023 study found that practicing and listening to music improved cognitive function in older adults as well.

Of course, there are many reasons to practice music beyond the benefits to brain health and overall intelligence, including the simple enjoyment of listening; or of mastering the skill to play a piece of music; or of sharing music with friends or family. Music can calm nerves, it can be an outlet for emotion, and it can also reach across cultures and bring people together. The cognitive benefits are just one reason to make sure music is a core component of any childhood education program.

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Music

Early Childhood as a Sensitive Period for Learning Music

By Charlotte Thistle & Chat GPT

Music is a vital part of human culture, and exposing children to music at an early age can have positive effects on their development. Research suggests that the early years of childhood are a sensitive period for learning music and that musical experiences during this time can have significant benefits.

A study by Zentner and Kagan (1996) found that infants as young as 5 months old showed a preference for consonant over dissonant music. This suggests that infants are capable of processing and responding to musical stimuli at a very early age. This sensitivity to music continues throughout early childhood.

A study by Strait et al. (2012) found that children who received musical training before the age of 7 had better auditory and motor skills than those who did not receive music training. These findings support the notion that early childhood is a critical time for developing musical abilities.

Other studies have found that exposure to music at an early age can improve language skills, social and emotional development, and cognitive function (Gromko, 2005; Schellenberg, 2004). This is likely because music requires the use of various cognitive skills, such as auditory discrimination, memory, and attention.

In addition to the benefits of early musical exposure, there is evidence that the type of musical experiences a child has during early childhood is important. For example, a study by Lillard et al. (2018) found that children who received formal piano lessons before the age of 7 had better language skills than those who did not receive piano lessons or who received lessons after the age of 7. This suggests that the type and timing of musical experiences are important factors in determining the benefits of early musical exposure.

Overall, the literature suggests that early childhood is a sensitive period for learning music and that the benefits of musical experiences during this time can be significant. Parents and caregivers who expose children to music at an early age may be setting the stage for a lifetime of musical enjoyment and cognitive benefits.

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Music

How YOU Can Be Your Child’s Best Music Teacher

For the first year of your child’s life, you talk to them, even though you know they don’t yet understand your words. You don’t expect a coherent reply; you know they are not yet ready to speak.

Their first sounds, perhaps as early as six months of age, are not recognizable words, just sounds like “ba” and “da”. You smile encouragingly because you understand these simple sounds are the building blocks of language, which takes years to master.

After months of making babble sounds, your child begins to put their sounds together to form their first words. It’s such an exciting milestone! And it took months of listening and practicing to get there.

Yet despite knowing how long it takes a child to learn the basics of language, many parents bring their child to a music class, and feel dismayed or discouraged that their little one does not immediately jump in to sing, clap or bang a drum on the first day.

Why would they, though? Music and language are closely related and are learned in a similar way. Yet parents often seem to have unrealistic expectations about how quickly a child should be able to acquire basic musical skills.

For instance, a child who is new to my Music for Tots classes will often simply sit and listen throughout the first class, or even the first several classes (entirely normal and appropriate). Yet I frequently have parents come up and apologize to me that their toddler didn’t participate more.

Worse, sometimes a parent or caregiver will persistently wave a shaker in their child’s face, or shove a drum into their hands, saying “SEE? SHAKE THE SHAKER!” or “BANG THE DRUM!”, and appear discouraged that all their child does is stare back at them, or put the shaker in their mouth.

This is because neither waving shakers in a child’s face nor forcing drums into their hands is a very effective method for teaching music. As with language, your child learns best by listening to and watching what you do. If you sing a song, or play a drum, or shake a shaker, your child will also learn to do these things. So the best way to teach your child music is by allowing them to watch and listen to you sing and play music.

“But I’m not a musician!” you insist. “How can I be a good musical role model when I (fill in the blank) don’t have a good singing voice / can’t find the beat / can’t play an instrument?” But the truth is, your child does not know or care about any of that. You may not be an eloquent public speaker like Barack Obama, but your child still learns to speak by listening to you. You don’t need to be BeyoncĂ© or Wynton Marsalis. You just need to sing your child a lullaby, or play “Pat-a-Cake” with them, or dance the Chicken Dance.

Parents who bring their children to my music class consistently over time report to me that even children who are quiet listeners during class will sing the songs enthusiastically at home. It just takes time, and children will join in when they are ready. Families who actively sing, dance and play instruments with their children – in or out of music class – will undoubtedly see their children progress towards mastering such foundational music skills as singing a simple melody and tapping or clapping along with a beat.

For more information about my music classes, please visit www.misscharlottemusic.com.

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Music

Choo Choo Boogaloo


Zydeco music is a uniquely American genre that developed in Louisiana as several cultures came together in the 1700s, including French settlers, indigenous peoples (in particular the Atakapi-Ishak), and African-American slaves and freed slaves (who incidentally enjoyed greater rights and freedoms under the French Code Noir than their counterparts elsewhere in America at the time).

French immigrants brought their traditional customs with them and began celebrating Mardi Gras in the area around New Orleans as early as the 1730s. By the 1800s, Zydeco – with its syncopated rhythms and toe-tapping accordion – had become an integral part of Mardi Gras celebrations in the area.

One characteristic of Zydeco music is the tempo often speeds up as the song goes along, forcing dancers to try to keep up – and often producing much merriment and laughter in the process! This family-friendly song by the late, great accordionist Buckwheat Zydeco is really fun to share with a group of kids, especially if you have a basket of egg shakers. Tell the kids the train is starting slow, but they have to pay attention and keep up with the beat as it goes faster and faster.

You can listen to the song on YouTube or purchase the whole album here.

For more information about my music classes, please visit www.misscharlottemusic.com .

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Music

Outdoor Education: A Silver Lining of the Pandemic

by Charlotte Thistle

Outdoor education has been around for a long time. It certainly rose in popularity in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, but outdoor learning has many benefits beyond minimizing the spread of infectious diseases. According to this article in the Harvard Graduate School of Education News, outdoor learning benefits student mental health and academic performance, and students are often calmer and better able to focus when learning in nature. Little Otter Health (an award-winning online mental health clinic for kids) has compiled a list of peer-reviewed studies showing that outdoor learning has a host of benefits including better physical and mental health for students, improved student confidence, better learning outcomes, better social-emotional and collaborative skills, and increased student engagement.

As a mom, I have observed firsthand the difference in my own daughter (especially as a young child) after an hour exploring nature vs. an hour in front of a screen. After screen time, she was often cranky and agitated, with a low tolerance for anything that didn’t go her way. After time in nature, she was happy, vibrant and resilient.

As a music teacher – especially after seeing what a radical difference outdoor time produced in my own child – it was a natural choice for me to start taking my music students outside to the garden whenever feasible. After all, music and dance are among the most ancient of human activities. For hundreds of thousands of years, people around the world have joined together to sing and dance around campfires or in village squares. It’s really joyful to see children singing and dancing together outdoors!

During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, I went a step further and installed a covered fresh-air classroom with a garden view. I’ve been teaching toddler classes out here year-round (it has a heater) as well as ukulele classes for older kids in Spring, Summer and Fall. In December we sang Christmas Carols and drank hot cocoa!

Music and dance may lend themselves better to outdoor learning than some activities, but there are ways to make even subjects like spelling and math more outdoorsy. For instance, Waldorf offers an Active Arithmetic curriculum, and this blog shows how spelling can be taken outdoors, especially in warm weather. I myself taught a small pod of 7-10 year-olds outdoors for two years during the pandemic and led some of the math and spelling ideas listed above, as well as outdoor reading, mad libs, storytelling, and more traditional outdoor activities such as cycling and jump rope. The kids even collaborated to design a logo which we put on t-shirts. I still proudly drink my morning tea out of my “Outdoor School” mug.

Whatever your situation, I hope you’re able to find a way to do some of your learning outdoors! I myself continue to offer outdoor Music for Tots and other outdoor music classes in Seattle, Washington. You can find more information about my class offerings on my website at www.misscharlottemusic.com.

Categories
Music

Why Ukulele is a Better Starter Instrument for Kids than Guitar

I taught guitar lessons for a living for ten years. In that time, I witnessed many children struggle with the instrument. Some of them persisted and triumphed, while others gave up. However, I began to believe that most of the struggle was unnecessary and unproductive, even for those who succeeded. I therefore began seeking a better way to teach. 

I now strongly recommend that younger children start learning on a ukulele rather than a guitar. A ukelele is much simpler and easier to hold and play, it allows hand strength to develop slowly, and is overall a relatively painless and frustration-free entry-level instrument. Ukuleles are also available at a fraction of the price of guitars, and the knowledge is easily transferable to guitar, should the student wish to switch after a year or more of lessons. I also have developed a special curriculum for young kids that helps make learning easy and fun.

For more information about my ukulele lessons and classes for kids and adults in Seattle, WA, please visit www.misscharlottemusic.com

You can see some of the songs other kids are learning on my YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/c/misscharlottemusic

Categories
Music

Cucanandy

This little gem is my song of the week. Originally an Irish dandling song (that’s a song you sing to a small child while you bounce them on your knee), “Cucanandy” also works well as a jig.

The accomplished young musician you see in this video is playing an Irish bouzouki and her father is playing a concertina. The bouzouki, which originated in Greece, has been adapted to play Irish fiddle tunes, like a mandolin but in a lower octave, as you can see here. A lovely melody and a lively arrangement!

I dedicate this week’s post to the memory of my aunt Shelagh, who played the concertina and loved folk music of all kinds.

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Music

Molly Tuttle

A fabulous young folk artist, Molly Tuttle started playing music at home with her family as a child. Now, just 25 years old, she has already won copious awards and honors for her music. You can read the details of her accomplishments here: http://www.therealeasyed.com/molly-tuttle-from-her-tweens-to-her-twenties/

… or just enjoy listening to this beautiful song she wrote.

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Music

Beautiful French-Canadian Folk Song and Game: La petite hirondelle

children playing passera
I recently discovered this treasure: “La petite hirondelle”! It’s a French-Canadian folk song and dance, similar to “London Bridge”, but instead of a bridge falling down, the theme is a naughty swallow who has stolen our wheat and must be punished!

“Qu’est-ce qu’elle a donc fait,
la petite hirondelle
Elle nous a voler
Trois petits grains de ble
Nous l’attrapperons,
la petite hirondelle
Nous lui donnerons
Trois petits coup d’baton

Pass, pass, passera,
la derniere, la derniere
Pass, pass, passera,
la derniere restera!

    Translation

What has she done,
the little swallow?
She has stolen from us
three grains of wheat!

We catch her,
the little swallow,
and we give her
three strikes with a baton!

Pass, pass, pass through,
the last one, the last one,
pass, pass, pass through,
the last one stays!

In the dance, as you can see in the video, the children pass under the joined hands of the adults (or other children) until the last line of the chorus. Then the last swallow is caught, and put in the center of the dance. Finally she is “punished” – the others tap her on the head (GENTLY) to represent the strikes of the baton.

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