Sam Dixon introduces four simple activities to introduce children in the early years to the characteristics of sound and the skills of music-making…
1 Stand up, sit down – dynamics!
‘Loud’ and ‘soft’ are basic concepts explored in nursery music. But little children do not find it easy to sit still and listen for long. Try this physical exercise to explore dynamics in music.
Find a recording of a piece of music that shifts fairly quickly between loud and soft passages. Classical Baroque music is usually a good example of this, for example, Vivaldi’s ‘Spring’ from The Four Seasons, or Haydn’s Surprise Symphony (watch out for the really loud bits). For a more modern genre, try It’s Oh So Quiet by Bjork.
Explain to the children that they must sit down or crouch down low when the music is soft, and stand up as tall as they can when it’s loud. Children often associate loud with fast, or quiet with slow – so it is important to point out that loud doesn’t always mean fast and quiet doesn’t always mean slow. A good tune to demonstrate this is Beethoven’s Overture to Fidelio, which is fast and furious throughout! The piece has lots of ‘in-between’ dynamics, including a lovely, long crescendo at the end, to show the gradual movement from soft to loud.
2 I’m forever blowing bubbles
Young children find breath control a difficult concept. Try using this easy game to get them to recognise and take control of their breathing. Firstly, ask the children to imagine they are inflating a giant balloon inside their tummies. They have to suck air in so that the balloon gets bigger. This makes sure that they are breathing in correctly, with no stress in the shoulders or neck and plenty of flexibility in the abdomen.
Using a pot of bubble mixture, blow a good number of bubbles high into the air, near but not over the children. Explain that they need to sit still (they usually try to leap up and pop them) and watch where they go. Do it again, and ask the children to hum until the last bubble disappears. Remind them to ‘fill their own balloon’ before they start to hum. Repeat the exercise with different sounds, to explore whether different sounds require different amounts of breath. Try it again using the sound ‘ee’, then ‘oo’, then ‘ah’.
3 Sound detectives
To improve listening skills, try this game of hunting for sounds. Explain to the children they are going to be ‘sound detectives’ in the playground. Discuss what things they might hear, and make a big picture of them. Can they hear a plane in the sky? Can they hear traffic passing by? Can they hear a bird calling? Can they hear other people’s footsteps, or talking? Can they hear the wind? Remind the children that when they are detectives they must tiptoe around the space silently, or the sounds they are hunting for may disappear!
When the children have found a sound, they must go back to the teacher and point at the sound they have heard on the big picture. The children then tiptoe off to a different area to listen for something else. The teacher can keep a tally of how many different sounds the children detect, and draw new ones onto the picture as they appear.
4 Vocal roller coaster
Draw a continuous line on the board with hills, roller coaster loops and stair patterns. Tell the children that they are going to go on a roller coaster ride with their voices. Follow the line with your finger and the children’s voices should rise and fall as the line does. Experiment with different vowel or consonant sounds, e.g. starting with a hum and then repeating with an open vowel such as ‘oo’. Try leaving breaks in the line, where the sound should stop, and restart when the line does.