Stimulating musical experiences will benefit many aspects of your babies’ development, says Sam Dixon…
The benefits of musical experiences in the early years are widely acknowledged. Music can reduce stress and anxiety, develop hand-eye coordination, increase cognitive function, develop communication skills and more. Sold! So what experiences are out there and how can we learn from them? Last year, Scottish Opera successfully toured BabyO: a performance specifically designed to engage and stimulate children from 6–18 months. The music was written for three classically trained voices (no instruments), based on vocal sounds that appeal to babies (e.g., pob, doo, nana) in addition to a few descriptive words such as bee or fish.
The performance area was in the round, with a small intimate stage area (called ‘the sensory garden’) in the middle, where the performers manipulated various props such as feathers, bee puppets and silver fish on sticks. Vocal harmonies and percussive sounds emphasised and animated the movement of each prop. The babies who attended were quite clearly engaged and absorbed the ‘sound world’ as it was created in front of them.
Most of us are not classically trained singers, but the simple props and ideas performed in BabyO can definitely be a source of inspiration for musical play. Try the following with your under-twos:
1. Hold a feather over your head and let it fall to the ground. As it does, sing a sustained note or the word ‘falling’. When the feather touches the ground, make your sound stop abruptly.
2. Play with a selection of soft toys or finger puppet animals and whilst doing so, create a sound that suits each creature. A ‘snap’ for a crocodile, a ‘boing’ for a rabbit, a click of the tongue for pony hooves, etc. Then experiment with rhythmic combinations of several together. Encourage the child to touch and join in.
3. Take a pair of children’s shoes and put them on your hands or fingers. March them around with a nice steady beat. Add some kicks, jumps and make them dance (as Charlie Chaplin did with two bread rolls on forks!) Add vocal accompaniment with descriptive words like ‘splash’, ‘whee’, ‘stamp’, or use recorded music to dance along to.
Electronic media can be a helpful tool if applied with balance and interaction from an adult. The Baby Einstein DVD series combines simple imagery and music to provide new sensations for the very young. For example, a moving image of a flickering flame momentarily appears, fascinating the viewer whilst the Mozart, Bach or World music drifts in. Adults are encouraged to treat the DVD like a ‘hands-free’ book, pointing to and naming objects on the screen.
Soundtracks provide another inlet into early musical experience. In 2001, the BBC broadcast a television series called The Blue Planet about life in the oceans. The beautiful orchestral score (by George Fenton) was released on CD and is available to purchase on Amazon, or to download on iTunes. Each track has a descriptive title such as ‘Spinning Dolphins’, ‘Blue Whale’, ‘Surfing Snails’, and ‘Thimble Jelly Fish’. By selecting appropriate tracks, and matching them up with a set of bath toys, the music provides the background for an ocean-based puppet ballet!
Sam Dixon teaches class music at Brighton College.