Ahh, Springtime. It’s finally here! The wisteria and tulips are in bloom. The weather alternates between sunny and rainy. We’re shrugging off the winter blues and producing more Vitamin D. You’d think it would be all sunshine and flowers . . . but the modern parent knows better. Spring also ushers in the end of the school year rush. You know what I’m talking about: teacher appreciation week, field day volunteering, planning your family’s summer schedule, supporting your students through standardized testing, finding the perfect Mother’s Day gift, getting the yard in order before the weeds take over . . . . All this on top of our regularly scheduled programming? It never ends. Even here at Song of the Heart we’re feeling the crunch! We’re gearing up for our big blow-out Family Jam and our upcoming Bonus Week, not to mention preparing for Summermusik (it’s going to be SO MUCH FUN!) So if you’re anything like us, you’re feeling a bit stressed.
Did you know that music therapy studies with critically ill adults and children have shown that music can reduce stress, anxiety, and even physical pain by as much as 50%? Here’s some ideas to musically battle the stress and helps your kiddos cope too:
KEEP THOSE ROUTINES IN PLACE. Sing that bedtime song. Keep coming to your Kindermusik class. Children thrive on routine and feel safe with predictability. It gives them a sense of security.
THROW IN A DANCE PARTY. Turn on a family favorite tune and dance with your kiddos for 3 minutes. The blood will pump, bathing your brain in oxygen and oxytocin. Cortisol levels will dip. You’ll all feel refreshed.
I LOVE YOU RITUALS: Sing that Twinkle Twinkle ritual we’ve been working on all year. Use it at diaper changes. Use it at bathtime. Use it before mealtime. Use it at bedtime. Take the time to slow down, intentionally touch, make eye contact, be playful, and connect with your little one through a simple song.
USE YOUR KINDERMUSIK AT HOME MATERIALS. Did you participate in our Rainbow Connection? Maybe you accessed your online materials for the first time. Wasn’t it fun? It only takes 5 minutes, but it is the perfect way to connect with your child and reinforce their musical learning at home.
POP YOUR FAVORITE KINDERMUSIK CD IN YOUR CAR. By now you have the whole year’s worth of albums in your library. Which was your child’s favorite? Turn it on while you run errands and let them jam out and relive their favorite Kindermusik unit. Or maybe put on a playlist of your favorite music and educate your kids on popular music from your generation.
We hope you can integrate music into your daily lives in a way that is fun, joyful, and stress free.
The majority of scientific studies about music and the brain are done on adults, but there is a premiere neuromusicologist at Harvard Medical School that studies the effects of music on children’s brains.
Gottfried Schlaug M.D. PhD tested the brains of 6 year olds, giving them 15 minutes of keyboard instruction for a period of 15 months against the brains of a control group of 6 year old children that received no musical instruction.
The musical children’s brains showed measurable increase in the auditory and motor centers of the brain. Additionally, they outperformed the non-musical children on tasks of sound discrimination and motor sequencing.
What does that mean?
Kids who engage in musical training and practice have more developed brains than their peers. Kids who engage in musical training and practice have a higher capacity to sort and identify sounds. What does that matter? Auditory discrimination sounds fancy, but essentially it is the ability to distinguish phonemes, the most basic unit of language and speech. The child who studies music has increased ability to both express and understand language. Language expression and reception is a crucial skill throughout life.
Additionally, the musically trained children had higher ability in motor planning. Motor planning is the ability to conceive, order, and carry out a sequence of non-habitual movements from beginning to end. So much of what we do in life is motor sequencing: cooking a meal, dressing ourselves, cleaning a room, exercising, driving, and on and on.
Kindermusik is giving your child a leg-up in these developmental tasks. Don’t you feel glad that you are giving them the best foundation for growth? All wrapped up in one joyful package!
It is the scientific study of the effects of music on the brain.
We musicians and music educators have long had anecdotal evidence of the benefits of musical study on cognitive functioning, but we are getting more and more empirical data all the time, thanks to advancing technology in neuroscience.
At Kindermusik we often teach that music stimulates every area of the brain and thus every area of development. But what does that mean? The implications are so vast that they can’t possibly be contained in summary in a single blog post. Our blog will begin a new series, sampling the specific findings of the field of neuromusicology, to help you understand what bringing your child to Kindermusik at Song of the Heart studios is actually doing to their brains and bodies on a cellular level. The brains of musicians have been proven to be larger and more connective than that of non-musicians. The corpus callosum (the light pink section in the illustration below) is the section of the brain that connects the two hemispheres, and it is this area of the brain that has been shown to be larger in musicians compared to those that have not studied an instrument.
The corpus callosum’s neural tissue facilitates communication between the two sides of the brain. This part of the brain contains “white matter”. White matter allows the brain to share information across different sections of “gray matter”, which is the type of brain tissue used for computation, thinking, and memory storage. All that memory storage isn’t much good if we can’t access it and share that information across the brain, which is what makes the corpus callosum so crucial.
With a more developed corpus callosum, the brain of musicians has been found to fire more symmetrically, especially when engaged in musical activity. That’s where we get the phrase we so often share with you in class, that “music lights up every area of the brain.” And in so doing, your child’s brain will literally change in structure and increase in function.
So for long-term neurological health, music is the ideal tool to build strong brains. Participating in music may be lots of fun, and maybe that’s what keeps you coming back to our studio week after week, year after year, but there’s so much more. Benefits of musical experience can begin in childhood and carry across the lifespan. You really are giving your child so much more.
The last two weeks we have started incorporating I Love You Rituals in our classes. We LOVE these rituals as they perfectly align with Kindermusik’s child-development centered curriculum and our mission here at Song of the Heart Studios. Not only do I Love You Rituals promote our studio values of JOY, CONNECTION, FAMILY, GROWTH, and HEART, but they have a direct and literal impact on your child’s brain development. Research based, these simple rituals soothe cortisol and release oxytocin in the brain. Without getting into the neurochemistry of it all, what this means is that these simple, quick, and fun rituals are a tool that will bond you with your child, will increase their self esteem, lengthen their attention span, promote cooperation, decrease power struggles, reduce hyperactivity, and facilitate language development. Can you believe that all those benefits can come from such a simple ritual? It takes less than a minute to do, and can reap huge rewards. We have been teaching the Twinkle Twinkle ritual in our classes in the hopes that it will inspire you to implement it at home. Here are some ideas of when to throw it into your daily routines:
In the morning, upon waking up
On the diapering table
During nap time and/or
When getting in or out of the carseat
Before or after meals
When saying goodbye
These delightful rituals were designed by Dr. Becky Bailey, renowned child education and developmental psychology expert, and founder of Conscious Discipline. Please let us know how you incorporate I Love You Rituals into your family life. What benefits have you experienced?
Principal: Each school in the district has been asked to submit proposals on ways of reducing costs by 10% in September. This is what I’ve decided.
Mr. Holland (looks at paper): The entire music department.
Principal: And art, and drama.
Mr. Holland: Well, congratulations, Gene. You’ve been looking for a way to get rid of me for 30 years and they finally gave you an excuse.
Principal: You know, I’m not as popular as you. I’m not anybody’s favorite anything.
Mr. Holland (interrupts): That’s because you’re the enemy, Gene. You just don’t know it.
Principal: BUT, I care about these kids as much as you do, and if I’m forced to choose between Mozart and reading and writing and long division, I choose long division.
Mr. Holland: Well, I guess you can cut the arts as much as you want to, sooner or later these kids aren’t going to have anything to read or write about.
In his well-known commencement speech at Stanford, Steve Jobs talked about dropping out of college and “dropping in” to classes that he enjoyed. He said, “Much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on.” Mr. Jobs chose to attend a calligraphy class during that time, and consequently you can read this blog in an interesting typeface. In fact, Tim Carmody, in a Wired business article, wrote, “Jobs’ ability to bring these two cultures [technology and the creative industry] together and translate between them contributed directly to Apple’s transformation from a computer company to a media company.”
Did you know that Mark Zuckerberg majored in psychology? It takes skill and proficiency in all kinds of domains to solve the challenges of the 21st Century. Unfortunately, our college graduates don’t seem to be getting the critical thinking skills they need. In 2011, a study led by Richard Arum, a New York University sociologist, showed that upwards of 45% of college students “made no significant improvement in their critical thinking, reasoning, or writing skills during the first two years of college.”[i] But, as Sara Rimer writes, “Students who majored in the traditional liberal arts — including the social sciences, humanities, natural sciences and mathematics — showed significantly greater gains over time than other students in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills.”[ii]
For what seems to be my entire life, I’ve heard about the funding cuts that arts and music programs suffer at the hands of those with power to cut it. Richard Dreyfuss delivered those lines as Mr. Holland way back in 1995, after all. But we keep hearing about it, even in 2016.
If you’re reading this, I’m probably preaching to the choir. As part of our Kindermusik community, you come to class and appreciate the value of music and movement for our young children. Nevertheless, sometimes it’s helpful to keep in mind the bigger picture, when you’re asking your child to practice her recorder or clearing space in the family calendar to get your baby to the studio. This is more than just a fun way to spend a half an hour, to get out of the house for a break. You are helping build your child’s brain in ways that will have far-reaching consequences.
Kindermusik stop and go songs are among the favorites in our family. The anticipation builds as my kids and I wonder when the music will stop, and we laugh when we get it right—and wrong. I am probably not alone in feeling less amused by this little game when my conversations are the ones being interrupted by the absolute imperative to “Watch me right now!”
Impulse control is a tough thing for kids to master—and even for some adults. It requires so many other sub-skills like the ability to stop an action, to think about what is going on, to tolerate frustration, to change behaviors based on context (one’s behavior in the library is different than the backyard) and to have developed a few alternative behavior patterns like hitting a pillow or using words to describe emotions.
And it requires a particular level of brain development. Our prefrontal cortex is responsible for our ability to regulate any particular impulse. Interestingly, the size of our prefrontal cortex is one of the things that sets us Homo sapiens apart from other hominins, illustrating not just how vital it is for the survival of our species but also how unique this gift of nature is for us.
The PFC reaches full maturity by about age 25. Yes, you read that right. 25. Well after we have turned over our car keys to our kids, allowed them to vote, and sent them off to college. The only people who seem to have this figured out are the car rental agencies. There are some benefits to this late development, however. As human development author Kathleen Staseen Berger writes, “Enrolling in college, moving to a new state or nation, getting married, having a baby—all are risky. So is starting a business, filming a documentary, entering an athletic contest, enlisting in the army, joining the Peace Corps, rescuing a stranger. Without emerging adults, all those activities would occur less often.” 
Studies tell us that being able to control one’s impulse is a good predictor of school success. Nevertheless, it is a skill that, like bicycling or swimming, improves with practice. Once our kids get to school they get plenty of practice in learning to raise their hands and waiting to be called on. But playing stop-and-go songs in Kindermusik aids in that practice, and it is infinitely more fun for the kids!
Parenthood is nothing, for me, if not the process of learning how to hold in balance adjusting my expectations to the reality of my children’s capacities, at the same time that I love them enough to hold high expectations for what they may be able to accomplish. The idea that my sweet daughter just may need to bounce around while she’s eating, while also teaching her how to sit at a table and eat like a human being (is that really a high expectation? I don’t know!) I’m so grateful that I have had the Kindermusik community to support me in that journey.
 Berger, Professor Kathleen Stassen. Invitation to the Life Span. 2nd ed. New York: Macmillan Higher Education, 2013
Carol Dweck keeps popping up in all the things I’m learning, as a person, an educator and a mother. Dweck is a motivation researcher who has published her findings in a book called Mindset. You can check out her TED talk here, if you’ve got 10 minutes. But here’s a good, kid-friendly Sesame Street version:
Dweck’s research centers on the notions of fixed and growthmindsets. If we have a fixed mindset, we believe that we have an immovable amount of talent or intelligence, and there is nothing we can do about it. Conversely, a belief in a growth mindset means that, with hard work and perseverance, we can change our abilities. In fact, research, has led us to understand that students can improve their school performance if they are willing to adopt a growth mindset.
Dweck’s position has a far-reaching effect on education in our country, and many teachers are changing the way they teach students and react to their performances. The willingness to embrace a growth mindset has powerful implications for parents, too.
For instance, when we talk to our kids, do we praise their brilliance or their hard work? “You’re so smart!” pushes them towards a fixed mindset; “Look how hard you worked! Wow!” gives them space to develop a growth mindset. If our children are struggling, as we are reminded by the Sesame Street gang, we might choose to say, “You haven’t mastered this yet. You’ll get there.”
At the Kindermusik studio, we embrace growth mindsets. In fact, it is the very basis of what we do. We are not scouting for child prodigies in music educating only them. Rather, we believe that every child deserves music education. We strive to increase and strengthen the neural pathways of your little ones through sensory interactions with their environment like playing with instruments, keeping a steady beat, moving to favorite songs, or giving you time to connect with each other.
Perhaps the best part of developing a growth mindset occurs for us personally. We don’t have to be perfect at this parenting gig. We don’t even have to be good at it always. It doesn’t mean that we’re failures. It just means that we’re not there yet.
As Maya Angelou says, “I did then what I knew how to do. When I knew better, I did better.”
A friend asked me the other day, as we were talking about our daughters’ school performances, “Do we really care what Henri Matisse’s math scores were?” In other words, how do we measure “intelligence”? And how do we create an environment in which our kids discover all the talents they may have to offer the world?
Reading Ken Robinson’s Out of Our Minds, in which he discusses the importance of cultivating creativity, I’m learning that it has only been recently in our education system history that we divide the arts education from math and science subjects. Consider Leonardo da Vinci, whom we know not just for his Last Supper but for his contributions to anatomy and engineering. Did you know that a bridge, based on one of his sketches, was actually constructed in Norway in 2001?
Sir Robinson points out in his book that at universities, professors in the arts and literature departments are employed to write about other artists and writers, rather than to create works of art and literature. He contrasts this to those in science departments, who are paid to produce their own, unique research projects. We can see this mindset permeate education through high school and towards early education, as arts and music programs continue loose funding, and emphasis is placed on math, science and engineering disciplines. And then Sir Robinson follows with the natural question—will valuing these disciplines differently actually serve us into the 21st century? Will we not, in fact, need all the ingenuity we can find, as we try to solve global issues like climate change, economic growth and conflict during a time when most people carry in their cell phones or even wristwatches more “power and memory than the 1969 Apollo Moonlander”?
Sometimes we see the arts as being something we do for relaxation or downtime. Or something that the touchy-feely types do and never really make any money at doing. But what if we could view them as a way to help people discover their potential? Or what if we can use art education as a way to help our kids develop certain skill sets (such as collaboration, visual representation, and kinesthetic awareness) that they can in turn use in their future jobs—jobs that may not even exist today, that we may not even imagine possible?
These are big thoughts when one is just trying to get through the day with a toddler and a newborn. When changing diapers and calming the temper tantrums, while trying to get the laundry done and that work project completed, weigh on us more heavily than the latest photos of Pluto.
However, this is one of the gifts of Kindermusik. Taking the time to get to class, we can structure some weekly time to connect, some time to focus on our little ones. But we will also be rewiring their brains, helping them to unlock their potential and fostering creativity skills that will help them on their middle school science projects and beyond.
 Robinson, Ken. Out of Our Minds. Chicehster, West Sussex: Capstone Publishing Ltd: 2011. Print.
Have you seen any of those “Difference-between-your-first-and-second-child” humor posts? Stuff like, your first child gets his own nursery, complete with matching bedding and hangers, while your third child sleeps in a crib underneath his sister’s poster of Ariana Grande.
I’ve been living it this week. My youngest girl has been observing her big sister work on some choreography for a homework assignment, and has now taken to asking her father, the moment he gets home from work, to, “Watch my dance, Dad!” Of course, it’s entirely typical for a 6 year-old to create a dance for her parents. But instead of dancing to Laurie Berkner, or Dan Zanes, like her older siblings, she moves to Shakira and Ellie Goulding.
But move, she does. Just like her brother and sister before her. And me before them (to the likes of Michael Jackson), and I’m sure my mom before me.
Dr. Daniel Levitin (I wrote about him in my last blog post, he’s a neuroscientist and musician), in the documentary The Musical Brain, performed some MRI studies on Sting, in order to understand exactly what parts of the brain fire in different musical contexts. In one of the studies, he asks Sting to simply imagine a song playing in his head. What Dr. Levitin noticed was that, despite not hearing anything musical, his body “begins to groove to the rhythms of Miles Davis.” (The Musical Brain, Christina Pochmursky, Matter of Fact Media, 2009, documentary film).
He comments: “The part of his brain that would be moving his body was very, very active, even though he was lying perfectly still. That points to an ancient, evolutionary link between music and movement and dance. . .”
According to the documentary, when we hear music, “the deepest parts of (our) brain(s), are ordering (us) to move.”
The evolution of dance goes far beyond Elvis. Egyptian paintings, dating from 1400 B.C., depict dancing, and history gives us many examples of dancing in Ancient Greece (remember Dionysus from your Greek mythology classes?) as well as in other, non-Western, tribal groups, the traditions of which many cultures continue to preserve.
Historically, there hasn’t been a distinction between music and dance, a division which we sometimes make today (like I am at this very moment, listening to the theme song of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, moving only my fingers at the keyboard, and not to any remarkable beat). As Dr. Levitin states, “Music is movement, for most of the world’s peoples and throughout most of history.”
This is not particularly news. I mean, this video went viral ages ago.
But I am fascinated by the idea that the connection between movement and music it isn’t just cultural, nor is it simply a learned behavior. It has deep, neurological roots that serve to ensure our survival and teach us the experience of human emotion. When we’re in Kindermusik with our little our, we aren’t just having fun lifting them up in the air, we’re teaching them to feel joy. We’re engaging our primal, evolutionary instincts to create a tribe and deepen connections through music and movement
This week in my daughter’s Kindermusik for the Young Childclass, Ms. Carol talked with the kids about how music is connected to emotion—that it can help us feel happy or sad. The kids even got a picture of a happy and sad boy that they could use to visualize this concept.
Later that evening, I went to band practice, where we spent some time together picking out our next song. Since our band has 2 female singers, we like to choose female artists to cover when we can. Heart’s “These Dreams” came up as a possibility.
Yes, the hairstyles immediately date the video to the 1980’s. But I knew it was from the 80’s for another reason: when we listened to together, I also found myself immediately wanting to run out of the room and get a drink of water—my typical reaction in junior high anytime a slow song came on at a school dance, so that I could avoid looking like the wallflower I felt myself to be. And, indeed, a quick check of the dates confirms that I was in 8th grade when the song was popular.
My fellow bandmate said that “Love Bites,” by Def Leppard, produced a similar, emotional response in her—taking her back to her early adolescence.
Then, yesterday, I got to play my guitar with another teacher as part of a retreat for the middle school students at my school. The song that she had chosen had emotional lyrics, but also a great crescendopart (another word the Young Child kids have been studying) that is designed to be fairly emotional. While we hadn’t practiced together before we performed it, I really enjoyed playing it with her—there was tremendous satisfaction going from slow arpeggiation of the chords to full-out strumming, knowing that I was part of creating the emotion.
I’ve written before on the blog that music is connected to memories. And one needn’t have come of age in the era of power ballads to fully understand this even just from personal experience. But I find it interesting to think about how, exactly, music can evoke similar emotions in us, even without a shared memory—in other words, it isn’t merely the memory of being an awkward teenager that makes us feel a certain soulfulness listening to “I Want to Know What Love Is.” Also, science experiments show that we don’t have to understand the lyrics to have a fairly predictable emotional response to a particular song—indeed, some of the most emotional music we have comes from the classical genre and includes no lyrics whatsoever. Which also means that though years and even centuries separate us from those who were able to listen to Beethoven’s 9th symphony for the first time, we can still connect with them through what are probably very similar responses (though this is by no means universal—we are, after all, individuals).
Even certain chord structures can evoke particular emotions. One, in particular, is known as the Tristen chord. Much has been written about all the structures behind it, but the long and short of it is this: nothing about it gives us resolution, so we experience a tension, anticipation and longing. Exactly what Wagner wanted for the opening of his opera, Tristan und Isolde, from which the chord derives its name.
(If you’ve got 6 minutes, here is a fantastic video that shows the whole emotion of the music, and how it eventually resolves.)
Scientists, specifically the work of neurologist and composer Dr. Daniel Levitan, tell us that music is, “another way that the brain experiences pleasure.” (The Musical Brain, Christina Pochmursky, Matter of Fact Media, 2009, documentary film). In other words, we get all sorts of dopamine hits when listening to a song we love. We experience brain activity that is very primal, connected to our survival and reproduction instincts. (Dopamine, you’ll remember from your science class, is the neurotransmitter in our brains responsible for moving us to act in order to get a reward.)
It is no surprise, then, that being in Kindermusik class with my kids has given me a great sense of emotional pleasure, and has been a fun way to connect, emotionally, with my kids during some very formative years. As my kids get older, I continue to enjoy watching them move and create music of their own. Certainly, it’s a different experience than singing a lullaby with them. Nevertheless, I can’t imagine a better way to create a shared bonding with them than through music.