Instruments! Playtime with Purpose

“I have a sound, a mighty fine sound, and it sounds just like this . . .”

Occasionally your Kindermusik teacher will bring out something new, something different, something special. It could be a giant rainstick, or a cymbal, or a buffalo drum, or a gong! There are so many interesting and varied instruments to learn about and play with.

This fun activity always seems to captivate little children. Their eyes widen as they experience something novel, something they’ve never seen or heard or held before! This is one of those WOW moments in class.

Several things are going on during this moment. First, your child is practicing their active listening skills. They are tuning out the chatter of the adults, the movements of the other children, and any other distractions. They laser focus on the new sound, shape, and timbre of the instrument. Timbre is the sound quality or “voice” of the instrument. It what makes a violin sound like a violin and a flute like a flute. They sound nothing alike! Even if they are playing the same notes and rhythms in the same register. We can tell which is which by its “voice”, or timbre.

This exposure to a new timbre is developing your child’s inner musician. As they are exposed to more timbres, your child will develop auditory discrimination. This is the ability to distinguish one sound from a group others, such as recognizing their mother’s voice in a sea of other parents calling out to their children on the playground at the park. Having developed auditory discrimination will help them develop tonal awareness, the ability to match pitch, the ability to play in tune, the ability to harmonize, and more.

Sometimes the new instrument is appropriate and safe for your children to handle, and other times it’s not. If it’s safe to do so, your teacher will walk around the circle and allow each child a turn to play the instrument. They always LOVE this opportunity.

This is when your child is practicing their “wait their turn” skill. Also called inhibitory control, this is the ability to hold back their urges and delay gratification. This is a CRUCIAL skill for humans to learn to protect themselves, prevent injury, get along with others, work in teams, and get along in polite society. Practicing this skill will help prepare them for when they start going to school or out to restaurants, church, concerts, and other public venues.

As your children step up through the Kindermusik levels they will be introduced to more and more interesting instruments. It will spark a love of music within them that will last a lifetime. Giving them this gift of music appreciation will enrich their lives as they attend live concerts, ballets, theatrical productions, and more. Art in all its forms enriches our lives and music is a key part of that. Thank you for letting us be the ones to plant this seed of music appreciation in your child’s life!


It’s Music, too!

I find myself continually writing in this blog about how Kindermusik develops the whole child (here, here and here, just to name a few). But as I sat in my daughter’s Kindmusik for the Young Child class this week, I realized that Kindermusik actually teaches music, too. Fancy that!


The first-year Young Child students have recently acquired their glockenspiels and have been diligently studying two-note patterns. They even have a variety of musical poems to recite as they work through the idea that the low notes are on the left of the glockenspiel (where the bars are long) and the high notes are on the right (where the bars are short).

Second year Young Child students build on this concept as they continue to add more notes and experiment with the lengthening and shortening of strings on a dulcimer.

Ah! But it doesn’t stop there!

I first became interested in Kindermusik as I listened to my sister-in-law describe this very concept. With my background as a secondary school educator, my lifelong interest in music, and having just had my second child, I knew that music instruction was important, but that I couldn’t possibly dream of having my particular preschooler sit at the piano and work with me to learn the notes. (I know some kids are capable of doing this, but none of mine have been—or, maybe better, I haven’t been able to do this with them.) Therefore, I was elated when she described the idea of using age appropriate activities to teach these concepts.


One of my favorite Kindermusik songs for babies is “Zoom-e-oh!” You may notice with your little one that when you sing “Up in the sky!” the notes are higher, while “Down to our toes” we sing at a lower pitch. You may dance to this song, lifting your baby up and down through the room, or you may use a scarf to play with, swishing it high and low. Though the concepts are simple, this is where our babies can begin to distinguish high and low notes—in an environment filled with love and nurturing.


As our children grow and become toddlers, they continue to learn through movement. You may notice that if a child who is just learning to talk says “up” or “down,” he or she also demonstrates the movement somehow—pointing, or even moving his or her whole body. In our Kindermusik toddler classes, you’ll see that we use simple poems and songs to tie the musical concept of high and low sounds with imaginative play, language development and movement. For instance, “Can you stretch like a cloud in the sky? Stretch big and tall, stretch up high!” Or, in another one of my favorite Kindermusik songs, you may “Walk along, Rover” or “Crawl along, Rover,” which has the added benefit of encouraging kids to explore opposite movements.


Once children become preschoolers, their locomotor skills have drastically improved. Therefore, they can become much more sophisticated in their imaginative play—hopping, skipping or galloping. This allows us to go for a hike in the mountains and fly like birds or hop around on the ground like bunnies. Additionally, children this age explore a greater variety of musical instruments, so that they learn about the different timbre of each one and see that there are some that make higher sounds (like bells) and some that make lower sounds (like drums).

At the Kindermusik by Song of the Heart studio, however, musical learning doesn’t stop with a child’s graduation from Kindermusik. With the Suzuki Singers class, children can learn to match pitches with their voice, and in Simply Music Piano or ukulele classes, kids develop skills to produce a variety of pitches on a couple of different instruments that may appeal to them.

And, yes, I suppose I could make a case for applying musical concepts of high and low sounds to something philosophical, like helping kids understand the highs and lows of life. But, sometimes just learning the music is great, too!

We Got the Beat

The Blue Man Group came to my daughter’s school this week to teach them a little about what they do.  You can read more about it here. My husband and I saw them in Las Vegas over New Year’s—I know I’m late to the party in discovering them, but I instantly fell in love.

I could probably write dissertation on the history of drums, and many people have done just that, with more expertise and eloquence than I can.  Nevertheless, here are some interesting tidbits for you to think about, next time you find yourself drumming in Kindermusik class:

You don’t actually need a physical drum to do percussion for a song.  While people have been using their bodies for percussion for centuries, the modern, human “beat box” developed as hip hop and rap began implementing drum machines in their music, starting in the 80’s.  Of course, it didn’t take long for the human beat box to infiltrate all types of music:

Though it seemed obvious to me once I learned it, bagpipes are either “on” or “off.”  A piper cannot employ volume swells.  Therefore, the drums in a pipe band (though they have many functions) serve to lend a pipe band further interest through the addition of dynamics:

Steel drums from Trinidad and Tobago aren’t really drums—at least, not in the way we think of a snare drum or bass drum.  They are called “drums” because they originate from oil drums or other similar steel containers.  They are a percussion instrument, of course, but they belong to the “idiophone” group of instruments, rather than the “membranophones” (the difference being whether one is striking a membrane to cause a vibration sound, or the whole instrument itself).  Being idiophones, the steel drums are related to wood blocks, triangles and marimbas (all instruments we get to play with at the studio!).

What a plethora of possibilities for participation n percussion!

Music and Language Acquistion

This week in the after-school Spanish class I teach, we began working on weather words, and I showed my small class my favorite video for this unit:

All my kids walked out of class with a great earworm—exactly what I wanted!

You may not remember much from your years studying a foreign language in school, but I’d bet you remember a song or two.  It’s no secret that music serves as a fantastic vehicle for second language development.

There is a fascinating study by Brandt, Gebrian and Slevic, published in the Frontiers of Psychology journal online by the National Institute of Health that talks about how music and language develop.  After examining similarities and dissimilarities of music between cultures and across time, they decide that “ (M)usic is creative play with sound; it arises when sound meets human imagination.”

Isn’t that a great definition?  Creative play with sound, mixed with human imagination.  Sounds exactly like my daughter’s Kindermusik class!

They write, “speech and music turn out to be closely related” in terms of how the brain processes the sounds.  Additionally, when they looked at the great variety of musicality in multiple languages, they concluded that even the pitch of spoken language carries meaning, as when, in English, we turn a sentence into a question just by changing the inflection of our voice: “You’re doing well?”

Importantly, they note that, since a baby is unable to distinguish what parts of speech are unimportant, he or she pays attention to “all of the musical features of speech.”  This attention “provides a richer context for language induction.”  In fact, the ability to “hear musically” allows us to learn language in the first place!

Here is one of my favorite examples of the musicality of language.  Pogo created it (and many others) by taking snippets of sounds from movies and turned them into songs of their own.  Everything, from the beatbox in the background, to the phonemes that we imagine into certain lyrics, comes from the varying pitches in people’s voices (though sometimes he includes bits from the soundtrack).  My kids enjoy listening to them, too!

Kindermusik’s mission is to develop the whole child.  As it is inextricably connected with language development, music gives us a powerful medium to do just that.

Kindermusik Goes Flamenco

I just got back from seeing Love’s Labour’s Lost at the Utah Shakespeare Festival. Being here feeds my soul. However, I found myself totally distracted during the actor’s musical performance. The woman playing Jaquenetta (Betsy Mugavero, in this case) was playing a mean guiro, with which I have become very familiar during my time at the Kindermusik. The page, Moth (played by Melisa Pereyra), was playing the castanets.


After a moment, I became enthralled with her movements, realizing that for all the time that I’ve played with the castanets during instrument play in the studio, I have never once figured them out to my satisfaction. Yes, I find them just as much fun to play with as my kids. I promise I take turns.

Ah, grateful that we live in the information age, and for a wi-fi connection. For your education, I give you three “how-to” castanet videos that I found especially helpful (though I don’t have my castanets here to practice, you can bet I’ll put them on when I get home).

Do you wonder why we have castanets at the studio? First, it gives kids yet one more instrument to explore according to their own choice, helping them learn and retain information better. It’s also a great way to give our kids some power over their lives, something that in turn helps them follow our instructions when needed. Additionally, playing with castanets exposes to different timbres, and any time kids work on keeping a steady beat they are learning a foundational skill for many other activities, including running or cutting with scissors. Finally, it means that one day, they may be sitting in the audience of a play, and they’ll know what a castanet is, and stand in admiration of anyone who can make it look easy.